Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Night of the Comet"

George Bishop holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where he won the department’s Award of Excellence for a collection of stories. He has spent most of the past decade living and teaching overseas in Slovakia, Turkey, Indonesia, Azerbaijan, India, and Japan. He now lives in New Orleans.

Bishop's stories and essays have appeared in The Oxford American, Third Coast, Press, American Writing, and The Turkish Daily News, among others.

His first novel, Letter to My Daughter, was published by Ballantine Books in 2010.

Bishop applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel Night of the Comet, also by Ballantine, and reported the following:
The Night of the Comet is set in a small town in Louisiana against the backdrop of the coming of Comet Kohoutek in 1973. The story centers on the Broussard family: Alan, a frustrated high school science teacher; Lydia, his bored and neglected wife; Megan, their 17-year-old wannabe hippie daughter; and Alan Junior, a 14-year-old kid in his dad’s science class, and the narrator of the story.

I’m a little nervous about trying out the Page 69 Test on my novel. What if this turns out to be the most boring page in the book? But let’s see what I’ve got. In this scene, the Broussards have invited over their rich new neighbors from across the bayou. Junior is in love with their beautiful daughter, Gabriella. His older sister has spirited away Gabriella to her bedroom, and Junior is trying to eavesdrop on their conversation from his room next door.
My sister, I imagined, would be trying to educate Gabriella about music, and Bob Dylan and the origins of the folk movement in Greenwich Village. I knew the talk; I’d heard it plenty of times myself. So much of the music they played on the radio was just awful, Megan would say. People here didn’t even know good music when they heard it; you couldn’t even find any good records here. All the decent music got left behind somewhere on the other side of Nashville. By the time it trickled down to us here in no-man’s land, all that was left were The Osmonds, and The Carpenters, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, and all that other insufferable sugarcoated crap. If you really wanted to hear good music, she’d say, becoming insistent and superior as she did whenever she talked about it, if you really wanted to meet the cool people, you had to go to the source: New York City. That’s where she’d be right now if she had any choice in the matter. You could bet that as soon as she was old enough to travel on her own, she’d be out of here, away from these dismal swamps and the rednecks boys with their Camaros, and the empty-headed girls who dated them and married them and wanted nothing more than to raise their own litters of more redneck boys and girls...

I gave up and pulled away from the wall and gazed out the window. From my bed I could see the thin crescent moon hanging low in the sky. It looked like a tilted bowl filled with a bright, silvery liquid, ready to overspill. The sight of it gave me a strange, aching emptiness. As though the moonlight had rendered the walls of our house transparent, I could picture Gabriella sitting on the floor of my sister’s room, not two feet away. She was listening politely to my sister, nodding her head in time to the music while turning over an album cover in her hands. Her luxurious hair fell around her shoulders. She was so close that I might have reached out and stroked her hair, taken hold of her hand...

I groaned, grabbed a pillow, squeezed it to chest, and rolled back and forth on my bed while whispering her name: Gabriella. Gabriella. Gabriella.
Okay, that wasn’t so bad.

One thing this passage manages to do is reflect the themes that are played out in the rest of the novel, namely, the isolation and loneliness of small-town life; the belief that a better world must surely exist elsewhere; the magical, transporting power of heavenly bodies; and the constant gravitational pull of lust and desire in all its many forms. As Kohoutek draws closer, the family’s dissatisfactions and frustrations will build until they reach their inevitable climax on the disastrous night of the arrival of the comet.
Learn more about the book and author at George Bishop's website.

Writers Read: George Bishop.

--Marshal Zeringue