Tuesday, 28 August 2012

#OBSummer #Books - Ford 99 - In Leah's Wake


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Genre - Women's Fiction / Contemporary 
Rating - PG13
More details about the book

Connect with Terri Giuliano Long on Twitter

He unclipped his radio. “All right then. Let me call. Tell them we’re set. If you don’t mind, I need to take some information.” His back ached, his sciatica flaring again. He shifted his weight.

Zoe touched his arm. “Please. Have a seat.” She showed him to an overstuffed chair and sat across from him, crossing her legs.

The younger girl stayed parked on the floor by her sister.

Forcing his eyes away from Zoe’s feet, he radioed the dispatcher and gave her a rundown. “All set,” he said, opening his notepad. “Would you like to tell me what happened?”

Zoe and the younger girl exchanged a troubled look. “She had a big game today.” The mother shook her head, as though silently scolding herself. “By the time I got there, it was over.”

Jerry nodded, encouraging her to go on.

“I figured she’d gone home with Cissy. Hanson. Her best friend—former best friend, I should say.” Zoe paused, grimacing. “I don’t think she ever went to the game. Leah, I mean. I don’t know why her coach didn’t call. Or maybe she did. The battery died in my cell, and I haven’t checked my messages yet. Oh, God. I’m babbling. I can’t think straight. I’m sorry.”

Cissy Hanson. He scribbled the name on his pad. “The girls, were they together?”

“I don’t think so. No, definitely not.” She leaned forward, her left hand massaging her right shoulder. “Anyway, around seven thirty the doorbell rang. I was on the phone trying to figure out where she was. By the time I got there, they were pulling out of the drive.” She glanced at her younger daughter. “Justine recognized the car.”

“It’s this kid’s,” the little girl said. “Lupo.”

“Lupo?” Jerry wrestled the emotion out of his voice. “You sure?”

The Lupo kid was bad news. Jerry tried his best to avoid judging kids. He’d been a punk, too, at that age. The summer before senior year, a neighbor caught him stealing his chainsaw, called the cops, and Jerry found himself facing robbery charges. In exchange for a clean record, the judge, a wise older man, had sentenced him to a summer “work-study program.”

That summer, while his buddies were out raising hell, Jerry had worked. He mowed the judge’s lawn, weeded his gardens, cleaned his attic and basement, and painted the picket fence in front of the judge’s rambling Dutch Colonial house. Jerry had hated every second; he’d cursed the judge and his wife for treating him like a slave. In adulthood, it occurred to Jerry that the judge had probably paid his regular crew extra to clean up his mess. Jerry had spent his entire working life trying to repay that debt.

*****
Leah, the title character in the story, is sixteen, a junior in high school. A talented athlete, she’s the star of her high school soccer team, considered by many people to be the best player in the state, on track for a full scholarship to a prestigious college. In the 90s, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association adopted a strict drug and alcohol policy. Any high school athlete caught in the presence of alcohol or drugs must, for a first offense, sit out 25 percent of the season; for a second offense, the athlete loses 60 percent of the season; for a third offense, he or she is kicked off the team.

The scene captured on page 99 takes place in October, in the final weeks of the season. A week earlier, Leah attended a wild party hosted by a friend of her boyfriend, Todd; she was the only sober attendee. Although well aware of the penalty, Leah uses her sobriety to rationalize her presence.

As it turns out, another attendee took a photograph and posted on Facebook. As Leah’s team prepares for the most important game of their regular season, her coach is forced to bench her. Devastated, Leah visits her coach’s office, she and her coach fight, and her coach kicks her off the team. Rather than face the (assumed) wrath of her parents, Leah calls her boyfriend, asks him to pick her up. From the school, they drive to his friend’s house. While there, Leah evaluates her life, her friendships, and her future. The chapter ends with Leah deciding to party with her friends.

Meanwhile, Leah’s mother has been frantically searching for her. (Leah’s father, Will, is 3000 miles away, on a business trip). At 7:30 that night, Todd’s friend drives an exceedingly drunk Leah home, leaves her on the doorstep and drives away. Concerned when Leah begins hyperventilating, her mother calls for an ambulance. The police officer, Jerry Johnson, arrives ahead of the ambulance. Two weeks earlier, Jerry stopped Zoe for a traffic violation.

This chapter is the first told from Jerry’s point of view. A thirty-something married man with twin infant sons, he loves his wife; they were happily married for eight years before they had children. Since their birth, suffering from mild post-partum depression, she’s isolated him, and their marriage is faltering. When he stops Zoe for speeding, seeing her for the first time, he’s captivated. Lonely, he develops a crush. At first, he carries out the crush only in his imagination—he doesn’t stalk her or even look up her address; until he sees her in the doorway, he has no idea he’s headed to her home.

Present scene: Jerry has checked Leah. Having determined that her daughter is fine, Zoe insists that they don’t need an ambulance. As first responder, Jerry needs to take down some information.

Lupo is Todd’s friend. His father, an attorney, always keeps him out of trouble; as a result, he’s irresponsible. He knows there are no penalties for his behavior, so he can essentially do as he wishes.

For each of these characters, this is a pivotal scene: for Leah, the fallout from this night initiates a spiral that ultimately leads to the destruction of the Tyler family, as they’ve known it. Justine—a sweet, ultra-na├»ve twelve-year-old—sees her older sister’s vulnerability for the first time; after tonight nearly everything she does will be directed toward protecting her sister or emulating her. Although she has not yet lost her innocence, we see her resolve and witness the first hint of wariness in her eyes.

Zoe is a child therapist. She should have known how to handle Leah, what to do in case of emergency. This small, understandable parenting failure shows her responding to a serious situation; her inability to deal with situations will become increasingly problematic as the novel moves forward. For Jerry, this chance meeting solidifies his crush on Zoe and propels him to go to great lengths, at times at the expense of his own marriage, to help this family, forcing him to evaluate his life choices.

This, to my mind, is very much the way things happen in real life. Seemingly minor events are often turning points that set bigger events in motion. They’re also very telling, as they bring a person’s true self, the self we typically try to hide, to the surface. Heraclitus said, “Character is destiny.” If we look closely, we see destiny taking shape here. Each character’s response draws him or her deeper into the spiral. One of my professors used a leaf as an analogy to describe the way each choice ultimately narrows a character’s destiny. At the wide end of the leaf there are many veins; each vein forks off in different directions. As you follow the trail toward the tip of the leaf, you see fewer and fewer veins; at the tip there is only a single vein. Likewise, a character’s options narrow to one final possibility.

While there is little external action on this page or in this chapter, a tremendous amount of internal action takes place. This internal movement can be seen clearly only when looking backward. My goal in writing this novel was to explore family and community relationships, along with themes of connection and responsibility. Thematically, as it sets up these relationships, this is a key chapter.

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