Friday, May 22, 2009

"The Girl She Used to Be"

David Cristofano has earned degrees in Government & Politics and Computer Science from the University of Maryland at College Park and has worked for different branches of the Federal Government for over a decade. His short works have been published by Like Water Burning and McSweeneys.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to The Girl She Used to Be, his first novel, and reported the following:
The Girl She Used to Be tells the story of Melody Grace McCartney, a young woman who has lived a life lost in the Federal Witness Protection Program. While it comprises a handful of different components—the crime story, the love story, and the identity story—the third element serves as the hub for the other two spokes. Page 69 offers one of the moments where the identity and crime components converge. In fact, page 69 acts as the set-up for the first significant twist which unfolds in the subsequent pages.

Here, Jonathan Bovaro, the Mafioso once sent to kill Melody but has since made a change of plans, takes a moment to explain exactly how their lives have become entwined.
“You’re about to tell me some tragic news,” I say.

Jonathan sits up, puts his fork down, and takes a long, loud drink from his water glass. “I was there with my dad.” He nods a little. “The kids in the family were always kind of around. I mean, where could we go, really.” He takes a jerky, nervous breath. “I was supposed to stay upstairs and play with my cousins in a big billiards room on the third floor of Vincent’s place. You know, normally us little guys weren’t allowed to touch the pool tables for fear we’d rip the felt or something, so it was supposed to be this big deal for us to hang upstairs while my father and Jimmy did a little business.

“Well, I thought my dad was the greatest, you know? Like any kid, I guess. So I wanted to see what he did for a living. I figured he was in the restaurant business. I mean, we were always eating in the best places and we could always pick whatever table we wanted and order whatever food we wanted and we never had to pay and stuff . . .” He wipes his forehead of sweat. “Well ... I snuck down when no one was looking and tried to catch a glimpse of his high-business dealings.”

He pauses and I am about to leap across the table and beat the rest out of him. I try to finish his thought. “You saw him slicing up Jimmy Fratello?”

Jonathan throws me for a loop by grabbing his fork, piling up a huge mound of risotto, and taking a bite. “No ... actually, I saw my dad and Jimmy just talking. It was pretty boring really. I watched for a while but lost interest, so I walked down the hallway and went outside.” He pokes at his veal as though he might begin slicing, then tosses his utensils on the table. “I remember that day: it was cold and dark outside. I stood in the alley next to Vincent’s and just stared at the gray sky.” He looks at me and purses his lips.
It is quite literally the next sentence—the first on page 70—that changes the trajectory of the story, and of Melody’s life, for the first time.

While page 69 offers critical back-story, it does not necessarily reflect the tone and pace of the rest of the novel. Told from Melody’s first-person perspective, the story is propelled by her thoughts and emotions, which are more accurately displayed on pages 68 and 70. The Girl She Used to Be is a novel about a life without choices, and page 69 slaps you right in the middle of why Melody had to survive a life without any.
Read an excerpt from The Girl She Used to Be, and learn more about the book and author at David Cristofano's website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue