Monday, March 24, 2014

"Roosevelt's Beast"

With his most recent novels, Roosevelt's Beast, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar® and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

Bayard applied the Page 69 Test to Roosevelt's Beast and reported the following:
Ah, the old Soixante-neuf Test! So fun.

By the 69th page of Roosevelt’s Beast, Kermit Roosevelt is in deep shit. He and his father have been captured by unnamed Indians and are being held for reasons still unknown. Kermit has woken up in a small enclosed dark space – a hut, perhaps – and is being gently interrogated by a young woman named Luz, who speaks Portuguese. He is disconcerted by her nudity, but the source of his arousal at the top of the page is not Luz but his fiancĂ©e. “In a flash, it was Belle standing in this dark enclosure. Belle’s naked shoulders, burning in the darkness. Belle’s breasts….” This suppressed eroticism – the hunger of a young man unable to be with his woman – will play through the rest of the book.

Kermit has recognized that Luz is an outlier herself, and for the rest of the page, he courts her as an ally in escaping. He promises to return her to her home—better still, America! “In America, everyone is free,” he says. But freedom and America mean nothing to Luz, and here is another theme writ small: the limits of the colonialist impulse.

At last Kermit despairs of his tactics. “All this time he had wasted on rhetoric, on persuasion. When what was truly needed—he could hear the Colonel barking it—was action.” Meet the other key character of the book: Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who is lying somewhere in that dark enclosure and whose grand idea of exploring an uncharted Amazonian river is the reason they’re in this mess in the first place. And whose notions of right and wrong will be profoundly challenged by all that follows.

Not a bad harvest from a single page. Soixante-neuf, I salute you.
Learn more about the book and author at Louis Bayard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Black Tower.

The Page 69 Test: The Pale Blue Eye.

The Page 69 Test: The School of Night.

--Marshal Zeringue