The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....
In this installment of Page 69,
we put JA Tyler's The Zoo, a Going to the test.
OK, set up what we are about to read on page 69:
Jonah is at the zoo with his folks, and as much as he’s watching the animals in all their various surroundings, he’s also taking in his parents and their relationship, and his own place in this world. On pg. 69, we see Jonah midway through the aquarium section of the zoo, at a tank where kids can get an ocean perspective through a special viewing window.
What is The Zoo, a Going about?
The novel follows Jonah on a route across the entire zoo, and each animal on that path is a short chapter in which we learn bits of Jonah and his parents. They love each other but might not be in love anymore, his father suffers from post-war trauma and has recently lost his brother to suicide, and Jonah is growing up both too fast and too slow for his liking. By the end of the novel, we see a family like so many in the world today, unsure of how it all works but fighting through anyway, pushing and pulling in a thousand unseen ways, trying to avoid all the spaces between like so many false landscapes in an unassuming trip through the zoo.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself with the collection’s theme?
Absolutely. Jonah’s mind works like many young ones, framing one moment then the next as quickly as possible, so this small chapter is a nice glimpse of both the way the book is built and the construction of Jonah’s voice. The novel resonates with themes of loss, transition, and existence, making its path chapter by chapter, animal by animal, just as Jonah does here.
THE ZOO, A GOING
There is a dome of glass that goes in and upward, and all of us, all the kids here, we can go inside it because we’re small enough. I go up and stand inside this bubble, and I can look up into the water as if I’m drowned. This is how it would look. Me as a treasure chest sitting on the ocean floor. I watch all the rocks above me and see that they aren’t rocks but only more cement. In this place, this house made like the sea, this cave we are in, nothing is real.
When I’m awake in bed not sleeping I think about how maybe nothing is real, but it doesn’t make me shiver.
The glass is cold and a shark in the tank passes over me, not even looking down.
In this bubble on the ocean floor, I’m still the invisible kid. I smear the glass with my fingerprints.
The water goes in and out of the shark’s gills, and I can see the layers and layers of teeth that keep coming into its mouth.
Sharks tear chunks but I’m more like bit by bit, leaving my
fingerprints all over the place.
Meat and teeth I say.
What? my mom asks me, but I don’t say anything back. Then I say
Nothing because I don’t know how else to explain.
J. A. Tyler's work has appeared in Failbetter, Black Warrior Review, Redivider, Diagram, Fairy Tale Review, and New York Tyrant among others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and recognized in Wigleaf's Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the StorySouth Million Writers Award, and Wake Forest's &Now series. He lives in Colorado.