Monday, October 21, 2019

"Holding On To Nothing"

Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she worked at The Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others and her short fiction has appeared in The Broad River Review and Barren Magazine. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. She is a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children.

Shelburne applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Holding On To Nothing, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“Oh shit. you know,” Lucy said, after a full minute of silent, open-mouthed shock. Her brain would not process the sight of Jeptha in her doorway, a massive teddy bear and a box of diapers clutched in his arms.
The smile on Jeptha’s face faltered. “Uh, hi,” he said, hoisting the bear and the diapers a little higher, as if for her to see better.

“Hi.” Lucy squinted in astonishment at the sight in front of her. How did he know? And why was he here?

“Can I, uh, come in?” Jeptha asked.

She was so suddenly, violently sick to her stomach that it took her a minute to hear the question. Then she shook herself out of her stupor and nodded. “You’d better, I guess, before my neighbors see you.”

“I came to bring you this stuff,” he said. He shrugged and looked down at his feet. “To apologize.”

“Well, you better get to it. I’ll take that bear.” Lucy hugged the bear to her belly and eyed Jeptha as he stacked four sides of a white crib against the wall. It was pretty, she thought, nicer than the ones she’d been looking at.

“How’d you even find out? I haven’t told anyone but LouEllen,” she said.

“Deanna. She guessed you was pregnant,” Jeptha said. “Based on your reaction, I guess she was right.”

“Your sister ruins everything,” Lucy said, feeling her stomach rise all over again as she thought of Deanna’s knowing smirk the night before.

“That’s always been my experience,” Jeptha said. He wasn’t looking at her, but at a piece of carpet that had come loose years before. He nudged it with his toe. “She didn’t guess nothing about it being mine though.”

He paused and cleared his throat, looking up at Lucy. “Is it?”

A wave of anger swept over her. “Yes. You ass. It’s yours.” She suddenly felt like a woman, more than being pregnant or turning twenty-one had ever made her feel. It was the pure, unmitigated fury provoked by a man’s stupidity that had done it.
This is the opening of Chapter Six, when Jeptha realizes that Lucy is pregnant with his baby after a one-night stand. Unfortunately for Jeptha, he only finds out after he has drunkenly blown off a date with her. Feeling spiteful after being stood up, Lucy has resolved never to tell him about the baby, just as he is realizing that the baby is his. It is representative of the rest of the book because we see the crux of their characters and the dilemmas they face: Lucy is distrustful and angry, but also deeply forgiving, while Jeptha is the world’s most loveable fuck-up, but deeply loves Lucy. (And you begin to realize how awful Deanna, Jeptha’s sister, is!)

This chapter marks a turning point in the book. After tacitly forgiving him enough to let him in the door, as we see on this page, Jeptha assembles the crib with Lucy’s help, and she begins to see some of the good side of him. This moment of tenderness between Jeptha and Lucy makes her decide to give him a chance, thus setting the rest of the book in motion.
Visit Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue