Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Teddy Wayne is a graduate of Harvard and Washington University in St. Louis, where he taught fiction and creative nonfiction writing. The recipient of a 2010 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Time,Esquire, McSweeney's, USA Today, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Kapitoil, and reported the following:
Here is page 69 of Kapitoil. Karim Issar, the protagonist and narrator, has recently begun using his computer program, Kapitoil, to predict oil futures and, after some tweaks, it’s been performing well for his company, Schrub Equities:

On Monday morning Kapitoil continues generating hourly profits. By noon, out of a possible 2.1% profit based on how much the oil futures have vacillated per hour, we have made a 1.7% profit, which is not full efficiency but is still robust.

Mr. Ray emails me:

Meet me in the conference room on 89 at 1:30.

Possibly he has reconsidered that Kapitoil might still be too risky. There are rumors that layoffs will soon occur, and maybe they do not have the money to continue high-risk programs like mine.

Or possibly they do not even have the money to retain me as an employee.

I omit lunch because my stomach is turbulent, as it frequently becomes when I am anxious, and do not run Kapitoil at noon, because I do not want it to lose money suddenly and give Mr. Ray more reason to kill it.

At 1:30 I knock on the door of the conference room. Mr. Ray says “Come in” from inside, and I open the door.

He is sitting, and at the head of the table is an older man.

He has tan skin and black and white hair, and his nose slightly curves down like a vertical asymptote. His suit is gray and blue and his tie is dark red like blood that has dried.

It is Mr. Schrub.

“Karim,” he says. He stands and extends to a few inches taller than I am. “Glad to meet you.”

I am afraid to look into his eyes as we shake hands, so I look at his red tie. “It is my honor to meet you, Mr. Schrub.”
This feels like a representative page, largely because I strove for consistency in Karim’s business and tech jargon-inflected voice (which evolves slightly through the novel, turning later to past tense, using contractions, and incorporating new words and idioms he learns). It also encapsulates some essential components of his character: he’s nervous about being evaluated by his superiors at work even though his program is doing well; despite his rigorously logical mind, he focuses on tangential and often morbid details (the tie that is “dark red like blood that has dried”); he is humble and polite and earnest with everyone he meets. Finally, the scene accomplishes what I hope the book achieves as a whole—a combination of character development with some narrative propulsion.

There isn’t, however, any humor here or anything too melancholy, two other staples (I hope) of the book. As the first page of a chapter, its function is more to lead the reader gracefully into the development of the scene rather than come out with guns blazing.

Mostly, I’m glad I was able to work in the word “asymptote.”
Read an excerpt from Kapitoil, and learn more about the book and author at Teddy Wayne's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue