Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"Break the Skin"

Lee Martin is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Bright Forever; a novel, Quakertown; a story collection, The Least You Need to Know; and two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones. He has won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, a Lawrence Foundation Award, and the Glenna Luschei Prize. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at The Ohio State University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Break the Skin, and reported the following:
My novel, Break the Skin, has two narrators—a nineteen-year-old girl, Laney, in Illinois, and a thirty-something tattoo artist, Miss Baby, in Texas. They don’t know that they share the same man, Lester Stipp, an Iraq war veteran who suffers from dissociative fugues that occasionally make him forget who he is and where he lives. Miss Baby finds him outside her tattoo parlor one evening, and when he says he doesn’t remember his name, she seizes an opportunity and tells him he’s her husband, Donnie. On page 69, a police officer has come to Miss Baby’s house looking for her brother. Lester has been asleep in the bedroom, and in the middle of this scene, he comes out into the living room and the police officer asks him who he is. “I’m Donnie,” Lester says. “Donnie True.” He goes on to say that Miss Baby is his wife. This page is representative of the novel in the respect that it dramatizes the book’s main concern—how far will someone go for the sake of love? Has Lester really forgotten who is he? Miss Baby will wonder after she finds out he’s wanted for questioning in regards to a crime in Illinois that involves Laney, but for the time Miss Baby is happy to believe that she and “Donnie” are starting a life together. She says,

“I didn’t think anything at the time about how easy it was for him to say this and everything that followed. I just fell into the gentle tone of his voice, gave thanks for his story. Somehow in his sleep he’d dreamed it all, or else he’d carried the truth of his real life into the one he was now making with me.”

Miss Baby, like Laney, hopes for true love, but Lester has secrets from his time with Laney. As the two storylines intersect, a tale of deceit and revenge unfolds, one that will haunt Miss Baby forever—“A story of love, no matter how ugly and roughed up and stained.”
Learn more about the book and author at Lee Martin's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue