Monday, August 25, 2008

"The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart"

M. Glenn Taylor's stories have been published in such literary journals as The Chattahoochee Review, Mid-American Review, Meridian, and Gulf Coast. He teaches English and fiction writing at Harper College in suburban Chicago.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, and reported the following:
Page 69 of my book comes near the start of a chapter entitled “Folks Will Dust You Quick as Look at You,” and isn’t it the truth. I hope that you will believe me when I say that I’m not trying to dust or bamboozle you with what follows. You have my word.

As I pondered Mr. Zeringue’s welcome request, I also worried about what the Page 69 project might produce from my occasionally off-color first book. And, low and behold, when I turned to page 69, there before me was a first sentence that told me I should turn Mr. Zeringue down, that I should never, under any circumstance let this page see the light of day without the 68 pages that precede it and the 207 that follow. I reconsidered after consulting my wife, who is a strong, decent woman with a solid code of ethics.

What I’m getting at is this: the first sentence on page 69 of my book involves a particular thing that young Trenchmouth does when he finds himself in a position to engage in such activity with older women. It is a thing Jim Comstock might call “unmentionable.”

As I said, I’m not looking to con anyone, nor do I wish to be too crude, but I wonder how many of the authors solicited for the 69 can claim such 69-ish things?

Is the following ironic? I don’t know and don’t care to take much time to figure. What’s important is that a project such as this one aims to get folks reading, and there aren’t many aims that can equal such importance, in my estimation. So, I’ll only preface my one page excerpt with this: Dear reader, please realize that the teenaged boy about which you are to read was orphaned in 1903 and grew up hard in the hills of southern West Virginia. For a time, he found his way as best he knew how, and that involved a whole lot of moonshine and false religion, and when those two things get together with a few suppressed women, only naughtiness can ensue. Only trouble can come. And so it does:

Trenchmouth had even started to forge his tongue-talking while in a woman’s nether-regions. The genuine article, the God he’d found down there on Independence Day, had ceased to draw out holy babble. He’d had to fake it after the six or seventh time. All part of the act. What had been, at least that first time with Anne Sharples, an awakening, had transformed into a job. They never let him kiss their mouths or dip his wick. Some had even worried so heavily on the contagiousness of his disease that he’d procured a medical almanac to show them it wasn’t contagious. Ewart wouldn’t set foot in his hideout anymore, much less speak to him on account of his newfound tendency to avoid her, ignore her even. But, between the women and the small fee he charged J.B. Smith for his services in church every Sunday, Trenchmouth’s coin sack was getting heavy. He was saving up for something, he just didn’t know what.

On a particularly cold Sunday afternoon, Trenchmouth sat at the kitchen table in silence with Clarissa and the Widow. They hardly spoke in these days of awkward adolescence. Brother and sister went so far as to avert contact of the eye. But all hands touched when the Widow said the blessing.

“We give thanks O Lord for the food before us and the family beside us.” They all said Amen. They all ate. Wet wood cracked and hissed at them from the heating stove, alongside small chips of coal and coke stolen from slag heaps and found on railroad tracks. The sheet steel pipe hadn’t stayed air tight. The Widow coughed. The windows fogged over thick and milky.

Clarissa knew that her mother knew that Fred Dallara was after her cherry. Trenchmouth knew that his mother knew he was taking up serpents and making a fool of himself at a temple of blaspheme. But, she believed that adolescents would make their mistakes, with or without her warnings against them, so she kept quiet.
Read an excerpt from The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, and learn more about the book and author at the official website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue