Friday, August 22, 2014

"The Spark and the Drive"

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

His fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison applied the Page 69 Test to The Spark and the Drive, his debut novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
“When my little sister was a baby,” I said, “she got a fever like a hundred and five. We had to take her to Emergency. She was laying in my lap. She needed a drink, but we didn’t have her bottle, we forgot it. She lost her voice she was so thirsty. Her eyes were all pink. Her fingers were burning up. I thought she was going to die, like I was seeing it happen. I mean she was just holding on to my finger.”

We were both sitting on milk crates at this point with the engine between us, and I could only see his legs under the exhaust ports. The legs were still.

“We get to the hospital, and my mom runs in with her. I’m just sort of wandering around between cars. I remember being in this Chinese restaurant all of a sudden, and the hostess was talking to me. Your brain just shuts off. All I could think was, she’s not coming home again. She never even said a word yet. She never walked. She never did anything wrong. If she didn’t make it, man, I don’t know what I would have done.”

I had to get up. I went over and leaned against the bay door, where I stared at the ground and smoked half a cigarette. When I came back to the engine Nick was frowning at the bearing cap, turning his coarse-toothed Snap-On ratchet so slowly you could count the clicks.

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Just talking.”

He lit a cigarette.

“Your turn,” I said.

“What do you say we quit playing Sigmund Freud and get back to work.”
In this passage, Justin, the 18-year-old narrator, is rebuilding an exotic muscle car engine with his mentor, Nick Campbell, the greatest muscle car mechanic in New England. The engine was actually more than exotic -- it was, at the time, the most powerful American production engine, a '69 ZL1 427, one of only two built. There's a lot riding on Nick's rebuilding it correctly. In the past year, he lost his baby son to SIDS, and since then his work has been coming back for amateur mistakes he's made as a result of his grief. Justin knows that if Nick keeps screwing up, he's going to lose the shop. Justin's plan is to get Nick to open up and exorcise his inner demons so that he can be great again. But in the coming pages, Justin will find exactly out how precarious his meddling in Nick's personal business will become.
Visit Wayne Harrison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue