Sunday, December 6, 2009

"But Not For Long"

Michelle Wildgen is a senior editor at Tin House. Her first novel, You’re Not You, a New York Times Editor’s Choice and one of People magazine’s Ten Best Books of 2006, is now in development for film by Hilary Swank and Denise DiNovi. Wildgen’s work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine, the New York Times, and literary journals including Prairie Schooner and TriQuarterly. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, But Not For Long, and reported the following:
Long after I’d decided it would be interesting to write about residential co-ops in Madison, I discovered that Madison does indeed have a good-sized community of co-housing and cooperative houses. Who knew? I had begun thinking about it simply because it sounded like a fiction writer’s dream—a breeding ground for conflict when people with a variety of personalities and backgrounds all choose to live together not just as roommates but as participants in a communal life and, to some extent, belief system.

Page 69 of But Not For Long is a snippet of a scene at a party in which the various community co-op residents welcome in the newest members. It’s largely devoted to telling about the co-op in which the main characters live, the Morrison Street co-op, which is devoted to sustainable eating, but also gives a brief run-down of the rest of the community: the Womyn’s Co-op, the Muslim co-op, the international student/vegan co-op, and the young druggy co-op hosting the party where the scene occurs. Hal, whose head we’re in, is sizing up the buffet table of hummus and olives, relieved to see that his own co-op still holds on to some of its individuality even as the whole community has begun to out-organic one another and name-drop the locales where their coffee and cheese came from.

Here’s a glimpse:
His co-op had been founded in 1970 by a group of poli-sci graduate students for the purpose of saving rent and pooling protest duties. Then it had floundered for several years, identity-wise, until somewhere in the mid-nineties the sustainable-foods moniker had taken hold, which was about the time Hal moved in. The Morrison Street Co-op didn’t have the same feminist political urgency and startling bursts of fecundity of the Womyn’s Co-op, the wary gravity of Muslims for Peace, or the youthful, tattooed zip of the Neon Daisies, whose graying drug connection remained allied to the house even as its members changed. The Two Lakes International Co-op in particular was enjoying a vogue at the moment — with the country at war, Two Lakes got to model a tiny vegan United Nations in a campus-area Victorian.
This page doesn’t display the most crucial parts of the novel, which would be the interactions between the characters as an extended black-out ratchets up the pressures on them, but it does offer a fair glimpse of the locale and the tone. I did research the real-life co-ops in Madison enough to get a sense of how some functioned and what was out there, but I didn’t draw much beyond generalities. I mainly just had fun inventing. The rest of the book has plenty of darkness and uncertainty that this page does not, but it’s also woven through with this same kind of subtle levity. Or that’s the intention, anyway. If a reader glancing at this page is taken by the idea of the co-ops and by the narrative tone, then hopefully she will keep going further into its world.
Read an excerpt from But Not For Long, and learn more about the author and her work at Michelle Wildgen's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue