Sunday, May 23, 2010

Beth Greenfield's "Ten Minutes from Home"

Beth Greenfield received her M.A. in journalism from New York University and has since written about travel, entertainment, gay culture, and parenting for publications including the New York Times, Lonely Planet guidebooks, Out, Time Out New York Kids, and Time Out New York, where she is currently a staff editor. She lives in New York City and Provincetown with her partner and their daughter.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her newly published memoir, Ten Minutes from Home, and reported the following:
When I opened Ten Minutes from Home to see what was on page 99, I was disappointed: It was only half a page of text, the end of chapter nine. Could it really come close to passing the Ford Madox Ford test? My initial answer was, "No way." But upon further thought, I think it actually comes pretty close.

My book is, most simply, a tale of adolescent grief. It tells the story of what happens in my family in 1982, when I was 12 years old, after our car was hit by a drunk driver, killing my 7-year-old brother and 13-year-old best friend. My narrative explores all sorts of relationships of mine and how they were affected—how I felt anger toward my mother because she was so crushed by her grief, how I hungered for new close friendships and sought them from neighbors I had little in common with, how I turned to many other adults in my life, from teachers to the new young rabbi of our suburban New Jersey synagogue, to become stand-in mother figures for me. It also takes a close look at the role my grandparents played after the accident, how they lived with us for a short time, greeting mourners and trying to make life continue normally for me while my parents were on the emotional mend.

And what appears on page 99 kind of exemplifies all that. It takes place at the end of a house call from my mother's friend and her 13-year-old son, Scott, on whom I had a massive crush at the time. The friends' good-bye wishes prompt me to ruminate on the types of phrases I kept hearing from caring adults—how I, after being forced to mature overnight after the accident, had begun to read into everything that people said to me. And how one of my grandmothers, my father's mother, was here when I needed her most. It is a snapshot of my adolescent self, expressing pain, thankfulness and a new, unfamiliar wisdom.
All that week, I had begun to sense deep meaning in people's basic words. "Take care" meant "What happened to you is unspeakable, so I don't know what to say."

"Take care of Mom" meant, "I know she's a mess. Don't do anything to make it worse." In general, people stuck to their clich├ęs. They let me figure out the rest.

"Later," Scott said, nodding in my direction. "Feel better."

Grandma Lil saw them to the door and then wrapped her arms around me. When she let go I saw that her eyes were wet with tears, and that her lip quivered as she tried to hold herself together.

"That's my granddaughter," she said, gripping each arm. "That's my Beth." She held my face between the palms of her hands, soft and warm, vaguely scented with lemony hand cream and tuna salad, and leaned in to stamp a juicy kiss just under my left eye. I closed it and smiled, thinking of all the times she'd put her lips to my cheeks, so relieved she was there to do it then.
Read an excerpt from Ten Minutes from Home, and learn more about the book and author at Beth Greenfield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue