Thursday, September 11, 2008

Amy Shearn's "How Far Is the Ocean from Here"

Amy Shearn's work has appeared in Jane, West Branch, Salt Hill, and elsewhere.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to How Far Is the Ocean from Here, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Opening my book to page 99 reveals a page swallowed mostly by an enormous ramble of a paragraph excavating Susannah Prue’s confused thoughts. It’s a paragraph that turns Susannah inside-out, at first literally: “She carried with her at all times her own weather, a temperature she invented herself; she was always overheated, the engine of her belly emitting waves of warmth like the breeze from a space heater, crackling around her vast interior spaces. Since becoming pregnant, since being implanted, injected, whatever, Susannah had come to feel that she was living in the world without quite being of it; she was bobbing along the earth’s surface, being blown across the plains of the globe as ponderously as a hot-air balloon.” I like the writing itself here, probably because this is one of the passages in the book inspired by one in Moby Dick and I am often more interested in other peoples’ writing than my own.

Then there is a little rush of back-story, turning her inside out in a whole new way: “She found herself avoiding friends, throwing away Aaron’s letters unopened, not answering Rose’s calls—she didn’t have to deal with any of that anymore, wasn’t that the joy of it? She was a new breed now, entirely distinct from the world they inhabited.” In starting to write this, I hadn’t really known why Susannah was doing the things she did – why she would decide to be a surrogate, why she would then run away (although the running away makes the most sense to me of anything, really). The challenge and the fun of writing lay in exploring this, in probing her bad decisions, in living with a character who, like many people, doesn’t quite make sense.

“’Well,’ said Julian, when neither of them had spoken for a few beats.

“’Well,’ said Susannah.” I do like this part. This is an obvious (to me) nod to the great, uncomfortable conversation between newly-weds in Dorothy Parker’s “Here We Are.”

The whole rambling paragraph above has been an interjection in one of Julian (the father of the baby) and Susannah (the surrogate mother)’s many awkward, heated, charged conversations. And then: “The baby bobbed, a drip of mercury poisoning a length of glass.” It’s almost as if Julian and Susannah can convince themselves for instants at a time that they are an ordinary flirting couple until the baby stirs, and Susannah remembers what their relationship really is.
Read an excerpt from How Far Is the Ocean from Here, and learn more about the book and author at Amy Shearn's website and the blogs Moonlight Ambulette and Cloud Train.

--Marshal Zeringue