Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Lore Segal's "Shakespeare's Kitchen"

Lore Segal has worked as novelist, essayist, translator, and writer of children’s books. Her novels include Other People's Houses, serialized in The New Yorker and published by Harcourt Brace in 1964, currently available from The New Press, 1994; Lucinella (FSG, 1978); and Her First American, which won an award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (Knopf, 1985, The New Press, 1995).

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Shakespeare’s Kitchen, and reported the following:
"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you," says Ford Madox Ford. Is this true of Page 99 of my interrelated stories called Shakespeare’s Kitchen? 99 happens to be one of a two page sketch, an affectionate jab at an old leftist friend who lives in a gated community. My characters, the members and spouses of members of Concordance, a Connecticut think tank, assemble to deal with the proximity of the black ghetto. Only the director’s dog, Cassandra, has the right moral responses; the judgment of the humans depends on their politics: left, right, feminist. My protagonist Ilka, straddles as many sides of the argument as can be argued. Here it is in part:

“Please!” said Leslie. “We’re talking about a sudden wave of crime. The standing lamp disappears from my office, the copier walks itself out of the mail room, Betty and Barbara are mugged coming out of the Pancake house and so are Alvin and Alicia walking down the middle of the street! A robber squeezes past the Bernstines’ air conditioner and turns on the light on! Yvette is accosted on campus at noon.”

“The girl from the project steals my wallet,” Eliza added.

“You don’t know that!” cried Ilka.

Ahmed was arranging the stand for Mr. Charley’s charts and maps. "You're fortunate," said this gentleman, "that Concordance University, originally conceived as the Concordance School for Higher Women, was a gated community. There's still a quarter of mile of wall here, on the right side of Southgate, and another hundred feet here." The man from the Planning Commission flipped to a new map, "and here and here."

“A wa-all!" said Alvin, Alpha, Ilka, and the two Bernstines on a descending note. "A wall?" mused Zack, Maria, Yvette and Eliza Shakespere with rising interest.

The lawyer said, “Leslie wants me to check the charter: The city might have been liable for the upkeep of the wall for half a century. The city might be liable for rebuilding.”

"A wall is a thought!"

"We’re not having a wall!”

"You put a layer of cement on it and embed broken glass," said Officer Right.

What does page 99 reveal about its writer? That I think human beings, including myself, are comical. That I’m rather fond of us. That story is a metaphor for what we mean and dream; that my own first loyalty is to the word, which is honor-bound to be neither larger nor lighter, nor noisier nor cleverer, etc., than the idea to which it refers; that my sentences would like to be shapely.
Learn more about Lore Segal, and visit the publisher's page for Shakespeare's Kitchen.

--Marshal Zeringue