Wednesday, July 27, 2022

"The Nobodies"

Alanna Schubach’s fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, the Sewanee Review, the Massachusetts Review, Electric Literature, and more. She was an Emerging Writer Fellow with the Center for Fiction, a Fellow in Fiction with the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a MacDowell fellow. She earned an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York, where she works as a freelance journalist and writing teacher.

Schubach applied the Page 69 Test to The Nobodies, her debut novel, and reported the following:
The Page 69 Test offers mixed results for my novel. On the one hand, the material is rich in that the event that unfolds on this page between the main characters, Nina and Jess, has significant implications for their friendship and the narrative as a whole. On the other hand, I’m uncertain how clearly the significance comes through without the context for the unique circumstances of their friendship. Probably, a casual browser would know if they glanced at the book jacket the central premise of my novel: that Nina and Jess discover as children they have a unique power—the ability to swap bodies—and that the story will follow them over many years, exploring how they wield this power not only for good but also to manipulate, deceive, and betray each other.

The book jumps around in time, “dropping in” on Nina and Jess over 20 years. On page 69, they’re still kids who have recently discovered their power, and like kids, are experimenting with it, testing its boundaries. There’s an element of menace to their play; it ratchets up “until a vicious current seem[s] to encircle them.”

That menace is present even before the girls learn about their secret, shared ability. We follow them as build their own private little world, full of elaborate games that contain a strong whiff of danger, that allow them to feel strong, powerful, in control despite their age. One of the games is an exclusive “radio show” they create together, to make sense of (and criticize, and ridicule) the adults and other children around them. Another is the “Boyfriend Game,” in which the girls assume the roles of an imagined couple named Clyde and Giselle, and playact what they think adults in love do together. Nina feels a strong draw to this game and seems to want to play it more often than her friend; she experiences a sense of shame over this that she believes she has managed to conceal so far.

But on page 69 she finds that Jess is well aware of her private desires. The girls have switched bodies and are playing a game of impersonation, trying to mimic one another perfectly. Pretending to be Nina, Jess sheepishly asks if they can play the Boyfriend Game. For Nina:
It was the ultimate revelation: all attempts to conceal her desire for the game were proven feeble, her layers of feigned casualness peeled away to the throbbing core, the hunger for closeness with Jess that only Giselle and Clyde could deliver.

“Stop making fun of me,” she mumbled.

“I’m not!” Jess said. “I’m not.” She stood and pulled at Nina’s hands, trying to get her to her feet. “Come on,” she said. Nina allowed herself to be tugged upward, led over to the bed.
This “ultimate revelation”—that Jess knows Nina even better than Nina realized, and therefore has, at least in this way, achieved the upper hand—leads to a moment of new closeness between the two. That closeness comes with major vulnerabilities and is an important development in the ongoing power struggle the girls engage in over the course of the book. I’m happy about how much comes through on this page about the intense and complex nature of their bond, and how their power further complicates it, but I do suspect that the full weight of this scene is clear only once a reader has already read what precedes it.
Visit Alanna Schubach's website.

--Marshal Zeringue