Sunday, November 4, 2007

Anne Landsman's "The Rowing Lesson"

Anne Landsman is the author of The Devil's Chimney and, published this month, The Rowing Lesson.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
In The Rowing Lesson, page 99 marks a very clear turning-point in the life of the main character, Harold Klein. He’s eighteen years old and on a train bound for Cape Town to attend medical school. An old man with runny eyes who shares the compartment with him takes his hand when Harry tells him he’s going to become a doctor.

Clever boytjie, he says, and you wonder if what’s dripping down his cheek landed on his hands, whether you’re going to catch it too, and dissolve into a pool of water before you have a chance to become anything. Clever boytjie, he says again. Clever sounds like cleaver, cleaver sounds like clobber. Clever, cleaver, clobber. Clever, cleaver, clobber. You’re in the song, on the train, and flying up there with every goddamn bird in the sky. ‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the lord God made them all.’ You’re going to see everything and make the world whole and look at bodies and babies and breasts, and touch and smell and feel every ounce of life that ever walked or rolled or crawled on this funny old planet!

What’s expressed here is a distillation of many of the themes in the book – Harry’s intense connection to the land with its sights and sounds, his euphoria and excitement about entering the adult world coupled with his terror of germs. The repetitive sounds of “clever, cleaver, clobber” mimic the sound of the train’s wheels click-clacking on the tracks and intensify Harry’s heightened, almost ecstatic awareness of what being a doctor means to him. As in the whole book, the rhythms of the language itself guide the reader into the volatile workings of Harry’s inner life. He dreams, he believes, he fears – all with the same childlike ferocity and hope.
Learn more about The Rowing Lesson and Anne Landsman at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue