Thursday, January 1, 2009

"My Life at First Try"

Mark Budman's works have appeared or are about to appear in such magazines as Weird Tales, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine, Iowa Review, McSweeney's, Turnrow, Connecticut Review, the W.W. Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of a flash fiction magazine Vestal Review.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, My Life at First Try, and reported the following:
While it was very tempting to use the page 69 test as a metaphor for my over-sexed protagonist, I would prefer to think that the chapter “The Train on Its Way to Derailment” which begins on this page, is as an allegory for the fall of the Soviet Union. It is also a mirror reflection of Alex, my protagonist’s, personal nadir. He is 23, and he is descending to hell on board a train heading into the chilling depths of 1973 Russia.

In my sleeping compartment, I find two sets of narrow bunk beds of hardwood five feet apart. A small table sits between the bunks and a blinking fluorescent lamp on the ceiling casts a greenish tint on the faces of passengers: a young couple, probably in their early twenties, and a uniformed Navy lieutenant, also the same age.

I introduce myself, and we shake hands. I land next to the Lieutenant. The woman proudly announces that she is in her fourth month.

“I hope it’s a boy,” she says. “I wish the doctors did the tests. Like they do in America.”

“They do everything in America,” her husband says and blows his nose into a checkered handkerchief. “They have everything in America. You name it — they have it.”

“I wish I knew ahead. I would have an abortion if I knew it is a girl,” the woman says. “My firstborn has got to be a boy.”

She has a round peasant face with an upturned nose and healthy rosy cheeks. Just like a matreshka. I expect her top half to come off and expose…

The Lieutenant is a snitch, the pregnant woman is a grotesque pin-up and the resulting confrontation tests Alex’s resilient energy to the limit. But nothing can sink him. Neither the KGB, nor the Siberian frosts nor the cruelty of ordinary people. Alex always finds the silver lining in what life throws in his path: give him a chunk of ice and he will make ice cream out of it.

So page 69 is representative of the first half of the book. In the second half, when Alex comes to America, the physical danger abides, but his dream gets a bit sour. It doesn’t mean his energy diminishes, though. Like Titanic on its maiden voyage, Alex plows right ahead.
Learn more about the author and his work at Mark Budman's website, his blog, and his blog in Russian.

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

--Marshal Zeringue