Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Babylon Rolling"

Amanda Boyden was born in Minnesota and raised in Chicago and St. Louis. Formerly a circus trapeze artist and contortionist, she earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she now teaches writing. Her first novel, Pretty Little Dirty, was published in 2006.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Babylon Rolling, and reported the following:
Babylon Rolling follows the lives of a group of diverse neighbors living on a fictional Orchid Street in Uptown New Orleans. Several of the characters are on a collision course; two of them appear together—separated only by a space break in the middle of page 69—before they’ve really become acquainted. Beyond the pretty obvious juxtaposition of their very different characters, both Fearius, a 15-year-old African American who’s been in and out of juvey, and Ed, a white, Buddhist, stay-at-home dad, are right in the middle of some rather pivotal personal moments. Hurricane Ivan (Katrina’s precursor by a year) is on its way, and Ed and Fearius are in opposite preparation modes.

Muzzle, Fearius’ older brother, has been in an accident and is strung up in traction at the hospital. Muzzle’s boss, Alphonse, and Fearius are visiting, and Fearius learns that he’ll be stepping into Muzzle’s crack-dealing shoes: “A hurricane be great for the business. Fearius know he be breaking sale records when he get back out in the morning, all the peoples lining up. They gone have to stockpile if a hurricane coming… Alphonse give Muzzle a sign and go out the door. ‘Keep hangin,’ Fearius tell Muzzle and leave. Fearius happy he not in his bros place. And he happy Alphonse be his boss. Today, he just happy.”

Ed, on the other hand, having been recently transplanted from Minnesota, has no real idea what to make of an approaching hurricane or how to prepare for one. He’s piled many of his family’s belongings on the living room floor, wondering what to do with them all, considering what might happen to the city: “Ed thinks of the footage he’s seen before. Flopping palm trees, huge breakers on the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans has a few palm trees, some quite mature ones around the casino, a couple in the neighbors’ yards. Here-and-there palms. And then there’s Lake Pontchartrain. When they debated whether or not to move here, Ed researched New Orleans. The big flat shallow lake, a pancake really, never struck him as a natural weapon, but that’s what those in the know seem to deem it.”

Both Fearius and Ed stand on their respective precipices on this page. Fearius will come to regret his new position, and Ed will never be able to undo what begins to unravel with his evacuation. In some ways, page 69 is quite significant. Is it representative of the rest of the novel? Sure, although it only contains two of the five narrators, so it’s a partial representation at best. Still, it captures the clear disparity between the neighbors’ attitudes and approaches to the world at large, something I try to explore throughout Babylon Rolling.
Read an excerpt from Babylon Rolling, and learn more about the book at the Pantheon website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue