Friday, February 15, 2013

"Good Kids"

Benjamin Nugent is the author of Good Kids, a novel (Scribner, 2013) and American Nerd, a mix of history and memoir (Scribner, 2008). Born in Massachusetts in 1977, he was educated at Reed College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His essays have appeared in the New York Times Op/Ed page, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. His short stories have appeared in Tin House and The L Magazine. Director of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, he teaches in its MFA and undergraduate programs.

Nugent applied the Page 69 Test to Good Kids and reported the following:
The paragraph I’m going to quote bleeds into p. 70, but it starts on Page 69. The scene is a private island. The narrator Josh, 16 years old, is playing catch with his sister Rachel, his father Linus, his father’s girlfriend Laura, and her father Bruce, owner of the island. They’re trying to act like a family.
There was still a coat of orange on the waves when Bruce’s second wife Laura, the age of Allison plus the age of Rachel, excused herself from our five-way game of catch. (We threw an Aerobie, a red, soft-edged torus not unlike a giant, flattened cock ring.) She returned thirty seconds later to beckon us inside with both her slender arms. A former teacher of special-needs children (it was in this profession that she had discovered how easy an Aerobie was to catch) her movements were lumbering and joyful, the movements of one accustomed to chasing and gathering up. Her hair, a mix of blond and gray, fell between her shoulders; her face was scrunched and kind; her smock a diaphanous tribute to the Russian villagers of Fiddler on the Roof; her butt, in her crimson, one-piece bathing suit, jutting and hard like the golden rocks. She led us to the kitchen, which at first looked ordinary. Only string beans and scalloped potatoes somehow hissed on two skillets, and firm flanks of white fish somehow steamed on a metal sheet. The servants had vanished after they had finished their work, so that it was as if we had cooked for ourselves and suffered a loss of memory. Ordinary: We piled our plates with food and took them to a table on a screened-in porch. Ordinary: We praised the meal as if one our party had prepared it. Our performance was spontaneous, heartfelt, if unnatural; it had the feeling of the first practice of a rock band.
The Aerobie looks like a cock ring to Josh because he discovered a cock ring in his father’s backpack a year earlier, shortly before his parents separated. He’s getting acquainted with what it might mean to have a stepmother by watching his potential stepmother strive to be convivial with her own stepmother. He’s just started to play in garage bands with other kids, and this is the first time he draws an analogy between a band trying to get its shit together and an ad hoc family trying to act like a real family. When he grows up, he’ll seek to make a band work as a substitute for a family, and then he’ll try to make a family work as a substitute for a band. I try to dramatize the way apparently unexceptional moments carry the seeds of the future, traces of the past.
Learn more about the book and author at Benjamin Nugent's website.

See Benjamin Nugent top six books on the mannerisms of 20- & 30-somethings.

--Marshal Zeringue