Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Bridge of Sand"

Janet Burroway is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor Emerita of the Florida State University and the author of numerous novels, plays, poetry, essays, texts for dance, and children’s books. Her Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is the most widely used creative writing text in America.

She applied “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Bridge of Sand, and reported the following:
It pleases me that though p. 69 carries neither high action nor luminous prose, it does hint at intrigue and carries most of the novel’s themes.

Dana has failed to connect with her black lover Cassius, and, not daring to call him at home, she’s come to scope out the paper mill where he’s a security guard. She’s morally if not literally trespassing, so “an executive-looking sleek sedan of some sort” is out of her class, while a “pink-cheeked…Kewpie cop,” is, though by definition Cassius’s colleague, not somebody she could level with.

“Fight or flight,” I see, is an image of territorial imperative, which, from 9/11 when the novel begins to Dana’s longing search for a home, is probably the novel’s most pervasive theme. “Kewpie” is a reference back to an early incident, when the discovery of an old newspaper clipping reminded Dana of her grandmother’s doll collection, and so gave her the notion of returning south. The guard makes overt and status-conscious reference to 9/11, though Cassius told her that people around here didn’t pay much attention to it, as they were “just trying to get through to payday.”

The exchange about a factory tour is idle self-justifying on Dana’s part now, but later in the book she’ll carry through with it in a more urgent attempt to track Cassius down—and will confusingly find herself very comfortable with the CEO of the mill.

I see I’ve missed a trick, though. The story is full of references to smoke and mirrors, a motif pointing to both the lies everybody in the book tells and also the way I’m working. The first word of the book is “smoke,” followed soon by a mirror in a mortuary limousine. There are sunglasses and tinted windows here on page 69, and one or the other should have been referred to as “smoky.” She should have seen the saloon first in the rear view mirror. Nobody, I trust, would ever notice this sort of thing unless I pointed it out (or unless some earnest Ph.D. student in Indiana should go to work on it), but it’s a major pleasure for me. Hint: look for devils.

Somebody told me once that all good novels could be summed up in their last word. I checked mine out. They end: pocket, all, too, ambition, me, world, peace. I’ll go with that.
Read an excerpt from Bridge of Sand and learn more about the author and her work at Janet Burroway's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue