Friday, March 7, 2008

Maile Meloy

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love and the novel Liars and Saints, and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Last year, Meloy applied the "Page 99 Test" to her third book, A Family Daughter.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been reading the Aubrey and Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, the series that begins with Master and Commander. For those who don’t already know and love them, the books are set during the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and follow the adventures of Jack Aubrey, a captain in the Royal Navy, and Stephen Maturin, an Irish-Catalonian ship’s surgeon and naturalist. Aubrey is brave, skillful, and lucky at sea, and easy prey for swindlers on land. Maturin is a brilliant linguist and spy, and an occasional addict, who can’t tell starboard from larboard and tends to fall into the water. Aubrey is wholehearted and bearish, Maturin sharp-tongued and secretive and reflective. But that’s simplifying the appeal of their twenty-book friendship. I have no particular interest in the sailing or fighting of square-rigged ships, but I’ve never been so attached to any fictional characters in my life.

The plots are beautifully constructed, and I try to pay attention to what O’Brian is doing, how he’s laid in the cause and effect, but I get so caught up that I forget. I spend time thinking about what would have happened to Jack Aubrey if he had never met Stephen Maturin (disaster!), or what Stephen’s life would have been if he hadn’t met Jack (somewhat dull). Sometimes I stop reading, to stave off bad things happening, or at least my knowing about them. Near the end of one book I sat crying, mostly with relief, about the injustice done — and the affection shown — to someone who didn’t actually live 200 years ago. I’m on the fifteenth of the twenty novels, at a rate of one every few days, and the only hitch in the steady pleasure is how soon I will run out.