Thursday, May 3, 2007

"The Complete Tales of Merry Gold"

Kate Bernheimer applied the "page 69 test" to her most recent novel, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, and reported the following:
I was anxious when I first agreed to do the Page 69 Test for The Complete Tales of Merry Gold. Like both my novels, Merry has a lot of blank pages -- 21 out of 156 pages, to be exact. If it turned out that page 69 were blank, I'd have to say how page 69's blankness truly represented the rest of the book. I wouldn't be able to lie and say page 69 might be empty, but boy is this novel full, for it's not a full novel at all, by design; its main character, Merry Gold, is so mean and cold she barely even exists. The book is sort of her one attempt at an angry and delicate rasp. Soon I began to hope page 69 was blank.

Imagine my disappointment when page 69 turned out to be not blank, and in fact contained what in my view is a whole lot of words. If only it had been at least an illustration! There are nine of them, after all. (As it turns out only 126 pages in this novel even have sentences on them.) I tried to put as few words in this novel as I could get away with, without robbing Merry Gold of her dignity, its tiny shreds. On page 69 she's a child on the cusp of realizing the true horror of her little existence, which is not to be believed.

On page 68, there's a line readers seem to think is funny, about creepy songs with creepy names, like "Haven't Got Time for The Pain," and "I Guess I Just Lost My Head," but that's page 68. On page 69, Merry admits she sometimes ditches her piano lessons to go across the street to a fried chicken shop where she says always has the urge to eat the chicken under a table. I think that's funny, but no one else seems to; maybe it scares them, as well it should too. In many ways, page 69 sets Merry's fear in motion. For on the last line of page 69, Merry sees "the little girl in the white dress" who appears earlier in that chapter. She, Merry, and Ketzia — Merry's younger sister — all are most likely being molested by the same person, though there's no explicit description at all, whatsoever, of this in the book (I couldn't' bear it). On page 69 the girl in the white dress is standing on an ice-covered pond and on page 70 she disappears. "The ice walker," Merry yells on that page. "IS THE ICE WALKER HERE?" For me that line, which appears just after Page 69, contains all the fear of this novel, this completely cold, nervous fear. The dread. Page 69 is very, very important to that moment. So I think it does represent the book, even if it's too far from blank.

Also, page 69 is part of a chapter based on a Russian fairy tale. That's appropriate since the entire novel pays homage to fairy tales.

Page 69:

Although I was supposed to be learning piano, often Danilo would play piano himself, and have me dance around the room. After a while, I never did play. I suppose I played very badly and he got tired of me. Also, when I would try to play I would get so nervous I’d hold my breath and pass out and fall off the bench on the floor.

“Dance like a butterfly,” he would say. “Dance like a bee.” Because the songs were creepy, the dances I did were creepy too.

When I was done, Danilo would have me sit on the bench and lean my head on his shoulder until our time together was over.

I remember being exhausted. I remember seeing my face stare back at me from the black window. I remember the shiver of cold on my spine. Sometimes snow would blow into the room and cover our bodies.

And it was strange: even though my father gave me money to pay Danilo, Danilo never would take it. “Keep the ten,” he’d say. Or, “Keep the twenty.” Never did he once take the money. “I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me,” he would say. I’d shove the money deep in my pocket. Sometimes I would leave the Academie early and walk down the street to a fried chicken shop, and order potatoes with gravy, sometimes a leg. I always had the urge to eat the chicken under the table. Something about my piano lessons made me feel wild, untamed. Once, I was leaving my lesson and as I climbed into my father’s car outside the Academie Musicale, I saw the little girl in the white dress across the street, on Bullocks Pond.
Read an excerpt from The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, and learn more about Kate Bernheimer.

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

--Marshal Zeringue