Monday, June 6, 2011

"Devil’s Plaything"

Matt Richtel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times technology journalist and novelist. His first book, Hooked, was a critically acclaimed bestseller. His fiction, like his journalism, focuses on the impact of technology on how people live, behave, and love in the 21st century. He won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for his series on distracted driving.

Richtel applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Devil’s Plaything, and reported the following:
Thank you, font deities. This time, you have blessed my page 69.

The page 69 test, in case you haven’t realized by now, owes to the vagaries and vicissitudes of font. Font, of course, dictates which words appear on which pages. A bigger font can push back a pivotal scene a few pages, a smaller one can move it up.

But in this case, the font fates conspired in my favor. Page 69 is a doozy.

But a subtle one. And you won’t understand why until you finish the book.

On its face, page 69 seems relatively innocuous. It is a conversation between the book’s two main characters: Nat Idle, a commitment-phobic but talented investigative journalist in San Francisco, and his 85-year-old grandmother Lane, who suffers severe dementia.

The conversation takes the form of a brief flashback that Nat is having to a time before his grandmother’s Alzheimer’s become so pronounced. Nat is imploring his grandmother to tell her stories of her past. She is sidestepping him.

To my pleasant surprise (I’ll explain in a moment), the page includes no fewer than three major clues regarding different pieces of the secrets at the heart of this book. Without giving away too much, those secrets revolve around (1) a conspiracy to use technology to control our memories, (2) revelations about Grandma's own hidden past, and (3) a recognition by Nat, our protagonist, about his own struggles with intimacy.

I don't want to say more, for fear of giving too much away. But I will explain why I’m pleasantly surprised by what I read on page 69: it is heartening to me that I succeeded, at least on this page, in planting seeds and creating subtle momentum in the mystery but in the course of a seemingly innocuous exchange.

As a reader, I relish reading a book in which neither the mystery nor the clues are obvious. As a writer, I do not succeed nearly as much as I’d like in creating such an environment for my readers. In this case, on page 69, I may just have succeeded.

Thank you, fonts.
Learn more about the book and author at Matt Richtel's website and blog.

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

--Marshal Zeringue