Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Sleeping With Ward Cleaver"

Jenny Gardiner's work has appeared in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post, and on NPR’s Day to Day.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, and reported the following:
I was pleasantly surprised to realize that page 69 draws attention to some of the conflict in my protagonist Claire Doolittle's life. She's a woman approaching mid-life who married a man she'd once considered "Mr. Right," but who now more closely resembles Mr. Always Right. She's plunged into the fog of motherhood, overwhelmed with her life, and her chosen life partner is more of an adversary than partner, more inclined to chastise her for her shortcomings than praise her for her successes.

As she begins to question whether her life even remotely meets her expectations, her former fiance, Todd Sterodnik, begins an email correspondence with her in the hopes of wooing her back with promises of what would have been. On page 69, Claire is pondering an early email exchange with him, wondering about how life would have turned out with Todd, who'd unexpected left her and abruptly married another woman (who then rebounded with a Promise-Keeper after he dumped her as well).

Not only is Claire conflicted about her once-perfect yet now crumbling marriage, but she's also struggling to keep her head above water as mother to five children while holding down a part-time job. For a woman whose organizational skills were limited to matching her bra and panties each morning prior to becoming a mother, life is way out of control. Now, it seems a day doesn’t pass without at least one child forgetting their lunch box. Life is all about have-to's and drudgery, and the Claire-she-used-to-be has disappeared in the mundane mix. The good news is Claire has a wickedly funny sense of humor that carries her through the strife in her world and helps her to re-examine what is most important to her.

From page 69:

I look at my watch. I’m already ten minutes late leaving the house and I have that lunch box stop to make. I want to reply while it’s fresh in my head and no one’s here to bother me, but I have to run.

As I back the car out of the driveway, I ponder that odd question. Do I miss him? Do I miss him? God, no. Not really. Do I miss the promise of what we once had? Sure. How could I not? The road not taken is a tempting one to peer down. You never see the potholes or detours on that road. It’s just a clear, straight, smooth stretch of pavement that goes endlessly into the sunshine-flooded horizon.

If I’d have ended up as Mrs. Todd Sterodnik, would I now be alone with a passel of kids, fighting Todd for child support payments? Or worse, yet, would I be homeschooling those kids on some ranch in Wyoming, re-married to a Promise Keeper named Jedediah or Ezekial?

Or would I have used my feminine wiles to keep Todd from ever wanting to leave me, trapping him in a web of sexual nirvana from which he could not escape? Well, hardly likely, considering I haven’t even done that with my actual husband, let alone my “what-if” one.

After dropping Lindsay’s lunchbox off, I head to the office. I stop at a traffic light and the elderly man sitting at the bus stop nearby leers and winks at me, catching me off-guard.

Christ, there was a time in my life when I turned heads. When men--boys, even--would actually walk by and gawk at me. Then, all of a sudden, one day, I realized I was virtually invisible to the other sex.

No longer do men gaze longingly at me. Instead, I’m left with decrepit old men at bus stops being the last of my dying fan club. Maybe I should wink at him and sensuously run my tongue along my upper lip, appreciative that at least someone is looking at me.

Clearly I’ve sunk to a new low.

I smile courteously and move on when the light turns green. After contending with the remaining dregs of rush-hour traffic, I pull into my parking spot, race to the elevator, and arrive at work precisely twenty-two minutes late. Shit.
Read an excerpt from Sleeping With Ward Cleaver, and learn more about the author and her work at Jenny Gardiner's website and The Debutante Ball group blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue