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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Sean’s flight touches down at Newark. He releases a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and joins the other passengers in applauding the safe flight, the perfect landing. The plane taxis slowly towards the gate, Sean gathers his things from under the seat, and when the seat-belt light is off, he gets his gifts from the overhead compartment, and joins the slogging procession off the plane and into the terminal. The woman stamping passports wishes him "Merry Christmas and Welcome home." With barely a wait, his suitcase comes around on the carousel and he’s waved through Customs without a second glance. Coming out into the terminal proper he is struck for a moment by the voices. He hasn’t heard this much New York and New Jersey in the air for a long while and the tones jar against an ear tuned to the cadences of Britain. Scanning the waiting faces, he spots Nora, Nora and Hound. Sees Nora’s face break into a smile, sees her wave, catches the dog’s tail whipping, caught up in Nora’s excitement. "Nora," he says, pulling her into a hug. "Merry Christmas favorite brother," she says. "Where's Eve?" "Indiana. They don’t think her father’s going to see another Christmas. She told me to send you her love. When’s Mol get in?" "The 30th." Walking to the car, Sean remembers the moment he realized about Nora, years of little things falling into place. She was just seventeen, he’d come home from culinary school for summer break, met her out at a party in the woods, and found her raving drunk, crying. A story had come out, his rage rising at the boy, a high school God that year, a three-sport letterman. A drunk boy, who'd led her away into the trees after Nora's best friend had gone off to reconcile with her ex-boyfriend. A boy who’d forced her, not reckoning on her fierce sense of self-preservation, not reckoning she’d fight back. When Sean got to the party the boy was bragging about getting some from Nora Mahoney. Sean had never hit anyone before, not a stranger, but he did some damage--the jock was drunk, and Sean had a thick tree branch that felt more natural swinging than a baseball bat ever had. And as he drove Nora round and round the small town of their childhood, fueling up on take-out coffee, just driving and letting her talk, she’d cried at one point, "I only went off with that fucker because Kath left me alone." He knew then, but little things over her college years made him certain. Her books, her careful wording, the avoidance of pronouns. He wanted her to tell him, but he didn’t pry, just hinted around the subject when he felt he could. When she called him finally, gushing across the ocean about falling in love, he decided not to give her a chance to evade this time. "What’s her name?" She told him about Eve, told him first, and when she and Eve came to visit that summer after they graduated, he’d never seen Nora more easy with herself, never seen her so complete.

The mother cooks. Places the plum cake into the preheated oven. Rolls out the dough for stuffed bread, layers the fillings, artichoke hearts and Romano, pepperoni and mozzarella, slivers of Portobello and Brie, and rolls the loaves back up. Separates an egg, coats the dough with the whites, thinking of Sean. Thinking of the pleasure he gets from the feel of food under his hands, of the nurturing impulse she’s passed to him, the impulse to nourish. She is happy, when he’s here, to turn over her kitchen to him, to watch him dice and chop and baste. To join him and Nora in a quiet glass of wine while food cooks, filling the house with the scent of meals she can only imagine creating. She taught him to cook, the basics she learned from her mother. But suddenly he zoomed past her, found his calling in the subtle flavor of leeks and the rush of garlic, and now when he visits, he teaches her. When he is back in England, and she misses him harshly, she'll dig through the recipes he left her, squinting at the cramped angles of his handwriting, remembering the little tricks and techniques gleaned from her son, and she'll produce an exquisite meal, almost as good as Sean’s, and toast him silently with a glass of wine from her husband’s cellar. Her husband. A good-natured man, quiet, they seem well matched. She supposes they are, they complement each other, her booming laugh and tendency to fret matched by his contemplation. Cooking, she is reminded of the exuberant rush of their courtship, meeting down here all those summers ago. He was a young man standing in a group of other young men, all in faded jeans slung low on their hips, tight white T-shirts, and beat-to-hell motorcycle boots. They were all trying so hard to look tough, squinting through Lucky Strike smoke, but those blue eyes surrounded by thick lashes were really something else with that black hair. His face almost looked delicate when his guard was down. She remembers thinking as they leaned on the railing and looked out at the water, he almost looks like a girl. She flirted shamelessly, teasing, as they walked along together, separated from his friends and hers by an island of her banter. Maybe she was a little mean at first, and those blue eyes twisted into confusion and then pain, and she felt as if her air was leaving her, so she put her arm around his waist and her fingers brushed the top of a Penguin paperback sticking out of his back pocket; she left her arm there, and after a moment he put his arm around her waist, and they settled into a comfortable gait as they walked along. Thirty-seven years later, she thinks, we at least still have that comfort.

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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