Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Dreaming Nicaragua"

David Gullette is an English professor at Simmons College and the author of two books about revolutionary poetry in Nicaragua.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Dreaming Nicaragua, and reported the following:
The year is 2000: Jesse Pelletier is a Vietnam Vet who runs a small hotel in a little port on the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua. He’s 56. It’s been 10 years since he divorced his wife and got on his daughter’s shit-list. But the daughter, Suzy, has decided to come to Nicaragua to visit the old man and see if they can reconcile.

Page 69 catches Jesse and Suzy at the end of a scene in which he’s been fussing about in a Mother Hen way, warning her not to jog on the beach at night and she tells him to Just Give It A Rest. He’s stung, but admits he gets a kick out of doing the Concerned Father bit “which I almost never got to do when you were a teenager because I was down here screwing around when no doubt I should have been back in Dorchester doing what Daddies do.” No, she says, “You can spare yourself the guilt trip.” Then she tells about a time back in Boston during his (clearly PTSD-fed) freak-out period when she heard him crying out in his sleep, and sat by him and held his hand and patted his shoulder until he went back to sleep.

Page 69 is perfect: it’s one of several Jesse/Suzy scenes in which we see them carefully, painfully kitting their relationship back together.

Page 69:
She comes out in a white cotton beach dress, rubbing her head with a towel. She opens the fridge, takes out the blender of pineapple/banana refresco, and pours herself a glass.

--Look, she says, leaning against the pillar that supports the overhang, I know you must want to worry about me for some reason, but you’ve got to understand I’m a big girl now. And I don’t do stupid things: my driving is safe, so’s my sex life, so’s my emotional life, I keep a sharp eye out for danger, I have a pretty good sense of how the world works, and so I tend not to get hurt. So there’s no need for you to get all anxious when I’m not around.

--So I should just back off and give you space.

--Uh, yeah. . .that’d be cool.

--I can do that. I just. . .well, I guess I must get some sort of weird kick out of doing the Concerned Father thing.

--Which except for a couple of weeks in the summer you never got to do when I was a teenager.

--Which I almost never got to do when you were a teenager because I was down here screwing around when no doubt I should have been back in Dorchester doing what Daddies do.

--Forget it. Mom was bad enough. I’m not sure I could’ve taken both of you at once. Besides, I was a mess, just like I was supposed to be. I don’t think you could’ve made me any less crazy than I was.

--But maybe my not being there helped make you crazy.

--Nah. You can spare yourself the guilt trip.

--But I. . . want to feel guilty, I need to. You were my Pumpkin Girl and I walked out on you. I was pretty sure you hated me, with good reason.

--Oh, I remember being pissed off at you from time to time. But I think I knew even then, even in that haze of adolescent ego-tripping, that you were probably doing something that you needed to do, taking care of business, getting yourself cleaned up inside.

--Cleaned up?

--Yeah. You could be a pretty scary guy. You’d sort of drift off sometimes into this strange space, all zoned out and. . . well, let’s call it like it was. You were unhappy and you were hurting, even a kid could tell that. So, sure, I cried when you said you were going away to Nicaragua for a long time, but I think I thought maybe if Nicaragua could give you some peace, then that was better than having you moping and groaning around the house.

--Groaning? Really?

--You don’t remember, do you?

--I guess not. Did I really groan?

--One time, after you and Mom had had one of your whopper fights and I had stayed in my room with my fingers in my ears, and you slept on the couch, well that night you started crying out in your sleep, and I came in and sat by you and asked you if you were having a bad dream and you said yes, so I just held your hand and patted your shoulder until you went back to sleep.

The old sorrow crests like a wave about to break; he fights it back.

--Let’s eat, he says.
Read more about Dreaming Nicaragua at the Fenway Press website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue