Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Book of Why"

Nicholas Montemarano is the author of the novel, A Fine Place (2002), and the short story collection If the Sky Falls (2005), a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Book of Why, and reported the following:
Before I say anything about page 69 of The Book of Why, I want you to read this excerpt and imagine what kind of novel it might come from.
Even in the dark I could see the outline of the closet door. I got out of bed, turned on the light, and put my hand on the knob…

I imagined him laughing as he stood up from the operating table, where they must have pronounced him dead. I imagined him tiptoeing into the hallway, down the stairs, and outside to a cab. He could have gotten home before us. He’d disappeared, and now, if I focused my thoughts, he would reappear.

I stood with my hand on the knob, listening for his breathing.

He might wait until morning, I thought.

He might wait until the wake or the burial—a knock from inside the coffin as it’s lowered.

He might wait years.

Until then, he would be the voice in the static between stations; the creak on the attic steps; the rain against my bedroom window; the wind that blew leaves across the backyard; a blue jay on our clothesline; footsteps, shadows, silence; any sound that broke silence.
If you read only this page, you might conclude that you’re in the middle of a Stephen King novel. My novel is, at its heart, a love story, and it asks big questions about control and fate and why we believe what we believe, and it can be a little spooky (messages from the dead, mysterious signs, strange coincidences), but it’s not in Stephen King territory.

Except maybe it is—just a little bit. The scene above does take place on Halloween, after all. Now that I’ve looked at page 69 in isolation, I’m remembering a few other moments in the novel that might raise the hair on the back of your neck.

The narrator of The Book of Why, Eric Newborn, is a self-help author and inspirational speaker who believes that we can create happiness and success with positive thinking. He spends part of the novel looking back on his childhood, tracing the origins of his beliefs. His father was an endearingly eccentric, almost magical figure who first put these ideas into Eric’s head.

Page 69 follows one of the novel’s high events: Eric’s father has just died suddenly, and Eric can’t quite believe it. He’s back home from the hospital, in his bedroom, trying to sleep. Earlier that evening, his father had a heart attack while hiding in Eric’s closet. With this information in mind, go back and reread the excerpt above. My guess is that it will probably be less spooky than sad—just a boy trying to imagine his father alive again.
Learn more about the book and author at Nicholas Montemarano's website, Facebook page, and Twiiter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue