Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"American Rust"

Philipp Meyer's writing has been published in McSweeney's, The Iowa Review, Salon.com, and New Stories from the South. From 2005 to 2008 Meyer was a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, American Rust, and reported the following:
American Rust is told from six different deeply internal perspectives. For the most part, each chapter is told from a single character’s perspective. The thought patterns, rhythms of thought and speech, vocabulary and grammar all change. All of it is in third person, which I find much harder to write, but offers nearly infinite flexibility. You can take readers in and out of characters minds with ease, you can show the readers things the characters couldn’t know.

This is from the top of p.69, from the point of view of Billy Poe, one of the protagonists. He and his best friend Isaac English have just been involved in the killing of a homeless man, though at the moment of this passage, Poe thinks that those complications are over. He is in a bar with the woman he loves, Lee, who happens to be Isaac’s sister. At the moment of this passage, Lee has gone across the room, and Poe’s thoughts turn to death and mortality.

In this passage the “her” is a woman Poe briefly dated in high school, who joined the Army for the benefits, was deployed to Iraq and killed. As we can see, Poe can be little bit racist in his generalizations, though he is otherwise a kind person. I think there can be a tendency among writers to either soften these sorts of views or mock characters for having them. It was important to me to be accurate about these things—that these characters be real people whose minds were full of complex and often self-contradictory views, some of which they are aware of, others of which they are not.

The passage:

an IED got her, it was what got all of them over there. All she’d done was join the Reserve. He hoped the Arabs that did it were dead, hoped they’d been gutshot by some hucklebuck sniper with a deer rifle, hoped those Arabs thought they were safe and meanwhile that sniper was adjusting his windage and boom—they were holding in their guts. Christ, he thought, what happened, a second ago you were happy.

Lee handed his beer over and said: “They wouldn’t let me pay for drinks.”

The rest of the page describes an altercation between Poe and another man in the bar. That scene is primarily an action scene, so I imagine that certain readers would like it, while other readers would not.
Read an excerpt from American Rust, and learn more about the book and author at Philipp Meyer's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue