Excerpt from Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ursula, Under

by Ingrid Hill

Ursula, Under
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  • First Published:
    May 2004, 476 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 512 pages

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The lady at the desk has a name tag that says Eileen. She looks down at Ursula standing rolling her eyes, waving her packet of Mrs. Fields cookies, waiting for Justin. "Who do you want to win, honey?" she asks.

"Well, who's playing?" says Ursula perkily, her eyebrows lifted.

The attendant is surprised at the response. What did she expect? "The Devils and the Ducks," says Eileen.

"I like ducks," says Ursula. "I hate devils. Devils are ba-a-ad."

The attendant laughs heartily. "They're not real devils," she says.

"I don't care," Ursula says. "I like ducks."

Justin and the tool salesman and the grandfather hear none of this. There is a great deal of roaring from the onscreen crowd as well. Pucks fly, ice shivers up in fine flurries, blood flows. All is adrenaline joy.

The attendant helps Ursula open the cookies and gets her some milk from the breakfast room, checking with Justin first in pantomime. Justin nods yes, but this is after all hockey he's watching: she might have asked him anything and he'd agree.

The Devils win, three-aught. Annie comes down in the elevator, using her cane, looking for them. She and Ursula and Eileen have a good laugh at the hockey fans. "She likes ducks," Eileen says to Annie, reporting the remark. "But she doesn't like devils." Eileen crouches to Ursula's eye height and high-fives her. "Gal after my own heart," she says, slapping palms.

On their way north from Houghton this morning they have stopped in Calumet to take a couple of pictures of Ursula sitting on the lap of the oversized statue of Alexander Agassiz, Harvard naturalist, copper baron, and aristocrat, otherness incarnate and no friend to the hoi polloi. Still, his sculpted bronze robes are cool, and Ursula poses sitting on his knee as if he were a dear, loving uncle.

The plan is to have a picnic here—the glade looked inviting, and time is abundant—and to spend the rest of the day seeking out where the camp would have been. Camp Grit. Its name must surely have been a joke, Annie thinks—or maybe not? Nature has taken over again at the site of the camp, perseverant, triumphing over all humans' intents. The land had been leveled, entirely, but, the historian at the college has told Annie, the forest has reasserted itself and is as thick as if it were first growth. The cabins will be gone, even the traces of their foundations, he says, as well as all traces of the two churches that came later on, whose bells were transported inland for two other churches, both Lutheran, one Finnish, one Norwegian. Finns and Norwegians did not worship together, even if both were Lutherans.

Perhaps, Annie thinks, all traces of human habitation will be gone, but still she wants to see where her great-grandfather lived as a child. To set her feet on the earth there and know it directly. Justin is less curious about his own heritage.

Annie's father, Garrett Maki, spends most of his days and nights drunk since her mother's death, eighteen years before, while Annie was in the hospital recovering from the crash that crippled her. Garrett is on disability now, as a Vietnam veteran, but no one is certain just what his disability is. Annie suspects—no, believes—that her father was responsible for her mother's death: there had been a great deal of abuse, and Liz Maki died of a head injury the night of an outburst on Garrett's part. There were no witnesses, there were no charges. Domestic violence was not a thing people were comfortable talking about then. The eighties are as distant as the glaciers.

From Ursula, Under by Ingrid Hill. Copyright Ingrid Hill 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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