Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Beasts and Children"

Amy Parker was born in Okinawa, Japan, and spent most of her childhood on diplomatic and military compounds overseas. She returned to the United States after her high school graduation and attended Indiana University, where she studied comparative literature. She won a Michener fellowship in fiction from the University of Texas, Austin. Afterward, she spent four years doing intensive monastic practice at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the United States, and at Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center in Mill Valley, California. She received lay ordination in the Soto Zen lineage in 2007. She left the monastery for the Iowa Writers Workshop, where she graduated in 2012. She currently lives in Wichita with her son.

Parker applied the Page 69 Test to her debut story collection, Beasts and Children, and reported the following:
Oy… by sheer coincidence the most sexually explicit scene occurs on page 69. I’m a little bashful about quoting it here. It’s at the midpoint of the story “Rainy Season”, where we first meet two of the book’s protagonists, a pair of sisters, Maizie and Jill. The sisters are diplomatic brats, bored tweens caged up on their compound in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at a loss for activity, and totally unsupervised.

By page 69, Jill has swept off in the company of a prostitute and two very drunk tourists, to a karaoke bar in the Night Market in Chiang Mai. Her younger sister Maizie comes along, hoping to protect her. Instead, both girls get drunk on Long Island Ice Teas and things go from bad to worse. Jill has been flirting with the younger of the two tourists—he’s 20 to her 13, and she’s desperate for experience. In this moment his expectations and hers clash violently, to put it somewhat mildly. There’s an equally handsy gibbon encroaching toward the bottom of the page who is going to give her sister problems. It’s ridiculous and uncomfortable and humiliating—the whole scene is a nightmare.

Kyung slides his hand up past the elastic of her underpants and plunges a finger into her. Jill gasps. She is all slippery but it hurts. His finger works deeper. She tries to pull away but Kyung’s other hand squeezes her breast and she can’t move. Inside her is a wave she suspected when touching herself all alone, but this is different because it hurts and she can’t get away. Then Kyung leans in to kiss her, and his tongue, thick with liquor and cold, wraps her tongue and she can’t breathe. She doesn’t know how to kiss back, and she can’t breathe, so she, too panicked to care that they’re in public, she bites him.

Is it representative of the collection? In a way, yes, because many of the stories are about na├»ve or foolish people endangering themselves and others by taking action without thought to consequences—but it’s also somewhat misleading because “Rainy Season” is such a headlong, breakneck piece. Other parts of the book are more wry, or funny, and somewhat less manic. But this is a big moment in the collection because it’s when Jill realizes that her imagination is a source of danger. Her misguided excursion brings about more than the first kiss she’d hoped for, and her realization that unexamined fantasy and impulsive action have far-reaching, possibly irreparable consequences is one of the big epiphanies of the book. A thrust of a finger literally thrusts her into an extremely painful adult understanding of her own agency.
Visit Amy Parker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue