Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Catching Genius"

Kristy Kiernan applied the "page 69 test" to her debut novel, Catching Genius, and reported the following:
After my initial disappointment at the lack of heart-pounding prose on page 69 of Catching Genius, I realized that it does, in fact, capture a major chunk of plot as well as most of the characters.

Connie Sykes -- wronged wife, frustrated mother, musician, sister, and daughter -- is talking to her mother at the beginning of the scene. Their relationship, slightly contentious but loving, comes through in the dialogue, which centers on the mother trying to get her two estranged daughters, Connie and Estella (the math genius of the title) together.

Once the phone call ends, we see how Connie's home life revolves around discovering her husband's secrets, hiding secrets of her own, and how difficult her marriage has become while trying to raise two very different boys, two very different ways.

What's missing on page 69 is Connie and her sister Estella's relationship, which is the main thread of the book. It's hinted at in the beginning, but there is no sense of Estella in this section, nor is there a sense of Connie beyond that of "family woman." This particular domestic scene is one of few in the book that showcases Connie as a typical suburban mother and wife, and I don't believe that captures who Connie really is, it's merely her mask. And yet, shedding that daily mask that we all wear is a large part of what the book is about, so perhaps it's more indicative of the rest of the book than I initially thought.

Also missing is a strong sense of place, in this case the West Coast of Florida, which is an important part of the book.

The real challenge of the page 69 test is, does it make a reader want to read more? I hope it raises enough questions in the reader's mind that they'd want to read more, at least to find out if Connie and Estella's mother can get them together, and what sparks fly if she succeeds.

Catching Genius, page 69:

"She's looking forward to seeing you," she said.

"She said that?" I didn't believe her. She was just trying to soften us up before we saw each other. She'd probably told Estella the exact same thing.

"Yes, she did. And this is a perfect time for the two of you--"

"I get it, Mother," I interrupted. "I'll talk to Luke."

When I hung up I gathered Gib's keyboard and cell phone and stashed them in my closet just as I heard the garage door rumble up. I met Luke in the kitchen and held the test results out to him as he walked in the door. He put his briefcase on the counter as he read it and then looked at the report card again.

"So he takes summer school," he finally said, shrugging.

"But don't you see that this is a bigger problem than just taking summer school?"

He sighed. "No, I don't. What's the problem?"

"He's hiding things, Luke. Even from you."

He looked startled. "All kids hide things from their parents when they become teenagers," he said, but he sounded less certain. "I'll talk to him."

"He's in his room. I took his phone and keyboard and told him no television."

"Damn, Connie," Luke protested. "You should have waited until I got home so we could decide what to do about this together."

"I'm his mother. I did what I felt I had to do, and you weren't here, were you?"

Where were you, Luke?

I remembered Bob's advice, remembered the paperwork I'd been gathering, the trips I'd made to a new bank, the jewelry I'd hidden there. We both had our secrets, and my question went unasked.

He shook his head at me and walked out of the kitchen. Carson came in, wrapped in a big towel, and I made him a snack while Luke talked to Gib. When Luke came back downstairs his face was sober.

"Hey, buddy," he said absently to Carson. "Want to give me and your mom a few minutes alone?"
Visit Kristy Kiernan's website and read an excerpt from Catching Genius.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue