Friday, May 1, 2020

"Vera Violet"

Melissa Anne Peterson grew up in a rainy working-class logging town in Washington State. She received a BA and BS in writing and biology from The Evergreen State College and an MS from the University of Montana. She has worked in endangered species recovery in Washington and Montana for twelve years. Her writing has been published by Camas, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, Oregon Quarterly, and Seal Press.

Peterson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Vera Violet, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Vera Violet is at the beginning of a chapter, so it’s short. The novel’s protagonist, Vera, reminisces about the rugged landscape she grew up in, “I thought about swimming in bright blue Lake Cushman. I imagined fishing for steelhead in the Wynoochee River. I knew the water in the Chehalis ran vivid and green. In my mind, I walked and walked and never stopped dreaming.”

Later on the page, she analyzes her relationship with her brother, “Colin and I walked everywhere. We walked uptown and down. We sat in the All Night Diner for too long. We ordered one cup of coffee between us—paid for it with nickels and quarters.”

I think the page 69 test works perfectly for the book in three ways. First it shows Vera’s constant longing for home combined with the twisted complexity of her relationship with it. Next it shows that Vera is a dreamer processing trauma, and lastly it highlights the importance of her relationship with her troubled brother.

All of these things are central themes in the book.

When Vera recalls fond memories of Pacific Northwest fish and rivers it contrasts sharply with post logging environmental degradation. Watching the ecosystem fracture as fish die changes Vera. It makes her angry at the unregulated capitalism that caused such damage. Observing her parents lose social and economic power after logging became unprofitable, also makes her feel that everything she loves is vulnerable.

Vera is also a romantic reeling from a brutal reality check. The book delves into the psychology of poverty and Vera’s desperate and nervous attempt to escape from it. She keeps her own unspoken, endangered dreams of economic and social utopia. She can only imagine this paradise after violent and irrevocable change.

Change she doesn’t know how to make.

The last thing the page 69 test does is explore her connection to her brother, Colin. After her mother leaves and her father succumbs to despair, Vera becomes very close to her brother. Together, they navigate drug-riddled poverty and watch as one by one, friends and family fall to violence, prison, or addiction.

In a larger context, the page is set in the uncertain present looking back at worrisome memories. Page 69 captures the beauty, confusion, isolation, and love that recur throughout the story.
Visit Melissa Anne Peterson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue