Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld"

Dan Elish is the author of the novels Nine Wives and The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, as well as several books for young adults and children including the award-winning Born Too Short, Confessions of an 8th Grade Basket Case, The Worldwide Dessert Contest, Jason and the Baseball Bear, and The Great Squirrel Uprising.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld and reported the following:
Oh, God – page 69!?! Why not page 1 where Justin Hearnfeld is introduced (charmingly) to the reader? Or page 119 where Justin, chaperoning his school prom, sets out to play a somewhat puerile prank on one of his students? In fact, why not practically any other page?

Those were my immediate thoughts upon sitting down to write this piece. But then I got thinking. True, page 69 of The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld is no literary masterpiece. It is one of those transitional pages in a novel where the writer has to get the character from point A to point B. However, upon careful re-reading, I came to see that page 69 was actually a pretty good place for a first time reader to be dropped into this story.

Five chapters into the novel, Justin has already been through the wringer. A 23 year old probable virgin (for an explanation please read the prologue), he has taken a job teaching English at The Clarke School for Boys, the private school he attended as a student and hated. While visiting a bio lab in chapter one, Justin accidentally ignites a fetal pig by unconsciously rubbing his crotch against the bunsen burner while fantasizing about his colleague, the beautiful Beverly Kinney. After that, Justin walks Beverly home from school, vividly imagining the romantic fireworks to come (“The bed would shake with a force so powerful that entire squads of police in riot gear would be summoned by terrified neighbors.” page 49), only to discover that he is actually walking the girl of his dreams to her boyfriend’s apartment. As we pick up the action at page 69, Justin has given a sterling performance as a member of the improv troupe, The Toxic Crayons – a performance marred by Beverly’s absence. Now at the advice of his best friend, Justin is hurrying home to call Sadie Black, a teacher at a local girl’s private school to ask her to be his date at the aforementioned school prom.

Page 69 opens chapter six. On his way into his apartment building - Justin still lives at home with his mom and sexually active younger sister – he stops to chat with Mike the doorman. I now refer to the text:

Justin was tempted to tell him about the entire day, skimming over the more depressing episode with the flaming pig and tragic walk to Beverly’s “apartment,” focusing on his triumphant performance with the Toxic Crayons. But a quick glance at the small clock on the doorman’s desk stopped him. It was later than he thought – ten-thirty; still riding the fumes of David’s pep talk, he was determined to get in that phone call to Sadie before it was too late.

And so Justin bounds upstairs to place the call. Of course, it isn’t quite that easy. After all, the chapter in question is entitled “Of Chocolate Sauce and Mini-Monkeys.” But I’ll leave it to you to read what happens next.
Read an excerpt from The Misadventures of Justin Hearnfeld, and learn more about the author and his work at Dan Elish's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue