Friday, August 17, 2018

"The Possible World"

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine and like most doctors, she can thoroughly ruin dinner parties with tales of medical believe-it-or-not. But she won't do that, because she knows how hard you worked to make a nice meal.

Schwarz applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Possible World, and reported the following:
The Possible World is a narrative in three voices. Page 69 is in the voice of Clare, a 99-year old woman in a care home. We’ve learned in an earlier chapter that she is carrying a lot of secrets, and may have given a false name when she was admitted to the care home twenty years before.

On page 69, she’s talking to Belinda, the head nurse in the home. Clare has just had a standoff with an aide, after discovering a new pill among the familiar ones in her cup of medications and refusing to take it. Belinda is the first speaker.
“Why do you treat people like that?” she says. “You know her name.”

“Her name doesn’t matter. She’ll move on in a year.”

“Everyone’s name matters,” says Belinda. “She knows your name.”

“Well, she’s paid to,” I say. “And it’s written on my door.”

She waits.

“Tanya then,” I say. “Tanya is giving me the wrong medicine.” I hold my hand out higher. “That’s not my pill.”

“It’s Mariah,” she says. “Not Tanya. And you knew that.”

She squints through her reading glasses at the pills. I touch each one with my forefinger.

“That’s my vitamin, and that’s my antacid, and that’s my calcium, and that’s the laxative. So what's that one?” I push it to the rim of my hand again, bring the hand up closer to her face.

“That’s a nerve pill,” Belinda pronounces.


“Green oval with a D on it? Mmm-hmm, that’s an antidepressant.” She straightens up.

I can’t make out the D, but it is green and it is oval.

“I don't take a nerve pill. That's not my medicine. Someone mixed it up.”

Belinda lifts the top page of the clipboard she’s carrying and scans the page below.

“It’s your medicine all right," she says. “Started on Monday. Dr. Evans’s orders.”

“Why in the world,” I say, staring at the little green pill.

“His note here —“ She struggles to make out the handwriting. “He says Mandy’s reported you’re withdrawn.” She looks over her readers at me. “You do spend a lot of time on your own.”

Mandy is the recreational therapist, whose spirited intrusions we all have to bear…
Before page 69, Clare has seemed curmudgeonly dismissive of everyone around her —other residents of the home, visitors, staff. But she is not dismissive of Belinda, despite the rough familiarity with which Belinda treats her. Between them, there is an undercurrent of affection and respect. It’s the first hint that Clare’s personality is still limber, and capable of trust.

Page 69 might be very beginning of the change in Clare’s story. That little green pill provokes her to make a decision (to participate in one of the recreational therapist’s activities) that ends up changing both her life and the lives of the other main characters, Ben and Lucy (who are strangers to her at this point in the story). With the interaction between Clare and Belinda, Page 69 also contains hints of larger themes in the book: how every person is much more than she or he might appear to be on the surface—the very old, the very young, the in-between— and even that perhaps nothing is what it appears to be, and the world more complex than we know.
Visit Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possible World.

Writers Read: Liese O'Halloran Schwarz.

--Marshal Zeringue