Thursday, March 13, 2014

"The Man Who Walked Away"

Maud Casey is the author of the novels, The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book, and Genealogy; and a collection of stories, Drastic. She is the recipient of the Calvino Prize and has received fellowships from the Fundación Valparaiso, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Château de Lavigny, Dora Maar, and the Passa Porta residency at Villa Hellebosch. Casey teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, D.C.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Man Who Walked Away, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Lacrimal,” he says again. It is one of his favorite words: Lacrimal, lacrimal, lacrimal. The exquisite almond-shaped glands, an entire apparatus devoted to tears, keeping the eye moist and free of dust and also shedding the other sort of tears, the kind he was shocked to find himself shedding in the early morning hours. “Don’t be a stranger,” the bartender shouted as the Doctor climbed the stairs to his apartment when he returned from the docks, but he was a stranger, even to himself. There weren’t many tears; still, he didn’t understand them precisely. Lacrimal. Tears of a protective nature and the more mysterious kind passing through tiny openings in the corner of his eye, then into his lacrimal canaliculus, through a small sac and into his nasal cavity. Lacrimal, one of his favorite bones: Lacrimal, lacrimal, lacrimal. The most fragile bone in the body. The hyoid bone—the horseshoe-shaped bone at the base of his tongue, which he did not think of as he ran his tongue over the woman’s hip last night—was nearly as fragile, but the lacrimal bone was the most delicate. Lacrimal. An elegant word, really, and there, at its core, the mystery of the water that he found on his face in the early morning hours as he lay in his bed unable to sleep. Mother, I am frightened. The girl’s voice, still with him, the look on her face that resembled love but wasn’t love at all but a kind of decoy. A decoy that distracted from the question: What is the story of my invisible life?
A meditation on tears—their physiology and their mystery—a little sex, hysterics, and our invisible lives. I like this test! My novel is inspired by a French psychiatric case study from 1886, in which the patient wandered in a semi-trance state throughout much of Europe, sometimes seventy kilometers in a day, often without sleeping or eating. He would wake up in this public square or that one, countries away from home, not knowing how he got there. When he finally took himself to an asylum for treatment, his doctor created a diagnosis for him: fugueur. If diagnoses are a variety of story, and I think they are, then the doctor offered him, among other things, a narrative for his pain. Here, in this passage on page 69, my Doctor, is riding his bicycle early in the morning before he goes to work at the asylum. He is talking to himself, as he often does when he rides his bicycle. The night before, he returned from Paris where he’d gone to watch “the great doctor” (loosely based on Jean-Marie Charcot, the famous neurologist who resurrected hysteria) discuss the case of one of his hysterics as part of a public lecture series (Charcot had a public lecture series at the Salpêtrière Hospital, known as the Tuesday Lessons). After the long train ride home to Bordeaux, the Doctor went down to the docks to visit his favorite prostitute where he put his hyoid bone to good use. But despite the distracting sex, the haunting words of the young girl whose case he watched the great doctor discuss won’t leave him: Mother, I am frightened. Little does he know (poor unsuspecting character!), this is the end of Part I of the novel, and when the Doctor arrives at the asylum at the end of the chapter, he will meet Albert, the wandering man, for the first time and his life will be changed forever. As he tries to help Albert piece together the life he lost somewhere along the road, the Doctor will find himself wrangling with the invisible life beneath the surface narrative. Both Albert’s and his own.
Visit Maud Casey's website.

The Page 99 Test: Genealogy.

--Marshal Zeringue