Friday, January 28, 2011

"Merit Badges"

Kevin Fenton lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota and works as an advertising writer and creative director. His fiction has appeared in the Northwest Review, the Laurel Review, and the Emprise Review. His writing on graphic design has been anthologized in Looking Closer 2 and Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Merit Badges, and reported the following:
Page 69 is both typical of the rest of Merit Badges and not. The book is told in four voices, only one is speaking at one time so three out out of four narrators are always absent or secondary. Friends have told me that a part of the momentum of the book lies in wondering about the characters who are off screen.

The page starts a chapter narrated by Quint, the most rebellious and questing of the characters. This particular adventure starts off with a vague adolescent restlessness. Bothered by the “Pine Sol scent” of his mom’s cleaning, he decides he needs “a little fresh air and a lot of not here” so he heads out on what he thinks might just be a walk but which becomes something else as he visits a “smudged bar” and encounters the dangerous Scott Tulep.

Because it’s the first page of a chapter, page 69 also features the book’s distinctive merit badge trope, where each chapter is named after a boy scout merit badge and cites one merit badge requirement. In this case, the badge is Communications and the requirement is “Attend a town meeting where two or points of view are given.” It’s clear by the end of the page that this will not happen literally—the drugs they’ve ingested have caused reality to start “hissing and flickering and smearing.” So the question is raised: in what metaphorical or ironic way will the requirement be satisfied?
Learn more about the book and author at the Merit Badges website and Kevin Fenton's blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue