Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Brothers Boswell"

Philip Baruth is an award-winning commentator for Vermont Public Radio and a graduate of Brown University with an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Irvine. His novel The X President (Bantam, 2003) received wide critical acclaim. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

Baruth applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new book, The Brothers Boswell, and reported the following:
I imagine for a lot of authors, selecting a random page produces strange, random results. But in this case, page 69 speaks directly to the heart of my novel, The Brothers Boswell. Smack in the middle of the page is a short dialogue in which the younger (soon to be insane) Boswell confronts his (soon to be famous) older brother, for daring to consider a Catholic actress as a potential wife, and even worse, for daring to consider conversion to Catholicism himself. This is Scotland, 1759, and Catholics are legally forbidden just about everything of value. At the height of the exchange, John accuses James of insanity:

“You are mad.”

“I am a writer, sir. And I am in love.”

“Twice mad.”

“And if that is madness, then I am not afraid of it. I welcome it.”

“Thrice, then.”

“I embrace it, I tell you.”

“Quadruple Bethlehem-Hospital mad, then. Stark-staring, spittle-flecked, pissing-your-own-shoebuckles Bedlam mad.”

When tempers have cooled, John regrets what he’s said; the Boswell family had a history of madness, and accusations of insanity were no joke in their household. But the greater irony is that in my novel it is John who will lose his sanity a few years hence, and eventually begin stalking his older brother and Samuel Johnson through the streets of London. And throughout that cat-and-mouse game, John will continue to try to piece together the place of art in affairs of the heart, the difference being a writer makes to one about to kill or be killed. So in my particular case, and in the case of my latest book, page 69 says just about all there is to say about just about everything else.
Read an excerpt of The Brothers Boswell, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue