Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Delta Girls"

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, Self Storage (Ballantine), and Delta Girls (Ballantine), and her first novel for young readers, My Life with the Lincolns (Holt).

She applied the Page 69 Test to Delta Girls and reported the following:
Page 69 of my novel Delta Girls makes the book seem as if it might be a history tome or a travel guide when it is really a story about mothers and daughters and secrets set in the world of organic pear farming and Olympic level pairs figure skating. I’m kind of shocked, really, to see how non-representative this page is. Reading it, I can tell I wanted to cram information about the history of the Sacramento Delta into the story, and it seems to come across a bit dry and stilted here; I think (at least I hope!) the rest of the book is much more fluid and organic.

Page 69 marks the beginning of a chapter, so it starts pretty far down the page and is quite short. At this point in the story, Izzy, an itinerant farm worker, and her young daughter Quinn have found themselves working at Vieira Pears, an orchard which also bottles pear eau de vie, in a fictional town named Comice, CA. After years of running, they are starting to feel a tentative sense of home there, and Izzy, much to her dismay, is also starting to feel drawn to Ben Vieira, the son of the owners. I’ll quote the page here in its entirety:
After I was done cleaning bottles, Ben drove us to Locke, a tiny town about ten miles down the levee from Comice. It had been founded by Chinese immigrants, farm workers mostly. One of the first towns built “by the Chinese for the Chinese” in the country, and the only one still on the map. Chinese immigrants were not allowed to own land, so they leased it from George Locke in 1915 and built gambling halls and restaurants and shops along a one block street, the flat-faced wooden two story buildings fronted with awnings that shaded the sidewalk, propped up with slender rectangular wood pillars. A few people sat on the second floor balconies of apartments that used to be rooming houses for pear and asparagus pickers. Not to mention whorehouses staffed by white women. Locke was filled mostly with white folks now—only about 10 of the 80 or so people living there were Chinese-American.

The town had been named a National Historic Landmark, but it was dusty and neglected feeling, as if no one cared whether/ or not it hung around. Many buildings tilted sharply, leading to a general air of precariousness. Then again, maybe I just felt precarious being out in the world, being out with Ben, walking so close beside him, the hair of our arms sometimes brushed.
I included a few lines from page 70, since 69 ends mid-sentence (marked above with a slash) and I wanted to show you the more human sentence that follows when we’re truly in my character Izzy’s body and mind and not just hearing facts about the place filtered through her. I did love learning about the Sacramento Delta, though, and hope the book will bring attention to the unique and fascinating region, one that feels lost in time, one that feeds much of California with its water, much of the country with its pears. One that certainly fed my imagination and nourished my characters as I wrote Delta Girls.
Read an excerpt from Delta Girls, and learn more about the book and author at Gayle Brandeis' website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue