Thursday, June 25, 2009

"The Year That Follows"

Scott Lasser's novels include Battle Creek and All I Could Get. His non-fiction has appeared in magazines ranging from Dealmaker (for which he wrote a regular book column) to The New Yorker.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to his new novel, The Year That Follows, and reported the following:
Is page 69 representative of The Year That Follows? Yes, emphatically so. Of course, what writer would say otherwise? Wouldn’t I cut it if it weren’t essential? I’d like to think so.

One point of clarification: I had no input as to what actually ended up on page 69. Knopf did that.

The Year That Follows begins with Cat Miller traveling to New York on September 10th of 2001. She goes out to dinner with her brother Kyle, who tells her he thinks he’s fathered a child, as his ex-girlfriend just got back from 3 months maternity leave, and they broke up a year ago. The next day he goes off to work and is never heard from again. Cat goes in search of the lost child, knowing only the mother’s first name and having a picture of the woman.

Close to a year later Cat is still looking for the boy when her father asks her to come to California to mark the anniversary of her brother’s death. Sam is 80, a World War II veteran partially disabled from a kamikaze attack. On page 69 he is standing at the end of the pier in Santa Barbara, staring at the ocean on which he once fought a war, when he notices a soldier next to him. The kid, on leave from Afghanistan, is dressed in civilian clothes; Sam spies his dog tags pressing against the inside of his t-shirt. Though it’s been 57 years since he was injured, Sam still carries his tags in the front pocket of his pants. “They got him through the war, and he goes nowhere without them, though he doesn’t wear them around his neck. He’d be self-conscious about that.”

When Sam asks the soldier about his tags, the kid says they are “(a) reminder of the guys who are over there. Around here it would be easy, you know, to forget there’s a war on.”

Well, this is page 69 of a book that has 241, and this soldier will show up again. Sam is 80, but the war has never left him; he wakes every night having lived the kamikaze attack. And now he is trying to come to peace with the death of his son, who never went into the military but died from what he fears nightly. On page 71 he’ll give the solder one of his dog tags, saying, “It got me through, and it’ll get you through.”

For the first time in sixty years Sam has relinquished a dog tag, that little tin marker of his identity. But, then again, he’s about to do a lot of things differently.
Read an excerpt from The Year That Follows, and learn more about the author and his work at Scott Lasser's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue