A good Thursday to you, Story366!
I write to you from Galena, Illinois, a charming little city in the northwest corner of the state, not all that far from Iowa and Wisconsin. I’ve always wanted to come her, having heard great things about it. It’s where Ulysses S. Grant settled after the war, from where he was elected president—he now rents his home out to a company who gives tours. There’s also about a mile stretch of Main Street, filled with fudge shops, knicknack stores, and restaurants—my boys are gorging themselves on candy right now. We also looked into a haunted tour—lots of ghosts in Galena, I guess—but maybe we don’t want to poke that bear.
Yesterday, I spoke of how great it was to be back in Illinois, to see corn fields, to experience flat. Today, it was nice to see all those Illinois license plates, not to mention so much Cub blue. We spent some time in Iowa today, which is home to the Triple A club, so royal blue stretches from Lake Michigan all the way to Nebraska. That’s the kind of belt I like to be in, me with my World Series hat and Cub face mask. Not that the Cardinal fans in Missouri aren’t swell, but hey, sometimes you want to sleep in your own bed.
For today’s post, I read from Lisa Lenzo‘s collection, Unblinking, out from Wayne State University Press in 2019 as part of their Made in Michigan Writers Series. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve read something of Lenzo’s, though she has a couple of other books, including a collection that won a John Simmons Award. Always more than happy to read a new author, and in fact, that’s what I’m here for.
The stories in Unblinking are all about Detroit and Detroiters, covering a wide variety of subjects and a diverse population of people. The first story, “In the White Man’s House,” explores race, particularly biracial issues, as the characters are just about all part white, part black, and apparently, everyone can pass for either. The story is about two friends, Jay and Tremaine, and is told from Tremaine’s perspective. Jay, who is from wealthy but very light-skinned parents, is unhappy about how light-skinned he is, while Tremaine, or Tree, is darker skinned, is poor, and is growing tired of Jay complaining about his life. Jay, Tree, and Melanie—Tree’s white girlfriend who everyone thinks is black—attend at a basketball game at the fairgrounds, where a race riot between the black kids at their school and the Arab kids from Dearborn is on the verge of breaking out. This turns out to be the last real night Jay and Tree hang out, which we find out from a little bit of double-voicing on Lenzo’s part.
“Note to the New Owners” is a short piece about a little girl moving from the city to the suburbs. The girl is finishing a note her mother started and threw away, a note that tells the future residents about different things, from the morrels that grow in the yard to how the pump box freezes over at first frost. The little girl goes much more in depth, and is tragically adorable, as we find out more personal things, like why they’re moving, and who from their family didn’t make it.
The title story exudes this same mix of hope and tragedy. This one’s about Rosie and Ralph, an aging couple who are dealing with Ralph’s Parkinson’s and the resulting dementia. Ralph is confined to a wheel chair, and sometimes, talks to his dead brother, thinking Johnny is in the room. Mostly, though, they’re trying to make it work, trying to hold on in their condo for as long as they can.
One night, Ralph runs out of his adult diapers, and instead of waiting for help the next day, they decide to venture out, walk down the street to the market. The real conflict comes when they realize, downstairs and out of their building, that they’ve forgotten Ralph’s footrests, which not only rest his feet, but hold him upright and in his chair. The couple make the decision to move forward, to work it out, but that’s the wrong decision. So, so wrong.
Ralph can’t stay in his chair, and even the few blocks to the store and back prove impossible. After several attempts to prop Ralph up, he falls out of the chair. A homeless man help him up, and after a painful tenure in the store, making it home seems like an impossibility.
Halfway back to their condo, Ralph slips to the ground again, this time landing flat on his back. Rosie does not know what to do, but is just as concerned with the group of four youths approaching them. A friend of theirs was shot on this block not too long ago, and, well, Rosie is old and she and Ralph are helpless and it’s dark out and those approaching youths are black and …; I think you know what this story is about, what Lenzo is going for, what anxieties within Rosie she’s invoking, founded or un.
And that’s as far into this story as I’ll go.
It’s always great to discover a new author, and I enjoyed reading from Unblinking, Lisa Lenzo’s second story collection. These are stories that depict the complexities of Detroit and its residents, diverse, strong people who overcome so much, but still look forward, carry on, stay in good spirits. Seems pretty consistent with the people I know from Detroit, Lenzo capturing her city rather accurately, with great intensity, dignity, and artistry.