My head is spinning
So . . . the ME isn’t done with me yet. Feh. I guess I’d been pushing it harder than I realised.* I’m in the dazed, slightly hallucinatory, getting-my-nouns-wrong zone today, and I’m not sure the PEG II paragraphs are going to survive revision when my brain returns from its unsolicited holiday.**
I tottered back to the cottage with hellhounds this afternoon, wondering if I could face a little gardening. No. So I wobbled upstairs to address my To Be Read pile—in the middle of the afternoon! Shocking!
Approximately the last book I planned to choose was WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson: I was in no shape to deal with a story about a girl, already on the edge, pushed over it by the death of her ex-best-friend. And I knew how good Anderson is: I, who never reads ‘realistic’ YA, thought SPEAK was amazing. But life is still short and I’m a slow reader, and when I read YA fiction at all it’s probably fantasy. Then I saw this review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jan/30/wintergirls-laurie-halse-anderson-review and thought okay, I’m going to have to read this one. I bought it and put it in the pile. (And tucked the review, which I’d torn out of the paper, inside.)
I wasn’t going to pick it up today; I’m already half in some other world, and not a friendly one, with the ME. I wanted a story about dragons and basilisks and enchantments and sorcery, and strong, energetic heroines who know how to deal, whom I could lean back and admire. But I had to move WINTERGIRLS to get to something farther down in the pile, and I idly opened to the first pages. Lia’s stepmother is telling her, while eating breakfast on the run, ‘the words dribbling out with the cranberry muffin crumbs, commas dunked in her coffee’ that Cassie’s body had been found in a motel room. Alone.
Lia is unloading the dishwasher as she listens, apparently undisturbed by the news. ‘Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corners. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it.’
Cassie had phoned Lia thirty-three times between Saturday night and Sunday morning, before she died. ‘Of course I didn’t pick up. . . . I wasn’t going to let her sucker me into being her friend again just so she could turn around and crush me one more time. . . . I was too angry to even look at the phone.’ And now Cassie’s dead.
Lia has already been in a residential facility for anorexics twice. She was released the second time with a list of rules, including that she would not drop below a certain weight, a contract verified by standing on the scales every week, and her stepmother writes the numbers down in a notebook. But Lia has sewn quarters into her bathrobe—tightly, so they won’t jingle and give her away—and has figured out how to sabotage the scales.
And then Cassie dies, alone, in a motel room. Lia listens to her voice mail, now that it’s too late: ‘I’m so sad. I can’t get out.’ ‘Call me. It’s a mess.’ ‘I miss you. Miss you.’
Lia thinks: ‘What was she doing there? . . .
‘Did it hurt?
‘There’s no point in asking why, even though everybody will. I know why. The harder question is “why not?” I can’t believe she ran out of answers before I did. . . .
‘Was it easy?’
Two hours later I was still sitting on the edge of my bed, reading. I had cramp in both legs. Hellhounds, who might have expected an invitation to an unscheduled afternoon reading shift, had given up and gone to sleep in their crate. I put the book in my pocket and we all went back down to the mews. I kept reading.
WINTERGIRLS not a comfortable or a fun read. But it is vivid, gripping, astonishing, heartbreaking. Lia blackmails her doctor mother into telling her what really happened to Cassie, Cassie for whom everything now is too late—Cassie whose sad, angry ghost is haunting Lia, and cutting her inexorably off from the living world. The clinical details of Cassie’s death collide with the clinical details of what is happening to Lia, and it’s almost unbearably bleak. But there’s hope for Lia at the end . . . and one of the things that helps to draw her back over the edge, back into life, is that she had promised her little stepsister to teach her to knit.
WINTERGIRLS was also a NY Times best-seller and a mega hit, and chances are most of you have read it already. If you haven’t—I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a breathtakingly compelling story, and Anderson’s writing is knife-shiny and knife-sharp.
* * *
* In case anyone is wondering, no, I don’t regret my voice lesson yesterday at all, and if I’m even remotely walking next Monday I’ll have another one. I can take tomorrow more or less off, barring PEG II, hurtling hellhounds, and more watering^, but Thursday is due to be rather a marathon. Including that Oisin^^ poked the director of the Muddlehampton Choir, who doesn’t answer his emails, and I should go along Thursday evening in an experimental capacity. The Muddlehampton Choir seems to have the best rep of the non-church-affiliated, no-audition choirs around here, but I’m a little worried about their choice of material. If it’s Yesterday and highlights from Les Miz I’m out of there.
^ The sodding rain really did only come for long enough to wreck my Souvenir. As non-life-threatening frellfests go, this is a big one. Meanwhile I’m carrying so many heavy, full watering cans I’m sure my arms are stretching. My arms are long enough. I already can’t get long-sleeved shirts long enough, unless I buy men’s. I will have to start buying an extra skein of yarn for anything for myself with long sleeves.
^^ who has a houseful of visiting family, an unexpected deadline, and is helping an ex-student through a crisis, and so probably isn’t writing guest blogs this week either.
** Although barring a little noun reassignment, they probably will. I’ve talked about this before: being zombified has almost alarmingly little impact on story quality. It slows me the hell down, but what I write tends still to be the real stuff. Which only helps to prove my belief that what you’re writing is out there, itself, and all you’re doing is reportage. However squishy you’re feeling, you’re describing granite and flint. I was thinking about this yesterday, when Nadia was producing surprising sounds using my vocal cords/folds.^ Singing may be turning out to be another one of those odd things I can still do (slowly) when I’m soggy toast and yesterday’s oatmeal. Which—if true—raises some interesting questions about where I sing from.
^ I believe we’re supposed to call them vocal folds these days, but I grew up saying vocal cords.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.