Infraction by Yvonne Zipter
While Marya Iuryevna Zhukova struggles for women’s rights alongside other nineteenth-century Russian women, unlike most, she has a passion for mathematics and, fatefully, shares a home with both her husband and her female lover. Marya, the fictional counterpart to the true-life subject of a nineteenth-century gynecologist’s case study, provides the fiery center to a small solar system of point-of-view characters, each of whom depends on her in some way to shed light on their own lives. There is her aunt Lidia, a spinster who, dying of consumption, exacts from her niece a promise to marry. There is Grigorii Aleksandrovich, Marya’s one-time math teacher, who longs for his former pupil to achieve the kind of scholarly glory of which he is incapable. There is Vera Lvovna, a young tutor surprised to find she is falling in love with another woman. And finally, there is Sergei Petrovich, an earnest librarian at the Imperial Library captivated by Marya’s intellect and unorthodox beauty and willing to do whatever it takes to be near her, even if this means a platonic marriage. Ultimately, however, Sergei is besieged by a growing ardor for Marya and anguished by the conflict between the promise he made and his own desires. St. Petersburg of the 1870s is the rich backdrop to these troubled lives.
Infraction was extensively researched, including a stint in St. Petersburg itself. Yvonne Zipter is the author of Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend, Ransacking the Closet, The Patience of Metal, and Like Some Bookie God.
The Book Doctors: This is such a great subject for a book. It promises to not only tell us a juicy story about a remarkable woman in a time when it was very difficult to be a remarkable woman, but it also tells us it’s going to show us a world, a slice of history, that is so foreign from ours, and yet illuminates in some ways how we got to be who we are. And our heroine seems like such a fascinating character. I also really enjoyed the structure; we get to know our main character through all these other people, who see her as a vessel for fulfilling their own dreams and desires. It reminds me of modern day Chekov, with perhaps a healthy dollop of Olive Kitteridge thrown in. And I love the setting, St. Petersburg in the 1870s, but I would like to see how you are going to paint us word pictures of this time and place. Your pitch is your audition to show us your skills as a prose stylist. Just telling us that it’s a rich backdrop doesn’t really let me know that you’re capable of weaving gorgeous word pictures that make this time in history come to life. This pitch sometimes relies too much on ideas and not enough on character and action. The very first sentence seems quite didactic for a novel. Struggling for women’s rights is a concept, as opposed to showing her being denied her rights, being put into a box because she’s a woman and not being able to fulfill her desires and reach her potential. And our main character seems a bit absent. I have no idea really who she is, what she wants, what she desires. I don’t fall in love with her really. Even though everyone else in the book seems to. I’m not sure what goal I’m rooting for her to reach. And some of the language seems too stiff and formal. For instance, “a growing ardor.” Telling us that is different than showing us an action where he’s trying to express his spiritual and/or physical love for her. You know exactly what “unorthodox beauty” is. Show it to me. But I think this subject matter will be of great interest to lots of readers.