Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"The Last Jewish Virgin"

Novelist, short story writer, and essayist Janice Eidus has twice won the O. Henry Prize for her short stories, as well as a Pushcart Prize, a Redbook Prize, and numerous other awards.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The Last Jewish Virgin, and reported the following: and reported the following:
Page 69 comes at a very dramatic moment in my novel, The Last Jewish Virgin, which I like to call my literary, Jewish, feminist, fashionista, vampire novel. It’s the story of Lilith Zeremba, a young woman rebelling against her intellectually complex, feminist Jewish mother. Determined to make her own way – on her own terms – as a successful Jewish woman in the world of fashion, Lilith lands headfirst in a place where mythology and sexuality collide, as she’s drawn to two men in ways that feel dangerous and yet inevitable: the much older, wildly mercurial and mesmerizing Baron Rock, her art professor, and Colin Abel, a young, radiant artist determined to make the world a better place, one socially progressive painting at a time.

In the preceding pages, Lilith, fiercely-virginal-by-choice, has despite herself fallen under the spell of her dazzling, alternately seductive/alternately sadistic art professor, Baron Rock.

And now, on page 69, we find her sitting alone in her art school’s cafeteria, so obsessed with Mr. Rock that she’s unable to eat, feeling like an outsider, an “expatriate” in her own school.

Suddenly, her other male obsession, blond, blue-eyed Colin Abel, the young, socially progressive artist who’s the polar opposite of Mr. Rock, appears. To her surprise, he offers to take her for lunch at an Indian restaurant in the West Village, near the river, where she forces herself to take a few bites of the aromatic, curried food before her, as she struggles internally and externally with her various obsessions:

* Should she lose her heart and her hard-won virginity to the vampire-like, mysterious Mr. Rock, or to the socially progressive, talented Colin Abel, who prides himself on being the “anti-Andy Warhol?”

* Should she remain a committed virgin and concentrate solely on becoming a successful fashion designer?

* Should she continue to reject, in favor of secularism and fashion, her mother’s earnest, non-materialistic, Jewish-faith-based feminism?

* Should she be herself? But who is she since meeting Mr. Rock?

My intent while writing The Last Jewish Virgin was to merge the timeless romantic myth of the vampire with contemporary life in volatile New York City – and beyond.

Page 69:
I also read the first few chapters of my History of Fashion textbook, but had trouble concentrating on the text, because the book’s illustrations of beautiful women reminded me so much of Mr. Rock’s collection of portraits.

Although I still had no appetite, I now and then forced myself to take a bite of a stale muffin or a gooey, cheese-filled pastry as I sat working alone in the cafeteria. The other students sat together in chatty groups, chomping down on hamburgers and forkfuls of “pasta of the day,” which was always stringy spaghetti in a lumpy red sauce. I was constantly on edge, fearing, yet half-hoping that Mr. Rock would suddenly appear to make some strange and irresistible demand of me.

On Friday, Colin, wearing a snug, gray T-shirt that complemented his pale-blond hair, was waiting for me after my History of Fashion class. At least my emotions toward him weren’t contradictory; I felt nothing but pleasure at seeing him. “Let’s have lunch,” he offered, and that pleased me, too. It was a symbol of how little Mr. Rock had to do, day-by-day, with my real life, despite my obsession with him.

“I know this Indian restaurant around here,” Colin said, as we began to walk together. “My father’s an anthropologist who’s done a lot of field work in India, and he swears that the food at this place is the real thing.”

“I love Indian food,” I said as we walked, even though I still wasn’t hungry. I wondered how expensive this place was, since I was absolutely broke. Mr. Rock hadn’t yet paid me a penny for my first session with him. And eventually, my mother would get around to remembering that I supposed to find a part-time job to help her pay my tuition. But I refused to let these concerns destroy my mood.

The pungent scents of incense and curry permeated the restaurant, while hypnotic sitar music played in the background. The waiters wore white turbans, white suits, with baggy, long jackets, and white running shoes, which seemed a wonderful mix of traditional and contemporary, old and new, past and present.
Read an excerpt of The Last Jewish Virgin, and learn more about the book and author at Janice Eidus's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue