Friday, April 6, 2007

Elise Blackwell's "The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish"

Elise Blackwell is the author of the highly acclaimed novel Hunger, chosen as a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the year in 2003, and the newly-published The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
While page 99 is not the page I would send readers to first, the page-99 test works well for The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish. Several of the book’s central motifs suffuse page 99, including the various meanings of the word natural and its opposites (unnatural, artificial, manmade). Nature is present in a raw, threatening form (the unpleasant eel), and man’s manipulation of nature is also implied (Louis’s killing of the eel, the refining of sugar from cane, the production of meat in Grenada’s abattoirs). A central tension of the novel — the conflict between Louis Proby and his powerful father — is present, as is the idea of maturation.

The novel is, among other things, a coming-of-age story for both Louis and his place — a coming-of-age that is interrupted and accelerated by the horrific flood of 1927. Indeed, water is a malevolent force even on page 99. The page also reveals something crucial about Louis’s character and the mistakes he will later make. He’s a young man who fancies himself a natural historian, who likes to observe and understand how the world works, yet his understanding of human motivation is meager. This gets him into trouble later.

Of course, page 99 is also significant because of what is about to happen: a meeting with Olivier Menard that will, as the events of the novel play out, alter the course of Louis’s life in multiple ways.
Read an excerpt from The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

--Marshal Zeringue