Woolgathering/Just Kids

Woolgathering By Patti Smith

A New Directions Book  1992

The Woolgatherers

“And the image of the woolgatherers in that sleepy field drew me to sleep as well. And I wandered among them, through thistle and thorn, with no task more exceptional than to rescue a fleeting thought, as a tuft of wool, from the comb of the wind” (12).

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

HarperCollinsPublishers  2010  New York

I read this book in tandem with Patricia Morrisroe’s biography of Robert Mapplethorpe. I was interested to see if any of the stories collided. They were obviously different works with Patti writing from first person and Mapplethorpe being a biography. Patti focuses her work, Just Kids, on the friendship between Mapplethorpe and herself, mythologizing along the way about both of their personas. I often felt like Patti was working to appear stranger and more quirky than perhaps was actually her true self. Morrisroe’s Mapplethorpe biography did not focus on the friendship, for its target is Robert himself. Whereas the Mapplethorpe biography (to be summarized in a separate piece) does not shy away from the decadent details of sexual exploration pre-and-inside the AIDS epidemic, Smith engages in very little discussion of Mapplethorpe’s twisted sexual proclivities. It feels as if she wanted his focus to remain on her as muse rather than face the harsh reality that she was simply another stepping-stone to Mapplethorpe’s promotion of his outsized ego. 

Monday’s Children

“On one such day, limping back to the home front beneath the anvil of the su, I was accosted by my mother.

“‘Patricia,’ my mother scolded, ‘put a shirt one!’

“‘It’s too hot,’ I moaned. ‘No one else has one on.’

“‘Hot or not, it’s time you started wearing a shirt. You’re about to become a young lady.’ I protested vehemently and announced that I was never going to become anything but myself, that I was of the clan of Peter Pan and we did not grow up” (10).

“I’m certain, as we filed down the great staircase, that I appeared the same as ever, a moping twelve-year-old, all arms and legs. But secretly I knew I had been transformed, moved by the revelation that human beings create art, that to be an artist was to see what others could not” (11).

Of Mapplethorpe she writes: “The light fell upon the pages of his coloring book, across his child’s hands. Coloring excited him, not the act of filling in space, but choosing colors that no one else would select. In the green of the hills he saw red. Purple snow, green skin, silver sun. He liked the effect it had on others, that it distrurbed his siblings. He discovered he had a talent for sketching. He was a natural draftsman and secretly he twisted and abstracted his images, feeling his growing powers. He was an artist, and he knew it. It was not a childish notion. He merely acknowledged what was his” (13).

“No one expected me. Everything awaited me” (25).

“We piled the best leaves on the bread and happily ate.

“‘A real prison breakfast,’ I said.

“‘Yeah, but we are free.’

“And that summed it up” (28).

“When it got really rough, I would go back to Pratt, occasionally bumping into someone I knew who would let me shower and sleep a night. Or else I would sleep in the hall near a familiar door. That wasn’t much fun, but I had my mantra, ‘I’m free, I’m free.’ Although after several days, my other mantra, ‘I’m hungry, I’m hungry,’ seemed to be in the forefront. I wasn’t worried, though. I just needed a break and I wasn’t going to give up. I dragged my plaid suitcase from stoop to stoop, trying not to wear out my unwelcome.

“It was the summer Coltrane died. The summer of ‘Crystal Ship.’ Flower children raised their empty arms and China exploded the H-bomb. Jimi Hendrix set his guitar in flames in Monterey. AM radio played ‘Ode to Billie Joe.’ There were riots in Newark, Milwaukee, and Detroit. It was the summer of Elvira Madigan, the summer of love. And in this shifting, inhospitable atmosphere, a chance encounter changed the course of my life” (31).  She meets Robert Mapplethorpe.

Just Kids

“But Robert, wishing to shed his Catholic yoke, delved into another side of the spirit, reigned over by the Angel of Light. The image of Lucifer, the fallen angel, came to eclipse the saints he used in his collages and varnished onto boxes. On one small wooden box, he applied the face of Christ; inside, a Mother and Child with a tiny white rose; and in the inner lid, I was surprised to find the face of the Devil, with his extended tongue.

“I would return home to find Robert in brown monk’s cloth, a Jesuit robe he had found in a thrift store, poring over pamphlets on alchemy and magic. He asked me to bring him books slanted toward the occult. At first he didn’t read these books so much as utilize their pentagrams and satanic images, deconstructing and refiguring them. He was not evil, though as darker elements infused his work, he became more silent.

“He grew interested in creating visual spells, which might serve to call up Satan, like one would a genie. He imagined if he could make a pact that accessed Satan’s purest self, the self of the light, he would recognize a kindred soul, and that Satan would grant him fame and fortune. He did not have to ask for greatness, for the ability to be an artist, because he believed he already had that” (62-3).

“Robert was cutting out sideshow freaks from an oversized paperback on Tod Browning. Hermaphrodites, pinheads, and Siamese twins were scattered everywhere. It threw me, for I couldn’t see a connection between these images and Robert’s recent preoccupation with magic and religion” (67).

“It was in that spirit that we would go to Coney Island to visit the sideshows. We had looked for Hubert’s on Forty-second Street, which had featured Snake Princess Wago and a flea circus, but it had closed in 1965. We did find a small museum that had body parts and human embryos in specimen jars, and Robert got fixated on the idea to use something of that sort in an assemblage. He asked around where he might find something of that sort, and a friend told him about the ruins of the old City Hospital on Welfare (later Roosevelt) Island.”

“We went from room to room and saw shelves of medical specimens in their glass jars. Many were broken, vandalized by visiting rodents. Robert combed each room until he found what he was looking for, an embryo swimming in formaldehyde within a womb of glass.

“We all had to agree that Robert would most likely make great use of it. He clutched the precious find on the journey home. Even in his silence, I could feel his excitement and anticipation, imagining how he could make it work as art” (68).

“In early June, Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol” (69).

“In response I made a collage drawing for him called My Hustler, where I used one of his letters as a component. Even as he reassured me that I had nothing to worry about, he seemed to be moving deeper into the sexual underworld that he was portraying in his art. He seemed to be attracted to S&M imagery–’I’m not sure what that all means–just know it’s good’–and described to me works titled Tight Fucking Pants, and drawings in which he lacerated S&M characters with a matte knife. ‘I have a hook coming out of where his prick should be, where I’m gonna hang that chain with dice and skulls from it.’ He spoke of using bloody bandages and starred patches of gauze.

“He wasn’t merely jerking off. He was filtering this world through his own aesthetic, criticizing a movie called Male Magazine as ‘nothing more than an exploitation film using an all male cast.’ When he visited the Tool Box, and S&M bar, he felt it was ‘just a bunch of big chains and shit on the wall, nothing really exciting,’ and wished he could design a place like that.

“As the weeks went on, I worried that he wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t like him to complain about his physical condition. ‘My mouth is sick,’ he wrote, ‘my gums are white and achy.’ He sometimes didn’t have enough money to eat.

“His P.S. was still filled with Robert bravado. ‘I’ve been accused of dressing like a hustler, having the mind of a hustler and the body of one” (84). [Well…if it looks, sounds and walks like a duck…]

Hotel Chelsea

“I’m in Mike Hammer mode, puffing on Kools reading cheap detective novels sitting in the lobby waiting for William Burroughs. He comes in dressed to the nines in a dark gabardine overcoat, gray suit, and tie. I sit for a few hours at my post scribbling poems. He comes stumbling out of the El Quixote a bit drunk and disheveled. I straighten his tie and hail him a cab. It’s our unspoken routine.

“In between I clock the action. Eyeing the traffic circulating the lobby hung with bad art. Big invasive stuff unloaded on Stanley Bard in exchange for rent. The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if nobody in the outside world.

“The elevator is slowgoing. I get off at the seventh floor to see if Harry Smith is around. I place my hand on the doorknob, sensing nothing but silence. The yellow walls have an institutional feel like a middle school prison. I use the stairs and return to our room. I take a piss in the hall bathroom we share with unknown inmates. I unlock our door. No sign of Robert save a note on the mirror. Went to big 42nd street. Love you. Blue. I see he straightened his stuff. Men’s magazines neatly piled. The chicken wire rolled and tied and the spray cans lined in a row under the sink.

“I fire up the hot plate. Get some water from the tap. You got to let it run for a while as it comes out brown. It’s just minerals and rust, so Harry says. My stuff is in the bottom drawer. Tarot cards, silk ribbons, a jar of Nescafe, and my own cup–a childhood relic with the likeness of Uncle Wiggly, rabbit gentleman. I drag my Remington from under the bed, adjust the ribbon, and insert a fresh sheet of foolscap. There’s a lot to report” (91).

Stanley Bard is the hotel manager. They have Room 1017 for 55 dollars a week to live at the Chelsea Hotel.

“Twenty-third Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues still had a postwar feel” (96).

The Manson murders occur.

“A week or two later I waltzed into the El Quixote looking for Harry and Peggy. It was a bar-restaurant adjacent to the hotel, connected to the lobby by its own door, which made it feel like our bar, as it had been for decades. Dylan Thomas, Terry Southern, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe were among those who had raised one too many a glass there.

“I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band. To my far right were Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, along with members of Country Joe and the Fish. At the last table facing the door was Jimi Hendrix, his head lowered, eating with his hat on, across from a blonde. There were musicians everywhere, sitting before tables laid with mounds of shrimp with green sauce, paella, pitchers of sangria, and bottles of tequila” (105).

“The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in the Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe. I wandered the halls seeking its spirits, dead or alive. My adventures were mildly mischievous, tapping open a door slightly ajar and getting a glimpse of Virgil Thomson’s grand piano, or loitering before the nameplate of Arthur C. Clarke, hoping he might suddenly emerge. Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso, or Viva in Eau Sauvage. Everyone had something to offer and nobody appeared to have much money. Even the successful seemed to have just enough to live like extravagant bums. 

“I loved this place, its shabby elegance, and the history it held so possessively. There were rumors of Oscar Wilde’s trunks languishing in the hull of the oft-flooded basement. Here Dylan Thomas, submerged in poetry and alcohol, spent his last hours. Thomas Wolfe plowed through hundreds of pages of manuscript that formed You Can’t Go Home Again. Bob Dylan composed ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ on our floor, and a speeding Edie Sedgwick was said to have set her room on fire while gluing on her thick false eyelashes by candlelight.

“So many had written, conversed, and convulsed in these Victorian dollhouse rooms. So many skirts had swished these worn marble stairs. So many transient souls had espoused, made a mark, and succumbed here. I sniffed out their spirits as I silently scurried from floor to floor, longing for discourse with a gone procession of smoking caterpillars” (112-3).

“This mission led us to the city’s Bermuda Triangle: Brownie’s, Max’s Kansas City, and the Factory had moved from its original location on Forty-seventh Street to 33 Union Square. Brownie’s was a health food restaurant around the corner where the Warhol people ate lunch, and Max’s where they spent their nights.”

“Max’s Kansas City was on Eighteenth Street and Park Avenue South. It was supposedly a restaurant, though few of us actually had the money to eat there. The owner, Mickey Ruskin, was notoriously artist-friendly, even offering a free cocktail-hour buffet for those with the price of a drink. It was said that this buffet, which included Buffalo wings, kept a lot of struggling artists and drag queens alive. I never frequented it as I was working and Robert, who didn’t drink, was too proud to go.

“There was a big black-and-white awning flanked by a bigger sign announcing that you were about to enter Max’s Kansas City. It was casual and sparse, adorned with large abstract pieces of art given to Mickey by artists who ran up supernatural bar tabs. Everything, save the white walls, was red: booths, tablecloths, napkins. Even their signature chickpeas were served in little red bowls. The big draw was surf and turf: steak and lobster. The back room, bathed in red light, was Robert’s objective, and the definitive target was the legendary round table that still harbored the rose-colored aura of the absent silver king.

“On our first visit we only made it as far as the front section. We sat in a booth and split a salad and ate the inedible chickpeas. Robert and Sandy ordered Cokes. I had a coffee.The place was fairly dead. Sandy had experienced Max’s at the time when it was the social hub of the subterranean universe, when Andy Warhol passively reigned over the round table with his charismatic ermine queen, Edie Sedgwick. The ladies-in-waiting were beautiful, and the circulating knights were the likes of Ondine, Donald Lyons, Rauschenberg, Dali, Billy Name, Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, and John Chamberlain. In recent memory the round table had seated such royalty as Bob Dylan, Bob Neuwirth, Nico, Tim Buckley, Janis Joplin, Viva, and the Velvet underground. It was as darkly glamorous as one could wish for. But running through the primary artery, the thing that ultimately accelerated their world and then took them down, was speed. Amphetamine magnified their paranoia, robbed some of their innate powers, drained their confidence, and ravaged their beauty” (116-7).

“We drew on everything from Butterfield 8 to the French New Wave. She shot the stills from our imagined movies. Although I didn’t smoke, I would pocket a few of Robert’s Kools to achieve a certain look. For our Blaise Cendrars shots we needed thick smoke, for our Jeanne Moreau a black slip and a cigarette.

“When I showed him Judy’s prints, Robert was amused by my personas. ‘Patti, you don’t smoke,’ he’d say, tickling me. ‘Are you stealing my cigarettes?’ I thought he would be annoyed, since cigarettes were expensive, but the next time I went to Judy’s, he surprised me with the last couple from his battered pack.

“‘I know I’m a fake smoker,’ I would say, ‘but I’m not hurting anybody and besides I gotta enhance my image.’ It was all for Jeanne Moreau” (125).

“I looked around at everyone bathed in the blood light of the back room. Dan Flavin had conceived his installation in response to the mounting death toll of the war in Vietnam. No one in the back room was slated to die in Vietnam, though few would survive the cruel plagues of a generation” (127).

Gregory made lists of books for me to read, told me the best dictionary to own, encouraged and challenged me. Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs were all my teachers, each one passing through the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, my new university” (138).

“‘I don’t want to sing. I just want to write songs for him. I want to be a poet, not a singer’” (142).

“Memento mori. It means ‘Remember we are mortal’” (155).

I call my granddaughter LouLou, so this next passage stood out to me: “I liked Loulou, a charismatic redhead who was the celebrated muse of Yves Saint Laurent, the daughter of a Schiaparelli model and a French count. She wore a heavy African bracelet, and when she unclasped it, there was a red string tied around her tiny wrist, placed there, she said, by Brian Jones” (156).

“Michael Pollard was usually by her side. They were like adoring twins, both with the same speech patterns, punctuating each sentence with man. I sat on the floor as Kris Kristofferson sang her ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ Janis joining in the chorus. I was there for these moments, but so young and preoccupied with my own thoughts that I hardly recognized them as moments” (159).

“It was an infamous address, having housed the Film Guild Cinema in the twenties, and a raucous country-western club hosted by Rudy Vallee in the thirties. The great abstract expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hoffman had a small school on the third floor through the forties and fifties, preaching to the likes of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. In the sixties it housed the Generation Club, where Jimi Hendrix used to hang out, and when it closed he took over the space and built a state-of-the-art studio in the bowels of 52 Eighth Street” (168).

“I was excited to go. I put on my straw hat and walked downtown, but when I got there, I couldn’t bring myself to go in. By chance, Jimi Hendrix came up the stairs and found me sitting there like some hick wallflower and ginned. He had to catch a plane to London to do the Isle of Wight Festival. When I told him I was too chicken to go in, he laughed solely and said that contrary to what people might think, he was shy, and parties made him nervous. He spent a little time with me on the stairs and told me his vision of what he wanted to do with the studio. He dreamed of amassing musicians from all over the world in Woodstock and they would sit in a field in a circle and play and play. It didn’t matter what key or tempo or what melody, they would keep on playing through their discordance until they found a common language. Eventually they would record this abstract universal language of music in his new studio.

“‘The language of peace. You dig?’ I did.

“I can’t remember if I actually went into the studio, but Jimi never accomplished his dream. In September I went with my sister and Annie to Paris. Sandy Daley had an airline connection and helped us get cheap tickets. Paris had already changed ina year, as had I. It seemed as if the whole of the world was slowly being stripped of innocence. Or maybe I was seeing a little too clearly.

“As we walked down the boulevard Montparnasse I saw a headline that filled me with sorrow: Jimi Hendrix est mort. 27 ans. I knew what the words meant” (169).

“But the next night we would meet in Johnny’s room to console one another again. I wrote but two words in my diary: Janis Joplin. For she had died of an overdose in room 105 of the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, twenty-seven years old” (170).

Holy Modal Rounders

“It was like being at an Arabian hoedown with a band of psychedelic hillbillies. I fixed on the drummer, who seemed as if he was on the lam and had slid behind the drums while the cops looked elsewhere. Toward the end of their set he sang a song called ‘Blind Rage,’ and as he slammed the drums, I thought, This guy truly embodies the heart and soul of rock and roll. He had beauty, energy, animal magnetism” (171). That man turned out to be Sam Shepard “the biggest playwright off-Broadway. He had a play at Lincoln Center. He won five Obies!”

“I was also writing more pieces for rock magazines–Crawdaddy, Circus, Rolling Stone. This was a time when the vocation of a music journalist could be an elevated pursuit. Paul Williams, Nick Tosches, Richard Meltzer, and Sandy Pearlman were some of the writers I held in esteem. I modeled myself after Baudelaire, who wrote some of the great idiosyncratic critiques of nineteenth-century art and literature” (178).

“I wanted to infuse the written word with the immediacy and frontal attack of rock and roll” (180).

…”but then I remembered Lenny Kaye had said he played electric guitar. I went to see him.”

“With a nod to Brecht, I decided to open the reading singing ‘Mack the Knife.’ Lenny played along” (181).

“We finished with ‘Ballad of a Bad Boy’ accompanied by Lenny’s strong rhythmic chords and electric feedback. It was the first time an electric guitar had been played in St. Mark’s Church, provoking cheers and jeers. As this was hallowed ground for poetry, some objected, but Gregory was jubilant.”


“I was bombarded with offers stemming from my poetry reading. Creem magazine agreed to publish a suite of my poems; there were proposed readings in London and Philadelphia; a chapbook of poems for Middle Earth Books; and a possible record contract with Steve Paul’s Blue Sky Records. At first this was flattering, and then seemed embarrassing. It was a more extreme reaction than had greeted my haircut” (182).

“I thought of something I learned from reading Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas by Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse believes that he will be victorious in battle, but if he stops to take spoils from the battlefield, he will be defeated. He tattoos lightning bolts on the ears of his horses so the sight of them will remind him of this as he rides. I tried to apply this lesson to the things at hand, careful not to take spoils that were not rightfully mine” (183).

“When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. ‘I can’t do this,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what to say.’

“‘Say anything,’ he said. ‘You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.’

“‘What if I mess it up> What if I screw up the rhythm?’

“‘You can’t,’ he said. ‘It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.’

“In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life” (185).

“An important new presence entered Robert’s life. David had introduced Robert to the curator of photography at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. John McKendry was married to Maxime de la Falaise, a leading figure in New York’s high society. John and Maxime provided Robert with an entrance into a world that was as glamorous as he could have wished for. Maxime was an accomplished cook and hosted elaborate dinner parties where she served obscure dishes taken from her knowledge of centuries of English cooking. For every sophisticated course presented, there was equally well-spiced repartee served up by her guests. Those typically seated at her table: Bianca Jagger, Marisa and Berry Berenson, Tony Perkins, George Plimpton, Henry Geldzahler, Diane and Prince Egon von Furstenberg” (189).

“Being allowed to lift the tissues from these photographs, actually touch them and get a sense of the paper and the hand of the artist, made an enormous impact on Robert. He studied them intently–the paper, the process, the composition, and the intensity of the blacks. ‘It’s really all about light,’ he said” (190).

“I never anticipated Robert’s complete surrender to its powers. I had encouraged him to take photographs to integrate into his collages and installation, hoping to see him assume the mantle of Duchamp. But Robert had shifted his focus. The photograph was not a means to an end, but the object itself. Hovering over all of this was Warhol, who seemed to both excite and paralyze him.

“Robert was determined to do something Andy had not yet done. He had defaced Catholic images of the Madonna and Christ; he had introduced physical freaks and S&M imagery into his collages. But where Andy had seen himself as a passive observer, Robert would eventually insert himself into the action. He would participate in and document that which he had previously only been able to approximate through magazine imagery.

“He began to branch out, photographing those he met through his complex social life, the infamous and the famous, from Marianne Faithfull to a young tattooed hustler. But he always returned to his muse. I no longer felt that I was the right model for him, but he would wave my objections away. He saw in me more than I could see in myself. Whenever he peeled the image from the Polaroid negative, he would say, ‘With you I can’t miss’” (192).

Separate Ways Together

“It seemed like Allen was always on the road with Blue Oyster Cult…”(213).

Todd Rundgren and Bebe Buell  [We now know what this coupling produced]

Holding Hands With God

Madame Bovary

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

A Norton Critical Edition Trans. Paul De Man New York  1965

I can tell I read this book long ago because my reading note style has changed significantly since then. There were no end-of-chapter summaries which I incorporate now. The best bits were marked in highlighter which I find fades over the years. I caught up with plot twists by writing in pencil in very small lettering in the margins. Now I write in pen as long as the ink doesn’t seep through to the other side. I didn’t even write my name inside the front cover which I do now along with the season and year in which I completed the read. I wasn’t sure there would be enough material to share, but some of these lines are wonderful. I know I read this during the time before I’d read the intro or preface thinking it unnecessary and boring; it is not. I also did not read any of the critical reflections on the work afterward. If I were doing a serious college paper on Madame Bovary I would read all the critical works provided in the back of the book. Madame Bovary was first printed in 1857 and was originally written in French. At the time it was seen as scandalous and in need of censors.

“He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it almost interesting” (7).

“For him the universe did not extend beyond the silky circumference of her petticoat” (24).

“This nature, positive in the midst of its enthusiasms, that had loved the church for the sake of the flowers, and music for the words of the songs, and literature for the passions it excites, rebelled against the mysteries of faith as it had rebelled against discipline, as something alien to her constitution” (28).

“Perhaps she would have liked to confide all these things to some one. But how tell an undefinable uneasiness, changing as the clouds, unstable as the winds? Words failed her and, by the same token, the opportunity, the courage” (29).

About the baby: “Thus she did not amuse herself with those preparations that stimulate the tenderness of mothers, and so her affection was perhaps impaired from the start” (63).

Because he is not the jealous type, Charles thinks nothing of Leon spending time with Emma. “Wasn’t the husband also a part of her after all” (71)?

Emma is praising Charles to Leon…out of nervousness? Charles is late and is due any minute. This irritates Leon.

Charles becomes the representation of her unfulfilled dreams: “What exasperated her was that Charles did not seem to be aware of her torment. His conviction that he was making her happy looked to her a stupid insult, and his self-assurance of this point sheer ingratitude. For whom, then, was she being virtuous? Was it not for him, the obstacle to all happiness, the cause of all misery, and, as it were, the sharp clasp of that complex strap that buckled her in all sides” (77)?

Emma meets Monsieur Rodolphe Boulanger who wants her, but only for an affair: “‘I think he is very stupid. She must be tired of him, no doubt. He has dirty nails, and hasn’t shaven for three days. While he is trotting after his patients, she sits there mending socks. How bored she gets! How she’d want to be in the city and go dancing every night! Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp on the kitchen table after water. Three gallant words and she’d adore me, I’m sure of it. She’d be tender, charming. Yes; but how get rid of her afterwards’ (93)? He plans his strategy to use her.

By page 117, Emma and Rodolphe do the nasty.

The first thing Rodolphe does to slow things down: “‘What is wrong?’ she said. ‘Are you ill? Tell me!’

“He ended up declaring earnestly that her visits were too dangerous and that she was compromising herself” (118). 

There is regret and more regret.

When Charles was at his lowest Emma rejected him. She hates his existence. 

Uh-oh! Now the shop man knows Emma is having an affair! Emma begins to change and become more bold.

The shop man now knows she is planning to run away. The closer they get to their escape, the more Rodolphe understands this will be a mistake.

Although he was a womanizer, Emma regrets not being a man.

Another regret: “All her attempts at critical detachment were swept away by the poetic power of the acting, and, drawn to the man by the illusion of the part, she tried to imagine his life–extraordinary, magnificent, notorious, the life that could have been hers if fate had willed it. If only they had met! He would have loved her, they would have travelled together through all the kingdoms of Europe from capital to capital, sharing in his success and in his hardships, picking up the flowers thrown to him, mending his clothes” (163).

They see Leon at the opera. She is so easily swayed by the moment that it is pathetic!

Charles is absolutely oblivious to the motives of other men.

Charles puts even his grief for his own father’s death behind him for Emma.

Emma wants power of attorney in order to manage Charles’s inheritance.

Emma stays out all night…BRAZEN!

“One must not touch one’s idols, a little of the gilt always comes off on one’s fingers” (205).

“Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile concealed a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight” (206).

Since Leon does not show with the money, Emma, at the last minute, thinks of Rodolphe.

You will have to read the novel to find how it ends!

The Norton Edition includes:

Earlier Versions of Madame Bovary 

“Structures of Imagery in Madame Bovary” by D. L. Demorest

“On Rereading Madame Bovary” by Albert Beguin

Biographical Sources:

“The Real Source of Madame Bovary” by Rene Dumesnil

“Flaubert and Madame Bovary: Outline of a New Method” by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Letters about Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

Essays in Criticism:

Contemporary Reactions:

By Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

By Charles Baudelaire

Stylistic Studies:

“Style and Morality in Madame Bovary” by Henry James

“The Craft of Fiction in Madame Bovary” by Percy Lubbock

“Flaubert’s Language” by W. Von Wartburg

Thematic Studies:

“On the ‘Inner Environment’ in the Work of Flaubert” by Charles Du Bos

Madame Bovary” by Albert Thibaudet

“The Realism of Flaubert” by Erich Auerback

“The Circle and the Center: Reality and Madame Bovary” by Georges Poulet

Madame Bovary: the Cathedral and the Hospital” by Harry Levin

“Love and Memory in Madame Bovary” by Jean Pierre Richard

Madame Bovary: Flaubert’s Anti-Novel” by Jean Rousset

Selected Bibliography

Pictures From an Institution

A Comedy

By Randall Jarrell

This book has been on my shelf for years. The paper cover is pretty battered and the colors are drab and boring. From the title and the cover, I assumed Jarrell had taken notes on various patients in a mental institution, perhaps in the 1950s or ‘60s. None of those things could be further from the hilarity that is this story. If I would have known it was about professors at a small girls college I would have read it a decade ago! The writing style is so lyrical and poetic that I had to look up Randall Jarrell. It all came to make sense when I found out he was a real-life poet! As you know, I like to share “the best bits” by transcribing the most beautiful, touching, joyous or heartbreaking lines, but the language in this book is so off-the-charts that I would have had to mark every line. I had to stop. If you are a professor, a lover of poetry, comedy or spot-on scathing character sketches, you must read this book!

Meridian Fiction  New York  1960

Randall Jarrell was born on May 6, 1914, in Nashville, Tennessee. He was educated at Vanderbilt University and has distinguished himself as poet, critic, novelist, and teacher. He has taught at various colleges, including Princeton, and has been poetry consultant to the Library of Congress. Jarrell has published five volumes of poetry; a book of criticism, and edited an anthology of short stories.

  1. The President Mrs., and Derik Robbins

It is Constance Morgan’s last day as assistant to the secretary. 

“…her features, as far as one could distinguish them, were undistinguished” (5).

Gertrude had been teaching at the college. Constance listens to Gertrude and President Robbins as they say goodbye.

“Gertrude and the President’s Friendship at First Sight had lasted only until they took a second look at each other. After this look Gertrude no longer felt as if she had just taken a drink, but felt as if she had a long time ago taken a great many: that look awoke both of them from their amicable slumbers.

“What a pity it was that that party had ever been given! –the party that brought with it their first terrible quarrel, a quarrel that ended their friendship after eleven days. Without the party, they both felt bitterly, it might have lasted for weeks. One could not help blaming Gertrude a little more than one blamed the President; the President, like most people, behaved in a different way after he had a great deal to drink, but Gertrude, knowing no other, behaved as she always behaved. But the drinks at the party, the almost unavoidable intimacies at the party, what they had said and what Mrs. Robbins had said and what people had said they all of them had said at the party–these, the memory of these, made Gertrude and the President look narrowly at each other, and their eyes widened at what they saw. George looked at the dragon and thought, Why, that woman’s a dragon; and the dragon looked at George and thought, That’s no man, that’s an institution” (7).

A very fun description of the novelist, Gertrude Johnson, who is leaving.

Who could explain President Robbin’s marriage?

“People did not like Mrs. Robbins, Mrs. Robbins did not like people; and neither was sorry.”

“Often, when you have met a true Englishwoman–the false ones are sometimes delightful–you feel that God himself could go no further, that way. Mrs. Robbins existed to show what he could do if he tried” (11).

“To hear her was to be beginning to despair” (13).

Mrs. Robbins’s horrid personality. Later in the book I began to realize that most of the text is description of character. Not much actually happens; therefore, chapter summaries became less and less frequent.

President Robbins has illusions about himself. There is the thought that only some people are very important. Derek is the president’s son and he is kind of odd.

President Benton is a slick orator, good at raising funds, and different than us.

“Not to have given him what he asked, they felt, would have been to mine the bridge that bears the train that carries the supply of this year’s Norman Rockwell Boy Scout Calendars. They felt this; it seems far-fetched to me” (27).

Did Gertrude go on to write lies about President Robbins in her next novel?

  1. The Whittakers and Gertrude

Couples attend a party at Gertrude’s house.

“People say that conversation is a lost art: how often I have wished it were” (41)!

“Gertrude didn’t want conversation, she wanted an audience” at the dinner party.

“…she was so thin you could have recognized her skeleton. Sometimes it seemed to you that she was not a person, not a thing, but an idea, and a mistaken one at that. A badly mistaken one: she always said not the wrong but the wrongest, the most wrongest thing–language won’t express it” (44).

“When well-dressed woman met Flo they looked at her as though they couldn’t believe it. She looked as if she had waked up and found herself dressed–as if her clothes had come together by chance and involved her, an innocent onlooker, in the accident. If a dress had made her look better than she really did, she would have felt guilty; but she had never had such a dress” (45).

“In the classroom, where Dr. Whittaker was almost as much at home as in his study, this would not have happened; there each sentence lived its appointed term, died mourned by its people, and was succeeded by a legitimate heir” (50).

There are hilarious descriptions of Flo and others and a dinner party at which no one ate. Gertrude disparages the South from which she still keeps an accent. How Gertrude feels about the music teacher. We meet Gertrude’s devoted husband, Sidney.

  1. Miss Batterson and Benton

Miss Batterson was an earlier creative writing teacher.

The teaching philosophy and life at Benton.

“Benton was, all in all, a surprisingly contented place. The people who weren’t contented got jobs elsewhere–as did, usually, any very exceptional people–and the others stayed. They didn’t need to be exceptional: they were at Benton. One felt that they felt that all they had to do was say, “I’m at Benton,’ and their hearer would say, raising his hand: ‘Enough!’” (105).

We learn why Benton is the subject of Gertrude’s novel. Miss Batterson got a better job but soon died. There is a funeral.

How the Rosenbaums live; very European. The narrator recalls a story told by Miss Batterson about her father.

  1. Constance and The Rosenbaums

Gertrude looks at life as fodder for her novels.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s wife and Constance’s friendship with the Rosenbaums.

“Old faces are forbidding or beautiful for what is expressed in them; in a face that is young enough almost everything but the youth is hidden, so that it is beautiful both for what is there and what cannot yet be there. Constance’s face was a question mark that you looked at and did not want to find an answer for” (146).

Constance and her music. Colleagues talking about home with the Rosenbaums. Irene singing. Constance is upset about the portrayal of the Rosenbaums in Gertrude’s story. The Rosenbaums’ personalities are described.

“…it is better to entertain an idea than to take it home to live with you for the rest of your life” (173).

How Americans are different from Europeans. Irene and her personality.

  1. Gertrude and Sidney

Gertrude was filled with anger she couldn’t understand. The narrator is dropping some work from a student at Gertrude’s. Gertrude takes care of her sick husband.

“But now that she saw she could not possibly get along without Sidney, her trust was shaken. When Sidney found out that she was in his power–if he found out, her heart substituted hastily–what would he do? How could you trust anyone with such power” (206)?

“…if Sidney had come home from work some evening and had said to her, ‘I’m not interested in you any more, Gertrude,’ she would have thought this a disastrous but perfectly reasonable, perfectly predictable thing for him to say–he would simply have come to his senses” (207).

“…she was like a magic sword that is content only as it comes shining from the scabbard” (209).

Gertrude can do without all others, except Sidney.

  1. Art Night

Gertrude is drunk as they head to Art Night.

“Mr. Daudier had a queer look on his face, as if he were a box of mixed nuts, but mostly peanuts…” (242).

  1. They All Go

If you are a teacher and/or love lines that run like crazy poetry, please read this book!

Mama Day

By Gloria Naylor

Vintage Books 1993  312 pages

Naylor was born in New York City in 1950. She is the author of The Women of Brewster Place and Bailey’s Cafe among other works. Pay special attention to the ever-changing narrator; people take turns telling this story. A tip: once you figure out who is speaking, jot their name at the top of the section. 

Sapphira Wade, a true conjure woman, who in 1823, “smothered Bascombe Wade in his very bed and lived to tell the story…”. Had seven sons. “…ain’t Miss Abigail and Mama Day the granddaughters of that seventh boy” (3).

[Legends of the original matriarch: a slave.]

“…18 & 23 at all–was really 81 & 32, which just so happened to be the lines of longitude and latitude marking off where Willow Springs sits on the map. And we were just so damned dumb that we turned the whole thing around” (8).

“Cocoa is like her very own, Mama Day tells him, since she never had no children” (9).

[Section one opens with a chapter about Cocoa.] She is in New York City. [The narrator is the office man, George, telling about his childhood.] 

“It only takes time for a man to grow older, but how many of them grow up” (27)?

[George Andrews and Ophelia (Cocoa) meet at a job interview.] Cocoa tells George that after her cousin and family were lost that she is the only grandchild left. The Linden Hills Christmas fire had claimed cousin Willa, her husband and her son.

[In this chapter we are joined by a third narrator: Great Aunt Miranda, or Mama Day. She describes when Peace died.] “She will see Peace breathing too, at the bottom of the open well, long after her daddy carves the box and they wrap her in white flannel” (36).

“But coming on down to them, it was just her, Abigail, and Peace. And out of them just another three girls, and out of them, two. Three generations of nothing but girls, and only one left alive in this last generation to keep the Days going–the child of Grace” (39).

[A theme emerges of things falling apart.]

“Dr. Buzzard’s pickup truck is missing both fenders and the wheels wobble inward on loose axles; there are so many dents along its side, it’s hard to tell that it was blue at one time. He’s sitting alone behind the wheel, but he’s wearing his beyond-the-bridge clothes…” (46).

“‘Buzzard, I oughta kill you.’ Abigail hugs her granddaughter. ‘My heart almost stopped’” (47).

“Home. It’s being new and old all rolled into one. Measuring your new against old friends, old ways, old places. Knowing that as long as the old survives, you can keep changing as much as you want without the nightmare of waking up to a total stranger” (49).

“‘No, you didn’t have to, but it speaks right well of you that you did. You the only one Abigail’s got left now, with Hope’s child gone’” (50).

[Cocoa loves coming home. She catches up on gossip and Momma Day mixes her up some herbal remedies. For this next scene we have to wonder if George is just a dick:]

“I worked especially late that night, never allowing myself to think about the rationale for any of this. There wasn’t any. I hadn’t done you a favor. I hadn’t felt sorry for a black woman out there up against it looking for a job. I hadn’t thought you the best person for the position. I hadn’t thought at all, not even two weeks later when I sent the roses” (56).

“Well, so much for you, buddy, and your call-me-George. Now, I’m managing the accounts of the man you’re working for. Life goes ‘round, doesn’t it” (57)?

[Mama Day hates to be wrong and doesn’t believe in cuddling. Between grandma and aunt, Cocoa describes the perfect mother.]

“I couldn’t imagine how an evening alone with you and that twelfth rose could be anything but a total downer. I was never in that camp of a night out with someone is better than a night alone. I was someone, and there was always something to do with me” (58).

“It was like when a kid labors over a package–the wrapping paper is poorly glued, the ribbon is half tied–and all of his attention is directed toward that space between the hands that offer and the hands poised to receive. It’s the gesture that holds the heart of the child” (59).

[Wow. That one brings a tear.]

[George and Cocoa’s first date goes horribly, but he asks her out again anyway.]

[The following reminds me of me:]

“‘More than one way to skin a cat. We wouldn’t have to be trying to figure all this out if you’d let her call more often.’

“‘Daddy always said no news is good news. My heart would be pounding every time that phone rang, so I’d rather have her write, if nothing important’s happening.’ Abigail continues her letter” (67).

“‘I guess you qualify as a widow, even though you murdered your first husband.’

“‘Ruby did no such thing.’

“‘She did.’

“The man drowned, Miranda.’

“‘You would, too, if someone hit you in the head with a two-by-four and pushed you off your boat. She told him she was gonna kill him if he kept messing with that little loose gal of Reema’s” (69).

“Miranda kinda blooms when the evening air hits her skin. She stands for a moment watching what the last of the sunlight does to the sky down by The Sound. They say every blessing hides a curse, and every curse a blessing. And with all of the aggravation belonging to a slow fall, it’ll give you a sunset to stop your breath, no matter how long you been on the island. It seems like God reached way down into his box of paints, found the purest reds, the deepest purples, and a dab of midnight blue, then just kinda trailed His fingers along the curve of the horizon and let ‘em all bleed down. And when them streaks of color hit the hush-a-by green of the marsh grass with the blue of The Sound behind ‘em, you ain’t never had to set foot in a church to know you looking at a living prayer” (78).

[This next quote reminds me of my father]

“A bramble scratches her on the face, and a few feet on she trips over a creeper from a sweet bay. No point in cussing, she hears her daddy’s voice. Little Mama, these woods been here before you and me, so why should they get out your way–learn to move around ‘em” (78). [Yes, this is why I keep Kleenex on my desk. Shut up.]

“Daddy, you said live on, didn’t you? Just live on” (88).

[Mama Day never had children, but she has delivered everyone else’s. Frances and Ruby fight over Junior Lee.]

“‘A man don’t leave you unless he wants to go, Frances. And if he’s made up his mind to go, there ain’t nothing you, me, or anybody else can do about that’” (90).

“‘I raised me some decent, Christian children.’

“‘Miracles do happen,’ Miranda says, turning her back. She walks off before Pearl has the chance to take another deep breath; she can keep talking half an hour on just three lungfuls” (94).

Abigail and Miranda are talking when in Miranda’s mind she thinks “She’s thinking of the child she gave to Mother. But I begged her not to do it. She couldn’t put her own guilt to rest by naming her first baby Peace. Peace was gone, I told her. And now Peace is gone again. She only lost one of her babies to Mother, I lost them all. She’s got much less to forgive than me” (95).

Cocoa thinks “I had seen Mama Day do a lot of things out at the other place, and when I told the kids at school they called me a liar” (97).

[Cocoa seems confused by platonic friendship. She learns that George has a girlfriend. George tells Cocoa they are going to renew their commitment (at the same time George and Cocoa are falling in love).]

[The fake world of dating is discussed from a man’s point of view on pages 104-5]

[George and Cocoa seal the deal.]

[The “other place” is mentioned again when Mama Day tells Abigail she should start storing her gifts there.]

[Remembrances of Dad, below:]

“And Miranda says that her daddy, John-Paul, said that in his time Candle Walk was different still. Said people kinda worshipped his grandmother, a slave woman who took her freedom in 1823. Left behind seven sons and a dead master as she walked down the main road, candle held high to light her way to the east bluff over the ocean. Folks in John-Paul’s time would line the main road with candles, food, and slivers of ginger to help her spirit along…And even the youngsters who’ve begun complaining about having no Christmas instead of this ‘old 18 & 23 night’ don’t upset Miranda. It’ll take generations, she says, for Willow Springs to stop doing it at all” (111).

[A friend brings Mama Day a rocking chair that she says is destined for the “other place.” Maranda’s dad and his six brothers are buried on their own land. Her grandfather and his six brothers are there. Peace, Grace, Hope and Peace again. They never found Maranda’s mother’s body.]

[Speaking of the “other place”:]

“Where do folks get things in their head? It’s an old house with a big garden, that’s all. Me and Abigail and Peace was born there. My daddy and his brothers as well. And it’s where my mama sat, rocking herself to death. Folks can get the craziest things in their head. But then again there was the other place, where she was gonna bring Bernice in the spring. Will she see just an old house with a big garden” (118)?

[A bit about ghosts:]

“She tries to listen under the wind. The sound of a long wool skirt passing. Then the tread of heavy leather boots, heading straight for the main road, heading on toward the east bluff over the ocean. It couldn’t be Mother, she died in The Sound. Miranda’s head feels like it’s gonna burst. The candles, food, and slivers of ginger, lining the main road. A long wool skirt passing. Heavy leather boots. And the humming–humming of some lost and ancient song. Quiet tears start rolling down Miranda’s face. Oh, precious Jesus, the light wasn’t for her–it was for him. The tombstone out by Chevy’s Pass. How long did he search for her? Up and down this path. What had daddy said his daddy said about Candle Walk? She was trying too hard, she couldn’t remember. But she’d bring out the rocking chair. Maybe move back here herself after spring. Lord knows, she’d be back in that garden enough come then. And summer, it’d be real pleasant. Listen to the wind from The Sound. Maybe it would come to her. Yes–it just might come to her. Up and down this path, somehow, a man dies from a broken heart” (118).

[Cocoa:]

“George, I was frightened. Can you understand that? Things were going so well between us that I dreaded the day when it would be over. Grown women aren’t supposed to believe in Prince Charmings and happily-ever-afters. Real life isn’t about that–so bring on the clouds. And each day that it was exhilarating and wonderful; each time you’d call unexpectedly just to say, I was thinking about you; each little funny card in the mail or moment in a restaurant when you’d reach over for no reason and squeeze my hand–each of those times, George, I’d feel this underlying panic: when will it end? And it was worse when we were in bed. You’d take me in your arms with such a hunger and tenderness, demanding only that I be pleased, that I’d feel a melting away of places in my body I hadn’t realized were frozen voids. Your touch was slowly making new and alive openings within me and I would lie there warm and weak, listening to you sleep, thinking, What will I do when he’s not here? How will I handle all this space he’s creating without him to fill it?

“And you–you would be so cheerful the mornings after you slept over. Running down to the deli to get us fresh rolls and orange juice. Circling some announcement in the paper for a show we could catch that weekend. Never understanding that it was three whole days until the weekend and my seeing you again. Three days was time enough to settle into what my girlfriends were saying: ‘He sounds too good to be true.’ I’d look around that empty apartment and yes, it had to be that–untrue. You were only part of some vision, or at best a temporary visitor in my life. Too good to be true. Too good to last” (119).

George discusses how easy it is to make a woman think he cares for her. Come over when she calls. Send random Hallmark cards. Cocoa discusses real sharing; personal things she has shared that meant a lot. George gives Cocoa a speech on the difference between being a son of a whore and a son of a bitch. He was the son of a whore who abandoned him and was found washed near a pier near Bailey’s Cafe (131).

“Small places live on small talk, but sometimes the happenings can be too lean for everybody to get enough fat out of it to chew over” (132).

“Trunks and boxes from the other place gave up enough for twenty quilts: corduroy from her uncles, broadcloth from her great-uncles” (137).

Mama Day performs a hoodoo ritual on Bernice so she will become pregnant. “But she wasn’t changing the natural course of nothing, she couldn’t if she tried. Just using what’s there. And couldn’t be nothing wrong in helping Bernice to believe that there’s something more than there is. It’s an old house with a big garden, and it done seen its share of pain. And I’m just an old woman who’ll be waiting in a rocking chair…” [like her mother] (139).

“There’s a lesson in gratitude floating around here somewhere, but it looks like it’s gonna be a while before it settles” (149).

Mama Day refuses to let Cocoa go out and party with her male friends.

There is a wonderful soliloquy on the passing of time on page 158. Four years later, George and Cocoa are still married.

“When you raise a god instead of a child, you’re bound to be serving him for the rest of your days” (162).

“A sow takes better care of her young. And don’t be sitting there whining about a no-good daddy–if he ain’t never here, it means he ain’t stopped you from cleaning this house. And he ain’t the cause of you stuffing this child with white bread and sugar lard to keep him quiet while you’re watching them soap operas. That’s right, cry, you oughta cry. And while you at it, use them tears to water the truck garden you’re gonna start growing with a dollar’s worth of seeds and a little work. Chickens will eat anything you won’t eat–even their own mess–and give you eggs for breakfast to boot. God don’t like ugly” (193-4).

Mama Day and George make a fishing date.

“I know I ain’t giving her credit. Maranda laughs. She done mellowed plenty since this marriage. Soft around the edges without getting too soft at the center. You fear that sometimes for women, that they would just fold up and melt away. She’d seen it happen so much in her time, too much for her to head on into it without thinking. Yes, that one time when she was way, way young. But after that, looking at all the beating, the badgering, the shriveling away from a lack of true touching was enough to give her pause. Not that she mighta hooked up with one of those. And not that any man–even if he tried–coulda ever soaked up the best in her. But who needed to wake up each morning cussing the day just to be sure you still had your voice? A woman shouldn’t have to fight her man to be what she was; he should be fighting that battle for her. It weren’t so in her time, though, and from what these young women tell her, it’s rare to find it now. So a lot of ‘em is waking up like me, except they’re waking up young and alone” (203).

Here’s a bit of brilliance:

“But you wouldn’t have believed me because they never said a word as they sat at that kitchen table chatting away with you retching in the background. But I knew them: idle hands are the devil’s workshop, and you had come home reeking with his brew. There was a soul in that bathroom to be saved with hard work. They were going to demand practically every minute of your day while you would think you were volunteering your butt off. When she puts her mind to it, no one can beat a southern woman at manipulating a man. And these women had been around long enough to take it to the level of art.

“They were much too skilled to honey, sweetheart, or sugar you into anything. On the contrary, you would be told to run off, to rest, to leave them alone with their work. But context would be their masterstroke and versatility their finishing touch. So Grandma starts out talking about her age. This will probably be the last year she’d fool with that garden. Her appetite is hardly what it used to be–why worry about growing beans? More there than she’ll ever use and even too many to give away. A long, long sigh. She’ll just go on up to the store and buy a few old frozen packages of something. She’s a lot better off than them other old people she reads about in the newspapers having to eat cat food. You see, then she totally drops that subject. Goes on to something else, and finally with another long, long sigh, she says that since these beans are already growing, she’ll go through the last hurrah and get out there and tie them up. To grab at her back when she stands up would be a bit too much, so she just shuffles slowly toward the rear porch. And, of course, you volunteer. That’s gentle pity. 

“Mama Day jumps in by the afternoon and uses fierce pride. She waits until she spies you on the porch before dragging that heavy rag rug out to the clothesline. She lets it rail along the ground, stopping several times to hoist it up in her arms. That gives you the time to get across the road with an offer of help that’s flatly and emphatically refused as she struggles unsuccessfully–much too unsuccessfully–to swing it over the line. You get begrudging thanks for insisting that you do it and finally several pointers on the most effective way to beat out the dust. But she’ll keep you supplied with lemonade for your dry throat–at least she ain’t too old and decrepit to squeeze a few lemons. They exchange tactics on the second day and by the third, none are needed. You’ve been allowed to overhear the quiet whispers about how marvelous you are, to witness glimpses of melting awe at the strength of your back, your arms. Yeah, they could lie back now, your ego would take over.

“I guess if I’d really taken those lessons to heart, we could have gotten along better. They had you under their heels and you were purring. But I found treating a grown man like a five-year-old a little nauseating. If they had just come out and said, We want you to help around the house, you would have. As a matter of fact, you would have done it for the remainder of your vacation and not have resented it. That was more my style: Hey, look, keep your tail here and help me. But like I said, they were artists. And they wove the illusion that you were doing more than helping, you were in charge. You wanted to do all those chores. You even thought of things to be done that hadn’t crossed their minds. The fact that you weren’t in charge had absolutely nothing to do with the results: Grandma’s roof got painted, the garden got weeded, Mama Day’s rugs were spotless. And you were too tired to go anywhere. If you only knew, I thought, watching you laughing and talking with them on the porch at night. Grandma shelling boiled peanuts for you, Mama Day rubbing liniment into your sore shoulders. And maybe you did know, but it was what you believed that counted” (216-7).

In the woods Cocoa hears the whispers of ghosts that George can’t hear. They say she is going to break his heart. We learn some more history of the other place. 224-5

“Well, the Scriptures do say it: man was the last thing the Lord made.”

“He shoulda quit while He was ahead.”

“Just letting things crumble apart, ‘cause everybody wants to be right in a world where they ain’t no right or wrong to be found. My side. He don’t listen to my side. She don’t listen to my side. Just like that chicken coop, everything got four sides: his side, her side, an outside, and an inside. All of it is the truth. But that takes a lot of work and young folks ain’t about working heard no more. When getting at the truth starts to hurt, it’s easier to turn away” (230).

Junior Lee puts the moves on Cocoa and Ruby sees him.

“Miranda shakes her head and takes a final look around her garden before she turns her face to the sky. Gray. The color you’d get from blending a bridal dress and a funeral veil” (243).

Little Caesar dies. The poison Ruby plants in Cocoa has begun to take effect.

“There’ll be no redemption for that. She ain’t gotta worry about going on to hell. Hell was right now. Daddy always said that folks misread the Bible. Couldn’t be no punishment worse than having to live here on ear, he said” (261).

Lightning hits Ruby’s house twice and it explodes after Mama Day had turned some hoodoo on her.

“And if you’re worried about us, you can stop. We’re going to be fine because I believe in myself.”

“That’s where folks start, boy–not where they finish up. Yes, I said boy. ‘Cause a man would have grown enough to know that really believing in himself means that he ain’t gotta be afraid to admit there’s some things he just can’t do alone.”

Read the book to find out all the twists and turns!

Western Echoes of the Harlem Renaissance: The Life and Writings of Anita Scott Coleman

Edited by Cynthia Davis and Verner D. Mitchell

In a preface margin note: It wasn’t her location, but the time period and the topics she discussed that made her a Harlem Renaissance writer. There was a west and east coast renaissance. After the preface the book contains an “Anita Scott Coleman Chronology.”

Introduction: Anita Scott Coleman in the Southwest

“…the issue of where an African American family should locate its physical, moral, and spiritual ‘place’ or home becomes an important theme in Coleman’s oeuvre.” She was able to share more with family than with the public. “…home is not a restrictive space or a domestic prison for women, or even an escape from racist reality, but a site of agency for the African American family. Home thus functions as both a response to and a goal of migration and diaspora…” (5). Coleman’s grandmother was marked as mulatto on the census, probably from Seminole heritage. “Coleman’s poem ‘Hands,’ like ‘America Negra’ and ‘El Tisico,’ weaves together family history, the theme of home and migration, and biblical allusion to explore important issues in African American history” (6). “…African American presence in New Mexico and Arizona, the race has contributed to the region’s development since the time of the first Spanish explorers.” Some became “linguists and translators of Native American languages” (10). The lived in a town that reminded me of the all-Black town where Jodi and Janie live in Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God. “American history, in its persistent attempt to eradicate the black presence in the West, not only ignores the participation of blacks in law enforcement, but edits out their connection with legendary American outlaws.” “…two African Americans rode with the posse that eventually killed [Billy the kid]. Blacks were actively involved in law enforcement.” “…25 percent ‘of the 35,000 mean who went up the trail from Texas with herds during the heroic age of the cattle industry, 1866-1895…were Negroes'” (Porter 347) (14).

“Coleman seems to have enjoyed an unusually close relationship with her parents, with whom she lived until their deaths. According to family members, Coleman enjoyed a privileged childhood under her mother’s watchful eye (Caffey; Green). While other children might ‘wallow at will in the dusty street,’ Anita, ‘in stiffly-starched gingham and ribbon bows in her hair…spend her time among the flower-beds, playing ‘a’leery’ with her rubber ball, or mimicking grown-ups with her dolls and tea set’ (‘…G’Long, Old White Man’s Gal…’). In turn, Coleman provided the same meticulous attention to her own children; her daughter Willianna started kindergarten in ‘a frilly white dress and spotless white soxs and shiny black shoes'” (W. Coleman 4) (16). Later, Anita employed her father’s use of irony as a way to treat issues of racism and discrimination in her work” (17).

Coleman graduated from high school. “Her parents encouraged her self-esteem and taught her to be proud of her race and to value character and spirituality over physical attributes, qualities she passed on to her children, grandchildren, and foster children” (Green). “Coleman’s characters are undaunted by hegemonic standards of beauty to which they do not conform and are blessed with strong, protective, and intelligent families” (19).

“Anne, in being willing to take ‘pot luck’ and chance her future with Jim, is rewarded with stability and love. Significantly, Coleman names the couple in the story after herself and her husband, James Harold Coleman. the initial encounter of the fictional pair does, in fact, resemble their meeting: Anita saw James walking down the street one day ‘and just decided he was the man she was going to marry’ (Green). Their relationship inspired a number of stories in which a privileged woman wisely, if unconventionally, chooses a man of sterling character but of lesser status. The positive male-female relationships in ‘Silk Stockings,’ ‘Pot Luck,’ ‘The Little Grey House,’ and ‘Bambino Grimke’ all originate in such intuitive, spontaneous, life-altering decisions as the one Anita apparently made upon seeing James. Like the couple in ‘Two Old Women,’ they may have courted for some years while James solidified his economic prospects. In October 1916, they married and moved in with Anita’s parents on the ranch” (20-1).

“Home is thus a site of empowerment for both men and women, and a shred entrepreneurial venture is a form of resistance to racism. In the same way that Coleman’s father and grandfather seem to have inspired Coleman’s older black male characters, so her husband appears to be the model for the younger generation who are sensitive, intelligent, and skilled. Unfortunately, they are also frustrated in their attempts to establish themselves professionally.” “Coleman’s mean are complex, nuanced, and believable” and they “behave in a variety of ways” (22). “The tension in Coleman’s stories arises from the reader’s connection to sympathetic male characters who must find their way out of unjust and discriminatory situations” (23). “Although the characters were rural Southerners, they expressed themselves in proper English, instead of in stereotyped dialect” (25).

“Not surprisingly, considering that he personally read and critiqued Coleman’s submissions to the Crisis contests, W.E.B. DuBois became an important influence on the content and style of her work. Although she apparently admired Booker T. Washington during her college years, her stories about the underemployment of skilled black men indicate that she perceived the flaws in the Tuskegee model. She would undoubtedly have read the 1914 editorial in the Crisis in which DuBois asserts that vocational training will never achieve Washington’s aims since there was never any intention on the part of white industry to hire black graduates of trade schools. In several of her stories, Coleman dramatizes DuBois’s critique of the Tuskegee model and the pointlessness of vocational training given the structural inequities in hiring practices” (26).

Coleman wrote stories of passing: “Three Dogs and a Rabbit” and “The Brat.” “Like Johnson, she explores passing as subversion and posits race as a social and economic construct. Coleman’s preoccupation with alienation and isolation, the psychic costs of passing, gives her work a particularly modernist affiliation. “The Brat” borrows Johnson’s trope of African American music as a ‘symbolic projection of a double consciousness’ (Baker 21). Both Coleman’s and Johnson’s protagonists agonize between embracing black culture through music and using music to disguise their origins. Music thus functions in Coleman’s text as both an escape from and a marker of race.” “Coleman thus sets the stage for a fairy tale of race, shape-shifting, and metamorphosis” (28). Charles Chesnutt has a similarly-themed story to Coleman’s: “The biblical allusion to Moses and Miriam, and Jennie’s sacrifice in giving up her child, underscore the terrible psychic cost of passing.” “Kane’s secret makes him ‘lonely, so lonely. His poor heart aches and he can’t tell why.’ Coleman then suggests that Aggie too is passing; after all, the reader only has Jennie’s word that Aggie is white, and of course she was mistaken in assuming that her friend Biddy was black. Both Aggie and David Kane, then, choose the white world but at great cost to their psychic integrity and emotional stability” (29).

“The second frame is Mrs. Ritton’s story. Accused of sheltering a ‘runaway Negro’ pursued by the police, she refuses to divulge the fugitive’s location; instead she tells the court that as a young slave girl (the courtroom gasps in disbelief), she made the arduous journey west with her owners. On the trail she protects a frightened rabbit being pursued by her master. Despite her own hunger and the beating received from her master, she hides the animal. The master’s son observes the flogging, and although he had always teased and annoyed her, ‘he changed from that day.’ The two eventually marry, and Mrs. Ritton’s racial identity is absorbed and obliterated in her social position until the day that she sees the fugitive and has a sudden flashback to the events of her youth. Phipps, although he ‘knew the fugitive was free, and making a rough guess at it, likely to remain so,’ is overwhelmed by the lovely woman ‘standing alone in the midst of all those hostile people, tearing apart with such simple words the whole fabric of her life.’ Even without knowing the surprise ending, one can see how Coleman approaches the theme of passing as a social construct and explores issues of miscegenation and racism in the legal system, all within the framework of a western ‘tall tale'” (31).

Since I’m a huge movie/tv buff, this next bit of information earned a margin note of: awesome! “Finally, the medium of film clearly shaped Coleman’s writing. While writing ‘Three Dogs’ Coleman worked as a script writer for Pathe films; she understood the syntax of film narration, including flashbacks, fast-forwards, dissolves, fades, visual symbols, compressed dialogue, and scenes that are both intimate and dramatic, all of which appear in her work. Coleman remained interested in writing for the media all her life; later she wrote television scripts, including one for Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

“…it is possible that the story editors did not know her race. Coleman describes a similar situation in ‘Jack Arrives’ (1920) when a young black architect wins a contest but does not reveal his race until afterward, confident that his demonstrated talent will supersede any prejudice” (32).

“The Brat”

[random notes on this short story]

“A wild night, a blazing hearth, a rose-lit room, low, sweet music, an over-stuffed armchair and a companion; who can tell a tale of life, as she is–ah, there’s charm and warmth a-plenty.”

“Old Jennie, all twisted and bent with premature age, which wrapped her about like an ill-fitting garment…”

“A night for surprises indeed. Old Jennie esteeming me above my fellows. A pleasing surprise bobbing up to nod at me like daisies on a hillside.”

A wild child who reluctantly gives up her baby so that he can have a better life with white people. The separation has broken her heart and made her grow old. She never reveled her true identity to her son; she just visits once a year like she was his old servant. Eventually, the boy stops seeing her and she must let him go. He becomes a famous singer. he got his singing voice from his mom.

“Three Dogs and a Rabbit”

“The picture had to be finished, Gentleman. The rabbit, no the man–had to be protected. Thank you, Sirs. That is all.’

“Yes,” said Timothy Phipps, pensively. “I was the running black gentleman in the story–” he tilted his head a bit backwards and sideways and laughed. His laughter echoing–joy–joy–joy!”

An ex-slave woman who has a penchant for saving those on the run.

“El Tisico”

A story of patriotism for the U.S. The idea that if you are sick you want to go “home.”

“The Little Grey House”

Two lonely people come together in the little grey house.

“Cross Crossings Cautiously”

“Usually Sam was a cheerful creature. Work and love; love and work, that, boiled down to brass tacks, is the gist of all life…”

“Sam swung around like a heavy plummet loosed from its mooring.”

Did Sam come to a bad end because he was black? Did they take him from Claudia before she could see?

“Jack Arrives”

Dreams come true for Jack who wants to be an architect.

“Bambino Grimke”

The “nobody” finds a way to become somebody by collaring a grifter.

“Bambino: Star Boarder”

Grimke strikes again. Almost ran away with another man’s wife but forgot to show up.

“Rich Man, Poor Man”

Rich little Drusilla who thought she’d never work finally found a compelling reason to do so: love!

“Pot Luck: A Story Tue to Life”

“So if any of you expect Life, Life the capricious woman, to pitch her decorum to the winds and do a handspring for the sake of converting the child of a clod-hopping hodcarrier whose mate is a washwoman, into a finished musician or a distinguished linguist, you simply don’t know Life. It’s far more befitting her caprice to make the sons and daughters of musicians and poets the rag-pickers and scullery maids of tomorrow. If you notice, she takes generations in which to produce and only moments in which to destroy.”

“But a lady–bah, a lady–any female who chooses can be that. Take for instance, a little bit of natural inclination, a fair amount of right association, a smattering of education; and a knack at imitation, and you have it.”

People were surprised that she was so good at her job AND black.

We didn’t think Anne Borden would amount to anything since she didn’t take to education. She was loved by children so she ended up working with them and found love along the way.

“Two Old Women A-Shopping Go! A Story of Man, Marriage and Poverty”

“Tis a trouble men folks be,” offered one.

“But a sweet trouble ’tis,” proffered the other.

“Trouble ain’t never harmed nary one of us. What’s more, us wimens can make men folks what us choose to.”

“Deed so! Us ’tis what makes ’em or breaks ’ems.”

The wisdom of old women is heeded by a young woman who holds on to love while she has it.

“The Mechanical Toy”

“…an old dreaming sentimentalist, it mattered not, that Jonathan Connors was a black lad and Haven Addams a white one. He adored friendship wherever it was found…”

Jonathan saved all his earnings in hopes of going to industrial school. Haven came from money, so would spend what he had.

“They were very young and laughed a great deal and talked overmuch; because youth loves to flaunt itself and is never secretive.”

A prank kills an old man of fright.

“Love for Hire”

An old lady is becoming too chummy with her black house maid according to her children. The maid is so upset at her boss’s death because she might not be able to find another position that high paying. Ahh…so it wasn’t sympathy…it was loss of income she was mourning.

“…G’Long, Old White Man’s Gal…”

Mercy Kent is left a “good sized fortune” by an old white man.

“She hobbled towards the door, then turned and came back. She was like a little black spider in the midst of them, weaving a web with which to catch flies. And the flies, see them, flies will always be caught.”

They talk of white men never leaving black women anything if there weren’t some other exchange involved. There is a description of Mercy’s family growing up.

“There was rejoicing within the little white and green cottage, the sort of joy that bubbles over the rim and splashes down the sides, and makes little puddles about the bottom of the bucket and eventually forms into little rivulets to run here and there and everywhere.”

The black people of the town put down the black family that profits from working for a rich white man. Even with all her money, Mercy will never be accepted by her peers.

“Phoebe and Peter up North”

There is talk of looking whiter to change; to fit in. Peter gets what for when he calls his wife Phoebe a countrified thorn in his side.

“Phoebe Goes to a Lecture”

Birth control is discussed.

“Alright then, ” exclaimed Mayme. “Honey-child, that’s why I urged you to come, not that I thought you’d enjoy that especially, but get out, see with your eyes and hear with your ears, and give your brains an airing. That’s what city life is for, to put the ‘pep’ in living. You don’t need to think other people’s thoughts. Think up your own; but you can’t think looking inside yourself. You’ve got to look out. Do you get me? Then you won’t have time for such nonsense as loneliness.”

Phoebe gets out. She needs to broaden her mind, even if it only leads back home.

The poem “Hands” reminds me of my dad. When one does hard labor all his life these are the hands that are created. Working man’s hands.

The poem “Idle Wonder” Do we only imagine our pets and employees to be contented?

Silver Borne

Final book in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

Phin, the bookstore owner, seems to be missing. Mercy has one of his books about the fae.

Someone (or more than one) from the pack is able to enter Mercy’s head and mess with her thoughts. She wants to learn more about this from Samuel, but he has called for Mercy’s help at the hospital.

Samuel tried to kill himself. His wolf has now calmly taken over until Mercy can figure out what to do.

An unknown named Daphne Rondo sent bounty hunters with a false warrant to bring in Adam. It didn’t work.

Is an unknown woman trying to kill Adam? She gave the kill orders AFTER she’d been missing for a couple of days. Adam knows Samuel is staying in wolf form and is breaking the rules to keep him safe.

I made a note that Briggs came up with a scent I think I’d like as a perfume: earth, forest, magic, wood fire, air and salt water. Make that burning sandalwood and I think we have a hit!

Where is the bookstore owner? Is the fae folklore book important? Is grandma at the bookstore good or bad? Will Samuel still want to kill himself if he turns back human?

Sam and Mercy break into the bookstore and learn it has been destroyed by Phin. They win the battle, but now Adam needs help.

Someone blew up Mercy’s house. Mary-Jo let it happen, but who was working with her?

Gabriel has been taken hostage by the fairy queen who wants to make an exchange with Mercy.

The word “slugabed” is used here which I’ve never heard. Self explanatory though.

Behind the scenes, Mary Jo’s boyfriend, Henry, has been plotting how to get rid of Adam who is the focus of Mary Jo’s romantic wishes. Paul and Adam are set to fight for pack leader.

Fights for control!!

We hear a long-ago story of Samuel and Alicia and how she was tormented by her father. “…scars do not bother me. They are the laurels of the survivor.” The fairy queen has tricked Mercy, Jesse and Alicia into her lair where she is keeping Phin and Gabriel.

Will the group be saved from the fairy queen? Will someone have to stay behind as the queen’s prisoner? Read the fifth and final book in the series of Mercy Thompson!

Bone Crossed

fourth in the series of Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs

Stefan reappears! Marsilia has come to collect on the debt for Mercy killing Andre. An old college acquaintance, Amber, comes to Mercy to help her with a ghost. Stefan is badly injured. He’s at Adam’s recovering. Mercy visits with her mom. Tim’s cousin engages a companion to help deface Mercy’s car shop. Tony is on the case.

Adam and Mercy are now a couple even though she is in constant worry over Marsilia coming to kill her and everyone she loves.

There was a trap set by vampires out to get Mercy. The trap instead turned one of the fae into an ice monster and people got hurt.

In order to turn down the heat in the city, Mercy goes ghost hunting at Amber’s.

Amber and her husband, Corban, know Blackwood as a business associate. Mercy knows him as “The Monster,”; the only vampire in the area. Mercy has no memory of receiving a vampire bit in the night. Is Amber having an affair with a vampire? Stefan? Blackwood? Amber definitely has a ghost problem.

Stefan and Mercy get Amber and her family to a hotel and they head home. Stefan and Mercy exchange blood so that Blackwood can be kept at bay. Vampire Estelle approaches Stefan to ask if he wants to join forces against Marsilia. He refuses.

They hypothesis now is that Blackwood wants to overthrow Marsilia for the Tri-Cities territory. Bernard and Estelle want Marsilia destroyed as well. Stefan will not agree to kill his leader, Marsilia.

Marsilia has her showdown. Estelle is killed, Bernard is allowed to leave. Stefan remains loyal to Marsilia then disappears. No werewolves were hurt.

Adam and Mercy make love. She is still having trouble making a pack connection. Corban shows up to kidnap Mercy. He says Chad has been taken. Is it Blackwood?

The ghost visits Mercy. Blackwood feeds from those whom he wants similar powers. Due to Mercy’s bonds to the pack and Stefan, Blackwood will have to keep her and feed on her over an extended period. The ghost is a vampire he killed when she confronted his behavior. Now the old lady ghost wants to feed on Mercy in exchange for information.

Mercy is becoming stronger through four types of magic: walker, fae, pack and vampire. Does the walking stick end up helping Mercy at all? Will Amber and Corban’s son be saved? Who will clean up this mess? Read volume four to find out!

Iron Kissed

third in the series of Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs

Zee needs help finding a serial murderer on the fae’s reservation. Mercy is trying to sniff him out. The smell that links all the houses was the rent-a-cop working the gate. Could he be involved in the killings?

Zee and Uncle Mike were on the scene of O’Donnell’s death but don’t know who killed him. Zee is in jail and needs a lawyer.

Mercy goes to the crime scene which O’Donnell’s ghost re-enacts. He says “mine” but Mercy cannot see who ripped his head off.

A magic raven appears then disappears with the magic walking stick. Through talking with Uncle Mike and online research, Mercy is trying to learn more about Zee and the magic stick. Zee is mad at Mercy for “secrets” being shared with the lawyer and police.

Some kids from school attacked Jesse. There will be consequences.

Tim at the bar knows O’Donnell and is part of an anti-fae hate group. Mercy is invited to the next meeting. Mercy has decided on Adam as her future love mate. He seems less controlling than Sam.

The magic stick is following Mercy. Nemane, the magic crow, can take the human form of Dr. Altman. She came to either warn or harm Mercy, but Samuel showed up just in time. Now Nemane knows the type of army Mercy has behind her. The fae are happy for Zee to take the fall for O’Donnell’s death. The others want to keep searching for the real killer. There is a building war.

Fideal is a fae monster who follows Mercy home with deadly intent. The wolf pack has to fight him off.

Uncle Mike, Samuel and Mercy talk about the killer being in possession of some magical items. Uncle Mike says to leave it to the police and the Grey Lords. Mercy doesn’t think they care enough to do a thorough investigation.

A shocking rape occurs by the same person as the killer. He wanted to collect magical fae items and he used an inside man to get them. What does Mercy do to her rapist? What does the wolf pack do before the police arrive? There is some interesting discussion about rape and the psychological issues involved. Mercy will deal with these effects for the rest of the series.

This concludes the three books I had on my shelf. I was having so much fun within the world of Mercy Thompson that I scoured the local bookstore then went online to order the last two books in the series.

Blood Bound

second in the series of Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs

Cory Littleton is a sorcerer vampire. Once Littleton feeds, the spirit of the demon retreats. Littleton has Stephan in a trance and now Mercy’s coyote self is trying to fight him. When Stefan was immobile and enchanted he was engaging in the feeding in his mind. Littleton can kill while putting a spell on another vampire so he/she thinks they did it instead. Daniel is a young vampire who’d been entranced and tricked before. In the altercation, Mercy appears to have gotten a bite from Littleton. Demons can inhabit others but they must be invited. A reporter confronts Mercy at work. She is saved by her friends. She is about to go meet the head mistress vampire to explain what she saw happen at the hotel. Stephan’s trial goes well; they believe him. Now they want him to track down the sorcerer.

Did someone within the seethe tip off Littleton that Stefan was coming to see him that night? Samuel is upset Mercy has been hanging with Adam. He tells her a story about a girlfriend in med school. When she got pregnant she aborted the baby and left him. Sam still mourns this loss.

Side story: Mr. Black has a daughter who is a werewolf. He doesn’t know how to deal and has come to Mercy for help. Warren is nearly killed and left for dead. Now Marsilia is turning to Mercy even though two vampires and two werewolves have not been able to take care of the problem. Stefan is believed dead. Mercy has now been tasked with finding the sorcerer.

Does Marsilia want to own the demon vampire? Mercy has been learning more about vampires. Adam and Samuel (and Stefan) are missing. Littleton pays Mercy a terrifying visit.

Mercy is trying to learn about vampires as she goes. Why is Littleton doing this in the first place? Who is the vampire who made Littleton? Mercy gets more clues about the sorcerer’s location.

Andre, Stefan, Ben, Adam and Samuel are all in the church with Mercy and Littleton. The demon is in full control. Stefan, Sam and Adam are in cages.

Littleton’s head is cut off and the body turned to ash by Mercy. Everyone is checked out at the hospital. Sam kisses Mercy.

Stefan shared the news that Andre’s trial was over. Because Marsilia still wanted a sorcerer vampire, she wanted Andre to try to make one again. Mercy is now searching for Andre. Will Mercy be successful in breaking the cycle that Andre hopes to perpetuate? Will Marsilia get in her way? Read the book for the harrowing conclusion!

Moon Called

first of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. It is interesting how certain people view themselves as particular readers. For example, if someone were to ask, “Are you into fantasy at all?” I’d say no. But…I LOVED the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit. Okay…so I can’t think of any others right off the top of my head, but this series by P. Briggs came in handy. After a semester teaching African American Literature which, as one can imagine, can be the heaviest literature of all, I needed something light; something that would totally shift my reading feels. This series was the perfect remedy. The chapters are not super short, but the books are regular sized paperbacks that feel low commitment. Beach reads for the young vampire set. The setting remains the same throughout while also keeping a core group of characters whose relationships grow over time. The romance plot evolves across the series and ends well. The Mercy character is a competent, strong and skilled woman; she makes you want to go out and do stuff. She is not a superhero, so she needs the help of her friends and pack from time to time. I sometimes wished she didn’t need the men in her life as much as she did, but this protagonist is likeable and action-oriented.

We open with werewolves in Washington state. The protagonist, Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson, is a skinwalker who can change into a coyote at will. Tony is an undercover cop. We are in a super natural world where werewolves form gangs and the Grey Lords keep the fae (fairy-like magical beings) in line. Mercy is alone as a skinwalker.

Mac is new to the shape shifter world. He and his girlfriend were turned. He was then captured for experiments and he escaped. They called Adam (the alpha of the local wolf pack) for help but someone else has arrived. People are after Mac. His girlfriend and one werewolf have been killed.

Check out this name: Elizaveta Arkadyevna Vyshnevetskaya. She is a crime scene cleaning witch. Mac (whose real name is Alan) needs to be taught, so he is paired with Adam who will take Mac into his pack. Elizaveta comes to clear the crime scene. Adam takes fingerprints from the unknown werewolf intruder.

There is disruption in the wolf pack. Adam is almost killed and his daughter is missing. They killed Mac and dumped him at Mercy’s door. Mercy takes Mac and Adam out of the situation to out-of-town friends.

We learn about some past relationships. When Mercy’s foster mother, Evelyn, died trying to shape shift, her foster father committed suicide a month later. Samuel, the love of Mercy’s life and a werewolf, never loved her but wanted her for breeding. She was sent away before that happened. Nonetheless, Sam had mourned.

“Livin’s easier than dyin’ most times, Mercy girl,” he said kindly, repeating my foster father’s favorite saying. “Dance when the moon sings, and don’t cry about troubles that haven’t yet come.” Adam, Sam and Mercy are headed back to search for Adam’s daughter, Jesse. They discuss what has been going on.

Warren and Kyle are lovers; one werewolf, one not. Sam, Mercy and Adam are back in town but in hiding. They need a lead on Jesse. [Yea for gay werewolves! I’d like to see this on tv.]

Samuel and Mercy are going with Stephen the vampire to speak with the vampire mistress. Does she know of any stray wolves in the area? Can she lead them to Jesse?

The meeting with the vampires is not going well.

[I am usually not interested in fantasy paperbacks, but this series caught my attention due to the covers which feature a young tattooed woman. I was doing tattoo research at the time, so I bought three of the five books later acquiring the last two. I thought maybe the tattoos gave her power or were magical in some way, but they are not. Nonetheless, here is what might be perhaps the only discussion of tattoos in the series:]

“My tattoo?” I asked, and he yipped–a very bassy yip. Just below my naval I had a pawprint. He must have seen it while I was scrambling into my clothes. I have a couple on my arms, too.

“Karen, my college roommate, was an art major. She earned her spending money giving people tattoos. I helped her pass her chemistry class, and she offered to give me one for free.”

I’d spend the previous two years living with my mother and pretending to be perfect, afraid that if I weren’t, I’d lose my place in my second home as abruptly as I had the first. It would never have occurred to me to do something as outrageous as getting a tattoo.

My mother still blames Karen for my switching my major from engineering to history–which makes her directly responsible for my current occupation, fixing old cars. My mother is probably right, but I am much happier as I am than I would have been as a mechanical engineer.

“She handed me a book of tattoos that she had done and about halfway through was a guy who’d had wolf tracks tattooed across his back from one hip to the opposite shoulder. I wanted something smaller, so we settled on a single pawprint.”

My mother and her family had known what I was, but they’d asked no questions, and I’d hidden my coyote self from them, becoming someone who fit their lives better. It had been my own choice. Coyotes are very adaptable.

I remember staring at the man’s back and understanding that, although I must hide from everyone else, I could not hide from myself anymore. So I had Karen put the tattoo on the center of my body, where I could protect my secret and it could keep me whole. I’d finally started to enjoy being who I was instead of wishing that I were a werewolf or human so I’d fit in better.

“It’s a coyote pawprint,” I said firmly. “Not a wolf’s.” [end]

Sam and Mercy flirt all the way home.

Bran (the werewolf king) and Mercy begin to consider David Christiansen as a suspect.

Bran wants to bring the werewolves public. The witches and Gerry’s lone wolves are against the idea. They’ve got Adam drugged and are holding his daughter.

The team has moved inside to save Adam and Jesse.

Who was behind all this and how were the loose ends tied? Read the last two chapters to find out!