Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"My Abandonment"

Peter Rock is the author of the novels The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, This is the Place, and Carnival Wolves, and a story collection, The Unsettling. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and recipient of a 2000 NEA Fellowship, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and teaches at Reed College.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, My Abandonment, and reported the following:
“It is so hard to be in the room with these girls. I sit at the round table with the pencil and scratch paper trying to write and then I get up and stand next to the window and I feel like breaking the glass in that room since it seems like it should be easier to breathe and I can’t get air.” (p. 69, My Abandonment, Peter Rock)

Much of the novel My Abandonment takes place in various wildernesses, so the description we find on p. 69 is not exactly representative. At the same time, it does catch our 13-year-old narrator, Caroline, expressing the claustrophobia and suffocation that buildings visit upon her. A page or two before or after this, she writes, “It’s important to always remember that at any time you think of it there are people being kept in buildings when they want to go outside.”

My novel was inspired by the true story of a father and his thirteen year old daughter found living in Portland’s Forest Park (at 5400 acres, the largest urban park in the nation); it chronicles the girl’s education, the ingenious ways the two survive in this wilderness, and their struggles to escape detection. The actual father and daughter had lived in this way for over four years; after being captured by authorities, they were relocated, and then suddenly disappeared. This book accounts for what is unknown: who they were, where they went, and why.

Page 69 covers a period of time after the capture, when the girl is being assessed and tested, apart from her father, before they are relocated. And this is perhaps what made me most curious about the true story: the flight, after having a “normal” life provided for them. We so often believe that those who aren’t living like we do would be happier if they did, and yet this equation doesn’t hold—for some, such trammeled lives are impossible.
Learn more about the author at Peter Rock's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue