Addonizio writes with sultry candor about womanhood under duress in her celebrated poetry, collected most recently in What Is This Thing Called Love? (2004). She now extends her provocative inquiry with verve and creative license in her first novel. Diana loves her job at a Long Beach baby store, but she is beginning to detect the contamination that haunts her. A former child pageant star pushed mercilessly by her man-crazy, alcoholic mother, Diana is a compulsive washer. Her obsessive behavior has driven away her husband, and she can't imagine how she can possibly give shelter to Jamie, a 17-year-old unwed mother, and her newborn, Stella, who desperately need a place to stay because Jamie's mother insists that she give Stella up for adoption. Addonizio writes with mesmerizing realism about Diana's efforts to conquer her neurosis and Jaime's conflicted motherhood, then turns to tongue-in-cheek fantasy to convey Stella's predicament as an old soul trapped in an infant's helpless body. The result is a funny, insightful, and diverting tale of high anxiety, rocky mother-daughter relationships, and the tyranny of the body. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Kim gives an overview of the book:
Jamie Ramirez walks out of Teddy's World and stands for a minute looking up and down Second Street, at all the girls her age with tank tops and flat stomachs and no problems. They peer into store windows, drag each other inside, and come out laughing hysterically. They stand on corners, licking ice cream cones suggestively when boys in long baggy shorts walk by. They can hardly speak for giggling. They double over as though they've been punched in the stomach and stagger back against a light pole. Their lives are hilarious.
"You're not like other girls," Kevin had said when they first got together. "You don’t, like, laugh all the time."
"Nothing's funny," Jamie had said. She was a senior in high school then. She hadn't applied to any colleges, because she was sick of school. She worked behind the candy counter at one of the AMC theaters in the mall. She was sick of work, too. Over and over she had to say, Can I serve the next guest, which made her feel freakish and fake.
Kevin had ordered a giant tub of popcorn and a Dr. Pepper and Junior Mints, and invited her to a party at a house he lived in with some other guys. At the party, Kevin had said, "I know what will cheer you up," and led her up some narrow stairs to his attic room. It wasn't the first time Jamie had had sex with a boy, and like the other times, it had mostly hurt and she wondered if it was her fault.
She watches a man and woman, leaning towards each other over their frozen blue margaritas at an outdoor table at Taco Loco. They lean in and kiss in slow motion, with a kind of self-consciousness--like they're being filmed, like any minute the other patrons are going to burst into smiles and applause. Jamie had liked kissing Kevin. She liked kissing all the boys she slept with. Sleeping with them was the price she paid for getting to feel their breath on her neck, their soft tongues exploring her molars. While they kissed her, she stared unblinking at their closed eyes, in case they ever opened them.
Another couple walks by, arms around each other, hands in each other's back pockets. It's a law of nature, Jamie thinks. When you feel fucked up, everyone is happy. When you are alone, the world is an ark. You are a bizarre animal, one of a kind, and they are sailing off as the rain starts coming down harder and the water starts rising over your knees.
At Kevin's house the bathroom was down the stairs and around a sharp corner, a white room with one magazine page scotchtaped to the wall--a blond wearing large breasts and no pubic hair, exposing a glistening vulva that looked like it had been given a coat of pink lip gloss. The floor was warped, and there was never any toilet paper on the metal holder. This was where Jamie always peed and washed up after sex with Kevin, where she once dripped a small droplet of menstrual blood on the dirty tiles that no one wiped away, where she later crouched over the toilet with morning sickness. This was where Kevin stood in the doorway and said, I'm outta here, looking not at Jamie peering up through her sweaty bangs but at Naked Magazine Woman, as though she was the one he was breaking up with, running away from, joining the Coast Guard to forget her quarter-sized blush-enhanced nipples and fuck-me-now smile.
Jamie hopes that Kevin has to scrub the bathroom toilet on his ship with a toothbrush. She hopes he gets washed overboard by a giant wave, then bitten in half by a shark. By the time his shipmates throw him a life preserver he will be just a torso in the water.
She decides to go to the beach to clear her head. The only other place to go is home to her parents' house. Her father will be propped in front of the TV. Her mother will be in her studio painting fairies and unicorns, with some crappy New Age music floating out on the fumes of Nag Champa incense. If Jamie is lucky, the beach won't be crowded. She will be able to sit and look at the offshore oil platforms in peace and quiet.
Stupid, she is saying to herself as she crosses Ocean Boulevard. Spending all that money on a stupid stuffed bear.
She had lied to that lady in the store. She never had a music box like that when she was growing up. Her friend Leila had owned one. You opened the lid and two ice skaters, a boy and a girl, tracked around in a circle while the cylinder turned in the clear glass box, playing "Fur Elise" in pure, sad notes. It was like fairy music, Jamie used to think. She had coveted the box and Leila knew it, but Leila never gave it to her. Jamie had always wanted what Leila had. Parents in the entertainment business, a big house, a Platinum Visa with a five-thousand-dollar limit when she graduated from high school.
Now Leila has gone off to college, to NYU. Jamie misses her so much. She just needed to hear that song again, to make her feel like Leila is close, when she is really so far away. They haven't even talked on the phone for two weeks now. Leila is busy with classes and new friends, while Jamie is wandering around aimlessly, buying shit she can't afford and doesn't want.
Leila is going to be a dancer, as graceful as the girl skater in her tiny gold costume, a boy circling faithfully behind her. Jamie is going to be lying in the hospital like a stranded whale, screaming, feeling like she has to shit a hot toaster oven.
This is how Leila's mother had described what Jamie's mother calls the miracle of birth. Leila's mother offered to arrange an abortion, but Jamie's mother wouldn't hear of it. Jamie's mother, Mary Wagner-Ramirez, is Catholic. She believes in The Gift of Life. She doesn't believe in Raising the Baby On No Money And With Your Poor Father On Permanent Disability.
"Adoption," Jamie's mother said, "unless you're planning to move out and raise it on your own."
This last option sounded too fucked up to seriously consider.
Born in Bethesda, MD to a sports-mad family, Addonizio moved to San Francisco in the late seventies, where she fell in love with poetry and read her work at open mics around the city. She has published five collections: The Philosopher’s Club, Jimmy & Rita, Tell Me, What...