Friday, February 29, 2008


Laura Wiess is the author of books including Such a Pretty Girl and the recently-released Leftovers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Leftovers and reported the following:
I'm happy to say the Page 69 Test scores for Leftovers the same way it first did for Such a Pretty Girl last year.

Leftovers is the story of Blair and Ardith, best friends who have committed an unforgivable act in the name of love and justice. But in order to understand what could drive two young women to such extreme measures, first you'll have to understand why. You'll have to understand what it's really like to be forgotten, misused and abandoned in America today.

Page 69 is told by Ardith, and it's the lead-in to a far worse series of destruction of innocence scenes. It's Christmas at Ardith's -- the party house with the parents who want so much to still be young and cool -- and Blair, who lives a completely different lifestyle, has dressed up and come over for her first visit. She's fairly innocent and inexperienced, dreams of love and romance, and as the fresh meat, ends up under the mistletoe with a short line of drunks.

Page 69:

"Well, don’t plan on hanging around with her," your mother says, shifting and deliberately blocking your father's pop-eyed stare. "You don't need to get involved with a boy-crazy girl like that. She acts like a little whore." Muttering, she refills her eggnog tumbler and settles on your father's lap, preventing him from joining the fest. The other girls look sullen and you begin to think you'd better get Blair away before a fight erupts.

Before you can move, Broken Nose slips his hand up under Blair's shirt and squeezes her breast.

Shocked, she pushes it away. Slaps his other hand from her butt. A terrible mix of little-girl confusion and big-girl outrage twists her face. She says, "C'mon now, quit it," but her voice is wobbly and her smile smashed as he kisses her. Someone cheers as his tongue invades her mouth.

You look at your mother, who shrugs and says, "Well, she asked for it."

At your father, who looks like he wishes she'd asked
him for it, and at your brother, who watches with undisguised interest.

"Break it up," you yell, but no one pays any attention.

Your mother elbows your father. "You know what, Gil? We should do some dirty dancing. I have the CD here somewhere. It'd be fun."

Your father grunts, his gaze locked on the floorshow.

You go into the kitchen. Turn on the stove and dip the festive Rudolph kitchen towel into the flickering flames. It ignites. You hold it up beneath the smoke detector, loosing an endless, ear-splitting shriek and scattering the cringing, reeling crowd.

Blair stumbles toward you, lipstick smeared and clothes askew. You toss the burning towel into the sink and lead her into your room. Lock the door.

Ardith and Blair are fourteen here. Ardith has grown up seeing much worse. Blair is trapped in unrelenting family miseries of her own. Leftovers is the why behind the pending tragedy, the path to breaking the girls, and what happens when the two best friends finally reach the end of their ropes.

Compelling enough to read on? I hope so.
Learn more about the book and author at Laura Wiess' website, her LiveJournal, MySpace page, Amazon blog, and the "Welcome to the Asylum" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Such a Pretty Girl.

My Book, The Movie: Such a Pretty Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

"Of All Sad Words"

Bill Crider is the author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery series and other books. The first book in this series won an Anthony Award for "best first mystery novel" in 1986.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the newly-released Of All Sad Words, the latest Dan Rhodes mystery, and reported the following:
In Of All Sad Words, page 69 happens to be the first page of chapter nine. Sheriff Dan Rhodes has just arrived at the jail with a trunk full of confiscated moonshine. Maybe fans of Thunder Road will be tempted to read further, assuming there’s anyone around who remembers Thunder Road. Sheriff Rhodes does, since the movie gets a couple of mentions in the book. Not on page 69, however.

Page 69 also features two of the series’ continuing characters: Lawton, who’s a jailer, and Hack, who’s the dispatcher. They aren’t exactly beloved characters. More like irritants, especially to the sheriff. In this scene, however, they restrain themselves and don’t engage in their usual snappy patter. That’s typical. It would have made page 69 a lot spiffier if they had, but they never do what the anyone wants them to.

The page also advances the plot because Hack suggests that the customers for the moonshine might be getting a little nervous. This allows Rhodes to explain a bit about the law and to introduce the possibility that the Texas Alcoholic Beverages Commission might want to look into some things in Blacklin County. A writer would never mention something like that if a representative of the commission wasn’t going to show up later on.

Naturally, I’d hope that people reading this page of the book would want to read more, especially if they’d read the preceding 68 pages, in which a trailer house blows up, a man is murdered, and Rhodes gets chased by a monster truck. You’d think some of that would happen on page 69, but it’s just my luck that it doesn’t.
Learn more about the author and his work at Crider's website and his blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder and Murder Among the OWLS as well as an excellent write-up about Dan Rhodes on the big screen at "My Book, The Movie."

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 25, 2008


Thomas Cobb is the author of Crazy Heart, a novel, and Acts of Contrition, a collection of short stories that won the 2002 George Garrett Fiction Prize.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Shavetail, and reported the following:
Page 69 in Shavetail is a short one -- a small paragraph and one more sentence. Is it representative? Not really, but it deals with one of the themes of the novel. In the paragraph Lieutenant Anthony Austin (US Army 1871) is dealing with another onset of depression, which, in the 19th century was called "melacholia." It's a condition that afflicts him and affects all of those around him.

Shavetail deals with men (and women) who are subjected to extreme conditions, often life and death conditions, under which they have to make decisions that affect them and many, many others. Their beliefs, their emotional states, their physical conditions all play a role in how they make those decisions. Big decisions are never easy, never objective, not matter how much we think they are.

Would this little paragraph encourage a reader to keep reading? No, I suppose not. It might indicate, though, that though Shavetail is a historical western (i.e. it takes place in 1871, in the southern Arizona Territory), it makes some attempts, I hope, at some larger, more contemporary issues. I hope that might encourage someone who wouldn't normally read the sort of book this may seem to be, to give it a try.
Read an excerpt from Shavetail and learn more about the author and his work at Thomas Cobb's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Annie Finch’s recent works include Calendars (Tupelo, 2003, shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award); a reissue of her early longpoem, The Encyclopedia of Scotland (Salt Press, 2004); and a book of essays on poetry, The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self (University of Michigan Press, 2005). Since 2005 she has served as Director of the Stonecoast graduate creative writing program at the University of Southern Maine.

She applied the Page 69 Test -- including using the poet's license to test page 34 or 35 [halfway to page 69] -- to Calendars, and reported the following:
P. 69 of my book of poetry Calendars — a collection of “celebrations of word, body, and the earth,” to quote the jacket blurb — is the next-to-last page of this slim volume of poems. One of the only free verse poems in the book, and written twenty years before the average date of the other poems, it is not representative of most of Calendars.

On the other hand, like many of the other poems, this poem is concerned with a liminal state of consciousness, in which the details of the external and mundane world are apprehended until they become transformative. And like many others of the poems, particularly those written during the first decade, it is haunted by a sense of unease, of slight threat.

The August Porch One afternoon: I think I like it
better for cut browns



than evening for the ravelling of slats to emerald.

Stilled sun


like cat-hairs on a smock

a few languid smells

curl where they land

there's no gleam to the wicker.

Shadows might well

not be cast.

The trees are scanty

with the weight

of apples

they have finished.

But wistaria raises

its inchworm head and hunts

for the walls of this porch.

Something's waiting to run out on us.

The mist

and creak of wines is due when we run out of dusk.

Nonetheless, perhaps this particular entry on poetry will prove the wisdom of Marshal Zeringue’s “halfway” rule for poets, because page 35 of Calendars, smack in the middle of the book, turns out to be far more representative than page 69. In fact, this eight-line poem is a key poem in the collection, focused on imagery, characters, and the themes of the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of human life which all tie in precisely with the rest of the poems in Calendars. Even the book’s long title poem, “Calendars,” in multiple voices including those of Persephone and Demeter, includes a phrase from this poem.

Chain of Women

These are the seasons Persephone promised,
as she turned on her heel—
the ones that darken, till green no longer
bandages what I feel.

Now touches of gold stipple the branches,
promising weeks of time
to fade through, finding the footsteps
she left as she turned to climb.

The poem, as astute critic Susan Joseph recently pointed out to me, must be in the voice of the earth-goddess Demeter, Persephone’s bereaved mother, abandoned when Persephone went to live for half of each year in the underworld. But now Demeter is, somehow, about to take the same path, and that brings her out of the myth and into the cycles of human life, exactly at the point where the rest of the book’s poems about nature, love, sex, and childbirth take over.
Learn more about the poet and her work, and read or listen to some of her poems, at Annie Finch's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Your Inner Fish"

Neil Shubin is provost of The Field Museum as well as a professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as an associate dean.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, and reported the following:
Page 69 captures science in microcosm. The paragraph on that page is about my very first fossil-finding expedition, to the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia Canada. Our goal was early fossil mammals or, even better, their closest reptilian relatives. We made all kinds of plans to get there, including having a very precise vision of the kinds of rocks and places we wanted to look at for fossils. The idea was that the beaches of Nova Scotia were perfect for our hunt because they were two hundred million years old and were formed in ancient streams and lakes. Also, they were revealed to us each day by some of the world's largest tides. As the tides went up and town, they exposed beautiful orange cliffs. So, off we went in the Summer of 1985 to look for fossils.

My little expedition was remarkable for what we didn't find: a single scrap of bone. Failure, and learning from one's failures, is a key part of scientific discovery. There was another lesson. With a little persistence, and a great degree of luck, we ended up finding what we were looking for. Page 70 reveals how my colleague and friend, Bill Amaral, single handedly honed in on an area with fossil bones. The Nova Scotia expeditions were made a great success by a completely human mix of ingredients: planning, persistence, and luck.

What did we learn? From one of the little reptiles we discovered in these ancient rocks we saw the beginnings of our mammalian way of chewing food. Captured in these ancient hills is a bit of our very ancient past. That is the story of Your Inner Fish. The story of the human body is told from the bodies, fossils, and DNA of reptiles, fish, even sponges. That story is our past, it defines our present, and will shape our future.
Read an excerpt from Your Inner Fish and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Neil Shubin's research and other publications at his faculty webpage.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"A Grave in Gaza"

Matt Beynon Rees published a nonfiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society called Cain's Field: Faith, Fratricide, and Fear in the Middle East (2004). His first detective novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, was published in the U.S. in February 2007. It was nominated for a Quill Award and named one of the Top 10 Mysteries of the Year by Booklist. The French magazine L'Express called Matt Beynon Rees "the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine."

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, A Grave in Gaza (UK title, The Saladin Murders), and reported the following:

With an "amateur" sleuth, a key moment comes when he must overcome his reluctance to face danger and investigate the case before him. Structurally, that moment ties up the initial phase of a mystery novel and plunges the detective into the action and intrigue. But it must also change him in some way.

For my sleuth, Palestinian schoolteacher Omar Yussef, that moment comes on page 69 of my new novel, A Grave in Gaza. Omar has gone to Gaza to conduct a schools inspection, only to discover one of his teachers, Eyad Masharawi, has been arrested as a spy. He soon finds that the teacher was really arrested for blowing the whistle on a scheme to sell university degrees to members of the security forces. At first Omar believes there's been a misunderstanding that can be easily cleared up. But, on page 69, he speaks to the imprisoned man's wife Salwa and realizes he's dealing with something quite different. The teacher has been tortured. Here's his reaction:

"How could they?" Omar Yussef touched his fingers to his brow. He thought of the discomfort he had felt in the room where he had waited for Salwa. He was ashamed of the self-pity he had experienced there, a short distance from where Masharawi had been exposed to true suffering.

That's the key moment at which Omar is forced to take his investigation more seriously. I wanted to be sure that it would ring true emotionally, so I didn't base Omar's decision entirely on his high morals and indignation at the use of torture in a Palestinian jail. Instead, I added the element of embarrassment and shame at his self-centered concerned for his own discomfort, as he waited for the prisoner's wife. This realization shocks Omar out of his complacency and forces him into the dangerous investigation which follows – confronting kidnapping, weapons smuggling, corruption among senior Gazan military men, a gunfight with hoods in a refugee camp, and of course murder.

It's a moment of responsibility that's based on conversations I've had with the Palestinians I admire the most, discussing the point at which they decided to stand up and be counted. Omar's life has been relatively easy, teaching school in a Bethlehem refugee camp, drinking coffee with old friends, and eating his wife's traditional meals in the loving company of his grandchildren. But around him Palestinian society has broken down. Now, on page 69, he understands the time has come for him to leave his comfortable life and face reality.

Learn more about A Grave in Gaza and its author at Matt Beynon Rees' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 18, 2008

"Skin Hunger"

Kathleen Duey has written numerous books for younger readers, including the chapter book series The Unicorn's Secret and the Hoofbeats series.

She applied the Page 69 Test to National Book Award finalist Skin Hunger, and reported the following:
A Resurrection of Magic: Skin Hunger, is the first title of a trilogy. It’s two stories that alternate every other chapter. They are connected by love and hatred and magic. They are separated only by time. Page 69 is the last page of a chapter, a half page of text. Two boys, forced roommates, are standing in a dark room. They cannot find lamps or desks, or the door through which they entered. They are terrified. It is an intentional cruelty. One of them knows why. The other cannot begin to imagine why.

Page 69 is a perfect little slice of the book, a tiny introduction to the creation of a fanatic. What you wouldn’t see, if you read only this page, is the other story — the events that made the dark room inevitable. If you like page 69, though, I think you would like the book.
Read an excerpt from Skin Hunger, and learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Duey's website and her blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox"

Stephen Budiansky has written about military and intelligence history, science, and the natural world. His twelve books include include Her Majesty’s Spymaster, Battle of Wits, Air Power, The Nature of Horses, and The Truth About Dogs.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his newly-released book, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my new book The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox is I have to admit representative of the whole only obliquely, less as a matter of substance than of approach and method.

The major theme of the book is how white conservatives in the South in the years following the Civil War effectively reversed the outcome of the war through a concerted campaign of terrorist violence. One of my particular objectives, though, was to rescue from obscurity and the deliberate distortions of history some of the heroes of Reconstruction who fought for the rights of African Americans, often with great personal courage and in the face of not just vile character assassination but genuine physical danger. Throughout the book I tried to rescue from the simplistic stereotypes of "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags" and "ignorant blacks" the real people of rectitude, vision, and courage who fought this ultimately, and tragically, losing battle.

Page 69 is largely devoted to one of many small, quick, impressionistic character sketches of minor characters I wrote to bring these people to life; it's largely a description of Blanche Butler, who would marry Adelbert Ames, the Republican governor of Mississippi -- one of the heroes of my book, a man of great probity, honesty, and courage -- as far from a "carpetbagger" as you could imagine. And Blanche was a remarkable figure; the daughter of a politician (congressman Benjamin Butler) and a Shakespearean actress; funny, outspoken, brave in her own right, as well as a renowned Washington belle. She and Adelbert would exchange an amazing series of letters through some of his worst struggles in Mississippi that form a moving and intimate record of these terrible times.
Learn more about The Bloody Shirt and its author at Stephen Budiansky's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Joshua Henkin is the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson, which was named a Los Angeles Times notable book of the year. His short stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, Triquarterly, DoubleTake, The North American Review, The New England Review, Boulevard, and elsewhere.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Matrimony, and reported the following:
As luck would have it, page 69 of Matrimony is arguably the most important page of the novel. Or if not the most important page, then the page that changes everything that happens subsequently. It’s a new chapter, and Mia, who is a senior in college, is trying to figure out, as seniors in college are wont to do, what will happen next. It’s right after Thanksgiving, and she gets a call from her father telling her her mother has breast cancer. Although Mia’s parents don’t occupy a lot of page space in Matrimony, they loom importantly over the book, and this is where we’re introduced to them in scene. Also, the news of Mia’s mother’s breast cancer — and the fact that she dies in less than a year — is the catalyst for everything that happens afterward in Matrimony. Mia and Julian decide to get married right after they graduate so that Mia’s mother will be alive to attend the wedding.

Now, Julian and Mia love each other, indisputably, but I doubt that if Mia’s mother hadn’t gotten sick that they would have ended up getting married. Julian and Mia are people who culturally, demographically, generationally don’t get married at twenty-two. Odds are, they would have broken up shortly after college, as most college couples do, no matter how well suited they may seem (and may in fact be) at the time.

Later in the book, when Mia meets up with Derek, her friend from Japan, after not having seen him for many years, she remembers how Derek had been in love with her, and she makes this internal observation: “She wondered what would have happened if she’d let herself love Derek. She imagined herself in Kyoto, mother to his children, and for a moment it seemed as possible as the life she’d lived, as any path she might have taken.”

Coincidence. Circumstance. Timing. These are the engines that drive life, and as such, they also drive fiction. I’ve written elsewhere that Matrimony, though principally about the twenty-year history of a marriage, is also about a generation. It’s about what it’s like to be in your twenties and thirties — even your forties, in some cases — when you’re waiting for your life to begin and you find to your surprise that your life already has begun and that life is what happens when you’re not paying attention.

This, at least, is how it works for Julian and Mia. Although they meet freshman year, it’s really when they’re seniors, and on page 69, that their relationship is soldered. Tragedy does that. Julian and Mia have no idea what’s about to happen to them. I didn’t either.
Read an excerpt from Matrimony, and learn more about the novel and its author at Joshua Henkin's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"A Ticket to Ride"

Paula McLain teaches in the MFA Program in Poetry at New England College, and at John Carroll University. She is the author of two collections of poetry and a memoir, and a new novel, A Ticket to Ride.

She applied the Page 69 Test to A Ticket to Ride and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, A Ticket to Ride, a brother and sister come to a strained agreement about a trip she, Suzette, wants to take to visit an ex-boyfriend of hers. He, Raymond, knows it’s a terrible, terrible idea. The scene ends this way:

She hugged him tightly, her arms slim and fierce, a lovely little boa constrictor around his ribs. When she peered up at him, her smile was tight and wan. “Let’s not decide now, okay? Can’t we just have a good day?”

“Sure kitten,” Raymond said, feeling twisted up and utterly depleted. “Whatever you say.”

The action on this page, just half a page, actually, the end of a chapter — is acutely representative of Raymond and Suzette’s relationship. She’s a train wreck; he’s the conductor trying and failing (and failing again) to save her from herself. At one point, early on in the book, Raymond thinks this of Suzette:

She was trouble. Troubled. Was in trouble every time [he] turned around. But what was he supposed to do? Just walk away? After all of the mistakes, the ridiculous choices, the self-destructiveness, it wasn’t easy to go on caring about Suzette, but sometimes love wasn’t easy, Raymond told himself. He told himself he had no choice. Being born into the same family meant they belonged to each other. No matter how messy things got or how it looked to other people, this was an indestructible fact.

Here and elsewhere we see how just how futile Raymond’s caretaking of Suzette is. It isn’t healthy, and isn’t doing either any good. In the narrative that details Raymond and Suzette’s complicated relationship, and another storyline that concerns two girl cousins thrown together for one tumultuous summer, the darker sides of family love and loyalty become a focal point in the novel. What do you do when someone you love is intent on self-ruination? How can family members not get dragged into dangerously co-dependent dances? When does trying to save someone become mutually detrimental?

I’d like to think page 69 would draw a reader into the rest of the book — if for no other reason than they recognize some of their own craziness in the exchange between these troubled siblings!
Read an excerpt from A Ticket to Ride, and learn more about the author and her work at Paula McLain's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2008

"The Logic of Life"

Tim Harford writes “The Undercover Economist” column, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences, and runs a problem page called “Dear Economist,” in which Financial Times readers’ personal problems are answered tongue-in-cheek with the latest economic theory. He is the author of two books, The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Logic of Life and reported the following, opening with the text from Page...65:
It’s time to dispose of an age-old question. Do people spend their lives looking for “the one”, the person – or, less ambitiously, a particular type of person – who is the perfect match for them temperamentally, socially, professionally, financially and sexually? Or do people adjust their standards depending on what they can get? In other words, are the romantics right or the cynics?

I’ll admit that I can’t answer that question definitively – not even the most ingenious of today’s new generation of economists have devised an experiment that will prove whether people lower their sights in response to market conditions when it comes to marriage. But there is some suggestive evidence from the study of speed-dating, courtesy of the economists Michèle Belot and Marco Francesconi.

Speed-daters are able to propose to anyone and everyone they meet, and do so electronically after the event, so that the embarrassment of rejection is minimised. That should mean that, for most people, a proposal of a date is a simple, uncomplicated expression of approval and that nobody would propose a date they didn’t want accepted or hold back a proposal even though they wanted a date. Belot and Francesconi persuaded one of Britain’s largest dating agencies to release information about the activities of 1,800 men and 1,800 women who, over nearly two years, attended 84 speed-dating events. The researchers were able to see who went to which event, and who proposed to whom. It won’t surprise many people to hear that while women proposed a match to about one man in ten they met, men were a bit less choosy and proposed a match to twice as many women, with about half the success rate. Nor will it shock anyone to hear that tall men, slim women, nonsmokers and professionals received more offers. But what might raise the odd eyebrow is that it became clear from about 2,000 separate speed-dates (that’s 100 hours of stilted conversation) that people seemed systematically – and rationally – to change their standards depending on who showed up for the speed-date. They didn’t seem to be looking for “the one” at all.

For example, men prefer women who are not overweight. You might think, then, that if on a particular evening twice as many overweight women as usual show up, it will be a night where fewer men propose. Not at all. The men propose just as frequently, so that when twice as many overweight women turn up, twice as many overweight women receive offers of a date…

Okay, I wimped out of the p69 test. This is page 65. My excuse? Page 69 wouldn't make any sense to someone who hadn't read page 65, but page 65 certainly makes sense by itself. I think it is representative of the book, which shows how a new breed of economist has been doing unusual research to apply traditional economic ideas of competition and rational choice to some very unexpected subjects. If I am honest, this research is on the lighter side: other researchers are exploring crime, epidemics, urban decay, addictions and racism. But I have a soft spot for this story, because it is both so fascinating and yet so light-hearted.
Read excerpts from The Logic of Life, and learn more about the author and his work at Tim Harford's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Keeper and Kid"

Edward Hardy has taught creative writing at Cornell and Boston College and currently teaches nonfiction writing at Brown. His short stories have appeared in over twenty different magazines including: Ploughshares, GQ, Epoch, The New England Review, Witness, Prairie Schooner, Ascent, Boulevard, Yankee and The Quarterly, and his short fiction has been listed in The Best American Short Stories. Geyser Life, his first novel, enjoyed wide acclaim.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Keeper and Kid, and reported the following:

Keeper and Kid is the story of what happens when Jimmy Keeper, an ordinary guy happily living his patched together, antiques-dealer life in Providence, is suddenly pulled through the portal of parenthood. This occurs early on when Keeper's ex-wife Cynthia, who lives in Boston, dies unexpectedly and shortly after that Keeper meets Leo, his son, who's three.

To apply the test I turned on the lights, sat at the kitchen table in a comfortable chair and opened the book. Page 69 turns out to be a scene where Keeper and his buddy and business partner Tim are in the van they use for work. They've just left Boston and are heading down through the dusk on I-93, back to Providence with Leo and all Leo's gear. It has not yet dawned on Keeper that he and Leo might actually inhabit different worlds.

Page 69:

Back in the van everything was too loud for Leo. We had to turn down the music and it was only Emmylou Harris. We went to all classical and that still hurt his ears. "It's prickly," Leo said. Then with nothing on Leo told us the road noise was "too rumply." I watched in the mirror. He began to squirm. I had no idea what to do.

"Well," Tim said, "he's strapped in. He can't go anywhere. I'm just amazed he's not crying his eyes out."

"Amazed," I said. "I don't have time to be amazed." I sped into the left-hand lane when Leo began shouting out names.

"There's Clarabel!" he said. "We're passing Henry! I see Diesel 10!"

"Who's he talking to?" Tim asked.

"I think he's hallucinating. I think it's the onset of–"

"That's Thomas." Leo pointed as we passed a blue contractor's van.

"Thomas?" I rubbed my forehead. I started sweating again.

"The tank engine," Leo said.

"It's the train set," Tim said. "Those wooden trains in the bins? He's pretending the cars have the same names as his engines. The engines are all characters."

"How do you know this?"

"They're collectable. But I don't know who buys them. British railroad geeks?"

Leo's hands were in his hair. The blanket slipped to the floor. He squeezed his eyes shut and started to cry.

A few lines later Keeper's lover Leah calls on the cell. She's on a business trip in North Carolina and Keeper still hasn't found a way to tell her about Leo. She thinks he's coming home with Arrow, the dog that first brought Keeper and Cynthia together.

Does the test work? Amazingly enough in this case I'd say it does, as page 69 seems to reach right to the heart of Keeper's newest, most pressing problem.

Read an excerpt from Keeper and Kid, and learn more about the author and his work at Edward Hardy's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 8, 2008

"The Betrayal Game"

David L. Robbins is a graduate of the College of William & Mary and a bestselling novelist.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Betrayal Game, and reported the following:
Oddly, like some unerring dart, or that clairvoyant friend who asks How's the family or the job, the day after the funeral or the pink slip, or - like me - the strangely cursed pal who pats you on the back right on that spot where earlier in the day you'd had a mole removed and gotten three painful stitches, the page 69 Test went right to the most verbose page in The Betrayal Game.

Tempted as I was to go elsewhere and beg forgiveness from the blog readership, I toughed it out and included the excerpt below. Because, like the stitches, the lengthy passages are still for the betterment of the book. Lammeck, my political science professor, is in Havana, in early 1961. Lammeck is a specialist in the theories of assassination: what does history do after a key individual is yanked suddenly off the stage? Does she continue in a straight line (indicating that individuals do not effect history so greatly) or does she swerve mightily (evidence that history is, indeed, greatly influenced by single men and women more so than events).

On page 69, Lammeck sits in the Havana library, researching his subject, Fidel Castro. Lammeck comes to believe that Castro may be the one man in all of history whom he is absolutely certain is marked for death. From this point, The Betrayal Game goes on to depict the actual, multiple, and nefarious attempts by the CIA, the Cuban exiles, and the American Mafia, to assassinate Fidel before the Bay of Pigs invasion. Soon after this page, as the title suggests, Lammeck gets swept up in the many layers of intrigue and peril swirling in Havana, the shifting loyalties, dangers from unseen quarters, and betrayals aplenty. Enjoy.

From Page 69:

Fidel himself warned daily against an invasion from the American-backed exiles, whom he called “gusanos,” worms. Lammeck had heard this at two more speeches over the past week, both at the invitation of Captain Johan. Fidel’s ability to lecture at immense length, without notes, beggared description. Lammeck would never have believed a man could go on for so long, keep crowds of thousands thundering over his words for hours. Fidel Castro was remarkable. Every day that Lammeck read about him, or saw him, spoke with Johan about him, he became even more convinced that Fidel was indeed the anomaly that Lammeck believed him to be, the one in a million who, alone, could change history – and as such, was absolutely marked for death.

