Domestic Apparition
 by Meg Tuite

San Francisco Bay Press 2011
First Collection

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 Competition (2011).

"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 the mix.

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 their clothes.
"Adrian Flataux: CBS," Michelle reads off the list.

Bernice 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!"
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.
Nathan 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.

Family 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.

Read a story by this author in The Valaparaiso Review

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, New Plains Review, PANK and Cutbank.

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Meg Tuite's writing has appeared in over 100 journals including One, the Journal, Berkeley Fiction Review and Epiphany. She has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. She has published a chapbook, Disparate Pathos, (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2012) and an anthology, Exquisite Quartet, edited and co-authored by her, 2012.  She is the fiction editor of Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. 

Read an interview with Meg Tuite