Friday, December 30, 2016

"A Perfect Life"

Eileen Pollack is a writer whose novel Breaking and Entering, about the deep divisions between blue and red America, was named a 2012 New York Times Editor’s Choice selection.

She also is the author of Paradise, New York, a novel, and two collections of short fiction, In the Mouth and The Rabbi in the Attic, as well as a work of creative nonfiction called Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull (soon to be a major motion picture starring Jessica Chastain) and two innovative textbooks, Creative Nonfiction and Creative Composition.

Pollack applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Perfect Life, and reported the following:
From page 69:
We found a handicapped spot just outside the club, then got in the line and waited. The bouncer didn’t seem to notice us, even when Maureen was sitting right in front of his beery gut. The club was in a basement, and Maureen told him that we would need his help getting down the stairs.

He shook his head no.

“No?” Maureen said. “What do you mean no?”

“No wheelchairs.” He stamped the next couple’s hands.

“You have a law against wheelchairs?”

“No law,” he said. “I just don’t want to get a hernia.”

The couple behind us pushed past us. I wanted to seize the wheelchair and carry it down myself, but I had tried this once, at an entrance to the T, and nearly dropped Maureen down the longest flight of stairs in Boston. Most of all, I wanted to punch the bouncer. What a relief it would be to get angry on someone else’s behalf. For all her feistiness, Maureen rarely showed anger. “How can I?” she told me once. “I never know whose help I might need.” This was true of my own life as well. I couldn’t show anger toward my father, or Susan Bate, or Yosef or Vic. If Laurel came down with the disease, I would regret any harsh words I had ever said to her.

I told the bouncer that if he didn’t help me carry my friend’s chair down the steps, I would report him.

“Yeah?” he said. “To who?”

“Just tell me this,” Maureen said. “If I were inside the club, and I drank too much, and I picked a fight with someone, you would throw me out, wouldn’t you?”

The bouncer shrugged. “I guess so.”

“Okay, so why not throw me in.”

He narrowed his eyes. Then he grabbed the wheelchair, spun it roughly backward, and bumped it down the steps as if Maureen were a load of beer.

“You creep!” I yelled, wishing I’d had more practice cursing. I ran down and yanked his vest.

He turned and raised his fist. “Fuck you and your ugly friend,” he said. He plucked his vest from my hand and lumbered back up the steps.

“Don’t you want a kiss?” Maureen shouted up to him.

He shot us both the finger.

“That does it,” I told Maureen.

Never mind, she said. She had gotten us in, hadn’t she? She tried to straighten her stockings, but her hands were shaking.

“He shouldn’t be able to get away with that,” I said.

“Jane,” she said, “if I stopped to report everyone who was a jerk to me in the course of a day, I would never have any fun. Let’s go in. I’d rather spend my time dancing.”
A Perfect Life is the story of Jane Weiss, a young researcher working desperately to find a test for the genetic disease that killed her mother and that Jane herself has a 50-50 chance of having inherited. If she finds the marker for Valentine’s disease and learns she doesn’t have it, she can marry and have children without worrying that they, too, will die the lingering, painful death that killed her mother. But what if she does have the gene? And what if her sister, Laurel, has it? What are the ethics of developing a test for a debilitating, slow-acting disease that has no cure? Adding to the complexity of the novel is Jane’s relationship to Willie Land, the son of a famous folk singer who also died of Valentine’s. Willie loves Jane and wants to marry her even though their combined risk for carrying the gene for Valentine’s would make their marriage almost certain to result in a child with the disease, or one of them needing to see the other through a fatal illness. Inspired by the real-life research that led to the discovery of a marker for Huntington’s chorea, A Perfect Life explores the questions raised by our newfound ability to decode our genes. Has life become a matter of calculating percentages? Of trying to achieve a perfectly risk-free life? Is it possible—or even desirable—for human beings to evade the limits and imperfections to which our very bodies make us prone?

In this scene, taken from p 69 of the novel, Jane takes a rare moment to go dancing with her friend and fellow researcher, Maureen, who has been confined to a wheelchair since childhood as a result of her own disease, rheumatoid arthritis.
Visit Eileen Pollack's website.

--Marshal Zeringue