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On Free Food for Millionaires

The Page 99 Test, July 2007.

On page 99 of Free Food for Millionaires, my main character Casey Han is smoking on the roof of her friend Ella Shim’s apartment building. It is Sunday morning, and Casey can’t decide whether or not she is going to accompany Ella to church. From the roof, she catches a glimpse of Ella’s cousin, Unu Shim who has just moved into the building across the street. Her cigarettes smoked, Casey goes downstairs to Ella’s apartment and tells Ella that she will go to church after all. Ella is horrified, because though she had wanted Casey to come to church with her and her fiancé Ted, Ted has just told her that he informed Casey’s ex-boyfriend Jay that Casey is staying at Ella’s apartment. Casey does not want Jay to find her, and Ted knew this. Ted has betrayed Ella’s confidence, and now, Ella has to conceal something from her friend Casey as they head off to church. Presently, Unu will meet them after church ends, and he will witness Casey and Jay’s first encounter since Jay’s sexual betrayal of Casey.

Even as I type this elaborate summary, I realize there are five people mentioned in this one critical page: Casey, Ella, Ted, Unu and Jay. What is interesting to me, in light of Ford Madox Ford’s quotation, is that Ford is right. Hot damn. The quality of the whole can be expressed by these five characters, because these are the principal young players in the book, and their relationships: Casey-Ella; Casey-Jay; Casey-Unu; Casey-Ted, and very importantly, Ella-Ted are altered materially by the events of this page.

I read The Good Soldier two years before beginning this book. It is, for me, one of the most accomplished uses of first person narration in a novel form. The Good Soldier is a technical achievement as well as a narrative tour de force. Ford is remembered for his superior editing skills and networking prowess, but I was taken by The Good Soldier — for its craftsmanship and its sad portrait of marriage. An interesting companion book about marriage for The Good Soldier might be James Salter’s Light Years. Needless to say, Ford’s 99 test will not be dismissed for bunk by this writer of this book.

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