Wednesday, April 29, 2020

"Empire City"

Matt Gallagher is the author of the novels Empire City and Youngblood, a finalist for the 2016 Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Esquire, The Paris Review and Wired, among other places. He’s also the author of the Iraq war memoir Kaboom and coeditor of, and contributor to, the short fiction collection Fire & Forget: Short Stories from the Long War.

Gallagher applied the Page 69 Test to Empire City and reported the following:
Much of page 69 in Empire City consists of a formative wartime memory of Sebastian Rios, one of the novel's main characters:
Sebastian yawned and his right leg began twitching. He took off his sunglasses and chewed on one of the ends. Then he popped a blue Valium from his pocket and wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. It's all good, he thought. All good. Something about the noise, and the sweat, and the flashing lights, and all the talking with Flowers, made him think of the night he'd been rescued. The short guy with the asterisk scar had gone home, so the other militants had unbound him and let him join the dominoes game. The one with the crooked smile and construction-worker hands knew bits of English and was asking why America could put a man on the moon but not bring electricity to the lands it invaded. It was a fine question and Sebastian hadn't known the answer. Then the helicopters came on like a tempest, and the whole building began shaking. They'd bound and blindfolded him again and hid him in a pile of loose blankets and boxes and told him not to even think about making a sound and they all grabbed their AKs and ran upstairs and gunshots rang out in mad, dizzy minutes and then there was a pause like a long echo and he smelled ice of all things so he'd sat up and pushed off the blindfold against a box corner just in time to see the whole world turn to the brightest, darkest star and-
Though certainly a bit biased as the novel's author, I think the "Page 69 Test" works very well for Empire City. It grapples with ideas and themes prevalent to the novel as a whole, and gives readers a sense of the style and language they can find throughout the book. (Particularly in the chapters following Sebastian, as he is one of three protagonists in the story.)

One of Empire City's most prominent themes is how we all, at times, alter the past for the sake of the present, and this memory of a hostage raid gone awry links many characters in my story, whether military veterans or civilians, such as Sebastian. Indeed, finding the hidden truths of the raid's particulars will soon become Sebastian's raison d'ĂȘtre, though he's only just beginning that journey on this page. Of the three protagonists, he's the most introspective, so these moments in scene when he slips off by himself to escape and "think" (or daydream, in this case) fits the interiority of his character and allows me as the author to build out the wider backstory of Empire City.
Visit Matt Gallagher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue