Monday, June 8, 2015

Page 69: The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club

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 Samantha Bruce-Benjamin's The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club to the test.

Ok, Samantha, set up page 69 for us.

As she prepares for her last party at The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club, legendary society hostess, Serena Lyons, recalls the life-changing events of her debut party, thirty-one years earlier.

What is The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club about?

The novel chronicles five minutes in the life of Serena Lyons, a celebrated Hamptons society hostess, and her guests, who have gathered for the last party of the season at the fabled Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club. As The Great Hurricane of 1938 barrels toward The Hamptons and prepares to make landfall, we learn of the tragedies that left their indelible mark on Serena, the promises that were made and broken, and the decisions that brought all of them there that evening, their destinies forever intertwined and sealed.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?

P69 fairly accurately encapsulates one of the dominant themes in The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club, in that it observes a defining moment in the life of society hostess, Serena Lyons. Over the course of five minutes, as Serena watches her guests arrive from her bedroom window, she relives the five most important moments of her life, with this scene forming the culmination of her first reminiscence: the catalytic moment when she was separated from her greatest love, Kit Peel, at her debut party on her eighteenth birthday in 1907.

As the entire novel hinges on Serena’s desperate hope that Kit will at last return to her, after thirty-one years of absence, p69 reveals the conflict and confusion surrounding their initial separation and the idea of the party as a prison for Serena, one into which she is locked forever – albeit unwittingly – by the actions of various different characters. The mystery surrounding her role as a hostess and her past is explored throughout the novel from the perspectives of those characters, some of whom are alluded to on this page: her future husband, Captain Lyons, her best-friend, Teddy Worthington, as well as various guests; all of whom possess a secret about Kit that could have changed the course of Serena’s life irrevocably.

What p69 fails to capture, however, are the competing narrative voices of the story, and the scope of the party itself. In its entirety, The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club is as much as a celebration of life, in all of its comedy and tragedy, as it is a poignant rumination on those handful of memories that define who we are and impel the choices we make: the choices and decisions made for us and by us that are decided and enacted in less than a minute.

The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club

One moment more, I think. What Kit would say to stop me from leaving and I would always stay. But this is also a choice I’m making, the reality of loss crippling: It is part will, part acceptance, my allowing Teddy to guide me. It is his will imposed onto mine, a debt I owe because I left Teddy for Kit.  Change this, something in me pleads, see straight inside me and change this, make the choice for me….  “Please,” I whisper, “I knew you before….” And I almost scream, I almost stop breathing, as I force myself to accept; he is not going to move. He is going to let me go.

            I hear my mother’s voice, so much missed, utter her crippling legacy once more: “The summer redbirds, Serena. They only stay for a summer and then they fly away.” I think of the bird at my window, how different a girl I was mere seconds earlier. And I look to Kit again, that brightly plumed figure of my childhood, and it is as if he is rushing toward me over the fields, or waiting in the courtyard to take me sailing, or telling me, “There will be such things, Serena, such things.” All of those perfect moments before that I will clutch to me forever. And all I can see is his beauty, all that I know is his love, as our eyes meet for the last time and the door fastens shut. 

            I cannot count the tears as Teddy turns me decidedly round and hastily wipes them from my cheeks: “I’m so sorry, Serena,” he says. “I tried…” But I am not listening. All I can hear is the sound of my heart, pounding louder and louder, as the guests swarm around me. I see my father watching me at Captain Lyon’s side. I look to him, searching his face for any sign of love for me, but all he does is turn away in contempt. “Serena,” Captain Lyons says softly, stepping toward me. “It’s better this way. Let him go. He’s not worthy of you.” “Let him go? Go where?” I ask.

            Yet, I don’t wait for his response, for it is only now that I truly understand what I’ve done, where my passivity has led me, as the full horror of it settles over me with uncompromising finality. Did my father and Captain Lyons know something? What were they not telling me? “No,” I scream, trying to push back through the crowd to follow Kit, knowing I won’t be able to live with this uncertainty: I need to ask him why. Nobody will ever tell me the truth but Kit. But I can’t; the people, congratulating me and wishing me good luck, carry me deeper into the house and I’m forced to accept that there’s no getting out of this.  The party has consumed me whole.


Samantha Bruce-Benjamin is the author of The Art of Devotion, an Examiner and Bookreporter Best Book of 2010. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, she holds a Master of Arts with Honors in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. A former Random House and BBC literary editor, she divides her time between Edinburgh and New York.

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