The Melting Season by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
From the Fall 2012 VPL Book Sale.
Read in October/November 2013.
Another book sale find. I picked this one up because I recognized Jami Attenberg’s name from the lit blogosphere. Her third novel, The Middlesteins, was released last year. The Melting Season (2010) was her second.
The premise: Catherine “Moonie” Madison leaves her husband, Thomas, takes a bunch of money from their joint account, and drives to Vegas. The question, of course, is why.
Catherine and Thomas were high school sweethearts and married right after graduation. Moonie was the nickname he gave her when they first started dating. She was his moon and he was her stars. 😛 Now everyone calls Catherine “Moonie” but apparently no one calls Thomas “Starrie.” Too bad!
Catherine lives in Nebraska and has never left her hometown aside from her honeymoon which was cut short (they didn’t even make it 24 hours) due to Thomas’s ego. The honeymoon trip was a gift; if it had been up to her, they would have honeymooned at home. Exciting.
(I actually knew people like this in the town where I went to high school. Well, most of them had been to the slightly bigger town about a half-hour away but nowhere other than that. It blew my mind when I found this out. Sometimes I wonder if they’re still there, still having gone nowhere.)
After Catherine and Thomas get married, they first live in an apartment over the diner run by her friend Timber. Then Thomas’s dad dies, leaving him everything. So, newly rich, they move out to the family farm. Thomas hires people to work the farm, and sets about building a new house. But he’s not happy because he has an… issue. Think late-night infomercials.
Catherine’s a bit obsessed with an actress called Rio DiCarlo who’s had a lot of plastic surgery. Rio is the spokesperson for a surgical center, and after seeing the ad on TV, Thomas decides elective surgery will solve his problem. Catherine doesn’t want him to do it, but he goes ahead. Afterward, their marriage implodes—their problems due as much to Catherine’s internal issues as Thomas’s external one—and Catherine moves back into the apartment over the diner. She sinks into a depression, but then receives some news that spurs her to take the money and run.
She doesn’t have a plan, but ends up in Vegas. As you do. The only room available when she goes to check in is a spendy suite but, well, she has a suitcase full of cash, so she takes it. In the casino, she meets Valka, and they hit it off. Valka’s in her thirties, recovering from cancer and her boyfriend dumping her. Like Thomas and Rio DiCarlo, Valka’s had plastic surgery.
Catherine (who’s about 24, according to my calculations) views Valka as practically elderly. This is consistent with her character, but lol. I kept waiting for Valka (or someone else invited up to the suite—there was a party) to run off with the Suitcase of Cash, but no. The money is a MacGuffin.
The bulk of the book consists of long flashbacks as Catherine tells Valka her story: all about Thomas, her parents, her little sister Jenny (who’s pregnant), and Timber from the diner.
Catherine’s dialogue is weird. She doesn’t use contractions. The other characters do, sometimes, so it seems like this is a deliberate choice for her character, but does anyone really talk like that? Maybe it was supposed to illustrate her depression/unfeelingness? She speaks like a robot because she feels like a robot (i.e. not at all)?
The story promises a big reveal, and there is one, but it feels a bit anti-climactic. Not that the thing revealed isn’t a thing, but there was maybe too much build-up, so you’re expecting something more—or something else. I can’t help thinking the way the story is structured fights against its impact.
In The Melting Season, the characters are all obsessed with physical appearances, with changing or maintaining their external characteristics. Their real problems are, of course, things you can’t see.