Thursday, June 5, 2014

"The Sixteenth of June"

Maya Lang grew up on Long Island, New York, where she stayed up reading late at night after pretending to be interested in science during the day. The Sixteenth of June, her first novel, is a modern riff on Ulysses that you can enjoy even if you’ve never read a word of Joyce. It was selected by Bookish as one of the best novels of the summer.

Lang applied the Page 69 Test to her novel and reported the following:
I’m pleased to share that page 69 reveals quite a bit about The Sixteenth of June. Here’s a passage:
“But nothing works! She died almost a year ago. A whole year! And here I am, barely holding it together. Sometimes I worry I’m worse.”

“Who’s to say there’s a time limit on grief? Maybe you have to feel worse before you can feel better.”

“I just—I keep waiting for things to feel normal again. But what if they never do?” Nora gazes out the open car door. “Honestly, the only time I feel like myself is when I perform. Which is weird, right?”

“I’ve seen you sing. The place could catch fire and you wouldn’t notice.”

Nora laughs. Stephen remembers first hearing her, in his room at Branford. He had heard her voice coming through the pipes, but when he opened his door, there was nothing. Some sort of trick of sound, the strange acoustics of the old dorm. He wandered upstairs, ducking a Frisbee, the blast of the Spice Girls, a group of freshmen dancing in their pajamas while laughing hysterically. Turning a corner, he finally heard a trickle of her undulating soprano and followed it to its source. He stood in her doorway, watching. The sheet music was spread before her, though her eyes were closed.

She paused to make a notation with a pencil from behind her ear. He cleared his throat. “Too loud?” she asked, unembarrassed.

“You’re amazing,” he blurted.

She laughed.
This passage introduces you to several key elements in the novel: Stephen and Nora’s abiding friendship, which goes back to their days in college, Nora’s talent as a former opera singer now performing jazz, and her paralyzing grief over the loss of her mother. Nearly a year later, Nora keeps waiting for life to feel normal again, for her old sense of self to return, and she feels unmoored.

Stephen, dithering in his seventh year of grad school, is no stranger to feeling lost; he feels appalled by his lack of achievement and struggles with questions about his career. As twentysomethings who feel the future coming at them fast, with friends around them getting married and settling down, Stephen and Nora struggle with expectations—from others as well as themselves—of what they “should” be doing. “It’s not the future we should fear,” Stephen reflects at the end of this chapter. “It’s ourselves.”
Visit Maya Lang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue