Friday, March 16, 2012


Liz Moore is a writer and musician. Her debut novel, The Words of Every Song, was published in 2007, and she subsequently released her album Backyards. She is a professor at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, where she lives.

Moore applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Heft, and reported the following:
Magically, page 69 of Heft is the shortest page in the book. This is the whole of it:
I wrote out a transcript. It went, "Charlene, this is Arthur. I know it's you, Charlene, and I'm worried. I want to help you. Can I help you?" I waited a week & called Charlene again & there was no answer. Then I waited another week & called Charlene & there was no answer.
Here's the context: what sets the novel into motion is that Arthur Opp, a reclusive, 550-pound former academic who hasn't left his house in a decade, receives a phone call from a former student of his--Charlene, of the passage above. She wants to introduce him to her son, Kel, who she says needs help with school. But after making her initial request, Charlene disappears once more, and Arthur spends a large part of the rest of the book trying to figure out what happened to her.

Page 69 represents a low point for Arthur Opp. He's started to get his life in order in preparation for his meeting with Charlene, and he feels hopeful for the first time in years; so it is particularly devastating to him realize that his hopes might once again be dashed. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about Charlene, and feels both concerned for her welfare and trapped by his own immobility--he can't go rushing off to Yonkers (where she lives) to investigate, because he simply cannot act.

A lot of the characteristics of Arthur's voice and personality are contained in this brief excerpt, so I'll talk about those too. First, that he would write out a transcript before a telephone call seems very right for Arthur--he is incredibly self-conscious, perhaps self-loathing. He's certainly not the type to jauntily pick up the telephone and phone an old friend. Second, he understates things--he cannot bring himself to admit when he's been hurt or disappointed, but rather tries to convince himself that he's unscathed by stating just the facts, and letting the feelings go unsaid. Finally, his use of ampersands--which many readers have asked about--comes out of my idea that Arthur's is a written voice, somehow. He's been so isolated, for so long, that I can't even imagine him speaking aloud--which is how I imagine most characters' first-person voices (including Kel's). Rather, I had this idea in mind of Arthur writing in a sort of diary, jotting down his thoughts, abbreviating words here and there, and--yes--using ampersands.
Learn more about the book and author at Liz Moore's website.

--Marshal Zeringue