Friday, January 30, 2015

"Uncle Janice"

Matt Burgess is the critically acclaimed author of Dogfight, A Love Story. A graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota's MFA program, he grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Uncle Janice, and reported the following:
Uncle Janice is a novel about the NYPD, specifically about a young undercover narcotics cop who’s risking her life to buy dime bags. For the purposes of this assignment I turned to page 69, hopeful I might find some tense scene to excerpt, with a bit of gunplay and a narrow escape, or a passage that might illuminate the folly of the war on drugs, or at the very least some intra-precinct shenanigans, something that might entice you to plunk down your $25.95 and add to cart, but this is what I got instead: my courageous young heroine, Janice Itwaru, at home with her mom, who’s been diagnosed with early onset dementia. And what are they doing? They’re watching Wheel of Fortune.
Janice sat next to her on the couch with their shoulders touching while Pat Sajak did his heroic best to conceal his boredom. Like Banagrams, oily fish, pumpkin seeds, and folic acid, television game shows were supposed to fortify her mother’s brain, and so Janice was forbidden to solve any of the puzzles out loud or make sarcastic comments about Vanna’s plunge line or really say anything at all until the commercials, when her mother muted the television with the remote, which lately she’d been calling the picture-stick. At the first commercial break they debated whether the middle contestant came across as cocky. (He totally did.) At the second break, Janice asked her if she wanted to go to the Salvation Army that weekend to pick out crackhead clothes.
I gotta tell you, I’m sort of delighted. The passage is a reminder to me that no matter how I may want to market it, this book is less a police procedural than a coming of age story. Janice is in her early 20s, an impossible time for anyone. She doesn’t yet know who she is because she’s so many people in so many different contexts. On the streets she acts like a fiending drug addict in crackhead clothes, at work like an ambitious shield-chaser. She’s a certain kind of person around her partner, different around other colleagues, different around her superiors, different around her ex-boyfriend, different around her mother, around her father, her older sister, at the local bar by herself, in her head, at night when she can’t fall asleep, but throughout it all she is consistently overwhelmed, trying to navigate the absurdist bureaucracy of the NYPD while retaining some sense of personal agency, whatever that might mean for her. At the end of the page 69 scene, she announces she’s solved the bonus puzzle, but she hasn’t really. She doesn’t yet know all the words. She’s faking it till she makes it, which is why I’m rooting for her and I hope you will too.
Visit the official Matt Burgess website.

--Marshal Zeringue