Monday, June 29, 2009

"The Scenic Route"

Binnie Kirshenbaum is the author of two short story collections and six novels. She is a professor of fiction writing at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts and lives in New York City.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, The Scenic Route, and reported the following:
Page 69 is a digression; the narrator, Sylvia Landsman, is recounting the sorry mess her Aunt Thea and Uncle John made of their lives because they lacked conviction and practicality. It's a story within the story, and in that way, it is very essence of The Scenic Route; the twists and turns, the detours and digressions of back roads and stories both. All of the stories contained in the over-arching story are in some way or another connected. The "plot-line" to this novel, such as there is a plot-line-- Sylvia's affair with Henry, a man who is sweet, charming, weak, and sponging off his rich wife-- is mirrored in Aunt Thea and Uncle John's plight.

...they (Thea and John) lived off John's allowance, which was a good amount for a student, because as far as his parents knew, that's what John was: a young man completing his education at Dartmouth ... born into wealth (they) were now, relatively speaking, poor. Poor, but pinch-me happy to be together, to live out their artsy-fartsy dreams: writing and painting by day ... John and Thea-- young and in love and starry-eyed-- resided in the domicile of their artistic inventions where everything was possible, although not everything was considered. Such as: Thea got pregnant.... A baby costs money, more money than they had.... John would have to give up writing stories by day. He would have to get himself a job. Some wretched, meaningless job....(p.69)

The first line of The Scenic Route makes it clear that this affair has ended, and that the ending isn't a happy one. But the end, the destination, doesn't much matter. The reason for this novel is the exploration of the characters, and how they came to arrive at the end of the affair. The narrative voice is the driving (sorry!) force, and it's either going to carry you along, or not; voice, and the meditation on storytelling as a way to of making sense of life, storytelling as a means of existence. Were page 69 to be deleted, one could still follow the novel without getting lost; yet, without that page (and all the others similar in intent) there would be no there there. In a nutshell-- it's not germane, but it is necessary.
Browse inside The Scenic Route, and learn more about the book and author at Binnie Kirshenbaum's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue