Thursday, March 17, 2011

Janice Eidus

Novelist, short story writer, and essayist Janice Eidus has twice won the O. Henry Prize for her short stories, as well as a Pushcart Prize, a Redbook Prize, and numerous other awards.

Her latest novel is The Last Jewish Virgin.

Last month I asked Eidus what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished the novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett. He’s very prolific, and I’m eager to read a lot more of his work. (I’ve also read Glyph, his novel about an infant with an IQ of 475.)

I Am Not Sidney Poitier is the tale of a young African American man with the intriguing name, “Not Sidney Poitier,” who looks exactly like the handsome actor, Sidney Poitier, and who may or may not be the actor’s love child.

Not Sidney Poitier’s mother dies when he’s eleven, and due to an extremely unusual and intriguing set of circumstances, he becomes very wealthy and is quasi-raised by media mogul Ted Turner, who’s presented as a lovable, surely bipolar, multi-millionaire “uncle.”

As a boy, Not Sidney Poitier consistently confronts ugly racism aimed at him despite his wealth, which in fact he tries to hide. He grows up and heads off to college, where his English professor is named Percival Everett, like the author. Professor Everett, another oddball uncle of sorts, offers Not Sidney Poitier ambiguous – yet ultimately helpful -- advice about surviving, and perhaps even transcending, a racist and classist world.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier is a wild, sexy, funny, and compelling ride, drawing upon myth, dreams, film, pop culture, and literature. Everett taps deeply into what the late, great, British writer, Angela Carter, called the “imagery of the unconscious.” At the same time – like Carter herself – he explores social issues of race, class, and gender through an idiosyncratic and socially just lens.

The next book I plan to read is House Arrest, a first novel about cults, loss, survival, and the moral complexities of medical and political ethics, by my friend, Ellen Meeropol, who’s married to Robert Meeropol, the son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were American Communists executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage. Theirs was the first execution of civilians for espionage in U.S. history, and it remains one of the most polarizing events in contemporary U.S. consciousness.

Robert Meeropol’s book, An Execution In The Family: One Son’s Journey is also on my reading list, in my Kindle. I bought Ellen’s book as a “real” book, however, not an e-book, because I wanted to be able to hold it in my hands, and to see up-close and over time its extremely vivid and arresting cover. I’m particularly eager after just finishing I Am Not Sidney Poitier, to see how she explores social and political issues. I’m fairly certain she’ll do so in a very different fashion than Everett, more realistically, closer to the bone, perhaps.

My own writing I think, often lands in stylistic territory between Everett and Meeropol. My 2007 autobiographical novel, The War of the Rosens, about growing up in a left-wing, Jewish, Bronx family torn apart by politics and illness, lands closer to Meeropol, and my current novel, The Last Jewish Virgin (my literary, Jewish, feminist, fashionista vampire novel), closer to Everett. Ultimately, I find that I love navigating the territories of both; it’s an excellent way for me to keep challenging myself – as writer and reader both.
Read an excerpt of The Last Jewish Virgin, and learn more about the book and author at Janice Eidus's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Jewish Virgin.

--Marshal Zeringue