Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The Beginners"

Rebecca Wolff is an award-winning poet and founding editor of Fence and Fence Books. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and is the author of three books of poems; her work has appeared in The Nation, The Paris Review, and A Public Space.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Beginners, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Beginners puts the reader in the middle of an appropriately dirty scene. We find Ginger Pritt, our fifteen-year-old narrator and heroine, catching her first earful of the living adult world of nitty-gritty sexuality into which she is going to be plunged, or seduced, or coerced, in the course of the novel. Previously she has only encountered it in her fervid readings of the pornographic magazines in her employer’s stash. Ginger has slipped out of her house after dinner, and taken a creeped-out bike ride through the dark. On this ride she feels that her “back, as she rode away from the house felt larger than my whole body, like a target, with the raw, unprotected feeling of full exposure, total vulnerability to whatever forces might alight.” She rides to her new friends’ house, the Motherwells, and then standing at the screen door, then inside the door, in the hallway, eavesdrops on a particularly talkative, linguistically charged incidence of coitus on the kitchen table. She is caught, unable to move backward or forward for fear that they will understand that she is there and listening (though there is always a suspicion, with the Motherwells, that they are all too aware of who is observing them and when—that they set these traps for Ginger). Here’s a little of what she hears:
She sipped some liquid. The glass came down on the table with a resonant ping. “Because when I think of a phrase like ‘dewy p-ssy,’ it is actually my own ... that is referred to, and what is exciting to me is the idea that my p-ssy could be, and probably will be, referred to by someone in the future—near or far—as ‘dewy.’ And this excitement in turn actually produces in my body the phenomenon, or state, if you will, of ‘dewy p-ssy.’

This time she allowed the two words to issue silkily from between her lips, to be drawn out like a shining ribbon.

Theo’s voice was a little lowered. I had to strain to hear him. “Keep talking—”
This page is an interesting slice of the book in that it lands directly on something that reviewers and interviewers have almost all been shy of addressing: the not copious but quite pointed and integral instances of frank sexual content in the narrative. The sex is, on the other hand, something that those who have read the book for pleasure have, well, noted with pleasure. It’s not always good sex, but it’s sex that is quite visceral and that the reader tends to have some strong feelings about.
Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Wolff's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue