Excerpt from Snapshots by William Norris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by William Norris

Snapshots by William Norris X
Snapshots by William Norris
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 256 pages

    Aug 2002, 304 pages


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Wine is drunk, the chatter is constant, full of old jokes, bad puns. Dinner is served. Over stuffed breads and a platter of medium-rare filets, braised new potatoes, tender asparagus shoots in lemon butter, and under the influence of a couple of bottles of excellent wine and a refilled glass of club soda, bridges form across the distances of geography and age that separate them. Sean, so far away from their day-to-days, tells them little stories of his life in London: jokes about kitchen disasters, the sauce one of the another sous-chefs made with sugar in place of salt, the restaurant owner’s clumsy daughter filling in as a disastrous waitress. When they ask about Molly, he fills them in, his face softening the way it does when he sleeps.

Patty, pride in her work evident in the quiet, sure tones of her voice, tells stories about her little patients, broken but mendable mostly. The father and Brian swap war stories of depositions and discovery motions, a bawdy joke about a judge they both know. Kate and the mother, listening to Patty talk of her children, steer some talk around to education, and the pediatrician and two teachers agree it’s surprising how little parents know of their children. Hound begs plaintively at Nora’s feet, looking for scraps, and Nora scratches her ears, telling a funny story about a customer who had a prize mare and his wife go into labor on the same afternoon. All through this eating and talking, though the memories of the bad times or things are there, close by, for all of them, they’ve agreed, without voicing it, that tonight will be a night of rosy remembering. So, they tell stories they all know. Nora, at seven, with the pussy willow buds up her nose and up the old family dog’s nose as well. Sean, at five, bursting into the house from kindergarten after seeing a movie about Martin Luther King, "Mommy, Mommy, we learned about the king of the black people in school today!" Kate’s grade school art teacher calling home and complaining that ten-year-old Kate had accused him of, and he quoted, "Ignorance of history and impressionism" in front of a roomful of fifth-graders when he called a Monet a Manet. Patty, age twelve, right after Nana died, asking the old, dogmatic, asthmatic Father Anthony to prove the existence of God or she was leaving the Church and never going back. They tell stories like these. Stories all families have, the spiritual knickknacks of a shared past, and through the telling, the family is reunited. When they are stuffed and lazy in their chairs, they all help clear and as they stack pans and load the dishwasher, Sean whispers his compliments to the chef. Because he knows his saying it matters more than anyone else saying it, because she looks more like a grandmother than a mother now, he tells her, "Great food, Ma, great food."

As they sit with coffee in the living room, Sean realizes he’s still itching to see the ocean. To see that great expanse of water leading off forever that separates him from here. He asks, "Anyone want to walk down to the beach?" The mother and father demure. Shaking her head and taking her husband's hand, the mother says, "Too cold for us." But his sisters and Brian agree. Yes, let’s go for a walk. They bundle up, wrap on scarves and pull on gloves, and they walk. Kate hand in hand with Brian, Patty and Sean just a bit behind, then Nora with Hound clipped to a leash. Sean loops his arm through Patty’s, "So, no booze?" She puts her head on his shoulder, "Yeah. Got to be too much." "That's good, then?" he asks her and she smiles to herself at the British inflection in his voice and answers, "Fingers crossed." As they cross Ocean Avenue and come up on the boardwalk, they go, without speaking, down to the sand and head for the jetty guarding the inlet. Walking out in the bitter cold, they hear snowflakes hissing into the waves. The tide is too high, the wind too strong for them to get all the way to the end under the foghorn. But they can get about halfway out, and as they turn and stare back at the land, Nora asks, "Anyone have smokes?" They’re all supposed to have quit, but Kate pulls a pack from her pocket, "I thought we might need these." Sean fishes out an old Zippo lighter from inside his jacket and manages to get one cigarette lit in the wind, then uses the cherry end to light three more. Brian declines.

Reprinted from Snapshots by William Norris permission of Riverhead. Copyright © 2001 by William Norris. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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