Monday, March 30, 2020

Elizabeth Kadetsky's "The Memory Eaters"

Elizabeth Kadetsky is author of the memoir First There Is a Mountain, the short story collection The Poison that Purifies You, and the novella On the Island at the Center of the Center of the World. A professor of creative writing at Penn State and nonfiction editor at the New England Review, she is the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright Program, MacDowell Colony, and Vermont Studio Center.

Kadetsky applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Memory Eaters, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Bombing the Ghost

The girls from Harlem used to corn-row Freddi’s long, silky hair for him in class. Once he left a note for me in marker on the mailbox outside our building, his script white on the blue box: to liz♥freddi. Then he gave me an LP tagged and pieced up on the liner sleeve with cartoon images of himself and me gazing in amazement at the beauty and large size and bright colors of his lettering.

Freddi took me bombing with his crew one night, Darkside Artists (DSA), with Anthem and Shark, some other girls too—Psyche, I think, and a few who didn’t tag. We entered the tunnel at the north end of the Eighty-sixth and Broadway station and walked on a thin ledge, at platform level, a block or so to the southern edge of the ghost station: “91,” read the old mosaic letter work. The guys were dressed alike in long wool army coats and carried messenger bags heavy
Brilliant. This test located a page that does not offer a synopsis per se, but, by mimesis, captures the essence of my memoir. It landed on the opening for the essay “Bombing the Ghost,” which tells a nostalgia-tinged story from thirty years in the past. The essay’s purpose in the book, and purpose for me when I wrote it, was to offer an escape from the present-moment reality of my mother’s fast and spectacular decline toward Alzheimer’s and death. Later in the essay, the fourteen-year-old me comes home from an all-night graffiti outing with the Darkside crew to find her mother still dressed in the previous day’s elegant work outfit and engaged in an intense, wordless dialogue with the cat. Mother is clearly tripping on acid. The darkly humorous twin anecdotes of the essay—the mother tripping, and the daughter perilously walking inside a subway tunnel while a train passes—show the disconnect between memory and reality that is at the heart of the book. In fact, the events of this essay are disturbing, terrifying even. I remember feeling rootless and lost then, and how a pervasive, druggy atmosphere accentuated a kind of bottomless fear that followed me everywhere. And yet when I wrote the essay, my memory played tricks on me. It attached a sepia-toned veneer to that time. My mother’s beauty, the gritty shine of New York City in the early 1980s—these took over. I was in a mental state where I wanted time to stop moving forward. In writing this essay, I allowed it to move backwards into an almost imaginary past. At the same time, the “I” who narrates this essay knows that the actual events were not so pretty. My hope is that this essay evokes that nostalgic paradox—that tension between the positive cast of certain memories and their far grimmer reality.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Kadetsky's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Poison that Purifies You.

--Marshal Zeringue