Friday, July 29, 2016

"Ghosts of Bergen County"

Dana Cann was born in Santa Barbara, California, and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. He's worked in commercial banking, corporate finance, and restructuring.

His short stories have been published in The Sun, The Massachusetts Review, The Gettysburg Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Florida Review, and Blackbird, among other journals. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. Cann earned his M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his debut novel, Ghosts of Bergen County, and reported the following:
Ghosts of Bergen County is a ghost story about overcoming grief. Page 69 features a telephone conversation between two main characters, Mary Beth and Gil, a married couple whose baby was killed two years earlier in a hit and run. Mary Beth, recovering from major depression, has developed a routine where she goes to a nearby elementary school playground for dismissal. Today she calls Gil from her cell phone, and tells him she’s out for a walk. Gil asks:
“You’re fine?”

“I’m just tired.” A child screamed behind her.

“Where are you?”

“At the School on the Ridge. Everyone’s hanging out. The ice cream man is parked at the curb like a crack dealer.” She tried on a smile. She thought he’d appreciate the joke. Instead he was earnest:

“You should get yourself a treat.”

“The line’s too long.”

She heard his breathing. Probably walking in Midtown. He worked in private equity. He bought and sold companies. She didn’t know which ones. Then a transaction would hit the press, and he’d copy the headline and e-mail it to her under the subject My Deal. He kept secrets well.
This phone call represents the first interaction between Gil and Mary Beth in the novel’s present time. It’s no coincidence that it occurs when the two are geographically miles apart and figuratively tiptoeing around each other in the things that they say. The scene is rendered from Mary Beth’s point of view. But this same phone call (and dialogue) also occurred in the previous chapter, rendered from Gil’s point of view.

I swiped this device—repeating a scene from a different point of view—from Russell Banks and his novel The Sweet Hereafter, another work about overcoming grief. The Sweet Hereafter utilizes multiple points of view to tell the story of a school bus accident and its aftermath. While Banks’s novel is largely rendered linearly, one scene—in which two characters visit the school bus involved in the accident—occurs twice, each time rendered from the other character’s point of view. It’s a fascinating, memorable scene, and I wanted to capture something like it in Ghosts of Bergen County.
Visit Dana Cann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue