Cruel Summer

I am having a rather productive day so far, really. I slept late–which I didn’t want to do, but maybe, you know, just maybe I needed the sleep–and since getting up feeling completely rested, I’ve been taking my own advice I gave out on the panel yesterday and am cleaning; and the cleaning is clearing my mind and that mind clearance is bearing fruit. I’ve already made some good notes on a short story I’m working on, and as the Lost Apartment slowly but surely gets more clean, I feel more on top of my game; I think I am finally getting back on track after being derailed by being sick for so long.

Huzzah!

I have also dived back into my Short Story project, and today I read Laura Lippman’s “What He Needed.”

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My husband’s first wife almost spent him into bankruptcy. Twice. I am a little hazy about the details, as was he. I don’t think it was a real bankruptcy, with court filings and ominous codes on his credit history. Credit was almost too easy for us to get. The experience may have depleted his savings, for he didn’t have much in the bank when we married. But whatever happened, it scared him badly, and he was determined it would never happen again.

To that end, he was strict about the way we spent money in our household, second-guessing my purchases, making up rules about what we could buy. Books, for example. The rule was that I must read ten of the unread books in the house–and there were, I confess, many unread books in the house–before I could bring a new one home. We had similar rules about compact discs (“Sing a sing from the last one you bought,” he bellowed at me once) and shoes (“How many pairs of black shoes does one woman need?”). It was not, however,a two-way street. The things he wanted proved to be necessities–defensible, sensible purchases. A treadmill, a digital camera, a DVD player and, of course, the DVD’s to go with it. Lots of Westerns and wars.

But now I sound like him, sour and grudging. The irony was, we both made good money. More correctly, he made decent money, as a freelance technical writer, and I made great money, editing a loathsome city magazine, the kind that tells you where to get the best food/doctors/lawyers/private schools/flowers/chocolates/real estate. It wasn’t journalism, it was marketing. That’s why they had to pay so well.

How much truth is there in those three paragraphs? Haven’t we all been in that kind of relationship/marriage, where one partner tries to control the money and judges the other’s every cent spent? And how confined and trapped that can make one feel? In those casual, almost careless and unemotional paragraphs Lippman deftly paints the portrait of a marriage in trouble and a woman who is desperately unhappy, both at home and at work.

The story was originally published in Lauren Henderson and Stella Duffy’s wonderful anthology Tart Noir (from which I’ll undoubtedly be pulling more stories from during the course of my short story project) and was reprinted in Lippman’s wonderful short story collection Hardly Knew Her. 

Lippman is one of crime genre’s bright shining lights; her Tess Monaghan series is one of the best private eye series in print currently, and her stand-alone novels are incredible accomplishments, in which she stretches herself, the boundaries of crime fiction itself, and tells well-written, amazing stories about women and their realities, their choices, and how they respond to the bad things that happen to them. I’ve already read her yet-to-be released 2018 novel Sunburn, which is destined to make a lot of Best of 2018 lists and get shortlisted for every crime award out there (most of which she has already won, sometimes more than once). I will be discussing that one, as well, closer to its pub date.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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