Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Long Drive Home"

Will Allison's debut novel, What You Have Left, was selected for Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, Borders Original Voices, and Book Sense Picks, and was named one of 2007's notable books by the San Francisco Chronicle. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, and One Story and have received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies. He is the former executive editor of Story. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, he now lives with his wife and daughter in New Jersey.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Long Drive Home, and reported the following:
This is the middle of one of my favorite scenes. It's the first time the narrator, Glen, comes face to face with Tawana, whose teenage son died in a car accident that was, unbeknownst to her, Glen's fault. The accident occurred in front of Glen's house, and in this scene, Tawana is taking an axe to the tree that her son's car hit as Glen's six-year-old daughter, Sara, looks on.

The page is representative of the rest of the book in that it involves themes of loss and grief and regret, and points to the story's central relationship, between Glen and Sara.

Would someone be inclined to keep reading? In search of a slightly less biased opinion, I read the page to my nine-year-old daughter this morning as she was brushing her teeth. "Would you keep going?" I said. "Yes!" she said. "Definitely!" Then she proceeded to turn to page one and read until she had to spit. So there you have it. (By the time I was driving her to school, though, she was back to The Mysterious Benedict Society, so there you have it again.)

Here's page 69:
"Ms. Richards?"

As I approached her, she drew back and took another swing, her eyes so full of tears I don't know how she could see what she was doing. Down at the corner, a woman pushing a stroller turned around and went back the way she'd come. On the next swing, the axe got stuck again. That's when Sara's voice reached us. She was standing just outside our front door, begging Tawana to stop. Tawana didn't bother trying to free the axe. She let go of the handle and looked at Sara and then me, her chest rising and falling.

"Your daughter," she said.

I nodded.

"She doesn't want me to hurt the tree."

"Come on," I said, hoping to get her away from the axe. "Come inside."

She righted the bouquet she'd knocked over, then brushed leaves from her sweater. "I'm not crazy," she said. "I know the tree didn't kill him. I just can't stand the sight of it."

"Me, neither."

She followed me back across the street. Sara was standing on the porch, looking at Tawana as if she were on fire.

"It's just a few scratches," I said to Sara. "No big deal."

Tawana took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm sorry, baby. Sometimes grown-ups get upset and do things they shouldn't."

Sara nodded, staring at her feet now.

"Why don't you go up to your room," I said.
Learn more about the book and author at Will Allison's website.

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

--Marshal Zeringue