Love was not enough to keep Rita and Jimmy's marriage together, and now Rita is alone and homeless on the streets of San Francisco with no clue to the fate of her husband. Her few belongings in a bag, she tries to stay smart and safe, but she is burdened with the sort of beauty that makes men want to hurt her, and many have, beginning with the wretch who murdered her mother. As Rita's search for Jimmy devolves into a desperate scramble to stay alive, Addonizio, a poet and novelist writing with singeing intensity in this lip-biting yet strangely lyrical tale of survival, reveals how easily lives can come disastrously undone. Acutely aware of the tyranny of desire, and of the violence percolating within so many men, Addonizio creates mesmerizing characters. Some are pure evil; others, especially a private investigator just a breath away from criminality, combustibly complex. As she tells this bluesy tale of bad luck and addiction, sleazy hotels and sexual violence, biblical rain and sudden reprieves, Addonizio zeroes in on the power of love and life's insistence. Seaman, Donna
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Kim gives an overview of the book:
The woman on the San Francisco Muni bus had on a purple and yellow clown costume with billowy sleeves, and huge white shoes that took up half the aisle between her and Rita in the facing seat, and the clown’s little girl had picked up a Snickers wrapper from the floor and was about to put it in her mouth when the clown slapped her. The child started to wail, the wrapper clenched tight in her fist while her mother tried to pry her fingers open. Rita couldn’t stand to watch. She got off at the next stop, several blocks early, and arrived at the shelter at seven minutes past ten.
After ten p.m. the big double doors were locked up tight. She knocked and knocked, but nobody even came to the other side of the doors. She stood for a couple of minutes, waiting, listening for footsteps, or the sound of a kid acting up, or someone dropping coins in the pay phone. But it was eerily quiet in there, as though everyone were asleep already, or dead.
Whatever they are, they’re inside. Safe in their bunks, safe inside four walls and a roof, and I’m shit out of luck once again, which is the story of my life and will forever be the story of Rita Louise Jackson, it seems.
She wanted to scream.
She sat down on the cement stoop. Someone had drawn a narrow blue chalk heart on it, and next to that a gun with a long barrel, pointing at the heart. It was signed TALISA ‘97. Rita listened to the wind rattling the dry tops of the eucalyptus trees bordering the parking lot and felt afraid of whatever was roaming the earth. A spirit, a demon, following her, judging her for the bad things she’d done.
Music and laughter came from the cafe down the street, where some black wrought-iron tables and chairs were set on the sidewalk. On the bus Rita had felt frayed and depleted, her head buzzing, motes of air swirling like gnats in the fluorescent lights. She hated being on the bus at night. Those lights were brutal, all the ugliness of people's faces coming clear, with sharper edges than in daylight. The face of the woman clown had been pinched and mean. Rita had felt the slap like it was her own face.
She’d imagined getting to the shelter in time, crawling into the bottom bunk that had been hers for the past two weeks, falling asleep before lights out. Now she forced herself to shift gears. Hell, it was early. No one should have to call it a night at ten o’clock. Old people, maybe. Sick people, and little kids who belonged in bed soon after supper. Now say your prayers honey and I’ll tuck you in. When she was little, Rita had prayed for a doll that drank from a bottle and wet its diaper, for a bicycle with streamers, for her mother to be happy. Her mother was often sad or angry, closing her bedroom door, in bed watching TV surrounded by magazines and cigarette packs and pills that had gotten lost in the blankets. Rita had prayed not to be such a burden, not to be, as her mother put it, such an ungrateful little pain in the ass. After her mother’s death Rita had prayed for her mother’s immortal soul, hoping it was in a place where prayers could do it some good. Maybe the clown on the bus would be nice to her girl, later, saying I’m sorry, baby, I lost my temper. Rita pictured the girl curled up under a pink blanket with a pattern of blue horses on it, her arm cradling a stuffed animal, and wanted to cry because she wasn’t that little girl and the shelter doors were locked and her bunk would be empty, all because of a bitch in a clown suit.
All right. Next move.
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...