Copyright © 2014 by Leah Hager Cohen
I have been too fond of stories. Fred and me both. If I were called before a judge, that’s the first thing I’d confess: how quick I have been to embrace them, stories, with their deplorable tidiness. Like a bakery box done up too tightly, bound with red-and-white string.
The second thing I’d confess: how I am responsible for Fred’s fondness, how consequently he would have to be called blameless.
Oh Fred. Oh Freddy.
I could, would, gladly elaborate. In however much detail would help. I’d describe where it began, on the gray f lowered couch where we often sat, half sunk in its cushions, a couch I haven’t seen in over a decade, yet whose texture I recall with precision: the way it was coolish on our bare skin, glossy where the fabric was going threadbare and furred on the armrests where it had already frayed. I would testify to this, the fertile bed in which our fondness took root.
But look. Already—I throw up my hands. This is no more than a story itself, the one that goes Ava is guilty, Fred innocent. How eagerly the words spring into shape, winding themselves around a rigid latticework of meaning like the curling tendrils of some plant—like, in fact, the skeletal branches of ivy that crisscross the window here in this room that is not my room, but which belongs to a Mrs. Tremblay, who is not happy about renting it to me.
The fine-boned ivy, whose intricate fretwork clings to the screen, is at this moment holding tight against a lashing wind and pelting rain as if in helpful illustration of my very point, which is to say my problem: the easy danger of stories, their adhesive allure. The way, once a story takes hold, it begins to choke off the view.
I can hear Mrs. Tremblay downstairs now, moving about in her kitchen. Each sound she makes, innocuous though it really may be— the faucet turned on, then off, the creak of a cupboard, the clank of a metal pot—seems to reprove. When she rented me the room yesterday she was pleasant enough, but earlier this morning when I went down for the breakfast that is included in the price of the room her manner was cooler. I can only imagine she must have become more informed in the interim about who I am.
Fred and I have different surnames. He is still a Robbins but I am a Manseau, having taken Dennis’s name when we married. Why ever, and with what little consideration, did I shed my own? At the time I felt only impatience to don the costume of a married woman. Ava Manseau. Like playing dress-ups, I thought, although at twenty-five I was no child and should have been more deliberating, less hasty about the decision. But with its echo of trousseau, the very name seemed to waft and billow like the creamy organza of the imaginary gown I conjured and altered a dozen times during the weeks leading up to the wedding, at which I actually wore a sleeveless white shift from a consignment store. Too, there was the notion I’d be doing something that would please my husband-to-be. I was so eager, so impatient, to prove my willingness to conform. Later I allowed myself to realize—admit—that I had ascribed
“[A] perceptive, empathetic, and often emotionally gripping new novel…[Cohen] is capable of writing prose that both convinces and sings.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Cohen demonstrates a masterful talent.” —People (4 stars)
"Piercing."—The New Yorker
“Cohen writes beautifully. Each word seems carefully chosen to paint this unsettling picture of a family with which many readers will identify.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Gripping.”—San Francisco Chronicle