Archive for August, 2007

13
Aug
07

DARKNESS AND DRY CLEANING

I have to confess that until a few months ago I had never even heard of Vicki Hendricks. Then, around the appearance of her latest novel (Cruel Poetry) I began to run across references to her work from people I respect, in blogs and book reviews. She sounded like someone I would enjoy reading.

So at the end of May I picked up her first novel, Miami Purity, in the wonderful Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore in Ann Arbor. Carried the book around for while, then finally sat down and read it.

Oh man. Oh holy flying fuck. This book is good.

Miami Purity is narrated by Sherri Parlay, a sometime exotic dancer in Miami who has just gotten out of jail after clocking her boyfriend in the head with a boombox and killing him. Not that she meant to kill him, she was just pissed off after he got drunk and blackened her eye for her.

Sherri is looking to straighten up her life a little, so she takes a job in Miami Purity, a dry cleaning establishment a few blocks from the bar she used to dance at. Sherri is determined to do it right, show up on time, do the work, and turn her life around.

It doesn’t quite work out the way she’d hoped.

Impulse control and Sherri Parlay have never gotten together. She is just a cat toy for her desires, which she manages the way you manage an earthquake or a bad car accident: hold on and pray.

The chilling and beautiful thing about Sherri Parlay is that she is not just lost, but so lost that being lost is the essential ground of her being. She knows this. And because she knows this, she knows that all her attempts to change her life are futile and doomed. She makes them anyway, and this is her admirable courage. It breaks your heart.

Because she never has a chance. Since she was twelve years old Sherri has been abused physically, psychologically and emotionally by a series of men, starting with her father, and this has left her a helpless doll in a whirling vortex of emotion, murder, and sexuality. Hendricks lifts the lid and lets you get a good look at Sherri but never preaches, apologizes, excuses or explains. This is who Sherri is; these are the cards she’s been dealt.

The ending feels the way I imagine the sidewalk feels when you kiss it after falling a few stories.

A book this good affects me as a writer. I could never be this good. But after despair comes acceptance: I can do something, after all. Reading Miami Purity I swear to myself that next time I will try harder, dig deeper, and write a better book.

Get this book. Read it.

I’m going to pick up Cruel Poetry today.

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