HectorBidon is offline
Join Date: Oct 2010
I agree with Exescort that this novella deserves a wider audience.
It tells the story of a young woman's descent into drugs and addiction and of her struggles at atonement and recovery. It's honest, confessional tone has struck a real chord with several readers who have travelled some legs of this route themselves.
It's also, from just a strictly literary point of view, a riveting corker of a read. It takes us places where many of us have never been: strip-club dressing rooms, seedy motels where drug deals go down, the cramped, but secluded, mop closet of a women's prison, the lonely seat of a Greyhound bus pulling away from a hometown where no one can forget what you've done.
It's not that it goes out of its way to be shocking or sensational. It just tells what happened, at a starkly frank emotional level. That's what makes it so moving and so real.
The novella starts in the middle of the story, on the day when the heroine turns herself in for sentencing. The first chapter is only a single Lit page long, but it's a gripping, dramatic story in its own right. It recounts the events of a single day, starting with the heroine's somber ride to the courthouse, and ending with her shackled ride to the correctional facility and the sound of the prison door slamming shut behind her.
The proceedings are recounted in rat-a-tat detail, like an episode of Law and Order: the sobering admonitions of the attorney, the tearful plea ("I said the word that I had said to myself thousands of times"), the strong hand of the bailiff, the coat sleeves having to be draped over the handcuffs, the anxious, nail biting fellow prisoner, the deputy's gratuitous grope, the worsening sleet through the dark van window, the prison officer's little act of kindness.
We meet the heroine near the lowest point of her fall, taking the first few steps of her recovery. She's been drug free for three weeks now. She's steadfastly determined to bear up to what may come. But at the same time she's afraid, uncertain, annoyed, numb. She's sorry for what she's done, but she has memories from those times that she doesn't ever want to forget. She's a complex, compelling character, and we can't help but root for her.
The rest of the novella fleshes out, in alternating chapters, the story of her fall and the story of her rise. We see her dissatisfaction with small-town life, the heady thrills of her life as a druggie and an exotic dancer, the wretched excesses of her life as an addict and a drug dealer's moll. Simultaneously we see the trials she faces in prison, the trials she faces in trying to start over, her move across country to a new town where no one knows her name.
The final chapter artfully weaves these two threads back together. The heroine wakes up naked and alone in a strange apartment, only vaguely able to remember the events of the night before. She knows there is only one place lower left to fall.
Then, in the powerful emotional denouement, she sees the reflection in the dark television screen of a pretty girl. "She was so much prettier than me. Her eyes were bright. Her skin was clear and unlined. She was eager to get on with her life, to have a career, to meet a wonderful man, to hold their children." Her heart goes out to that pretty girl, and she wishes her a better future than the one she sees for herself.
The girl in the reflection, of course, is her younger self, as she appears in the high school photo on her mother's mantel. She realizes that the only way she can give that girl the future she deserves is by choosing that future for the self she is now. This is the first step of her rise, and three weeks later she will be in the car riding to the courthouse to enter her plea.
The chapter ends by bringing us up to date on her recovery. She's gotten a new job and a new boyfriend. She tells him her story, afraid that he will react with horror and repulsion, but instead he gives her acceptance and love. The novella, which started with scenes of dead trees and drab snow banks, ends with the image of the sparkling sun rising up to illuminate a world full of color.
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The author is a very talented storyteller and wordsmith. She's woven a rich tapestry of events and characters, feelings and emotions. And she's done it in clear, effective prose that sweeps us right along.
One of her great strengths is her ability to clearly articulate her inner thoughts and feelings. She does this in a simple, straightforward style that never says more than needs to be said and always manages to hit the mark.
. . . The first time she traded sex for drugs: "I left the house without saying another word to him, and I managed to get all the way off the porch before the tears came. I thought I had hit rock bottom. Mercifully, I did not know that rock bottom was still a long way down."
. . . Reflecting on her life in prison: "I was struck by the irony that as a prisoner, so many more people were concerned about keeping track of me than had ever been the case in the outside world."
Another of her strengths is her talent for characterization. She makes us feel that we've met and known every one of her many characters: her boyfriends, cellmates, bosses, co-workers. Even the minor characters are important to her, and she draws them with kindness and generosity.
. . . About Glenn, the middle-aged patron of the strip club who took her in when she lost her job and who asked her to marry him: "He loved a fantasy girl who wore my face and danced with my body. I thought that convincing him that she didn't exist would hurt him worse than losing her would."
. . . About her cellmate Alicia: "Alicia was not a criminal with a heart of gold. She was not an innocent woman victimized by an oppressive system. She was a hardened criminal with little remorse for anything she'd done. But she was a human being, and as we shared the book, and others after it, I came to know her, and in a way, to love her."
Yet another of her strengths is her close observation of the world around her. The novella is a virtual treasure trove of practical information for fellow travelers.
. . . About exotic dancing: "If your guy blows his load just before the music ends, you've lost the potential income you'd get from another song."
. . . About prison life: Essential necessities that can be obtained from the prison canteen: a single serving electric coffee mug, a knit hat for cold nights, hydrocortisone for skin rashes, ramen noodles.
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Just so you're clear, the short synopsis presented here doesn't really do justice to the full dramatic and emotional sweep of the novella.
For one thing, it barely mentions the other main characters in the story: the heroine's steadfast mother who loves her without condition; her beautiful drug-dealer boyfriend Nicky, the first man she ever loved; her feisty, supportive grandmother who offers her a fresh chance; her new boyfriend Dwight who promises to be there to catch her if she should ever fall again.
Nor does this synopsis get into the flashier points of the plot: the joyride and shattering end of her life with Nicky, his betrayal of her, the particulars of their crime. Nor does it get into the many erotic scenes: with her boyfriends, her would-be boyfriends, her arranged prison girlfriend, her blueberry inamorato. Nor does it mention a thousand and one other plot points and details that contribute so much to the depth and texture and truthfulness of the story. You'll have to read and re-read the story to appreciate all of those.
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To my mind, the hallmark of great writing is that it captures and convincingly renders the richness and complexity of life. By this criterion, there is no doubt that 'My fall and rise' is great writing. I encourage you to read it and to look forward for more works from this gifted author.