Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"He's Gone"

Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and a National Book Award finalist whose books—including Honey, Baby, Sweetheart; The Queen of Everything; The Secret Life of Prince Charming; The Six Rules of Maybe; Stay; and The Story of Us—are published and translated worldwide. She lives with her family in Seattle.

Caletti applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, He's Gone, and reported the following:
He's Gone is my tenth novel. It’s a particularly important one to me, not only because it’s number ten, but also because it’s my first novel for adults after nine others for young adults. I was curious to see what might be on page 69, and I was hoping it might be representative of the book as a whole. Here’s what I found. It continues on to page 70, to finish the paragraph:
“I can’t do this,” he said, and then he kissed me again, or I kissed him, and we thrashed and tore and parted. A kiss only, but dear God.

I got back in my car, and he stood there at the doorway to his building again, arms behind his back, watching me drive off. I was in so far over my head that I was already drowning I just didn’t know it yet.

I only thought, I’ve been saved.


When Abby leaves, I get my car keys. Maybe it’s stupid (it feels like it is), but I leave another note for Ian. I can’t stand being in the houseboat anymore. I check my phone for messages, and then I check it several more times to make sure I haven’t turned the ringer off accidentally. I want to make sure I hear him if he calls.

“Be a good guard dog, okay?” I say to Pollux. He isn’t really a guard dog. He hides in the other room whenever he sees the vacuum cleaner.

The day is moving forward around me. I see a bread truck delivering dinner rolls to Pete’s Market. An Argosy Tour Boat (Ian calls it The Agony) is taking a new group of tourists around the lake. For the millionth time, I hear the voice over the microphone telling everyone within hearing distance that Lake Union is an actual airport runway, with an average of ten seaplane landings a day… I had gotten my period that morning. My husband is missing, and my body is moving through the month, regardless. He could be dead while I’m hunting in the bathroom cupboard for the box of tampons. I remember to get the mail. My car tabs are due. I will have to get an emission test.

It occurs to me then that Ian might be truly gone, gone forever, for whatever reason. It hits me: I might be completely on my own now. Alone with emission tests and taxes and electrical repairs and bills. My God, the world seems huge when you think of yourself against it, all the things you have to stand there and handle. Child rearing and illness and carburetors. Family fights and auto accidents and health insurance. My relationship with alone has always been a love-hate one. I’ve always loved daily-alone; when it’s you and a book or you and the dog or you and just you, when you’re blissfully released from the burden of someone else’s mood. When no one needs you, when no one expects anything of you, when there are no demands of you… It’s such a relief. But life-alone? Somewhere along the line, I guess I’ve gotten the idea that the world is a dangerous place, and that in it, I’m a small child in a dark and threatening forest. These are not things you go around admitting. Especially when you think of yourself as a strong person, which I do. I hate to say this, but even as an adult woman, I’ve felt the need for protection. Not just in empty parking garages, either. It’s possible I’ve felt this way since I was a child. Here’s the irony (or, destiny, take your pick): the places I’ve sought protection have been themselves rickety and dangerous, and I don’t know entirely why. Alone in the forest, I had first chosen a feral, hungry dog to shield me, and then I’d selected a companion with two broken legs and an empty canteen. Faced with my own freedom, I’ve gotten trapped behind glass, same as Ian’s butterflies.
The juicy beginning of page 69 might lead one to think this novel is something it’s not, but the rest is more indicative of the book’s content. He's Gone is about a woman, Dani Keller, who wakes up to find that her husband has vanished. In the days that follow, as Dani tries to determine what has happened to him and what part she might have played in his absence, she sifts through their entire relationship: their tumultuous affair, their prior marriages, even their relationships with their children. On this page, we see Dani reflecting on the affair’s beginnings, and then we see her in her current situation, attempting to make sense of his absence, struggling to figure out if Ian (a wealthy software company owner, who also collects butterflies) has simply left her and their troubled relationship for good. Or, if something worse has happened. Something she may not quite remember after a few too many drinks at a disturbing party the night before.

He's Gone is often called a psychological thriller, but the emphasis is most definitely on the “psychological.” It explores the subjects of guilt and marriage, the wrongdoings within relationships, and the way those old, treacherous voices from childhood can continue to haunt us. It asks the questions: Why do we choose the partners we do? Why do we sometimes make the same mistakes more than once? And, how do we forgive ourselves for those mistakes?

Dani is a regular person in a horrifying situation. She’s a woman who would rather get back to the good book she’s reading than be at a party, a woman who loves her daughter, and her dog, and Oreos for breakfast. But she is also a person who has looked to others – the wrong others, dangerous others - for rescue. She is, once more, in over her head. Her story is, in many respects, a confession in the broadest sense; a self-reckoning that leads to self-realization. This, all of it, is what she is guilty of. The extent of her wrongdoing, though? That’s where the “thriller” part of the story comes in. And where you, dear reader, will have to read on past page 69 to find out what happens.
Learn more about the book and author at Deb Caletti's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue