Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Waiting for Spring * * * *

Waiting For SpringWaiting For Spring
by R.J. Keller
Available from Amazon

Waiting for Spring opens with an image of a path on which nothing will grow. The earth is just too hard, having been long trodden, to admit new life. Such is the heart of Tess Dyer, the protagonist, who lives in a world marked by emotional abuse and the absence of love. Tess yearns for spring.

The place was hidden from the road by thick, bushy pines and naked maples. The driveway was a little rough but already plowed, which was a good sign. The house itself was white. Two story. Small and very old. Old enough to explain the low rent. Enclosed porch with lots of windows. There was no garage or barn, but there was a decent sized shed beside the house. It was white, too, but looked much newer than the house. And beside that stood a little orchard; five bare, snowy apple trees.

There were no other vehicles in the driveway. I parked facing the orchard, kept the car running. Stared out the window at the trees. The heater was running at full blast. I still shivered. I’d been shivering for five months. No. I’d been shivering longer than that.

My heart was Titanium White. Arctic Wasteland. Hard, trampled soil covered with ice. The frozen orchard seemed to say that it always would be and the tears came. Finally. Stinging and bitter, but quiet like always, and I looked away from the trees, looked down at the dashboard. Oil light flashing, neon red. I stared at it, tried to imagine my engine; tired, hot, low on precious blood. The neon light liquefied, blurred, floated as my eyes filled past the point of choking it all back. I glanced up to let them spill over, hoping I’d be able to dam up what would want to follow. Squinted my eyes against the tears.

And that’s when I saw it.

Bare, icy trees; eerie and still. They almost looked dead, but they were really only sleeping. Waiting for spring. The red light caught in the pool of tears; refracted, projected, and I could see it. I could see what the orchard would look like covered with blossoms. In the spring. Alizarin Crimson, Dusty Pink--starry, superimposed on the wintry scene. Like covering a photo with a clear sheet of plastic then drawing on it with dried out marker; shadowy and transparent. But real. So real.

When her marriage to the small town sports hero ends in a divorce, Tess, an unsuccessful artist making a living as a cleaning lady, moves to a small rural Maine town of New Mills, where the beloved local cleaning lady had been murdered by rampaging teens, to start a new life. Conveniently, her new neighbor, Brian LaChance, happens to be an available attractive male with whom she can start something new. Despite a wound of a broken marriage, Tess finds herself attracted by the small-time charm of the younger man as she tries to fill her life with something. Will she be able to find love or will spring never come? What can break through the hardness of heart?

There are many impressive things about Spring that I want to mention. What impresses me about Waiting for Spring the most is the writing. R.J. Keller is a good writer, as you can tell from the excerpt above, and there are some good lines in the book that are worthy of a good independent film.

But Ashley had a suggestion.
“You can come, Brian. If you want. That way you can keep an eye on her.”
He didn’t even miss a beat. “Nope. We already have plans.”
She looked at me and I gave her an eyebrow.
That’s right, honey. While you’re getting drunk and stoned with your little friends he’ll be in my bed. Fucking me. Stuff that in your training bra.

Another impressive aspect of Spring is the humanity of its characters—Tess and Brian seem human for two reasons. They have personal struggles resulting from understandable yearnings and conflicting emotions. But the two are not the only characters who seem real. All of the characters in the book are trying to make love grow but fail miserably in their attempts, generating only enmity and conflict. All are deeply flawed. Brian's sister, Rachel, struggles with a drug problem that boils over into violence. All are deeply needy, but they are unable to give one another what they need. All have become hardened of heart as a result of being in one another's lives. And all are yearning for rebirth. Perhaps the most awesome moment in terms of character comes at Thanksgiving, when Tess and Cass have a conversation. The contrast between what Tess had been told and what she herself tells Cass reveals how she had evolved as a person in a moving and poignant way. Not only are the characters real, they inhabit a realistically portrayed world populated by secondary characters who seem alive. Someone once said that you should write about that which you know, and R.J. Keller certainly knows the world that she chose to portray in her novel. I think that there are more books to be written about the characters in these two towns.

Waiting for Spring deals with a perennial theme in popular American literature—the yearning for rebirth and the desire for a second chance—in an honest and human way. But there is a way to be too honest, and Spring is not what it could be because it does not stray from reality much. Part of the tragedy of the characters in Spring is their inability or unwillingness to express themselves or to understand others. Tess's tragedy is that she has no actionable goal, and therefore no hope of achieving it. Wanting a new life is not a goal; it is a desire that is dramatically irrelevant until a character particularizes it in terms of a specific goal. She lives a real life, and failures and pain are a part of that life. But we don't want to read about how characters fail or about how life really is. We want to read about the potential for hope expressed through struggle for something that stands for that hope. Characters who hope for something are deliberate in their action. They are always moving toward some goal. Tess isn't acting toward a goal. When Rachel dies, there is nothing she can do to keep Brian in her life. But Tess should have something, some lifeline, that she can use to stay with Brian. She must be able to do something.

Waiting for Spring is a story of lives in the small world of rural Maine, filled with ordinary humanity of flawed men and women as they hope, pray, and suffer their way toward rebirth of spring and new life.

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