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
On page 69 of Tandem, Mike, the perpetrator of a drunk-driving hit-and-run, faces Claire, the mother of one of his victims, at the funeral for her daughter, Emma. Mike has killed Emma and her boyfriend, Jeremy, on a tandem bicycle by a state park on a foggy night. Mike is remorseful, but thus far he’s been unable to confess to Claire, who happens to be a neighbor of his. Because Emma’s death is the talk of the neighborhood, Mike convinces himself it would somehow be suspicious if he didn’t attend the funeral.
What is the book about?
Tandem is about the aftermath of a drunk-driving hit-and-run. The chapters alternate between the point of view of the perpetrator, Mike, an economics professor at a small college in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Claire, the mother of one of the victims and a curator at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art. His guilt and her grief draw the two of them together.
Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the novel is about? Does it align itself with the novel’s theme?
Yes! It’s as if this page were engineered in a lab simply to pass the Page 69 Test! This is the first instance of Mike rationalizing more contact with Claire than is probably advisable. Another rationalization informs this scene: his attempt to focus on what Claire and her husband, Ryan, need is part of the deal he made with himself when he decided not to turn himself in after the crash. He thinks he can do more good outside of prison than in prison and pledges to “love his way out of” his guilt by atoning for his crime through good behavior toward others. His desire to “love” Claire in this way only leads him to get more deeply involved in her life. This is aligned with the central theme of the novel: can love, or the performance of love, atone for hidden guilt?
Then it was his turn to approach Nathan who was in a suit, with his hair slightly gelled and combed off his forehead. He looked handsome, his face open and shiny, like a seed inside a green bean.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
Nathan shook his hand, said thank you, and abruptly sawed his forefinger against the side of his nose, readying himself to dispatch the next person in line.
“I’m so sorry,” Mike said to Ryan, looking into his weak, slate-gray eyes. He clasped his hand firmly and, with perfect timing, cupped his left hand against Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan moved into a brief hug, which surprised him. They weren’t close. But that’s evidently what Ryan needed, and maybe Mike’s focus on being loving to Ryan had done something to his body language, which had brought out a reciprocating loving response from Ryan.
As he stepped in front of Claire in her short-sleeved black dress, he tried to focus on what she needed now. He made brief, acute eye contact. Her irises were a bright yellowish brown—gold, really, her eyes were golden. He had never even heard of a person with golden eyes, much less seen them. He had talked to Claire a few times before but never noticed.
“I’m very sorry,” he said and looked down. She did not hug him. She said, “Thank you,” softly but clearly. His eyes swelled again. He stepped away and childishly knuckled his right eye with his fist.
He stopped by the open coffin, but he looked at the cream-colored lining past Emma’s head, not at her face. He didn’t know what would happen if he looked at her real face. He touched the side of the coffin. “I’m so sorry,” he said in his mind.
He bowed his head and drifted through thick air, past people he couldn’t look at, until his shoes were clicking across the funeral home’s parking lot.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Andy Mozina majored in economics at Northwestern, then dropped out of Harvard Law School to study literature and write..