Excerpt from Master Class by Christina Dalcher, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Master Class

by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher X
Master Class by Christina Dalcher
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 336 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mark Anthony Ayling
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About this Book

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ONE

It's impossible to know what you would do to escape a shitty marriage and give your daughters a fair shot at success. Would you pay money? Trade the comfort of house and home? Lie, cheat, or steal? I've asked myself these questions; I suppose many mothers do. One question I haven't asked, mostly because I don't like the answer. Not a bit. I have too strong a survival instinct. Always have.

Last night, I spoke to Malcolm again after the girls had gone to bed. I tried to put a light spin on things, to not turn him from phlegmatic to angry with my words.

"I've had enough of this, Malc," I said. "Freddie's had enough of it."

He looked up from his paperwork long enough to meet my eyes. "Had enough of what?"

"Of the numbers. Of the pressure. Of all of it."

"Noted," he said and buried himself again in pages of reports and memos. I think I heard a relieved sigh when I left to go to bed.

Things haven't been good here for a long time.

I almost can't remember how it felt before we all started carrying the Q numbers around with us, like an extra and unnatural print on the tips of our fingers, a badge of honor for some, a mark of shame for others. I suppose, after more than a decade, you can get used to anything. Like cell phones. Remember not having the entire universe in your back pocket? Remember sitting on the floor, talking to your best friend about nothing, unwinding a curly cord only to watch it kink up again? Remember all that? I do and I don't. Blockbuster two-day video rentals and bookstores the size of an airplane hangar are distant memories, faded impressions of life before streaming and same-day delivery.

It's the same way with the Q numbers, although we've carried numeric strings with us in one form or another for most of our lives: our social security numbers for tax returns; our home telephone numbers in case an emergency call to Mom became necessary; our grade point averages that would fill boxes in dozens of college application forms. Men, in a clothing store, became thirty-four long or sixteen-and-a-half, thirty-three. Women became dress sizes: six, eight, fourteen. In the more upscale shops, we were our measurements. In doctors' offices, we were our height and weight, watching one number creep down while the other number crept up.

We've always been our numbers. DOB. GPA. SSN. BP (systolic and diastolic). BMI. SAT and GRE and GMAT and LSAT; 35-22-35 (Marilyn, damn her); 3 (the Babe). PINs and CSCs and expiration dates. Jenny's phone number from that old song. And, for the extreme among us, the entire sixteen-digit sequence on our Visa cards. Our ages. Our net worths. Our IQs.

I think about this in the grocery store, while I stand in one of the priority lines with close to a hundred bags and cans and boxes in my cart, enough to get my family of four through a few days. Yesterday, at Safeway, five other women glared at me from three lines over. One of them, I remembered from high school. I think she was a cheerleader. Pretty, thin, not too bright. What the hell was her name? Paulette? Paulina? Patty? Patty. That's it. She was fifth in line at the only open nonpriority checkout, holding a carton of skim milk. Patty's one item compared to my one hundred. I nearly let her cut in before me, but the cashier shrugged and shook his head in a hopeless no.

"Her card won't work in this line," the kid said. "You know."

He scanned my card, my magic card with its magic number encoded on it. Nine-point-something. It's the first digit that matters.

Patty didn't say a word. She would have, once. She, or one of the other women, would have rolled her cart over and refused to move. I saw a fistfight break out at a gas station once between a short man in a suit and that guy who worked at the hardware store down on Main. No competition there. The suit checked over Mr. Ex-High School Football once, got back into his Lexus, and drove off. When his card wouldn't work, Mr. Ex-Football punched the gas pump display until his fists were bloody and the police showed up. I don't know what his Q number was, but it sure as shit had to be below nine.

Excerpted from Master Class by Christina Dalcher. Copyright © 2020 by Christina Dalcher. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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