Wednesday, February 21, 2018

"Self-Portrait with Boy"

Rachel Lyon is the author of the novel Self-Portrait with Boy. She teaches for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, Slice, and elsewhere, and offers private writing coaching. Most weeks she sends out a free writing/thinking prompts newsletter. She is a cofounder of the monthly reading series Ditmas Lit.

Lyon applied the Page 69 Test to Self-Portrait with Boy and reported the following:
Page 69-70 shows Lu's relationship to art in the context of her daily life:
On a day off from Summerland I left home early for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Outside the heat rose up from the sidewalk and the day stretched out before me long and promising. I took a hot slow uptown train scrawled with graffiti to Lexington Avenue, where ladies carried dogs in handbags instead of walking them. The glorious Met. . . . On a weekday there is little sound beyond the echoed footsteps of a few dedicated visitors. It is as if we want to emulate the stillness of the art.

A Breughel happened to be visiting from Belgium: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. I spent half an hour looking into its painted world. The with in the painting's title tells you something about it. It is more landscape than Icarus. His white legs that kick as he drowns in the lower right quadrant of the painting are almost insignificant, and that's the point. In the foreground is a plowman with a horse. Delicate sailboats populate the bay. A fisherman with what looks very much like a cup of coffee throws his line into the water. A flock of sheep turn away from the drowning boy—except for one, which watches passively. A man with a knapsack frowns up at the sky, arms folded. He has noticed some disturbance up above, but the tragedy's behind him....

Emerging from the cool museum into the humid afternoon was like stepping into a warm puddle. So as not to spend the extra $1.25 on subway fare I walked downtown. The sidewalks glared up, mica sparkling. Square-shouldered businessmen talked loudly on phones the size of shoe boxes. Damp women in hideous power suits pushed past each other at crosswalks. Cyclists careened through traffic and sprayed up the oily water that pooled at the curbs. Taxi drivers shouted in Arabic and Urdu. Buses lumbered up and down the avenues, belching when they stopped. There is a William Carlos Williams poem about the very Breughel I'd spend time with at the Met. Something about the whole pageantry of the year… awake tingling… concerned with itself… sweating in the sun… And then, unsignificantly off the coast… a splash quite unnoticed. These strangers knew nothing of Max, my art, or me. Tragedy is insignificant, banal. A falling boy goes largely unnoticed.
This section shows my protagonist Lu Rile in a more academic frame of mind than she appears elsewhere in the book. I added it late in the writing process. A friend who'd read a late draft mentioned he couldn't tell whether Lu actually liked art or not. So I wrote a new passage showing how she sees and thinks about and responds to work that's not her own.
Visit Rachel Lyon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue