Tuesday, June 12, 2018

"The Bookshop of Yesterdays"

Amy Meyerson is a graduate of Wesleyan University and the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California.

Meyerson applied the Page 69 Test to The Bookshop of Yesterdays, her first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 marks at a key shift for our protagonist, Miranda Brooks. Miranda has recently returned to her hometown, Los Angeles, where she discovers that her estranged and recently deceased Uncle Billy not only has left her his bookstore, Prospero Brooks, but a scavenger hunt within the novels on its shelves. Miranda hasn’t seen Billy in 16 years, not since he and her mother had a bitter fight, and the scavenger hunt provides Billy the opportunity to reveal the past to Miranda.

If you’re thinking, Miranda…Prospero…an estrangement between siblings…isn’t that a reference to The Tempest? you’re right! The novel is full of literary references. At its heart, however, it’s a book about family. From the description above, it probably sounds like it’s about Miranda’s relationship with Billy, but it’s really about her relationship with her mother, which starts to come into focus on page 69.

Miranda’s mother, Susan, has been cagey with Miranda about Billy, refusing to attend his funeral and frequently insisting that she isn’t mourning his death. On page 69 Miranda realizes that her mother’s evasiveness is fraught: “I didn’t know how it hadn’t occurred to me before. Mom was keeping a secret.” This secret has everything to do with why she and Billy stopped speaking and begins to threaten Miranda’s relationship with her mother.

From here, Miranda begins to question what she really knows about her mother. When she goes outside to tell her mom that dinner is almost ready, Miranda narrates,
“I found Mom outside, holding a pair of shears as she decided which flowers to cut for the table. Behind her, the sky was ignited in a rich orange lined in pink. I couldn’t see the setting sun, but it left its legacy across the sky.

“Tonight’s an amaranth night,” Mom said, watching the sky. “Amaranth’s not right.”

“It’s carmine. And cerise,” I said. Being raised by Mom, I could name more colors than most people knew existed. That was my skill as the daughter of a decorator, but I didn’t want to talk about shades of pink, the glorious hues of Southern California sunsets. “Dad says dinner’s close.” I snuck a final glance at her, trying to remember when she’d become that way, hesitating before she responded in conversation, when she’d fallen into the habit of covering her mouth as she laughed, when she’d replaced her red nail polish with nude, her crimson lipstick with vitamin E stick. She still listened to Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac, still meditated for ten minutes each morning, but at some point, everything she owned had faded to muted shades of pink.”
I cheated a little at the end here and continued to the top of page 70, but I wanted to include the full paragraph because this is a pivotal moment for Miranda. She’s beginning to understand that her mother had an entire life before her, one she can never understand. This gets at the essence of the novel: what we can and can’t know about the past; what we can and can’t know about our parents. I love that the page 69 test was able to highlight this central theme.
Visit Amy Meyerson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue