Monday, September 23, 2013

"Love and Lament"

John Milliken Thompson is the author of The Reservoir (Other Press, 2011). His articles have appeared in Smithsonian, the Washington Post, Islands, and other publications, and his short stories have been published in Louisiana Literature, South Dakota Review, and many other literary journals. He holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arkansas and lives in Virginia.

Thompson applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Love and Lament, and reported the following:
From page 69:
She admired how lithe and handsome her brother was; she thought him about as handsome as any young man she knew, and she imagined that if he were not her brother she might have feelings for him. It was wrong to even have such a thought in her head, she knew, and she took her eyes away from him and stared at the ripples around her wrists. Could he possibly think of her in the same way?
I like this test, having used it on many novels I’ve read or thought about reading. I’ve never taken page 69, but it seems about the right point for a check. For most novels, that’s about a fifth of the way in. A traditional five-act structure would put you well into the action, the characters and conflict defined and moving to some kind of turn, with underlying themes starting to develop.

The quote above is from a picnic scene out in the country, at the mill owned by a grandfather who is cold and difficult. The theme of family struggle, both within itself and within its time period, continues here.

Mary Bet has just had her first menstrual period, and she and her brother are swimming in the river. For the first time, she notices him as a young man and is confused and scared by the sexual feeling she has for him. Her large family has been reduced by one tragedy after another, and the survivors have begun turning toward each other in their grief. Mary Bet will later attempt to determine exactly what happens to Siler, this sole remaining brother—doing so is imperative for her to be able to lay certain ghosts to rest and move on with her life.

Page 69 is perhaps a little dreamier than most of the novel, but I think it gives a good sense of the rest.
Learn more about the book and author at John Milliken Thompson's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue