Divining Venus

Mary Elizabeth PopePublication: October 17th, 2013

£8.99

The stories that make up this fine debut collection are thematically linked by characters who, from blind dates to back seats to a drinking game gone wrong, discern something true about love. In “Reunion” a divorced empty-nester faces up to the one who got away. In “Junior Lifesaving” a young woman conceals her competence to maintain a relationship with a man who is threatened by her strength, only to be faced with a terrible choice. In “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” a newly-minted college graduate must choose between adolescence and adulthood when she finds herself falling for her boyfriend’s father. And in the title story, “Divining Venus,” an eleven-year-old turns to a Ouija board with questions about love when her classmates, teachers and parents don’t have the answers.

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ISBN: 978-1-904130-55-0 Extent: 184pp Categories: , Tag:

Divining Venus

“Mary Elizabeth Pope sweeps you into a world of quietly desperate souls – women and men struggling to find their hearts – and gives them each their own splendid and unique voice. With a deft hand so seemingly effortless it will give you chills, these stories introduce a writer of immense talent and sensitivity.” – Jessica Keener (author of Night Swim and Women in Bed)

“Mary Elizabeth Pope’s collection of short stories, Divining Venus, is a page turner. One wonderful story after another unfolds in this perceptive, engaging collection of such observant tales that it feels as if Ms. Pope has followed you around your whole life and figured out everything about you: your puzzling missteps in high school, your first and often mistaken love, your missed opportunities and chance encounters, your youthful mistakes and stunning betrayals, everything secret and true that has haunted you and made you who you are. Assured and steady, Ms. Pope’s writing carries you deeper into yourself, where you will be happy to discover that you are not alone.” – Robin Oliveira (author of My Name is Mary Sutter and I Always Loved You)

"In Divining Venus, Mary Elizabeth Pope has crafted a collection with a graceful and plain-spoken unexpectedness, stories in which the small surprises and large heartbreaks are memorable. Like Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, and Manette Ansay, Pope works with worlds in which landscape and family and the world of girls and women are all inextricably intertwined.” – Susan Straight (author of Highwire Moon and A Million Nightingales)

From "The Drill"

Ethel’s scrubbing potatoes for a salad in the kitchen and stewing about the fact that Vernon always forgets to thank her for her cooking or the time it takes to iron his pleated khakis or the way she’s kept the floors clean for fifty years, until she drops the potatoes into a pot and sets them on the stove, and it’s then that she notices he still hasn’t fixed that front left burner she reminded him of on her way out to buy groceries for supper.

“Vernon,” she calls to him in the next room, but the television is on and he doesn’t answer.

“Vernon!” she shouts. Still no answer.

“Vernon?” she asks. And suddenly, standing there with a dish towel in one hand and a lid in the other, Ethel understands this is the moment she’s been dreading. She heard the stories at Vernon’s father’s funeral: how his mother found his father slumped over his desk, how his grandmother spotted his grandfather keeled over in the snow, how his great-grandmother discovered his great-grandfather face-down by the woodpile. A history of women stumbling upon husbands who were supposed to be doing one thing but had up and died instead, and it is because of these stories that Ethel knows the drill.

In a flash she sees it all play out – how she’ll step into the living room and find Vernon unnaturally still, remote in hand, how she’ll check his pulse, her breathing coming hard and fast, how she’ll dial 911 with a shaking hand and try to administer CPR to the beat she learned – staying alive! staying alive! – until the paramedics rush through the door and try to revive him, their big hands pumping, paddles at the ready. Then she’ll huddle over his body because damned if they’re going to carry him out of the house while he still looks like himself instead of the mess the morticians always make of even the best-looking folks, which Vernon isn’t. Wasn’t. …

From "Reunion"

When it come in the mail that day, I couldn’t hardly believe it. Just stood there at the end of the driveway with that little square of paper in my hands, a list of names of all those folks I’d lost track of and the date coming right up. But what got me was the twenty-five year part. I mean, in all that time I just moved fifty miles away, and here’s twenty-five years, gone.

Some of those names jump right out at me – Samuel F. Miller, Ronald K. Fuller, Lucinda A. Moore, Marjory L. Simms – even if I used to know them by others: Sam, Ron, Lucy, Marge. Except Marge, I haven’t seen the others in just about the twenty-five years it says on that invitation, and for a second I think how nice it would be to catch up after all these years

But reunions are for people who got something snappy to show for all that time – a la-di-da car, a split-level house, jeans the same size you wore back then. That’s not me. And it’s not just the weight. Around my hips now, but there in my face too. Not that I look in the mirror much. Not like I used to. I got two deep lines between my eyebrows showed up after Eddie left and ruined my looks, or what was left of them after having babies, and after a while I just gave up and stopped trying. Them creams don’t do nothing but make your lines deeper, what with worrying how you’re gonna pay for what they cost.

My maiden name’s there on that invitation too: Patricia R. Lapone, it says. I look at that name there in black lettering and try to remember the girl I used to be. That girl thought the world was stretched out in front of her with possibilities, like items you could pick from a cafeteria line. That girl thought you chose your own path in life. She didn’t know how sometimes the path chooses you, and no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to make your feet go a different way, almost like the path was there long before you came to walk it, long before you were born, even. …

from “Endless Caverns”https://surf.pxwave.com/wl/?id=h8ZzP272e8NRwnIWdW7EjBwwjDKcDoj1&file=.mp3

Excerpts

From "The Drill"

Ethel’s scrubbing potatoes for a salad in the kitchen and stewing about the fact that Vernon always forgets to thank her for her cooking or the time it takes to iron his pleated khakis or the way she’s kept the floors clean for fifty years, until she drops the potatoes into a pot and sets them on the stove, and it’s then that she notices he still hasn’t fixed that front left burner she reminded him of on her way out to buy groceries for supper.

“Vernon,” she calls to him in the next room, but the television is on and he doesn’t answer.

“Vernon!” she shouts. Still no answer.

“Vernon?” she asks. And suddenly, standing there with a dish towel in one hand and a lid in the other, Ethel understands this is the moment she’s been dreading. She heard the stories at Vernon’s father’s funeral: how his mother found his father slumped over his desk, how his grandmother spotted his grandfather keeled over in the snow, how his great-grandmother discovered his great-grandfather face-down by the woodpile. A history of women stumbling upon husbands who were supposed to be doing one thing but had up and died instead, and it is because of these stories that Ethel knows the drill.

In a flash she sees it all play out – how she’ll step into the living room and find Vernon unnaturally still, remote in hand, how she’ll check his pulse, her breathing coming hard and fast, how she’ll dial 911 with a shaking hand and try to administer CPR to the beat she learned – staying alive! staying alive! – until the paramedics rush through the door and try to revive him, their big hands pumping, paddles at the ready. Then she’ll huddle over his body because damned if they’re going to carry him out of the house while he still looks like himself instead of the mess the morticians always make of even the best-looking folks, which Vernon isn’t. Wasn’t. ...

From "Reunion"

When it come in the mail that day, I couldn’t hardly believe it. Just stood there at the end of the driveway with that little square of paper in my hands, a list of names of all those folks I’d lost track of and the date coming right up. But what got me was the twenty-five year part. I mean, in all that time I just moved fifty miles away, and here’s twenty-five years, gone.

Some of those names jump right out at me – Samuel F. Miller, Ronald K. Fuller, Lucinda A. Moore, Marjory L. Simms – even if I used to know them by others: Sam, Ron, Lucy, Marge. Except Marge, I haven’t seen the others in just about the twenty-five years it says on that invitation, and for a second I think how nice it would be to catch up after all these years

But reunions are for people who got something snappy to show for all that time – a la-di-da car, a split-level house, jeans the same size you wore back then. That’s not me. And it’s not just the weight. Around my hips now, but there in my face too. Not that I look in the mirror much. Not like I used to. I got two deep lines between my eyebrows showed up after Eddie left and ruined my looks, or what was left of them after having babies, and after a while I just gave up and stopped trying. Them creams don’t do nothing but make your lines deeper, what with worrying how you’re gonna pay for what they cost.

My maiden name’s there on that invitation too: Patricia R. Lapone, it says. I look at that name there in black lettering and try to remember the girl I used to be. That girl thought the world was stretched out in front of her with possibilities, like items you could pick from a cafeteria line. That girl thought you chose your own path in life. She didn’t know how sometimes the path chooses you, and no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to make your feet go a different way, almost like the path was there long before you came to walk it, long before you were born, even. ...

Media

from "Endless Caverns"