Sunday, June 21, 2015

"Burnt River"

Karin Salvalaggio received in MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck at the University of London. Born in West Virginia and raised in an Air Force family, she grew up on a number of military bases around the United States. She now lives in London.

Bone Dust White is her first full-length novel.

Salvalaggio applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Burnt River, and reported the following:
When this writer imagines her ideal reader they always seem to be in some trendy bookstore clutching a takeaway coffee as they wander the stacks. Having managed to escape the hustle of the city, they’re enjoying the quasi-monastic interior. By good fortune they spot my latest thriller Burnt River on a table. The cover image is intriguing so they pick it up and turn it over in their hands, but here’s where this reader strays from this writer’s narrative. They don’t read the blurb or any of those hard won reviews. They simply flip through to page 69. Pressed for time this is their test. Pass it and my book finds a new reader. Fail it and they move on to the next intriguing cover.

They read.
Dylan pulled into the hospital’s parking lot and sat with the engine idling. It was the first time he’d been back since his father passed away a few years earlier. It was supposed to be a routine operation but his father had succumbed to an infection and was dead within a week. Dylan circled the crowded parking lot a few times before finally giving up and pulling into a handicapped space. He dug his badge out of the glove compartment and threw it on the dashboard. It was nearly five in the afternoon and the sun was still in full bloom. The air was clearer than it had been in weeks. In the distance a vague outline of the mountains was visible. According to the news, the wind had shifted and the authorities were hopeful that the latest wildfire was finally under control.

Jessie was sitting on a bench outside the front entrance. She had her legs tucked under her and was using an empty Diet Coke can as an ashtray. For a while they sat side by side without saying a word. He closed his eyes and let the smoke drift over him. Jessie held up the pack.

“Want one?”

“No thanks, I quit.”

“Seems the wrong time to quit.”

“Is there ever a right time?”

“Guess not.” She paused. “Thank you.”

Dylan closed his eyes again. “For what?”

Her shoulders bounced. “For coming. I didn’t think you would.”

“Now you’re just talking shit.”

“What did you tell that detective?”

“I told her everything I know, which isn’t much.”

“So you’re talking shit too.”
This writer breathes a sigh of relief. Page 69 proves to be a very interesting read indeed and surprisingly representative of the book as a whole. In the short passage we are introduced to two of my central characters Dylan and Jessie; given a sense of place; and are told outright that these two characters are not being entirely truthful to each other and an unnamed detective. The writing style is austere. The dialogue is fast paced and combative. Jessie likes to swear, smoke and drink Diet Coke. Dylan has a physical handicap, which he resents, misses smoking terribly, lost a father to illness and has talked shit to a detective. Their relationship is intimate enough to allow silences and they’re not afraid to call each other out when they know they’re not being honest. There is affection but it’s held at arms length.

These two characters are damaged and the reader wants to know why but is a little worried that the book will be a total downer. The reader skims back over the passage again and is relieved to find that the wildfires that so plague the book’s front cover are finally under control and the air was clearer than it had been in weeks. There is hope on these pages after all. The reader closes the book and once again looks at the cover. They read the blurb, the reviews and the author’s short bio. They take a quick look around to make sure they are unobserved before slipping my book into their bag.

This writer puts her head in her hands. It turns out this particular reader is a kleptomaniac. Not ideal. Here’s hoping they write a nice review…
Visit Karin Salvalaggio's website.

--Marshal Zeringue