Thursday, July 23, 2020

"The Vanishing Sky"

L. Annette Binder was born in Germany and immigrated to the U.S. as a small child. She holds degrees in classics and law from Harvard, an MA in comparative literature from the University of California at Berkeley, and an MFA from the Program in Writing at the University of California, Irvine. Her short fiction collection Rise received the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. She lives in New Hampshire.

Binder applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Vanishing Sky, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, The Vanishing Sky, the younger son, Georg — who is in a Hitler Youth group shoring up Germany’s western fortifications — is caught in an Allied bombing raid and some of the boys in his group are killed:
The planes hovered in the air, and everything was still. Only the bombs were moving. They fell from the sky. Georg saw them fall, slowly, slowly, saw them glint for a moment and pick up speed. The thunderclap came next, a rumbling that seemed to start in his belly, the sound of rocks rolling down a hill. Boys jumped into ditches. They lay on their stomachs and covered their faces. Four trucks lifted from the road and their fuel canisters popped. The debris flew out in all directions and hit the boys who’d been walking closest. Their jackets fluttered like birds and fell to the ground. Things arced and pirouetted and shot flames .They moved with a strange grace.

Georg held his hands against his ears. He lay under the trees, and Graf was there beside him, but he didn’t know where Müller was. He hadn’t seen him since the early afternoon. When the sky was quiet again they ran to the road. They found Schneider first, and two younger boys beside him. They were black from the heat, and their eyes were flat and had no shine. Dull as fish the way they looked toward the branches, not even surprise in their faces. Georg touched Schneider’s wrist. He held it and set it back down.
The page 69 test works relatively well for The Vanishing Sky. It takes readers straight into a key scene early in the novel. This scene gives readers a good idea of the dangers Georg is facing, how scared he is, and why he might choose to run away from his post just a few chapters later. It also gives readers a sense of the setting, the prose rhythm and the “feel” of the novel.

The downside of the test is that it doesn’t show the dangers posed by the Nazi regime itself, which are much more insidious and terrifying than those from the incoming Allies. It also doesn’t introduce the readers to Etta, the mother of the Huber family, who is in many ways the heart of the novel. Since the story alternates between Georg’s and Etta’s chapters until they come together near the end, no matter which page readers pick, they’ll only get a partial view of the characters. Still, this moment in the story isn’t a bad place for a browsing reader to land.
Visit L. Annette Binder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue