Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"The Wettest County in the World"

Matt Bondurant received a B.A. and an M.A. in English at James Madison University and a Ph.D. at Florida State University where he was a Kingsbury Fellow. His short fiction has appeared in journals such as Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, and New England Review, among others. His first novel, The Third Translation, was sold in fifteen countries.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Wettest County in the World, and reported the following:
I was hoping that page 69 might contain a grisly bit of knifing or perhaps a good punch in the face, but no such luck. Lucky for me page 69 offers a nice slice of the heart of the novel, particularly as it pertains to the central character, Jack. This page tries to describe the conflicting internal forces that drive a young man to do glorious and terrible things. It also describes the fearful awe that Jack holds for his older brother Howard, who seems to absorb all manner of punishment with silent, grim aplomb. Jack wanted nothing more than to be like Howard and his ilk, but now that he is part of their company he finds it cold and unsatisfying. He knows that he must seek out other worlds. Actually, this page is probably as good as any in the book if a reader wants a sense of what it is about and how it is written.

Pg. 69 excerpt:

Howard would add a good thick chestnut stump to the fire and stir the coals for the night and Jack would gaze up at the tree-mottled night sky, his face reddened by the sun and his eyes shining, and tell Howard what he was going to do once he got some money together, the new boots he would buy, the automobile, how he would blast out of the county and head west or maybe north, to the open country. When Jack drank he grew expansive and good natured, continually convinced of the infinite possibility of the world. He told vivid tales of fantastic dreams, of the spaces beneath the mountains he visited in his sleep. He laughed and gazed about at the faces of people around him and clumsily attempted to describe just what amazing creatures they all were. Afterwards people would lie in their racks at night staring at the dusty timbers of a ceiling and wonder just what that boy was all about anyway?

Aw hell, Jack would say, there ain’t no real way to say it.

Go on, Howard said.

Jack peeled off his boots and vigorously rubbed his blistered and raw feet.

Go on.

At the corn shucking Jack grit his teeth and passed the jar with Howard and kicked at stray corn husks in the barn while the others ate. Jack surveyed the greedy faces at the supper table, sopping their biscuits in souse meat drippings, dirt farmers who would never have a spot of good clothing on them, he thought how sad and ridiculous and hypocritical their life seemed and how unaware they were of it. It was a bitter sense of righteousness; standing now alongside those men against the wall, Jack felt strangely cold in their company. He somehow envisioned that the other side carried its own sun, its own source of heat. Instead it was as frozen and remote as the principles of machinery, as the first star of winter. And they were broke besides.

No ‘count.

He looked at Howard’s heavy, passive face, standing there in the barn, his throat working slowly. None of it mattered to him, Jack thought, Howard didn’t give a fig and never would.
Read an excerpt from The Wettest County in the World, and learn more about the author and his work at Matt Bondurant's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue