by Rio Liang
The summer 2012 issue of The Adirondack Review is now available online.
A doleful piece about a woman struggling to tap into her lover Peter’s mind and find meaning in the eventual (and inevitable) breakdown of their open relationship. There is a terminal disparity, we find, in the way the lovers view each other; she has attached to him with whole-hearted ardor, while he submits to embraces “with affection but without abandon.” Daubed throughout the story are moments when the narrator addresses Jessica, Peter’s former lover and our narrator’s predecessor. A sort of sisterhood then manifests, a bond formed through shared pain: We learn that Jessica had found consolation in Suzanne before her, just as the narrator finds consolation in Jessica. It’s not too far a leap to assume that Kate (our narrator’s successor) will one day find our narrator consoling her.
The story doesn’t break new ground but nonetheless captures nicely the differences in thinking between men and women. Peter finds our narrator’s emotionality bewildering. “His brain works differently from ours,” the narrator muses. “More focused, more literal, less prone to error and emotion, as if the two were interchangeable.” In one telling scene, Peter wonders at why a student had given him a thank you card, unable to process the sentiment behind it. He tells our narrator that he doesn’t care to read minds, finds no use in it. This insensitivity, which he extends to our narrator, marks him as the expected villain of the piece.
Overall, Ms Narayan knows how to craft an affecting sentence and tug at her reader’s heartstrings. One such moment: “We are young waves, flinging ourselves against unyielding rock, bursting into tears upon impact. We dissolve, we regroup, we return. In a few years we might lap gently at soft, abraded sand, out of weary habit, when both love and violence are salty memories.” An interesting read.
Seventeen-year-old Haze Greenberg is in love with twenty-eight-year-old Roy. He is, she finds out through the course of dating him, an anti-Semite. This doesn’t go over well with her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, which lands Haze on her neighbor’s – our narrator’s – doorstep. She takes refuge in his house, which is no inconvenience for him; he has harbored feelings for her and views her stay as somewhat of an opportunity. But his hoped for connection never materializes. As Haze’s grandmother tells our narrator, one doesn’t need “Yellow Stars and Swastikas to differentiate between the good and the bad in life.” Roy is clearly bad for Haze, but she’s too much an apologist for him, and too blind to see the narrator as little more than a host.
The allusions to the Holocaust and of guns (the narrator’s father had shot himself; neighbor Osario is a veteran soldier; Haze’s grandmother brandishes a keepsake revolver, a reminder of her Holocaust experience) hint at a more sinister climax for the story. But it ends rather pleasantly with, well, a cake; a nice comic defusion. But the tragic soon envelops, as the ending leaves our narrator abandoned by Haze, his heroics not having elicited a preferred response from his damsel.
Though the story could have done with a bit more tightening here and there, Mr. Carmichael nonetheless does well maintaining interest. More robust details like Uncle Willie’s restaurant, Haze’s star tattoo, and the Virgin Mary wall stain among others could perhaps have been better employed for a fuller effect, but the details we are supplied with are ingratiating nonethless. The backdrop is also nicely wrought and fitting: The neighborhood is splattered with specters (i.e. the narrator’s father, Haze’s grandmother, Osario) of a past being perhaps gradually forgotten.
Overall, another interesting read.
Sprouting from a simple news blurb about a woman caught using the carpool lane with a baby doll as her passenger, Ms Schantz’s story expands into a tragic portrait of the aforementioned woman, Roberta Hallmark, a drug addict who had previously lost her children. Our author doesn’t withhold from grit in her portrayal of Roberta; we learn of her propensity at age 42 for skimp (“She is caught in narcissistic memories”), of her lack of a filter (i.e. her brazen exhibition of her prolapsed uterus), and her consequent lack of friends. She is, as one might be inclined to call her, typical white trash. Ms Schantz of course doesn’t seek to condemn Roberta, but rather elicit sympathy for her subject. We are thus made privy, unlike the cop who had pulled over Roberta, to her having presumably gone mad, the baby doll being a stand-in for her late baby, a substitute to fill the void of her wasted life.
Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the fiction offerings or the rest of the issue.