Thursday, February 25, 2021

"The Upstairs House"

Julia Fine is the author of What Should Be Wild, which was shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Superior First Novel Award and the Chicago Review of Books Award. She teaches writing in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children.

Fine applied the Page 69 Test to The Upstairs House, her second novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I finally called my mother, and when she arrived, I felt saner, mostly because it was hard not to feel like the most logical one in the room next to my mother, in her deep-V cashmere sweater, mascara tracked under her eyes. She had on a gold Magen David necklace, and the lowest point of the star pierced her right in the sun-freckled fold of her cleavage.

The first thing that she said: “You look a mess.”

“It’s harder than I thought, not having Ben here,” I said, and immediately she gave me the look I should have anticipated, the look of Try raising two girls without a father, try dating with two daughters at home, and by the way has Dad been by to see the baby? I chose not to respond; Annie’s therapist had told her that the only way to stem my mother’s passive aggression was to force her to express herself overtly. We weren’t going to give her crumbs.

It was nice that Annie had a therapist. It was like having one of my own, only for free and without having to schedule appointments.
Although this page is missing some of the key elements of The Upstairs House (the new baby, the dissertation on children’s literature, Margaret Wise Brown and her lover appearing as ghosts to haunt the narrator), thematically it cuts right to the core of the novel. It’s a book about motherhood and daughterhood—the way we carry our own childhoods into our choices as parents, and the anxieties we have about our fitness to care for our children. The Upstairs House is also a book about mental health. Megan, the protagonist, is either seeing ghosts, or experiencing a postpartum mood disorder. She’s just had her first baby, and she can’t tell how much of what she’s feeling and experiencing is normal. Does every baby wake up to eat every hour all night long? Does nursing hurt for everyone? Does every new parent see the ghost of a dead children’s author in the stairwell? Megan’s family history of psychiatric hospitalizations should prompt her to seek help, but the stigma associated with visiting a therapist and the dissociation she feels from her former life simply by having become a mother keep her from letting anyone in. If she were willing to talk to a professional, perhaps the climax of the book could be avoided all together. As is, Megan leans on her sister, Annie, without being totally honest. She does mental gymnastics to justify what she’s feeling and seeing and doing and spends much of the book convincing herself that she’s fine, even as she sinks further into psychosis and depression.
Visit Julia Fine's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Upstairs House.

--Marshal Zeringue