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FPP#19: Three Fingers

From a book to be published in August by The Free Press:

First things first. You have to meet my mother. You have to meet the Mummy in the morning, sitting with her old tree root legs, stunted and worn, dangling off the edge of the king-size bed she shares with my father. In front of her is a purple walker, reminiscent of a racing bicycle with four wheels, its wire basket stuffed with socks, notebooks, a Kleenex or two. She looks up at the clock that sings a different bird song every hour on the hour and announces to my father, who is reading in a chair, "Monty, it is eight forty-five." She holds up three fingers to indicate the number of ounces of gin she wants in her drink. My father leaves the room, and I study my mother's face, the folds in her skin collapsed around bones and things she cannot express. I pat her shoulder and follow my father into the other room to watch him make my mother a drink.

Reason number sixty-four why reading is better than real life: In real life, when a stranger pulls you aside and demands that you meet her mother, you can't get away fast enough. But in a book... Incredibly, by the end of this first paragraph, I'm glad to have made the introduction.

The purple walker: a helpful detail, useful grounding. I'm starting to see the woman on the edge of the bed. More to the point, I'm beginning to understand her condition. Particularly effective is the inventory of items in that wire basket. (Though I don't get the racing bicycle analogy. My grandmother used a walker before surgeons took half a leg and put her in a wheelchair; that folding metal contraption resembled nothing evocative of speed or movement so much as a flimsy scaffold around her failing body.)

The clock that sings a different bird song every hour: love it. Where do I get one?

"Monty, it is eight forty-five" and three fingers to indicate her serving — of gin: Fantastic! Come on, what else would three fingers signal at eight forty-five in the morning? Three syllables? ("Monty, how about a game of charades?") Grapefruit wedges? Or maybe Mummy is a big baseball fan; maybe she wants Monty to throw his slider.

No, no, no. Mummy's 8:45 a.m. refreshment is a bone-dry martini, and so ingrained is the routine among husband and daughter that it goes without saying. Nothing actually happens in the first paragraph, except that a few carefully chosen details open the door on a peculiar, oddly gripping, family scene. That's plenty for me.

Enough for you? No?! Pain in the arse, finicky readers. Explain yourself!

[Turn back to last time's First Paragraph Preview, or skip straight to its author and title.]

Update: Find the author and title.

÷ ÷ ÷

Dave interviews authors for Powell's. He created our Out of the Book film series. He likes cats and dogs.


Books mentioned in this post

  1. Calling Out Used Hardcover $6.95
  2. The Things between Us: A Memoir
    Used Hardcover $4.50


Dave is the author of Out of the Book, Volume 3: State by State

3 Responses to "FPP#19: Three Fingers"

  1.  
    KyleRanger June 29th, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    You didn't say whether the book is fiction or non. Why does it matter? It just does. And I have no idea from reading that paragraph.

    I want one of those clocks, too, but only if I can decide which birds sing at each hour. i don't need crows squawking at 3 am. Red-winged blackbirds just after breakfast though -- sure, count me in.

  2.  
    dot dot dot June 30th, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    I used to sell those clocks. Believe me...you don't actually want one chirping manically throughout your waking hours. Luckily, they did come equipped with light sensors, so they wouldn't necessarily wake you from slumber with the plaintive cry of the peacock...but still.

  3.  
    Flyer July 1st, 2006 at 9:46 pm

    Or volume controls. (On the bird clocks.) Better: Maybe a newfangled bird clock could store hundreds, if not thousands, of bird calls on a computer chip, and you'd hear a different song each day. Sell the clock with a day-by-day calendar so you can learn about each bird that you hear chirping.

    I doubt very much that the bird clock plays a major role in this book, but after thinking about it now for a couple days (I first read the post on Thursday, and then returned tonight to find other people commenting about it) I'd be somewhat disappointed if the clock turns out to be just furniture and the author never mentions it again. Odd what details you latch onto.

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