Friday, March 30, 2007

"The Keeper"

Sarah Langan received her MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. She studied with Michael Cunningham, Nicholas Christopher, Helen Schulman, and Maureen Howard, among others, all of whom have been instrumental to her work. She is currently pursuing a Master's in Environmental Health Science/Toxicology at New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

The Keeper is her first novel. She applied the "page 69 test" to it and reported the following, starting with the text from page 69:
A few years ago when she had been driving, just to drive, to get away from the colicky baby whose fretting never ceased, she had discovered the tree graveyard. She’d pulled over to the side of the road and touched the massive stumps. Her fingers had traced their ridges: countless years recorded by slim bands of wood. She listened for the screaming. She never heard it.

At her exit, Georgia turned off the highway. By the time she traversed the Messalonski River, she had managed to forget the trials of the day. She concentrated on the comfortable way the town made her feel. With the heat blasting through the vents and the rain falling hard outside, she felt like she was wrapped inside a warm cocoon.

At six PM that Thursday evening she pulled into the driveway of her childhood home, a half-mile south of Main Street on a cul de sac that led to the parking lot of the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Sorrow.

“You home?” she heard her father call when she got into the house.

“Coming.” She found him playing a hand of solitaire and smoking a cherry cigar behind the desk in his study.

Ed O’Brian was one of the few men she knew who was larger than herself. Even now, as his bones shrank with age, when he stood next to her, she never wondered whose shadow was bigger. "Everything hunkey dorey?" he asked very slowly and calmly. It was the only way he ever spoke.

Georgia sighed. "Fine. He's fine. Nine stitches, but he'll live."

Thematically, page 69 is pretty representative of my novel. A burdened woman is trying her best to soldier on in a town where those around her are drowning. Georgia is The Keeper’s optimist, and I like her for that. She’s the breath of life that the density of such a dark story needs, and I think her strength is an inspiration to the other characters. Without her, they wouldn’t grasp for stars nearly so high.

The Keeper is about a small paper mill town in Maine, and the people who remain there after the mill has closed. They lack the impetus to leave, but have no reason to stay. The central characters are the town pariah Susan Marley, her younger sister Liz, her mother Mary, her former lover Paul, and her former babysitter Georgia. The people of the town are haunted by nightmares of Susan. After she dies, their dreams start to come true.

As far as plot goes, this section is a pause in action, so it probably doesn’t give a very good indication of overall style. Susan is about to fall down a flight of stairs, Paul’s wife is about to leave him, and all hell is about to break loose. The nice part is, this page is G-rated, so I’ve got a lot less ‘splaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo used to say.
Visit Sarah Langan's website and read an excerpt from The Keeper.

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

--Marshal Zeringue