Publication Year: 1994
In Ann Harleman's remarkable debut collection, men and women of extraordinary passions look for and sometimes find the hidden heart of ordinary life. Testing themselves and each other, they search for ways to connect. "Understanding," says the troubled voyeur-narrator of "Imaginary Colors," "is the booby prize"; these characters go for experience. Reckless explorers of inner space, they try the limits of their lives.
A gravely ill woman seeks forgiveness from her grown-up daughters for an adulterous past which she does not really regret. A boy watches anxiously—and enviously—while his brother flaunts an interracial love affair in front of their dangerous father. In strike-torn Warsaw during the rise of Solidarity, an American professor and his Polish housekeeper reach toward each other from their respective cages of loneliness. A girl's determined pursuit of her first sexual experience brings her more, and less, than she bargained for.
Harleman combines a clear eye with a generous heart, revealing her characters-misguided, selfish, loving, brave—through a compassionate, often humorous probing of their inner and outer worlds. In "It Was Humdrum" a system analyst hires a detective to find the mother who left him as an infant, while his young wife leaves him daily for afternoon trysts with her Puerto Rican lover. A woman assaulted by a teenage gang escapes physically unharmed but forever changed. The past overtakes a woman who has married for love, not of her husband, but of his small daughter. A greeting card poet pursued by stereotyped images of happiness flees from the woman he loves and the brother he never knew he had.
The supple language of these twelve stories—wise, funny, delighting in the sensuous—makes us feel the beauty and terror of a fully lived life. Harleman's characters, whether they succeed or fail, show us the way to a deeper exploration of our own lives.
Published by: University of Iowa Press
Contents and Acknowledgements
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Mrs. Mulholland sat under the catalpa tree in her pale straw hat, in a double layer of shade, watching her daughter Vic's eyes. Vic's glance seemed to pick up each one at the table in tum and stitch them together-Mrs. Mulholland's granddaughter, Jane, her older daughter, Alex, Mrs. Mulholland herself-three generations in...
Eve and Adam, 1963
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The real reason they sent me to stay with Clesta that summer was sex. "How can we? With three pubescent girls in the house?" my mother would yell at my father sooner or later during every one of their battles. "That's why we fight all the time. It's the goddamn sexual tension!" The bedroom door would slam, and then the door to...
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"What do you mean, brother? I don't have any brother." Waiting for his shuddering heart to subside-when the phone rang he thought, absurdly, that it might be MaddalenaThurston leans against the kitchen wall and looks out the window. Live oak and acacia stand motionless in the deepening twilight. Further...
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Jean watches her stepdaughter run down the steps to the ledge along the canal. Half an hour ago she was white with fear, stretching her arm out stiffly for Jean to hold while the doctor cut away her small pearly thumbnail and the infected tissue underneath. Her blood fell in bright round drops on the tile floor, not scarlet...
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The first time his brother died, Seth was fifteen. It was November of 1973-Raphael's first weekend home since he'd started at U Mass--and Seth woke early from a dream of smooth, dark, faintly bitter skin, of warm breath across his ear. He swept off the striped woollen blankets and pulled out the sticky mess of the top...
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"Dziefz dobry, dziefz dobry, dziefz dobry." They are like figures in an old-fashioned dance, a vaudeville routine translated. He, tall and lanky and professorially stoop-shouldered; she, short and broad. He stands in the hall in late afternoon sunlight while she circles him as if he were a maypole. "Pan Professor," she...
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Mary Rose Klossner fell in love with my husband when she was eleven months old. We stood in my kitchen doorway, thirteen years ago this fall, the four of us: Mary Rose and her father and Loren and me. Early evening: the last of the sun, slanting in through the open door, cut right across us. "We just, I don't know. We run out of just about everything...
It Was Humdrum
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She picks up the phone on the second ring. She is in the kitchen anyway. "Hello?" "Hi, babe." Juan's voice, frayed from too many cigarettes too late at night. "I'm sorry. You have the wrong number." Maude hangs up. It's their signal for when she can't talk; but he will hate it anyway. She had to do it: Roger and Mary Lynn are both in the living room,...
The White Hope of Cleveland
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The summer before I started high school, the summer of 1962, was the hottest Philadelphia had ever seen. My mother would send me out before breakfast with a basket of wash while the dew steamed off the grass. By ten o'clock the wash would be dry. I could feel it drying as I hung it up, prying open the stiff folds locked...
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On the last night in May I lay beside my wife listening to the sound of her quiet snoring. Faith, who when we first slept together was so still that I sometimes laid my hand on her to make sure she was breathing, the way she would do with Donny and Joe when they were born. In every room my clocks were ticking, not...
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They must have been waiting all afternoon for someone like me to come along. Sitting in the narrow lane between a low bungalow with a green-painted porch and Bethel Baptist Church. Hot; at loose ends under that loud sky. Three of them had their backs against the stone wall of the church, legs in cutoff jeans stretched out...
The Cost of Anything
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It is a funeral without a body. An oxymoron, my father would have said, leaning back and talking past his cigarette so that smoke ribboned out around it and dwindled to lavender above his head. My mother, kneeling beside me in her long-sleeved black dress, elbows tucked in at her sides, has done what my father wanted. With...
Publication Year: 1994