“I’d like to go over a wellness plan with you, get you a consult with our dietitian, a chiropractic check, exercise regime, maybe some regular massage, and a referral for psychotherapy. ”
Becca frowns. “I have crappy insurance that I guarantee isn’t going to cover any of that.”
“Well, it’s difficult for me to help you get well and stay well if you’re not going to take your health seriously.”
“I’m a lot more likely to stay well if I can afford to eat instead of giving all my money to the health care industry,” Becca snaps. “I came in for something to help with the panic attacks so I can function like a semi-normal human being, but here I am fending off a used car salesman.”
Each week, Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. This vignette is from The Life and Times of Jane Doe and is in response to this week’s cue, “well.” Fun Sixes from other writers are here. Join us!
This Six touches on some of my rants toward what I think should be called the health don’t-care industry. Don’t get me wrong; I do think that most people who pursue careers in health care genuinely want to help people, but they are hogtied by a billion-dollar machine with more focus on profit than actually caring about people. More on that later. Maybe. If I can make it cohesive.
I’m going to talk my way through deciding where this book leaves me, how many stars to hand out.
The premise is excellent, with smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand. Twist one: A young woman who has assumed the false identity created by a former undercover cop is murdered. Twist two: The two women are doppelgängers. So, police pretend the victim survived and recovers, the cop resumes the identity and goes back undercover to solve the case. What’s not to love?
One thing for me not to love was the pacing. It starts out with a bang, then moves at a glacial pace as Detective Cassie Maddox resumes her former undercover identity to return “home” to a houseful of Ph.D.-candidate roommates, one of whom may have tried to kill “her.” The setup is necessary, I suppose, but it drags, with an awful lot of wordy atmospheric stage-setting. It’s lovely writing, but so much of it feels like it’s padding.
The other thing not to love was the entire group of housemates. Five doctoral-level grad students who are always together, evidently with identical course schedules, always going to and from college together, always sitting down for meals together, doing each other’s laundry and spending evenings in the same room together, draping their legs over each other’s laps and finishing each other’s sentences and eating from each other’s plates. Maybe it makes me a terrible friend, but keep your fingers out of my food and your feet out of my face, mmmkay? But more than that, beyond close friendship or snooty insularity or even blurred boundaries, there is an undertone of perverse not-quite-sexuality to it that made me feel I was in danger of being sucked into a cult. Was it supposed to be that way? This group of people gave me some serious creeps, better than a chain-rattling ghost or a maniac with a machete ever could. If that was intentional then more kudos to French and to our fictional detective as well, for being able to sleep under the same roof with them. If I met that bunch in real life, I’d bolt.
At first blush it seems a little fantastic that four people who had intimately known the dead woman could be completely fooled by an undercover who hadn’t known her at all, but on the other hand, we are quite good at convincing ourselves we are seeing what we expect to see. So I was fine with that aspect of it, and it wasn’t until I hit 75% that I really had to suspend my disbelief to absorb the crisis point, the hook for the ending. I let myself be hooked because the pace was finally picking up; it had taken me a week to read the first three-quarters, but I read the last quarter in an afternoon. This is not a tied-up-with-a-pretty-bow ending; there is a vagueness to it that I appreciate. Life is not tidy. After everything’s over, there’s always something left to wonder about.
Note that some other reviewers didn’t mind the pacing and/or hated the ending, so your mileage may vary. The plotting is stellar. I enjoy the psych-thriller aspect as much as I enjoy the mystery/police procedural. French skillfully writes an almost mystic connection between the undercover and the dead woman, with a feeling that they had somehow summoned each other. Her prose is lovely, and she rocks at distilling impressions into words. I liked In the Woods better, but I remain a fan; I’ve already reserved Faithful Place at my library. All three books are from the POV’s of three different yet connected characters; I’m looking forward to Frank Mackey’s POV.
This would be a four-star read but for the pacing, so the verdict is three stars, which is just fine.
Jane smooths lotion over her knee, pausing over the scar. Ten, she’d been, suited up in roller skates with the key around her neck. Her friend Carla on her bike, eyes full of the devil. “Hold on to the sissy bar and I’ll pull you. It’ll be fun. Just like waterskiing.”
And it was. Hair flying, eyes streaming in the wind, both of them shrieking laughter, blazing down the middle of the street until Carla wiped out and Jane went flying and blood flowed. No helmets or kneepads back then.
Kids can’t come close to fun like that now.
Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that involves playing an outdoor game. Follow the link for great flashes from other writers. Even better, join us!
Becca is hauled up short, this complete stranger, obviously foreign at that, wanting her to cheer him up, or is he asking her to drive him somewhere?
“I can help you download the Uber app,” she finally manages to get out.
“Over here,” says another woman kindly, pointing toward the alcove with the elevators. Becca mentally slaps herself.
Every week Ivy at Uncharted hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. This week’s cue was “lift.” This Six is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. Fun Sixes from other writers are at the link. Join us, hop around!
I have been awake since 1:27 a.m. Many times there is no good reason for this stupid insomnia, but this time there was a specific reason: It’s too friggin’ hot in my house to sleep. It doesn’t often get into the 80’s in the Puget Sound area, so very few homes have air conditioning, which is fine because you usually don’t need it. Fresh air and fans will usually do the trick. The problem here is that when we first looked at moving in to the place we’re now renting, we were told several things were going to be fixed, among them the small and very rickety balcony overlooking the backyard.
We listened to those things we were told, because the house is a gorgeous 1910 number, with lots of character, and probably a ghost, and we wanted to believe these things would be fixed, and because we were idiots.
We were midway through last summer’s heat wave (six or seven days in the 80’s) when we figured out that even if we weren’t allowed to use the balcony, we could still open the door leading to it and get a lovely draft through the place, cooling it off enough to actually get some sleep. When Frank*, the guy who runs the property management company that oversees our place, saw that door open, he immediately accused me of breaking the lock. I am a short, round, rather matronly-looking sort of woman of a certain age. Do I seriously look like I know how to break deadbolt locks? Your doofus of an assistant told you he locked it, but he did not. The guy paints door hinges, okay? Not that competent. All I had to do was turn the doorknob.
Anyway, almost a year after we moved in, I made a hundred-dollar bet with the Tominator that the deck will never be repaired, at least not at a time when it will actually benefit us. Sure enough, because that’s how magic works, right after we shook on it, after a year of telling us over and over that “it’s scheduled to be done soon,” Frank finally started working on the deck. Although he did tear down the railing and rip up the boards that constitute what actually makes it a balcony, the major part of this seems to have been locking the deadbolt, since somehow I manage to look clever enough to be a B&E expert while at the same time looking stupid enough to try to use a balcony that has no railings and no floor. Now we can’t even open the door to get the nice draft. It was 82 degrees here yesterday. My bedroom is an oven, and I can’t sleep in an oven, even right next to an open window with two fans blowing on me. I’m pissed.
I still plan on winning the bet, though, since Frank has done absolutely nothing else for a good three weeks now.
So, to occupy the hours that are always so endless during the agony of a tired but sleepless night, I have come up with a mathematical formula to figure out when our balcony will be usable again and at what point I can collect my benjamin from the Tominator.
Frank told us the deck would be finished with two weeks of solid work. He has also explained that he does not do “that kind of work” on Fridays, for whatever reason, and he doesn’t do any work on weekends. That leaves 4 days in a week when he will do “that kind of work” or any kind of work. In Frank language, that’s 8 days of actually doing something. Sounds good, right? Eight days, that’s nothing, right?
As we have seen over the last year, he will also not work on the deck if there is even the slightest chance it will rain. If there is a 5% chance that it might sprinkle 87 drops of rain, he won’t do so much as measure a two by four. He claims that you can’t do construction-type work in the rain, and I call bullshit. This is the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound. If he’s right, how in the hell did anything ever get built here at all, since ever? But his contention does give me another number to work with. This area gets measurable rainfall 155 days out of the year, which simplifies to 31/73, or about 3 days out of each week. So that’s three more days when Frank is guaranteed to not show up to get anything done on this project.
But this is where the math gets tricky, and maybe I’m being unfair. It’s entirely possible that those three rainy days could be the same three days of Frank’s automatic long weekend. I’m pretty sure there’s an equation for that. I probably learned it in my sadistics –er, my statistics class that I hated. Well no, it’s not accurate to say I learned it. Let’s say it was probably covered, and all I took away was the vague impression that I should have learned it. I spent much of my time during that class chanting my “All I need’s a 2.0, all I need’s a 2.0…” mantra and just keeping my head down. I pulled off a 2.5 and said, “Booyah!” and fist-bumped the sky.
The point is, while I’m sure it’s possible to combine those two probabilities to come up with a fairly accurate number to work with, I don’t know how to do it and I don’t care enough to remedy that. Frankly, Frank does not deserve that kind of effort or credit from me. He did show up Monday long enough to re-key the knob and deadbolt locks to our basement/laundry area so our key would work in both of them instead of just one, and now our key works in neither of them. That’s a debit in the Home Repair ledger. We are not able to push our hallway bookcase flush with the wall because we need to be able to string hair dryer and beard trimmer and straightening iron cords from the bathroom across the hall to the outlet behind said bookcase, because our bathroom outlet doesn’t work, and hasn’t worked since about a week after we moved in, last June. He finally came around to look at it in February. It still doesn’t work, and now there’s an ugly strip of wall missing that his “electrician” left that way and nobody has fixed, for another net loss in the Home Repair ledger. The linoleum around the shower has still not been fixed, the central heating unit still doesn’t work, and there are no screens on about half the windows so even when we can get a nice breeze on hot days, we also get a crapton of bugs, and I’m still waiting for a bird to fly in here and give me heart palpitations and shit on the carpet and cause Lilly the Fat Dog to destroy everything trying to get it because she is a golden retriever and, therefore, a bird dog. We were also told our yard was going to be leveled and re-sodded, way back when. Ha ha ha. The Tominator, just yesterday, dug a hole in an obscure place and used the dirt to fill in the worst hole in the pathway to the gate, the hole that has been trying to break my ankle on a daily basis since I’ve lived here.
Basically, we live here in self-defense mode, and if it’s something small yet annoying enough, we just fix it ourselves. Because, you know, we’d like to have it fixed. And it’s such a cool house. And ghosts.
The point is, Frank gets no slack from me. Three-day-weekend no-deck-working-on moratoriums plus no work on rainy days has us down to 1 day a week when he might conceivably work on making our home somewhat like we were told it was going to be when we moved in. One day per week times 8 = we can use our balcony in another 8 weeks. Right?
But we’re not there yet! More math! We still have to figure in the fact that our house is on the bottom of the priority list when it comes to anything besides collecting rent, so if someone in another of this company’s houses has a wobbly shelf in the back of the closet, that will be fixed before our front door that won’t close. Then we also have to account for illness, hangovers, sick kids and other family emergencies, vacations, flat tires, a nationwide embargo on eightpenny nails, dogs that eat homework, TSA orange alert days, flash flood watches, and days when he just doesn’t fucking feel like doing it, which I am guessing is all of them.
There is a small mitigation factor. Frank has ruled that we have to keep the space beneath the balcony clear for his tools and supplies, but I say bullshit to that, too. That’s where our huge pots of roses (that’s what the picture is for!) and peonies and foxglove live, and I’m not displacing them to keep clear a workspace that is never worked in. If me not keeping the space clear means he’ll magically show up to work and be annoyed with us and we have to drag our flora back out of the way, that’s fine. At least it got him here.
I won’t bore you with any more mathematical details and besides, it’s getting enormously complicated, such that only I, with my 2.5-in-statistics mathematics expertise, can understand. Let’s just skip right to the solution. I showed my work.*
My final calculations tell me our balcony will be usable on September 27, 2053.
I fully expect to be dead by then, which means I won’t even be able to collect my $100 from the Tominator.
*His name really isn’t Frank. I’ve changed it to protect his identity, and also because his name is really Brian, and I’ve liked virtually all of the Brians I’ve known in my life, but I can’t recall a single man named Frank I’ve admired, including the one I dated very briefly and dumped for being a jerk, but not before he pointed out to me that douchebags in movies always seem to be named Frank. He’s right.
**OK, not really. That picture is from animationoptions.com. But it looks just like my work.
I ate another donut. Susan had explained to me that they were not healthful, and while I was in favor of healthful, rice cakes and coffee didn’t do it on a stakeout.
Oh my God, Robert B. Parker, I love you! Even more than before, I love you! Thank you! From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Why? For correctly saying healthful instead of healthy. I have bitched about this before, here and here. I will explain it again: Something that is healthy is in a good state of health. Something that is healthful promotes good health. So it goes without saying we want to eat healthy food, most of us not wanting to eat food that is crawling with E. coli bacteria, but what the world is really trying to say with such bad grammar is that they want to eat healthful food.
Another reason to love Robert B. Parker, and there are many. I’m not even going to review the book, as it is a very good book, as almost all of his books are. This one doesn’t have Hawk in it, but I also haven’t seen any mouth-kissing the dog, so that balances out. I’m going to go reread those couple of wonderful sentences again before I have to return this to the library.
The Winds of War is the first half of Herman Wouk’s WWII epic. And I do mean epic. I first read this many, many years ago, when I was in high school, and it stayed with me. Some notes on this reread:
1. I hadn’t remembered how unrealistic the dialogue is in this book.
“Dearest, are you hurt?”
“No. Not at all. It went right on through.”
“Thank God! Thank God!”
I mean, cheesy. And stiff and formal, with rather complex sentence structure for conversation. People don’t really talk the way characters do in this book. The only real person I’ve ever heard use “whom” consistently and correctly in everyday conversation was my teacher-and- grammar-freak (and much beloved) grandmother. It was part of what made her her, but on anyone else it sounds incongruous.
2. Throughout the book our protagonist is constantly referred to as Victor Henry. “Aye aye, sir,” said Victor Henry. Or, Victor Henry was answering Mrs. Roosevelt’s questions about Nazi Germany. At page 578 of an 885-page kitten-squisher, I don’t need his full name all the time.
3. Horrific head-hopping. Instead of multiple POV’s we have the omniscient narrator, who unfortunately will tell us what two different characters are thinking or feeling in the same paragraph. I kept going, Huh? and having to reread.
4. The biggie is how contrived the story is. The main protagonist is always perfectly positioned, so that he meets Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill, and advises FDR about all of them and more, because this guy is just everywhere, always at the historic moment. He is invited to join the crew of an RAF bomber on a raid on Berlin; he’s holing up at the American embassy during the Battle of Moscow, with a side trip to the Russian front so he can get strafed by the Wehrmacht (see above dialogue example; the bullet went right through). He’s in London during the Blitz and on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor. He doesn’t manage to be in Warsaw when it falls but his son is; his daughter-in-law sees the Japanese attack on Hawaii from a hill near her house, and his other daughter-in-law is a terrified Jew clutching her baby in the Piazza Venezia as Mussolini declares war on the United States.
But these are things that would sink a mediocre story, much like the California. This story is not mediocre, and its sweep is impressive enough to render these annoyances minor. It would be easy to roll my eyes at how conveniently we have first-hand observation of so many major events, personal meetings with so many historical figures, on a grand stage that is pretty much the whole planet. Puts me in mind of Forrest Gump. But when I look at the tale as a history text, with characters made up to tell the story in a connected and very human way, I see Wouk’s storytelling genius. The interweaving of political, military, and cultural details is stellar. The soap-opera-ish illicit romances and bed-hopping add another element of humanity.
This is an engrossing read and I recommend it, but it’s also a marathon. It took me 10 days that felt like a month. Even though it just kind of stops and hangs there at the end, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, I’m going to have to take a break before tackling the other half of the story, War and Remembrance.