August 30, 2000
Holes in the Narrative


I finished my last Elizabeth Berg novel last night, just before bed.

(The last Elizabeth Berg novel available to me through the Alameda Public Library System, anyway. I have now exhausted their entire collection. And until I can afford to order the latest one, from ... or until Elizabeth Berg starts writing an Internet journal every day just for *my* personal reading pleasure ... I'm going to have to make do with "Hearts in Atlantis." Sigh.)

A friend turned me on to this author, earlier this summer. She said "Have you read any Elizabeth Berg?" When I said nope, never heard of her, she handed me a couple of slim, soft-cover novels. 

"Try these," she said. "I think you're going to like her style."

I had the first book ("Joy School") three-quarters of the way digested before David and I even made it home to Alameda that night. I swallowed the other one whole, the next day. And then I went to the library and checked out everything they had by Elizabeth Berg. The books they didn't have available on their shelves were ordered from neighboring libraries.

I systematically read them all. Last night I finally reached the end of the pile.

So what is it about her that appeals to me so much? I like her anecdotal writing style, for one thing. I like the way she puts words together. I like her choice of subject matter: women of humor and depth, facing some sort of emotional crisis and emerging from it fundamentally changed, but still in one piece. I like the fact that she reminds me of ... well, of me.

I think what I like best about her, though, is the fact that she doesn't tell us everything all at once.

For instance. In the novel I finished last night, the main character -- a single woman, hopelessly in love with her gay best friend -- goes out on a blind date. We see the process through which the date is set up. We see her reluctantly getting ready for the date ... having her nails done, choosing her wardrobe, discussing it with her friends. We see her date knock on her door twenty minutes early to pick her up. But we don't *see* the actual date itself. The next time we hear anything at all about it, in fact, is when she is discussing it with her mother, a chapter or two later. And even then she only provides a few intriguing details about the evening.

I like that. I like the fact that the author gives us enough credit to put the pieces together for ourselves. I like the fact that she allows us to use our imaginations about the unspoken things that happen in her characters' lives.

And I like the fact that these missing pieces of the narrative make the story just that much more compelling a *read.*

Of course I heard from my #1 Non-Fan this week. I call her "Cranky Denver Lady."

Anytime I write about my children ... or about the fact that I relinquished custody of them when the marriage broke up, or about noncustodial motherhood in general ... and especially whenever I write about the pain I feel when The Tots go home after a visit ... I know I'm going to find one of her patently poisonous e-mails in my cyber mailbox, the next morning.

She never lets me down.

"Maybe you should thought about that before you left your kids and your husband," she wrote this week, after my How Much Does It Hurt? post on Monday. "Dont you ever think about how they feel or cant you think about somebody else." Her message changes, from time to time, but the underlying theme is always the same: You left your children. You suck. Quit being happy. Quit being sad. Nothing you do will ever atone. Die immediately.

I was devastated, the first couple of times I received one of her venomous, incomprehensible missives-of-hate. But over the past couple of years I guess I've developed a thicker skin about the whole thing.  Now I not only expect them, I suspect I would probably be surprised (and perhaps even a little bit let-down) if I didn't hear from her once in a while.

The thing I love most about Cranky Denver Lady -- and I'm only assuming that she's a "she," based purely on written tone of voice, Internet journaler's instinct, and the slightly-effeminate pen names she uses  --  I could be wrong  --  is that I don't think she realizes that I KNOW it's her, writing to me time after time. I think she thinks she's being cunning and mysterious about it ... using different names, switching back and forth between my AOL e-mail address and my LanMinds address occasionally, etc. But when the e-mail is consistently coming from the same funky little ISP in Denver -- and when the apostrophes are consistently missing from the same contractions, every time -- it doesn't exactly take a genius to figure out what's going on.

(The other thing I love about her? The fact that she's been reading me for two years. That's a lot of time to spend reading somebody you hate, isn't it?)

But that's OK. I admire her tenacity. I appreciate her devotion: in a bizarre way, she's one of my most loyal readers. I respect her right to voice her opinion. And I understand how difficult it must be for someone like her to grasp the bigger picture here -- the reasons why things happened the way they did, the sequence of events that led up to it, the ways my family and I are dealing with it -- when I am deliberately leaving huge gaping holes in the narrative all the time.

Why did she leave her kids? Why did she run off to Oregon? Why did she run off to Chicago? Why did she run off to California?

(Is she gonna end up in Mexico eventually or WHUT?)

It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle, I suppose, when some of the *key pieces* have accidentally been stuffed under the sofa cushion.

Or maybe ... with any luck ... it's like reading an Elizabeth Berg novel.

After I'd closed my book and turned off the light, David and I lay there in darkness, not saying much. He knows I need a few minutes to *decompress* emotionally after I finish a good book. He quietly rubbed my shoulder for a few minutes and waited for the little sniffly noises to stop.

Suddenly a thought occurred to me.

"I should have called Ray today," I said, sitting straight up in bed. "On some pretext or another. Just to say hello."

It would have been the human thing to do. It would have been karmically correct. It would have, at the very least, assuaged a few of the *guilt molecules* I feel every August 29th: the date my marriage began ... AND the date it ended, sixteen years later.

But the truth of the matter is that it had never even occurred to me to call my ex-husband until that moment, when David and I were laying in bed getting ready to go to sleep. I was so busy all day, changing poopy corporate diapers at the Totem Pole Company, that I barely gave two seconds' thought to the fact that it was *Anniversaries From Hell Day.*  By the time I finally thought of it, it was too late to be making long-distance phone calls to TicTac. The ex would have divorced me all over again.

"Did you write anything about the anniversaries tonight?" David asked.

I said no, I'd sort of skirted the issue altogether. Earlier in the day I'd planned to write a little bit about my wedding, since that's something I've never really talked much about. Maybe something about my hard-of-hearing groom promising to love, honor and "carry" me. Maybe something about the baby kicking me so hard, right in the middle of the ceremony, that the belt of my dress came unfastened. Maybe something about my "honeymoon" (one night at the Kirkland Ramada Inn, spent watching a Clint Eastwood movie on cable). But once I started writing, it just didn't feel right. The entry wouldn't come together.  So instead I switched gears and wrote about the issue that was most pressing on my mind yesterday -- the assorted crises I had to deal with, while the Tots were in town -- and I posted a link to the infamous *Anniversaries From Hell* journal entry from two years ago at the bottom of the page. And I left it at that.

"I guess I'm leaving some holes in the narrative again," I said. More of the story remains untold than told, at this point.

But that's OK.

Some of my favorite authors do the same thing.

throw a rock