Friday, January 26, 2007

Pg. 69: "In My Skin"

Kate Holden is the author of In My Skin: A Memoir of Addiction.

I asked Kate to put her book to the "page 69 test;" here is her reply:
As it happens, page 69 contains a passage that was one of the earliest I wrote, long before I thought of writing a book. It begins ‘I watched the glaze of headlights…’ and I wrote it for myself, trying to capture the most immediate images of the recollections I had of working the streets as a prostitute. It is also the passage that was chosen to feature on the back cover of the Australian edition. So I guess it is representative.

The page shows me in the midst of the grittiest part of the book, when I was hopelessly addicted to heroin, on the night I started working as a street prostitute. The language is deliberately taut and terse, but I was also attempting to pick out vivid details, to wind the reader into the situation alongside me. There is sex, there’s a little brutal candour, and there’s a very tight focus on myself as the subject and the conduit for the reader to enter this reality. It’s not a nice page, but it’s not a nice scene.

Whether it’s representative of the tone and so on… The book spans a period of five years, and several different milieux which all have their own tone, presentation, and mood. This page comes in the most disheartened and disheartening stage, when things were desperate: earlier, there are more lyrical chapters about life as a boho student, and later, there are dialogue-less passages about life on the streets, where speech seems barely relevant as I, as the protagonist, am entirely sucked, mute, into a lonely and brutal reality. The book changes tone again about halfway through, and the latter chapters are more open-feeling, as suits the experiences described.

For a book about heroin and prostitution, I must say that I deliberately included not very much droning description of sex or drug-taking. I chose to explicitly illustrate the sex on this page, because it was such a key moment. Those looking for titillation might try a different book!

Excerpt from page 69:

I watched the glaze of headlights, the windscreens of oncoming cars: a series of trapezoids with the silhouette of a single, male driver. One pulled up in front of me; I reached over and opened the door; slid in. The smell of an unfamiliar car. A woolly-haired, middle-aged man looking at me. It was happening.

‘Hi, I’m Lucy,’ I said. ‘How are you?’

‘How much for a headjob?’

We pulled out into the traffic and he drove us to a side street. Winter-bare plane trees shaded us from streetlights; the air outside was foggy with cold. With the engine off, everything seemed very quiet. All around us, houses were full of family lives. The lights were golden down here.

I got out a condom from the handful Jake had given me. The man looked as nervous as I was; he abruptly lifted his hips and pulled down his pants. He was hard. I started to bend across to his lap, got caught on the seat belt. ‘Just a minute,’ I tittered. Jesus, I sound like an idiot. ‘Okay.’

Down I went. Condom on. It didn’t take long. I remembered I’d been told I was good at this. I hoped I was giving value for money. What if he bashes me? What if he…Shit, Jake told me to get the money first. I kept on tonguing; the unfamiliar smell, the sense of this man’s face above me, looking down at the back of my head, the sound of his breathing.

A gasp, a pulse in the flesh between my lips, a sharp scent; it was over.
Many thanks to Kate for the input.

Read the Prologue to In My Skin.

Célestine Vaite called In My Skin "a haunting tale without self-pity. The writing is honest, direct, flawless, and deep."

Among the praise for the memoir:
In My Skin is the work of a stunningly talented writer who both graces and surpasses her material, subverting popular assumptions about addiction and prostitution while making the extraordinary seem commonplace and the ordinary deeply alluring. The subject matter, fascinating though it is, is secondary. Such are her powers to tap into the universal while telling a cracking good tale, Kate Holden could make the story of a tongue-tied troglodyte thrilling.

What makes her story memorable is not her fall into darkness or her rise back into health, but her changing, self-serving, probably self-saving ways of thinking about herself as she stays in the same horrible place.
--Boston Sunday Globe

Its searing intellectual and emotional honesty and the quality of the writing easily sets In My Skin apart from most other my-substance-abuse-hell memoirs.

Holden’s vivid narrative voice lends a gritty poetry to her tale. . . . The book’s power to shock rests in its contrasts. . . . She conjures with glittering clarity the sense of invincibility that comes with the first taste of adult life, the belief that drugs can make love and art transcendent, the conviction that you are in control. In My Skin is a compelling story of love and squalor that retains humanity and sympathy.

Verdict—better than sex.
--Canberra Review
Asked in this Q & A how she, as a former bookseller, would recommend her book, Kate replied: "I’d say it’s a good read if you want an excursion into a darker side of Australian urban life, and that the author does a nice turn in the use of semi-colons."

Kate and her family sat down with "Australian Story" to discuss the story behind Kate's memoir; read the transcript of "Leaving Lucy."

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
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