Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Ancient Highway"

Bret Lott's books include the novels A Song I Knew by Heart, Jewel (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), The Hunt Club, Reed’s Beach, A Stranger’s House, and The Man Who Owned Vermont; and the story collections A Dream of Old Leaves, How to Get Home, and The Difference Between Women and Men; the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers; and the writing guide Before We Get Started.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Ancient Highway, and reported the following:
The novel Ancient Highway is the story of three generations of a family growing up and living and working at the outer fringes of the film industry in Hollywood, and is based on the lives of my grandfather, my mother, and my older brother. Because I am one for letting the story speak for itself, I’m going to cop out and simply give a chunk from the page. The scene takes place in 1947 in the family’s tiny apartment off Sunset, and is from ten-year-old Joan’s point of view. Her mother, Saralee, who suffers from what seem to be headaches, has come home early from work and is in bed; her father, bit actor Earl, who works as a busboy, should already have come home by now.

Her momma let one eye open, and Joan could see the work of it just to do that little: the wrinkles went even tighter, her momma took in a breath, the sharp grin on her face for how hard she squinted even sharper for a second, and her eye opened, finally.

Her momma looked first at the ceiling, then found Joan there beside her. She tried at a smile, Joan could see, but there was nothing to it for that squinting.

“Honey,” she whispered, “I didn’t mean—”

And the door to the apartment banged open in the other room, and Daddy shouted, “O daughter of mine, don’t panic! I’ve got a sack of hamburgers and some fries, so nobody panic for me being late! And Walter Brennan came in today! He told me they’re going to release The River is Red now that Howard Hughes has quit his bellyachin’, but it’s going to be called Red River for some reason I—”

He said all this before he’d even made it to the bedroom door, and now here he stood, his words just as suddenly gone, him in a blue and white striped shirt—a shirt Joan had never seen before—and gray slacks. He had a brown paper bag in one hand, the bottom of it wet through for the grease off the fries, the other hand on his hip, rolled up in that hand a magazine.

“Saralee,” he said, “you’re home a tad early,” and shook his head, turned from the door.

Sorry not to have more inside scoop for you, but I’d rather the words do their own work of establishing some of the conflict between the narcissistic father and his wife and daughter.
Read more about Ancient Highway and Bret Lott's other work at his Random House webpage.

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

--Marshal Zeringue