Crapometer #17

Genre: Literary Fiction

“Winter Home”

Rena Mezzano stared at the silver Christmas trees wishing she’d been born to different parents. There they were in the lobby of the Hudson’s store her parents blaming each other over their stolen shopping bags. It was an average Christmas: a mother threatening divorce, a father yelling back at her about that sounds like paradise, a baby sister that the Italian side of the family called a child of sin, and a half dozen dropped-jaw saleswomen watching from the Hudson’s handkerchief counter. It wasn’t the embarrassment that Rena would remember, it was the look of pity on the women’s faces. There was something else behind their eyes, something knowing and powerful, something like looking up into a snowfall.

Jackie, Rena’s mother, would have known better than to turn her back on the bags in mid-downtown Detroit. She’d been watching her back since she married Phillip. Her mother warned her about his lifestyle - blue-collar, Catholic, uneducated. He’ll probably spend more time boozing and chasing than taking care of his family. But Jackie loved him and money wasn’t everything then. Now she’s seen how money, or lack of it, can tunnel its way through every piece of a life. Jackie never told Phillip that she sells Avon door-to-door and saves the money for Rena to go to college. Jackie would say there is no way I’m going to let my daughter marry into this life. She’d say my daughter will be a teacher like I should have been. She’d say I’m not stupid enough to turn my back on shopping bags in downtown Detroit.

Phillip knew better too. He was raised in Detroit and stole enough things in his youth to know how it’s done. What can he say to his wife that she’d understand? She never understands. Phillip worked second shift as an industrial mechanic and knew the value of a dollar. His father taught him that. Or was it the value of hard work that his father taught him? His plans were simple: a job with overtime (done), marriage (done), mortgage (done), kids (done), then live happily ever after drinking a beer at The Office on payday. Jackie wouldn’t listen, so life wasn’t simple.

Rena received First Communion as her sister, Angelica, died of heat exposure in the backseat of the Cutlass. Jackie blamed Phillip because she was distracted trying to think up an excuse for not attending the expensive dinner afterward at DiAllio’s. Phillip called Jackie an unfit mother and the arguing between them turned violent in the church parking lot and continued on for years everywhere else. Rena couldn’t look at the eyes of neighbors who heard the fighting, her Italian family who distrusted Jackie from day one, and her church family who prayed for the Mezzano’s without result. Rena learned to sense pressure in her house and later she decided to study weather in college.

Rena packed up her trash bags and headed to Michigan State University for three reasons: her Pell Grant covered almost all the costs, the University offered curriculum in meteorology, and it was 96.4 miles away from the life she’d grown up in. It snowed early that December. Jackie and Phillip argued over how much to spend on Christmas presents. Phillip shoved her off him and Jackie fractured her skull on the brick fireplace. The injury took her life so Phillip took his in the back seat of the Malibu. Rena sat next to her Aunt Rosalie at the funeral. Don’t go back to school, she told Rena. The University destroys something. Rena thought that was exactly the point and exactly what her friends, family, and neighbors expected.

She confided in a professor about her parents’ struggles and the guilty freedom Rena felt after their deaths. Dr. Warnen suggested gratitude: Education launders the past and it’s not one’s origins, but one’s actualization that define an identity. Rena sat in Dr. Warnen’s visitor’s chair and sipped coffee. Your future is not ill-fated if your parents neglectfully chose a repulsive lifestyle, the professor said. Chose?

Rena remembered the tiny lipstick samples her mother kept in the Avon cupboard. She thought of her father working double shifts for three months to replace the Cutlass with the Malibu. She heard the train whistle in her memory, the train she heard every morning when they drove in the cold dark to pick up her father from work, the exhaust of the cars hanging like clouds in the air. The metal grinding movement of the train cars, the deep whine cushioned by the winter harshness, it was her father’s voice, her mother’s, Angelica. A lifetime of sacrifice and hard work that brought home so little, but coupled all of them together into a family.

Rena finally knew what lie (lay) behind Dr. Warnen’s eyes, behind everyone’s eyes. She used to think of people’s expectations as a layer of snow and she’d trudged through it all her life. The blinding snow, the silent snow, the blanket over everyone’s eyes. She had a home once, parents who wrestled with the kind of hardships that bury love. Seeing that love now was more actualization than a University could offer. She left Dr. Warnen’s office and stood on the sidewalk outside where the falling white made the life in her quiet.

It’s not artful writing to mix tenses in the middle of the sentence in a synopsis. If you want to do that on purpose, save it for the novel. Here because of the abbreviated form it just looks like you don’t know what you’re doing. You did do it on purpose, didn't you?

And you don’t die of “heat exposure”; you die of “heat exhaustion” or dehydration. Exposure is most commonly describes dying of cold.

And, it’s not often I read a synopsis and have no idea what the point of the novel is, but I have no idea what this is about. Everyone’s dead and Rena’s standing in the snow. Is this translated from the French?


Brady Westwater said...

I also have no idea what the novel is about - yet I love the characters and the detail and the writing.

And the awkwadness and abruptness of the transitions seems to be an expression of the characters thoughts as she looks back on her life, and examines minor details and then rushes over and avoids dealing with the more traumatic major events.

It feels as if this is a prologue to a novel - or a dream the character has at the end of the novel.

It may be a terrible synopsis in format, but it makes me want to read the book.

Jan said...

It kind of read like a short story to me. I liked it though.

Pete Tzinski said...

Everyone dead with her standing in the snow? Sounds more like it's translated from the Russian, really... :)

kathie said...

I'm interested in the characters, too...