Friday, March 24, 2023

"A Country You Can Leave"

Asale Angel-Ajani is a writer and professor at The City College of New York. She's the author of the nonfiction books Strange Trade: The Story of Two Women Who Risked Everything in the International Drug Trade and Intimate: Essays on Racial Terror. She has held residencies at Millay, Djerassi, and Playa, and is an alum of VONA and Tin House.

Angel-Ajani applied the Page 69 Test to A Country You Can Leave, her first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“What about you?” I repeat as the swoosh of the intake window slides open and the nurse calls out a name.

Crystal loosens her grip on her backpack, pushing herself up. “A checkup.” It’s the way she says it, quick and exacting, like she’s slamming a door, locking it. I don’t believe her.

Then, she draws a sharp breath. “What’s that guy doing?” Putting her hand to her mouth, she’s stares out into the waiting room. She’s upset, trembling, as if she’s about to cry.

“Where? Who? What are you talking about?” I shift around in my seat, trying to follow her line of vision. I expect blood. Death. Something major.

She grips my arm and hisses, “There. The guy two seats in front of us, the one with the headphones.”

I spot him. He has his back to us. On his lap is a portable DVD player. The screen is a dark shadow from where I’m sitting so I squeeze over, moving Crystal with my shoulder.

For a few seconds I watch a head bob over an erect penis and lean back in my seat. “Yeah. So what.”

“But its gross. We’re in public.” Crystal looks like she’s going to vomit, but she’s riveted. And I wonder if this is what Yevgenia sees whenever I get all high and mighty about sex.

“Well. You don’t have to watch.”

“I’m not.” She says but her eyes wander back to the guy. “You are.”

“It’s like a car crash.” Crystal smiles for the first time.

“Apparently.” With my head I gesture to an old man who is so captivated by the porn that he’s nearly falling out of his seat.

We giggle, stupidly, uncomfortable and maybe a bit excited. “Have you ever done something like that?” Crystal asks.

“That?” I shake my head no. And then there’s the odd feeling of superiority, I’m not proud of it, but it’s there.
The scene on page 69 might lead readers to think that the book is 1) a YA novel or 2) filled with sex. Let me explain. On page 69, the main character, Lara, is visiting a community health clinic because a few pages before, she realizes her mother has never had her vaccinated against “anything”. While at the clinic, Lara sees a girl from the Oasis Mobile Estates (an off-the-gird community where they live), and eventually, the two end up sitting next to each other in the waiting room where they spy an older man watching porn on his laptop. It’s a darkly funny scene, which I would say is somewhat representative of the overall book, but this page doesn’t really give you a sense of what the main story is really about, mostly, because Lara’s mother, Yevgenia is not reflected on the page. But for a book that is set in the desert, in a community of fugitives and ne’er-do-wells, it shows the kind of day-to-day absurdities that can occur in life that are strange and sort of funny, even when life presents its challenges.
Visit Asale Angel-Ajani's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Country You Can Leave.

--Marshal Zeringue