Thursday, September 23, 2021

"Summer Sons"

Lee Mandelo is a writer, critic, and occasional editor whose fields of interest include speculative and queer fiction, especially when the two coincide. They have been a past nominee for various awards including the Nebula, Lambda, and Hugo; their work can be found in magazines such as, Clarkesworld, and Nightmare. Aside from a brief stint overseas learning to speak Scouse, Mandelo has spent their life ranging across Kentucky, currently living in Lexington and pursuing a PhD at the University of Kentucky.

They applied the Page 69 Test to their new novel, Summer Sons, and reported the following:
Page sixty-nine of Summer Sons actually hits a real sweet spot for the novel overall! The browsing reader gets a glimpse of the mood—or, to be more accurate, the visceral spook-factor—as well as the escalating conflict between our protagonist Andrew, his gruesomely personal haunting, and the life his dead best friend left behind. Fresh off of arguments with both his inherited roommate and his ex-girlfriend about the nature of Eddie’s death, suicide or otherwise, Andrew is in the midst of polishing off a bottle of bourbon when he notices something off about the closet. And as he goes to check it out…
He braced his wrist on the doorjamb and sat on his heels, stone still with his face tucked against the crook of his elbow to hide. It isn’t him. It isn’t really him.

Floorboards creaked scant inches to his left, but he refused to lift his head and look. He wasn’t asleep; he wasn’t on the cusp of sleep; he was awake. Manifestations this physical were not supposed to happen while he was awake, gloaming light shining through the big bold windows in streaks of red-gold, but Eddie had always been an exception to the rules. Don’t, he thought, but he reacted instinctively to the first brush across the knobs of his spine with a yearning, flexing shudder.

An icy burning gripped the back of his neck in the rough outline of fingers, their shape more familiar than his face in the mirror. Against good judgement and survival instinct he leaned into the too-solid hold. It hurt, but he missed that touch so much, even this noxious remnant.

“Stop,” he whispered again.

The papers rustled along their edges. Crouching in the hidden hollow of the closet, scruffed by the revenant that dogged his heels, he felt terribly and paradoxically alive. Rank breath drifted past his ear and cheek. The punishing grip pushed until his head bowed forward, forcing him to stare unseeing at his shoes, but the haunt kept going. It pushed until his skin chafed and his vertebra cracked, until the boundaries between its false flesh and his skin gave out. The cold sank straight through the gagging constriction of his throat to the cavern of his chest, grasping at him from the inside out. Blood and dirt were all he tasted in his drooling mouth, choked on the phantom’s invasive presence. His first sleep on native soil dredged itself up behind his eyes: wrists cut to exposed muscle, a frantic retreat from the fact of death. He echoed the vision’s desperate call for survival: I am awake I am awake I am awake
That brief scene practically oozes with the fear and longing Andrew’s tangled up in as he begins to unravel the secrets of Eddie’s final weeks alive. Even though he knows the ghost is bad news, he can’t help but give it his attention—it’s all he’s got left of his friend. Miserable co-dependent southern boys, that’s the Summer Sons vibe. And while it doesn't necessarily offer much about the broader plot, there's one other significant thing about page sixty-nine: the fact that the haunting is no longer following ‘the rules’ Andrew is used to clues the reader in that things are about to get much, much worse.
Visit Lee Mandelo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

"Feral Creatures"

Kira Jane Buxton's writing has appeared in The New York Times,, McSweeney’s, The RumpusHuffington Post, and more. Her debut novel Hollow Kingdom was an Indie Next pick, a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, the Audie Awards, and the Washington State Book Awards, and was named a best book of 2019 by Good Housekeeping, NPR, and Book Riot. She calls the tropical utopia of Seattle home and spends her time with three cats, a dog, two crows, a charm of hummingbirds, five Steller's jays, two dark-eyed juncos, two squirrels, and a husband.

Buxton applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Feral Creatures, and reported the following:
On page 69 of Feral Creatures, our crowtagonist, S.T. is chronicling his flights to the Nightmute library in Alaska. A flightless crow, he must travel on the back of his bald eagle ally, Migisi. The purpose of these trips is to find reading material to educate and buoy the spirits of his charge, Dee. Dee is the last child on earth and S.T. the crow vows to do everything corvidly possible to keep her alive.

I’d say the Page 69 Test works very well for Feral Creatures. It certainly showcases the waggish, witty banter of S.T., our intrepid and loquacious crow. It details where the book begins as S.T. is describing his flight over the Alaskan tundra. It chronicles the specific fauna and flora S.T. spots below him (“We soared over the fiery crimson takeover of dwarf birch, over moose (Meese? Moosees? Dammit, from here on let’s just call them gangly Canadian coatracks) and lemmings and black spruces"), which is certainly indicative of a novel that extols the virtues of nature. It hints at the dilapidation and ruin of buildings in this post-apocalyptic tale and the emptiness of a world without humans who succumbed to a mysterious virus. It even hints at climate change, which continues to be a threat through the pages of Feral Creatures despite the absence of the human race (“even through the worsening storms that plagued us, whose waves pounded us like the fists of impatient gods”). S.T.’s dedication to Dee and commitment to her education is evident across the page as well as being the very impetus for these flights to the Nightmute library. At the end of page 69, S.T. admits to working hard to evolve his own reading ability for Dee’s education as well as confessing to falling in love with poetry. Very specifically, he professes his love for the verses of Emily Dickinson and page 69 ends with a Dickinson poem that S.T. completely misinterprets to be about the apocalypse and how handsome crows are!
Visit Kira Jane Buxton's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kira Jane Buxton & Ewok.

My Book, The Movie: Hollow Kingdom.

The Page 69 Test: Hollow Kingdom.

My Book, The Movie: Feral Creatures.

Q&A with Kira Jane Buxton.

--Marshal Zeringue