Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Ford Test

Ruth Rendell, one of my favorite writers, recommends that all who aspire to write read Ford Madox Ford’s “The Good Soldier.” Rendell says she reads this novel, which is ranked among the greats of the 20th century, annually.

Ford, an English novelist, poet and editor, was a champion of new literature and experimentation. He aided early careers of Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and other notables.

One of my favorite quotes by the man concerns his close friend, Jack London, another of my favorites: “Like Peter Pan, he never grew up, and he lived his own stories with such intensity that he ended by believing them himself.”

Though his own work is less known today, many will be familiar with his advice to select a book by opening it and reading page 99. His conclusion was by reading that one page “…the quality of the whole will be revealed to you."

Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian scholar known for the expression “the medium is the message” and who predicted the World Wide Web three decades before it was developed, made a similar recommendation, though his suggestion was to read page 69.

I’ve tested both theories on a variety of books. Personally, I give the edge to Ford.

Here’s Page 99 from my novel, “Fallen From Grace”. Based on the Ford theory, I believe there’s enough mystery suggested for a reader to want more of the tale. What do you think?

“Could they have been…”
“No. They weren’t together long enough and they left separately. I couldn’t make up my mind should I follow him or her when they parted. I still feared for her safety, but I was curious about his identity. The man saved me the bother of deciding. As Lizzie walked away, the man came flying out of the alley on horseback. Since I was afoot there was no way I could follow him.”
“And the girl?” Lydia asked.
“She came straight back home. Who do you think she might have been meeting and why, Tilghman?”
“That’s what I’ll be asking directly,” I told him.
This proved more difficult than expected.
“Gone? What do you mean?”
“Just what I said,” Matilda told me. “Packed her bag and left this morning without a word of explanation.”
“Well where do you think she went?”
“She didn’t tell either of us,” Barbara said. “I think it’s all my fault.” I saw tears brimming in the girl’s eyes. She sighed heavily and plopped down on the bench by the backdoor of the boarding house.
Tillie and I both glanced at her. “What does that mean?” I asked.
Barbara sighed again and dabbed at her eyes with an edge of her apron. “We had a fight last night. She snuck out after we went to bed. I heard her go and I was afraid. I waited up until she came back. She wouldn’t tell me where she went and we had a row.”
“A customer I didn’t know about?” Matilda asked.
“No,” Barbara said, shaking her head. “Nothing like that. She would have said if that were the case. This was something secret and she didn’t like me prying. She never got mad at me like that before.”
“Humph,” Matilda said and she scowled.
The woman stood with her hands on her hips and grunted again.
“Do you have an idea where she went?”
“He probably promised her more money, that’s what.”