Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"The Blessings of the Animals"

Katrina Kittle is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, and The Kindness of Strangers. The Kindness of Strangers was a BookSense pick and the winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Early chapters from that novel earned her grants from both the Ohio Arts Council and Culture Works. Kittle earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Blessings of the Animals, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Blessings of the Animals is not at all a page I would have picked to represent the rest of the book…at first. But the more I thought about it, the more I think it does reveal something of what I was going for. Page 69 puts you smack in the middle of a complicated, fast-paced scene with a large cast of characters. Not an easy place to "drop in." The main character, Cami, was left abruptly by her husband the day before. She and her daughter, Gabby, have been asked to help with the surprise marriage-proposal for Olive, Cami's best friend (and the sister of Cami's soon-to-be-ex-husband). Olive and her boyfriend Nick do not know that Cami's husband left. Cami's brother Davy (who does know) has come along to help. Cami, Davy, and Gabby are "breaking in" to Olive's apartment while Nick takes Olive down the block for a coffee. Cami is to pack an overnight bag for Olive, who believes she and Nick are going to a beer garden, not to a fancy, formal restaurant and bed-and-breakfast. In the middle of the hurried packing, Cami gets a call from her best friend, Vijay. She emailed Vijay yesterday when her husband left and told him to get back to her asap because it was an "emergency." At the same time, Zayna—a girl who works both in Cami's vet clinic and in Cami's husband's restaurant—arrives at Olive's apartment, seemingly confused by why Cami and her crew are there. Zayna will become intertwined in Cami's life in ways Cami does not realize yet.

An excerpt of this chaos:
Clutching the phone between my ear and shoulder, I dug around on the closet floor and found the cream T-strap heels Olive always wore with the pink dress.

I stood up and turned around, barreling into Davy. "Here, Gabby, run these down!"

"ME? I'm gonna get caught now!" but she snatched them and ran.

"Cami, talk to me." Vijay sounded panicked.

I took a deep breath. I had, after all, left a melodramatic message. "Bobby left."

There was a pause. "Left?"

"Yes. Left. As in emptied his closet, packed up his car, and left me."

Zayna put her hands over her mouth. I turned away from her.

"Oh, Cam. Cam." The tenderness in Vijay's voice prompted my eyes to sting.

"I should go—" Zayna said.

But Gabriella ran back into the apartment, blocking Zayna's exit. "They're coming!" she said.

"They'll just get in the car and leave now," I said. "We can hide up here until they go."

"HIDE?" Vijay asked. "Why are you hiding? Who are you talking to?"

"I'm talking to Gabby. Don't worry. This is a GOOD thing. It has nothing to do with Bobby—"

Suddenly Nick's voice boomed in the stairwell. Way too loud he announced, "Okay, just hit the bathroom and we'll be on our way."

I reached out to quietly close and lock the door.
This page illustrates a reality of life Cami learns to embrace in the wake of her divorce: life isn't either/or...life is and & and & and. Life doesn't ever say, "Okay, she's been dealt a bad blow. Let's give her a pass." Life piles it on, both with the good and the bad. Here is Cami, the day after her husband leaves her, helping to make someone else's engagement spectacular. Just as the animal characters will teach her later, this is Cami's first mini-lesson in moving on and moving forward. Although it seems chaotic, the tribe of family and friends surrounding her are her salvation (and later, she will be the salvation for some of them).
Learn more about the book and author at Katrina Kittle's website.

Writers Read: Katrina Kittle.

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

--Marshal Zeringue