In the last week, Lammeck had switched his research at the archives from the economics of the island to recent Cuban history. He focused on sources not available to him in American libraries or press: the communist newspaper Granma, and eyewitness tales from the barbudos, the bearded ones who’d been guerillas in the mountains with Fidel. In every instance the accounts spoke of Castro’s extraordinary magnetism, his unbending persuasiveness. No other man, Lammeck thought, no one in his right mind would have sailed from Mexico with eighty-two others, not a one of them with military experience, to conquer a nation. After a disastrous landing, Castro’s cadre was quickly whittled down by Batista’s troops and bad luck to a dozen men. He endured two years in the mountains, hunted by the government, short of food and supplies, through swamps and jungle, finally recruiting an army of illiterates and cane cutters. And won a nation. What other revolutionary of the twentieth century had taken these risks? Lenin waited out the beginnings of the Russian Revolution in Zurich, facing no battle. Stalin held up banks and trains, then spent time in Siberian jails, serving only as a military administrator during the Russian Civil War. Mao controlled vast armies against the Kuomintang and the Japanese, but never suffered privations or danger, while Castro slept with a rifle barrel tucked under his chin in case he was caught in the night. Yugoslavia’s Tito led troops from a safe headquarters and enjoyed American and British protection. Ho Chi Minh was imprisoned and did not lead soldiers against the French. Khrushchev had not fought in World War II, he’d been only a commissar. Hitler screamed in beer halls while confederates brawled and slit throats for him.
Read an excerpt from The Betrayal Game and learn more about the author and his work at the official David L. Robbins website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"The Fault Tree"

Louise Ure is the Shamus Award-winning author of Forcing Amaryllis.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Fault Tree, and reported the following:
How do you catch a killer if you can't see him? How do you know he's not waiting beside you right now? We can all imagine that frightening scenario, thanks to Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark.

But I wanted to tell the story with a protagonist for the 21st century. A woman with more skills and less vulnerability. More grit and less guilt, even if she has to push herself to be brave every step of the way. A woman who could be the hero of her own story.

The Fault Tree tells the tale of Cadence Moran, a blind female auto mechanic in Arizona who is the only witness to a murder. And page 69 of the novel gives good insight to her character. It's a short page; the end of a chapter, and only seven sentences long. Cadence was almost run down by the killer's car as he fled the scene of the murder. In this scene, she's talking to her cousin, Kevin, who is worried about her being out on the street alone.

“I can't start using you as a taxi service; I'd never get comfortable out by myself again. And I don't think I'm in any danger. Juanita said the cops think it was a robbery gone bad. I'll make sure I keep the doors locked.” I didn't have the luxury of being afraid of the dark.

Kevin called the girls in to dinner, and they talked in whispers while I located each portion of the plate with my finger. I wish I could have found my courage as easily.
Watch the video trailer for The Fault Tree, and learn more about the author and her work at Louise Ure's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"I'm Looking Through You"

Jennifer Finney Boylan's memoir, She's Not There, published in 2003, was one of the first bestselling works by a transgendered American; until 2001 she published under the name James Boylan.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new memoir, I'm Looking Through You, and reported the following:
Page 69 of I'm Looking Through You comes at the end of a chapter that takes place at a debutante party in the 1970s; I'm still a boy then, although it's clear enough that I will grow up to be female. At the party I've made out, briefly, with a girl in a dark stairwell; I can't see her, she can't see me.

Turns out we both have secrets -- for her part, "Faith" has a blood disease that will kill her months later.

The 7 lines on page 69 present me seeing "Faith's" obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and her photo. I've never actually see her face before.

"Oh dear," my mother said. "Was she a friend?"

I remembered the smell of her hair, the feeling of her lips against my neck. Her voice in the dark, softly saying, It's only me.

"No," I said. "Not really."

Is this typical of the rest of the book? I don't know. It's a little grimmer than the rest of I'm Looking Through You, which, although it is about growing up in a haunted house, is on the whole a lot funnier and more joyful than this. And yet, the book is also about what it means to be "haunted," and so sure: here's a moment where the young James is haunted by the psychological ghost of another girl, someone who also carried something that others will find inscrutable.

It's my sense that it's those psychological ghosts -- the spirits of the children we used to be, the specter of the adults we may become -- that make a person "haunted," and it's these ghosts with whom we most struggle to make our peace. As I write later in the book -- exactly 82 pages later, "I have come to suspect that far more hearts are haunted than houses."
Read an excerpt from I'm Looking Through You and learn more about the author and her work at Jenny Boylan's website and her blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Light Fell"

Evan Fallenberg is an instructor in the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and the translator of works by, among others, Meir Shalev, Alon Hilu, Ron Leshem, and Batya Gur.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Light Fell, and reported the following:
It is 1976 and page 69 of Light Fell finds the protagonist, Joseph Licht, about to escape his Israeli life for a year by accepting a sabbatical in the US. The man for whom he left his marriage, his children and his religious lifestyle – Orthodox rabbi Yoel Rosenzweig – is no longer alive, and Joseph, feeling estranged from his five young sons as well, is eager to depart. Shortly before he leaves he invites the boys to the beach for a picnic, which is where the reader finds them all on page 69.

This is a pivotal year for Joseph and for the story as well. His plan backfires and the children grow more and more distant, so that after a year away Joseph begins to doubt 'ever really having been a father.' Worse yet, he seems to forget 'what it was to love, or be loved.' He will only rediscover what he has lost when his sons gather, twenty years later, for a reunion.

From page 69 of Light Fell:

There was no way for Joseph to describe that day to himself other than perfect. The sea was calm and warm and the boys were free to romp and push and splash. Only here, at the beach, could their noise and wild antics seem small and self-contained. He ventured out into deeper water with Daniel and Ethan and Noam, sat on the shore with the twins digging holes that flooded over again and again, leaving slick and shiny sand they loved to sink their feet into. Daniel led a campaign to bury Joseph under a mountain of dry sand but the digging wore them out and in the end they decided to bury only his legs. They took a walk to collect the shiniest, most colorful shells and sea glass in cloudy shades of green and gold.

At the end of the afternoon they sat in a huddle wrapped in towels and watched the blood-red sun inch its way closer to the horizon like a pomegranate too heavy for the branch. Joseph pointed out to sea. "That's where I'm going," he told them. "If you sail straight ahead, all the way to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea and then across the entire Atlantic Ocean, you'll find me there."

Noam squinted, looking for land. The twins, for once subdued, stared straight out to sea, looking at nothing. Ethan asked, "Can we visit you there, Daddy?" Daniel looked up to catch Joseph's answer.
Read an excerpt from Light Fell and learn more about the author and his work at Evan Fallenberg's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 1, 2008

"Without a Map"

Meredith Hall has won the $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award from A Room of Her Own Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, and notable essay recognition in Best American Essays. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Southern Review, Five Points, Prairie Schooner, and several anthologies. She teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Without a Map, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my memoir, Without a Map, sets up a disturbing scene in which my father, recently divorced from my mother, chooses not to face his own adoring mother and grandmother with the fact that he has left his family:

(My father’s) speech is always impatient and critical. He is still, two decades after leaving home, lord of the place. His mother and grandmother prepare his favorite meals for him--meat gravy over potatoes, chicken pie, pot roast — although he never seems grateful. “Mother! Are you still using that old pot? I thought I told you to throw that thing out. Christ! You’ll save anything.” This is accompanied by a small snort, a sort of snicker of disbelieving contempt at the end of the scolding.

After my parents divorce and my father remarries, he does not want to upset his mother and grandmother. For two years, for each holiday and birthday, my mother, sister, brother and I meet him on the highway and drive together as a family to Lawrence. No one needs to tell us the rules of this game: we are a happy family, a special and wonderful family. My father jokes and teases us. My mother, astonishingly, plays her role of contented wife perfectly.

We gather up the food from the car and the mending my mother has done for Grammy and file behind my father up the walkway, through the little gate, and along the unpainted wall of the tenement house, waving with big smiles to Grammy Melling in the window. We don’t knock. Grammy Hall is cooking already at the huge old range. The kitchen is big and empty except for an old wooden day bed along the back wall and a round table by the big window. It is dark -- dark wood, dark floors, a gas light converted to electric hanging from the high gray ceiling. My father says hello and immediately seems restless, bored, pacing around, jabbing at Grammy. “Mother, that’s going to take hours to cook. I told you I can’t stay all day.” His mother placates him: “Leslie, dear, it won’t take long. I can hurry it up.” She has blue hair and wears a lot of perfume. She takes great pride in dressing up the dining room table with depression glass and china. Grammy Melling bobs her head from her chair at all of the hubbub, and my mother helps cook and set the table. She stands next to my father, sits next to him, shares our news from the past few weeks. She smiles. My father sits at the head of the table with his children and ex-wife and mother and grandmother all attending (him).

I got pregnant at sixteen in a small New Hampshire town in 1965. I gave the baby up for adoption. Kicked out by my mother, expelled from school, shunned by my church and community, and finally exiled from my father’s life forever, Without a Map is a story of the ways in which love both harms and redeems, the ways in which a life shunted into a careening and desperate effort comes finally to calm and understanding. Page 69 reveals my flawed and weak father in a scene attentive to detail and character. In that way, it is representative of this book, which is rich in description, scene and dialogue as I work to convey these characters and the tumultuous process of reconciling with my own abandoned child. But this scene does not convey my deep love and longing for my gifted, brilliant, charismatic father who was also self-absorbed and destructive, a man who decided to comply with his new wife’s outcasting of me, a man who loved his daughter and suffered from his own failure of character. Without a Map presents my flawed mother and father with great love, and a sharp and honest eye for the ways in which they failed to love well. Ultimately, my book suggests that we are required to learn from grief how to love in larger and more compassionate ways, required to understand the imperfect nature of even our own hearts, no matter our intentions.
Read an excerpt from Without a Map, and learn more about the book and author at Meredith Hall's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue