Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jennifer Lee Carrell's "Interred With Their Bones"

Jennifer Lee Carrell has won three awards for distinction in undergraduate teaching at Harvard, where she taught in the History and Literature Program and directed Shakespeare for the Hyperion Theatre Company. She is the author of The Speckled Monster, a work of historical nonfiction about battling smallpox at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her debut novel Interred With Their Bones, and reported the following:
Applied to Interred With Their Bones, Ford Madox Ford’s test brings us up short at the end of a chapter, very nearly at the end of the first act, on a page that sports only a few lines. Oddly enough, they coyly hint at a great deal of what my novel is about … though not, I believe, the quality of the whole.

In many ways, page 99 reaches back to the opening lines: “We are all haunted. Not by unexplained rappings or spectral auras, much less headless horseman and weeping queens — real ghosts pace the battlements of memory, endlessly whispering, Remember me.” Interred With Their Bones is about discovery, loss, and remembering — on many levels.

It is also a fast-paced thriller. On page 99, Kate has just made a major discovery, only to be interrupted by the sudden arrival of a British Detective Chief Inspector:

But Roz had known
, of that I was suddenly sure. “I’ve found something, sweetheart,” she’d said. “Something big.” Bigger than Hamlet at the Globe, she’d insisted, her green eyes gleaming. And I had scoffed at her in smug derision.

The door buzzed, and I jumped.

As it opened, a voice that I recognized twined through it with strange clarity.

DCI Sinclair

First and foremost, what’s on display here is the voice of my heroine, Kate Stanley — a young American stage director working in London. Layered within is the remembered voice that haunts both Kate and the narrative: that of Rosalind (or Roz) Howard — a Harvard professor who is “part Amazon, part earth mother, part gypsy queen.” Roz was once Kate’s mentor and a mother-figure, and her words (“I’ve found something, sweetheart”) hark back to a mysterious refrain that Kate finds even more potent: If you open it, you must follow where it leads.

The plot revolves around the perilous search for a literary treasure — but it’s also a modern take on the extreme passions and violence of Renaissance revenge tragedy. Hamlet, given passing mention here, is wound deeply through this novel’s soul, if a novel can be said to have a soul. It’s lightened here and there, however, with moments of comic — or at least absurd — relief.

That said, you don’t need to know any Shakespeare to enjoy and understand my novel. At the very least, Mr. Ford’s test shows that I haven’t written a book full of “forsooth’s” and “prithee’s.” I hope that Interred With Their Bones will entertain anyone who enjoys a good tale — and maybe, along the way, provoke readers to ponder what makes Shakespeare, or any great storyteller, so endlessly enthralling.
Read excerpts from the novel and learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Lee Carrell's website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue