Monday, March 22, 2010


Alice Lichtenstein graduated from Brown University and was named the Boston University Fellow in Creative Writing. She has received a New York Foundation of the Arts Grant in Fiction and has twice been a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. She has taught at Boston University, Wheaton College, Lesley College, and the Harvard University Summer School. Lichtenstein currently teaches creative writing at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.

Her first novel, The Genius of the World, a Booksense 76 selection in paperback fiction, was favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review and on National Public Radio.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Lost, and reported the following:
I was delighted to discover the "Page 69 Test" for two reasons. First, too much attention has been focused on the iconic first sentence—the do or die fishing barb required to reel in the reader. "The Page 69 Test" posits that a Real Reader comes to a book prepared for a good long hike. Second, as an obsessive line editor, I strive to groom every line to stylistic perfection—my goal is to convince the reader of any random page (why not pg. 69?) to start the book at the beginning, take a load off and read! (Please note that I am not under the delusion that I reach my stated goal—it simply takes me a long time to write a book.)

Here's a brief synopsis to orient you to the scene.

On a cold January morning, Susan, a professor of biology, leaves her husband alone for a few minutes and returns to find him gone. Suffering from dementia, Christopher has wandered alone into a frigid landscape with no sense of home or direction. Lost.

Page 69 of Lost:
"You're leaving me alone?" Suddenly, Susan was terrified.

"Back-up's coming. But it's going to be silent. Leave the front and back doors open. Don't want to scare him."

She nodded. She chose to stay by the telephone in the living room because the whole glass side of it faced the woods. She'd stood here so many times, watching Christopher and Peter swimming naked below; watching Christopher clearing the pond in winter. He shoveled for hours in the cold, under the glare of a single floodlight attached to a telephone pole. So methodical, so diligent. He worked like a machine, a rhythmic machine. Peter helped him sometimes, but even Peter eventually grew tired or bored and dropped his shovel on the bank to come inside for hot chocolate and a warm fire.

Christopher had a method. He started at the center and scooped in rays out to the pond's edge. Round and round he went, freeing the smooth surface beneath the crust of snow.

"How can you work so hard?" she asked him when he came back in. Christopher's face was deeply flushed and rivulets of sweat coursed down the sides of his temples. Still breathing hard, he pulled off the beggar's gloves he'd been wearing, the kind with the tips cut off, revealing his blunt white fingertips. "Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather," she thought.

Christopher shrugged and hung the damp gloves on the screen in front of the blazing fire. "I guess I just like to push."

Once the pond was cleared, the three of them skated for hours, each in his own orbit, yet connected, as orbits are.


Susan started. It was Peter, silent as a cat. "Oh my God, when did you get home?”

"I’ve been home." Peter stood barefoot at the bottom of the stairs, his lanky torso wound like a vine around the timber post that soared up from the banister. “What are the cops doing here?”
My page 69 is a bit deceptive. In it, you read only one of the three points of view through which the story is told. As a massive search for Christopher takes place, Susan's life intersects with those of two strangers: Jeff, a social worker and search-and-rescue expert shaken by his young wife's betrayal, and Corey, a twelve-year-old boy, rendered mute by a family tragedy, who has become one of Jeff's cases. While the temperature drops and teams scour the countryside, Susan, Jeff and Corey venture into the fraught territory of their pasts. From the unexpected convergence of these three lives emerges a portrait of the shifting terrain of marriage and the uneasy burden of love and regret.
Read an excerpt from Lost, and learn more about the book and author at Alice Lichtenstein's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue