Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pg. 69: "The Washington Story"

Adam Langer is an author, journalist, playwright and filmmaker. His books include the novels Crossing California and The Washington Story, and three nonfiction reference works, CitySmart Guide to Chicago, Film Festival Guide, and The Madness of Art.

I asked Adam to apply the "page 69 test" to The Washington Story; this is what he reported:
Funny you should ask me to do this. After all, while I was senior editor of Book Magazine, faced at times with the unenviable task of opening the mail and trying to determine which books merited review coverage, I occasionally resorted to a self-explanatory critical technique that I called “Page Sixty-Seven, Paragraph Four.” A character in my next novel, Ellington Boulevard (Spiegel & Grau, 2007) is a literary critic who uses the same technique.

Is it unfair to judge a book using this sub-Cliffs’ Notes form of review? Probably. Though, since we were woefully understaffed at Book, I suspect that our editorial staff was reading at least one more paragraph than most other book review staffs. At any rate, now that I have the responsibility of analyzing my own book using the similar, though significantly more accurate measure stick of an entire page, I can say that the “Page 69” tool is useful yet entirely misleading for my novel The Washington Story.

A reader of Page 69 would learn the following:

* An aspiring filmmaker named Mel Coleman had made his living directing low-rent industrial movies.
* He has cast a woman named Michelle in his latest industrial flick.
* He will most probably have some sort of relationship (possibly romantic) with Michelle with whom he has a history dating back to her sister’s Bat Mitzvah.
* He has a foul mouth.
* And an attitude.
* And lousy fashion sense.

That’s not a bad summary for the interaction of the two major characters in my novel. Mel and Michelle’s romantic desires and their artistic ambitions form one of the major conflicts here. And, there’s a fair amount of dense character detail and Chicago-specific trivia on Page 69, which is representative of the book as a whole.

The only problem is that I structured my novel as five separate-but-interlinked novellas, loosely based on the Five Books Of Moses. The above analysis works fairly well for Book II, but comes up short when providing information about Book I and Books III-V, each of which has different characters, tones, moods, rhythms, and so forth.

Perhaps a new sort of test is needed: Allow me to recommend the “Page 34./Page 69 /Page 213/Page 341/Page 409 Test.” Although, just for the record, I tried the Page 69 test on the most-recent draft of Ellington Boulevard; it works a whole lot better.
Many thanks to Adam for the input.
In The Washington Story, "Langer has produced a tender and generous book... ...pleasurable a read, for its wit and its eye and its capacious heart." -- Chicago Tribune
To read more reviews of The Washington Story from the Los Angeles Times, Kansas City Star, Miami Herald, and other major newspapers, click here.

For more reviews, interviews, articles and multimedia by and about Adam, click here. For information about and excerpts from Adam's many plays, click here.

Adam sees The Washington Story "not as one sequel to his debut novel Crossing California, but as five separate-yet-interlinked sequels."

Crossing California was picked by as one of the top fifty books of 2004, #2 in Fiction (Philip Roth was #1). It was selected by Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Publishers Weekly as a Best Book of 2004.

Click here for the Publishers Weekly interview with Adam about Crossing California.

Watch for Adam's third novel, Ellington Boulevard, in 2007.

Previous "page 69 tests":
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