Friday, March 7, 2014


Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband (a minister) and daughter and an assortment of animals. Her debut novel, Come Sunday was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction in 2009 and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages.

Morley applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Above, and reported the following:
Excerpt from page 69:
The jet-black wig Dobbs brought me months ago, which looks like it came from a Halloween store, is still in the brown paper sack under the sink. “Go on, try it out.”

“I’m not feeling very well.”

“Do you need some castor oil?” For Dobbs, there isn’t an ailment that castor oil won’t cure.

My throat starts to constrict. My lips start tingling.

“Here, it’ll make you feel better.” Before I can stop him, he puts the wig on my head. I feel like I’m wearing someone else’s scalp.

“Goodness! What’s going on with your face?”

I can feel it swelling. My lips about ready to burst. My tongue thickens. My gums start to itch. Then, everything starts to itch—the inside of my nose, my eyes, my skin. I start gasping.
“The nuts!” he yells, jumping up. He races over to the shelf with the cubbies, and pulls out the First Aid box. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dobbs like this. He tosses everything on the floor, and finally finds what he’s looking for.

The Epi-Pen. He jabs it in my thigh. “I’m so sorry! I should’ve believed you.”

The effect is immediate.

He watches me closely, repeating over and over again how sorry he is. As soon as I can, I say, “I’d like to be alone, if you don’t mind.”

“But.” He’s taken aback.

“I want to be alone.” I look over at my cot. It has never looked quite so inviting.

He scoots his chair closer, puts his hand on my knee. “I can’t leave you like this.”

I push his hand away. In all the time I’ve been here, Dobbs has been careful about where he puts his hands. When he takes me for a walk to the entrapment vestibule or to the utility tunnel, he might fold his palm into the small of my back. If he brings me a book, he might lay his hand casually on my shoulder when I sit down and open it. But never this, such a show of affection.
Page 69 is a perfect window into Above. Dobbs, the survivalist convinced the end of the world is imminent, is keeping captive young Blythe Hallowell in a dark and dilapidated World War II-era Atlas-F missile silo. Instead of housing the A-bomb, the cavernous complex is stocked for starting life over, with everything from tomato seeds to DNA samples, and now a young woman of sound womb. So sealed off and so deep in the earth are they that insects can’t reach them, and yet the crazed, meticulous prepper has included in his provisions an Epi-pen. In this scene, Blythe is not reacting adversely to bee stings but nuts, having been forced to eat almond cake on her eighteenth birthday.

Above is much more than an abduction story, or even a survival story. It is about the resiliency of the human spirit, about those surges in a person that pierce through the crust of adversity and peril. Blythe’s will has been chipped away from failed escape attempts in previous chapters, but getting her kidnapper to do something she wants—in this case, leave her alone—is the start of her expanded understanding of what makes for freedom.

From the last paragraph it is clear that the antagonist is not what we have come to expect in most abduction cases. Here is a man of supreme self-control which makes him an even more devilish foe. But here too is a woman who is catching a glimpse of how to subvert near-insurmountable forces. Subversion and redefining the game are the weapons she will have to employ when she fights to get her son Above.
Learn more about the book and author at Isla Morley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Come Sunday.

Writers Read: Isla Morley.

--Marshal Zeringue