Sunday, July 13, 2014

"The Hundred-Year House"

Rebecca Makkai is a Chicago-based writer whose first novel, The Borrower, is a Booklist Top Ten Debut, an Indie Next pick, an O Magazine selection, and one of Chicago Magazine's choices for best fiction of 2011. Her short fiction has been chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), and appears regularly in journals like Harper's, Tin House, Ploughshares, and New England Review.

Makkai applied the Page 69 Test to her second novel, The Hundred-Year House, and reported the following:
From page 69:
Zee went back and forth on the spelling of effect, but figured the three imaginary girls would be imaginary English majors, and would get it right. She left two copies in the printer trays where they could be found by students, then stuck one copy in Shaumber’s mailbox and one in Blum’s.
At some point, early in every novel, a character needs to cross a line, to do something she wouldn’t have done on page one. (Think of Bilbo Baggins finally leaving his hobbit hole with those dwarves.) For Zee, this is that point: she has just sabotaged a colleague. She wants Sid Cole out of the college English Department for several reasons, one of which is that her husband would be a prime candidate for his job. And she believes him to be guilty of a lifetime of sexual harassment – she’s just manufacturing a situation here to prove it. What she’s done is download hundreds of pornographic images (this is 1999, so it takes her a while) onto his office computer; then she’s written a letter from three anonymous students who feel violated by the images they’ve seen when they visit Cole’s office.

As for whether this page is representative of the novel – yes and no. As a plot point, it’s a tangent. The novel is much more about the house where Zee lives, and its history as an arts colony in the 1920s. Although the book starts in 1999, the narrative soon takes us back to the 50’s and the 20’s and then to 1900. Obviously (and unfortunately), those sections don’t have much computer porn in them. But thematically, there is something central going on here: the book questions the idea of fate, and whether we’re drawn toward prewritten destinies, or if we can will the future into being. In fact, Zee does manage to create the exact controversy she wished for – but by the time it comes about, it’s the last thing she wants.

On another note, I do find it entirely apt that my 69th page is about porn.
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: Rebecca Makkai (August 2009).

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

--Marshal Zeringue