Friday, June 12, 2009

"The Family Man"

Elinor Lipman, according to Fay Weldon, "is a far more serious novelist than she pretends to be or is allowed to be by reviewers.... Up there at the top is where this enchanting, infinitely witty yet serious, exceptionally intelligent, wholly original and Austen-like stylist belongs..."

Lipman applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Family Man, and reported the following:
Hmm. I can't say I'd choose the 32 lines of p. 69 as my calling card. Yes, there's a good amount of dialogue, considered Lipmanesque; yes, we have my point-of-view character Henry Archer and Thalia, the step-daughter he's been reunited with, in a kitchen, eating, which is pretty much the action in most of my novels. But alas, I'd have liked a little more sparkle here. It's a bit too in medias res: there are references to past dialogue, such as "his Carousel-induced preoccupation," which need amplification. (His shrink recalls--on the excellent p. 32--"The reason we're back to Thalia after all these years is that scene where Billy Bigelow's ghost puts his arm around his daughter at his high school graduation and she feels his presence and holds her head up higher. Am I right?")

It does happen to hit the one passage in the book, a more somber than typical exchange, where the otherwise sunny and well-adjusted Thalia questions why her long-lost stepfather stayed long-lost. And it does sum up in one paragraph why Henry, to his deep regret, stayed away. May I apply and embrace the page 99 test? It's the end of Henry's first stellar date with Todd, whom I meant to be just a walk-on fix-up but who endeared himself to me so that he became a main character and a serious contributor to Henry's happy ending.

But back to p. 69: a little so-what-ish, a little out of context, nothing to induce laughter (though I'm never the best judge of what readers find funny; always a surprise). And a little bit of info-planting, which I always rail against when I teach. Must I run this shmegegge test in which I'm giving myself only a B-minus? N.B. I highly endorse my other 304 pages.
Read an excerpt from The Family Man, and learn more about the author and her work at Elinor Lipman's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue