In this installment of Page 69,
we put Steve Himmer's Fram to the test...
OK, Steve, set up page 69 for us.
At this point in the novel, our protagonist Oscar has returned home from work and is alone in his apartment after his wife texts to say she’ll be out for the evening.
What is Fram about?
Primarily, it’s about Oscar who works in an obscure, minor agency of the US government — the Bureau of Ice Prognostication — where he’s responsible for creating fake records of what was discovered on Arctic expeditions to avoid the expense of anyone actually going. Early in the novel he gets sent on an errand to the actual Arctic, fulfilling (in a fashion) his boyhood dream of being an explorer, and the further north he travels the more he is pulled into a mysterious and dangerous struggle between competing agencies and interests. But it’s also a story about marriage, and the distance that grows over time even between people who are close, and about the distance between the Arctic and the southern cultures trying to force it to mean one thing or another.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what Fram is about? Does it align itself the book’s theme?
It certainly reflects the marriage part of the story, and shows Oscar’s alienating obsession with all things Arctic, and his inability to see the world through any other lens. It’s a quiet moment in what is, overall, a pretty active and fast-moving novel—on purpose, because I set out deliberately to write a novel of overwhelming momentum after my first novel was so intentionally quiet and still.
They’d go months sometimes without sex or anything like it, months without touching each other in bed, her body closed off to him however warm she’d been over dinner, over drinks on the porch, even on the couch a few minutes before. Some nights the result was an argument after dark, more or less the same one every time.
Him saying she’d changed and her saying of course she had, they were older, their lives busier, insisting the question to ask wasn’t why she had changed but why he had not.
And Oscar insisting sex wasn’t the point but the effort was, her being willing to rise above being tired, to muster some last reserve at the end of the day for his sake. To show him he mattered that much. Once he made the mistake of insisting that Peary’s last push at the Pole, when his team finally reached it, wasn’t only about wanting to but about honor and debt and what partners owe to each other, and she’d stormed from the room to sleep on the couch, mutters of “P goddamn F,” trailing behind her and Oscar left alone in the bed, wide awake, knowing he’d gone too far but with no route of return that didn’t lead through the living room where his wife steamed.
Another time he’d raised the specter of Peary’s wife Josephine and how game she always was for adventure in the dark of their bedroom, and Julia said, “For fuck’s sake, Oscar. There’s no North Pole in our lives. Stop trying to turn everyday life into big, dramatic moments and important moral dilemmas. It’s not like that. No one’s life is. That’s what we watch TV for. I’m just tired, okay? That’s all there is to it. Some days you’re just tired and it doesn’t have to mean anything. Now shut up and let me sleep.”
More often the argument ended with Julia yawning, clamping down on her anger and telling Oscar not to get so insulted, not to take it so personally, that the last thing she wanted at the end of a long day was more expectation—she came home to get away from demands for a few hours and to put her body aside.
Steve Himmer is author of the novels Fram, The Bee-Loud Glade, and Scratch (coming in 2016). He edits the webjournal Necessary Fiction and teaches at Emerson College in Boston.