Wednesday, December 7, 2022

"So Long, Chester Wheeler"

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 40 published and forthcoming books.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, So Long, Chester Wheeler, and shared the following:
From page 69:
Chapter Seven: Scrape Them

The following morning I woke up and lay on my back staring at the ceiling for a time, thinking. Then I grabbed my phone off the bedside table and called Ellie.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she said back.

We had grown surprisingly comfortable with each other.

“So, look,” I began. Then I stalled, and did not immediately tell her what it was we’d be looking at. “I’m not saying I’m actually going to do it. I’m not committing to any of this. So don’t hold me to it. I’m just asking. Let’s say, just for the sake of conversation, that I did agree to drive him to Arizona. What would we be driving? I hate to put that kind of miles on my car. Does he have a dependable car?”

“Oh,” she said, obviously surprised. “I didn’t realize you were even thinking about that. It’s kind of you to even consider it.”

“I can’t really justify why a road trip would be any worse than just sitting in that musty house with him, doing nothing.”

“I guess that’s true,” she said. “I would imagine you’d be taking his Winnebago.”

“Chester has a Winnebago? Where?”
This is a pretty quiet exchange. Not terribly exciting. I think the reader would get a better sense of what’s at stake in this story if the horrible Chester Wheeler appeared on page 69, being horrible, as is his habit.

But this conversation with Chester’s daughter—the one who roped Lewis, our hero, into providing end-of-life care for her father by being needy and likeable—does set up what’s to come. Chester wants Lewis to drive him to Arizona to see (well, ambush) his ex-wife in the interest of some kind of closure. It’s a dying wish, and Lewis has trouble saying no to that. Because he’s a decent person. And Chester has no qualms about using the simple fact of Lewis’s decency to his own ends.

Or, as Chester puts it, “Whatever gets me to Arizona.”

So it does give the reader a chance to see that a real life-changer of a trip is coming. But that really only carries its full weight if you know what a miserable old pain in the ass Chester really is.

Based on that criterium, I have to say that the Page 69 Test mostly fails in the case of So Long, Chester Wheeler.

And by the way, the chapter title on page 69, “Scrape Them,” refers to a couple of bumper stickers on the Winnebago that Lewis finds offensive. He can’t scrape them off without scratching up the bumper, so instead he pastes two other bumper stickers over them, but they end up being ones Chester will find offensive. Because Chester is in a wheelchair, Lewis is hoping Chester will never see them, and they become a recurrent source of some humor in this story. There is definitely humor in Chester Wheeler. More so than in most of my books.
Visit Catherine Ryan Hyde's website.

Q&A with Catherine Ryan Hyde.

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--Marshal Zeringue