Thursday, June 2, 2016

"The 100 Year Miracle"

Ashley Ream got her first job writing for newspapers when she was 16. Since then her career has taken her all over the Midwest, Gulf, and West Coasts with more moves than she would care to count. She is now finally and happily settled in Seattle, where she lives with her husband and runs ultramarathons. Her debut novel, Losing Clementine, was short-listed for the Balcones Fiction Prize.

Ream applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The 100 Year Miracle, and reported the following:
The 100 Year Miracle tells the story of Dr. Rachel Bell, a scientist studying a very rare phenomenon. Once a century, tiny sea creatures that live in the water around a small Washington island hatch and make the bay glow like an aurora. Following a childhood incident, Rachel has been in constant pain, and she secretly believes the creatures contain a chemical that could cure her.

On page 69, she has just experimented on herself for the first time, taking a tincture made from the tiny animals, which are similar to brine shrimp. This is the moment when the side effects become clear.
Compared to LSD, the visual effects were minor. There were no melting faces. She didn’t suddenly see only in black and white. Time did speed up for a moment and then slow down. It wasn’t easy to follow a lot of text on her computer screen. Side effects. They were side effects. A minor inconvenience she would happily tolerate if it meant feeling like this for the rest of her life.

“You want a soda?”

Rachel blinked. She couldn’t clear her mind, but she could concentrate harder. She tried that. “What?”

Hooper was standing over her. She didn’t remember how he’d gotten there. His face had more and deeper lines than usual. The wrinkles had turned to folds. It was, of course, the light. The white tents they’d set up on the beach just beyond the water’s edge had the kind of lightbulbs hanging from the supports that she associated with mechanic shops. They plugged straight into an extension cord, which plugged into their generator, and each bulb had a little aluminum half shell around its backside. They made for odd shadows and pockets of light and dark under the tent. It made Hooper look strange. It probably made her look strange, too. Rachel didn’t want to look strange. She tried to do a better job of arranging her face.

“I asked if you wanted a soda.” He was holding out a can of Diet Coke he’d pulled from the cooler. Meltwater from the ice was dripping off of it and onto the table that held three of the team’s laptops.

“Yes,” Rachel said. “Thank you.”

Hooper stood there while she opened it and took a drink. His presence made Rachel self-conscious of her movements. This was, she thought, exactly like taking magic mushrooms behind the Stop-N-Go, except this was the part when she had to go home and talk to her mother like she hadn’t been taking magic mushrooms.
It’s a critical moment in the book in other ways, too. At this point, Rachel is seven pages away from meeting Harry for the first time. Harry is a composer living on the island with his ex-wife, who is caring for him in the last stages of a degenerative disease. In other words, he’s dying. And if you’re a scientist with a crazy idea, a relationship with a patient who has nothing left to lose can open up a true Pandora’s box.

The book is classified as a “literary thriller,” which is, I think, a way of saying that it has a strong plot, but the plot is derived from the emotions, circumstances and relationships of the characters. There is no antagonist, only well-meaning people all in difficult circumstances who find themselves at cross-purposes. Someone will win and someone won’t, and their own lives may hang in the balance.
Learn more about the book and author at Ashley Ream's website.

--Marshal Zeringue