Read an excerpt of Spheres of Disturbance.
Copyright © 2014 Amy Schutzer
At its heart, the story is about the impending death of Helen from cancer. The backstory: When she was younger Helen was unmarried and pregnant. Instead of give the baby up for adoption, as her Long Island Catholic family wanted her to, Helen disappeared, telling only her younger sister where she went. Now, Helen’s daughter, Sammy is an adult with a lesbian lover, and how each of them approaches Helen’s death, and each other, forms the foundation of the story. Each of the nine characters, whose point of view revolves through the novel, impact, impede, accept, and resist the trajectories of Helen’s death, and their own relationship to the living and the dead. Within this framework, the way American culture views death is not only explored for how it tries to push death out of the picture but also for how impossible that truly is. What happens if someone chooses her death? Is opting out of the prescribed medical arsenal of care choosing? The taboo of that ultimate, final choice is the root of the book.
Set over the span of one day, in 1985, are the myriad layers that inform, and direct the characters lives: the politics of Ronald Reagan are excoriated; artists reinvent themselves; relationship politics exposes a commune’s hierarchy; a garage sale links past to present; a pregnant Vietnamese pot bellied pig is a reminder of the delicate balance between ideas and the reality of ideas.
Experimental and beautiful, this book has a solid core. In the award-winning Undertow, Dotty and Macy are brought together by accident and their love unfolds against a backdrop of the weighed and sifted pieces of their pasts.
Freud contended there were no such things as accidents. Shakespeare often referred to star-crossed lovers, and it would seem that lovers meant for each other are truly fated when Dotty, a housepainter, ends up in the hospital after falling from her ladder and meets a nurse named Macy, who used to live in the very house Dolly was painting. Sure enough, after less than a brief spell in the hospital, Dotty allows Macy to move in and look after her for a couple of weeks, and not surprisingly, Macy winds up staying for good. It's all misty and atmospheric, like Dotty's morphine-inspired dreams, which lead to her growing addiction to Vicodin, a painkiller Macy manages to get without benefit of a doctor's prescription. Told alternately by Dotty and Macy in gauzy, fragmented half-thoughts, the conflicts of love and loving, of self-doubt and self-revelation become clearly etched for both as a surprise visit from Dotty's brother and sister causes a major shift in the lovers' lives. Schutzer's debut novel should establish her as a writer to watch.
Read an excerpt of Taking the Scarecrow Down
Copyright © 2011 Amy Schutzer
About Taking the Scarecrows Down:
This collection at first seems pure lyric, with its potent images (woman whose mouth is 'a carnelian flame;' clothes 'that smell like years ago'), yet it offers the reader many narratives too. The poet's life unfolds through the natural world, moving along and circling back around like the creek. She moves easily between flashbacks to long-ago neighborhoods, meditations on friends, on death and loss, and the 'resplendent, gold spark' of a bee laden with pollen. Her preoccupation with word origins ('a parliament of owls;' 'a murder of crows') not only provides rich subject matter but is also put to good use in the crafting and shaping of this lovely work. —Judith Barrington
With arresting imagery and subtle music, this book does dare to take the scarecrows down: its evocative poems deftly 'negotiate the emptiness / that is the heart of everything.' In the face of loss, absence, longing and mayhem, Amy Schutzer offers us poetry's 'long sky,' its 'stars flowering on the tongue.' —Paulann Petersen