Tuesday, January 19, 2021

"What Could Be Saved"

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University, and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize for her short fiction, and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine, eventually returned to writing, and published her second novel, The Possible World, in 2018.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her third novel, What Could Be Saved, and reported the following:
From page 69:
...and Philip felt a knell of alarm. There was something eerie about the way he walked, his body gliding forward without any up-and-down movement.

His mother knocked on the car window. Fred, come out please. She knocked on Philip’s window too and he cracked the door open, the heat punching in, and got out to stand beside his mother. He kept his head down while she explained in loud, precisely-enunciated English—the first time her voice had seemed unpleasant to Philip—how her son was to have judo lessons on Wednesday afternoons, starting in a week’s time, after the end of school. She spoke in bracketed clumps, a sentence or two and then a pause which the driver filled with Thai, then another sentence or two and pause.

Philip sneaked looks at the ranks of silent boys. They were staring at his mother, at how she towered over the judo master, in her wide-brimmed hat with black ovals of glass over her eyes. His mother kept talking; she didn’t seem to perceive the unfriendliness rolling from the boys, or notice how the creases beside the old man’s mouth deepened every time he flicked a glance down at Philip. Finally she stopped speaking and opened her purse.

A long pause, before the old man accepted the bills from her outstretched hand. He held up two fingers, growled out Tuk wan phut Bài sŏng mong. Two o’clock Wednesday, translated Fred.

“Why in the world would they practice outdoors in the heat of the day?” his mother said, as they got back into the car. “I’ll have Harriet boil two extra bottles of water and set them aside for you in the fridge. You’ll need to take them with you, and drink them both.”

“It’s only Thai boys in the class,” said Philip in a small voice.

His mother turned toward him, took her sunglasses off.

“Have you changed your mind?” she said. The hard blue of her eyes. “Tell me right now if you have. We’ll go back and cancel.”

Philip closed his eyes. Kicking in unison with Andrew. Fear and respect on Jeremy’s face. He shook his head. “No. I want to take judo.”

“All right,” his mother said, settling back against the seat, the sunglasses folding in her hand with a clack. “You wouldn’t know the boys in the other class either,” she added, in a kinder voice. “You’ll make friends.”
In my opinion, the page 69 test works pretty well for my book!

What Could Be Saved opens when Laura Preston, a middle-aged artist in Washington DC, is contacted by a man who claims to be her brother Philip — who vanished decades before at the age of eight, when the Preston family lived in Bangkok. Laura’s older sister Beatrice is convinced that it can’t possibly be Philip, but Laura isn’t sure. The book asks Is the stranger actually Philip? as well as What happened to Philip in 1972? and goes on to answer both questions by the end. The story is told in two timelines (Washington DC in 2019, and Bangkok in 1972), and page 69 is in one of the Bangkok sections. Page 69 gives a glimpse of some tone-deaf expatriate behavior (on the part of Philip’s mother) and also shows Philip’s essential character through his point of view (perceptive and deeply anxious). In that way, page 69 shows a couple of important characters in the story, and also gives an idea of some of the themes and overall flavor of my book.
Visit Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possible World.

Writers Read: Liese O'Halloran Schwarz (August 2018).

The Page 69 Test: The Possible World.

--Marshal Zeringue