Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Starvation Lake"

Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. An award winning journalist, Gruley shared in the Pulitzer Prize given to the Wall Street Journal in 2002 for coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He also wrote the prize-winning non-fiction book, Paper Losses: A Modern Epic of Greed and Betrayal at America’s Two Largest Newspaper Companies.

He applied the “Page 69 Test” to Starvation Lake, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Starvation Lake straddles two scenes. One is a flashback in which the protagonist, Gus Carpenter, describes a superstition peculiar to his old hockey coach, Jack Blackburn. The next scene, set in the present of the novel, involves a conversation between Gus and his young reporter, Joanie McCarthy, about the real story behind Blackburn’s death.

When I first read the page for this exercise, I thought, “This isn’t representative of the book at all.” But I wasn’t paying attention.

The Blackburn scene reveals a glimmer of the coach’s personality, the way he manipulated the boys who skated for the Hungry River Rats. While seemingly harmless in the context of this single paragraph, it’s a subtle foreshadowing of darker revelations to come.

The scene between Gus and Joanie encapsulates the central mystery of the book—what happened to Blackburn?—while hinting at the tension boiling within Gus over how hard to pursue the answer to that question. It also alludes to the town’s reluctance to confront unpleasant reality when Joanie tells Gus of the “fat guy at the diner” who proposes the ludicrous theory that hockey coaches from Detroit had Blackburn killed.

I think I missed the relevance on first read because the world I portray in Starvation Lake becomes clear only in brush strokes, one small one after another. Or at least that’s how I tried to paint it, so that the whole picture wouldn’t become clear until the end, or at least near the end.
Read an excerpt from Starvation Lake, and learn more about the book and author at Bryan Gruley's website and blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue