Tag Archives: relationships

She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb: a review

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Note to FTC: In exchange for reviewing this book I received the pleasure of reading the book, nothing more.

One of the best books I’ve ever read, She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb, published in 1992, lands 5+ stars. It was an Oprah’s Book Club choice. Twice. I don’t know what took me so long to discover the book, and the author, but I’m glad I finally did.

As a writer I tend to study the story I’m reading, sometimes unconsciously, (which can make for an unenjoyable experience if I’m not careful to stop studying long enough to just read). The first thing I usually notice, or look for, is foreshadowing. Often I guess correctly where this foreshadowing is and what’s going to happen next because of that event. This is when I know I have an “okay” book in hand, rather than a “knock-em-dead” book. I want to be surprised, shocked even, by the twists and turns in a story, I don’t want to feel so certain I know what the ending will read like.

But with She’s Come Undone the foreshadowing, was not the first thing I noticed, (though I did find it and guessed correctly in a couple of instances but not most). No, the first thing I noticed, as a writer, is that Wally Lamb offers very little in the way of description, and yet we inherently know not only what the characters look like but who they are – they’re 3-D people, they feel real. “How did he do that?” we writers want to know. The good news is it’s easy to discover that he shows us what’s happening by – guess – telling us exactly that: what’s happening, not what color the kitchen counter Dolores throws a towel on is but what she knocks over with that towel. Voilà: there is the picture in our mind, he need go no further with that description, he can simply go on telling us her next action. And the dialogue? You just can’t get any better than this. So, as a writer, I highly recommend reading and studying She’s Come Undone.

I also highly recommend She’s Come Undone as a reader. The story, about a girl/woman, Dolores Price, dealing with depression and repressed feelings, is so eerily like my own (early) life it scared me. (Dolores’s greatest fear, which I won’t tell you so as not to spoil the story), is my greatest fear, and for the very same reason, though it takes her years to recognize the fear (it did me too). The grip Mr. Lamb has on the human psyche is amazing but what astounded me more was the fact that, despite being a man, he got the feelings of this depressed girl/woman down-pat! And I’ve never before paid attention to whether the main character is a man written by a woman or vice-versa, it’s simply either a good story or it isn’t. But with this one I couldn’t help it because…..well, you’ll have to read the book to understand what I mean.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn about “other things” that happened in the 60s and 70s, things aside from the moon landing and Kennedy’s death. So much news is woven into this story that it could easily be a terrific history book for teenagers.

I don’t want to digress – I believe the main point of She’s Come Undone is to show us the damage that judging others can do, how it can hurt people well beyond the day they were assaulted, verbally or otherwise, by their peers, and even by so-called responsible adults – it can take hold, grow and last for years and years, making everything in the victim’s life a nightmare of fear. It’s sad, yes, very sad, but the book isn’t a depressing one, it’s thoughtful and it’s hopeful, it really made me think about all the kids, and adults, in this world who are constantly picked on, bullied, and how they make it through life without a breakdown. Many of them don’t.

She’s Come Undone also has several gut-busting belly laugh moments sprinkled throughout which greatly helped ease the seriousness of the subject enough to help us, the reader, read on, knowing we weren’t being led to a “bucket-full-of-tears” slaughter.

Run out and get She’s Come Undone today. You’re going to love Dolores, I promise. Click here to go to my bookshelf and read short reviews of other books I’ve read this year.

What book stands out as one of your greatest discoveries? What made it so great?

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The Night Before Christmas #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction #Christmas

frdayflashbadge02Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

The Night Before Christmas was originally published as a #fridayflash in December of 2011.  I was sorely tempted to change the ending but stories are not meant to be forced into something they are not, so I held back and simply tweaked. I hope you enjoy The Night Before Christmas, rated PG-13, according to my standards.

Image by Deanna Schrayer
Image by Deanna Schrayer

The Night Before Christmas, by Deanna Schrayer

Susan sinks to her knees on the velvet tree skirt and buries her face in her hands. The tears slipping through her fingers taste metallic, sour, stinging her tongue. This is the first Christmas Eve in her life she’s been alone. She tried several times today to call her husband, Barry, at the hotel where he’s been staying since the day after Thanksgiving. But she got no answer.

The wind blows harsh and fierce outside the bungalow and Susan shivers. She lies on her side beneath the Christmas tree, the tree she decorated by herself in a fit of false hope two days after Barry left. Now a silvery icicle slides down to caress her face, as if to comfort her.

Susan wants so much to be angry with her husband, she wants to march down to the elegant Mystic Haven Ritz and slap him. But she has no basis for such longing – it was Susan who drove Barry away, it was she who had the affair.

Still, the anger has to come out and so Susan pounds her legs with her fists, she beats herself until she feels the pain ease from her heart down into her thighs. Exhausted, she bunches the tree skirt up and bundles it beneath her head, her fiery gold curls spilling over the burgundy velvet, brushing the hard wood floor.

She tries to think of Barry – the man who appeared at just the right time, the man who saved her life – sitting here with her by the fire, holding her body against his, arousing her with his feathery kisses. But all she sees is Cliff. Her first husband’s hard-muscled hands kneading her shoulders as he bruises her lips with kisses, Cliff’s urgent need to stoke the fire coursing through Susan’s veins with a fire all his own, Cliff’s misty blue eyes scorching to violet as his desire for her grows hotter and stronger. Cliff…

Susan recalls the first Christmas she and Cliff were married, (in fact they wed on Christmas Eve, this would’ve been their twentieth anniversary had they made it past those first few years), how they spent Christmas day wrapped in each other’s arms underneath a down comforter in the ski lodge as the snow fell outside their window and the ethereal glow from the fireplace warmed their already heated bodies. By the next Christmas they were expecting their first child, by the next they were mourning the loss of that child, and by the next….well, there was no next.

Again, Susan scolds herself for allowing her thoughts to turn back to the man who nearly killed her before she finally left him. She should be thinking about her husband, her current husband, the man who devoted his life to her, the man who has loved her so completely, despite her many flaws, for the past fifteen years. “Oh, Barry,” she thinks, “how could I do this to you?!” Before she starts to cry again Susan rubs her eyes and forces herself to get up off the floor, to pull herself together and figure out how to save her marriage. “I’ll go see him tomorrow,” she decides. He’ll be at his mom’s for sure, as they always are on Christmas. She won’t call ahead, she’ll just show up as if everything is fine, as if nothing at all has happened, as if she never stepped foot back into Cliff’s life.

Susan goes to the kitchen and pours herself a drink – Jack and coke, (mostly Jack), and takes it with her to the bedroom where she goes into her closet to decide what to wear tomorrow. She wants to look better than she ever has; she wants to make Barry’s mouth hang open with yearning. She bends to reach for her black stiletto heels and catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She looks like hell. Her usually emerald eyes are nearly as red as her hair, there are black mascara streaks staining her ruddy, swollen cheeks. But Susan doesn’t let the shock of her appearance deter her. She simply grabs her robe and heads to the bathroom.

After a hot bubble bath Susan is more relaxed, in much better spirits. She’s laid out Barry’s favorite dress and her velvet duster to slip on in the morning, has her makeup ready and waiting on her vanity; she’s even painted her nails, which normally feels like a chore but now has made her even more confident. Barry won’t be able to refuse her tomorrow, she’s certain of it. She has to be.

The two drinks Susan had, along with the bath, has, thankfully, relaxed her enough that she may be able to sleep tonight, so she locks up, turns the lights out, (but leaves the Christmas tree twinkling), and heads for bed.

Just as she’s about to drift off, there’s a knock at the door. It’s him! Her spirits soar, she’s wide awake in the time it took to hear that knock. Susan fluffs her freshly washed hair and licks her lips as she goes to let her husband inside. She’s so wound up she nearly trips over her robe as she reaches for the doorknob. Barely able to contain her excitement Susan opens the door and her arms wide in one fluid motion.

“Hey babe,” he says, leaning against the doorframe, “Happy anniversary.”

Susan stands dumbfounded, able to croak out no more than his name. “Cliff.”  

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I hope you all have the most beautiful Christmas and the happiest New Year ever!

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Then as Now #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

It is quite rare that I write in second person, but after writing this one in first and then third and still feeling it was missing something I switched to second and it seemed that’s what [the story] wanted all along. As always, I appreciate thoughtful, constructive critique. I hope you enjoy Then as Now, rated PG-13, according to my standards.

Then as Now, by Deanna Schrayer

He grabs hold of your shoulders and pushes you aside. You stumble over your own feet to step out of his way so he won’t have to use any more force than he has already. You had just put down the spatula and rushed over from the sausages sizzling in hot oil, (in preparation for his favorite meal), to welcome him home from work with a kiss. You feel the sting on your lips where his dry ones had quickly peeled themselves away from yours.

He tosses the mail on the counter, unopened, an act so unlike him it causes you to stop and stare, looking for your name alone on an envelope. He moves to the stove and you remember the sausages and rush over to flip them.

But it’s too late.

He yells to wherever in the house your sons are, “Boys! Do y’all wanna go to McDonald’s?”

“McDonald’s?” you say, flipping the over-browned meat anyway, “I’m making sausage subs.”

He sneers at you, “They’re burnt.”

Your sons come flying downstairs from their bedrooms, jumping from the fourth step to the kitchen floor. “Yea, let’s go!” they say and suddenly your family is gone, leaving you to decide whether to feed the sausages to the dog or save them for supper tomorrow, whether anyone will bother eating them at all.

Hours later you find yourself pulling all the clothes you’ve not worn in the last two years from your closet, remembering that day ages ago when you finally threw out the maternity clothes. And that day more than twenty years ago when the ER doctor told you the twins five months inside your womb had not one heartbeat between them.

You reach for your wedding gown at the back of the closet and you recall how your future husband, the father of your living children, had gotten you through the heartache of losing your first babies, how his love made you want to live again.

And now, as the slamming of the kitchen door jolts you back to today, you wonder why you aren’t dead yet. 

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This song, one of Bruce’s best, Something in the Night, came to me after writing the story and got stuck in my head for a while. The heartache of it does seem (to me) to reflect the heartache of Then as Now. And this particular performance is quite powerful, give it a listen.

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The Message #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

I’ve had a lot going on lately and haven’t written much fiction (though I’m writing A Lot of nonfiction) but I’ve missed posting for Friday Flash so I thought I’d allow this scene [from that novel I was writing a while ago] out of hiding.  I haven’t edited at all so I appreciate kind, constructive critique.

I hope you enjoy The Message, rated PG, according to my standards.

The Message

The Message, by Deanna Schrayer

I don’t know why I was dreading this day so much. It should be one of the happiest days of my life, but I had this sinking feeling in my gut that something was wrong. But what? What could possibly be wrong about watching your only daughter try on wedding gowns?

I turned the temperature of the water up and let it pound the top of my head until it stung, hoping to wash away these horrid thoughts. Maybe it was just residuals of the nightmare I had last night. I needed to start the day over. When I couldn’t stand the heat any longer, I turned the water off and grabbed my towel as I stepped out of the shower. The room was freezing. It warmed as I dried off and slipped my robe on, but when I walked to the vanity a sudden chill ran over me. I reached down and turned on the wall heater, which shocked me like it does when there’s a drought and everything you touch causes static electricity. 

I looked in the mirror and was struck numb. I felt the scream rising like a corpse from the grave, but nothing came out; my breath caught in my throat and stuck there. In the steam on the mirror was the letters “EL DI”. Goose bumps shot up as if I’d developed a sudden allergy to air. 

I shook my head to clear it. This had to be some optical illusion. I hadn’t slept well last night, I was just tired. Yes, that’s it, I was seeing things. But as I stepped closer to wipe the mirror with my towel another letter began to form. I watched, unable to move, as the curve of an “e” slithered through the mist, deliberately scrawled right after the “i”. I stood stone still, as “EL DIe” was scratched on the mirror. 

When I found the strength to move, a surge of anger snaked its way from my gut to my head, giving me superhuman strength. I screamed as I wiped the ugly words away, “God damn it Lucy!” I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was there. I smelled the Opium, I felt her. 

I jerked the cabinet door open and grabbed the Windex, and paper towels, then frantically washed away every speck of evidence on that mirror, yelling at my sister as if she really was beside me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Why in God’s name do you want to scare me like this?” 

My tirade continued as I worked to release the anger, spraying every crack on the walls, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing. “What do you want? Why are you doing this to me?” As I jerked around to clean the tub my foot got caught in the rug and I went sprawling across the floor, twisting my ankle as my knee slammed the stone tiles. “Ow! Shit!”  I didn’t move, but something, someone, grabbed hold of my ankle and pulled it out of the rug, causing me to crawl away with gusto. 

I sat on the floor, trembling, but otherwise afraid to move, unable to move, but then my arms began flailing every which way, reaching out to strike my sister. They connected with nothing but thin air, but I knew she was there. And I hoped I had punched her, hard.

After a few minutes I was exhausted and shaking so hard I thought I might break in two. My ankle was throbbing and I felt like I was coming up from under anesthesia. Lucy was gone, I couldn’t feel her anymore. I wrapped my arms around my shoulders and was surprised to find I was bawling.

I heard El coming through the bedroom, her voice as cheery as I’d ever heard it. “Mom, you ready to go?”

Slowly I picked myself up off the floor and turned the water on to drown out the sounds of me clearing my throat.

“Mom?” Elana called again.

“I’ll be right out honey,” I said, hoping I sounded excited.

I didn’t know why my sister was haunting me with these chilling threats. She’d ruined enough of my life when she was alive and I was not about to let her ruin any more of it, now that she was dead. But I didn’t feel the conviction as strongly as I should have. I should’ve been paying more attention.

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Carl’s Pain – rewrite #fridayflash #amwriting #fiction

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Thank you for stopping in to read my #fridayflash. Be sure to visit the Friday Flash Community for more great flash fiction by outstanding authors!

This story was first published a year ago on my former fiction site (can’t believe it’s been a whole year!). Thanks to the superb critique I received then the story has been slightly rewritten. I hope you enjoy Carl’s Pain, rated PG-13, according to my standards.

Carl’s Pain, by Deanna Schrayer

Carl shuffled into the kitchen and hung his cap up, closing the screen door softly behind him.

“Any luck?” Amy asked.

Her husband looked at the cracked linoleum floor, raked his hand through his hair, and shook his head. But he didn’t look up at her.

“Oh honey,” she walked towards him with her arms held out as if to hug him. But he pushed past her, crossing the small kitchen in two single bounds. Amy jerked when Carl slammed his fist into the doorframe as he passed into the living room, her own fist automatically scrambling to cover her mouth.

For a minute it was silent, even his footsteps had halted. Then she heard glass breaking and she closed her eyes. She knew he’d knocked over the vase of daisies she’d set on the coffee table earlier. Yet, she didn’t move from her rigid position. A single tear slid down her cheek. When she heard the stairs creak she bent over the sink, turned the spigot on full blast and splashed her face with cold water. It didn’t wash away the pain, it only mingled with the tears.

Amy watched the neighbor boy and his dog rolling down the hill behind their house. All summer she’d watched this same scene in this same spot. Unlike most kids she knew this boy played with his pet for hours every day and it warmed her heart to know there were still caring children in the world. Once, he’d stopped in the middle of throwing the worn Frisbee and looked up at her, as if keenly aware of her staring at him. An electrifying jolt shot through her abdomen and she was surprised to discover this was the life she longed for – to have a child all hers to love. She’d never taken to children before. But with Carl not working she knew they couldn’t afford it and so she’d kept the longing to herself.

A loud bang startled Amy and she bowed her head and took a deep breath, knowing Carl had slammed the bedroom door. When she looked back up the neighbor boy had gone. Amy didn’t see his dog either. A woodpecker pounded, pounded, pounded away at the crumbling post of the back porch.

The wind had picked up and was blowing shadows through the kitchen windows as the sun sank lower in the sky. It was going to rain. Amy felt chilled and hugged her arms around her shoulders as she tiptoed to the landing of the stairs. She ascended so softly none of the familiar creaks reached the arches of her feet.

At the top of the stairs Amy shook as if a ghost had just flown through her body, but when she pushed the bedroom door open the sight before her caused her trembling to stop altogether. She expected Carl would be getting ready to go down town for his regular Friday night beer with his friends.

But he wasn’t at the closet. The water wasn’t running in the bathroom. Carl was not getting ready to leave at all. In fact, he was doing nothing. Nothing but lying there on the bed, face down, his arms spread out on either side of his head.

The window was open and splashes of rain began to darken the fluttering ivory curtains. Amy walked over and closed the window, as quietly as she could. She felt that if she made the slightest noise it would break some spell cast over them both, she was afraid it would shred what little fringe was left between them.

She couldn’t see Carl’s face from here; it was turned towards the wall. She realized her breathing was ragged and so she stood at the window a moment longer, forcing herself to breathe through her nose, to calm her nerves before going any further.  

Amy walked towards the bed, towards her husband’s inert figure, using all her will to keep her pulse normal. When her thighs touched the bare mattress Carl turned over, grabbed Amy’s arm, and pulled her down on the bed. Easily, expertly, he pinned her with his knees and held her arms above her head. Amy’s heart pounded so hard she was sure it would leap out of her chest and hover there in the inch between their bodies.

Carl stared into his wife’s pale hazel eyes with an expression she’d never seen before. His breath came in ragged spurts, and then stopped as if he’d quit breathing. He took a gulp of air and released it into her face. She didn’t smell any whiskey. And she could always smell it.

“Carl?” she whispered, not sure what she expected to happen. But what did happen shocked her for she’d never seen him act this way. Her husband’s exhausted body fell upon hers, nearly crushing her petite form. But she was grateful for the weight. She felt his pain wash over her body before she felt his tears on her shoulder.

Amy took his cheek in her hand and gently wiped the tears away; she took hold of his thick black curls with her other hand and pulled his face down to hers, and she kissed him. She kissed him softly, yet strongly, showing him that she could handle the pain, if only he would release it all to her she would share his burden.

Finally, after their faces were soaked and they’d stopped shaking, she spoke. She stroked his hair as she said, “Honey, it’s going to be okay, we’re all right. I’m here.”

“You’re…here…” Carl said it wonderingly, as if he couldn’t believe she’d still be here for him, the man who’d punished her, who’d pushed her away all these months, simply because he couldn’t seem to find a job.

“I’m here,” she said again, and she smiled.

Carl held nothing back now as he allowed the despair to come forth, to pour from his gut, and drench his love, the love he knew was strong enough to handle the wrenching pain he’d held in for so very long. He lay beside his wife and he held her, tighter and tighter. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her eyelids. And he murmured into her mouth, “Thank you.”   

~~~~~~~~~

This story was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s poignant song, This Depression

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