Sunday, April 20, 2008

"The God of War"

Marisa Silver is the author of Babe in Paradise, a collection of stories that was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and the novel No Direction Home.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The God of War, and reported the following:
It’s a seemingly inconsequential bit of dialogue on page 69: Ares, the book’s twelve-year old protagonist is leaving the trailer he shares with his mother and brother by the shores of the Salton Sea to go out for a bike ride. His mother, Laurel, tells him that whenever he leaves, she waits for him to return. Ares is incredulous.

“You just sit here?”

“No. But everything I do? In my mind, I’m doing it while I’m waiting for you to come home…Come here,” she said, holding her arms out. Malcolm slid off her lap.

She waited for me, but I couldn’t make my body move to her as it had done hundreds of times before. “I’m just going to ride my bike, Mom. Don’t make such a big deal about everything.”

Not the stuff of big drama, to be sure, but, as it turns out this dialogue reaches right into the heart of the book. Ares is on the cusp of adolescence and is trying desperately to break free of the feelings of dependency and need he has for his mother. In addition, his younger brother Malcolm is mentally impaired, and, as Laurel, a free spirit with a bias against societal norms, has chosen to deny the implications of Malcolm’s condition, it falls to Ares to care for and protect his brother in the larger world. So Ares wants not only to separate from his mother, but also to shed the responsibility for his brother. Those twin desires fill Ares with a guilt that he can only escape by immersing himself in a world of violence and sex that he discovers through the son of a teacher at his school. The result of the battle Ares wages for his own identity has a lethal outcome, the repercussions of which shape his adult life and the life of his family.

At the end of the page, Laurel tells Ares to take Malcolm with him on his bike ride. Ares explodes.

“Jesus! Can’t I ever do anything by myself?”

“Excuse me?”

“I just want to go for a ride.”

“And I just want someone to give me a million dollars. But that’s not going to happen. At least not tonight.” She smiled at me, and I knew I had lost.

The “war” of the book’s title is waged on this page as well as nearly every page of the book. It is a battle that Ares will win and lose at the same time.
Read an excerpt from The God of War, and learn more about the author and her work at Marisa Silver's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue