Friday, August 17, 2007

Beth Kohl's "Embryo Culture"

Beth Kohl has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an MA from Northwestern University, and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in Tulane Review and Chicago Reader.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Embryo Culture: Making Babies in the Twenty-first Century, and reported the following:
I love you, Page 99, encapsulating as you do my thesis that going through in vitro fertilization forced upon me a reckoning with previously assumed ideas about health, religion and romance. Plot-wise, my husband Gary responds to an email I sent on page 98, a regular old page without any sort of thesis on it, in which I’ve questioned his firm belief of religious teachings that suddenly strike me as impossible, considering what artificial reproductive technology is capable of when nature and/or miracle prove futile. As I do throughout the book, I look at my present circumstances – having a failed reproductive system and suddenly rocky beliefs about lots of things I once believed in unquestioningly – through the lens of my past. Oh, and I also ruin any chance I have of ever being President by admitting not only to having smoked pot, but to doing it every Friday for some time.

Subject: Re: Angst


You are going to hell. And it’ll be especially hellish because not only will you have an eternity of the usual hell stuff – fiery pits and pitchforks, Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer – but because they’ll be no pigs in hell, vilified on earth as they’ve been by the Jews and Muslims. By the way, the last time I checked, catfish are still fish. Not pigs. Not horses or whatever other animals the rabbis specify, but fish, as in Gefilte.

Your Loving Husband

As the weeks passed, it became nearly impossible for us to talk about anything without me turning it into something deep, heavy, freaky. This gravitas reminded me of college, my earnest self nestled in a beanbag chair in somebody’s dorm room, passing around a bong plastered with band stickers. On Friday nights, I’d hang out in the room of this guy at the end of the hall, talking about the Sandinistas, migrant workers’ shameful living conditions, and the tattered ozone layer. The room would be packed, filled with UW Badgers waiting for their turn with the The Smiths bong, so enormous only the T and s dipped out of one’s bleary-eyed, head-on view. But as serious as the issues we discussed, as many Fridays as I’d spent in there, these conversations were easy. We were strident, solid in our convictions, and knew that however tragic, Nicaragua and fruit farms and the stratosphere were a bazillion miles away from the warmth of our dorm, the coziness of our student union.

My current crop of issues was dead serious and deadly intimate. Older now, and sobered, I was being forced to reconsider my assumptions – about my health and my religion, about God, romance, and the meaning of life. Perhaps polycystic ovaries were just the tip of some disordered iceberg, I worried, and I had a mother lode of abnormalities lying in hibernation....
Read an excerpt from Embryo Culture and learn more about Beth Kohl and her new book at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue