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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The father bustles, pours drinks, asks Brian about his job. Walks with him into the living room where they talk, closely, in the language they share, the language of corporate law. The father likes this young man, likes that he is serious about his work. And when Brian asks him, as he always makes it a point to ask, his opinion on some case or point of law, the father leans back in his chair, sips his drink and gesturing with his hands the way he once did around conference tables and occasionally courtrooms, he reaches into the depths of his knowledge and tells Brian things Brian already knows. And though on some level the father knows Brian is being polite with his queries, lingering on the law, the sane, orderly law that follows the same rules and procedures year after year, relieves the father and makes him comfortable in his own home, where he sometimes feels misplaced. As he sits with his son-in-law, the father thinks, Kate is lucky to have found him, something solid to hook on to.

The New Jersey Transit train pulls into Bradley Beach, Patty gathers her things, steps onto the platform. She’s startled by the snow. Dry, light snow, gusting in heavy swirls through the air, not sticking, not yet, to coarse winter grass or road. As she walks down Main Street, crosses the bridge into the town of her destination, makes a right and then a left, the big front porch of the old beach house comes into view, and she thinks, A God-damned white Christmas.

Nora wheels her truck onto Fourth Avenue, the windshield wipers brushing away the lightly falling snow. Hound, picking up on the slower speeds, the more frequent turns, or just the feelings of the two humans bracketing her in the truck, barks once, and thump, thump goes her tail against the seat. After the dreary first leg of the trip from the airport, the swamp gas stench of the refineries along the Turnpike, the raft of cars rushing by at eighty, ninety miles an hour, the desolate industrial waste of northeast New Jersey, Sean is heartened by the quiet, the slight whiff of salt coming into the truck over the toasted air seeping from the heater vents. He wants to ask Nora to keep driving for a moment, to cruise past the house and down to the beach so that he can glimpse the ocean, so that he can feel, as he didn’t feel at the airport, that he is home. But, there is Patty trudging up the steps to the porch. He rolls down his window, yells, "Patricia Elizabeth!" Nora toots the horn. Patty puts down her bundle, waves, waits for Nora to jiggle the truck into a spot on the street, for Sean and Nora and Hound to spill out of its doors. Waits for the hugs. "Favorite brother," she says, "Baby sister. Merry Christmas."

The mother feels that tinge somewhere in the back of her head or corner of her heart that alerts her to her children, pulls back the curtains by the door, and sees them, her three youngest children, grown, her children, adults, her children. They come to the door, chatting, laughing, and she flings it open, pulls them to her, all three at once, then one at time. Wishes Merry Christmases. She gives Sean a long look, scanning up and down. Is he too thin? Whispers as she embraces him, "Welcome home." Asks Nora, "Where's Evelyn?" "She had to go home." The father is there suddenly, and though he’s eager to see them all, glad to have all four children safe under his roof, he can not quite quelch his relief at finding Nora alone.

So, they are arrived, the family gathered around the hearth. The father takes drink orders. "Red wine?" Sean asks, knowing the bottles have been opened for hours. "I'll take white," Nora chimes in. "Club soda?" asks Patty. The father, pouring out Nora’s glass of wine, stops and turns. Nora tries to catch Sean’s eye, but he’s staring at Patty. Kate, coming in from the living room, says what’s on the tips of all their tongues, "What? You know that’s zero proof, right?" "I’ve stopped drinking," Patty says. The mother, thinking, Now is not the time, comes over, steers Patty to the kitchen, saying, "Club soda coming up."

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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