Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno"

Ellen Bryson holds a BA in English from Columbia University and an MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC. Formerly a modern dancer, she lives in Southern California.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno is a book about change. Although it’s historical (1865 New York City in P.T. Barnum’s audacious American Museum), and it’s about special people (the protagonist is Bartholomew Fortuno, the world’s Thinnest Man), and it’s a love story (Fortuno’s love interest is Iell Adams, the fabulously beautiful bearded woman), underneath it all, it’s a slow unfolding of true character, a strip tease of identity.

Page 69 is a “seed” page. It’s one of the few early indicators of Fortuno’s back story and it holds clues as to why Fortuno is as he is: arrogant, confused, and thin, thin, thin. The scene on page 69 begins with Fortuno nervously dressing for a meeting with his boss and obvious father figure, P.T. Barnum. As he dresses, he reminisces about his own father, a harsh man who raised horses for a living. He remembers his mother once saying:

“You should have seen your father when he first came to the farm…So dashing. His accent. His broad back.” And later, on that same page: “There’s no man in your father at all when he rides…Just a saddle and a beast.”

Fortuno comments: “Even that was an understatement. My father could sit, stand, turn, or throw himself sideways on a horse and pick up a nickel from the ground with his teeth. But he never used his talents to amuse. He hated trick riding almost as much as he hated little boys.”

It is no wonder Fortuno claims that his talent is to educate, not to amuse. Very little else is said about the father until the end of the book, but what they did to one another and consequently to Fortuno are really the heart of the story.

Page 69 carries a lot of weight, as memories from childhood often do. It’s the smallest myths and mysteries that contain the seeds out of which the rest of one’s personal story grows. Fortuno is no exception.
Read an excerpt from The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, and learn more about the book and author at Ellen Bryson's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue