Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Dream City"

Brendan Short holds an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. His fiction has appeared in several literary journals, including The Literary Review and River Styx, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. From 2000 to 2001 he was Writer-in-Residence at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Dream City, his first novel, and reported the following:
During the writing of Dream City, I tried to make sure the novel did not point toward or reach a moment where a deep, dark family secret is revealed. It wasn’t easy to avoid this alluring narrative trope, which promised a simple way out of a multilayered novel that spans more than seventy years in the life of a troubled family. Instead, I tried to focus on showing a family history shaped by misunderstandings, lies and estrangement—all of which, fortunately for me, show up on page 69.

On that page, Elizabeth Halligan is visiting the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair with her seven-year-old son Michael. Elizabeth has recently become involved in a populist religious movement led by Eddie Kowal, a Father Coughlin-esque charmer and demagogue. She also has entered into a kind of chaste affair with Eddie, who, moved by love but bound by his own moral code, has asked her to stop having sex with her thuggish husband Paddy and hinted that she should leave Chicago with him. But Elizabeth is still drawn to her husband and, by page 69, is pregnant with his child. At this point in the story, she also is struggling to ask one of Eddie’s benefactors if her doctor-husband has any colleagues who perform abortions.

Elizabeth had been foolish to think she could ask for help from Mrs. Twitchell, who did little more than write checks and complain; she had been foolish to think there was any way out of her predicament. She had tried her best to hold off Paddy, at least at times—most times, in fact, except when he forced himself on her, or when she couldn’t help but reach for him in the night and imagine him as the tense and quiet young man who had tinkered with her father’s delivery trucks and once told her, “I’d fix anything in the world for you.” In those moments, when he would press himself against her, she would think how unfair and pitiful Eddie’s request had been. Afterward, she would think how lonely both men made her feel.

As Elizabeth tries in vain to ask Mrs. Twitchell for help, Michael is sitting nearby, yanking grass from the ground. He and his mother have recently had a fight, and their momentary separation is emblematic of the various kinds of separations (physical, emotional, moral, and ideological) that occur throughout the novel and form the Halligans’ tragic history.

Eventually Elizabeth… oh, I won’t give away any more of the story. I’ll just say that her subsequent actions, and various misunderstandings resulting from them, are central to the novel, which I hope you decide to read. Trust me, you’ll like it.
Learn more about the book and author at Brendan Short's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue