Saturday, March 29, 2008

"The Girl Who Stopped Swimming"

Joshilyn Jackson's short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Her bestselling debut novel, gods in Alabama won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Her second book, Between, Georgia, was also a #1 BookSense pick.

Jackson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and reported the following:
In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the ghost of a little drowned girl brings a pair of estranged sisters together to find out what happened the night she died. The sisters are Laurel and Thalia Gray, and they have a shared ghost in their past—an uncle, and you find out rather quickly that they witnessed his murder and shut up about it. Shutting up is what the Gray girls do best. The drowned girl’s visit opens the long barricaded door to the past, so that the novel works like a murder mystery with a family drama layered over it.

I think 69 is nicely representative because mother/daughter relationships and the thin edge between truth and what we now call “truthiness” is explored throughout the novel. Shelby is Laurel’s ‘tween daughter, and Bet is Shelby’s cousin, about the same age. Molly is the drowned girl – she was Shelby’s best friend.

something. I fell asleep in my beanbag.” Another glance at the inert Bet Clemmens, and then [Shelby’s] voice got the slightest bit louder as she said, “I think I fell asleep first. Isn’t that right, Bet?”

Bet’s gaze snapped back to the screen, and the faintly puzzled look was gone. She nodded, too vigorously, and Laurel’s mom-antennae, finely tuned to catch these things, vibrated. Shelby had silently asked Bet to back her up, and Bet had agreed.

Laurel’s throat tightened and her mouth went desert dry. She stared at her daughter and realized Shelby was looking between Laurel’s eyes, not into them. It was an old theatre trick of Thalia’s for doing love scenes with someone you hated, or hate scenes with someone you loved.

“It also makes lying a hell of a lot easier, off stage,” Thalia had said, more than once, no doubt when Shelby was around with her little pitcher’s ears wide open. It worked, too, but only from across the room. This close, Laurel could see the faint disconnect, and all at once she wondered if Moreno had been on to something. Molly and Shelby had been so close. If Molly was somehow, grossly involved with Stan Webelow, Shelby could not be entirely ignorant.

“Come and talk with me,” Laurel said, gently, gently, as if her insides hadn’t all turned to ice. She turned one hand palm up, extending it toward Shelby.

“Grandma says I’m supposed to be taking it easy, too.”

Shelby came down hard on the word, “supposed,” just as Mother had done, as if the gap between how the world should be and how it actually behaved was a grievous thing.
Read excerpts from The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and learn more about the author and her books at Joshilyn Jackson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue