Speechless

Yesterday afternoon I received a text from my supervisor letting me know they’d given out all the condoms for the weekend, and therefore I do NOT have condom duty today; instead getting a lovely four day weekend. How great is that? So I can spend the day doing whatever I feel like it–although I will most likely be cleaning and organizing, maybe writing. (I did, after all, start writing Crescent City Charade yesterday…) I am also probably going to get out the good camera and take a walk around the neighborhood taking pictures of the Bead Trees. Tonight is the end of Carnival for Paul and me–we never do anything on Fat Tuesday–so with the Proteus and Orpheus parades tonight we ring down the curtain.

Pretty cool.

We also decided to spend the day yesterday in recovery mode; skipping the parades and just chilling out inside. I cleaned the kitchen and got the laundry caught up before repairing to my easy chair, where I finished reading Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day, and started The Butterfly by James M. Cain (which I intend to finish today; it’s only 118 pages).

The walkie-talkie on the front desk hissed, crackles, and finally resolved into Lu’s lilting voice: “At what point,” she said, “do we worry the guy in two-oh-six is dead?”

The couple across the counter from me glanced at once another. Bargain hunters. We only saw two kinds of people at the Mid-Night Inn–Bargains and Desperates–and these were classic Bargains, here. The two kids, covered in mustard stains from eating home-packed sandwiches, whines that the place didn’t have a pool. The mother had already scanned the lobby for any reference to a free continental breakfast. We didn’t offer continental breakfast, not even the not-free kind.

I slid their key cards to them, smiling, and flicked the volume knob down on the radio before Lu convinced them they’d prefer to get back in their car and try their luck farther down the road.

“Which room are we in, again?” said the woman.

“Two-oh-four,” I said.

“And you said we could go to Taco Bell,” cried the little girl, five or so. A glittering pink barrette that must have started the day neatly holding back her corn-silk hair now clung by a few strands. She threw herself at her mother’s feet and wailed into the carpet. “But they don’t even have a Taco Bell.”

This is Lori Rader-Day’s second novel, and I bought it in Alabama a few weeks ago when I was there with her. I’d run out of things to read that I’d brought with me, and the amount of time it took me to finish reading this wonderful sophomore novel has nothing to do with the quality of the book or its writing; it has everything to do with my lack of time the last few weeks because of Carnival. It was wonderful to have the time yesterday to sit down in my easy chair with a purring kitty and finish the second half of the book, savoring the twists and turns and the writing. I do have Lori’s first novel The Black Hour in my TBR pile, and I am looking forward to her new book, coming out this spring, The Day I Died.

Rader-Day’s main character, Juliet Townsend, is the heart of this exquisitely dark novel about lost chances, bad choices, and how incredibly easy it is to spiral down into the hopeless darkness of poverty and failure. Juliet was an accomplished distance runner in her small Indiana hometown of Midway when she was in high school, always finishing in second place to her best friend and teammate Maddy. Now, years later, after they missed running in the state championship meet, Juliet works as a housekeeper at the run down Mid-Night Motel just off the highway, living with her withdrawn mother who has never recovered from her husband’s death–which also resulted in Juliet dropping out of college. And then one night–the week of their high school ten year reunion, Maddy shows up at the Mid-Night; successful and beautiful and rich–and later winds up dead.

The mystery aspects of the book are quite good, but Rader-Day’s real strength is character. The tragedy of Juliet’s life–the missed opportunities, the road not taken, the sustained drudgery of her job and the concurrent poverty, and not knowing how to get out of it–is detailed in painful precision, and echoes the situation of so many people, who once had bright futures but circumstances beyond their control dragged them down into the hell of the paycheck-to-paycheck life; the not knowing where your next meal is going to come from, the praying nothing goes wrong with your car because you can’t afford to get it fixed or to get a new one, the death grip that all the horrors of high school can still hold on to your head some ten years later…but Juliet, in wondering who could have killed her old best friend, starts remembering, starts looking into things, and starts kicking over some old stones that might best be left undisturbed.

Wonderful. I highly recommend this.

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