Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Jennifer duBois’s A Partial History of Lost Causes was one of the most acclaimed debuts of recent years. It was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, winner of the California Book Award for First Fiction and the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and O: The Oprah Magazine chose it as one of the ten best books of the year.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Cartwheel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Cartwheel finds American foreign exchange student Lily Hayes and her roommate, Katy Kellers, in the basement of their Argentinean host family's home. It is Katy and Lily’s first time alone in the house together, and a “temporary, lukewarm camaraderie” has grown between them. In five weeks’ time Katy will be killed in this same basement, and Lily will become the investigation’s prime suspect; the evidence against her will include snarky e-mails she sent about Katy during the first days of their acquaintance. There will be no record of the conversation on page 69—their most substantial so far, as they debate the pros and cons of taking Communion at their host family’s church. It’s one of the first times in the book that Lily’s idiosyncratic idealism puts her at odds with the people around her, though it won’t be the last. “I’m just saying,” Katy says, with characteristic pragmatism. “A bite of toast, a swallow of wine, and they’re happy. Who cares?” Lily responds with characteristic stridency: “I think it’s really despicable to pretend to believe in it if you don’t.” “But if you don’t believe it, why do you care? If there is no God, it’s not like He’s gonna know,” says Katy. “But you’re gonna know,” says Lily.

The end of page 69 leaves Lily staring out the window at the house of the young man who will briefly become her boyfriend (as well as her only alibi for Katy’s murder), wondering who lives there. On the next page, Lily’s speculation is interrupted by a crash upstairs. Lily and Katy go to investigate—Lily wondering if a robber is in the house, Katy scolding Lily for having forgotten to lock the door. The moment is a glimpse of things to come, as well as a turning point—not least in the relationship between Lily and Katy, which grows more nuanced than anyone will realize once Katy is dead. Katy’s forbearance and light skepticism will sometimes challenge and enlighten Lily, sometimes bore and frustrate her—and later in the book, it’s the absence of these qualities that will condemn her. After the upstairs crash turns out to be only their drunken host father, Lily and Katy return to the basement, Lily stewing with disillusionment: “I mean, they seemed so happy. Their lives seemed perfect,” she says. “Well,” says Katy. “I guess we don’t really know that much about them.” The remark is an expression of humility and agnosticism, and the kind of thing Lily probably wouldn’t say—and after Katy is killed, it is the one thing that nobody says about Lily.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Jennifer duBois website.

The Page 69 Test: A Partial History of Lost Causes.

My Book, The Movie: A Partial History of Lost Causes.

--Marshal Zeringue