Sunday, March 21, 2021

"The House Uptown"

Melissa Ginsburg is the author of the novels The House Uptown and Sunset City, the poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost, and two poetry chapbooks, Arbor and Double Blind. A second poetry collection, Doll Apollo, will be published in 2022 by LSU Press, and the poetry chapbook Apollo is forthcoming in June from Condensery Press. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Guernica, Kenyon Review, Fence, Southwest Review, and other magazines. Originally from Houston, Texas, Ginsburg studied poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Mississippi. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with two dogs, eleven chickens, and the writer Chris Offutt.

Ginsburg applied the Page 69 Test to The House Uptown and reported the following:
Page 69 finds the character Lane eating a bite of omelet prepared by her married lover, Bertrand, a corrupt city councilman. She is recovering from a migraine and goes to bed, then muses about their relationship: "He risked plenty, coming to her. He trusted her, he gave her so much power. She could destroy his family and his career with a single phone call. She could probably send him to jail with what she knew. Lane wondered how often he considered that. Sometimes she thought the potential for destruction was a measure of his love."

This test is a bit misleading, because the scene is a flashback to decades before the bulk of The House Uptown takes place. Bertrand is not a major character in the book. He has been dead for two years and Lane's cognition is faltering. She gets confused about time, and slips into reveries like this one, in which memories feel utterly real and present to her. On the other hand the test kind of works, because this is a book about characters who abide by their own rules which often fly in the face of social convention, morality, and the law--Lane and Bert's affair is really the least of it! This page is also representative of the psychological intimacy of the book. We get to know the way that the main characters think, and to look at the world through their unique sets of beliefs.

Lane is a brilliant painter, obsessed with her art, in denial about the problems with her mind. Her assistant Oliver, a young gay man and former drug dealer, takes care of all the details of her life so she can focus on her paintings. He loves her and tries to do what's best for her, but his job gets increasingly complicated. When Lane's 14-year-old granddaughter Ava shows up to stay with Lane, her presence disrupts the delicate equilibrium of Lane's life. The House Uptown is a lyrical meditation on grief, art, and family connections, paced like a thriller, set in a New Orleans that tourists never see.
Visit Melissa Ginsburg's website.

Q&A with Melissa Ginsburg.

--Marshal Zeringue