by Meg Tuite
San Francisco Bay Press 2011
Awards: A story from this collection, Garbage Picker of
Memory nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Another story, Family Conference won first prize at Santa Fe College Writing
"Every night my grandmother limps out of a liquor store with the
submissive stoop of the genuflected and the promise of a liturgy to
come in a bottle."
Reviewed by Bonnie ZoBell
If you were part of the family depicted in Meg Tuite's stunning new novel-in-stories, you'd be odd, too. Domestic Apparition
is, indeed, full of phantoms in Michelle's, our narrator's, large
Catholic family. All the parents and siblings are physically there,
yes, but in large and important ways, they aren't there either. This
beautifully-written connected collection with characters so well drawn
you feel like they're sitting beside you on the couch makes you wish
for someone with a firm hand (though hopefully not the bully of a
father) to have a heart-to-heart with everyone. I was going to say
especially the parents, but there are some humdinger siblings as well.
Try to get at least a few of them to think about their reckless
behavior. Fortunately, there is also some delicious humor thrown into
Michelle, the middle sister, unable to entirely grasp
the freakishness of her family, instead narrates heart-wrenching scenes
and inadvertently gives us enough information that we can piece it
together. In A Thousand Faces of a Warrior,
Michelle, gullible and too thin, does whatever her older sister,
Stephanie, tells her to do. Stephanie defies categorization. One day
Mom comes into Michelle's bedroom. "Help me," she says, her hands
shaking around a shoebox of Stephanie's, and then, "It's your sister. .
. I give up." Once Mom's left, Michelle tells us, "I had two other
sisters, but I knew which one my mother was talking about." Inside the
box, she "stares into the abyss of a new sister again—another one I
didn't know." Before her are hundreds of women's credit cards and
driver's licenses. What "had Stephanie done with all these women? My
mind battled through scenes of tangled bodies all twisted together with
my sister somewhere in the middle."
When that doesn't turn
Michelle against her sister, Mom tries a different tact: She says
Stephanie's a lesbian, to which Stephanie replies, "You're damn right
I'm a lesbian, Lucy, and proud of it, you yodeling, apron-fested prig!"
All of this only makes Michelle love her sister more. In Heist with Compensation,
we learn that Stephanie escapes by going to a deluxe high school which,
she brags to Michelle, has the best drugs and most lavish parties.
Michelle finally attends one and is astounded by the huge mansion where
a different kind of music plays on each floor and paintings she's seen
before in magazines hang on the walls. Besides her sister's new
friends, Michelle begins to despise the Lichtensteins, lifts one off
the wall and slips out of the house holding the enormous painting. She
lodges it into a homeless man's shopping cart full of clothes and empty
cans, saying, "Hey, Mister, don't you think you need a little art to
hold up that collection of yours?"
In The Bottom Line,
it's no wonder when we discover that in adulthood Michelle finds
herself stuck working for a powerful and tyrannical woman who buys
television commercial time for the biggest markets in the country.
Bernice, her boss, terrifies and berates her, and then abruptly invites
her into "the morning posse," an inner sanctum of women who all work
for Bernice and are afraid not to agree with everything she says. The
posse snorts cocaine from the latest Arbitron rating books. For reasons
that finally become clear to Michelle, the usually uncharitable Bernice
suddenly decides to pass on her managerial secrets. She ranks
salespeople according to whether or not she likes them, their hair, and
"Adrian Flataux: CBS," Michelle reads off the list.Then there's
Nathan, one of Michelle's older brothers, who is "either a genius or a
lunatic." When not protecting him from Stephanie, Michelle thrills to
this wunderkind developing complex games, described in Master of the Massdom, to keep himself entertained and maybe numbed to what's going on around him.
pronounces: "Cheap prick. He asked me out once and took me to the
fucking Olive Garden. He does have beautiful eyes though. . . . A girl
would die for those eyes. He'll fight to the end, but you know who wins
in this office? Next."
"Miriam Schwartz: ABC."
"Did you see that
new fur she was lathered in? Big Fucking deal! I have more expensive
underwear than that patchy meat pelt. Next!"
had written up a remarkably technical rating system for the commercials
between programs. . . . Each category had five possible
responses—sublime, conventional, mediocre, nondescript, and finally, my
favorite, fraudulent/degrading. . . . Commercials like Alka-Seltzer's,
'Plop, plop, fizz, fizz,' always made it to the sublime level in all
categories. Women's feminine products or support hosiery were quickly
denigrated to fraudulent/degrading.An innocent, Nathan doesn't
quite appreciate the potential brutality of his eighth grade teacher.
Michelle explains that Sister Delbert is "the evilest of all the evil
nuns. . . . She had a stuffed reindeer on her desk, whom she
talked to and conspired with. The reindeer was named after one of the
more sadistic popes in history: Pope Steven VI." Nathan tends not to
pay attention to such lowly human follies as corporal punishment on his
quest for evermore knowledge. "The problem was that they had two
completely diverging versions" of the popes and their sanctity. Sister
Delbert pontificates one day: "Any of you slugs want to pass the
test I give you next week, you better start memorizing the names of the
popes. . . . . Life for those noble men was ongoing bloodshed. They
didn't let pagans get in the way of Christianity."
Nathan is not
brave, but can't stand misinformation. He immediately corrects her:
"Some of those pious popes actually had their food served to them out
of human skulls. You know, after they'd killed the human they were
eating out of. Stephen VI? The one that little reindeer is named after?
He actually held a trial to condemn a man who was already dead." The
kids in the class by this time smirking, Nathan quickly retreats when
he realizes Sister Delbert is heading toward him, slapping the
yardstick against her palm. He gets smacked and can't sit for a week,
but somehow, unwittingly, becomes a school legend.
members? Maybe. Or the ghosts of what kin are supposed to be. Meg
Tuite's novel-in-stories is a must-read full of provocative writing,
humor, astounding dialogue, and a domestic unit you won't soon forget.
|Bonnie ZoBell is completing a
collection of connected stories and a flash fiction chapbook. She's
received an NEA, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction
Award, and a spot on Wigleaf's Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Read her
work at Night Train,
The Greensboro Review,
Plains Review, PANK and