Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The End As I Know It"

Kevin Shay was the website editor of McSweeney’s in 2000 and 2001, and he co-edited Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans, an anthology of humor from the McSweeney’s site. His short humor pieces have appeared in print and online in McSweeney’s, eCompany Now, Salon, Modern Humorist, and the anthology 101 Damnations. Two of his one-act plays were performed in San Francisco in 2003 and 2004 as part of the Bruno’s Island New Plays Festival.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his first novel, The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The End as I Know It finds narrator Randall Knight in Denver, at the home of his uncle Frank and aunt Lela. It's October, 1998, and Randall has arrived to warn his relatives, as he's attempting to warn all his friends and family, about the impending worldwide catastrophe that the Y2K computer bug will soon cause.

To his dismay, however, he's discovered that cousin Derek and his wife have become fanatical multi-level marketers, and they've roped a reluctant Frank and Lela into selling Amway along with them.

"...I have to admit, Uncle Frank, this ... business is not something I'd expect to find you involved in."

"I know. I know it. What can I say? Lee thought it was important to support the kids."

"Well, I hope it works out for you."

Frank smiles. "If it does, you'll be the first one invited to the mansion."

This is a recurring element throughout the novel: many of the people on whom Randall descends to spread the Y2K gospel turn out to be too wrapped up in their own cultlike obsessions to listen to his cultlike obsession. Of course, he doesn't perceive the similarity.

The page also touches on the extent to which Randall has been dismantling his personal relationships. His father, a historian, is under investigation for alleged plagiarism. Randall hasn't been speaking to Dad, and doesn't want his uncle to reveal his whereabouts:

"Hey, your secret's safe with me. But Randall, listen. You know, I can't blame you for being upset. I mean, Lela and I were very surprised to hear about the whole situation. But look, even if he did do it, which, hey, wait until all the facts are in, right?"

Like Nicole, he's jumped to the conclusion that Dad and I are fighting about the damn plagiarism. What kind of self-righteous prig do they take me for?

In fact, Randall doesn't much care about his father's academic transgressions; their estrangement was a consequence of his scoffing dismissal of the Y2K crisis. And this is far from the only bridge Randall's burned, or is about to.

We all know Y2K didn't have calamitous consequences, so for the reader of The End as I Know It, there's not much dramatic tension surrounding what will actually happen with computers. Instead, it's the question of what will happen to Randall that drives the book. How far will this guy go in alienating himself from everyone he cares about? And will he be able to pull himself back from this paranoid brink?
Visit Kevin Shay's website and read an excerpt from The End As I Know It.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue