In this installment of Page 69,
we put Connor Coyne's Shattering Glass to the test.
Ok Connor. Set up page 69. What are we about to read?
First year college students Ezzie and Dunya are auditioning to act in plays. When they arrive on site, however, they are told that each director is hosting their auditions from a different hidden location in the sprawling forest behind the University. Ezzie and Dunya start finding directors and auditioning, but Ezzie, who has spent her life doing theater, is discouraged by her mediocre performances. Dunya, on the other hand, has never been onstage in her life, but shines in front of the directors. The duo make their way among the trees, auditioning for play after play, plied with expensive booze, and treated to extravagant and bizarre performances by everyone around them.
What is the Shattering Glass about?
Lots of answers to this question. Firstly, it is about going away to college, leaving your family behind, having to correct your own mistakes and discover who you are and who you want to be as an adult. For the rest of your life. It is also about battling ancient and evil alliances hellbent on their vision of global domination. It is about the poignant rituals of higher education: dorm life, cafeteria food, books, classes, midterms, awkward encounters with love and sex, the realities of financial struggle. It is also about resisting the magnetic pull of sentient turbines that suck up your memories and convert them into electricity used to power the university. The book is about a lot of things... today I am thinking of it as a cross between the writing of J.K. Rowling and Thomas Pynchon.
Does page 69 represent the book’s overall theme? Do you think it give the reader a good sense of the book?
The coming-of-age themes, yes, I think it represents them very well. Ezzie is supposed to be in her element here, and yet she falters, again and again. She knows it's not reasonable to be jealous of the inexperienced Dunya, who is also Ezzie's roommate and best friend, but this is Ezzie's turf, dammit. What the hell are we supposed to feel when we start sucking at something we know we're really good at, huh?!
Style, also, yes. Shattering Glass is meant to be an enchanting and dizzying pastiche of allusion, call-outs, homage, and evocative detail. Page 69 references expensive rye and gin, the plays of Caryl Churchill, Charles Stewart Mott, the seven deadly sins, a popular class taught at the University of Chicago for one quarter in 1998, and the New York Daily News' notorious front page headline of October 30, 1975.
Plot, perhaps not so much. While the actual events on this page do influence what follows, much of this is probably a subplot. This page gives no sense of the identity of the antagonists or the central conflict that drives the action of the story out. Which is also, perhaps, fitting, because Shattering Glass is a novel that deploys and enjoys many tangents.
Could’ve fooled me, Ezzie thinks. It tastes awful. Like peppery, piney, celeryish rubbing alcohol smell.
“Try again!” says the director. They read the scene again. Ezzie notices no improvement. The lizard screams. “Thanks!” says McDirector. “We’ll post results on Friday.”
“We’re auditioning for all the plays,” says Dunya. “Maybe you can tell us where to go next?” Pointing, pointing. “Okay.”
Over the barrow and through the woods, to Mad Forest’s house manager they go. “Welcome!” he swoons, with two audition forms in his hand. They stand in a large but shaggy clearing, and there is a much larger crowd here, and time-charged animatronics of Charles Olan and President Gerald Ford.
“Take stock in the situation!” booms Olanbot.
“Go to hell, New York!” roars Fordbot. “Go to hell!”
Clouds puff up over the stars like cotton candy. Torches lick the leaves. Deep in there, Ezzie recognizes a couple kids from the Cradle. Jason James is a boy from Wrath House, tall and friendly, 70s hair, like a cheerful teddy bear, and he reads with a cutting Romanian accent. Then there is Velma Brass.
“Hi, Velma!” cheers Ezzie, too ready, enthusiastically. But Velma is busy rehearsing her part and does not notice. Meanwhile, Dunya has finished her form and is looking at a script.
“I think,” Dunya says, “I should read for the Vampire. Since I’m taking that class on the Classic Vampire. Do you mind that?”
“Okay,” Ezzie says.
“See, I knew you were going to say ‘Okay,’ because some vampires know what you’re going to say before you do. I know that from my Classic Vampire class.”
Why am I so passive? This is theater! This is my thing. This is what I was born for! And so they read, and Ezzie is so-so, so-so, discouraged and downcast.
“You look stressed,” says the house manager. “Have a sip, and relax a little.” He hands her a mug of coffee. Except it isn’t coffee. It’s
Connor Coyne is a novelist living and working in Flint, Michigan. His first novel, Hungry Rats, has been hailed by celebrated author Jeffery Renard Allen as "an emotional and aesthetic tour de force." His second novel, Shattering Glass, has been praised by author Gordon Young, as "a hypnotic tale that is at once universal and otherworldly."
Connor represented Flint's 7th Ward as its artist-in-residence for the National Endowment for the Arts' Our Town grant, through which artists engaged ward residents to produce creative work in service of the 2013 City of Flint Master Plan. He is founder of the Gothic Funk Press. Connor's work has been published in Belt Magazine's Flint anthology, as well as Santa Clara Review, Moria Poetry Zine, East Village Magazine, Flint Broadside, and Moomers Journal of Moomers Studies. Connor lives in Flint's East Village, less than a mile from the house where he grew up. Learn more at http://connorcoyne.com.