Wednesday, April 15, 2020

"St. Ivo"

Joanna Hershon is the author of five novels: St. Ivo, Swimming, The Outside of August, The German Bride and A Dual Inheritance.

She applied the Page 69 Test to St. Ivo and reported the following:
Page 69 of St. Ivo is a conversation between a married couple, Sarah and Matthew, who were mugged the previous evening, and their friend Kiki, who they're visiting for a weekend in the country, and with whom they haven’t been in touch for many years. Sarah is privately struggling not to fall apart due to circumstances unrelated to the mugging, but the mugging seems to have pushed her further toward an emotional free fall. Though she admits that he did the correct thing in handing over all of their possessions and not fighting the mugger, who was armed, Sarah resents how her husband didn’t put up a fight, how he relented so easily.

The Page 69 test for St. Ivo works fairly well. It sets up the tension between our main couple, Sarah and Matthew, while introducing their friend Kiki and the tone of their initial reunion, which is important to the story. It gives a flavor and a sense of the dialogue, which is key to the novel, but it doesn’t address the main focus of the story which is Sarah’s relationship with her missing daughter and how to learn to live while in a state of utter uncertainty. Also, page 69 doesn’t reflect how internal much of the novel is, in addition to being dialogue-heavy.

I have done the Page 69 test for several of my previous novels and I've always felt it is—interestingly-- a good reflection of the novel. I also think it might be worth mentioning something that Stephen Koch, who was my professor at Columbia University said, while I was in his workshop in the MFA program (where I now teach). He said, if you get to page 70 (or maybe in was 75) and you can feel the ending of your novel, you are writing a novel. If you can’t feel the end— not the literal plot but the feeling of the end, the sense of it— then you probably don’t have a novel yet. You are working towards something but it might not be a novel. I have found this to be true of all of my five novels. When I’ve arrived at page 70 (or so!) I ask myself if I can feel the ending and I always can, even if I haven’t outlined it or even considered the end quite yet. I think the Page 69 test works, perhaps for a similar reason. By page 69 we are approaching a place in the novel where things should be falling into place, whether thematically or plot-wise— or even simply language-wise, the particular cadence— and as readers we are being given a subconscious moment on which to hang our hats. It’s usually a moment that invites us to settle in for a while.
Learn more about the author and her work at Joanna Hershon's website.

The Page 69 Test: The German Bride.

The Page 69 Test: A Dual Inheritance.

--Marshal Zeringue