Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"In the Courts of the Sun"

Brian D'Amato received a BA from Yale and an MA from the City University of New York. He has shown his sculptures and installations at galleries and museums in the US and abroad including the Whitney Museum, the Wexner Center for Contemporary Art, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art. In 1992 he co-organized a show at the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York that was the first gallery show exploring the then-new medium of 'virtual reality.' He has written for magazines including Harper's Bazaar, Index, Vogue, Flash Art, and most frequently Artforum, and has taught art and art history at CUNY, the Ohio State University, and Yale. His 1992 novel, Beauty, which Dean Koontz called "The best first novel I have read in a decade," was a bestseller in the US and abroad and was translated into several popular languages.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, In the Courts of the Sun, and reported the following:
Readers who apply the Page 69 Test to In the Courts of the Sun will get a pretty clear idea that the book is preoccupied with games. And they'll definitely get a sense of the narrator, Jed De Landa (who is a contemporary Maya sun-adder, something like a calendrical shaman), and of the other main present-day character, the computer-game designer Marena Park, who's just invited Jed into her office and asked him how strong he is at playing Go, the ancient Asian strategy game:

“Uh, six dan. Amateur.”

“That’s godless,” she said. “I’m a five. Maybe we should play sometime.”

“Great,” I said. Five dan is actually pretty impressive, especially since most people in the entertainment industry would have trouble getting through a game of Cootie. Go is considered a martial art in Asia, and a dan is a belt. So a six-dan is like a sixth-degree black belt. I was still nothing next to a professional player, though. Anyway, a six-dan spots a five-dan one stone, which still gives you a really good game. She and I would be playing far into the night in the tatami room of her thrillingly minimalist sky-high doorman quadruplex loft to the romantic strains of vintage Jello Biafra, and as I apologized for clobbering her again by seventy and one-half points she’d push the board aside and grab me by the—

“Please, Setzen Sie sich,” she said.

I sat. The chair had looked solid, but it yielded under me and conformed to my body type, so my feet flailed for a second. Doofus. “Hey, I’m a big fan,” I said. “I play your game all the time.”

“Oh? Thanks. What shell are you on?”

“Uh, thirty-two.”

“That’s very excellent.”

“Thanks.” Even though it was her product, I was embarrassed to admit I’d spent so much geek time on the thing.

Less fortunately, though, readers may get the impression that the novel is all talk, since, as one can see already, Page 69 is mainly talk. Actually the book does have action -- even Cecil-B-DeMille-level vast-conflagrations-and-cast-of-hundreds-of-thousands action -- but I do plead guilty to some infodumpage near the beginning. Before I wrote the book, I thought of infodumping as a mistake other writers made. Now I believe that it's simply unavoidable in some cases, and that in these tough spots the writer's job is a dentist's, to make it as painless as possible. To that end, I do at least try, here, to make the information come out through the characters, or give one insight into the characters, or at least relate some damn how to the characters:

“The thing is,” she said, “even though it’s my product I really don’t know anything about the ancient Maya.” No kidding, I thought. “Or maybe you can tell that from the game,” she said, beating me to it.

“Well . . .”

“It’s okay, it’s just a fantasy. I know it’s not historically accurate.”

“Sure,” I said. I realized I hadn’t taken my hat off. Damn. I have this thing where it’s weird to have my head uncovered, and I still forget to peel off my headpiece indoors. Better take it off now, I thought. No. It’s too late. But she’s got to think I’m pretty weird with the hat thing, right? No, don’t do it. That’s my look. The Hat Look. Better just be comfortable. Right? Bueno. Senor Hat stays.

Okay, so far, so decent, except -- well, not to give too much away, but there's another, graver difficulty with my Page 69: it might give the browser the idea that the book takes place in the present day. And actually, half of In the Courts of the Sun is set in the ancient past, at the height of the Maya civilization in Central America. P. 69 does end with a sense that Marena and Jed will be soon be traveling to the Maya zone -- but there's only a tiny hint that he'll actually be going into the past:

“You grew up speaking Mayan, right?” Marena asked.

“Yes.” I took my hat off . “Actually, the language where I’m from is called Ch’olan.”

“Taro says you’re from Alta Verapaz.”


“Did you ever hear anything about any ruins down there, around, um, Kabon?”

And that's it. Unless, as one hopes and trusts, the reader turns to Page 70.

So, next time -- and there will be a next time shortly, because In the Courts of the Sun is the first part of a trilogy -- I'm going to make sure that something happens on Page 69, something physical, shocking, and, if possible, violent and sexy, something that will make the 69er say "wow, I really must take this home and give it my full attention." Maybe I could even have the world blow up on that page -- although, in that case, it will only be a 69-page book.
Read excerpts from In the Courts of the Sun, and learn more about the book and author at Brian D'Amato's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue