Friday, August 3, 2007

Steven McDermott's "Winter of Different Directions"

Steven J. McDermott is an editor, litblogger, author, and podcaster.

He put the "Page 99 Test" and the "Page 69 Test" to his short story collection Winter of Different Directions and reported the following:
Pg 69:

Winter of Different Directions is a collection of twenty short stories written in a variety of styles and so page 69 is not the most representative, but along with page 99 a good sense of the book emerges. Page 69 finds us in "Seven Blocks North, Two Miles East." Tommy, a fifth-grader with speech impediments, has struggled to make friends since moving to a new school mid-year and the story chronicles the surprising way he both conquers his speech problems and makes new friends. In this excerpt from page 69, Tommy, after skipping out of school, shoplifting a pot-pie, and making a lean-to in the woods, has this to say about his life:

I added more wood on the fire and started the pot-pie cooking, the aluminum blacking up quick with soot. I opened the bottle of Coke and took a drink. Moving hadn't made sense to me. "We need to start fresh, live in a different house," my mom said after she married my new stepfather. So we moved to a duplex across the street from the junior high school where I'd go if we stayed in the neighborhood long enough. I'd gone to six schools already and wasn't even done with fifth grade. My mom was a bank teller; we moved but she didn't have to change jobs the way I had to change schools. This step-dad drove a cement truck. I hadn't had him long enough to know whether I liked him any better than my previous stepfather. He'd worked for a fencing company and built chain link and I didn't miss him one bit. I didn't know where my father was or what he did.

Such glimpses into the character's interior world are, despite the varied styles in the collection, the emotional glue that binds the twenty stories together.


Pg 99:

Page 99 is not the most representative, but along with page 69 a good sense of the book emerges. Page 99 lands one about halfway through "Go," which is a multi-threaded story that has Carter trying to win a golf tournament while also sorting out design issues for his engineering job and waiting to find out about his wife's out-of-town job interview. "Go" is the most plot dependent story in the collection and I'm fascinated that all three plot threads appear on page 99. Stylistically, a frequent technique in the stories is the use of exposition as ammunition in the dialogue. Here's an example from the page:

Peavey was in his office answering his email when Carter walked in and sat down. Peavey swiveled around, saw Carter's demeanor, and said: Let me guess, UAL.
This is ridiculous, Carter said. Everyone knows it's a bullshit design and they keep expecting me to fix it. And when I don't it makes me look like an idiot. Why won't you just let me fix the damn thing once and for all?
You know what I like about you, Carter? You've got passion. That tells me I made the right decision.
What? By not approving the design change?
The design will change all right. Just not on the scale you're thinking, Peavey said with a slight smirk. United wants to add a crew rest.
Oh, Christ, that means a complete interior redesign.
It gets better, Peavey said. Manufacturing will only sign-off on it if we use a design/build team.
Great. Design by committee.
It gets better, Peavey said. They want co-location.
We're going to move a design team out to the factory, make you all sit together.

The subtext here is that Carter is about to be promoted to what is essentially his dream job at the same time that his wife is getting her dream job offer; but hers will require moving to another city. She's going. Will he?
Visit Steven McDermott's website where you may read several of the stories online and hear the author read from Winter of Different Directions.

--Marshal Zeringue