Monday, February 18, 2013

"A Town of Empty Rooms"

Karen E. Bender is the author of the novel Like Normal People, which was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Town of Empty Rooms, her second novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Town of Empty Rooms features Serena Hirsch following Rabbi Golden and Betty Blumenthal as they try to find a home for the Southeastern North Carolina Jewish Community Center, an imagined gathering place that has never existed in the area. The three of them walk through buildings in various shades of ruin, and the Rabbi is full of an enormous, painful hope.
“There were only a few properties within the current budget. They stopped to investigate a plot of pine forest off the interstate, a crumbling mansion with eight bedrooms, an abandoned elementary school dark with mold. The three of them wandered through one building that the rabbi had chattered about excitedly; it was a private school that had recently been foreclosed. It was been damaged in a storm, and there were brown clouds of water damage on the walls. There were ten, fifteen large rooms, and they all smelled as though they were sinking into the earth.

Betty walked through each room slowly, marking down each bit of damage. The rabbi flew through the rooms like a deer.

“Look at it,” he said. “Room to grow. It’s perfect!”

“Rabbi,” said Betty, looking concerned, “it’s a dump.”

“Great! We get it cheap!” he said. “Come on! We’re this close to signing the Rosens. The father owns the biggest toy store in town. They have five cars!”

“Rabbi,” said Betty, softly.

“What’s wrong?”

“There are too many rooms.”
In this scene, I wanted to show Rabbi Golden’s bright, rather deluded expansiveness, as it is one element that energizes his congregation, and brings comfort to Serena; it also creates conflict with Betty, who thinks he is, well, blind. Betty carefully and practically lays out why the moldy, dilapidated building is not a good investment. The way that Rabbi Golden responds to Betty, and to others in his congregation, as they interfere with his dream, is an important element of the novel. This is one moment in which people talk past each other in the book, in which they’re stuck in their own limited selves. I liked writing this scene because the contrast between the actual ruined nature of the building and the rabbi’s grand plans for it was so sad and beautiful, in a way, to me.
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Bender's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Town of Empty Rooms.

--Marshal Zeringue