Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 7)

7

We’re halfway to my house, when I touch Richard’s arm and ask him to stop.

“What’s up, Babe?”

“Why did you lie to me, Richard?”

“Lie? About what?” He’s calm, perfectly composed.

“About your parents and their unhappy marriage. About your father cheating on your mother.”

His eyes flicking up, flicking down signal a subtle change.

“Where do your get that from?”

“Richard, your parents obviously care for each other. I’d have to be blind not to see how much they like … love each other. You lied because you didn’t want me to meet them and I want to know why. I’m thinking maybe you’re ashamed of me.”

“Ashamed? Babe, I love you. You’re the best. You’re beautiful. You’re smart, smarter than me for sure.”

“Then why?”

He hesitates. “It’s my father.”

“What about him?”

“We didn’t move here because he landed a fabulous job. The truth is, Babe, he has no job. I mean no real job like your father.”

“But you said he drives for CF Gravel.”

He shakes his head. “He lies low,” Richard says. “That’s his job, keeping out of sight.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s hiding from some very angry and bad people.” He fidgets. “Look, I shouldn’t be telling you this.”

“Why not?”

“It’s secret,” he says. “If it gets out, if the wrong people hear … I don’t know.”

“What did you father do?”

Richard looks around, and I follow his eyes, expecting to see somebody lurking in the scrubs. “He ratted.”

“Ratted?”

“Talked. To the FBI. About people.”

“Gangsters,” I blurt, half excited, half fearful.

He puts his hands on my shoulders and adds pressure gently.

“Shhh, will you.”

“You think they’re here?” I whisper.

“You never know. You don’t know, ever. They come up behind you and bang.” He imitates a handgun with a finger and thumb.

“Your father’s a gangster.” I can’t reconcile his latest story with the man I’ve just eaten dinner with. It’s incongruous.

“A little one,” he says. “A bookie.” When I don’t react, he expands, “He takes bets, illegal bets, on horses, games, numbers, just about anything. Well, I mean he did. But not any more, according to him and my mother. Now all he does in keep a low profile. That’s what he calls it, a low profile.”

I turn this over every which way, hoping to find the bright side. I try always to look on the bright side of situations. Angie scoffs at my habit. She says it’s a great way to end up a first-class fool.

I say, “So, it’s good news, Richard, isn’t it? What your father did was right, putting some criminals out of business.”

He laughs bitterly. “What he did was … was get us exiled to nowhere.”

I touch his arm. “Creek Falls is somewhere. It’s where I am.”

“Sorry, Babe. But, you know, one day I’m pretty happy. I have friends, guys I’ve known since grade school. I like my school okay. I get to see my friends everyday. I’ve got a good rep. Then, suddenly, he’s arrested. He disappears on and off and really vanishes. There’s not a word from him for months, maybe a year. Finally, a couple of FBI agents show up. They tell us we’re moving, and not next week, but immediately. Just pack what you need and come with us. Just like that. New name—”

“New name?” I say. “DeSantis isn’t your name?”

“No,” he answers.

“What—”

“I can’t tell you, Babe. I shouldn’t be telling you anything. DeSantis is our name, my name, now.”

“Richard, I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, thanks. You should of seem my mother. She protested like hell, excuse my French. Nothing they could do about it. My mothers says, ‘What about the relatives? What about the neighbors? What about school?’  Can’t be helped, they tell her, us. You’re not safe here. We have a safe place for you. They wouldn’t tell us where. Say they can’t. It’s not safe. Poof, we’re history. I wonder what story they gave. Maybe everybody back there thinks we’re dead. Who knows? I think about it.”

I’m speechless.

“See why I didn’t want to tell you?”

I come close to him and embrace him. “I love you. What your father is, was, doesn’t matter.”

He hugs me back and smiles. “Forget it. Hey, let’s see a movie.”

“I can’t, Richard. I have to get home.” I do want to go to the movies with him. He was honest with me and I don’t want to leave him alone. I’m not sure how he feels, but I know it can’t be good.

“Sure, I understand. Your parents expect you. You don’t want to worry them.”

We stroll across to my part of town in silence. At my door, I kiss him.

“You’re going home?”

He shuffles, and I know he’ll be with Bobby.

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That Old Time Religion Explained

Pentecostalism in America

By R. G. Robins

Faith healing (deliverance), speaking in tongues (glossolalia), end time predictions (Revelation), God working full-time on the planet, what is this stuff and who are these people who embrace these, and more, as pure gospel? They are believers who pretty much, with variations, accept Jesus Christ as Savior, as Baptizer in partnership with the Holy Spirit; that Christ is healer and that He is returning as King. They have produced interesting, colorful, and to more rational minds, outrageous preachers and leaders, such as Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, and many others whose names aren’t nearly as well known, as least not to the population at large. Additionally, they comprise a substantial group in their various iterations, approaching 15 million in number. And while historically concentrating their efforts on spiritual and salvationist affairs, since the 1960s, they have and are asserting themselves in the secular social, economic, and political world. Reasons enough to become familiar with their history and belief systems.

Robins makes some cogent observations regarding this throughout, but non clearer of what is happening currently than this in the latter portion of the study: “Americans of more liberal persuasion … welcomed the sweep of post-civil rights changes as the arc of progress, a vital widening of participatory democracy, personal liberty, and social justice. But conservatives responded with outrage and alarm. Taken together, these trends introduced a new source of conservation solidarity: the conviction that an unholy alliance subsumed under the general heading of secular humanism has laid siege to Christian America, placing the spiritual and political foundation of the nation, indeed, the very fabric of society, at risk.”

In this monograph, Robins, himself raised among what some used to call (perhaps still do in certain quarters) shouters, introduces readers to Pentecostal origins, beliefs, branching, organizations, and entry into secular society as warriors against the humanistic ideas of modernity. In other words, worthwhile reading for “nonbelievers.” As an extra inducement, Robins prefaces the study with a personal introduction that recounts his young years most will find unexpected and entertaining. w/c

Review: 2017 National Book Award Winner

Sing, Unburied, Sing

By Jesmyn Ward

National Book Award for Fiction and recent MacArthur Genius Award winner Jesmyn Ward explores family bonds and racial prejudice and oppression in Sing, Unburied, Sing. Racism permeates the patch traversed by Jojo and his sister Kayla, his grandfather Pop and dying mother Mam, and his self-absorbed mother Leonie and his white father Michael, the pair not much older than children, and brings forth his murdered uncle Given, and another thirteen-year-old boy Richie, killed on the prison farm of Parchman (Mississippi State Penitentiary). Both Given and Richie, visible to Jojo, seek but can never find the release of justice, both stark and brutal reminders that post-racial America exists merely as a rhetorical phrase fronting a myth. As grim as this sounds, and as shocking as the family’s odyssey proves, Ward does find hope in the familial bonds of Jojo, Kayla, and Pop.

The story is about two journeys, one in real time and the other through recent history. Leonie solicits her white friend Misty, who has an imprisoned black boyfriend, to retrieve Michael from Parchman with her, where he has finished his term for cooking and selling meth. She thinks it’s a good idea to bring along her children, Kayla, a toddler, and Jojo, thirteen. As readers learn, she isn’t much of a mother, so bad and absent that her children can’t call her mom. She works but her passions are Michael, longing for Michael, and getting high. The burden of caring for the children fall to Pop and Mam, who now lies in bed, wracked by pain as she dies of cancer. Fortunately for Kayla and Jojo, Pop knows how to care for his family. As Jojo and Kayla share a special bond, so do Jojo and Pop. Pop teaches him how to live on the farm, the secrets of the woods and the animals, and of survival. He’s a man who has seen and experienced much pain in his life, including having served a term as a teen in Parchman. Slowly, over time, he tells Jojo the story of Richie, which is the tale of black oppression summed up in the short, brutal life of a thirteen-year-old boy. It’s a story Pop can barely finish, because, as readers will eventually learn, the ending is so horrifying.

Needless to say, the auto trip proves excruciating for the four, partly because Kayla becomes sick during it and nobody but Jojo seems to care or know how to comfort and help the child. When they eventually pick up Michael, the return trip devolves into something even more harrowing. Before getting Micheal, Leonie and Misty stop over at their lawyer’s house, Al. When you are dirt poor, as these people are, you get the Als of the world, representation by a drug addled wasted white man. He sends them off with crystal meth, and wouldn’t you know it, only hours out of prison, a cop pulls them over. Leonie, out love perhaps, desperation for certain, swallows the meth and what results nearly costs the travelers their freedom, and Jojo his life. It’s a scene straight out of a worst nightmare.

As if this wasn’t enough, Leonie possesses the ability envied by her mother, of seeing the dead. Perhaps this is supernatural, but it’s more likely the pain of losing her brother Given to murder. Suffice to say here that against all good advice, star athlete Given thought his white teammates regarded him as he regarded him, as brothers. In the end, his trust and misreading of race killed him as surely as the bullet. Let’s leave it for readers to discover the circumstances on their own. Leonie believes she sees him, voiceless, observing all her bad deeds. Jojo possesses this ability as well. It manifests when they pick up Michael from Parchman and Richie hitches a ride to find his old benefactor, Pop, whom he knows as River. What is little, perpetually a child Ritchie seeking? He’s wants the one person he felt ever acknowledged and cared about him. There’s much sadness here, but none sadder than Ritchie and what he represents.

While many will think, no, this isn’t a book for me, it, in fact, probably is a book for you, and especially for people who will never know about it. Because it is a story that needs telling and feeling on a visceral level, with the right among of openness to receive and acknowledge it. Strongly recommended. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 6)

6

It’s Sunday and I’m helping my mother prepare dinner. She decided earlier in the week, after our conversation, to invite my uncle on my father’s side, his wife, and his daughter, who is several years younger than me. I understand her tactic. If missing dinner with my blood relatives doesn’t shame me, surely relegating my cousin to an afternoon of loneliness among the adults certainly will. But I am impervious to her ploys and nearly skip out the house when Richard arrives to pick me up.

While I have never been in Richard’s house, I have walked his street, stood in front of his house, and spied on his backyard from between the houses on the next street over. I admit to mooning over Richard from the first moment he showed interest in me. I couldn’t get enough of him, couldn’t stop thinking about him, couldn’t prevent myself from filling pages of my notebooks with his name, and stooping to the girlish practice of combining our names, and signing them as a couple. I suppose my love for him began as infatuation, most likely with his exotic origins—New York, Staten Island, actually, but far away nonetheless; a boy not of Creek Falls, not at all provincial. I even dragged Angie and Rosemary along on my missions to scout Richard’s house, in case I ran into him accidentally, so I could claim with a modicum of convincing conviction that my friends and I were just taking a walk not the least aware of where we were.

Strolling up the front walk, I tell him in a controlled tone—even though I want to gush I am so happy this day has arrived—how lovely his house is. And it is nice, a long, low ranch with a two-car garage hidden in the back under the house. I live in a two-story duplex down near the old dormant mills where once there was a printing operation; the defunct printing company built my house and the dozens of others for its employees on the ridge overlooking creek basin. The duplexes have stood on the ridge for fifty years and barely resemble what they were like when the company erected them, though I can’t say after having viewed photos in a historical exhibit at the library that the new owners redecorations and alterations have improved them much. Richard’s house is new by Creek Falls standards and it is in the better part of town, where Angie and Rosemary live, and where I wish I lived. But it’s curious, the location, considering.

At the door, he thanks me for the compliment. The Richard I am mad about should quip, maybe, Thank my mother. I had nothing to do with it. Instead, he is subdued and tense, his eyelids dawn down a little like shades on a window, meant to conceal something, his forehead riddled with lines I’d never seen, or perhaps not noticed, before.

I expect him to open the door, but he doesn’t budge, and doesn’t have to as the door opens of its own. Standing there, partly submerged in the black background, eyeing us, shifting from Richard to me, is his mother. She’s smiling, big and broad, disconcertingly exaggerated, displaying lots of gleaming teeth, and I find her menacing in the way a clown sometimes is. I can’t decide whether to speak first or wait for her. Seconds pass and I pray Richard will intervene.

And he does, thank goodness, introducing us. She welcomes me, and steps aside, waving us in. I feel her eyes on me as I enter with Richard and walk down the hallway into the kitchen.

She’s behind us, saying, “Nothing fancy, dear, we always have our meals in the kitchen and Sunday is no exception. I hope you like macaroni and beef. You look like a young woman who might.” I prickle a bit, wondering if she finds me too heavy.

“Richard,” she says, at the kitchen sink, turning her back to us and fiddling with the outsize pot on the stove, “where are your manners?”

“Would you like something to drink,” he asks

“Good, Richard,” she says, glancing over her shoulder at him, “but wouldn’t you like your girlfriend to know my name? I won’t feel comfortable with her calling me Mrs. DeSantis the entire afternoon.”

“Anne,” he says. “Mom’s name is Anne.”

“Good, Richard. Why don’t you two make yourselves comfortable in the living room?” She yells, soprano high and piercing, “Fred, the kids will be in the living room.”

Richard leads me into the living room. It’s more spacious than ours and extravagantly decorated. An entire wall is a fireplace, done in fieldstone, the firebox braced by stone shelves that teem with bric-a-brac and photos of Richard. Behind the screen, I see the firebox is pristine. Against the far wall is a long couch. In front of the ached entrance and facing the sofa are two easy chairs. The furniture style is Mediterranean, the cushions red and black ersatz brocade. The table and arms and legs of the couch and the chairs are ornately carved dark wood. Everything looks heavy and, well, gauche. Over the big picture window that spans nearly the entire exterior wall are red drapes fringed with small black tassels. I think of my mother and how she would gasp and mutter about ostentatious people. Showoffs, plain and simple. There, I said it, is how she would put it.

“Lovely,” I say to Richard, who appears indifferent to my compliment.

As we sit, Richard’s father enters the room. He isn’t what I expect, him being a driver for CF Gravel. He is tall, lean with gray skin, pasty, like he might be housebound. Or it might be his manner of dress imparting a ghostly pale to him. He is in black from head to toe. He surprises me so I scoot back a bit. Richard feels me move and rests a hand on my arm; maybe he’s afraid I’ll scoot right through the back of the couch.

“Introduce me,” Fred says. He’s happy and seems pleasant, but I can’t erase the sensation that he is a bit sinister and deceitful; it’s what Richard has told me about him, and his attire.

“Sit, sit,” he says, patting down the air when we begin to rise. We fall back at his command, and he is in front of me in a blink.

“I’m Fred, Richard’s dad.” He extends a hand. “Alyce, I take it.”

I say I’m pleased to meet him.

“Okay, what’ll it be? Soda? Got some fresh orange juice. Picked a carton up yesterday at the Grand Union. Coffee maybe. You a coffee drinker? Anne’s a terrific coffee drinker. Day and night, coffee. Always a pot on in the kitchen so don’t worry about putting us to any trouble. Not about coffee.”

I ask for water.

“You don’t have to be polite here. We’re practically family.” He pauses, consults Richard, who is stoic. He touches a finger to his lips. “What I mean is, Richard has never brought home a girl. He’s had plenty of girlfriends, but you’re a first.” He pauses again. “Oh, maybe that’s not right. Maybe I’m … maybe I better get your water.”

I turn to Richard. I must appear troubled or puzzled to him. I am both but I’m trying to emulate Richard’s Spartan demeanor.

He shrugs. “He’s always like that.”

I poke him. “Plenty of girlfriends?”

“Two girls. Three, tops. I wouldn’t call them girlfriends. More like acquaintances.”

“Sure.”

“Honest,” he says.

His father returns with a tall water for me, a Coke for Richard, and a glass of red wine for himself. He lowers himself into a chair facing us from across the room.

“Richard claims you’re a genius.” He sips his wine and eyes me over the rim.

“Richard exaggerates.”

“Hmm,” he purrs. “Who unified Italy?”

I know the answer, but I’m stunned dumb. I expect questions about what I like, my family, my plans for the future, not a history quiz. He possesses Richard’s pleasant smile, his easy manner, and a lot of patience. He waits for my answer.

“Garibaldi,” I answer, “in 1871. He wore a red shirt, but I don’t know the color of his shorts.”

Fred laughs and shakes with the force of it and spills wine on his pants and wipes it with a hand as Anne enters with a plate piled high with meats and cheese and crackers.

“The hero,” he says to me, “everybody remembers the warrior. You’re a sharp girl. You’ve got yourself a sharp one,” he says to Richard, and to Anne, who is lowering herself into the other chair, “She’s sharp, this one. Maybe as sharp as you, Babe.” Now I know the origin of Richard’s nickname for me.

“You’d better watch yourself, Fred,” she cautions, “or else you might cut yourself, she being so sharp.”

Fred laughs harder, something I would have thought impossible had he not done it,  “Nobody’s as sharp as my Babe.”

Anne accepts the compliment with a nod as she directs her attention at Richard and me, but especially me. “Don’t let the food go to waste. Now eat. I want to see everybody eating.”

I take her urging as a command and consume more than my usual amount, and it isn’t difficult. The lunch that follows is irresistible. The sauce has a strong, fresh tomato flavor that leaves no doubt she’s been working on it since early morning. The macaroni is firm and satisfying, not like the soft goo my mother prepares. The roast beef she serves after the macaroni is succulent, pink and hot. My mother usually manages to crisp the outside of a roast and render the inside a dull, dry gray, each bit giving my jaw muscles an intensive workout. By the end, my stomach bulges and I can barely move. Richard leans toward me as his parents clear the table. “It’s not over.” I groan, really joyful. “You could stand a pound or two.” I think he is flattering me, but before I can chide playfully Fred returns bearing a tray of cookies. Anne is behind him with a pot of coffee. Anne tells me she baked the cookies especially for me, and cookies are her specialty. Richard and Fred hum in affirmation, and instantly we are stuffing ourselves with Anne’s confections and washing them down with the strongest, blackest coffee I’ve ever tasted.

When we finish, I offer to help Anne clean up. She thanks me, saying it isn’t necessary. She disappears into the kitchen with Fred.

“You impressed her.”

We’re still at the table, maybe hoping something more will come from the kitchen, and dreading the prospect, too.

“I have manners,” I say, “and a large family.”

Richard laughs. He’s very relaxed, the opposite of when I pushed him about meeting his parents.

“Your parents are nice,” I say. My eyes stray from him to the kitchen door. It is open and I see Anne and Fred at the sink. She is washing. He is drying. They stand next to each other, and as I gaze I see them kiss twice. The sight is warming, but also disturbing, when I juxtapose it with the tale Richard told me.

“You look warm, Babe. Want to leave, maybe see a movie?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

Was Richard truthful about his parents? I compare what he related to an aunt and uncle of mine, Ruth and Phil. They didn’t live in Creek Falls, but up north in Albany. My mother always thought if Ruth, my father’s sister, had remained in Creek Falls and married a local fellow, she’d still be married today. Phil was a construction worker, though only an apprentice when Ruth met him. It was summer and he was down in the Catskills area for vacation. They fell in love. After he graduated to journeyman, they married. Years passed. He was a skilled electrician working commercial jobs, office buildings and factories. They had three children. The children occupied Ruth’s time and attention. Phil’s opinion was the children preoccupied her to the exclusion of him. My mother called Phil’s protest false justification, pure and simple. Men being men, as my mother often drones, Phil sought attention outside the boundaries of their marriage, and he did it in a most unusual and elaborate manner. He announced he had a great opportunity as a foreman on an important new office tower. Naturally, the prospect of more money and an easier life excited Ruth. But there was a catch. The job was in Boston. Living in Albany was terrible; she missed her family and the familiar surroundings of Creek Falls. The ache was so deep sometimes it was all she could do to rouse herself from bed; she cried and suffered over the prospect of moving to Boston, even farther from her real home. Then Phil, in a maneuver to shame the snake of Eden my mother often snorted, volunteered to live by himself in an efficiency and return home once a week to spend the weekend with Ruth and the children. This overjoyed Ruth and she readily agreed. In the beginning, Phil arrived home late Friday nights. As time wore on, he arrived mid-day Saturday. As the months rolled by, Ruth and the children were fortunate to see him once a month. Finally, after he had not visited for three months due to a monumental push to finish the tower ahead of schedule and earn a large bonus, she decided to surprise him. She borrowed a friend’s car, loaded the children in it, and drove to Boston. She arrived in the afternoon, found his apartment, and discovered he was not home. Truly, she thought, as his absence seemed to confirm, Phil was working night and day. Actually, in her heart, she had doubted work occupied every minute of his time in Boston. That he was not in his apartment relieved her, proved her wrong, and served as a reproach for suspecting him. As the children were restless and hungry, she took them to a restaurant near the apartment. It was a small place, a neighborhood joint. It was later in the afternoon and there weren’t many customers. The family was seated in a booth on the window that afforded them a view of the street. Toward the end of their lunch, Ruth glanced down the street and saw a man in the distance who struck her as familiar. She found this interesting and odd as she could think of no one she knew in Boston. Curious, she kept an eye on him, thinking maybe someone from Albany or Creek Falls was visiting, as she and her children were. As he drew closer to the restaurant, she saw the man was Phil, and he was dressed as he rarely dressed at home, in expensive slacks and a sport jacket. She became excited, thinking somehow he learned she was in town and at the restaurant, and he was coming to see her and the children. She wanted to jump from the booth and run out and greet him, but she couldn’t leave the children. In the next instant, though, her world flipped, for she saw a woman, a young woman, tall, slim, stylishly attired, walk toward him from the direction of the restaurant. They met and embraced. He kissed her, not a friendly peck, but a passionate kiss Ruth herself could feel. Devastated, she was witless. She had the children. She couldn’t leave them alone while she confronted him. She couldn’t drag them with her, because she couldn’t make a scene in front of them either. Her only recourse was to sit and watch as Phil hugged, kissed, and laughed with the woman, gape as they strolled pass the window arm in arm, oblivious to everything but each other. How could she return to Albany, but how could she not? She had to bring the children home, and she could not confront Phil in their presence. So she drove them back to Albany, where she implored her friend to watch them for a day and night and to allow her to keep the car for a while longer. Back to Boston she drove. She parked in front of Phil’s apartment. She went up to see if he was home. He wasn’t. She staked out his apartment from the car and was at his door when he finally returned at four in the morning. The row was bitter and violent, as she bonked him on the head with his aluminum percolator. The long and short of it was she could never trust Phil again, and never let him stray from her sight. They still live in Albany—she forced him to quit his Boston job and find another in Albany. But she could never trust him again. Nor could she forget, or allow him to, either, that he had cheated on her, had deceived her, and had driven a wedge between them. Never again did anybody witness the slightest bit of affection between the two of them. While Ruth attempted mightily to protect her children from the knowledge of their father’s betrayal—that he was a man who would sacrifice everything for his own pleasure—they discovered the bitter secret and were forever tainted by it.

The tale of Ruth and Phil is vivid in my mind and instructive. Anne and Fred are no Ruth and Phil, and the truth for me is they should be. I am very unsettled, because the idea I should not trust Richard is gnawing at me.

“Hey, Babe, where are you?”

I mumble, groggy, as if I’ve been sleeping.

“I’ve been doing this,” he says, flagging his arm in front of my face. “I guess it was too much for you.”

“What was?”

“My mother’s cooking. I mean you really went to town.”

Anne and Fred, finished with the dishes, return to the table. Richard tells them it’s time for us to go. Anne and Fred hope I have enjoyed the afternoon, and I tell them I have. It’s the truth, for I have enjoyed nearly every moment of it, and am enjoying these moments watching the two of them standing together, Fred with his arm draped over Anne’s shoulder and she with an arm around her waist. But I am uneasy, too.

Understanding Today’s Religious Right

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

By Frances Fitzgerald

Readers who are not evangelical or fundamentalist Christians, who are not religious at all, or who merely pay lip service to the idea, will learn a lot from Frances Fitzgerald’s new, and at times numbingly detailed, history of these two groups, as well as their many splinters.

Perhaps the most intriguing and, when considered carefully in the light of reality, is the thorough infusion of religious mysticism into the world, as if God and the eternal were palpable participants in our physical world, or something like a parallel dimension separated by a most porous, frequently traversed membrane. Writing a sentence like the preceding, however, does little to capture how disturbing (yet also insightful) many will find the manifestations of an overarching, other worldly belief system, because whether or not you believe, it impacts your life. Fitzgerald illustrates how when she reaches “Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority” (just short of halfway) and proceeds through most of the high points of recent history, with particular concentration and insight into the theologizing, philosophizing, and politicizing not visible to non, marginal, and true believers. For this reason, for its practical value, many will find this an invaluable history and resource.

While readers will find it tempting, given the length and density of this history, to sprint or just leap to current times, spending time with the first half of the history will help you frame current times. After all, the belief systems, some of which feel simplistic, spring from some deep thinking, particularly in the era when religion dominated the landscape. Thus, Fitzgerald takes readers through the First (1730-40s) and Second (1800 through the 1830s) Great Awakenings, the days of Calvinist Jonathan Edwards and the personalization of the religious experience, and Charles Finney’s “burnt-over district,” a period marked by the rise of revivalism and the jettisoning of rationalism in favor of emotion. Then follows the Civil War and wrapped around it from antebellum to post reconstruction the splintering over slavery and other issues related to the experience of religion. Finally, in the run up to current days, readers walk through the preaching of the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, from Dwight Moody to Billy Sunday, until they reach the days of the influential Falwell, the scandalous Jim and Tammy and Jimmy Swaggart, the monumentally influential Billy Graham, and, regardless of what you think of him, the immense influencer, the game changer extraordinaire, Pat Robertson.

The ground Fitzgerald tills here is a truck farm of religion, politics, business; of larger than life personalities; of theologies and philosophies that will strike nonbelievers as bizarre. You’ll learn much that may surprise you, too, such as the fact that before our days of politicalized religion, Protestants in their various manifestations agreed in steering clear of politics. How things have changed, indeed. w/c

Is Grace a Murderer or Not?

New: Now Streaming on Netflix

Originally published in 1997, this Margaret Atwood novel recounts a real murder and psychological investigation that took place near Toronto beginning in 1843. People still puzzle over the guilt or innocence of Grace Marks. Now you can not only read the book but watch a six-part adaptation now streaming on Netflix.

Alias Grace

By Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood tackles one of Canada’s most mystifying murders that to this day has people wondering: did she do it? The reason to read the novel is not to discover the answer, for it remains unanswerable; it’s to immerse yourself in the atmosphere conjured up by Atwood’s superb writing.

In 1843, near Toronto, James McDermott and fifteen-year-old maid Grace Marks were accused of murdering their employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper/lover Nancy Montgomery. There seemed to be no question about McDermott’s guilt; he paid for his crime with his life, on the gallows. However, because of her age, her demeanor, and her wits, many were not convinced that Grace Marks voluntarily participated in the murders, the belief being McDermott coerced her into taking part and that she was insane, at least at the time. For these reasons, the uncertainty and the apparent insanity, her death sentence was changed to life in prison. Part of that sentence, she served in an asylum until officials deemed her well enough to enter the general prison population. It’s there where we meet her awaiting Dr. Simon Jordan, a budding psychologist in the days when psychology was a new and developing science. We learn her story, pretty much every aspect of her life in her own words, as she relates it to Jordan. Additionally, we learn about the current thinking of the times on psychology through Jordan.

Of course, though, we learn much more, among them these things: the toughness of life in the mid-1800s, the subservient status of women that puts poor women fully at the mercy of men, the hardships of prison life, the difficulties of servant life down to chores and meals, the constrictions of the sexual mores of those days on both men (who indisputably had more leeway) and women and the pent-up frustration produced by those restrictive standards. It’s here that the novel shines and earns its merit.

Atwood bases her retelling on archived facts of the case and material published at the time of the crime and since. She fills in the missing parts, which are vast, by extrapolating her fiction from the facts of the case and knowledge of life in Canada at mid eighteenth century. You’ll definitely draw conclusions about her guilt or innocence as you progress through the novel, only have them cast into doubt at the end. For, if anything, Grace Marks continues to prove herself to be an elusive woman. w/c

Flipped (Raw)

Flipped (Raw)

Chapter 9: STATEN ISLAND, NEW YORK  (Part 4 and 5)

4

Richard is with Bobby. They are leaning against Bobby’s Belair and jerking around, laughing, punching each other playfully. I am cradling my books in my arms staring at the pair as I walk. Richard is so animated with Bobby. He seems free, unafraid, wildly expressive, none of which he is with me. Oh, he is very nice to me. He treats me well. He takes me places. He doesn’t complain, even when I stop him from doing what I know he wants to with me. But approaching the two I understand his friendship with Bobby is different. Maybe it is why I passionately dislike Bobby: He has captivated Richard, as I can’t seem to. It is like Bobby loves Richard and that Bobby and I are rivals for Richard’s attention. The oddness of the idea lingers in my head. Richard and Bobby are friends, boyfriends, but not boyfriends in the sense Richard is my boyfriend.

I am nearly disgusting myself as I step to Richard’s side and he sweeps an arm over my shoulder and pulls me close. I almost drop my books, but Richard notices and grabs the pile and hefts them with one hand, feigning to drop them, lifting them to his other side and smiling and winking, as if to say, Fooled you, Babe.

“Gotta run,” he says to Bobby.

Bobby replies, with a barely detectable sneer, “Don’t let me keep you from the missus.”

Richard nudges me along and we stroll up the street. I glance back. Bobby leans against his car, arms folded, staring at us; or maybe at just me, maybe threatening, How dare you steal Richard from me. I shiver.

“The movies Friday?” asks Richard, though it is more an assumption than a request for a date. We’re beyond him asking for dates. We are dating. We are a couple. The only question now is: what will we do together on the weekend?

I nod, but I ache to ask, “Why don’t I come over to your house and spend a little time getting to know your family?”

“Something bothering you, Babe?”

“Something,” I answer.

“What?” he asks, stopping us and turning to face me. “What? I do something?”

“You like me, Richard, don’t you?”

“Babe,” he answers, hoisting my books higher to strengthen his hold, and pulling me close with the arm that’s been around me since we linked at Bobby’s car, “I adore you.”

“People who like each other—adore each other, they share things.”

A big smile breaks across his face and his eyes narrow, and behind them I detect smoldering, as if his brain is on fire. “Babe, that’s all I want to do, share with you.” He has me tight against him now and lays a kiss on my lips.

I swing a hip against him. “Not in public, Richard.”

He backs off. “Sorry, Babe, but I can’t resist you.”

“Who are my parents?” I ask him.

“Your parents?” He’s puzzled, as if I’ve asked a trick question. He thinks for a full minute and then names them.

“What does my father do for a living?”

“Do?” He tells me.

“What meal does my mother call her specialty?”

He names it without hesitation.

He’s waiting for another question. Instead, I watch him expectantly.

“What, did I miss one?”

“Ask me if I know what your father does, or what your mother likes to cook for you and your father.”

He releases me and shifts my books so he is holding them with two hands. He studies the books, as if reading the text through their closed covers. He shuffles, and he is silent.

“Richard, what I’m trying to get at is I don’t know a thing about your family. All I know is you moved up here because your father got a better job. That’s it. And you know practically everything about my family. My parents’ names, what my mother likes to cook, everything.”

He maintains his silence, continuing to examine my books.

“I don’t think it’s normal, Richard, me not knowing a single thing about your parents. Or meeting your parents. It makes me feel …” I hesitate, afraid to venture further. But I swallow and plunge ahead. I’ve begun and I don’t know when I will have the courage again. “It makes me feel like you really don’t care for me. I know you care, Richard, I do. But it’s how I feel. Do you understand?”

He moves next to me, transfers the books to one arm again, and slides an arm around me.

“My family is different,” he says.

I search his eyes, expecting a revelation, reluctance perhaps, or hurt, embarrassment, anything, but they are private.

“Different how?” I ask.

“You really need to know?”

“Yes, I do, Richard, if I’m important to you.”

He takes a huge breath. “Okay. But I don’t want this to get around.”

“It’s between you and me,” I reassure him.

“We had to leave Staten Island.”

He pauses, and I’m afraid he won’t continue. I’m compelled to prompt him. “Why?”

“My mother demanded we leave. She wanted us far away from … she called it ‘the scene of the crime.’”

“Your father’s a criminal?” I don’t mean to gasp, but the idea he is the son of a criminal, a thief, or worse, I can’t bear it.

“Not really a criminal,” he says, smiling weakly.

I find myself temporizing a bit. Maybe I don’t want to know. I consider stopping Richard from telling me more, urging him to keep whatever the secret is to himself. Before I can, he says, “My father was involved another woman.”

Adultery is relief, but only because it is mild in comparison to the alternatives. “He was cheating on your mother?” I whisper. I’ve read about unfaithful husbands. But in Creek Falls, husbands and wives don’t cheat, not usually. I could not imagine my father cheating on my mother. He would never enter his mind; they love each other. Even if I thought he might, which I would never think except at this moment and only because Richard introduced the idea, whom would he do it with? How could he manage an affair without somebody discovering? In Creek Falls, there are no secrets. There can’t be. The town is too small; Peyton Place was a metropolis by comparison. Here, everybody knows everybody else. Everybody watches out for everybody else. But Staten Island, now there, it’s a big place, and lots can happen in a big place.

“It was worse than cheating,” he says.

“Worse?” I clip the word to prevent myself from shouting.

He nods. “My mother is a nurse. Nurses work all the time. At least my mother did. She doesn’t now. Not anymore. Not after … We came here and she said she would work days, and only if my father worked days at a job, too. She didn’t care what kind of work he did. But it had to be a daytime, all-day job, where he left before her and came home after her.”

“What does he do?”

“Drives a truck for CF Gravel. Leaves at six and isn’t home until six. Makes good money, working lots of overtime. It’s the first decent job he’s had. He didn’t have a job when we lived in Staten Island.”

“That’s a good thing,” I say.

Richard shrugs. “I suppose. But it doesn’t make up for what he did.”

“He did?”

“The cheating. He hung around. He’d go up to St. George and hang around. He drank. He stood on street corners. He sat in bars. He fought with my mother when she pushed him to get a job, to do something with his life. She harped him about his drinking, his laziness. I don’t know. Maybe it got to be too much for him. Not that she wasn’t right. But I guess he got fed up with her.”

“And he took up with another woman?”

“Right, he did. We didn’t know, of course. My mother was a nurse, like I said. She worked daytimes. But something happened at the hospital. I don’t know what. Her schedule changed. One day she was home and on the night shift. He didn’t know about the change. He’d been out all night. He didn’t know when he came home in the morning because she wasn’t home. She went shopping, food shopping. Like I said, he didn’t work and didn’t do much of anything else either. When she came home, she found them.”

“Them?” I’m a little thrilled, a little intrigued, a little ashamed.

“My father and his … I don’t know what to call her, girlfriend, or whore, like my mother did. I wasn’t there. I was in school. I heard about it the next day, in the morning, when she got in from the nightshift. She said I was probably curious that my father wasn’t home last night. I didn’t tell her I wasn’t. He didn’t come home lots of nights, not a whole lot of nights, but enough for me to know he stayed away, that his absence that night wasn’t anything extraordinary. But I told her I guess I was wondering. She said she didn’t want to have to tell me this but there was nothing she could do. She said my father has taken up with another woman and she, my mother, had kicked him out of the house. Good riddance, she said. I didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. I mean, I wasn’t shocked or anything. Lots of guys’ fathers ran around with other women. It wasn’t anything special. I didn’t think my father was the type. But I guess most guys are. No, I don’t mean that, Babe. Not all guys. I’m not the type. My father taught me a lesson. He showed me how you can really screw up people by being selfish. And she was pretty hurt, too. Crazy hurt. It really drove her around the bend, him running around on her. Every morning when she came home she’d make me breakfast and she’d be a different woman each time.”

He’s quiet. His eyes grow distant eyes, eyes no longer set on a street in Creek Falls, but looking back, way back.

“What do you mean ‘different’?” I ask.

“Different like in the guy who was good sometimes and bad other times. Day and night different.”

“Jeckel and Hyde.”

“That guy, except she was hardly ever good. One day she’d walk in. Her head would be down. She’d be dragging. Before she got her coat off, she’d start crying, and she wouldn’t stop, and the only way I wouldn’t hear her or see her crying was to leave. I’d leave because, well, Babe, I just couldn’t stand seeing it or hearing it. She’d complain about doing everything for him, putting up with his nonsense, his shiftlessness, his irresponsibility; and her warnings to me to not be like him, to be a man, a real man, to live up to my commitments.

“Then another day I’d really know she was home. The door would slam. She’d really throw it into the jamb. The place would shake, shake like in a storm or something. My mother’s not a curser. But those mornings she’d come pretty close, and I could she it in her face; oh, she wanted to cut loose. He was a no-account, a backstabber, deceitful, a liar, traitor, on and on. Now, Babe, I knew my father was wrong, but still I couldn’t listen to her. Out I’d go as fast as I could. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again.”

“But your father’s back,” I say.

“Yes, he came back. He was gone maybe two weeks, then he was back.”

“Your mother took him back. She sounds like a forgiving person,” I say, sad for him and his mother, but heartened by her strength, understanding, and capacity to forgive. I didn’t know her, yet, but found myself admiring her nonetheless.

“She took him back all right. She had conditions, though. No going out ever without her. He had to get a steady job, and come straight home from it. She didn’t trust him. Still doesn’t. I guess I don’t either, not after what he did to us.”

Richard’s eyes are on me, reading me for a reaction. “You really want to meet these people?”

I smile and I kiss his cheek. “Yes,” I say. “I love you, and they are your parents.”

He shrugs and says, “Okay, I’ll ask my mom.”

5

Today Richard tells me his mother is excited he has a girlfriend, a serious girlfriend, and she wants to meet me. Not just meet me, but to have me for dinner. I am taken aback. I assumed we’d stop in, he’d introduce me, we’d chat for a while, and after we’d be off on our date. But dinner, I don’t know how to feel about what it implies.

“Don’t worry,” he reassures, “she’s nice. He’s okay too, just a little quiet. And she’s a pretty decent cook, though you’d never know it looking at me.”

I don’t know how to act, after what he has told me.

My mother is perplexed when I tell her I will be having Sunday dinner with Richard and his parents. She mutters and putters for an hour. She’s prone to having conversations with herself; I get it from her, these internal discussions that help us work through situations.

After ruminating, she sits me down at the kitchen table. “This thing with Richard sounds serious.”

“I don’t know if it is serious,” I say, “not the way you think. I am happy with Richard. He makes me happy. He’s thoughtful and considerate. We have fun together. We say we care for each other in a special way. But if you’re worried Richard and I might sneak away and get married, don’t. Richard has ambitions and they don’t include marriage, at least not anytime soon. And I have my own plans, college and all that.”

“But Sunday dinner,” she frets. “Sunday dinner is serious. When your father and I had our first Sunday dinner with your grandparents, well, it pretty much meant we were getting married.”

She could continue for hours; however, I have homework and daydreaming to do. I end the discussion by informing her I have already accepted. To back out would be the worst kind of rudeness. My mother has nothing to say, since discourteous behavior ranks in her top five things to despise, along with no-account boyfriends who break up family traditions, though the boyfriends are well down the list.