Saturday, October 15, 2011

"The Taker"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, a gothic tale of desire, obsession and the need within us all for redemption.

The Taker has been described as "an epic supernatural love story" and compared to The Historian," Interview with the Vampire, and Twilight even though it doesn't have one vampire in it.

Katsu applied the Page 69 Test to The Taker and reported the following:
This test intrigued me, because I had been told in grad school by one professor that the pivotal incident in a novel—the point where everything changes and there’s no going back—tends to happen around page 100. Since I often write out of sequence, I don’t know where page 100 is until I put all the chapters together, but I’ve been surprised to find that this is true nearly 100 percent of the time.

P. 69 of The Taker:
I decided to visit Sophia the next day and speak to her in private. I waited until I had shut our chickens in the coop for the night, so my absence wouldn’t be noticed, before setting out for the Jacobses’ farm. Their property was much quieter than ours, mainly because they owned fewer livestock and there were no children to help tend to all the chores. I crept into the barn, hoping I would not run into Jeremiah, and found Sophia penning their three raggedy sheep in a stall for the evening…. She gave me an icy look, undoubtedly worried about why I’d come. I must have seemed a child to her for being not yet wed and still living under my parents’ roof although I was only a few years younger.

“Forgive me for coming to see you unannounced, but I had to speak to you alone,” I said, looking over my shoulder to be sure her husband wasn’t close by. “I will speak plainly, as there is no time for niceties. I think you know what I have come to discuss with you. Jonathan shared with me—”

She crossed her arms and gave me a steely look. “He told you, did he? He had to boast to someone that he has made me with child?”

“Nothing of the sort! If you think he is pleased that you are going to have a baby—”

His baby,” she insisted. “And I know he’s not pleased.”
Not the prettiest passage, I admit. More like the literary equivalent of brick-laying. But the scene is important and, I think, passes the Page 69 test.

Lanore is the main character in The Taker. She was born in 1797 in a very small town in the northern Maine wilderness and has the misfortune to fall in love at an early age with Jonathan, the eldest son of the family that owns the town. She and Jonathan have always been friends, but despite Lanore’s devotion, it is not in Jonathan’s nature to give Lanore the kind of relationship that she wants from him.

Lanore is a good girl, clever but with limited prospects in life. The only thing she wants is Jonathan, and Jonathan—aloof and elusive, accustomed to having all the attention he wants (too much attention, sometimes)—is used to depending on her. He has impregnated Sophia—his latest lover, newly wedded to an oafish husband—and in a weak moment, he asks Lanore if she will convince Sophia to have an abortion. This scene on page 69 is where Lanore confronts Sophia and tries to scare her into getting rid of her baby.

Though The Taker is the story of Lanny’s misguided love for Jonathan, in a broader sense it’s about how people can be selfish and insensitive and think they will not be held accountable for their sins. And the truth is that most people act in their own self-interest, whether in small or large ways, and rarely are held to rights. What makes the scene on page 69 significant to the book is that it’s the first time Lanore does something that might be considered ‘evil’. She is willing to threaten and bully someone to get what she wants. She is crossing a threshold that puts her on course to come to the attention of the villain of the book—he’s an avenging angel, in a way, though he hardly behaves like any kind of angel you’ve heard of. And he’s definitely more villainous than righteous. But he’s drawn to evil like flies to rotting flesh, and here you see our protagonist’s first steps on the path that will put them on a collision course.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website and blog.

Writers Read: Alma Katsu.

--Marshal Zeringue