2014 – October 31 – October is Cold

Three polar bears sprawled on the ice


On the 31st, we’re reading “October is Cold” by h.l. nelson.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]The Tepper twist:  “Hogtie that girl to the bed!”[/cryout-pullquote]

Dear Diary, It’s Halloween , but no one is dressed up at my house. In fact, I’m the only one here. I already ate all the candy, so I had to turn some poor kids away, and flip the porch light off. I’m pretty depressed, actually.  A lot of shit has happened with Brandon and me. But let me tell you about Julie and Robin, first. I’ll just break down and won’t finish this entry if I write about Brandon first.

I’ve been impressed with this series, which has the difficult task of drawing a story arc together over only seven installments. The longer gaps between installments calls for a different approach, and the diary format works well, especially given this character’s bold voice and colorful observations of the people around her. Last month I wrote: “… we’re left with a very intimate, very human, inspection of Joan-the-rebel, Joan-the-queen-bee, Joan-the-malcontent.” And that was certainly true, but this month puts August to shame. Joan’s aspiration to shake things up has crumbled. She’s recognized the collateral damage of her earlier rabble-rousing, and is paying an emotional price.

So, right after Gingerhead, but before I told Brandon about him (yes, I turned myself in), the ladies and I decided to focus on our lives, what we’re unhappy with, instead of just wreaking a bunch of havoc. We decided to give ourselves ‘assignments’. The havoc was fun, mind you, but not what we ultimately wanted for ourselves . We looked at our respective issues and devised plans together to help ourselves and each other.

This is deftly done, catching us up with plot events in the space of a sentence, while setting the stage for the remainder of this month. Rather than blowing up their problems, the ladies have begun to act toward solutions.

For Robin, we just raided her house, got rid of all the liquor, and she stayed over at mine and Julie’s houses, alternately. Before, I would have been worried when she was at Julie’s, since Julie is historically such a pushover , but she has really started to come into her own these last few months. She told Robin that if Robin left her house to go get drunk, she would tie her to her bed. Robin said she was so shocked and proud of Julie, that that kept her from leaving Julie’s house .

The language of this entry matches the writer’s mood very well. Gone, are the pile-driving phrases and colorful comparisons. In their place a sedate cataloging of relevant developments. It’s very diary-esque.

The deal with Julie went down like this: She took everything in all of her cabinets and put them on countertops in the house. She threw some away for the hell of it, then rearranged her furniture the way she’d always wanted it. She also moved everything in Tim’s office around. Ok, so when he got home, he became enraged . Like, crazy enraged.

So enraged that he hits her and manhandles her until her arm breaks.

He thought Julie was so kowtowed that she would just do as he said, so he went to their bedroom. Well, she called the police, then ran to my house.

And then we learn of Joan’s own fragile “victory” in which she confessed her dalliance with Gingerhead to her husband.

He was really angry, said he was going to move out and take the kids. I begged him not to. I lay on the bathroom floor sobbing for most of the day. It was the worst day of my life.

An outside observer might conclude that these are positive developments. Joan had convinced them to break their group stasis in a splashy, fun way, and that seemed to be working. Only those superficial approaches never do work, really. Until the core issue is faced head-on there’s little hope of change. The author wisely reminds us throughout this chapter that change is not easy. There’s a huge emotional cost, with the narrator’s being most acutely depicted (this IS her diary).

And then, stuff happens to put even more pressure on Joan. It’s a smart ending that twists the story back upon itself while also presenting an opportunity for Joan to finally, actually confront a core problem head on in December. I’m expecting an explosive breakthrough, and I bet it will be fun to read and emotionally uplifting. No guarantees. I’ve been wrong before. Which is why we read the story, right? Meet me in December, willya?


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About Stephen

I live in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with fellow writer, Susan Urbanek Linville, and a herd of reformed feral cats.

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