The Page 69 Test

The Page 69 Test

Have you heard of the Page 69 test?

Nor had I. But it is, apparently, a quick test of a novel. I have decided that if a book does not capture my interest, I don’t have to continue.

Have you heard of the Page 69 test?

Nor had I. But it is, apparently, a quick test of a novel. I have decided that if a book does not capture my interest, I don’t have to continue. But I make myself continue to page 69. The point is, by page 69, the story should be well underway and the reader engaged. The idea originated with the 1960’s cultural guru Marshall McLuhan. He recommended that bookstore browsers can save time and pick an absorbing book by turning immediately to page 69. Read it, and if you like it, buy the book.

I had forgotten what exactly was on page 69 of my new novel, Joyous Lies, so I checked. How fun it was to realize that on this page the story is unfolding nicely. Here, the film-maker Pamela, who has come to the Joyous Woods commune to make a movie on “What Became of the Hippies, flirts with commune founder Neil, to his partner Johanna’s rage".

The fuel of the story, the commune’s loose take on fidelity, Neil’s charisma and his disorganized habits, Johanna’s despair, and her life-long habit of covering for Neil, trying to fix him, are all here on page 69. Take a read:

“No coffee, thank you,” Pamela said to the room, her eyes on Johanna. “I had to ask. Let’s get a visual on the question.”

She led them from the room, a gleeful Neil right behind.

The nerve! Johanna wanted to wallop both of them.

Upstairs, they set up in Neil’s bedroom. Its headboard-less mattress was covered, seventies style, with a faded Indian bedspread. Johanna’s heart twinged at the recollection of intimacy—she’d bought that bedcover years ago at a street fair. She took a seat on an old trunk on the other side of the room, pushing aside old books to make space for herself. She picked up a book, opened the flyleaf, and noted its library due date was years past. Typical Neil.

“We shared everything. Yes, it’s true.” Neil took a dive onto the bed and lay there, grinning at Pamela provocatively. “See, we thought we could run a community where everyone was tolerant, everyone loved everyone else. Sex was separate from that, but it could be free-flowing too. Relationships were fairly loose.”

The cameraman took a moment to turn his lens toward the balcony, where the unpruned tree spread its branches over the parapet, making the room dusky, though the sun still shone outside.
“I can see this room’s just made for a tryst.” Pamela laughed, her back to Johanna. Johanna peered at Neil, watching his reaction. The filmmaker must have sent Neil a come-hither look, because Neil’s eyes glinted, full of humorous invitation as he returned Pamela’s gaze.

He hadn’t given Johanna a look like that in a long time.

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