Saturday, May 22, 2010

"The Language of Trees"

Ilie Ruby lives near Boston with her husband and three children from Africa.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Language of Trees, and reported the following:
The Language of Trees takes place on Canandaigua Lake, the birthplace of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Woven with magical realism and folklore, the story centers on the mysterious disappearances of two children in the Ellis family—little Luke Ellis, and then over a decade later, his sister, Melanie, now a teenage mother and ex-addict. As townspeople isolated by years of secrets are drawn into the frantic search for Melanie, they discover a world where nature and the spiritual realm intertwine and the past refuses to stay where it belongs. It is only when a Seneca healer who has turned his back on his legacy confronts his past and his own lost love, that the mystery of the Ellis children can be put to rest. With the aid of a restless spirit, help comes for Melanie through unexpected circumstances as her life hangs in the balance.

I approached the page 69 test with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and a hint of trepidation, unsure as to whether it would be indicative of the book. Thank God for small favors--it is: the magical realism vernacular that is delicately woven throughout everyday occurrences; one of the main characters, the late Luke Ellis, and how memories of him still haunt his neighbors and are a driving force in the book; our last glimpse of the relationship Luke and his sisters had before tragedy struck. And the effect he still has on the people who knew him.

The element of magical realism is something that I’m asked about a lot. I think this page is a good illustration of how extraordinary occurrences can infiltrate ordinary experiences, and how this creates a certain atmosphere in the book. Their presence must deepen our understanding of the events in the story. This page is a nice snapshot of several reoccurring elements throughout the book. More specifically, you’ll see things like paper airplanes and stacks of dimes in the story, even though you may not see little Luke Ellis.

Page 69 of The Language of Trees:
As she stands at her kitchen window, she tries not to look, but her eyes fix on the frosted gray tombstone. The smell of the flowers is so sweet it sometimes gives Clarisse a headache. It trickles in even though her windows are kept tightly shut. There are no boundaries when it comes to that family. All those years ago, little Luke’s paper airplanes would soar right through her kitchen window. Once they had landed on the belly of her oldest and most patient ginger tabby that had rolled over, just moments before, stomach up like a landing strip. Clarisse could hardly keep from laughing, even after she had marched outside with the intention of reprimanding Luke Ellis.

A black bra dangled over one side of Luke’s head as he sat on a milk crate, dressed in an adult’s robe, in front of a handmade sign that read, "Paper airplanes for a dime!" He was intense and focused, folding the yellow legal paper, which he handed over to his sisters, Melanie and Maya, who sent them spiraling out into the air. Passengers waved from car windows. People on bikes slowed to watch him. Luke had always been obsessed with collecting dimes. He had just seen a movie about airplanes on television, Leila later told Clarisse, and now he’d become completely obsessed with flying.

When a strong wind kicked up, the paper airplanes took off in a million different directions, and the girls chased them down driveways four neighbors deep. What could Clarisse do when Luke asked her for eighty cents, pointing to four airplanes on her roof? It didn’t matter that he had added wrong, or that he spilled purple juice all over her shoes when he hugged her after she had given him his money. Back then, she loved having the children next door. She loved the sight of him flying down the driveway later that afternoon with a large black plastic bag for a cape, his long blond curls making him look wild, a purple scarf flapping around his neck. That evening Clarisse had gone
Visit Ilie Ruby's website, blog, and Facebook page.

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

--Marshal Zeringue