Excerpt from The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Electric Woman

A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

by Tessa Fontaine

The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine X
The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Print Excerpt


His voice was steady this entire conversation—the shock of it, maybe. The up-all-night-at-the-hospital of it.

The gulls were not facing the window. That would be too obvious. An omen.

Outside, there were bay trees and beyond that the dried-out October hills and far beyond that, twelve miles at least, the Pacific, which is where those birds must have come from originally. And if that was true, if they'd left the salt and spray, taken wing from the smooth sand, found wind to ride and flapped and let their feathers carry them here, then were they here for her? Did they know? Did they come to guide her back to the ocean?

* * *

The water is clear and the sand is warm and every morning, before going to work at the travel agency, she slices into an orange-pink papaya. She eats half for breakfast, spooning out the flesh in big hunks, wiping her chin with the back of her hand, because there is almost too much juice, too much perfume, because it spills over no matter how careful she is.

But she is not going to work.

She's nineteen and about to climb onto a surfer's shoulders out in the turquoise waters of a Hawaiian beach. Her name is Teresa.

There's a crowd gathering on the sand. She steps into the ocean beside the surfer, paying no attention to the small sharp shells beneath her feet.

Out into the water then, deeper, until it is time to paddle.

They climb onto the board belly-first, she below, the surfer on top of her, two sets of arms paddling in tandem. They must move with one another like oars along a canoe. Over the break, farther out to the point where the waves begin swelling enough to catch.

They are so far out, and then a little farther, and a little farther still. They turn their board toward the shore. She can feel her heart hammering against the wood. Waves pass beneath them, lifting the back and then the front in a gentle roll.

Mornings when they practice, gulls swoop nearby, small clear fish move in clouds. The pincushion sea stars wink and wave.

A big swell nears. Teresa looks over her shoulder a few times, checking to see how quickly the wave approaches, how it is rising. The audience holds their hands above their eyes to block the glare. They are ready to be amazed.

The wave catches hold of the board with a little tug and they begin to fly. She presses herself up, stands quickly, and the surfer behind her does as well. He grips her by the waist.

She springs up and he lifts her, one fluid motion, her body rising from the board and into the air, her feet at his knees and then she's nearly to the sky, touching the sun, her head and shoulders bent back as he lifts her waist above his head and then plants her on his shoulders. Her legs bent around his chest, she lifts her arms in the air, sitting high above the water.

She smiles and waves for the audience. They cannot hear the blood roiling in her temples, the nerves, they cannot feel her hammering heart. She performs fearlessness. The board is unsteady atop the water and the surfer's legs shake with the effort of balance and she quivers as she flexes her muscles to stay upright, she must stay upright, and still, she keeps one arm up, up, up toward the sky, that kind of queen, pointing at the sun, that high.

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Excerpted from The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine. Copyright © 2018 by Tessa Fontaine. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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