Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pg. 69: "Baby Jack"

Frank Schaeffer is the author of the acclaimed and commercially successful novels, Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

His new novel is Baby Jack.

I asked Frank to apply the "page 69 test" to Baby Jack. Here is what he reported:
Page 69 of Baby Jack is the turning point of my novel. Weird coincidence! Baby Jack is about a family torn apart by a son’s decision to enlist in the Marines. They are rich, snobs, and typical of the class that never serves these days. Their son defies them.

Here is page 96 of Baby Jack, my fourth novel:

Charleston Airport 0200: not supposed to be keeping journal—hide pages between pictures in little family album they let you bring—waiting for bus—writing on scraps—

Half recruits haven’t slept or were drinking last night—ragged—ass! OK—but nervous—

Speech by Marine in waiting area: “You are now an official United States Marine Corps recruit—as such you are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice—UCMJ—set of rules and regulations that all military personnel must abide by—you will be punished—do you understand recruits?”

“Yes, sir!”

“From now on when you speak to a Marine, civilian or sailor the last word out of your mouth will be sir—like this: yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am. Do you understand, recruits?”

“Yes, sir!”

“You will be at the position of attention—position of attention is—your heels are together, feet at a
45° angle, legs are straight—not stiff at the knees, fingers curled, thumb along trousers seems, head and eyes straight to the front, and your mouth is shut!”

Baby Jack is told in the voices of five people, the mother, father, son, sister and girlfriend. In them we “hear” the voices of modern America, a parable as it were about what we owe or what we deserve.

Page 69 is the first notations (made in a rush) by Jack Ogden in his illicit journal he is scribbling on any old thing as he goes to Parris Island boot camp. It is a good and bad representation of the rest of the book—“good” because it is the onset of the change Jack will undergo as he moves from selfish privilege to life as a Marine, “bad” because the voices of the rest of the family are missing so the reader won’t get the scope of the book from this page.

When you write a novel in five voices, and the reader dips in on one scene in one voice, it’s hard to get a feel for the texture. But rest assured that every voice here is given space, even the voice of God, who shows up after Jack is killed and the family begins to disintegrate.

Yes, Jack is killed. And he is killed after his father has stopped speaking to him. So how is redemption found in tragedy? And does sacrifice, honor and “duty” still have a place in the world?
Many thanks to Frank for the input about the novel.

Click here to read an excerpt from Baby Jack.

The reviewer for USA Today wrote:

The author lets each character speak in alternating chapters. (In heaven, Jack befriends a down-to-earth God who is a "wannabe theatre director.") The reader marvels at how Schaeffer makes this concise chorus of social conviction moving and memorable by emphasizing emotion over description.

By no means is Baby Jack another War and Peace. Think War and People instead.

From Ward Carroll's review:
Frank Schaeffer has done what only the likes of Stephen Crane have managed before him, capturing atmospheres in ways his pedigree would suggest impossible. Baby Jack's pathos is matched only by its originality, sincerity, and attention to the details of human emotion. This work reveals a writer who understands service, sacrifice, family, war, love, hate -- life -- in ways that transcend the here and now. He even brings God into the mix. (I won't wreck it; let's just say Schaeffer pulls it off with aplomb.)

Baby Jack is a triumph and a modern masterpiece. Read it and be moved.
Frank has also written four non-fiction books including Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the United States Marine Corps (co-authored with his Marine son John). Frank’s second book on the subject of his son’s service in the military was Faith Of Our Sons: A Father’s Wartime Diary (2004). Frank’s book Voices from the Front: Letters Home From America’s Military Family was followed by AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes From Military Service – And How It Hurts Our Country (co-authored with Kathy Roth-Douquet, foreword by Gen. Tommy Franks.)

A week before election day, Frank published an Op-Ed essay in the Dallas Morning News. It opened: "I'm a Christian, a writer, a military parent and a registered Republican." Click here to read what followed.

For other Op-Eds by Frank, click here.

Click here to visit Frank Schaeffer's official webpage.

Previous "page 69 tests":
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