Terri Brown-Davidson's Marie, Marie, Hold On Tight* (Lit Pot Press, Inc., September, 2004)

reviewed by Anna Sidak

Terri Brown-Davidson’s haunting first novel Marie, Marie, Hold On Tight, dark as a Grecian tragedy, illuminates the twisted relationships of the beautiful, but unstable, Jennifer Prescott and her daughters, Marie and Alyssa.

When Dan, Jennifer’s lowlife poster-boy of a lover, returns after a six-year absence and takes over, teen-aged Marie, the gifted, but alienated, anguished — and inescapably unreliable — narrator must face the disarray and grief of her childhood; and confront her own crime as well as the inexplicable crimes of her wayward mother; a mother often indifferent and careless of her daughters, yet magical:

But then, we all loved the globe. Worshipped the globe, as well as Momma's animation that resulted from her playing with it. She'd spin it with one elegant nail, slam the finger down on a continent before it slowed. We'd squeal, excited as she was when it paused, though we knew that most times Momma cheated, tried to make it stop on Africa.

The writing is tight -- evocative, compelling -- it's difficult to select a sentence to convey the effect. Perhaps the following paragraph wherein Marie, convinced she is herself ugly (despite signs the blight is ending), knows her mother is beautiful, a view reinforced by the reactions of strangers:

We glide through double doors, Momma preceding me, and eyes — many eyes — move toward her emerald-suited splendor; just loud enough for me to detect, a man murmurs to his wife, "My God: what hair," and I sense Momma grinning beside me, pleased beyond reason as she tosses snack after snack into the shopping cart—

Haven't you known women like Jennifer, women who shop as greedily as they devour attention? But Jennifer is inscrutible, complex; and like the best of mothers tries to prepare Marie for life by taking her along not only to the market but to more than one workplace:

. . . at the Kawasaki factory . . . hunched over a table littered with bolts, screws, her shoulders bent into an "S" as she worked along the conveyer-belt, her fingers spasming, sweating as she struggled to keep up . . . the other women older, fatter, coarse, their faces lined with grime, their gray hair tucked into spiderweb nets, their faces forced blossomings of moles, sun-toughened skin: they hated my mother because she was young — because she was beautiful — . . . shoes tapped out the rhythms of "Hound Dog" as they sang and joked and laughed, their fat fingers never missing a screw; and when Mother sagged over the conveyer belt, her knees buckling, the teasing increased, the vitriol sharpened, shouts of "Prescott, Prescott, where're your balls?" filled the long gray room, and still the belt rolled over, rolled on as Momma quietly fainted and two tough, muscular women stepped in hastily, pulled her away from the line.

Marie reasons her mother's gallant efforts to stay afloat are a way of apologizing — although for what is going on at home there can be no apology — of demonstrating she can do no better and the unspoken hope Marie will have a better life than her own or that of Alyssa, of whom neither can bear to think. Jennifer's job at the abattoir is clearly the end of the line as far as financial independence goes.

The meat-packing plant is huge and square and gray, like an enormous box that leaks sweat, water trickling down its outer walls. There are some windows set into the box, but they show only an inner darkness, shadowy shapes, people moving within, so quiet they might, themselves, be a dream. Steam rises from several pipes that push up like thick fingers from the roof of the plant. Grabbing Momma’s hand as we approach, I feel a weird excitement though Momma doesn’t look pleased.

And Marie will have a better life, if she can get past the horrific scene six years ago when Dan left. If she can come to terms with her mother’s subsequent actions. If she can stay with Dell, the young poet who is her soul mate, and whose love may help her escape the past to become the artist she is meant to be.

*the title is from T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland

Anna Sidak's

. . . short stories have appeared in various on-line and print journals. She is IPR's editor.