Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Diana Spechler's "Who By Fire"

Diana Spechler's fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, Moment, Lilith, and elsewhere. She received her MFA degree from the University of Montana and was a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Who By Fire, her debut novel, and reported the following:
This feels like bible-dipping. I love the idea of bible-dipping, mostly because I like the way that sounds: sort of like skinny-dipping, but pious. If I had to categorize my novel—you know, for shelving purposes—I might say it’s of the pious skinny-dipping genre. It’s both racy and restrained, sexy and religious, sinful and redemptive. In fact, one of the narrators (Ash) is an Orthodox Jew and another (his sister, Bits) is a sex addict.

Many people (I mean…not me…just, you know, other people, so I’ve been told) find such extreme contradictions within themselves. Everyone has, to varying degrees, both a wild streak and a desire to be less wild. People indulge, lash out, lose their cool, and then wish they hadn’t. In the novel, these dueling forces are manifested in two separate characters. Bits feels out of control and Ash feels…well…guilty.

On page 99, Ash is discussing guilt with a rabbi. The rabbi asks him, “How many times do you think the Jewish people have repented for the golden calf?” and Ash replies, “We always remember the golden calf.”

In the context of the novel, Ash isn’t really talking about the sin of idolatry, committed thousands of years ago at the base of Mount Sinai. He’s talking about his own worst pain, the thing he’s been running from for most of his life, his deepest, darkest, most unbearable secret.

The rabbi senses this. He tells Ash, “We don’t kill ourselves over our mistakes.”

And this begs the question that is the crux of the novel: If we can't stop doing things that make us feel guilty, and if we have no choice but to live with our guilt, then how will we ever find contentment?
Browse inside Who By Fire, and read more about the book and author at Diana Spechler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue