Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Where You Can Find Me"

Sheri Joseph is the author of the novels Where You Can Find Me (Thomas Dunne Books 2013) and Stray (MacAdam/Cage 2007), as well as a cycle of stories, Bear Me Safely Over (Grove/Atlantic 2002). She has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and the Grub Street National Book Prize, among other awards. She lives in Atlanta and teaches in the creative writing program of Georgia State University.

Joseph applied the Page 69 Test to Where You Can Find Me and reported the following:
I’d actually looked at my book awhile back with “The Page 69 Test” in mind and was disappointed that it seemed to fall in a lull. Just a few pages before, or after, there was strangeness and drama. On page 67, Marlene Vincent is in the cloud forest of Costa Rica with her 14-year-old son, Caleb, newly recovered after a three-year disappearance; one minute she’s rapturous and the next gripped with an illogical rage, the feeling that this is a stranger and not her child. On page 72, we’re in Caleb’s head as he encounters what he believes to be the ghost of a girl he knew while he was missing. In comparison to either, Page 69 struck me as kind of blah: a visit to a wildlife center where Marlene’s mother-in-law, Hilda, has taken her family to show them a pair of jaguars she hopes to reintroduce into the wild.

So I was surprised when a writer friend who’d offered to interview me on stage at my first book event asked me to read from, of all pages, 69. At this point in the story, Marlene is fixedly observing Caleb as he interacts with a new friend his age, Isabel; meanwhile Stancia, who run the wildlife center, inquires after Hilda’s “missing son” (Marlene’s husband Jeff, left behind in the States). Stancia gives the group a tour of her makeshift wildlife hospital while explaining how some of the orphans came into her keeping:
“Critical age is very important,” Stancia was saying. “It is the time each animal learns what it is, if it is a coati or a motmot or a spectacled owl.” They had stopped at the cage of the owl, which blinked at them from a near branch and clacked its beak softly. “This one, he was kept by a farmer from when he was a baby, so he thinks he’s a person. He can’t unlearn that. Now he must live here always.”
So page 69, while quieter on the human drama, offers a useful glimpse of the novel’s central themes. Questions of critical age, in as much as they can be applied to human beings, have everything to do with this boy who was abducted at age 11 into a life with strangers, under traumatic and largely unknown circumstances. The key question for Caleb, and for the book, is one of identity: whether he can truly return to his family or whether he has been, like the owl or possibly the jaguars, too altered by his experience to safely fit.
Learn more about the book and author at Sheri Joseph's blog and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue