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