Friday, November 13, 2009


James Magruder's stories have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, The Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Bloom, Subtropics, and the anthology Boy Crazy. His writing has been supported by the Maryland State Arts Council, the New Harmony Project, The MacDowell Colony, where he was named a Thornton Wilder Fellow, the Ucross Foundation, the Blue Mountain Center, and the Jerome Foundation. He teaches dramaturgy at Swarthmore College and translation and adaptation at the Yale School of Drama, where he received his doctorate in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism.

Magruder applied the Page 69 Test to his novel Sugarless, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“I looked over my shoulder to catch the waves in Lake Michigan, silver squiggles miles below that I imagined I could see. I pretended to hear them too, crashing on the rocks and piers. I was sorry that I’d told Julia that I’d won third place. I hadn’t taken my trophy so Carl wouldn’t see it. I’d taken it so I could show it to my father, and he hadn’t asked.”
Page 69 of my debut novel, Sugarless, is uncharacteristically brief and uncharacteristically sober. Only a paragraph long, it’s the close of Chapter Three. Here the narrator, fifteen-year old Richard Lahrem, has finished dinner at the Pinnacle with his father and Julia, his stepmother-to-be, whom he’s met for the first time. The Pinnacle is a rotating restaurant on top of the Prudential Building in downtown Chicago—such foodways fantasies are very 1976.

Earlier that day, Richard has had a lovely surprise; he won third place at his very first forensics tournament, performing an eight-minute cutting from The Boys in the Band, the controversial gay play of the sixties.

Julia, a Southern belle whom Richard has done his best to charm over lobster thermidor, is quite different from Carl, Richard’s stepfather, a brutish psychologist who tests drunk drivers for the State of Illinois. During a meal bristling with Oedipal competition, Richard sees that his father is marrying “up.” The initial title for Sugarless was, in fact, Marrying Down, but then Jesus, sex, and speech team took over.

Julia has asked to see Richard’s trophy. He fibs and says it’s in his bedroom at home, when it’s actually twenty yards away in the coat-check. Rotating two miles an hour toward the medal, Richard realizes his true motive and—characteristically—tries to pretend his way out of it.

Eventually Richard meets Ned, a speech coach from another school, who becomes a third father—attractive, attentive, and dangerous.
Read an excerpt from Sugarless, and learn more about the author and his work at James Magruder's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue