Sunday, June 6, 2021

"Olympus, Texas"

Stacey Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals, and she is a contributing editor of American Short Fiction. She is a native Texan.

Swann applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Olympus, Texas, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Olympus, Texas is the last page of a chapter that gives us our first look at Hap and Vera Briscoe together. The reader has known from the opening pages of the book that Hap’s brother March left town after an affair with Hap’s wife Vera two years ago, and March has only now returned to Olympus. The novel has also already shown March and Hap’s first meeting as well as March and Vera’s first meeting, and both of those scenes were fairly dramatic. This scene, however, is much quieter. Vera seems to want to tell Hap something but Hap defers it: “Though he is the one that started this conversation, he has no desire to listen to Vera turn over and examine every flaw in their relationship.” And he even admits to Vera that though he isn’t happy March is back, he suspects being with family again is the best thing for March. He says, “After the Army, I’m pretty sure March decided he didn’t do well alone. Didn’t do well when people expected more from him than he could give. I don’t want him back, but this is probably the best place for him. A violent version of the village idiot, one we can all take care of.”

In some ways, this page doesn’t accurately portray the overall tone of the book. It’s a quiet scene, one of the few where Vera—a very outspoken character—doesn’t say what’s on her mind or try to provoke anyone. A more emblematic scene from the book would likely contain higher emotions and more combative dialogue. On the other hand, their conversation about March is an excellent stand-in for how both Hap and Vera feel about their relationship. Both are often unhappy to be in the marriage, but both can’t shake the idea that their marriage feels like the best of two bad options for them. Throughout the book, we see how the entire Briscoe family can bring out both the best and the worst in each other.

The scene closes with Hap asking Vera if she is going to wear her brooch to dinner. The final line is: “He is so relieved when she nods, when she lets him pin it to her dress.” The reader will not understand why Hap is relieved until completing the next chapter, one of the book’s origin stories. The present-day arc of the book takes place over the course of a week, but there are also scattered chapters labeled “The Origin of” some aspect of the novel. On the next page, we get “The Origin of Hap and Vera.” Because we know early on that Vera has slept with her brother’s husband, an outrageous act, the reader will likely be curious how these two people came to get married, especially because we know Vera is extremely beautiful and Hap is not. My hope is that the next scene complicates what readers are feeling about Vera and the marriage and makes them invest more emotionally in whether the relationship survives.
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--Marshal Zeringue