Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pat MacEnulty's "From May To December"

Pat MacEnulty is the author of four books as well as numerous short stories, essays, poems and plays. She is also a teacher, workshop leader, writing coach and freelance editor.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her latest novel, From May To December, and reported the following:
At the top of page 99 in my book, Jen, one of the four point of view characters, is staring at her sister, Lolly, “in horror.” And this reflects Jen’s overriding feeling about Lolly and the reappearance – after almost twenty years remission – of Lolly’s cancer. It is a feeling of horror that most of the time she is trying to dodge. I think about this horror now as my own husband has to deal with his sister’s cancer. To watch this woman who was once a golf pro, a tall woman with a wicked sense of humor and a love of poker, vodka and cigarettes now emaciated and bald with a red scar across her head, unable to walk, barely able to speak is horrifying and heartbreaking. What Jen hasn’t admitted by page 99 of the book is the heartbreak. Rather she is focused on what Lolly has done to her hair:

“What have you done to your hair, woman?” she asked as Lolly approached the Blazer. It looked as if she had whacked it all off with a pair of blunt scissors.

Lolly stood before her and answered, “Well, I remembered how I lost it all the last time. It was probably the worst part of the whole thing. Maybe not the worst, but it was bad. And I just couldn’t go through that again.”

Jen remembered once getting in the shower while Lolly was going through her chemotherapy treatments. She had found a mass of long, dark hairs covering the drain, and in a rage stormed into Lolly’s room to scream at her for being so gross. But when she threw open the door, she found Lolly curled up in a ball on the floor in front of the full-length mirror hanging on the closet door, shaking with sobs. Her hair was so thinned out that patches of her scalp were visible.

Lolly’s hair had been a source of pride, and even Jen had to admit it was gorgeous until it disappeared strand by strand. Lolly became a bald teenager which was almost as bad as later becoming a one-legged teenager. Jen had been young and angry and even ashamed, unable to feel much sympathy for this person who required so much. Now it seemed that Lolly didn’t require anybody or anything, least of all a head full of gorgeous hair.

“I’m going to beat the bastards to the punch before even one chemo treatment. I’m going to the barbershop in Frenchtown and have the barber shave it off.”

So I suppose that this little snippet tells a lot about these two characters, and certainly shows the main dynamic of the book, which is how these two women come to terms with the cards they’ve been dealt. What’s missing is any reference to their work in the women’s prison or the other two point of view characters. But I think Ford’s point is well taken. If these two characters and their situation interests a reader, then the rest of the book will, too. I think you get the sense that these characters are dealing with hard stuff, but they’re going to do it with courage and maybe even some humor.
Read about From May to December and learn more about the author and her work at Pat MacEnulty's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue