Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Charlie Huston's "Every Last Drop"

Charlie Huston is the author of the Henry Thompson Trilogy (Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man) and a standalone, The Shotgun Rule. His first three Joe Pitt novels are Already Dead, No Dominion, and Half the Blood in Brooklyn.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to the latest Joe Pitt novel, Every Last Drop, and reported the following:
Having applied the Page 69 Test to one of my previous Joe Pitt novels, I’ve returned to endure the trials of the Page 99 Test for the latest Joe Pitt: Every Last Drop.

Let’s take a quick look at what Mr. Ford has to say just so we’re clear on the nature of the test.

"Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." --Ford Madox Ford

Seems pretty clear. The only part of Ford’s proposition that one might quibble over is just what he means by “quality.” Is he speaking of what Merriam Webster refers to in its primary definition as “peculiar and essential character” or the secondary “degree of excellence”? Which is to say, does he mean that page 99 will reveal the nature of the book we’re looking at, or that is will reveal whether or not the book is any damn good?

Let’s not bicker about it and all agree that he probably meant that page 99 will reveal a books “peculiar and essential character”. That has the added benefit of encompassing the “degree of excellence” as well. So, two birds, one stone.

Cutting to the chase, here’s page 99 of Every Last Drop.

ation, but that causes mutation. And mutation leads to adaptation over time. So, these guys, they’ve been using visible light pulses. And it works. It.

She holds up her cigarette, wiggles it, creating a jagged stream of smoke.

-It vibrates a virus, physically disrupts the virus shell, this thing called the capsid. It cripples the virus it affects. Virus can’t function, and dies. So.

Her eyes are big, staring a million miles.

-The Vyrus, your Vyrus, goes haywire when exposed to solar UVA, it mutates. But not adaptive mutations. Or not that we can see because it happens way too fast. But, but, maybe we can find a wave of radiation, a visible wavelength to shatter the Vyrus’ capsid? It’s so, it’s way outside the box, but the Vyrus isn’t in the box, so this is the kind of stuff we have to. I mean.

She stares further, going away from the room, deep inside some other place.

-It is so fucking cool.

She takes a big drag.

-It’s like, like being a pioneer. Like none of the rules apply and you can try anything. Anything. Nothing is out of bounds. And. Oh, and I said about computer models. The good thing about having too many people here, it gives us a really good pool to draw samples from. And, because the Vyrus, it does mutate. Radically. From person to person. I mean, we’ve got a couple people here who infected other people here. And even then, the same strain passing from host to host, it mutates. But within a range. I think. So we can draw samples. And like I said, the Vyrus is a total puss, and if you mishandle a specimen it croaks like that, but if you do it right we have time to log the mutation. So we’re creating a database of mutations. Like, we can look and see its favorite tricks. How it hides. How it defends itself. Maybe get an idea why some

So we got a lot of dialogue. Very common in my books. And they’re talking about the virus that causes vampirism in my mythology. Central to the series. Aaand… Well, that’s about it. It doesn’t deal with either of the major plot points of the book, involving Joe’s girl and a huge stockpile of blood. Nor does Joe, the protagonist and narrator, have a voice here. We don’t see any of the landscape of NYC, always a major component of these books. And Joe doesn’t hurt anyone. So, is the “peculiar and essential character” of the book revealed here?

No, not at all.

But the fault is not in the page, it’s in the test.

No single page in any book is ever going to reveal that book’s quality, however you choose to define that word or apply the test. What it may or may not tell you is if it’s a book you might want to read. The “peculiar and essential character” of anything will never be revealed in a fragment. You want to get at the heart of something, you’re going to have to get intimate with it.

But, if you’re looking for a quick test to find out if you think you might want to someday develop some intimacy with a book, you know, have a cup of coffee and chat and see if there’s a spark, you could start with the Page 99 Test. However, I’d recommend just beginning at the beginning and applying the Page 1 Test. If you turn to page 2, that generally means page 1 was at least pretty good. After that you can take it one page at a time until you’re ready to commit.
Read an excerpt from Every Last Drop, and learn more about the book and author at Charlie Huston's website.

--Marshal Zeringue