Just. One. More. Time. (promise) . . . so here goes:
My soon-to-be available novel, The Angry Woman Suite, about a Pennsylvania murder and its effects on two subsequent generations, was named a “New Release Critics’ Pick” by Kirkus Reviews last week (google Kirkus online newsletter of 1/4/12).
I did have champagne for dinner that night . . . and that’s all, just champagne.
Second, while I’m so obviously aboard the “all about me” train tonight, I’d like to talk more about The Angry Woman Suite, starting with the lovely cover design by artist Laurie Fuller, which several people have asked about, as in who is this beautiful woman?
Still others have asked if The Angry Woman Suite is biographical or partly autobiographical (no, it’s not; it’s fiction, although it incorporates many historical elements); and others have asked about the title, if it means what it sounds like; i.e., a bunch of pissed women off their meds.
The novel’s title refers to a famous suite of (ten) portraits that figure predominantly in the novel’s plot. This collection of paintings is called The Angry Woman Suite.
The woman on The Angry Woman Suite cover is Magdalene Grayson, the model for this suite of portraits.
The novel—mystery and love story and coming-of-age (three intersecting stories)—is told by three narrators in different time zones (between the early 1900s and 1968), in Pennsylvania.
Magdalene Grayson is not a narrator, but she is pivotal to the lives of all three narrators.
She is the love interest of one narrator, Aidan, and the mother of a second (more about him later). The third (and lead) narrator is her step-granddaughter, Elyse, who is the glue of the novel (and we know everything about Elyse, every thought in her head, from page one, on). But Magdalene remains a bit elusive, which is why I chose not to make her a narrator: I wanted her elusive. She is a beautiful cipher wrapped up in a riddle—and I think the book’s cover art captures her mystery.
So moving forward with what I love best about writing fiction, creating characters, two excerpts from The Angry Woman Suite follow. Both concern Magdalene Grayson from Aidan’s point of view. But the second excerpt, which shows Aidan’s new, wavering perception of Magdalene, reveals as much about Aidan as it does Magdalene.
We meet Magdalene briefly when she is in her early thirties—but then, moving back in time, we get another, different picture of her through Aidan’s eyes, when she is sixteen—and it is not love between them. It is not even like.
What it is, is disdain on both sides.
Because Magdalene is one of those people born observant and curious, and so she questions everything. She will listen, but all the while she’s likely to be thinking, “I wonder when the bullshit ends and your real story begins?” The much older Aidan finds this threatening to his walled-off existence.
This is what Aidan says about Magdalene when she is sixteen, in 1916:
“And from the back of Magdalene, I could tell nothing. I saw only a fall of long blond hair, the way she straightened her broad shoulders, and the dirt on her skirt where she’d been sitting . . . when she turned back around, her pale eyes were anguished. Other than that, she looked fine, same as always: large and awkward for a sixteen-year-old. What I didn’t see was that Magdalene Grayson’s bigness was smooth and symmetrical, even classical. I didn’t see it because, primarily, Magdalene did not impress me, never had. And I had my reasons (and it’s a long list). Let me condense it for you: Magdalene was difficult. She was damn difficult. Even as a first-grader she’d been difficult, restless and moody, regularly declining participation in the schoolyard, not wanting to be in my band, looking at me with disdain, as if she knew more than I.”
But a year later, on the eve of America’s entry into WWI, at Magdalene’s wedding reception—and Aidan has not seen Magdalene during this year—this is what he has to say about the woman destined for imminent widowhood, who will subsequently and unintentionally start a war on their own rural home front while having to choose between two men, and shield her disfigured sister from murder charges. . . .
Again, this is a year later, at Magdalene’s wedding reception through Aidan’s eyes:
“. . . But then, when they were almost on us, Magdalene turned her head. Our eyes locked, as did the breath in my chest.
“I’ll close my mouth,” Jamie whispered in my ear, “if you close yours.”
Her beauty was more spectacular than even Lothian’s. Whereas Lothian’s face was soft and oval-shaped, Magdalene’s had become chiseled angularity, fine and even—yet she wasn’t just beautiful. She had mystique, something rarely seen; it was something in her eyes. Tendrils of pale hair escaped the white snood she wore, making a halo around her damp forehead and flushed cheeks, and I sensed rather than heard Matthew’s own soft exclamation when she laughingly brushed Frederick’s cheek with her lips, lips that were wide and red and ripe, parted slightly, teasing, yet weirdly circumspect . . .
She was real, the dream existed, and of course she was not a good woman, this lovely dream of mine. How could she be? She’d been a challenging child to put it mildly, so she couldn’t be long-suffering like my mother, or generous like Sahar. No, Magdalene Grayson was interesting. She was inquisitive, fractious, self-absorbed and judgmental. And to top it off she was totally out of reach, and the absolute worst thing in the world for me.
Of course I wanted her.
Exhilarated, I looked closer and saw those pale eyes weren’t actually unkind; how could I have ever thought that? It was question I now saw in those eyes, and suddenly I also saw the rub . . .”
Okay, so what’s the rub? Well, The Angry Woman Suite will be available at the end of February, so stay tuned.
Not nice, huh? *smile*
However, what the rub is not, in this story, is truth. And the truth is that sometimes when we fall in like/love/lust—as Aidan’s apparently beginning to do—we are compelled to square that decision with a previous assessment. I mean, who’s going to say to him or herself, “I’m attracted to so-and-so because no one sets buildings on fire the way s/he does?”
No sane person. So the first assessment has to be modified. Also, this last bit of narrative suggests our walled-off Aidan possesses at least a modicum of vulnerability.
Thanks for coming by, and more on The Angry Woman Suite characters later—and, oh, my “metaphor,” the wooden ship! More on it, too. I’ll walk down to the bay and get new photos (see my post of 1/4/12), and be back with you in a week or so.
- The Angry Woman Suite Kirkus Review (leesroom.wordpress.com)