Monday, March 31, 2008

"Empty Ever After"

Reed Farrel Coleman has won the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony Awards and his writing has been nominated for the Edgar, Macavity, and Gumshoe Awards.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Empty Ever After, the fifth of his Moe Prager novels, and reported the following, beginning with a passage from page 69:
“No wonder you’ve been such a bitch lately.” I was laughing. She wasn’t. “Come on, you know I hate to drink alone.”

“No!”


“What the fuck is the matter with—”


“I’m pregnant.”


I drank my scotch, quickly, then drank the glass I poured for Carmella. After that, I said nothing.

You might suspect that this exchange is between lovers, but you’d be mistaken. Moe Prager and Carmella Melendez are partners, yes, but in a Brooklyn based PI firm, not in bed. Although Moe’s been divorced for over a year, Carmella is single, and they are deeply attracted to each other, they’ve shared a secret for nearly three decades that keeps them from acting on their impulses. Besides, the case they’re working on is enough to distract anyone. Moe’s ex-wife Katy is losing it, seriously losing it. After her father and brother’s graves have been desecrated by vandals, Katy begins to think she’s being haunted by her late brother Patrick. She hears his voice on the phone, sees him lurking around corners. It would almost seem funny if Moe hadn’t heard the voice and seen him too.

“Just because you always survive doesn’t mean you’re always okay,” I said, stroking her hair. I wiped her tears away with my thumb.


“What am I gonna do, Moe?”


“I don’t know. What do you want?”


“I want not to have gotten knocked up is what I want… I pray to God, always. Since I was a little girl, I pray to God, but he don’t answer my prayers.”

As Moe goes on to tell her, God answers prayers. The problem is the answer is usually no. In what is by far the most gut-wrenching of the five Moe Prager novels, some prayers do get answered with something other than no. Unfortunately, evil men pray too.
Learn more about the novel and its author at Reed Farrel Coleman's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"The Girl Who Stopped Swimming"

Joshilyn Jackson's short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Her bestselling debut novel, gods in Alabama won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Her second book, Between, Georgia, was also a #1 BookSense pick.

Jackson applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and reported the following:
In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the ghost of a little drowned girl brings a pair of estranged sisters together to find out what happened the night she died. The sisters are Laurel and Thalia Gray, and they have a shared ghost in their past—an uncle, and you find out rather quickly that they witnessed his murder and shut up about it. Shutting up is what the Gray girls do best. The drowned girl’s visit opens the long barricaded door to the past, so that the novel works like a murder mystery with a family drama layered over it.

I think 69 is nicely representative because mother/daughter relationships and the thin edge between truth and what we now call “truthiness” is explored throughout the novel. Shelby is Laurel’s ‘tween daughter, and Bet is Shelby’s cousin, about the same age. Molly is the drowned girl – she was Shelby’s best friend.

something. I fell asleep in my beanbag.” Another glance at the inert Bet Clemmens, and then [Shelby’s] voice got the slightest bit louder as she said, “I think I fell asleep first. Isn’t that right, Bet?”

Bet’s gaze snapped back to the screen, and the faintly puzzled look was gone. She nodded, too vigorously, and Laurel’s mom-antennae, finely tuned to catch these things, vibrated. Shelby had silently asked Bet to back her up, and Bet had agreed.

Laurel’s throat tightened and her mouth went desert dry. She stared at her daughter and realized Shelby was looking between Laurel’s eyes, not into them. It was an old theatre trick of Thalia’s for doing love scenes with someone you hated, or hate scenes with someone you loved.

“It also makes lying a hell of a lot easier, off stage,” Thalia had said, more than once, no doubt when Shelby was around with her little pitcher’s ears wide open. It worked, too, but only from across the room. This close, Laurel could see the faint disconnect, and all at once she wondered if Moreno had been on to something. Molly and Shelby had been so close. If Molly was somehow, grossly involved with Stan Webelow, Shelby could not be entirely ignorant.

“Come and talk with me,” Laurel said, gently, gently, as if her insides hadn’t all turned to ice. She turned one hand palm up, extending it toward Shelby.

“Grandma says I’m supposed to be taking it easy, too.”

Shelby came down hard on the word, “supposed,” just as Mother had done, as if the gap between how the world should be and how it actually behaved was a grievous thing.
Read excerpts from The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and learn more about the author and her books at Joshilyn Jackson's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Mudbound"

Hillary Jordan spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including StoryQuarterly and The Carolina Quarterly.

Jordan applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, the 2006 Bellwether Prize-winning Mudbound, and reported the following:
Mudbound is set on a farm in the Jim Crow South in the 1940s. It's told in the voices of six different characters from two families: the McAllans, the white family that owns the farm, and their black tenant farmers, the Jacksons. The issue of speech—who gets to speak and who is silent or silenced—is at the core of the book, and page 69 is both an excellent example of how this conflict is played out and a foreshadowing of the bigger, more violent conflicts to come.

The narrator is Laura McAllan, whose husband Henry has just moved her from her comfortable home in Memphis to this dilapidated farm with no running water, electricity or telephone. Up to page 69, Laura has been a biddable Southern wife, bowing to her husband's wishes and keeping her true feelings about the move to herself. But when her father-in-law suggests that they get rid of her most prized possession, her piano, to make room for a bed for himself, Laura's long-held silence gives way to fury. She takes her husband out to the porch and delivers this speech:

“When you told me you were bringing me here, away from my people and everything I’ve ever known, I didn’t say a word. When you informed me your father was coming to live with us, I went along. When Orris Stokes stood there and told you you’d been fleeced by that man you rented the house from, I kept my mouth shut. But I’m telling you now, Henry, we’re not getting rid of that piano. It’s the one civilized thing in this place, and I want it for the girls and myself, and we’re keeping it. So you can just go back in there and tell your father he can sleep in the lean-to. Either that or he can sleep in the bed with you, because I am not staying here without my piano.”

Page 69 ends with Laura staring Henry down, as astonished by her own temerity as he is. This is her first open rebellion against him, but it won't be her last...
Read an excerpt from Mudbound, and learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"The Price of Blood"

Declan Hughes has worked for more than twenty years in the theater in Dublin as director and playwright. In 1984, he co-founded Rough Magic, Ireland's leading independent theater company. He has been writer in association with the Abbey Theatre and remains an artistic associate of Rough Magic. His novels include The Wrong Kind of Blood and The Color of Blood.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Price of Blood, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Price of Blood comes in the middle of a post-coital scene between PI Ed Loy and Miranda Hart, a woman caught up in the case he's working. Later in the book, Loy's friend's wife Carmel says to him:

"I see you, Ed Loy. The same fucked-up woman in one guise after another. The booze, the fights. You're so in love with your own pain, you need to keep the wound fresh and flowing to feel even half-alive."

Ed is simultaneously drawn to Miranda and wary of her because she bears such an uncanny resemblance to his ex. But, although she plunges him deeper into the nightmare she inhabits, she also acts as some kind of catharsis for his failed marriage: the ghost of his wife is exorcised, and the pain of the daughter they lost, if not cured, is finally given some relief. On page 67, the following sequence helps set that up:

We sat for a while like that, as if we'd known each other forever, until I began to wonder whether it was Miranda Hart I was embracing, or the ghost of my ex-wife. Maybe Miranda felt the chill; she leapt up and sat by the fire, where the embers were smouldering, and tried to poke and then to blow them back into life. There was red in the turf and she coaxed it into flame and put another couple of sods on top. When she turned around, the flames danced in the silver of her dress, and her dark eyes flashed red and I found that I couldn't breathe.

"You look like you've seen a ghost," she said. I nodded.

"Someone who hurt you very badly. Someone I remind you of, someone who maybe looks a little like me."

I nodded again, dumbstruck.

"And now, at last, you're beginning to get over her. That's all right," she said, smiling. "I wanted you too." Then her mouth set hard.

"Now, I think you'd better ask your questions, and go."

I hadn't touched my gin, and found I needed it badly. I felt like I'd been slapped, and for no good reason, and I didn't like it. Miranda Hart was the kind of woman who could sense your weakest spot and reach straight for it.

In order to get at the truth, Loy has to let his guard down, leaving himself wide open: it's an emotionally vulnerable way of leading with your chin. (He does the other kind as well, which is why he invariably has a welt on his cheek or a black eye well before page 69.)

Page 69, on the other hand, doesn't work so well out of context. But near the end of the page, as Loy is trying to establish whether Patrick Hutton, Miranda Hart's missing husband, was gay, there's a speech from Miranda that I think stands on its own:

"I bet you had a girlfriend when you were twenty-two twenty-three, you drank a lot together, or got high, whatever, you laughed and cried, you said you loved each other, you fucked a lot, but even at the time, you knew it probably wasn't forever. Maybe that's the way it was with Patrick and me. We should probably never have got married, I don't know why we did: to get away from my family, and his lack of one. Maybe that's the why. We were so young. And now ... you know, we could run into each other on the street, and we probably wouldn't know what to say. So for all I know, he could be anything..."

I think a lot of us have made a version of that speech at some time or other. What's more, some of us might even have been telling the truth...
Read more about Declan Hughes and his books at the publisher's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 23, 2008

"The Philosopher’s Apprentice"

James Morrow is the Nebula award-winning author of stories and novels, including The Last Witchfinder.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Philosopher’s Apprentice, and reported the following:
When I first tried my hand at the narrative arts, drama was the form that seemed to best accommodate my passion for satire and philosophy. By the time I’d graduated from college, I had four three-act seriocomedies under my belt.

Given my status as a playwright manquĂ©, I was not surprised to open The Philosopher’s Apprentice to page 69 and encounter an exchange of dialogue. I’ve reprinted the entire text below, carrying one speech over from page 68 and appropriating the line-wrap from page 70. It’s pure theater. Several paragraphs earlier, the curtain rose on a living room in the Florida Keys. Our first-person narrator is Mason Ambrose, a failed philosophy Ph.D. student who’s been hired to implant a conscience in an adolescent named Londa, an alleged amnesia victim whose moral compass evidently vanished along with her memories.

The scene finds Mason sharing his recent adventures with Henry Cushing and Brock Hawes, likewise employed as ethics teachers, their feral pupil being a preschooler named Donya. While I would never submit page 69 as the sine qua non of my book — which ultimately becomes an epic filled with utopian cities, angry adult fetuses, and hijacked reincarnations of R.M.S.Titanic — the snippet does capture Mason’s essential situation. Do these speeches sound a bit like detective-thriller exposition? Nolo contendere — though the novel’s central mystery is philosophical: whence cometh morality, and what does it mean to forge another person’s soul? Pygmalion meets Lolita on the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Page 69 of The Philosopher’s Apprentice:

“In other words, Londa woke up without a conscience,” Brock said. “Donya has the same deficit.”

“So I hear,” I said. “No rectitude. What a strange coincidence.”

“I don’t think it’s a
coincidence at all,” Henry said. “It appears that Edwina has been playing games with our heads, and her children’s heads, too, and maybe her own head as well.”

“Did Donya also have a diving accident?” I asked.

“Supposedly she fell off her bicycle,” Brock said.

“Londa has inherited her maternal grandfather’s gift for speed reading,” I informed my new friends. “And Donya?”

Henry hummed in corroboration. “Yesterday she got through
Heidiin fifteen minutes. This morning she devoured The Secret Garden in ten.”

“Did Edwina ever mention a second daughter?” I asked.

Henry and Brock shook their heads in tandem.

“When I had tea with Donya, she told me she’s an only child,” I said. “Londa believes the same about herself. Evidently Edwina makes a point of it.”

“Curiouser and curiouser,” Henry said.

For the next half-hour, we attempted to construct a coherent narrative that would account for the bizarre domestic arrangements on Isla de Sangre, but far from dissolving the mystery we only deepened it. Our employer’s nomadism had us especially confused. Just as I’d assumed that Edwina resided exclusively with Londa at the moldering estate called Faustino, so did Henry and Brock believe she was permanently ensconced with Donya at Casa de los Huesos.

“Apparently she spends much of her time on the move, a peculiar lifestyle for a person allegedly in poor health.” Henry flipped back the top of the carousel and removed the mini-CD. “Proposition, Mason. While the cat’s away in Chicago, why don’t we mice spend Saturday afternoon exploring the island?” Receiving my nod, he smiled approvingly, then inserted a disc labeled “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” into the carousel. “I can’t speak for you or Brock, but I won’t rest until I’ve figured out precisely how many daughters Edwina has, and who their fathers are, and why the hell the children aren’t supposed to know about each other.”
Read an excerpt from The Philosopher's Apprentice, and learn more about the author and his work at James Morrow's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 21, 2008

"The Undead Kama Sutra"

Mario Acevedo is the author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats and X-Rated Blood Suckers.

The third book in the Felix Gomez series, The Undead Kama Sutra, is new in bookstores. Acevedo applied the Page 69 Test to the novel and reported the following:
As it happens, both pages 69 and 99 are at the end of chapters. Page 99 doesn't reveal the quality of the whole because what's on the page is so brief. Page 69 does reveal a lot and I hope the reader is hooked to read on.

From page 69:

The knobs of Jane Doe’s shoulders were splayed back as rigor mortis had arched her spine upwards. Her breasts lay flat against the ribcage like a pair of rotting apples. There were more spots of hamburger lacerations where the crabs had fed.

“Holy shit,” Carmen pointed, “what happened there?”


In the center of the woman’s sternum was a deep, thumb-sized hole
lined with charred flesh.

My fingers tingled as my vampire sense went on full alert. The
wound was identical to Gilbert Odin’s. Jane Doe had been killed with an alien blaster.
Read an excerpt from The Undead Kama Sutra and learn more about the author and his work at Mario Acevedo's website and his blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"Unknown Means"

Elizabeth Becka's novel, Trace Evidence, is the first in a series featuring Forensic Scientist Evelyn James. James deals with a set of bizarre deaths in the Cuyahoga River, a rookie homicide detective, the mayor of Cleveland, a local mobster, and her own teenage daughter.

Becka applied the Page 69 Test to the second novel in the series, the recently-released Unknown Means, and reported the following:
The only problem with page 69 as representative of the book is that my main character, Evelyn James, is not in this scene. The point of view has switched to her homicide detective boyfriend, David Milaski, as he and his partner cross a construction site to interview a murder victim’s husband. So the page doesn’t tell us anything about Evelyn; on the other hand it tells us just about everything you need to know about David and his partner Riley. Riley is a smoker and David is deeply tired after a series of late night calls related to this murder case. Riley was friends with Evelyn for years before David came along and probably spent a number of those years hoping for more than a professional relationship, hopes dashed by this young upstart with a checkered past. David is in love with Evelyn but they differ on where to go from here. As a recent transplant to Cleveland, he’s got no one to talk to but Riley, even as he suspects he will receive no sympathy from that quarter.

Being tough cops, of course, they discuss none of this, only the case. David notes that the murder occurred directly across the river.

Riley responds:

“So William could have easily snuck out of the site, gone home, killed his wife, and been back before anyone realized he was gone?”


“Exactly.”


“Good thinking, son. I really like to see you taking initiative, theorizing about our potential murderer using the facts at hand.”


“All right.” David took advantage of a dropped wooden plank to step out of the sucking mud for five feet. “What’s wrong with it?”


“William Markham wasn’t here the day Grace died…”


I hope this page would make readers want to read the rest of the book. I hope they would decide that they want to know how this series of crimes relate to each other, whether David sorts out his uneasy relationships with the two people closest to him, and if the victim’s husband’s alibi is as airtight as it sounds.
Learn more about Unknown Means and its author at Elizabeth Becka's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"The Labrador Pact"

Matt Haig’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Independent, and the Sydney Morning Herald. Last year he contributed Page 69 Test and My Book, The Movie entries for The Dead Fathers Club, his American debut novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Labrador Pact , and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Labrador Pact is, I suppose, pretty representative though it might confuse people who haven’t read the 68 pages before it.

The page in question is the point in the novel where Prince, the Labrador who narrates the story, smells something rather suspicious in the air after his lesson in the park with his mentor, the former police dog Henry.

It’s the end of a chapter, too, so it’s not particularly long. Here it is:

‘We will continue our lesson tomorrow,’ said Henry, completely unruffled by the whole Rottweiler experience.

‘OK,‘ I said, as Adam took hold of my collar. ‘I’ll see you.’

And on the walk home, I was already thinking of it, my next lesson. I breathed in the morning air – car fumes, chip papers, cat shit – and tried to make sense of it. I breathed in further. I could pick out Henry, Lear, Joyce – their scents all still evident in the morning air. As we turned the final corner, I could still identify other park smells. They stayed with me, as strong as ever. Ugly, putrid smells. Squirrel Blood, human vomit, and something else. Dank and heavy. Something I didn’t recognise. And yet, I couldn’t help thinking that this unidentified smell was the key.

This was the thought that kept with me all day.

If I could work it out I could predict the future.


I could stop the bad things.


I could protect the Family.


I try and always think of my novels having five acts, because it helps me think about the structure. Page 69 of The Labrador Pact comes right at the end of the first act, as it were, with the central storyline – of the pet Labrador trying in vain to stop the human family he lives with from falling apart, through the usual human problems – sex, lies, money, and the rest of it. By this point I’d also laid down the premise for the sub-plots about the loyal, duty-bound Labradors and their Pact, versus hedonistic sniffaholics such as Springer Spaniels and the possibility of something, or someone being buried in the park. And page 69 has a whiff of all this so hopefully it passes the test.
Read an excerpt from The Labrador Pact, and learn more about the book and author at The Labrador Pact website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Map of Ireland"

Stephanie Grant is an award-winning writer whose first novel, The Passion of Alice, was longlisted for Britain's Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. She has taught creative writing at Ohio State University and Mount Holyoke College and is currently Visiting Writer at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Map of Ireland, and reported the following:
Excerpt from p. 69:

I had to ask myself -- was it possible? -- if Mademoiselle Eugenie had feelings for me. Just thinking that thought, I felt this revving inside, like an engine that wouldn't stop, like a conveyor belt I couldn't get on or off. It was thrilling sure, but it was also, I didn't know, unsettling. Did she feel the revving too? I mean, I knew I was just some stupid kid, but stranger things had happened, hadn't they? (In English class, they hammered us again and again with Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets.) That time, when we'd spoken in school, Mademoiselle Eugenie had tipped her head back and laughed, and I'd seen all her teeth. I knew then it was a kind of gift. The shared laugh, but also, the open mouth: the pink roof and the beautiful, straight, white teeth.

Commentary:

Like most novels, Map of Ireland is about many things and it feels strange, even false, at times, to articulate precisely what the subject of the novel is. It's set during the desegregation of the public schools in Boston in 1974, and is a girl's coming of age story. Often I use this simple description of time and place and genre to suggest to readers what they'll find: race and sexuality, the struggle for identity, a white girl's coming into her own moral adulthood. But this passage on p. 69 suggests that the novel is also about intimacy between black folks and white folks. Physical intimacy -- emotional intimacy -- the intimacy of friendship -- and sexual intimacy. (Segregation's purpose, after all, is to prevent intimacy at all costs.) The novel's narrator Ann Ahern has not yet learned to hide her noticing of black people's bodies and gestures and speech. She is keenly aware of racial difference, and she remarks on it frankly throughout the novel. I think Ann is rather surprised to discover how intensely she wants intimacy with black people, and surprised, too, by the power of that intimacy .... "it was a kind of gift."
Read an excerpt from Map of Ireland, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Learn more about Stephanie Grant from her bio at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Obedience"

Will Lavender's acclaimed debut novel is Obedience.

He applied the Page 69 Test to the book and reported the following:
When I first got to college, the stories we heard about the campus mostly had to do with murder. Years before I arrived, a jilted student walked into his ex-girlfriend's dorm and stabbed her multiple times along with her roommate. This story was often followed by a lecture about "safety" and "protection" and how we had to "always watch out for what was happening around us."

Every door I passed through during my college years was code-protected as a response to this crime. Often I forgot the code and had to wander around asking people if they knew the four digits that would get me in. Sometimes the student I asked would refuse me, no doubt thinking of that murderer and how he slipped into the girl's dorm so effortlessly. They would stare at me, and I watched their mind moving, saw their silent battle with whether or not they should give me the numbers. Sometimes they would just walk away without a word, leaving me there on the night-silent quad.

My book is a campus mystery about lies. Everyone in the book seems to have a precious secret, a hidden motive, an obsession to withhold information at all costs. They are people who would, if asked the code to a door, would give the wrong number only so they could sit back and watch the person struggle with the latch. They are people who enjoy playing games, who enjoy watching games played.

On page 69 of Obedience my main character slips through a door to a building (the door this time is uncoded, unprotected) and moves to the top floor, where she proceeds to tell a lie. The character she lies to is important, although the reader does not know it at this point—because I too am lying to the reader throughout much of the book. The conversation between the main character and this other person is veiled, charged with overt and covert meaning. But mostly it is all untrue, and this is what I wanted to get out of 69—that the information is flatly untrue. My main character says things that are untruthful, and the second character responds to her with an untruth, and so the code to this particular door is asked for and received without either of them knowing quite what the other is doing.
Read an excerpt from Obedience, and learn more about the author and his work at Will Lavender's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 14, 2008

"The Devil's Bones"

Jefferson Bass is the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, founded the University of Tennessee's Anthropology Research Facility -- the Body Farm -- a quarter-century ago. Jon Jefferson is a veteran journalist, writer, and documentary filmmaker.

They applied the Page 69 Test to the latest Body Farm novel, The Devil's Bones, and reported the following:
“A five-hundred-pound body’s gong to have two or three hundred pounds of fat on it,” Dr. Bill Brockton says, on page 69 of The Devil's Bones. “That’s gonna make one heck of a grease fire once it melts and ignites.” Brockton, a cheery and unflappable forensic anthropologist who’s modeled on a real-life forensic legend, pulls no punches…and neither does this, the third in the Body Farm series from Jefferson Bass, the writing duo of Dr. Bill Bass (the anthropologist who founded the Body Farm) and Jon Jefferson (a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker). In The Devil's Bones, Brockton — Bill Bass’s fictional alter ego — investigates a series of fire-related cases, including a non-cremating crematorium, a set of incinerated bones from a burned car, and blasted remains that might — or might not — belong to the scientist’s nemesis, Garland Hamilton, a deranged medical examiner who had murdered Brockton’s lover. Although page 69 of The Devil's Bones is more dialogue-intensive than most in the book, it does embody (pardon the pun) the combination of gritty forensic detail and tongue-in-cheek humor that are a hallmark of Jefferson Bass’s Body Farm novels.
For more about the authors and their work, including video footage of the real-life Body Farm, visit JeffersonBass.com.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Symmetry"

Marcus du Sautoy is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wadham College. He is the author of Symmetry: A Journey Into the Patterns of Nature (Finding Moonshine, UK title) and The Music of the Primes.

He applied the Page 69 Test to Symmetry and reported the following:
Quite extraordinary how page 69 captures so many themes in the book. In fact symmetry, the subject of the book, is at the heart of the very number 69. I think 69 is the first number which only has rotational symmetry and no reflectional symmetry. This rather spookily is also the theme of the passage on page 69. The setting for the page is the Alhambra in Granada, a palace dedicated to symmetry. The book attempts to weave a historical narrative of mankind's journey to unlock the secrets of symmetry together with a very personal narrative of what it is like to be a practicing mathematician. In this chapter, I take a trip to Granada to explore the symmetries painted on the walls by the Moorish artists in the Alhambra. It is a chapter where the two themes, the personal and historical, synthesize in a particularly organic way. The aim of this chapter is to introduce some of the big themes that will dominate the rest of the narrative. What is symmetry? How can we articulate the fact that two walls have the same symmetry although they may look very different? What are the limitations of symmetry? How can we prove that there are in fact only 17 different symmetries that can be represented on the two dimensional wall? And did the Moors find all 17? Joining me on my journey through that Alhambra is my son, Tomer. He is my Passepartout on my journey through symmetry and acts as a set of innocent eyes, almost like the reader's eyes, to counter my more mathematical perspective on the world. On page 69 we encounter a wall full of rotational symmetry but without any reflectional symmetry, just like the number 69.

Page 69:

[Fig. 25]

Caption: The entrance to the Alhambra

What makes the images at the entrance to the Alhambra a regular tiling and not a Roman mosaic or Escher cheese sandwich is that each piece can be lifted and shifted (either up or down, left or right) and eventually it will sit perfectly on a copy of itself. But there is more regularity here than in just the individual movement of each piece. I can take a copy of the whole picture, shift it horizontally or vertically, and lay it down again so that it exactly matches the original picture. This is what imbues it with a sense of the infinite. The symmetry in the wall contains a message – a programme, if you like – which stipulates exactly how the tiles will be laid out as the wall is expanded, even to the infinite reaches of the universe.

But there is more to the symmetry of this wall than simple repetition. How can we articulate what that symmetry is, though? How can we express the fact that one wall has more symmetry than another? Is it possible even to pin down precisely what we mean when we say that two walls have the same symmetry?

The reason there is more symmetry in this wall than simple repetition is that there are other ways I can pick the picture up and place it down on a shadow of itself. Instead of simply shifting it left or right, up or down, I can turn it before I lay it down. For example, if I keep the centre of one of the eight-pointed stars fixed and rotate a copy of the picture by 90° around this point, the shapes line up perfectly on top of the original picture.

I am intrigued to see what Tomer makes of the design. His initial reaction is that it hasn’t got any symmetry. He is looking for lines that he can fold the image along so that the two sides of the picture match up, as one of the psychologist Rorschach’s inkblot images. Immediately he can see that this isn’t possible here. Intriguingly, the design that...
Read more about the book and its author at Marcus Du Sautoy's website and the Finding Moonshine blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Another Thing to Fall"

Laura Lippman's 2007 novel, What the Dead Know, was a New York Times bestseller. Her Tess Monaghan books — By a Spider's Thread, The Last Place, The Sugar House, Baltimore Blues, Charm City, Butchers Hill, In Big Trouble, and No Good Deeds — have won the Edgar, Agatha, Shamus, Anthony, and Nero Wolfe awards, and In a Strange City was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Lippman is also the author of the critically acclaimed stand-alone novel Every Secret Thing.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new Tess Monaghan novel, Another Thing to Fall, and reported the following:
As it happens, I have two versions: The regular hardcover and the large print, which just arrived today. In the regular hardcover, page 69 centers on a lunch among Tess Monaghan, a television producer and the young actress he thinks needs Tess as a bodyguard. It is set in Martick's, a one-of-a-kind Baltimore restaurant and begins:

The waiter brought them more rolls, but Selene had already lost interest. For all her talk about her famous appetite and penchant for head sucking, Selene simply sniffed at the bread, leaving a whitish smear of flour beneath her nose. It looked rather natural
to Tess. How strange Selene's world must be, where spoons were used for mirrors and mirrors were used --

But in the large print edition, page 69 falls toward the end of a scene in which Tess has interrupted a screening of Once Upon a Time in the West, and her boyfriend, Crow, begins lecturing his young protege, Lloyd, on the career of Charles Bronson.

Just out of Crow's eye line, Tess pretended
to slump in catatonia at this pedantic discussion of Death Wish, and Lloyd began giggling, a high-pitched bubble of sound that reminded Tess he was at once a very young and very old seventeen.

Both go to the heart of the novel, but in such different ways. The first one is essentially the set-up: Actress needs protection. Problems, inevitably, ensue. And Tess's assumption that the actress uses cocaine is meant to be an example of bigotry. But the second page 69 is closer to the book's heart, which is concerned with how our culture's insane passion for film and television. Plus, there's just not enough discussion of Charles Bronson in contemporary fiction.
Read more about Another Thing to Fall and the author at Laura Lippman's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Standing Still"

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and current novelist/advertising creative director.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Standing Still, and reported the following:
The main character in Standing Still believes that when someone answers a question, the third thing they say is the true answer. So it seems completely logical to me that the 69th page of a book could be the truest page!

Standing Still is a literary thriller that revolves around Claire Cooper--a panicky, fearful woman who does one brave thing: she trades her life for her child’s in the middle of a kidnapping. As the kidnapper drags Claire away and drives her to a distant motel room, they begin a week-long dance of closeness and distance, of violence and tenderness, as each reveals their motives and secrets.

On page 69, that dance officially begins when the kidnapper takes a shower in the motel room, leaving Claire chained to the bed.

I wait twenty seconds into His shower, certain He’d take a long one; men always do. I work the receiver off with my knee. Lean over and press 9-1-1 with my nose.

When the operator comes on she asks what my emergency is.

I hesitate. There are several emergencies. Which first?

Claire decides, once again, to save her children, alone in her house, and not herself. She gives her home address to the operator just as the kidnapper discovers her. In a show of strength, he pins her down roughly and rips the phone from the wall as she wonders: is he violent, or does he merely want me to believe that he is?

Two of the most important questions in the book are whether Claire is a good mother and whether she can trust the kidnapper. Both of those enter the readers’ consciousness on page 69.
Read an excerpt or watch the trailer at Kelly Simmons' website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 7, 2008

"Stalked"

Brian Freeman is the international bestselling author of psychological suspense novels featuring detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial. Immoral, his debut thriller, won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry Awards. His second novel, Stripped, was named among the top 10 mysteries of 2006 by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Stalked is the latest book in the series. Freeman applied the Page 69 Test to the new novel and reported the following:
I always enjoy the Page 69 Test, because it creates a framework in which an author can judge whether he has carried out his vision consistently. The reality is that you should be able to pick any page in a book and feel that it is representative of the work as a whole, in terms of suspense and characters. If it’s not, well, you’ve probably fallen short of what you want to achieve.

So why not page 69? That’s as good a page as any.

In the U.S. hardcover edition of Stalked, page 69 finds Jonathan Stride interviewing a cocky investment banker about the disappearance of a Duluth woman who has a bizarre obsession with sexual violence. The interview gives Stride his first glimpse of the disturbing sexual underground in the city and raises a name from his own past that he would prefer to forget. Stride doesn’t know it yet, but his discovery here will open the door on a stalker whose targets will include the two most important women in Stride’s life.

This is exactly why I call my novels “psychological suspense.” The plot peels away the emotions, secrets, and sexuality of the characters chapter by chapter. And the investigators are not merely observers; their own pasts and emotions come into play, and they must navigate a minefield of difficult moral choices.

As page 69 begins, Stride is on the outside looking in. By the end of that page, he and those closest to him have been drawn into a disturbing game.
Read an excerpt from Stalked, and learn more about the book and author at Brian Freeman's website and his blog.

The Page 69 Test: Stripped.

My Book, The Movie: Stripped.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"My Liar"

Brooklyn native Rachel Cline lived in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1999. During that time she wrote screenplays and teleplays, designed interactive media, and taught screenwriting at USC. Her first novel, What to Keep, was published in 2004.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, My Liar, and reported the following:
In the case of My Liar, page 69 puts us between a scene that sounds too important out of context and a new scene that doesn’t get going until page 70. So, let me start somewhere else: Early in my adult life, I decided my career goal was to become a screenwriter who specialized in adapting novels, thus combining my two great loves into a trade at which I could presumably make a living. Needless to say, this was a ridiculous fantasy, but I did get one shot at it: the assignment was Alice McDermott’s wonderful novel That Night. (And if you have not read it, please, skip the rest of this column and get on that immediately.) The book is so cinematic (self-contained, emotionally vivid, visually striking) that the producers who hired me figured even a rank amateur couldn’t f*ck it up too badly.

I, however, was not so sure, so I went shopping. What I purchased was a book called How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days by Viki King. It explained what one needed to have going on pages 3, 10, 33, 69, and 91 of any screenplay and that made the rest seem easy, or at any rate possible to me. (I had already been schooled in the notion of Freytag’s pyramid by a former professor of mine, a Czech named Frank Daniel). So I became a firm believer in page numbers, even though my version of That Night was never made.

Most movies aren’t — and that’s where My Liar comes back into the picture, fifteen years later. From the outset, I knew I wanted it to be about the kind of people I’d known in Los Angeles — the film nerds and music geeks who never went to awards shows and rarely got paid even four figures but, in their love of the work itself, kept the whole thing going. I also wanted to write about storytelling as a behavior among friends, and, obviously, about telling the truth vs. lying. But none of that sounded “important” enough to me when I was looking at blank pages, so I came up with an elaborate narrative strategy involving Freytag’s Pyramid: an early draft had chapter titles like “peripety” and “exposition.” Later on, I had Annabeth, a film editor, trying to organize her footage according to the same rubric. Finally, my agent said, “Is there some reason why you keep coming back to this? Am I supposed to be ‘getting’ something I’m not getting?” And I realized there wasn’t, it was just a talisman, and it had outgrown its usefulness.

All that remains of Viki and Frank and Freytag in My Liar, is the Polish film editor Annabeth used to work for before the story starts — one of many absent father figures in the book. One of the smartest things he tells her is, “you come looking for Hollywood, but you wind up in Los Angeles. And this is another thing entirely.” But she doesn’t remember that until page 139.
Read an excerpt from My Liar and learn more the author and her work at Rachel Cline's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"The Making of Second Life"

Wagner James Au is the online games editor for GigaOM.com, and for the last five years, has been writing about the user-created online virtual world Second Life, first as an embedded journalist with the company that started it, and now on his own blog, New World Notes. There and in his book from HarperCollins, he explains how Second Life became such a phenomenon -- and how it helps us understand our real life society in new and unique ways.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new book, The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World, and reported the following:
Fortunately, I think my page 69 is fairly representative of the larger book, which is fundamentally about how Second Life allows people to create new identities and new forms of online community, and what that transformation says about our real lives.

From page 69:

Self-Made Mankind

Identity and in the digital generation

At the start, Stella Costello was beautiful by most standards of either the real or virtual world, with a slender waist and a neck framed by perfect crests of blonde hair. But something seemed off, for the woman who owned Stella would look at her on the computer screen, and feel no relation to the avatar she was controlling with her keyboard. It had to do, she realized, with the avatars settings for Stella’s size, making her svelte and petite — which Stella’s owner was, admittedly, not.

Her solution was to adjust her avatar’s girth and weight with the system’s internal appearance settings.

“[I]t was a gradual shift,” Stella’s owner recalls. “I'd look at her and feel distant. Then I'd slide the slider up and feel more honest with myself and more connected to her.”

Gradually Stella became full-figured — making her unlike nearly every other female avatar in Second Life, who are near invariably slim. She doesn’t denigrate that choice in others. But her own avatar, she decided, would defy those beauty expectations, and the honesty of her size became a tiny victory for her.

“In a cheesy, cheesy way,” as she puts it, “Stella taught me to love myself more, so I let her be me.”
Read more about The Making of Second Life and its author at W. James Au's blog, New World Notes.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Four Wives"

Wendy Walker is a former commercial litigator turned stay-at-home-mom turned fiction writer.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Four Wives, and reported the following:
On page 69 of my novel, Four Wives, we find one of the four main characters in a bit of a muddle. For years, Marie Passeti has been trudging through her suburban existence, first as a higher-powered litigator turned stay-home-mom, and recently as a part-time divorce attorney who tries to do it all. To her vexation, these years in the affluent town of Hunting Ridge, which is fed by the Wall Street jobs in neighboring New York City, have turned her brilliant husband into a weekend golf-addict and she has felt the distance grow between them. Everywhere she turns, she sees images of things that disturb her. Her best friend, Love Welsh, is hiding a secret from her past as she juggles her own three little children. Their outrageously wealthy friend, Gayle Beck, is married to a man who likes to take out his rage on her and their young son, and then there’s Janie Kirk. Having given in to every stereotype, Janie has used surgeries and personal trainers to virtually erase all evidence of the four children she’s borne and this drives Marie close to the edge every time they meet to plan their health clinic fundraiser.

On page 69, Marie is at work preparing her evasive client, Carson Farrell, for a deposition regarding the custody of his remaining three children. The youngest, the baby, died in a tragic accident and now Farrell’s wife wants to keep him away. Sitting beside Marie as she tries to pry Farrell open and learn what really happened that day, is Marie’s new intern, Randy Matthews. He’s young. He’s smart. And he adores Marie for all the things that she had forgotten even existed within her – a sense of humor, a deep caring for her clients, the love for her children which generates guilt every time she leaves for the office, and above all else, a mind, a working, functioning, intelligent mind that Marie’s husband puts to use cleaning up his breakfast but which Randy finds fascinating.

Farrell is dodging the questions again, and Marie is distracted. For the first time in years, she is aware of her every movement, her every word, even how she looks. And despite the unsettled feeling this creates, she is now looking at herself through the eyes of this young man and she is deeply provoked by what she sees. Everything changed when her family moved from the city to the suburbs. Her husband’s job, which was demanding from the start, now has a two hour commute as well, leaving Marie with the brunt of the domestic chores and raising their girls. They have fallen into this suburban model where there is a complete division of labor, and yet Marie was driven back to work by her own internal dissatisfaction with life as a stay-home mom. The more she tries to make all of this work, the further she travels from the man she loves and the life they have created together. Randy Matthews could not have arrived at a worse time…

Page 69 of Four Wives is all about Marie. But in many ways, it captures the underlying theme that runs through the stories of every woman in the novel. Four Wives is about women, the choices we make concerning marriage, work and motherhood, and the consequences of those choices as they play out in an affluent suburb. On page 69, Marie is struggling with self-doubt, guilt, a troubled marriage and the giant mirror that Randy Matthews has become for her. Through this journey as a wife and mother, she has become a different person, and yet somewhere inside her is the same woman she’s always been. What unfolds for Marie and her three friends throughout Four Wives will be recognizable to every woman who reads this book, because their stories are grounded in the very real lives we live within the roles we create for ourselves.

“It’s going to be a long fight…,” Marie tells her client at the top of the page. And she is right in more ways than she knows.
Read an excerpt from Four Wives, and learn more about the author and her novel at Wendy Walker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue