Saturday, September 7, 2013

"If I Ever Get Out of Here"

Eric Gansworth is a Professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. An enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation, he was born and raised at the Tuscarora Reservation in Niagara County in upstate New York. His short stories, poetry, and nonfiction have been printed and reprinted in many literary magazines and anthologies, and his dramatic work has appeared at the Public Theater in New York City.

Gansworth applied the Page 69 Test to his new YA novel, If I Ever Get Out of Here, and reported the following:
Page 69 is oddly an important place in this book, a short but key moment. Lewis, the protagonist, has just been extended an invitation to borrow the Paul McCartney and Wings album, Band on the Run, from which the novel gets its title. He’s in seventh grade and the offer occurs as he’s being brought home from his first visit to a home that is not on the reservation where he’s been raised. Normally, Lewis would jump at the chance to check out anything Beatles related. Their music is his major passion in life. His hesitancy arises from the person making the offer: the father of his new friend, George.

It’s the first real glimpse of many choices Lewis will face through the rest of the novel. The offer is genuine, but he’s worried first about accidentally damaging the album and how that apparent irresponsibility will reflect on him. Second, his own father has been largely absent from his life, and the uncle who lives with him is decidedly eccentric. George’s father frames the offer as a matter of trust in Lewis, and though he loves his uncle’s loose relationship to social expectations, Lewis has a desire for that kind of affirmation. Third, Lewis is keenly aware of the subservient nature of his mother’s jobs, cleaning house for wealthy white families, and he fears the act of taking the album will make him beholden to a white person, the way his mother constantly is, and that it will compromise him in similar ways.

From page 69:
“I’m happy to lend you the album,” he said, sliding a plastic bag from his side of the truck. “I thought you might want to listen to the whole thing. You can give it back to my boy at school, or just bring it the next time you’re over. I know you’ll take good care of it.”

I peeked in the bag and saw an album cover with Band on the Run on it, over a picture of what appeared to be a group of nine criminals, huddled close together, dressed in identical brown suits, and caught in a glaring spotlight in front of a brick wall. I recognized Paul McCartney as the person in the center of the group. “My ma would kill me if I took this,” I said, really thinking George’s dad would kill me if I messed it up. Albert and I were careful with albums, but our stereo just wasn’t all that good anymore.

“Son, my boy tells me about his friends, and I’ve met Artie and Stacey and a few of the others, but you’re the only person he’s really wanted to get to know since we arrived here. I trust his judgment, and I think you’ll like this. Please.”
That’s a lot of weight on a grooved vinyl disc in a cardboard sleeve, but those are the daily realities of Lewis’ life. By the end of the page, his passion wins out and he chooses to embrace the offer, which leads him into a whole other world.
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Gansworth's website.

My Book, The Movie: If I Ever Get Out of Here.

Writers Read: Eric Gansworth.

--Marshal Zeringue