Tuesday, July 6, 2021

"Lights Out in Lincolnwood"

Geoff Rodkey is the New York Times best-selling author of many children’s books, including the Tapper Twins and Chronicles of Egg series; We’re Not From Here; and Marcus Makes a Movie, a collaboration with actor Kevin Hart. He’s also the Emmy-nominated screenwriter of Daddy Day Care and RV, among other films.

Rodkey applied the Page 69 Test to Lights Out in Lincolnwood, his first novel for adults, and reported the following:
Some context for what’s happening as page 69 of Lights Out in Lincolnwood begins:

Fiftyish suburban dad Dan Altman is in an overcrowded New Jersey Transit commuter train en route to Manhattan on an unremarkable Tuesday morning…when the train suddenly loses electrical power, and everyone’s phones, laptops, and other electronics mysteriously go dark. After a few moments of bewilderment mixed with irritation on the part of the commuters, they hear and feel (but mostly don’t see) an airplane crash in the middle distance, which plunges the entire train car into a collective panic.

Dan’s seated at a rear-facing window, and the terrified young woman next to him demands that he open the window’s emergency exit. While trying to stand up and turn himself around in the cramped space, one of Dan’s AirPods falls from his ear and out of view. As page 69 begins, he’s still trying to maneuver himself into a position where he can pull the emergency exit lever:
He also felt a competing—possibly irrational, yet strangely insistent—urge to locate his missing AirPod.

Dan began to shift clockwise, putting his foot back down on the floor and bending his knees awkwardly to negotiate the 270-degree turn that would leave him facing the window. As he turned, he kept his eyes down, hoping to catch a glimpse of the little white earpiece.

“I just dropped my—”

OPEN THE FUCKING WINDOW!” his seatmate shrieked. He looked back at her, startled—and got a brief glimpse of her eyes burning with fury, so close to his that he could see tiny red veins spiderwebbing the whites around her dark brown irises.

Then he hit his head on the luggage rack.



“I’m trying!”

A few feet away in the aisle, people were yelling and pushing as they tried to shove their way toward the back of the car, away from whatever it was that had so terrified the passengers up at the front windows.

With a heroic twist that nearly blew out his knee, Dan managed to turn all the way back around to face the window. But then his wedged-in messenger bag blocked him from getting his right knee up and completing the maneuver.

AirPods are backordered at the Apple Store. It’ll take weeks to


The third occupant of the seat was screaming at him now, too.
The Page 69 test works pretty well for Lights Out in Lincolnwood. It’s a dark comedy about a mass technological breakdown that might mean the collapse of civilization, a minor pain in the neck, or anything in between—and because the loss of power robs the characters of all their news sources, nobody in the story can get a handle on which threat level is the correct one.

As a result, Dan and the rest of the characters have to make their own decisions about what’s happening, and how urgently they should respond to the situation. If it’s an apocalyptic event, the correct response is going to look very different than it would if it turns out to be a short-term problem.

On a micro level, this is exactly what’s happening on page 69. Is the panic spreading through the crowded train car justifiable, in which case Dan’s getting the exit window open is a matter of literal life and death?

Or is the hysteria unwarranted, and the passengers’ lives aren’t actually in immediate danger (how far away was that plane crash, anyway)? In which case, maybe it isn’t that irrational for Dan to take a moment to find his AirPod and spare himself both the expense and the hassle of having to replace it later.

To be fair, Dan’s preoccupation with his AirPod is probably misguided under almost any scenario. But in the pressure of the moment, rationality is in short supply. And as Lights Out in Lincolnwood unfolds, this juxtaposition of minor everyday problems with major existential ones gives the book both its story tension and its humor.
Visit Geoff Rodkey's website.

Q&A with Geoff Rodkey.

--Marshal Zeringue