Friday, August 12, 2016

"The Last One"

Alexandra Oliva was born and raised in upstate New York. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

Oliva applied the Page 69 Test to The Last One, her first novel, and reported the following:
The Last One is about a woman who is on a reality TV show when disaster strikes and she thinks it’s all just part of the show. On page 69, she’s struggling: She’s recently survived a harrowing encounter; her glasses are broken and she’s missing a shoe. She’s hungry, in pain, and seeking certainty—and she can’t see. Despite all this, despite how horrible things are and how badly she wants the show to be over, she’s not willing to say the safety phrase that’s her only way off the show. The why of this—her unwillingness to quit—is the heart of the novel. So, yes, I’d say page 69 is quite representative of the book.
That night I dream of earthquakes and animatronic toddlers with fangs. In the morning I break down my camp and creep east along the smoky road. I may not be able to focus my vision, but my thoughts are sharp. I need supplies. A new pack, boots, and food—anything other than peanut butter. I’m nervous about my water again; it’s like I’ve gone back in time—how many days, three, four? It feels like weeks—to just after the blue cabin, after I was sick, when I was able to start moving again but before I found the market. I have no food, almost no water, and I’m moving east searching for a Clue part of me fears will never come. It’s exactly the same except now I can’t see and I’m missing a shoe.

I’m going so slowly, too slowly. But every time I try to move faster I trip or slip or step on something sharp. The sole of my left foot feels like a giant bruise covered in a giant blister.

The morning is chilly and endless. This is worse than the coyote-bot, nearly as bad as the doll, this blurry monotony. If they want to break me, this is what they ought to do, send me walking endlessly with nothing to see, no one to talk to. No Challenges to win or lose. The safety phrase is creeping into my consciousness, teasing. For the first time I wish I weren’t quite so stubborn. That I could be like Amy—just shrug and admit I’ve had enough. That this is too fucked up to be worth it.
This page is also representative of the novel’s structure and layering: There are references to events the reader hasn’t seen happen yet, but which they will (in an intertwined narrative that follows the reality show forward from its first day of taping). We also have a rare mention of another contestant’s first name. In the reality show narrative, each contestant is referred to in a manner—an often-derisive manner—meant to acknowledge and explore the reductive stereotyping that is so rampant not only across reality television but our wider culture as well. It is only through the main character’s perception of her fellow contestants (and the reddit-inspired internet forums sprinkled throughout the novel) that we learn their real names. So it’s quite fitting that page 69 happens to contain an example of this as well!

Will page 69 makes readers want to read more of The Last One? I don’t know. I hope so.
Visit Alexandra Oliva's website.

--Marshal Zeringue