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....
Set up Page 69 for us. What are we about to read?
What you’re about to read is an excerpt from the flashback chapter of my novella Whimsy. In this chapter the protagonist (also named) Whimsy gets into a car accident which kills her roommate and leaves her severely injured. Whimsy meets her roommate’s brother, Frederick, at the funeral, and they begin a flirtatious friendship. In this scene, they hook up, and Frederick seems to immediately regret it.
What is the book about?
The book is about Whimsy’s struggle with her body image and social anxiety after the car accident, which left her with facial scarring. The majority of the plot hinges on Whimsy’s relationship with a journalist, Rikesh, whom she meets several years after the accident when he writes a human interest piece about her. The story is about the ways Whimsy’s trauma creates obstacles in her relationships, feeding her isolation.
Does this page give readers an accurate feel for the novel? Does it align itself with the book’s overarching theme?
This page provides a vignette of rejection, which is a big theme in this book. The scene somewhat foreshadows how her relationship with Rikesh plays out. Years after this flashback scene, Whimsy is still trying to figure out her needs and her worth.
He was careful as he kissed me. I leaned in closer. He lowered his hand, pulled it away from me, as I kissed his neck. His hand reappeared on my low back and snaked its way under my shirt. I pulled away.
“Please, don’t touch me there,” I said.
He stood up and unzipped his pants. I grabbed him and did what came next. I rushed towards it without question. He seemed to be doing the same. I wondered if his arms were held over his head, like the guy I saw through the window, but I didn’t want to look up.
Afterwards, I asked him to lie down with me. I was supposed to lie only on my back, but I turned onto my left side to make room for him on the twin bed. He stood for a while before he joined me. The bed felt bigger, somehow, with both of us in it, with the way he found space enough to keep his back from touching my abdomen. I placed my arm over him. I hoped to signal that he could come closer. He must have been afraid of hurting me.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Just don’t lean your weight on my collarbone.”
He didn’t move or speak. I thought he might have been dozing off. I left my arm over him, but it felt strange. It looked like something that didn’t belong there, like a rubber hose draped over a birthday cake.
“I’m sorry.” He pushed himself up off the bed and stood. “I don’t have a lot of friends.” He sighed, “Basically just my parents, now.” It sounded rehearsed, his self-pity. He looked up at the wall, where his sister had once placed a whiteboard to write herself reminders and due dates. “I want you to be my friend.”
Shannon McLeod is the author of the novella Whimsy (Long
Day Press 2021) and the essay chapbook Pathetic (Etchings Press 2016).
Her writing has appeared in Tin House, Prairie Schooner, Hobart, and SmokeLong
Quarterly, among other publications. Born in Detroit, she now lives in Virginia
where she teaches high school English. You can find Shannon on her website at www.shannon-mcleod.com.