Friday, January 29, 2010

"Breaking Out of Bedlam"

Leslie Larson is the author of the novel Slipstream, which won the Astraea Award for Fiction.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Breaking Out of Bedlam, and reported the following:
Turns out I was lucky with page 69, as the passage does a fantastic job of conveying the spirit of Cora Sledge’s voice, which was my guiding light as I wrote this story. The clip opens in the middle of an argument between Cora and Marcos Rodriguez, the medical tech who takes her vital signs each day. Their banter, and the way that Cora is once again saying something she will soon regret, captures the feel of many of the comic scenes in the novel. So I’d have to say that page 69 is very representative of the book. Fingers crossed it would entice skimmers to hang on for the rest of the ride.

Breaking Out of Bedlam begins with Cora’s children forcing her into The Palisades, an assisted care facility, when they find her living on junk food, pills, and cigarettes. Miserable at being wrenched from her home, Cora decides it’s time to die, but Marcos’ care and kindness (along with small doses of contraband junk food, telenovelas, and the occasional cigarette) get her back on her feet. Deciding that truth is the best revenge, Cora begins to write a tell-all journal that reveals once and for all the secret she has guarded since she was a young woman. Intermingled with her reminiscences is an account of the day-to-day dramas at The Palisades—her budding romance with a new resident, feuds with her tablemates, and the cloud of suspicion that descends as a series of petty crimes sets everyone on edge. True to form, Cora wonders if Marcos, her only friend, is the one who is robbing the residents. The story builds to a climax as Cora’s revelations about her past mesh with the slow unraveling of intrigue in the present.

Page 69 illustrates the contradictions in Cora’s character—her hunger for redemption and her talent for self-destruction, her capacity for both naiveté and suspicion, her desire for love and her inability to accept it. The passage shows that despite her age and a life with more than its share of disappointment and struggle, Cora holds onto her wicked humor, her vitality, and her refusal to play it safe.

Page 69:
“Don’t you dare leave!” I yelled at Marcos. “There’s no need to be so touchy!”

He opened the door without even turning around.

“What about my things?” I hollered. “I gave you money! What did you do with it?”

He stormed back. “Thank you for reminding me!” he snarled so fierce that spit flew out of his mouth. His eyes shot sparks. He reached into his carryall and pulled out a paper bag. “Here are your cigarettes!” He slammed a pack of Marlboros down on top of my dresser. He pulled out another one and slammed it down, too. Boom! Like a gunshot. “Here are your cupcakes, and your corn nuts, and your chips.” Bam! Bam! Bam! The last one, the bag of Doritos, came down so hard I knew they’d be crushed to dust.

“Oh, and your newspaper!” He whipped the National Enquirer out of the bag so fast the pages flew apart and fluttered to the ground like a bird shot from the sky. “And your magazine!” He fired People at the floor on top of the newspaper.

“Marcos!” I hollered. “Don’t! Don’t do like that!” I tried to grab his hands. “I’m sorry, now. Come on! Quit acting crazy!”

He grabbed my hand instead. “And here, Señora, is your change!” He pried my fingers open and shoved the money into my palm. “One dollar and fifty-seven cents. You want to count it now, while I’m here?”

I closed my hand around the money and looked into his eyes. Sometimes I hated myself. Just hated myself. I tried to show him with my eyes how sorry I was, but he was too mad to see anything.

“Why didn’t you tell me you bought all this stuff?” I bawled. “Why didn’t you give it to me right away?”

“I forgot,” he said, huffing and puffing. “But I will never forget again.” He tore loose from my hand, picked up his things, and stormed through the door.

What an uproar. I slumped down in my chair and stared out the sliding glass door. I felt so bad for doing Marcos like that. Accusing him, after all he’d done for me.
Read an excerpt from Breaking Out of Bedlam, and learn more about the book and author at Leslie Larson's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue