Monday, January 26, 2009

"Stray Dog Winter"

David Francis is an Australian lawyer and former international equestrian who lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of the acclaimed novel The Great Inland Sea, which was published in seven countries. He has taught creative writing at University of California Los Angeles/Occidental College and in the Masters of Professional Writing program at University of Southern California.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, Stray Dog Winter, and reported the following:
While Stray Dog Winter is essentially a literary suspense novel, it is underpinned by an unusual family/love story. And, while I’ve been avoiding this “Page 69” business for weeks (for fear of what it might reveal), it actually captures a pivotal moment in Darcy Bright’s childhood. Just prior to it, Darcy’s riding in his father’s kombi when they pass a young man walking along the road. Darcy knows him, the Mormon missionary with whom he’s had a strange erotic encounter, an experience that electrifies Darcy in ways he doesn’t understand. Darcy is ten years old. When his father stops the kombi and offers the missionary a ride, Darcy finds himself between them, his knee against the missionary’s pants, a “ripply feeling spreading over him.”

“Are you married?” Darcy’s father asked. A truck ran past and the kombi shuddered. “We thought you’d have lots of wives,” he said, “didn’t we, son?” Darcy stared straight ahead, concentrating on the white line, the touch of the missionary’s leg.

“I met your wife,” the missionary said cautiously. “She didn’t seem well.”

Darcy’s father stopped the van and leaned over past Darcy, opened the passenger door. “I can take care of my family,” he said. The missionary seemed shocked, stepped down to the roadside, mumbling something about trying to help. Then Page 69 begins with:

“Then keep away from my boy,” said Darcy’s father. He jumped the kombi forward before the door was barely closed. Darcy didn’t dare watch out the side mirror to see the missionary getting smaller in the dust. “He probably just wanted dinner,” said Darcy.

His father pulled into the driveway and parked. “I think I know what he wanted,” he said. He got out and slammed the door and Darcy sat there, still as the sun through the windscreen, to see if the missionary would walk past the end of the drive. Instead, he saw his father with a stick. With it, he propped open the bonnet of the Austin and unhitched the battery, removed the stick and let the bonnet crash down. He threw the battery in the incinerator. He’d taken out the Austin’s heart.”

The Austin is Darcy’s dead grandmothers car. Darcy is allowed to drive it around the garden, but after the missionary first appeared he drove out onto the road to see where the missionary went. The Austin ran aground in the scrub on Baden Powell Drive, and the missionary came to his rescue.

In the two short paragraphs on Page 69, Darcy realizes his father knows what transpired, and, as the Austin’s battery is summarily removed, he knows that everything will be different.

Stray Dog Winter opens in 1984, with Darcy in his early twenties, traveling by train into a Soviet winter to meet up with his mysterious half-sister Fin – she’s on a fellowship to paint the industrial landscapes of Moscow. Darcy, haunted by their childhood, finds himself inexorably drawn to her, and into political and sexual encounters that ramify in ways he could never have imagined.
Read an excerpt from Stray Dog Winter, and learn more about the author and his work at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue