Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Peter Anderson is a native of the Chicago area who works in the city as a financial professional and lives in Joliet. He recently published his debut novella, Wheatyard.

Anderson applied the Page 69 Test to Wheatyard and reported the following:
First off, a confession: I cheated. Though I'm writing this piece for The Page 69 Test blog, I'm actually basing it on page 99 of my novella, Wheatyard. When Marshal and I first talked about doing this, I quickly realized that page 69 of the book is the opening of a chapter, and thus mostly introductory and not terribly essential to the overall narrative, while page 99 is in the middle of a chapter and much more representative of the story. But when I suggested to Marshal that I write a piece for The Page 99 Test, he informed me that Page 99 is mostly nonfiction, while Page 69 is devoted to fiction. (Despite reading all of the Campaign for the American Reader blogs for many years, I had never noticed that distinction.) Generous soul that he is, however, Marshal said I could take whatever liberties I liked to make this work. Thus, here is my analysis of page 99 of Wheatyard, appearing at The Page 69 Test.

Wheatyard tells the story of the brief, unlikely friendship of Elmer Glaciers Wheatyard, a reclusive, eccentric writer and the unnamed narrator, a business school graduate who is stuck, jobless, in an Illinois college town after graduation. For most of the book, Wheatyard prods the narrator toward taking up writing, He cites writing's merits as self-expression, a creative outlet and a way to interpret the world, but mostly meets indifference from the narrator, who sees writing as a momentary distraction from what should be his sole task - finding a job and launching his financial career. On page 99, Wheatyard again prods the narrator.
"Start right away. Not tomorrow, not next week, but today. On your way home, observe as many details as you can, smell all the scents in the air and figure out where they came from, drop into a few stores even if you're not buying anything, listen to people talk. Then for the rest of the walk, think about everything you observed and come up with something to say about it. When you get home, sit down right away and write out all those insights. Don't worry if none of it is profound. Being profound comes with time."
This passage is a good example of the superior, almost professorial attitude which Wheatyard assumes whenever he interacts with the narrator. Wheatyard is always telling, almost demanding, what the narrator should do - sometimes politely (as in the above), sometimes with irritation. Wheatyard (unpublished, alone, unemployed and nearly destitute) doesn't have much going for him in his life, and thus his friendship with the narrator gives him the rare opportunity to assume the role of a wizened elder, imparting his wisdom and using the implied superiority to boost his self-esteem.

Earlier on this page, Wheatyard also describes how he jots down every little fragment of prose that comes to mind, all of which are either immediately used in whatever manuscript he's working on at the moment (he's intensively prolific, and has dozens of lengthy manuscripts) or saved for some future project. This helps explain how Wheatyard's chaotic narratives (crammed with hundreds of fictional and real-life characters from throughout history, interacting with no regard for chronological or situational plausibility) come about. He assembles all of these diverse fragments into narrative, making connections between characters and situations that seem tenuous at first but ultimately, upon close reading, make sense.

Overall, page 99 both illustrates Wheatyard's relationship with the narrator and gives a glimpse of his writing process. And certainly far better than page 69 would have done.
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Anderson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue