Monday, June 21, 2010

"The House on Oyster Creek"

Heidi Jon Schmidt's books include The Rose Thieves, Darling?, and The Bride of Catastrophe, all available in paperback. Her stories have been published in The Atlantic, Grand Street, Agni Review, Yankee, and many other magazines, and anthologized in The O'Henry Awards, Best American Nonrequired Reading, the Grand Street Reader and others.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The House on Oyster Creek, and reported the following:
When I'm asked what The House on Oyster Creek is about, I've answered-- "a marriage and a love affair," or "a land war between oyster farmers and waterfront homeowners," and these are the warp and woof of the plot. But really I am, as always, trying to capture what it feels like to be alive, in all the smallest and largest particulars. Especially what it feels like way out here at the furthest reach of Cape Cod. We're crowded onto a long sandspit where every tide changes the land a little, and we become hyper-aware of each other and of the huge forces of nature and history and economics that shape everyone's lives.

I've called it an ecological novel, because it's about how the smallest things we do affect everything around us. In the book, the gas leaking from a submerged truck endangers the ecosystem, and one kiss seems to threaten the stability of a whole community. I couldn't have dreamed in my worst nightmares of the kind of catastrophe that's happening in the Gulf of Mexico, and the havoc that's being wreaked on the shellfish farming communities there.

Page 69 talks about the different people on the Outer Cape, and yes, it does seem to show part of what life out here is like: the way, in certain lights and weathers, you can almost feel what it would have been to live here a century ago, or more.

From page 69:
There were lobster divers, chambermaids, and, in the summer, professors and editors who found the lobster divers and chambermaids irresistibly attractive. There were Freudian analysts, Jungian analysts, and a stray Kleinian analyst who was furious at both groups. There was Sklew Margison, who had a Nobel Prize in physics, for discovering something no one could explain. And Reggie the glass eater, who was said once to have swallowed a shot glass right along with the bourbon in it, and suffered no ill effects....

And Ada Town, the old woman who walked to the end of the point every morning regardless of the weather, dressed in a neat skirt and blouse and always with lively interest in her face. She'd been found on the church steps as an infant, rowed in from a passing ship, people said. Someone had seen a light on the water, heard the quiet splash of an oar. This scene, like so much of the town's history, remained vivid in every imagination--the streets were still narrow, angling up from the harbor to the town center, where the Congregational Church stood at the highest point, its steeple stark against the sky. If you stood on the steps there, you could see exactly how a dory might have been pulled ashore for the minute it would take to run up the hill and set a baby safely at the church door.
Learn more about the book and author at Heidi Jon Schmidt's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue