Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"The Celestials"

Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. She is the author of the novels An Empire of Women, The Bad Boy’s Wife, Don’t I Know You?, and the newly released The Celestials. Her short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, and Ploughshares, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in More, Self, USA Today, and the Boston Globe, among others. She teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, where she lives with her husband, novelist Jim Shepard, and their three children.

Shepard applied the Page 69 Test to The Celestials and reported the following:
From page 69:
And although Julia had forbidden it, Thankful roused her brother, letting him know why it was necessary that now, in the early hours of the morning, he join his sad and sleeping wife. And he did, and Julia was glad, for she woke to her husband settling around her as a shoe with its mate in a box, placing his hand, dry and warm, on her head.

“Thankful never could hold her tongue,” Julia said, already crying.

“Bless her for it,” Sampson answered, wiping his wife’s face with the heel of his hand.

“I’m sorry,” Julia said. “For what?” he asked.

She closed her eyes and held his hand over them with her own. “For everything,” she said.

He made to move, and she knew what was coming: his request for her to open her eyes and believe him when he told her that he had nothing for which to forgive her.

That she was, as she had been on the day they met, on the day they married, the one person in the world for him. That she was always and forever enough. Her moments of greatest loss would be in her mind always paired with the greatest evidence of her husband’s love. It had the consequence of making the losses feel more enormous.

She pressed his hand harder to her face, curled her body more tightly against his. “Stay,” she said. And he did."
I didn't think page 69 would be particularly representative of the novel, but it turns out it's utterly representative. Julia Sampson is in the midst of losing her fourteenth pregnancy. Her childlessness, at a time (1800s) when a wife who wasn't a mother was a failure of a woman, was crucial for my emotional understanding of some of what this novel would explore. Julia Sampson discovers that she will do anything, sacrifice even her genuine love for her husband of twenty-plus years, to get what she wants the most: a child. This page depicts the Sampsons' love; Julia's ongoing devastation at all those failed pregnancies, and foreshadows all that they will have to apologize to each other for. It's one of the distressing paradoxes of life that the damage we do to our loved ones exceeds all our best intentions.
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Shepard's website.

Writers Read: Karen Shepard.

--Marshal Zeringue