Book Club: We are Called to Rise
Like The Goldfinch, it strips a layer of gloss off the Las Vegas myth by moving to the families populating suburbia - Grazia
Any book that is compared to Donna Tartt's mammoth novel deserves your attention and with Laura McBride's We Are Called To Rise, we are invited to explore the real Las Vegas. In the early hours of the morning, an unexpected confession shatters a woman's marriage while three thousand miles away, a soldier comes to terms with what he has seen and done in Iraq. McBride brings these stories together in a masterfully crafted story of families - the ones you are born with and the ones that you make. Read the opening pages below.
THERE WAS A YEAR of no desire. I don’t know why. Margo said I was depressed; Jill thought it was “the change.” That phrase made me laugh. I didn’t think I was depressed. I still grinned when I saw the roadrunner waiting to join me on my morning walk. I still stopped to look at the sky when fat clouds piled up against the blue, or in the evenings when it streaked orange and purple in the west. Those moments did not feel like depression.
But I didn’t desire my husband, and there was no certain reason for it, and as the months went by, the distance between us grew. I tried to talk myself out of this, but my body would not comply. Finally, I decided to rely on what in my case would be mother wisdom, or as Sharlene would say, “to fake it till you make it.”
That night, I eased myself out of bed carefully, not wanting to fully wake Jim. I had grown up in Las Vegas, grown up seeing women prance around in sparkling underwear, learned how to do the same prancing in the same underwear when I was barely fifteen, but years of living in another Las Vegas, decades of being a suburban wife, a mother, a woman of a cer- tain social standing, had left me uneasy with sequined bras and crotchless panties. My naughty-underwear drawer was still there—the long narrow one on the left side of my dresser—but I couldn’t even remember the last time I had opened it. My heart skipped a little when I imagined slipping on a black lace corset and kneeling over Jim in bed. Well, I had made a decision, and I was going to do it. I would not give up on twenty-nine years of marriage without at least trying this.
So I padded quietly over to the dresser, and eased open the narrow drawer. I was expecting the bits of lace and satin, even sequins, but nestled among them, obscenely, was a gun. It made me gasp. How had a gun gotten in this drawer?
I recognized it, though. Jim had given it to me when Emily was a baby. He had insisted that I keep a gun. Because he traveled. Because someone might break in. I had tried to explain that I would never use it. I wouldn’t aim a gun at someone any more than I would drown a kitten. There were decisions I had made about my life a long time ago; firing a gun was on that list. But there were things Jim could not hear me say, and in the end, it was easier just to accept the gun, just to let him hide it in one of those silly fake books on the third shelf of the closet, where, if I had thought about it—and I never did—I would have assumed it still was.
How long had the gun been in this drawer? Had Jim put it there? Was he sending a message? Had Jim wanted to make the point that I hadn’t looked in this drawer for years? Hadn’t worn red-sequined panties in years? Had Jim been thinking the same way I had, that maybe what we needed was a little romance, a little fun, a little hot sex in the middle of the kitchen, in order to start over?
I could hear Jim stirring behind me. He would be looking at me, naked in front of our sex drawer. Things weren’t going exactly the way I had intended, but I shook my bottom a little, just to give him a hint at what I was doing.
I stopped then, not sure what that cough meant. I didn’t even want to touch the gun, but I carefully eased the closest bit of satin out from under the barrel, still thinking that I would find a way to slip it on and maybe dance my way back to the bed.
“I’m in love with Darcy. We’ve been seeing each other for a while.”
It was like the gun had gone off. There I was, naked, having just wagged my fifty-three-year-old ass, and there he was, somewhere behind me, knowing what I had been about to do, confessing to an affair with a woman in his office who was almost young enough to be our daughter.
Was he confessing to an affair? Had he just said he was in love with her? The room melted around me. Something— shock, humiliation, disbelief—perhaps just the sudden image of Darcy’s young bottom juxtaposed against the image I had of my own bottom in the hall mirror—punched the air out of me.
“I wanted to tell you. I know I should have told you.” Surely, this was not happening. Jim? Jim was having an affair with Darcy? (Or had he said he was in love?) Like the fragment of an old song, my mother’s voice played in my mind. “Always leave first, Avis. Get the hell out before they get the hell out on you.” That was Sharlene’s mantra: get the hell out first. She’d even said it to me on my wedding day. It wasn’t the least surprising that she’d said it, but still, I had resented that comment for years. And, look, here she was: right. It took twenty-nine years. Two kids. A lot of pain. But Sharlene had been right.
It all came rushing in then. Emily. And Nate. And the years with Sharlene. The hard years. The good years. Why Jim had seemed so distant. The shock of Jim’s words, as I stood there, still naked, still with my back to my husband, my ass burning with shame, brought it all rushing in. So many feelings I had been trying not to feel. It seemed suddenly that the way I had been trying to explain things to myself—the way I had pretended the coolness in my marriage was just a bad patch; the way I had kept rejecting the signs that something was wrong with Nate, that Nate had changed, that I was afraid for Nate (afraid of Nate?); the way that getting older bothered me, though I was trying not to care, trying not to notice that nobody noticed me, trying not to be anything like Sharlene— it seemed suddenly that all of that, all of those emotions and all of that pretending, just came rushing toward me, a torpedo of shame and failure and fear. Jim was in love with Darcy. My son had come back from Iraq a different man. My crazy mother had been right. And my whole life, how hard I had tried, had come to this. I could not bear for Jim to see what I was feeling.
How could I possibly turn around?
I AM NINE YEARS OLD , and inspecting the bathtub before getting in. I ignore the brown gunk caked around the spigot, and the yellow tear-shaped stain spreading out from the drain; I can’t do much about those. No, I am looking for anything that moves, and the seriousness with which I undertake this task masks the sound of my mother entering, a good hour before I expect her home from work.
“Yep. You sure have got the Briggs-girl ass. That’ll come in handy some day.”
She laughs, like she has said something funny. I am frustrated that my mother has walked in the bathroom without knocking, and I don’t want to think about what she has just said. I step in the bathtub quick, bugs or not, and pull the plastic shower curtain closed.
“Should you be taking a bath? What if Rodney walked away?”
“He won’t,” I say, miffed that she is criticizing my babysitting skills. “He’s watching Gilligan’s Island.”
“Okay,” she says, and I hear her move out of the bathroom and toward the kitchen. She is going to make a peanut-butter- and-banana sandwich. Sharlene is twenty-seven years old, and she loves peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches.
“I’M SORRY, AVIS. I NEVER wanted to hurt you.”
I was still standing naked at the drawer, my back to Jim, the red satin fabric in my hand. I didn’t know what to say to that. I couldn’t seem to think straight, I couldn’t seem to keep my mind on what was happening right that moment. Did Jim just say he was in love with Darcy? Why had I opened this drawer?
And still I was racing toward Jim’s apology, grateful for it, hopeful. One of the first things I ever knew about Jim was that he was willing to apologize.
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