Monday, September 28, 2009

"The Art of Disappearing"

Ivy Pochoda graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Classical Greek and English. She was a champion squash player and a six-time member of the United States Women's National Squash Team. She was the writer in residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut from February to August 2009.

Pochoda applied the Page 69 Test to The Art of Disappearing, her debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 happens to be one of my favorite parts of The Art of Disappearing. On this page, Mel Snow, the novel’s protagonist, runs into Greta, a teenager who is obsessed with Mel’s husband, Toby, in a diner in Las Vegas. Toby is a traveling magician with powers far beyond those of his peers. He and Mel marry the day they meet and move to Las Vegas.

The strange thing about this page is that it contains none of the primary themes of The Art of Disappearing—magic, love, or loneliness. Instead it is a humorous look at Las Vegas’ buffets and an all night diner that offers a “steak dinner that got cheaper as the hours got later.” I love this page because it lifts the reader out of the world of magic and the strange relationship between Mel and Toby. While events on this page set in motion a disastrous moment in the life of the magician, the moment captured here is meant solely to convey both the gaudiness and the grit of Las Vegas.

It also has one of my favorite lines of dialogue in the whole book. When Mel orders a steak from Greta, Greta replies, “So you know, we don’t do rare, medium rare, anything like that…. We just do steak.”

Here is Page 69 in its entirety.

Despite the temperature, I was hungry. In fact, I was craving a steak—a flat, greasy diner steak. There was a joint just off the Strip I hoped would offer low-key relief from the elaborate Vegas buffets. I was tired of big spreads where cold cuts cuddled up to sashimi, dim sum next to seared quail. But worst of all, buffets sapped my hunger before I even sat down. Overwhelmed by choice and fearful of making a poor selection, I became a grazer, sampling drumsticks and spring rolls to see whether either was worth adding to my tray. By the time I reached my seat with a plate of food, I was unpleasantly full.

The Red Rock diner offered a steak dinner that got cheaper as the hours got later. At 11 a.m. the price of a well-flattened 16-oz sirloin with “any sort potato” had risen to four dollars from its low of three dollars, 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. At noon the trampled steak had hit $5.50. During the dinner rush, it would peak at $6.75, before plummeting at ten p.m. to $4.50, and then back to its two a.m. low. Before I sat down, I spun one of the vinyl-covered stools at the lunch counter. It creaked and wobbled until I stopped it with the weight of my body. The Red Rock’s chrome d├ęcor was tarnished by a layer of grease from the grill. Years of fry fat, cheese oil, and burger juices settled over the counter, napkin holders, seats, and silverware, giving the restaurant a speckled sheen.

“Steak dinner,” I said to the waitress when she appeared in front of my stool. I was busy finding hidden patterns in the Formica counter and didn’t look up.

“So you know, we don’t do rare, medium rare, anything like that,” the waitress said to my bowed head. “We just do steak.”

“That’s fine.”

“And the potato? You want fries?”

“Anything else? Can I have baked?”
Read excerpts from The Art of Disappearing, and learn more about the book and author at Ivy Pochoda's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue