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By Stephanie Dickinson
|Review by: Cheryl A. Townsend||
There is dark and then there is dark. This is dark. Angelique is 15 and lives in Iowa with her mother and stepfather on a nowhere'sville farm. Having lost her father quite early to an untimely aneurism, she is under the stern and lascivious rule of Maynard, the secret drunk her mother married. We begin as that episode is about to end.
Angelique is enacting her escape. She justifies her pilfering of Maynard's secret cash as owed hush money and tapes it to her body before starting her winter journey to find Easton, her brief summer love. Setting out as "a dusk pale as cat piss was falling," she narrates with a grit hardly expected from a country bumpkin. There is a blizzard blasting her flimsy coverings, but a tenacity incomparable pushes her along. She hitches rides with everyone your mother warned you about, yet remains unscathed, albeit wiser. First was the seemingly harmless Native American, who had two dozing huddled boys in the back seat. Leonard unthaws her and offers a sandwich. He's drinking and speeding and talking crazy. Of course, they get pulled over but only because Leonard knows he can't outrun the cop. Under the police questioning, Angelique learns that the 2 boys are also hitchers. The boys bolt from the police and Leonard seizes the moment with a barefoot pedal to the metal escape. Passing his 3 Feathers Whiskey, he starts talking lust and Angelique manages to avoid any further damage before he drops her to find her next ride.
She gets a lift from a semi-driver who, at first, she thought was a man. But this "lady sailor of the corrupt sea" is just another speed-driven heap on the highway to the next stop. A glove box full of "dixies" and a cab full of pin-ups, she introduces Angelique to the "upper" aspects of inducements. A doze-off near smash-up and suggested reciprocation have you wondering just how much longer Angelique's luck is going to last.
Finally in North Carolina and the general area of Easton, she starts seeking out her summer love. Securing herself a flophouse room, she first tries a bar that she is told is one of his hang-outs. A brief confrontation with the bouncer leads to a dead-end and she leaves to walk home. Somehow relieved of his duties, the bouncer follows her and tries to rape her at knife point in a darkened area "as far from love as you could come." He's limp and she's unbroken, so she survives with more emotional than physical damage. He leaves with her yanked off necklace and more of her reserve. Calling the police renders her the culprit and when she refuses to finger an innocent ethnic, they dump her to find her own way back to her hotel. Some kind of guardian angel must be watching over her because she is offered a ride back to her room by a man with little respect for the cops he saw dump her outside his house.
She calls Easton's home the next morning and he tells her where to go and he'll meet her there. When he finally shows up, just as she was about to give up, they leave with Angelique hopeful, yet understandably leery.
Easton is a druggie. Easton expects everyone to be a druggie too. He takes Angelique to his opium den where she partakes of another first not to be had in "Ioway" and they soon meet up with Easton's best friend Charlie. The dope and booze is abundant, but the money is minimal. Easton lives at home. Charlie is in college. Charlie comes from wealth; Easton comes from love. Easton paints and tries to write. Charlie plays football and tries to score Angelique. Drunk & high, Easton offers Angelique up to his buddy while he partakes of Charlie's girl. Easton passes out, Charlie becomes enamored. The rest just gets dicier and dicier.
Easton gets Angelique into drugs . . . or rather gets drugs into her and falls in love, regretful of allowing the debauchery of the swap. Angelique is a tough cookie, a smart tart that realizes the mistakes she is making. But luck has to run out and hers does with a vengeance. Charlie invites them both over to his parent's house for Thanksgiving while they are vacationing out of the country. The booze is flowing heavy and Charlie is seeking another tryst with Angelique. She avoids him and skirts off to the bathroom. Easton soon follows. Charlie comes next. He pops open the bathroom door with a shotgun. He's drunk. It's loaded. It fires and removes almost half of Angelique's face. Her almosts have just run out.
Angelique falls into a coma. Her mother flies in when contacted and stays with her. She is treated well, but cannot respond to anything said or done to her. Aware, she tries to convey anything via her eyes. The nurses and doctors hover, her mother dolts, Easton grovels for forgiveness, Charlie's parents try for a buy-out and Charlie tries for the final remedy of just suffocating her. She comes out of the coma.
If she had ruby red slippers, she would have assuredly used them. Offered a place with Easton and his family, she opts for the flight back home. Broken hearts abound, but we all know it's for the best.
Letters over the years and sporadic phone calls. Healing time and tethered knowledge. Two somewhat different people talk. Two different people decide it's time to meet again.
Dickinson has beautiful language. It's evident she loves words and enjoys creating luscious images with them. It was her poetic threads that sewed this bleak novel into an enviable piece of work. My only wish is to read something of hers infused with happiness. She's a talent, that's for sure, and even if it were another book of gloom, I'd snatch it up . . . just to marvel at the usage of language so eloquent, so dark and eloquent, it makes me "giggly, but not in my mouth."