Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Pandora's Bottle"

Joanne Lessner is a singer, actor, and writer.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Pandora’s Bottle, and reported the following:
Pandora's Bottle is told from four different points of view in alternating chapters. Page 69 falls within a chapter that follows Tripp, a Broadway dancer who pays the rent by waiting tables. He’s just been invited to the final callbacks for the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, but he has to work his restaurant job that afternoon. In order to get to the audition, he promises the restaurant owner, Annette, that if she ever needs him for a special event, he’ll be there. Here’s the exchange:
“This is a really important opportunity. I can’t miss it!”

“Then you’ll have to find someone to replace you tonight,” she replied briskly. “I can’t be short a waitperson, and I don’t have time to make calls myself.”

“Of course,” he said, praying silently that someone would be available to sub for him.

“And in return, if I ever host a special event, I want you on hand,” she continued. “You know you’re my best waiter.”

“Absolutely,” Tripp said emphatically. “You just let me know when, and I’ll be there. Promise!”
Out of context, it looks like a throwaway, but in fact, Tripp’s promise proves to be a pivotal plot point. Even so, page 69 doesn’t strike me as particularly representative of the book as a whole. The main character is Sy Hampton, a lonely, middle-aged financier who has spent most of his adult life obsessed by a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite that was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and which may – through a quirk of preservation – still be drinkable. He finally gets the chance to purchase it at auction – for a whopping $510,000. And when he goes to drink it.... Well, let’s just say the perfect evening he anticipates does not turn out as he planned. In fact, the novel really centers around the question: “What happens when you pin your hopes on a single event...and it all goes horribly wrong?” Rather than a novel for oenophiles, it’s really a book intended for anyone who has ever had the experience of endowing an object, an event or a person with an importance it can’t bear. Which is to say, all of us.

So with that in mind, I’ll now hijack this idea and point out that I already extracted the passage I thought would most make people want to read the whole book and reproduced it on the flyleaf. For the record, this excerpt occurs on pp. 183-184:
“The etchings,” declared Sy. “There they are. Do you see? Château Lafitte 1787. Th. J. for Thomas Jefferson. And the crescent. Pichard’s secret code—his message to the future, his time capsule. This wine should be a treasure for the ages. And it’s for you and me. And nobody else.”

He spoke the last words with such force that there could be no doubt about his meaning. Now Sy picked up the corkscrew. The wine was like an old friend, and for a brief moment, he felt guilty about violating it. But all friends served a purpose, and this one was no exception.

With every eye in the room on him, Sy cut away his replacement capsule. Ever so gently, he pointed the corkscrew into the old cork, slowly coaxing it up. At first, the cork didn’t want to leave its housing, but finally the top half came free and slid out soundlessly. Sy set it on the table. Tipping the bottle slightly, he edged the corkscrew back in to detach the remaining bit of cork. He got part of it out, but the rest dropped back into the bottle. Sy lifted the bottle to his nose and breathed. The luscious aroma of earth, chocolate, fruit, and smoke was dizzying. Sheer, unadulterated desire overtook him, and his entire body grew weak.

“Tripp, would you?” asked Sy, indicating the crystal rod and decanter.

“Of course,” the waiter answered. Sy handed him the bottle.
Read more about Pandora's Bottle at the publisher's website.

Visit Joanne Sydney Lessner's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue