Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pg. 69: "The Vanishing Point"

Mary Sharratt is an American writer currently living in England.

Her latest book, The Vanishing Point, is a literary novel of dark suspense set in the Colonial Chesapeake.

She generously put her book to the "page 69 test" and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Vanishing Point shows the central character, Hannah Powers, in transit. The year is 1692. She has left her native England, crossed the water to Maryland, and traveled slowly up the Chesapeake, en route to join her sister who lives on a backwater homestead. In this scene, Hannah has been invited to spend the night at the home of a prosperous tobacco planter. After her long and difficult journey, entering this wealthy household feels like stepping inside some magical otherworld:

They brought out platters of pheasant, oysters, roast pork and beef, and sweetmeats. The smell of the food alone nearly undid Hannah. This feast on the remote plantation seemed fabulous, like Joan’s tale of the weary traveler who stumbled into the faery palace. If she blundered, the illusion would shatter. The fine victuals would turn into a pile of dry leaves and empty acorn cups.

Hannah’s sense of being out of her depth does not end here.

Hannah slept in a narrow chamber with the wet nurse and the little boy.

In the pitch-dark she awoke to the sound of foot-steps on creaking floorboards, strange noises, dove-like cooing. The wet nurse muttered in her sleep and rolled over while Hannah froze, rigid on her pallet. Her skin burned as she listened to muffled laughter. There was a voice she distinctly recognized as Mr. Banham’s, then Mr. Gardiner’s. A woman sighed like a pigeon. Hannah thought of Mrs. Gardiner’s breasts, trussed up and on display for the men. Her pregnant belly. A whimpering voice murmured unintelligible words.

A strand of her own hair caught in Hannah’s mouth like a bit. She thought of [her sister] May and her lovers, then of her own maidenhood, her ignorance.

Is this scene typical of the rest of the book? Not really, although it does capture the loneliness, longing, and bewilderment that inform Hannah’s character and the choices she will soon be driven to make.

Readers might be taken aback by the glimpse into 17th century life presented here. Too often we base our image of early Americans on the New England Puritan model, but Maryland and Virginia were a world apart; the licentiousness described in this scene was not atypical. My inspiration for this passage came from the diaries of William Byrd II (1674-1744), a Virginian who left a graphic record of his libertine excesses.
Many thanks to Mary for the input.

Read an excerpt from The Vanishing Point.

Among the praise for the novel:
Wow. Just wow. This is exactly what historical fiction should be: full of vivid, vibrant characters who make you feel what they feel, hope what they hope and suffer what they suffer. This tale of two very different sisters who make their fortunes in the New World pulled me right in and made me lose all sense of time and place. Sensitively written and beautifully rendered, Sharratt has produced a true keeper.
--Sarah Weinman

Mary Sharratt's new novel, The Vanishing Point, is a page-turner, a mystery, a quietly feminist tale, and a richly researched historical novel with ever-unfolding plot twists. An author's note indicates that Sharratt, who also wrote Summit Avenue and The Real Minerva, spent 10 years researching the medicine and mores of the 17th century, and her expertise is evident. Her hand is sure as she guides us through the story, sprinkling confident and casual references to birth control (did you know that honey kills sperm?), and healing herbs, and the Diggers and Levelers, English rebel groups who sought an end to feudal ways.
--Laurie Hertzel, Minnesota Magazine

The Vanishing Point has the hallmarks of a successful historical novel -- it's engaging, authentic in its period details, sexy when it needs to be, and is populated with characters the reader cares about.
--David Abrams, January Magazine

[The Vanishing Point] is an intelligent and gripping book that takes us to the New World of outcasts --- indentured servants, mail-order brides, failed tobacco planters, slaves --- rather than the more prosperous early Americans we know from conventional historical accounts. Mary Sharratt has a passion for her story, and it shows.
--Kathy Weissman,
Read a profile of Mary on, an interview with Mary at Literary Mama, and a conversation with Mary.

Her acclaimed first novel, Summit Avenue, is now in its third printing. Her second novel, The Real Minerva, explores the theme of female outlaws in a 1920s Minnesota town.

She is co-editor of Bitch Lit: "A refreshing alternative to Chick Lit, Bitch Lit is a smart and subversive celebration of female anti-heroes."

Check out Mary's list of "historical novels that challenge our conceptions about women in history."

Visit Mary Sharratt's official website and her blog.

Previous "page 69 tests:"
David Fulmer, The Dying Crapshooter's Blues
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defense of Globalization
Olen Steinhauer, Liberation Movements
Andrei Markovits, Uncouth Nation
Julie Kistler, Scandal
Robert Ward, Four Kinds of Rain
Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist
William Landay, The Strangler
Kate Holden, In My Skin
Brian Wansick, Mindless Eating
Noria Jablonski, Human Oddities
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity
Neal Pollack, Alternadad
Bella DePaulo, Singled Out
Steve Hamilton, A Stolen Season
Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air
Donna Moore, ...Go to Helena Handbasket
Louis Bayard, The Pale Blue Eye
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