2014 – December 31 – A Road Through the Desert

Woman kissing ice sculpture

She can kiss my ice.

On the 31st, we’re reading “A Road Through the Desert” by h.l. nelson.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]The Tepper twist:  “Joan, dear, something tells me you’ll be just fine.”[/cryout-pullquote]

Dear Diary,

Right now, I’m in a car, hurtling through a hot desert. Temple sometimes smiles at me like she’s the Louise to my Thelma. But we’re not alone.

We’ve been driving this way for what seems like forever. But I know that can’t be so. I remember Anne’s party as if we were still there. The Christmas tree aflame, the ice sculpture melting in the blaze, and bodies writhing everywhere.

But let me rewind a bit so I can tell the story.

Souvenir book cover

Manicures and Vicodin in Palm Valley.

Reading Manicures and Vicodin in Palm Valley is like driving too fast on a city street. At first flush it’s all fun and outrunning the cops, then you hit a pothole and find yourself jolted by its depth. It’s a series that entertains and surprises in roughly equal measure, and it has the unenviable task of finishing off this epic 2014 project. That’s enough to make any writer flinch. But not h.l. nelson. She’s up to the task in spades.

The story so far: Recent transplant Joan Colderman doesn’t fit in with the other Palm Valley moms, especially Ice Queen Anne, who rules over their proceedings with rigid formality. Unwilling to put up with the status quo, and anxious to divert her attention from problems with her home life, she sets out to sabotage Anne’s authority. As she gets to know the other moms better, she realizes that they, too, have their issues. What began as a lark, becomes a group project to help each other overcome their problems. Only that’s not as simple as it sounds, right? Last month we learned that there are costs, false steps, backslides, etc. Ultimately, however, Joan is an indomitable force. She presses through it all, holding their rag-tag band together in a tried and true manner. By keeping them focused on a common enemy: Anne. To be specific, ruining Anne’s perfect Christmas party.

To take my mind off Brandon and the kids, Robin, Julie, and I helped Anne every week in November and December until the party. We were good little helpers to Anne’s face, but took every opportunity we could to undermine Winter Wondersnatch. Without alcohol, Robin was even funnier, giving the caterer and designer the incorrect address, moving the specially -placed poinsettias and topiaries of mistletoe to the wrong places, then we’d watch Anne blow her top. I even hid her $ 400 cold cream . It has roe in it, for god’s sake.

The bulk of this final installment recounts the details of said party, Anne’s horrified expression as some of Joan’s “street” friends arrive in provocative attire, her anger as guests begin vomiting all over the place (the punch was more than spiked). It’s all rollicking good fun until we hit one of those darned potholes.

For the tiniest moment, I felt bad for the spiked punch and for Anne, with her rich, but empty life. I saw Temple across the pool, standing tall and majestic near the chocolate mountain, her eyes closed and lips moving . I turned my attention back to Anne, and in that moment, I think I really saw her. Watching her scared face, in a flash of insight, I realized how very much Anne and I had in common. I didn’t want to unveil the sculpture anymore. I knew then that Anne was already suffering , that I was suffering, and I no longer wanted to contribute to our shared pain.

Of course the statue is revealed in that moment.

There stood, at seven feet tall , an incredible likeness of Anne, completely naked and looking back over her shoulder, a perfectly pink-colored circle of ice around her cold bleached anus.

What ensues from there is not the easy slapstick of a Jackie Chan movie, but a process of emotional transformation.

I had become the epitome of everything I’d always hated. I wasn’t mad at Anne. I realized all of this while she was beating my face and chest with her fists. My blood spattered her silk dress and faux fur jacket and I started laughing. It was so ludicrous, all of it.

Anne stopped hitting me and I sat up. We both breathed in ragged gasps. The freezing air gave me clarity. I looked to her and, smiling, leaned over and gave her a big hug. She softened against me and hugged me in return. Then we both started laughing hysterically. Flat -out, no holds barred, belly-grabbing laughter. In the midst of it , she stopped and threw up all over her gown.

And there it is: Epiphany,  the dissolution of “they” into “we”. The story moves on from there to offer a rather profound resolution of the series, and in a sense the entire 2014 project.

The road will stretch ahead, always, stretching us out beyond ourselves, and circling us back. That is not what is in question. What is in question is if we can make it through the heat and sand, tired and lost, until we find our way home.

I don’t like to give spoilers like that, but sometimes a guy has to do what a guy has to do. This has been an amazing journey, this massive 2014 project, and I am honored to have been a part of it.  I hope my mini-reviews have tempted you into buying one or more of these books. If you have read them, or do read them, please remember to drop a rating (and review if you can) at Lulu.com, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. And don’t forget to tell your friends. Heck, tell your enemies. Maybe they’ll become friends too.


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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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