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?
We’re in the midst of a passage where the narrator, Charlotte, is interpreting a long poem that she wrote in a creative writing workshop. After her first episode of major depression, Charlotte is exploring the roots of her trauma through a simultaneously dark and humorous, Plath-esque poem about dolls. Here, we see some of her analysis of Part 3 of the long poem, “As a Doll,” as well as the beginning of Part 4.
What is the book about?
In How to Adjust to the Dark, Charlotte reflects on a string of doomed love affairs from her early 20s, as well as the poems she wrote about them. Through vignettes, poetry, and close reading, she untangles her beliefs about love and art to arrive at new theses about what it means to write about love—and what it means to love to write.
Does this page give readers an accurate feel for the novel? Does it align itself with the book’s overarching theme?
This portion is a bit less narrative than the novella as a whole, grounded more in a moment of poetry and self-reflection than in a snapshot of Charlotte’s life. However, it is an accurate reflection of her voice, at once analytic and filled with compassion for a prior version of herself.
HOW TO ADJUST TO THE DARK
Just as children listen to the sound of the ocean in seashells and mistake the rushing of blood in their own heads for it, children hold dolls to their chests hoping to feel something from the doll, when all they can feel is what is already inside themselves.
But in this poem, when the speaker holds the doll’s cool face to her own it is not that the doll is like herself (lovable, warm) but rather that she is like the doll: pleading, silent. And so she names them, all of them, after herself. This is how I begin to retell my story, and to make sense in this poem: in naming my toys Charlotte, I indicated my likeness to them. I did not imagine dolls as extensions of myself, living and breathing, but rather saw myself as decorative, mute, and helpless.
I continued breaking up these reflections on myself
and my childhood.
Of course, there is a difference.
Sometimes, it’s like being in a candy store.
The vibrant yellow business suits
small magenta combat boots
heels that match the leopard eyes
Rebecca van Laer’s writing appears in TriQuarterly, Joyland, The Florida Review, Salamander, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English from Brown University, where she studied queer and feminist autobiography. She lives in the Hudson Valley.
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