Saturday, April 21, 2007

"Here She Lies"

Kate Pepper is the author of Five Days in Summer (2004), Seven Minutes to Noon (2005), One Cold Night (2006), and, coming in May, Here She Lies.

She applied the "page 69 test" to Here She Lies and reported the following:
As it happens, by chance, page 69 of Here She Lies is one of this novel’s pages that I hold most dear. It’s one of the pages I re-tooled over and over to make sure it expressed exactly what I wanted it to say. It’s a page whose existence I fought for during the editorial process, when some might have curtailed it. Page 69 is where I consciously and deliberately encapsulated the societal issue that is at the core of what plagues my protagonist, Annie.

Annie is a victim of identity theft, and as an electronically plugged-in shopoholic she has laid herself bare to cyber thieves. As it happens, her identical twin sister, Julie, is a marketing guru. Page 69 shows them together, passing through a pretty gentrified country town, soon before she discovers that her identity has been stolen. In this scene, she feels a vague awareness of her role in the dance between buyer and seller without yet realizing just how vulnerable it will leave her.

Main Street was busy with shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants; the town center was more polished and inviting than I’d expected. Unlike the strip malls I had grown used to down south with their utilitarian chain stores, this was the kind of place where you might like to walk and browse. I was an unabashed shopoholic — prime feed for marketers like my twin, advertisers, telephone solicitors, the whole bunch of them — and in light of our conversation on the way into town I began to feel supremely stupid sitting in my sister’s leather passenger seat. Her keen awareness of the workings of the world, her mastery of it, afforded her leather while our car back in Lexington was upholstered in stained cloth. I wondered if it was possible that everything I did, half of what I thought, was influenced by someone else and I didn’t even know it. After all, in recent years the marketing of stuff had grown more ubiquitous and even sexier than the stuff itself. Were we offered what we wanted before we knew we wanted it? Were our own lurking desires being used to formulate and transform our wants into needs? I considered this as we drove ten more minutes along Route 7, the lush, hilly road that led into Stockbridge.

Stockbridge was another jewel of a New England town in a prosperous area; it had its own Main Street, similar to Great Barrington’s, but it felt different in a way I couldn’t put my finger on at first. Then, when we passed a sign pointing in the direction of the Norman Rockwell Museum, I knew what it was. I remembered Rockwell’s classic mid-century painting of this very street: a lineup of brick and whitewashed storefronts on a cold winter night at Christmastime, a serene and pastoral small-town moment anyone could recognize in his or her own way. His painting had become an American icon, reminding us of the simplicity and peacefulness of our national soul back when existence was organic, not just the food but people’s daily lives.

But the town I saw didn’t look or feel like the painting. Around the lynchpin of a huge Victorian hotel were all the signs of a tourist trap gone to seed: a candle shoppe, a candy shoppe, a store featuring sweatshirts advertising the names of local towns and attractions, a crowded eatery. It looked to me like the painting’s fame had driven the town around the bend, devouring the innocence that had brought it acclaim in the first place.

Was this — this sweet but faded town — what marketing left you with after the sale? A vague memory that you had once valued something but you could no longer recall precisely what it was because you had, almost inadvertently, replaced it with something else. It was cynical, I knew that, but there was something about this place, these scenic, almost staged towns and roads and flowerbeds and skies that made me want to scratch their pretty surfaces to see what really was beneath. I liked it here but none of it felt precisely real.
Visit Kate Pepper's website and her blog, and listen to her read an excerpt from Here She Lies.

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

--Marshal Zeringue