Tuesday, September 9, 2014

"Rainey Royal"

Dylan Landis is the author of a debut novel, Rainey Royal, and a linked story collection, Normal People Don't Live Like This. Her work has appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2014, the New York Times, Tin House, BOMB and elsewhere. She lives in New York.

Landis applied the Page 69 Test to Rainey Royal and reported the following:
My page 69 opens in a high school art class, where a tall, shy girl named Leah—the unnamed giraffe, below—is being bullied by two lionesses: the troubled and talented Rainey Royal, and Rainey's best friend Tina. But Rainey's mind is wandering. She's thinking about her father, Howard, a brilliant slimeball jazz musician who has been giving Tina clarinet lessons, and maybe some other kinds of lessons, on the side.

Rainey loves Howard, and she loves Tina, but the combination of the two is more than she can stand.
Mr. Knecht, oblivious to the hazards of placing two lionesses with a giraffe, has seated her with Rainey and Tina. Tina can't draw well either, but she has the advantage of not giving a fuck. Also, she has the advantage of Rainey, who leans over when Mr. Knecht isn't looking and lightly chisels Tina's linoleum, adding gesture and grace.

Every time Rainey starts to ask Tina to come over, she hesitates; she envisions Howard giving her breathing lessons from behind, breathing being a big deal for musicians. Breathe from here, she imagines him saying, his hands over Tina's lower abdomen where—as she conceives the body—clothes tumble round in a hot dryer, and then, sliding one hand up to her breastbone, not from here, he would say, and it would be pure Howard to do this, and it makes Rainey sick.
Page 69 is pure Rainey, and pure Howard. He has no boundaries, and I loved writing him. It was cathartic—for reasons having nothing to do with my own wonderful family—and it let me be outrageous in ways that felt peculiar to New York in the 1970s. That was an era when I felt intensely alive, as teenagers do: every nerve ending awake. But I was as interested in writing the small, revealing details as in the in-your-face sex and drugs of the time.
She wonders if she can tell Tina to leave the goddamn clarinet at home. She is afraid that Tina might bring the loaner, swing it insouciantly, like a purse.
I loved writing Rainey. What I shared with her personally were my troubles and my fears, and the intensity of my female friendships. But she was the artist and the rebel I longed to be.
Visit Dylan Landis's website.

Writers Read: Dylan Landis (November 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue