Thursday, March 19, 2009

"The Laws of Harmony"

Judith R. Hendricks' books include The Baker's Apprentice, Isabel's Daughter, and Bread Alone.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Laws of Harmony, and reported the following:
On Page 69 of The Laws of Harmony, Sunny Cooper and her boyfriend Michael are driving from Albuquerque to Telluride on a beautiful fall day, anticipating a relaxing weekend of listening to music, sampling microbrews, and leisurely lovemaking. But a narrowly averted tragedy alters the whole mood of the trip.

Although the page is part of a brief flashback, and not a representative slice of the book, I’d like to think that a reader might be moved to read further, to be curious about these two people and their disparate reactions to a close call.

Sunny (the narrator and main character) has grown up on a hippie commune in northern New Mexico, where as a child, she witnessed the death of her younger sister and the disintegration of her family that followed. While this flashback doesn’t allude to that incident, it does a pretty good job of illustrating Sunny’s uneasy relationship with her memories and it touches on one of the main threads running through the story… the way life can change irrevocably in an instant.

Page 69 of The Laws of Harmony:

I felt the crunch as the front tires gripped gravel and slid, the back end swung around and stopped. Across the road, the Chevy was stopped, facing the wrong way on the shoulder next to the rocks. Michael got out, but I sat, afraid to move or even to draw breath. The other driver was running across the road, looking like he wanted to kill us.

“Is everyone okay?” Michael hollered.

I don’t think the guy even heard him. “You stupid jackass! You son of a bitch! You just about killed us all! You fucking idiot!”

Michael held up both hands. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He actually chuckled. “I swerved to miss a big rock and I sort of lost it. I’m sorry.”

Now I could see the guy was older. His hair was gray and his face was white under his tan. He started to calm down, but he stood there and lectured Michael for five minutes. He said this was a dangerous pass, that every year there was at least one fatality, some yahoo driving too fast, losing control on the curve, and going over. When he nodded towards the flimsy guard rail, I followed his gaze and my stomach came up to keep my heart company in my throat. We were so close to the edge that I couldn’t see any ground between my side of the car and the drop off. I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

Finally he left, and we drove very slowly down into Telluride. I don’t know what actually happened. I didn’t see a rock in the road, but I wasn’t watching the road. What stays with me more than the near miss is the contrast of our reactions.

Michael was absolutely wired. We must’ve been up till one in the morning, him drinking micro brews, sharing a joint with some cowboy, dancing with anyone who’d dance with him, while I sat paralyzed, clutching a plastic cup of warm beer in one hand and my medicine bundle in the other.
Read an excerpt from The Laws of Harmony and learn more about the author and her work at Judith Hendricks' website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue