Friday, January 19, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Pale Blue Eye"

Louis Bayard's books include Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable Book and one of People magazine's 10 best books of 2003, and, most recently, The Pale Blue Eye.

I asked him to apply the "page 69 test" to The Pale Blue Eye. Here is what he reported:
I'm reading page 69 of The Pale Blue Eye, and I have to say it's not the most representative page one could pick. The book's co-protagonist/raison d'etre -- Edgar Allan Poe -- is nowhere to be found. The central mystery is only tangentially sketched. The story's emotional undercurrents are indiscernible.

That said, there are some things that can be deduced from a close reading (of the kind practiced by Poe's great detective Auguste Dupin):

1) References to a cadet being reprimanded, to an "Academy" and to a Superintendent Thayer clearly refer to the United States Military Academy at West Point, which is indeed the scene of the action.

2) We know that someone named Leroy Fry has been murdered and that someone (not named) has contracted with the Academy to solve the mystery.

3) We know that this detective has a solitary, slightly off-kilter sensibility. When asked if he's any closer to knowing the murderer's identity, he responds, "I'll only know when I'm there." He also reveals a certain strain of bleak humor in describing his meeting with Superintendent Thayer: "We gathered in his parlor. Molly brought us johnny cakes and beef dodgers; Thayer poured the tea; the grandfather clock in the hallway ticked away the intervals; the burgundy curtains held the sun off. Horror, Reader."

4) Two more inferences from that last quote. We are in a "long-ago" time when military men drank tea and when johnny cakes and beef dodgers would be served as a matter of course. And a certain "Reader" is being addressed, making this book a kind of extended affidavit by the narrator/detective.

All in all, not a bad harvest from a single page, chosen randomly out of 413.
Thanks to Louis for the input.

Read an excerpt from The Pale Blue Eye.

Among the praise The Pale Blue Eye:
"Shockingly clever and devoutly unsentimental...reads like a lost classic. Bayard reinvigorates historical fiction."
-- New York Times Book Review

"Brilliantly plotted and completely absorbing, ending with the kind of shock that few novelists are able to deliver."
-- Sunday Times (London)

"Seamlessly blends Poe into an engrossing whodunit worthy of its inspiration."
-- USA Today

"Another tour-de-force, an intense and gripping novel....This beautifully crafted thriller stands head and shoulders above other recent efforts to fictionalize Poe."
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Bayard's prose flows like silk, weightless but enveloping, and never shows its seams."
--Laura Miller, Salon
Perhaps more impressive in my estimation, The Pale Blue Eye made Jeff Pierce's top-10 list of crime-fiction picks from 2006.

Read Louis' articles and reviews.

In December he had some advice for "What Mary Cheney should expect while she's expecting."

Visit Louis Bayard's website.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
Neal Thompson, Riding with the Devil
Sherry Argov, Why Men Marry Bitches
P.J. Parrish, An Unquiet Grave
Tyler Knox, Kockroach
Andrew Rehfeld, The Concept of Constituency
Laura Wiess, Such a Pretty Girl
Jeremy Blachman, Anonymous Lawyer
Andrew Pyper, The Wildfire Season
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Laura Lippman, What the Dead Know
Meghan Daum, The Quality of Life Report
Scott Reynolds Nelson, Steel Drivin' Man
Richard Aleas, Little Girl Lost
Paul Collins, The Trouble With Tom
John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero
Bill Crider, Murder Among the OWLS
Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens
Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Matt Haig, The Dead Fathers Club
Lawrence Light, Fear & Greed
Simon Read, In The Dark
Sandra Ruttan, Suspicious Circumstances
Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography
Alison Gaylin, You Kill Me
Gayle Lynds, The Last Spymaster
Jim Lehrer, The Phony Marine
Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.
Debra Ginsberg, Blind Submission
Sarah Katherine Lewis, Indecent
Peter Orner, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo
William Easterly, The White Man's Burden
Danielle Trussoni, Falling Through the Earth
Andrew Blechman, Pigeons
Anne Perry, A Christmas Secret
Elaine Showalter, Faculty Towers
Kat Richardson, Greywalker
Michael Bess, Choices Under Fire
Masha Hamilton, The Camel Bookmobile
Alex Beam, Gracefully Insane
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption
Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything
Wendy Steiner, Venus in Exile
Josh Chafetz, Democracy’s Privileged Few
Anne Frasier, Pale Immortal
Michael Lewis, The Blind Side
David A. Bell, The First Total War
Brett Ellen Block, The Lightning Rule
Rosanna Hertz, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice
Jason Starr, Lights Out
Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom
Stephen Elliott, My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up
Colin McGinn, The Power of Movies
Sean Chercover, Big City, Bad Blood
Sigrid Nunez, The Last of Her Kind
Stanley Fish, How Milton Works
James Longenbach, The Resistance to Poetry
Margaret Lowrie Robertson, Season of Betrayal
Sy Montgomery, The Good Good Pig
Allison Burnett, The House Beautiful
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