Monday, July 14, 2008

Elaine Szewczyk's "I'm with Stupid"

Elaine Szewczyk's work has appeared in The Financial Times, Playboy, and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications. Currently she is the editor of Kirkus Reviews.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her debut novel, I'm with Stupid, and reported the following:
I was outraged by what I found when I turned to page 99 of the novel. It was boring. I mean the whole page was a snooze-fest. I wildly scanned the lines in a panic. It was almost as if someone else had written them. I began to read aloud in disbelief: “The princess glanced at her watch, and saw that she was already five minutes late for clavichord practice.” What is this crap?! Clavichords are for nerds and beaver-toothed dorks! I slammed the book shut and gave it a dirty look, which is when I noticed the cover. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Oh. Okay. Seems I grabbed the wrong book. An honest mistake. I took a few moments to locate my glasses. I thoroughly polished and buffed the lenses with the end of my boyfriend’s tie, which he was wearing. “Clean those with something else!” he protested. I let the tie drop and stared at him. He’s lucky we’re madly in love because sometimes he can really be nervy. But I’m getting off track. This is about me. I walked to the bookshelf and pulled down I’m with Stupid. I opened it to page 99. Much better—at least this time I recognized the words.

On page 99 of I’m with Stupid Kas and her friends Max and Libby are at a safari lodge in South Africa. It’s their last day, and they are having breakfast. The night before, on a brandy-soaked whim, Kas slept with hot park ranger William. At this point Kas thinks William is dreamy. He won’t stay dreamy for long (see page 121). Kas’s thoughts of William are interrupted by Manuel, a 17-year-old heir to a tube sock fortune who approaches the friends’ table. Manuel has a crush on Libby, who is 13 years his senior. He is about to return home to Mexico and has come to say goodbye. Some might call Manuel annoying. Enter Manuel:

Manuel straightens his silk tie while standing over Libby. He plucks a pink flower peeking out from his breast pocket and rests it near her plate. “I have been looking for you,” he says. “I leave this afternoon for Mexico. There is a great deal of work to be done at the tube sock factory. I am overseeing the installation of a state-of-the-art sprinkler system. One can never be too careful. I am relieved that you have not yet departed; I worried that I would be denied an opportunity to say good-bye.”

“You won’t see her again,” says Max. “Buenas noches.”

“I will initiate a correspondence,” Manuel continues. “I will compose sensual poetry in an impeccable hand. It could very well result in a volume—a book of poetry for my lady. Tell me your home address. I have a photographic memory.” Max blurts that we’re all homeless. “I am not surprised that you are,” Manuel says to Max. He hands Libby a sheet of stationery filled with writing. “Here are my addresses in Mexico City and around the world. We have a number of residences. One home is made almost exclusively of mother-of-pearl…”

After rereading the passage a few times I gently closed the book and hugged it, then ate a banana. Had I passed the 99th page test? No idea. But I’m a positive person and quickly decided I had. I passed! Congrats Elaine! Plus: No clavichord references. I strolled over to the couch where my boyfriend was sitting. I sat down next to him and took his hand in mine. What a wonderful day. “Can we hold hands later?” he asked. “I’m trying to finish my book.” I looked down at his lap. He was reading War and Peace. I gripped his hand tighter and pretended not to hear him. I was celebrating my win.
Read an excerpt from I'm with Stupid, and learn more about the author and her work at Elaine Szewczyk's website.

--Marshal Zeringue