Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Which Way Tree"

Elizabeth Crook novels include The Night Journal, which received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and Monday, Monday, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014 and winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Crook applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Which Way Tree, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Which Way Tree drops us right into the middle of the action. The murderous, legendary panther known as El Demonio de Dos Dedos—The Two-Toed Demon—has returned for a second time to the Shreve homestead after mauling Samantha Shreve and killing her mother on its first visit. Now Benjamin, fourteen years old, and Samantha, twelve, are orphaned and living alone in a shoddy cabin at the edge of the wilderness in the hill country of Texas during the chaotic years of the Civil War.

Samantha, having longed for the panther to return so she could exact justice, has awakened in the night to the sound of the panther slaughtering goats in the goat pen, grabbed a pistol that is loaded with cheap and possibly useless gunpowder made from bat guano, and defied Benjamin by charging outside to shoot the panther. Benjamin has run after her. He finds her in the goat pen, facing the panther, which has dropped the kid it has killed and locked its eyes on her. Samantha is frozen in fear, and Benjamin, afraid she will fire the gun and the lousy powder will fail, makes his way into the pen to help her, hoping that by leaving the gate open the panther will run out.

It does not run out. Instead, as Benjamin tells us in his plainspoken voice: “The panther then turned its face to me. Its yellow eyes in the light of my lantern was like two holes showing a fire burning inside the creature’s skull.”

In Benjamin’s words:
Sideways was how I made my way over to Sam whilst keeping a eye on the panther and holding the lantern high. I got so scared I almost thought it would be a relief if I laid down and give myself up. I thought I should maybe do that, and allow Samantha to live. Then I thought maybe not. If I was to die she might as well pass on with me, as she was bound to be in a heap of trouble throughout her whole life without me.

The wind was again blowing hard. It tossed the light about and I though it might put it out. It was a long, long journey across that small pen, I will tell you what. I recall the feel of the goat shat under my bare feet, the wind blowing dust in my eyes, the fickle light of the lantern, and the way the panther kept up a ominous growl.

When I got close to Samantha she had the shakes all over, but she was still aiming the pistol. I figured if she was to pull the trigger the ball would drop like a stream of piss. I thought, If you bet your whole life on bat shat I ain’t going to hardly cry for you. I feared talking, except under the wind. I said, Come with me.

She said, I can kill it.

I said, If you try and the powder’s bad, it’ll pick the puniest of us.
In every possible way, page 69 is indicative of the other 272 pages of The Which Way Tree, revealing the tone set by Benjamin’s honest storytelling, the rapid pace of the tale, and the driving force behind it: Samantha and her unquenchable need for revenge.
Visit Elizabeth Crook's website.

The Page 69 Test: Monday, Monday.

--Marshal Zeringue