Thursday, December 24, 2009

"The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart"

Jesse Bullington spent the bulk of his formative years in rural Pennsylvania, the Netherlands, and Tallahassee, Florida. He is a folklore enthusiast who holds a bachelor's degree in History and English Literature from Florida State University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, one of Amazon's top ten Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2009, and reported the following:
If this had been the Page 59 Test we would be looking at a much more representative passage, containing as it does the titular graverobbing twins who appear in almost every other chapter and an explicit reference to a beard. Even the Page 79 Test would be closer to a representative sampling, because while it is still nearing the end of Nicolette's tale the looming dread that was hinted at on page 69 has arrived in all its monstrous glory. Instead we have page 69, which starts off one of the novel's several side-stories, and these side-stories are expressly written in different styles than the rest of the novel, though they all play back into the main plot and themes of the work.

Said main plot concerns Hegel and Manfried Grossbart, a pair of honest (by their reckoning), pious (by their personal heresy), and utterly ruthless (by all accounts) brothers who set out from their home in plague-ravaged 14th century Germany to raid the tombs of Egypt. Their quest introduces them to as broad a cross-section of the medieval populace as I could feasibly squeeze into the plot, and occasionally certain individuals earned their own stories inside of the greater narrative. Nicolette here, for example.

These side-stories have many functions--recreating the feel of some of the contemporaneous literature that employed a story-within-a-story-format, playing up the fairy tale elements, revealing character motivations, world building, and much more. These side-stories also give the reader an occasional break from the Brothers Grossbart who, while arguably charming in their own twisted way, might overwhelm the reader if they were not given the occasional breather from the twins', ah, strong personalities. Oddly enough, while it is stylistically a bit removed from the main narrative and lacks any mention of the Brothers Grossbart, the chapter that page 69 is extracted from (“A Cautionary Yarn, Spun for Fathers and Daughters Alike”) is one of my favorites of the whole novel.

Page 69:
The sun had rested squarely over her father’s cabin when their sole pig had jerked forward, pulling the tether from her hands and rushing off into the forest. The first hour she spent chiding herself for not minding her charge better, the second for not minding her path better as she attempted to find a familiar marker. Her growing anxiety was given brief respite when she spotted the errant swine across a patch of frozen bog, but after her quarry again escaped into the underbrush Nicolette became distraught. Fear overrode her embarrassment, and she began calling out as dusk slunk through the branches.

When the sun fully departed and the forest came alive with noises she valiantly held in her tears. Her father had told her if she was old enough to wed she was too old to cry, and while no suitors had tramped along the muddy path to their cabin in pursuit of her hand, she maintained caring for a husband could be no more difficult or desirable than tending a pig or a father. Nevertheless, the girl sniffled as she groped her way between the cold bark pillars looming around her.

Then the glow in the distance, and Nicolette ran as fast as she could given the abundance of roots and trunks rearing out of the dark at her calloused feet. Approaching the crooked hut she slowed, relief becoming tinged with her earlier fear of the dark wood. Her father had cautioned her of charcoal burners— their filthy lifestyles, deceptive charms and rapacious hunger for pretty young girls. She paused at the door, uncertainty seizing up her arms and legs, when she felt the sudden and powerful sensation of being watched. She turned slowly, and saw nothing but night in an unfamiliar part of the vast forest.

A twig snapped in the blackness, and Nicolette was crying and banging on the door with both hands. The old woman let her in, slipped the board back into place, and brought the girl to her meager firepit. Minutes later the lass had calmed down, gotten the numbness out of her feet, and took in both surroundings and savior.
Learn more about the book and author at Jesse Bullington's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue