Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pg. 69: "The House Beautiful"

Allison Burnett is a screenwriter, journalist, poet, director, and novelist and short story writer.

His novels are Christopher: A Tale of Seduction, a finalist for the 2004 PEN Center USA Literary Award in Fiction, and The House Beautiful: A Novel of High Ideals, Low Morals, and Lower Rent.

Allison took up my invitation to put The House Beautiful to the "page 69 test" and came up with this result:
This is page 69 as it appears in my novel The House Beautiful. While this passage does not convey the lunatic comedy of the narrator, B.K. Troop -- a middle-aged, fat, bald, chemically imbalanced, gay alcoholic -- it does convey other aspects of the narrative. B.K. Troop has inherited a Manhattan brownstone, which he has turned into an artists colony. His hope is to serve as mentor, if not muse, to young, struggling artists. The most prized among his tender charges is his newest lodger, Adrian Malloy, a young poet whom B.K. believes to be the reincarnation of John Keats. The problem is that Adrian is much more interested in the beautiful painter Miranda Buchner than he is in writing poetry. And Miranda is much more interested in the brooding philosopher Michael Shannon than she is in Adrian.

In this scene, B.K., in the role of mentor, has forced Adrian to read Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy.” They have just sat down together in the back-yard garden to begin, at long last, Adrian’s first tutorial. Unfortunately, a distraction appears:

I plopped down at his side and invited him to share his impressions.

"Well," he began, "I guess Keats is saying that it's okay to get depressed, that it comes with life, and you might as well not fight it."

"Excellent! What else?"

The boy bit his lip and thought hard. "That’s it."

The poem’s mystery and magic and music had utterly eluded him. I was disappointed. As I parted my lips to offer some heuristic prodding, the boy suddenly spun around and looked up at the sky. His eyes flared with wonder. I turned and looked, too. Oh, no. I should have guessed it. Miranda. Bare-shouldered, she gazed down from her bathroom window. But not at him. She studied Michael, of course, who sat scribbling in a notebook at the patio table. She was going to spit on him again. It had been childish, but at least it had made him notice her. She swept her fine hair away from her face, gathered saliva, then changed her mind in mid-spit and swallowed.

"Hi," she said.

For a moment the unshaven hulk did not move. Then his brow tensed and his head cocked, rather like that of a naturalist who believes he has heard, but knows it is unlikely, the call of a rare, reclusive thrush. When his eyes met hers, the girl did not immediately grope for words. For a change, she remained silent, letting him think of something to say. It worked. Curiosity took hold.

"What're you doin' up there?" he asked almost tenderly.

She would not be lured into nervous chatter. "Nothing," she said. "Watching you write."

He exchanged his fountain pen for a cigarette and tilted back his chair. He shielded his eyes for a better view. I glanced over and saw that Adrian was about to speak, but I stopped him with a poke to the ribs.

“Button your gabber," I whispered. “There might be a sonnet in this. Think Romeo and Juliet.”
Many thanks to Allison for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from The House Beautiful and here for early reviews.

The House Beautiful is the second Burnett novel narrated by B.K. Troop. B.K.'s debut came in Christopher, which received praise like this:
“Either he’s channeling Truman Capote’s spirit, or Allison Burnett has created, all by himself, one of the more assured narrative voices in recent memory. His B. K. Troop is a pitch-perfect creation: bitchy-funny with a twist of rue.”
—Louis Bayard, author of Fool’s Errand and Endangered Species

Christopher is the literary equivalent of sparkling banter whose aftermath is trenchant poignancy. The deep, sad truths of this slyly funny novel continue to gather force long after you’ve finished reading.”
—Kate Christensen, author of In the Drink and Jeremy Thrane
Why would a heterosexual male writer named Allison choose "a witty, erudite, chemically imbalanced, alcoholic, predatory, middle-aged gay man named B.K. Troop" to narrate his novels? Click here and here for the answer.

Among the forthcoming films written by Allison: Lakeshore Entertainment's Untraceable starring Diane Lane. To learn how I feel about her, click here.

Previous "page 69 tests":
Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, A History
Ed Lynskey, The Dirt-Brown Derby
Cindy Dyson, And She Was
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