Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pg. 69: "And She Was"

Cindy Dyson's debut novel is And She Was.

I asked Cindy to subject her book to the "page 69 test."

Her response opens with a passage from page 69, part of the chapter titled "take a minute":
take a minute

My defenses were down, and I got reflective. Not just about the past, but the kind of reflection that flings the past forward to clash with the present. And battle for a future.

I would think a lot about the last time I’d seen my dad.

I had been cocktail waitressing in Redwood City. The man I’d been shacked up with had just decided to go back to his wife and kids. He left me with an apartment I couldn’t afford and a red Fiat with low-profile tires. I packed up everything I wanted to keep, which barely filled the backseat, and left. I can’t say why I wanted to see Dad one more time. I did not love my father. I had no hope that we’d ever be close again. It may have been a need to know that at least I’d seen him once near the end.

The most important part of page 69, for me, is that Brandy, our main character, is shown on this page at her worst. By page six, she established herself as a coke-snorting, loose, emotionally stagnant party girl, but here she lays out the depths of her depravity. She is willing to shack up with a married father.

For me, writing this line was a transition. After those words were down, I couldn’t see Brandy as simply a reckless, wild girl. She became an amoral woman, not even immoral, for she doesn’t contemplate the morality of her actions. She’s an Eve, ignorant and greedy.

In much of women’s fiction, the heroine can get away with all sorts of despicable actions as long as those actions are firmly laid at the feet of her past-as-tragic-victim — of a man, of her parents, of some circumstance in which she played no culpable role. Brandy doesn’t give readers that chance. She says, “You can like me and identify with me or not, but I’m not going to woo your allegiance with tired appeals to my drunken father, slutty mother, and all the havoc they wrecked upon my formative years.”

I think we all understand the consequences of growing up in dysfunction. This isn’t what interests me. I’m fascinated by what presses some people forward, by what sets them free.

Brandy’s refusal to call up victimhood to assuage her present acts is ultimately the key to her freedom. And this is the core of the book, evolving right here on page 69. The idea that we are morally active agents, that we must choose and we must choose intentionally, even if the choices all seem uniformly gray, even if our pasts did little to prepare us.
Many thanks to Cindy for the input.

For a very interesting Q & A with Cindy--including the response to "First novels are often somewhat autobiographical. How much of Brandy is you?"--click here.

Click here for a long list of reviews and audio interviews.

Among the reviews:
"And She Was conquers the odds to be the beautifully written, soulfully instructive novel that it is.
The odds against it: The book is Cindy Dyson's first adult novel; it is somewhat autobiographical; the plot alternates between a long-ago past and its history lessons, and 1986; its title comes from a song.
But it all works – and fabulously well."
— Claudie Smith Brinson (appeared in: San Diego Union Tribune, Detroit Free Press, The Olympian, South Carolina's The State)
Click here to read "The Story Behind the Book."

For other links, including book club materials, visit Cindy's website.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Simon Blackburn, Truth
Brian Freeman, Stripped
Alyson M. Cole, The Cult of True Victimhood
Jeff Biggers, In the Sierra Madre
Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, Forgotten Founder
Alicia Steimberg, Andrea Labinger (trans.), The Rainforest
Michael Grunwald, The Swamp
Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History
Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism
David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie
Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry
Chris Grabenstein, Slay Ride
David Helvarg, Blue Frontier
Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria
Bill Crider, A Mammoth Murder
Robert W. Bennett, Taming the Electoral College
Nicholas Stern et al, Stern Review Report
Kerry Emanuel, Divine Wind
Adam Langer, The Washington Story
Michael Scott Moore, Too Much of Nothing
Frank Schaeffer, Baby Jack
Wyn Cooper, Postcards from the Interior
Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew
Cass Sunstein, Infotopia
Paul W. Kahn, Out of Eden
Paul Lewis, Cracking Up
Pagan Kennedy, Confessions of a Memory Eater
David Greenberg, Nixon's Shadow
Duane Swierczynski, The Wheelman
George Levine, Darwin Loves You
John Barlow, Intoxicated
Alicia Steimberg, The Rainforest
Alan Wolfe, Does American Democracy Still Work?
John Dickerson, On Her Trail
Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself
Randy Boyagoda, Governor of the Northern Province
John Gittings, The Changing Face of China
Rachel Kadish, Tolstoy Lied
Eric Rauchway, Blessed Among Nations
Tim Brookes, Guitar and other books
Ruth Padel, Tigers in Red Weather
William Haywood Henderson, Augusta Locke
Jed Horne, Breach of Faith
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue