Friday, November 03, 2006

Pg. 69: "Confessions of a Memory Eater"

Pagan Kennedy is the author of Confessions of a Memory Eater and seven other books.

What if you could return to the most delicious moments of your past and live inside them again with crystal clarity? What if you could decide to simply pop a pill and leave the difficulty of the present for a time of your choosing? The day you aced an impossible performance or heard the words “I love you” from someone you adore. Would you hold your baby in your arms again for the first time? Or visit with a loved one who died? What if your relationship was falling apart? Would you choose to relive those first few weeks of outrageous passion with your lover?

What if you were diagnosed with a fatal disease? And what if there was a drug that enabled you, instead of spending your last days on earth surrounded by well-meaning relatives, to escape, to travel back to the time you were strongest in your life? Would you take the drug? What would you do to get it? [read more about the novel and sample the praise it's received here]

This set-up to Kennedy's Confessions of a Memory Eater--and the drug itself--sounds irresistible. So of course I asked Pagan to apply the "page 69 test" to her book. Here is her reply:

Excerpt from page 69:

You need to know one thing before you read this excerpt:

"Mem" is a drug that hurls its user back into any memory he chooses, so that he can re-experience any moment in vivid Technicolor.

"Already, the Mem was beginning to tangle my thoughts. I closed my eyes and a vision seemed to crash over my eyelids; I was a small boy, bobbing in the waves at Nag's Head, splashing, making drops of water fly up so that they dangled a moment in the sun; my small chest puffed out to contain the ache of my joy. Christ, what a relief to be back on the drug. Like walking into your house after an awful day. Home again. 'I have to stay high forever,' I thought, quite distinctly, as the boy levitated on a wave, because it seemed intolerable that I would be banished from this place -- I had begun to think of all the memories I visited on Mem as rooms in one big house, my house....

I was no longer an 'I' but instead a collection of memories that played themselves over and over. It was as if I'd found a way to live as a song or a film or a book."

My comments:

This novel, for me, was a kind of science lab. I had an experiment I wanted to carry out: I wanted to invent a powerful memory drug and give it to several different people (my characters) to see what happened to them. I hoped that, in my lab, I would find the answers to some questions that haunted me: What if we had much better recall of our past -- how would that change the rules of being human? Would we begin to think of the happiest moments of our lives as Disneyland rides, ecstatic experiences that we could enjoy over and over again -- to the point where we would ignore the present and future? And would we develop a different sense of self? Would each of us become a kind of "greatest hits" collection of our memories?

I'm gratified to see that on Page 69 I was wrestling with these questions; I was also trying to give a reader a visceral sense of what it might be like to be high on memory.

In that last sentence -- where the narrator believes that the drug allows him to live as a book instead of as a man -- I am winking at the reader, of course. Furiously.
Many thanks to Pagan for the input.

Click here to read "The Proust Pill," Pagan's essay in The Boston Globe (June 2006) about the writing of Confessions. For a Boston Phoenix feature about the novel, click here.

Entertainment Weekly gave a rave review to Confessions. For more reviews, click here.

Pagan's previous books span a variety of genres, including novels and non-fiction narratives. Her most recently published book, a biography titled Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the 19th-Century Congo, made the New York Times Notable list of 2002. A novel, Spinsters, was short-listed for the Orange Prize.

Of her 1998 novel The Exes, Salon's reviewer wrote:
What Nick Hornby did for the insufferable record geek in "High Fidelity," Kennedy does for the touring rock musician: makes him (and her) real and layered. It offers a basic 4/4 beat, something you can groove to, but underneath is a lovely swirl of counter-melodies and sounds that are unfamiliar but engaging.
This bit of recognition is pretty cool: Pagan Kennedy is in the dictionary.

In winter 2007, Bloomsbury will be publishing The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair and a Twentieth Century Medical Revolution.

Previous "page 69 tests":
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue