Friday, September 6, 2019

"The Lightest Object in the Universe"

Kimi Eisele is a writer and multidisciplinary artist. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Longreads, Orion Magazine, High Country News, and elsewhere. She holds a master’s degree in geography from the University of Arizona, where in 1998 she founded You Are Here: The Journal of Creative Geography. She has received grants from the Arts Foundation of Southern Arizona, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She lives in Tucson and works for the Southwest Folklife Alliance.

Eisele applied the Page 69 Test to The Lightest Object in the Universe, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She reached out and hovered her hand over the mirror. “Someone cleans this every day,” she said, nervously diverting attention to some- thing else. There was always a menial narrative to accompany polished brass and sparkling mirrors.

“Flora,” he said. “She’s from El Salvador.”

When the elevator stopped, Beatrix looked at Carson’s hand as he gestured for her to exit. She’d been noticing his body all day, the long bones that held him upright, the lean muscles of his arms, the gray of his eyes, and now, the strong tendons in his hands.

Once inside the apartment, as he folded his jacket over a chair, she reached for his arm.

Carson turned and brushed her hair off her face and tapped her fore- head gently. “Just making sure you’re really here.”

“Yes,” she said. “I am here.”

He was taller than she had remembered. She wondered, briefly, if June was there, somewhere, in his mind. He pulled her closer. He smelled like soap and wool. He reached beneath her hair to the back of her neck and pressed his other hand to her heart. He kissed her ears, temples, forehead, cheeks, nose. When he got to her mouth, he pulled away.

“I am here,” she said again, and reached her mouth to his.

Carson pulled her shirt up over her head. She pushed her head against his chest. He said her name slowly at first: “Bee-ah” then a quick “tricks.”
Ha! In some ways, this is the “money shot” of the novel. Pardon my slang. A love story set in the post-apocalypse, the book follows Carson, a high school principal on the East Coast, and Beatrix, a fair trade activist on the West coast, as they try to stay alive and find their way back to each other after a financial crash, flu, extreme weather, and a cyberattack have left the world in collapse. They’ve met in person only twice, prior to the crash and before the book opens. Once, when Beatrix gave a guest lecture to a classroom of students in Carson’s school, and months later when she returned to his city for a meeting, after they’d been corresponding long distance for nearly a year. The scene on page 69 recounts part of that second meeting, the love born over distance finally compressed to the space between their bodies, in the same room. It’s one of the novel’s few sex scenes. It’s very subtle. (In earlier drafts it was less so. Sex is hard to write well! Suggestion and metaphor are critical.)

The setup to their consummation reveals something about each character. This section is narrated from Beatrix’s point of view, so there is her attention to Carson’s body, revealing his physicality to both her and the reader. Beatrix demonstrates concern for the underdog, the underpinning of her activist life, noting as they ride the elevator that someone cleans it. Carson reveals the the name of that someone, which means he’s asked and remembered, a detail that illustrates his kindness and curiosity.

It’s one of the few times we see Carson and Beatrix together in the book. It’s an essential scene. The sexual tension between them is both released and established here. The fact of this moment is what propels Carson on a cross-country journey on foot along the railroad to find Beatrix. It is what gives Beatrix hope thousands of miles away as she collaborates with her neighbors to survive. And it’s one of the first glimpses of “the lightest object” itself, which you’ll discover more of if you read the book.
Visit Kimi Eisele's website.

--Marshal Zeringue