Sunday, July 26, 2009

"April & Oliver"

Tess Callahan has an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Cottonwood, The Stylus Anthology: 1950-2000, The Boston College Magazine, New York Newsday and elsewhere.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to April & Oliver, her debut novel, and reported the following:
What luck! Page 69 happens to contain a nugget of dialogue that goes to the heart of April & Oliver. In fact, I briefly considered titling the novel with an excerpt from this page until my writing group convinced me it was a ludicrous idea. They said that my proposed title, The Man Who Couldn’t Burn Toast, sounded more like a Will Ferrell comedy than the dark, enigmatic story of April and Oliver. They were right, of course.

The novel is about childhood friends reunited after the death of April’s teenage brother. Inseparable as children, April and Oliver now find themselves virtual strangers. Oliver seems to have a grounded life as a law student newly engaged to be married. April, with a tendency for recklessness, appears to be headed for a downward spiral in the wake of her brother’s death. Oliver feels compelled to save her, but it soon becomes apparent that he has secrets of his own, and cracks appear in the foundation of his carefully constructed life. The magnetic attraction and polar resistance between the two is driven by a desire by each to recover some lost part of himself that may or may not be recoverable.

On page 69, Oliver is talking with the elderly Nana, who knows both April and him intimately. In the course of conversation, Oliver says, “I hate to break it to you, Nana, but I’ve got my vices.”

To this, Nana sassily replies, “Well, I certainly hope so. A man who goes through life without burning a piece of toast will never get what he wants.”

Oliver is a man who desperately needs to make mistakes. This is apparent to Nana, but not to Oliver himself.

Nana adds, “Now April, she’s another story. Can’t put a slice in the toaster without burning down the house.”

“Well, I’ll try not to go that far,” Oliver replies.

“Unless that’s what it takes,” Nana says.

Oliver is vaguely unsettled by her quip. Part of him – a part he doesn’t readily acknowledge – knows that his wizened old grandmother is on to something.
Read an excerpt from April & Oliver, and learn more about the novel and author at Tess Callahan's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue