Monday, March 9, 2009

"The Cradle"

Patrick Somerville is the author of the story collection Trouble (Vintage, 2006), and his writing has appeared in One Story, Epoch and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007. He lives with his wife in Chicago, and is currently the Blattner Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Northwestern University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Cradle, and reported the following:
It’s hard to argue that page 69 of The Cradle is representative of the novel—the page contains an unusual overload of dialogue, much of it coming from a character we barely know, and along with that, the whole scene takes place thirty (or forty, depending on your perspective) years before the book’s narrative present; this scene is therefore buried in the murky realm of flashback. Tangential at best? There’s more: Renee, who I would have to call a rather sober individual, seems to be completely out of her head on Quaaludes on this particular page. Hm. The drugs, and the party’s loud music, make this page all but nonsensical, actually.

Nothing I’ve described is normal for The Cradle. I promise you, it’s not a novel of inebriated conversations.

However, come to think of it, this page is absolutely representative of the book.

That’s because The Cradle, at its core, is about families, and as we all know, families are nonsensical. It’s about individual histories following people into their new families, no matter how they choose to cope with trauma: some people choose to conceal their pasts, some choose to forge new identities, some choose to become so strong that nothing, it seems, could ever hurt them. But if any worthwhile truth made it into the book, it’s this: you can’t eschew your past. Ever. Furthermore, you will hurt yourself by trying. You’ll also hurt the people you love.

Page 69 is a part of Renee’s past, and one she would rather forget. But it’s a very important memory, and its submersion has caused quite a lot of pain already: it’s the birth of love. It’s a mess of a conversation and a disastrous first-impression, but it’s the birth of love. It’s the beginning of a relationship that will cause her terrible pain, but…well, you get it.

If The Cradle is a story of quests, then Renee’s takes her backwards, into the caverns of her own self-deceit. This is one of her first stops: admitting that Jonathan existed, and that she met him at a party, and that at first, it didn’t seem like much of anything.

Like I said, one of her first stops. She keeps going.
Read an excerpt from The Cradle, and learn more about the book and author at Patrick Somerville's website.

Read the New York Times review of The Cradle.

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

--Marshal Zeringue