- Posted August 31, 2013 by
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The written word: Your personal essays
Fullbright Triumphs with The Angry Woman Suite
The Angry Woman Suite, Lee Fullbright, Telemachus Press, March 2012, 366 Pages
The Angry Woman Suite is the story of a small American town, the intricately interwoven lives of the Grayson’s, the Waterston’s and Aiden Marsden (a teacher) and at a distance the combined family of Wilheim Lange and the Bowden’s.
In the background the Second World War and the Big Band era. The novel is a very powerful study in evil, the choices the characters make and the mystery of American culture.
Reading The Angry Woman Suite is like being caught in the heat of a Summer afternoon in the South with mint julep drinks, inside the powerful intrigues of a small American town. The story takes place in the 1900’s, particularly in the 1930’s and ‘40’s with World War II and the big band era in the background and unfolding through generations into the 1960’s. It is well written, each sentence in cadence and easily draws the reader in. An entangled story of people and families, the novel unfolds through the first person voice of 3 people Elyse, her step-father Francis Grayson and a friend of the Grayson family who is a teacher, Aiden. The story begins from the point of view of the children (Elyse and Francis as children) and it is enchanting to see their motivations, their view of the adults as if they are born into a great mystery and how they grow to understand, a coming of age story.
Elyse’s Papa, her mother’s father-in-law is somewhat conscious, he tells the child the world is a place of games, people are playing games, there are winners and losers and how to discern the “game”. This Papa plasters everything ceilings, walls, and bare spaces with large yellow cabbage roses and besides the children I found him the most likable character. Francis, the son of Magdalene and a child of the Grayson household is raised by his grandmother, his mother and her sisters who take out their angst at love lost on the child, he wishes he could fix them and then he would live. Born into Biloxi Blues, he is physically abused by one of his aunts, he finds respite in music and becomes a famous Big Band musician (who also physically abuses his step-daughter Elyse). Aiden, the school teacher and friend of the family first helps raise Magdalene and her sisters and then Jamie, Earl and Francis, particularly helping Francis put the pieces of his life together and helps Elyse.
The plots and characters have many twists and turns, it is also a story of lost innocence, a story of unconscious violence, as evil as unconscious and America the dream/the nightmare. In the background is the idea of war, 2 World Wars, Vietnam and the Revolutionary War; a scuffle with the British, the Battle of Brandywine that the town lost; the history lives in the Museum curated by Aiden. It is a painful recounting, the physical abuse of the 2 main characters as children and the deaths of Mathew Waterston (the artist) and his wife, Earl, Bean, the suicide of Lear Grayson (Francis’ grandfather), the insanity of Lothian (Francis’ aunt), and Stella (Francis’ aunt), the disease of Huntington’s that strikes Jamie.
The story is full of intrigue and the brokenness of life, betrayal in love, the violence this manifests, as if the world never quite possesses itself. “Stories, history – both are about power. Who gets it who gets to keep it, who loses it.” And the novel rings with truisms and mystery in psychological drama that is often unsettling as the characters veer away from their woundedness to either create more woundedness or more rarely healing. “Which is why I think we so often play hide and seek with the truth, don’t you think? Choosing to build and believe in our own castles in the sky instead – I mean, it’s a whole lot less painful than getting hurt by people who love you and you love back.”
It is reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, the small town in America, the story of the 2 families, the Hamilton’s and the Trask’s – how Adam raises his sons Caleb and Aron, the hidden dialectic of evil and how Steinbeck draws the line with the words “thou mayest” as if evil is a choice, when grounded in cultural and spiritual tenets, evil or redemption is a choice. The Angry Woman Suite never quite draws this line but instead revers the life of the artist in music, painting and writing – art as redemption. Disturbing and brilliant, a fascinating read.