Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"One Nation, Under God"

Keir Graff is the author of the novels Cold Lessons, under the pseudonym Michael McCulloch, and My Fellow Americans.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, One Nation, Under God, and reported the following:
One Nation, Under God, according to the book flap, is about what you do "when following your faith means breaking the law"--and I agree with that because I wrote it. Naturally, I hoped that page 69 would happen to contain both the definitive exegesis of my thesis and a cliffhanger action scene that all but taunts the reader to turn the page.

It doesn't.

Page 69, in fact, opens in the mosh pit at a death-metal show, describes the crowd, and then chronicles the struggle of Seth Stevens and Ben Badgeley, two born-again Christians, to order Cokes without rum in them.

At first I was disappointed by the page's contents, but later I changed my mind: if you're not curious about the way an all-ages show at an Elks Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma fits into a novel about faith and politics, then you've read more books than I have.

Inspired, I opened the launch party by reading page 69. The crowd was very enthusiastic--I think they liked it better than the other two passages I read, even though the other two passages had more shapely dramatic arcs.

Although maybe they liked it better because it was shorter.

Page 69:

They loped around in a circle like short-track speed skaters, not crashing into anybody.

The band onstage was grinding out machine-gun power chords. Their singer had the death-metal vocal style down, a guttural bark that even the members of Crucifer had jokingly called 'Cookie Monster'. The comparison was valid but not totally accurate. It was possible, for example, to understand what Cookie Monster was saying.

The crowd was full of people wearing band T-shirts and motorcycle boots, with colorful tattoos and diverse hairstyles. A few of them, fans of black metal, had put on corpse paint: white faces with black eyes and lips. When he had been in the scene, Seth Stevens had thought that wearing corpse paint was the height of commitment. Now it struck him as being the metal fan's equivalent of painting his chest for a football game.

It being Tulsa, the crowd was mixed. There weren't enough metalheads to fill the room. They were joined by punks, skaters, stoners, and indie rockers. Given the scarcity of shows, if each group waited for their specific taste in music to arrive, they wouldn't get out much. There were even a few highschool jocks standing in one corner. Every few minutes they made devil horns or pretended to head-bang, just in case anyone made the mistake of thinking that they were there in a non-ironic capacity.

Against the back wall there was a small service bar staffed by two lady Elks. Their frowns showed that they didn't approve of the goings-on but they looked determined to get their beer money anyway. Signs on the walls declared that drinkers would be carded and identified with green bracelets. There were, however, lots of young-looking, bare-wristed beer drinkers.

Seth Stevens nudged Ben Badgeley to get his attention and they went over to the bar and ordered Cokes. The bartender poured them rum-and-Cokes and charged them accordingly. It took shouting and eventually pantomime to get the error corrected.

They leaned against the back wall and watched. Ben Badgeley had never been to a metal show before. He looked frightened. Seth Stevens wondered whether he wasn't drinking a rum-and-Coke after all. The whole scene--loud, thumping
Learn more about the book and author at Keir Graff's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue