Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Sylvan Street"

Deborah Schupack is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, as well as numerous short stories and newspaper and magazine articles. She runs a copywriting firm, King Street Creative, and lives in the Lower Hudson Valley.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Sylvan Street, and reported the following:
Page 69:
“The perfect guest,” Billy said.

“Dying to be.”

Billy felt the urge to say something profound, that he loved him or thought him a wonderful, worthy person, that he would miss him and so would Maggie, that they would name a son after him.

“Good night, sir,” Billy said.

“Good night, sir, yourself.”

So it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that a dying Uncle Richard, in love with the potential family that Billy and Maggie would create, would bequeath them at least some of his considerable wealth. In the form of a briefcase full of cash? That’s how Billy would do it if he had kids squabbling over inheritance while he was still alive, thank you very much. Pull the rug right out from under them.

Billy could picture it to the last detail, Richard wheeling the case from his car to the pool house, stopping now and then to catch his breath but spurred on by the feeling that his plan was ingenious and served everyone right. The moon, Billy remembered now—with plenty of romantic hindsight—was full, or at least gibbous in its brightness, lighting Richard’s way.

Had Billy in fact divvied up his wife’s inheritance among their neighbors? He found the notion benign enough. The last thing he and Maggie needed—and he was sure she’d agree with him on this—was more money to separate them from those around them.

Billy had given up his circle of friends bit by bit, through the social atrophies of marriage, of moving to the suburbs, of (continued on page 70)
Quick summary of Sylvan Street: Billy Callahan finds a mysterious briefcase in his pool shed while all his neighbors are gathered for a party. He opens the case in front of everyone—only to find one million dollars inside. The money, and the decisions that go along with it, become everybody’s windfall—and everybody’s problem.

Page 69, I was intrigued (and relieved) to find, goes to the heart of both the general storyline—the neighbors and the newfound money—and Billy’s particular storyline. Billy and his wife Maggie have been trying to have a baby for years, and their inability to do so is eating away at their marriage.

In this scene, Billy imagines a benign, self-admittedly romantic source of the money (a beloved dying Uncle Richard). That runs counter to the actual source of the money, a much more corrosive force. But on p. 69, Billy, like many of his neighbors in the earlier part of the book, swells with possibility and promise. Throughout the course of Sylvan Street, the story and the characters knock back and forth between promise and destructiveness.

In a similar way, for Billy, the idea of family oscillates between promise and destructiveness. The promise of family, of a baby, looms large—but the reality of infertility threatens to destroy their relationship.

I often talk about Sylvan Street as exploring the power and limitations of money. What I realize after doing a close reading of p. 69 is that the book really explores the power and limitations of promise. Inherent in promise, as in money, is evidence of its other side, its loss. Promise, like money, is a bittersweet thing.
Read an excerpt from Sylvan Street, and learn more about the book and author at Deborah Schupack's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue