Saturday, June 8, 2019

"The Electric Hotel"

Dominic Smith is the New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Electric Hotel, and reported the following:
The Electric Hotel takes place in the world of early silent film. It tells the story of a lost silent film that ruined the careers—and to some extent the lives—of the famous French director and actress who made it. We also follow a band of pioneering filmmakers during the rise and fall of a studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey, America’s first movie town and the place that popularized the term cliffhanger (because of the kinds of reels they made out along the Palisades cliff tops).

As it happens, page 69 of the novel is mostly white space, with just six lines of text. In a way, the white space is indicative of a theme and approach to formatting in the novel. As I was writing the book, I was conscious of the way white space is a kind of visual stand-in for silence, using it liberally, and I also wanted to emulate the formatting of early screen photoplays.

But to be fair, if I was picking up the novel in a bookstore and flipping to page 69, I’d probably turn one page over, to page 70, to get a true sense of the world and story. That page features a description of Brooklyn’s first prototype movie house, about to be opened in 1900 by Hal Bender, one of the novel’s primary characters. Early silent films were often shown between live acts on the vaudeville circuit.
Everyone agreed that Hal Bender had brought something beautiful to the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Fulton Street, even if they didn’t know what to call it. Something between a glorified storefront, a vaudeville theater, and a novelty parlor. The facade was stucco and rusticated imitation stone, but the flourishes—sculpted garlands and goddesses—were molded plaster, painted to a high gloss. From a distance, it looked like a curbside basilica, something hand-chiseled by neighborhood sinners and aspirants, but inside there were eight rows of red-plush opera chairs and the velvet drapes were tied back with golden, tasseled ropes. There was a Kimball pump organ, a mounted screen of white silk, and a stage where vaudeville acts could perform between reels.
Visit Dominic Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre.

The Page 69 Test: Bright and Distant Shores.

--Marshal Zeringue