Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kathleen George's "Afterimage"

Kathleen George is a professor of theatre at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of the acclaimed novels Taken and Fallen, the short story collection The Man in the Buick, scholarly theatrical books and articles, and many short stories.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new novel Afterimage, and reported the following:
I’ve sometimes administered something like the Ford Madox Ford test on my own when browsing in a bookstore. Perhaps I didn’t go to p. 99, but I opened the book at random to see if the author's voice was clear and compelling. Now I’ve been asked to do it to my own book — and that’s a test all right! I look at the bookshelf nervously. Will I protest? Will I say, “Oh, but there’s so much more scene description elsewhere,” or “Oh, oh, if you would just check out this other character, I think you’d be pleased.”

So I heave a breath and open to p. 99 and I find that that’s the scene in a poverty-ridden household in which the young rookie detective Colleen Greer is questioning a man about his daughter whose body has been found in the park. The man is lithe, gorgeous, alcoholic. Does he know anything at all? Is he hiding knowledge? Is he completely innocent?

The fact is, I’ve found a somewhat representative scene. Colleen Greer is trying to be polite. There is a horrible tragedy sitting in the room and yet she’s quietly pressing him for details. And she’s listening closely to the facts that she will have to sort out — the alibi he gives her.

As I was writing this scene and others, the characters were (always are) very real to me. I can feel the pace of their heartbeats, I know when they swallow, I know when something gets caught in the throat. That means that, for moments, I must be them. Then, too, I think I know how they smell — breath, underarms. That means that in other moments I stand beside them. I also watch them interact. To do that, I have to stand back a few feet.

Inside: Deon Washington is heartbroken, confused, and hungover. Next to: He smells of sugar, alcohol, sweat, and sex. A few feet back: He hands over pieces of his life, bit by bit, as he can, to Colleen who treats them objectively, both of them focusing on ordinary details and putting off, for a time, the enormous grief for what has happened.
Read an excerpt from Afterimage and learn more about the author and her work at Kathleen George's website.

--Marshal Zeringue