Sunday, August 23, 2009

"In This Way I Was Saved"

Brian DeLeeuw is an editor at Tin House magazine and a contributor to the website He received his BA from Princeton University and his MFA from The New School. He now lives in New York City, where he was born and raised.

DeLeeuw applied the “Page 69 Test” to In This Way I Was Saved, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of In This Way I Was Saved is near the end of Part I of the novel, a section in which six year-old Luke Nightingale struggles with an increasingly menacing and assertive imaginary friend named Daniel, who is also the narrator of the novel. A few pages before this, Daniel has tricked Luke into committing a truly awful crime, and Daniel now imagines that he has gained the permanent upper-hand in their fight for control of Luke’s life. But not so fast: Luke’s mother Claire takes her son to see a child psychiatrist, and the tables turn once again:

After three more visits to Dr. Claymore and one month of the new pills—tiny sky-blue tablets, like chalky candy—I was banished to the inside of Luke’s skull. It wasn’t gradual, like my decomposition on Fire Island; it was like a trapdoor unlatched, brutal and abrupt.

The conflict between Luke and Daniel is this novel’s propulsive core; their relationship is a study in destructive codependence, which is complicated by the fact that Daniel may not exist separately from Luke at all, but may instead be an aspect of Luke’s fractured mind. Or maybe not: Daniel’s identity—imaginary friend or malevolent spirit?—is a mystery that Daniel himself is desperate to solve.

After Luke regains some control over Daniel by taking his new medication, he tries here on page 69 a number of methods for containing his troublesome shadow:

First, Luke packaged me in a taped-up cardboard box that sat in the corner of his new bedroom, but after a few days of struggle, I pushed my way out. Then he dragged me behind him wherever he went, my body bound in steel wire, a metal plate screwed over my mouth and a leash clipped to a collar around my neck, my head bumping along the ground as he walked. After the clip broke one day—sending me rolling across the sidewalk and out into the street, coming to a stop just short of the wheels of a city bus—he stuffed me into a narrow blue bottle, some apothecary antique his mother had bought to add character to his bookshelves. Wadded up like a dirty tissue, my face smashed into the mottled glass, I watched his comings and goings through a blue tint, as though submerged underwater, until the glass cracked and then splintered, spraying shards across the floor and freeing me to fall among them.

I think this passage is representative of the way in which the novel handles the interplay between reality and the imagination—the way in which real-world “public” events (such as the taking of Luke’s new medication) have their own separate meaning in Luke and Daniel’s private world (such as the various methods of containment described above). This kind of double meaning is threaded throughout the entire book and is, I hope, one of the unique aspects of the volatile, unstable world I have created for these two (or is it one?) strange characters.
Read an excerpt from In This Way I Was Saved, and learn more about the book and author at Brian DeLeeuw's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue