Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Fresh Kills"

Bill Loehfelm is the Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; his work has also appeared in the anthologies Year Zero and Life in the Wake.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Fresh Kills, and reported the following:
“What did Molly think?” she asked. “Then?”

I hesitated. She always wrote me back, in black ink on pink stationery, paper that she bought just for me. Pages numbered, little hearts drawn around the numerals. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought of those letters. It seemed like forever ago. But as I drove, I could feel the fiber in the paper underneath my fingers. I could smell the scent of her skin, of her hands, rising to me as I unfolded the pages, soft, sweet, clean. Vanilla. Strawberries. Did she still smell like that? I hadn’t noticed.

I could feel Julia’s eyes on me. I knew my face had betrayed me, broadcast every thought. She thought she had me. I waited. I knew what was coming, knew Julia couldn’t resist.

“So what’s going on with you two now?” she asked.

I glanced at her across the car. “A fling.”

“Liar,” she said. “You have flings with the waitresses at work whose last names you can’t remember. This is Molly Francis, your first real girlfriend. Your first love.” She poked my ribs with her finger. “Give.”

This page features an exchange between Junior Sanders, the narrator, and his younger sister, Julia. Though close when they were younger, as adults they’ve grown apart and are reunited for the first time in a while by the murder of their father.

Though they’re talking about Junior’s new affair with Molly Francis, his high school sweetheart, the conversation reveals a lot about Junior and Julia’s relationship.

Julia presses for intimacy and some knowledge of her brother’s current life, hoping to reforge the bond that they shared growing up together through the tragedy of their father’s murder. Junior, as he typically does, fends her off with understatement and misdirection, fearful of both remembering better times and hoping for the future due in large part to his past as an abused child.

But perhaps better than any other character, Julia prompts her brother’s vivid memories of the past. Junior’s detailed recollection of Molly’s love letters put the lie to the outward coldness about Molly that he shows his sister. It also gives the reader a hint that Junior may have a better soul and bigger heart than he would ever admit.

The scene also speaks to the surviving connection between Junior and his sister. He knows Julia will catch him in the lie about his affair with Molly, but he tells it anyway. Julia forgives him the lie, but calls him on it. Junior, with deference that he does not show any other character, lets her call him out. As people that truly love each other, they look past the faults that might otherwise get in the way. It’s a feature of their bond that will be cruelly tested as the novel moves forward.
Read an excerpt from Fresh Kills, and learn more about the author and his work at Bill Loehfelm's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue