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

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by William Norris

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  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 256 pages
    Aug 2002, 304 pages

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Print Excerpt

Patty, second born, wakes last to the first sounds of life on her West Village block. Delivery trucks move through the streets, bringing crates of liquor and cartons of catsup to the trendy bistros and hanging-on dives still lingering on the margins, even here, in the gentrification capital of New York. She hears grates going up, cabs with squealing brakes, the street cleaners. No, there are no street cleaners today, alternate side rules have been suspended for the holiday, but the man at the corner newsstand hawks the News and the Post, letting the Times speak for itself, and the Salvation Army Santa is already out ringing his bell.

Nora sits in her truck, letting it warm up, pops a Country Gentleman tape into the deck, and thrills as she always does to the way a good bluegrass band can send shivers of longing down your back just by wringing a fiddle around a banjo while the guitars hold the melody. She uses her car phone to call her service, leaves the number for a twenty-four-hour large-animal emergency clinic in case any of her regular farms need a vet while she’s away. She switches off her beeper and tosses it into the glove box, reaches across to open the passenger door and calls Hound. The dog races from the yard, zigging and zagging, nose to the air, and leaps into her place in the truck. Nora pops the clutch and rolls off down the country roads and towards Interstate 78, keeping time on the steering wheel, eager to be driving. Eager to greet her brother who comes home too little for her taste now that they’ve found themselves close through letters and transatlantic visits. She hopes they can have a night out here before he wings back, a night where he’ll cook stew, the rough peasant food he loves, but doesn’t often make because London's fine diners crave the trendy lightness of seared tuna. A night with just him and Eve and Molly, a solid dinner, and the pleasure of their company. When she’d found Eve, when they’d met near the end of college, Sean had been the first one she’d told. Called him in London, forgetting the time difference and waking him in her exuberance. He’d asked finally, cutting through her chatter, "What’s going on Nora?" Before she could weigh her response with the careful words she’d been using since going off to school, she’d blurted it out, "I think I’m in love." And though she was worried then that the discussion would go down a disastrous route, that the bond they'd formed since leaving home, the closeness they’d gained by growing up and away, would suffer, he replied exactly the right way. "What's her name?"

The mother cleans in preparation for the chaos of her children flocking to her hearth. She dusts and vacuums. Mops and shines. She lingers as she goes along the rows of photographs chronicling the passage of what she sees now is her life. Her and the father before the children, carefree on the deck of some sailboat. Drinks in hand, cigarettes held casually before they were truly bad for you. She does not really remember these people. This woman. Her. So thin, hair long and bleached blonde, a face untouched by wrinkles save for deep smile lines around the eyes. And that man she’s leaning against, a handsome rake, something almost dangerous in the Black Irish blue eyes and thick, ebony hair. Where is the hint of the round potbelly that comes later, his silences? And these children? The class portraits with gap teeth, bangs and freckles. Group shots from vacations. A shot of all four kids on the end of the jetty, Kate and Sean looking seaward, Nora and Patty crouched over a tide pool. Good moments, these photos. But where, she wonders, is Kate’s trouble, or the wandering impulse that’s taken Sean, her boy, halfway around the world? Where is the hint that Nora would grow into someone whose life could change her mother’s whole value system, where are the clues that Patty would cut them out, exile them to the margins of her life?

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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