Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Page 69: Songs From Richmond Avenue

Disclaimer: 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 Michael Reed's Songs From Richmond Avenue to the test

Set up page 69 for us (what are we about to read):

The unnamed narrator of “Songs From Richmond Avenue”; a woman he has a crush on, Michelle; her stripper roommate, Honey; and his former co-worker at a Houston newspaper, Jonesy, arrive at a grocery store late at night after drinking in a bar. Because he’s vomited on his shirt and can barely walk, Jonesy stays in the car, while the others go in to shop. Jonesy, wearing a huge pink smock Michelle found in the trunk to replace his shirt, gets out of the car briefly and is accosted by a pickup truck full of drunken yokels who had driven by earlier and liked the looks of Honey; Honey returned to the car just ahead of the other two. Page 69 picks up with the narrator and Michelle back at the car.  

 What’s the book about?

It’s about a guy of questionable work ethic, the narrator, who has settled for a life that involves spending a lot of time in a bar that’s frequented by gamblers and other low-end types. He undergoes something of an epiphany following a bus stop encounter with Michelle, a woman he declares has “skin so perfect I doubted she even had pores.” He wonders if she could provide some sort of redemption – at least give him a reason to shoot for something a little better. Maybe she can, but not until he deals with Michelle’s baseball bat-wielding former boyfriend, a paramilitary Buddhist barfly and the suspicious death of a friend, who fancied himself the father of Brute Generation poetry. That the narrator is drunk almost the whole time also complicates matters.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the book is about? Does it align itself with the book’s overall theme?
I would say it does, for the most part: The tone is somewhere in the middle on this page, not super-intense like the book occasionally gets, but there is a fair amount of weirdness taking place. Alcohol is central to the situation the characters find themselves in, obviously, but it would be a rare page where that was not the case.
The narrator and Michelle are the two central characters, so it’s good they are both prominent on Page 69. Honey is in a fair amount of the story and Jonesy is a pivotal though not major character, so that fits in nicely, too.
Obviously, it’s unlikely one page of any book will reveal much of its plot line, but, overall, Page 69 is a fair representation of “Songs From Richmond Avenue.”


I looked in the passenger’s seat and saw Jonesy sound asleep and wearing what now appeared to be a tattered, pink blouse. It wasn’t hard to picture him standing in the parking lot looking like a massive transsexual, complete with well-defined cleavage. I couldn’t even imagine the conversation that had preceded the altercation, which we were told, ended abruptly when Honey produced a can of pepper spray and a lighter shaped like a derringer.

“I started to call the cops even after they left, but you know, I guess it was kind
of funny,” Honey said, checking her nails for damage.

“How can you say it’s funny?” Michelle said. “What about his feeling?”

“He did seem pretty sensitive about all that hair on his back,” Honey said. “He
kept trying to cover up, even after they left when it was just the two us. I think he might like me. Maybe I shouldn’t have flirted with him so much.”

Jonesy’s body had become something of a breeding ground for unwanted hair
in recent years. I seemed to recall him lamenting that fact once during an outing to Stewart Beach, where he wore a lightweight football jersey in hundred-degree heat, even in the water. Come to think of it, even his nose hair tended to be the long, flowing variety when left unattended.

“Look, it is a little funny,” I said. “Besides, he won’t remember any of this in the

Michelle looked at me. This time she wasn’t smiling.

“You two,” she said, shaking her head and walking toward the Cadillac. “I sure
know how to pick ’em.”

In hindsight, the whole escapade made little sense, even as such escapades go.
Half the city ran around shirtless eight months out of the year, anyway. For that matter, most women who could pull it off were wearing the equivalent of Band-Aids at that very moment and calling them tops. A smock was unnecessary as long as Jonesy stayed out of the store, and a pink smock was unnecessary at any time. Of course, there was the whole back-hair issue and the highly unusual involvement of women in our antics to consider this time, I suppose.

Hell, if back hair bugged him that much, Jonesy should have pulled me aside and said something. I could have put up with him wearing his smelly shirt until I dropped him off at home. Then Michelle and I could have taken his car to another bar or two, maybe even run down to Galveston really fast. That’s the kind of things friends do for friends.


Michael Reed is a Texas journalist, meaning he lives in inexpensive apartments and drives paid-for used cars. He does not have a wife or children, which is probably best for all concerned, and has never owned a washer or drier, something he takes great pride in. This is the Southern Illinois University graduate’s first novel.

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