Going Away Shoes [NOOK Book]

Overview

The foibles of the people in Jill McCorkle’s world are so familiar that we want nothing so much as to watch them walk into—and then get out of—life’s inevitable traps. Here, in her first collection in eight years, McCorkle collects eleven brand-new stories bristling with her characteristic combination of wit and weight.

In honeymoon shoes, mud-covered hunting boots, or glass slippers, all of the women in these stories march to a place of new ...
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Going Away Shoes

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Overview

The foibles of the people in Jill McCorkle’s world are so familiar that we want nothing so much as to watch them walk into—and then get out of—life’s inevitable traps. Here, in her first collection in eight years, McCorkle collects eleven brand-new stories bristling with her characteristic combination of wit and weight.

In honeymoon shoes, mud-covered hunting boots, or glass slippers, all of the women in these stories march to a place of new awareness, in one way or another, transforming their lives. They make mistakes, but they don’t waste time hiding behind them. They move on. They are strong. And they’re funny, even when they are sad.

These stories are the work of a great storyteller who knows exactly how—and why—to pair pain with laughter.
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Editorial Reviews

Maria Russo
McCorkle is an expert at engineering catharsis through good salty rants, but the best thing about these stories is the sense of romance and wonder in long-overdue journeys of self-discovery.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A lack of narrative distance and interchangeable protagonists sink McCorkle's latest short story collection. The constant barbs aimed at the siblings and the cold-hearted, overmedicated mothers of the parade of ubiquitously decent and forlorn heroines in “Another Dimension,” “Going Away Shoes” and “Happy Accidents” reveal little about either the abusers or the so-called victims. Most of McCorkle's analogies and insights into human nature come from television shows and feel one note, such as when a character in “Another Dimension” owns Manolos in order to be like Sarah Jessica Parker. Too many of the protagonists are motivated by identical feelings of self-pitying vindictiveness. There is Ann in “Another Dimension,” whose relationship has soured with her abusive and manipulative brother, Jimmy, as well as Debby in “Going Away Shoes,” who sacrificed her career to care for a dying mother and spoiled siblings. McCorkle (Creatures of Habit) does manage a few heartfelt descriptions, but the pervasive venom too soon becomes toxic. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Here is another bright, sassy, funny, and sad collection of stories from North Carolinean McCorkle, the author of three other collections as well as five novels (e.g., The Cheerleader). Like the title story, in which a woman is trapped as caretaker to her critical but now diminished mother while her married sisters just visit, these works delineate the lives of women as they seek out love and meaning, blundering through their own mistakes. Whether struggling with the reality of the men they have chosen or imagining the perfect guy, the women in these stories, whether married, divorced, or single, are real, familiar, and searching. VERDICT This collection by a contemporary master of short fiction should be considered by all fiction readers.—Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Another fine collection from short-fiction master McCorkle (Creatures of Habit, 2001, etc.), in a very dark mood indeed. The title story sets the tone, limning the constricted life of a woman who stays home with her dying mother while her selfish married sisters patronize her as they always have. Debby was the unusual one who "dated people of different colors" and wore white shoes after Labor Day; now she's trapped by her own niceness and can only dream, "Pack a bag. Pull the plug. Take your turn." Death is a frequent visitor here. The sexy, can't-pin-him-down boyfriend in "Driving to the Moon" lost his parents in a plane crash at 17 and flits in and out of the narrator's life after high school, phoning whenever there's an air disaster. The living cling to the dead in "Another Dimension," the saddest piece. After their mother dies, 11-year-old Jimmy and eight-year-old Ann sabotage their father's happiness with a kind waitress; Jimmy can't tolerate her low-class ways, and Ann goes along, even though she's drawn to the woman's warmth. In the framing narrative, we see the adult siblings unable to sustain loving relationships, while the spurned waitress is a contented grandmother. Only the ultrasarcastic "PS," a woman's post-divorce letter to the marriage counselor who didn't help, provides a welcome dose of McCorkle's tart humor, and it's extra tart here. ("I suspect being bored and having your mind wander during marriage counseling is not a good sign.") "Magic Words" is downright scary, as a woman heading toward a first-time adulterous tryst is stymied by a girl fleeing her gang's spookily angry "leader," who is terrorizing their retired math teacher. The lone tender note is struck in"Intervention," about a woman comforting her alcoholic husband because he forgave her an affair and her own drunkenness. The author's trademark gifts-vivid, economical characterizations, distinctive voices, fierce intelligence-are evident on every page. Now let's hope she cheers up a little next time.
The New York Times Book Review
“McCorkle is an expert at engineering catharsis through good salty rants, but the best thing about these stories is the sense of romance and wonder in long-overdue journeys of self-discovery.”
People Magazine
"[A] remarkable collection . . . Bold and addictive, Going Away Shoes is a find." --People
Los Angeles Times
"There are writers who seem to write it like it is--the quietness of their characters is not exaggerated, nor is their drama. They could live down the street or in the next apartment. Jayne Anne Phillips, Antonia Nelson--these are writers whose characters have no special aura, no golden ticket. Jill McCorkle's characters are like this." --Los Angeles Times
Atlanta Journal Constitution
"McCorkle's latest book gives us 11 reasons to smile . . . 11 cheerfully furious stories about women who have come to a screeching halt in their pursuit of happiness . . . The joy of reading and rereading each of these marvelous stories is to discover the truths encoded into each step of every hard-won journey--and to find ourselves along the way." --Atlanta Journal Constitution
Miami Herald
"The stories are small tributes to tenacity and spirit and choice--even when that choice is simply to keep putting one foot in front of the other." --Miami Herald
The Boston Globe
“These gems are written by a master craftswoman. Each story deserves savoring, as melancholy and humor work beautifully together in this artful collection.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The joy of reading and rereading each of these marvelous stories is to discover the truths encoded into each step of every hard-won journey—and to find ourselves along the way.”
People
“Bold and addictive, Going Away Shoes is a find.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616200282
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 256,410
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle is the author of nine previous books—four story collections and five novels—five of which have been selected as New York Times Notable Books. The recipient of the New England Book Award, the John Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Prize for Literature, she teaches writing at North Carolina State University and lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Visit her online at jillmccorkle.com.

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Table of Contents

Going Away Shoes 1

Surrender 29

Midnight Clear 51

Another Dimension 75

Happy Accidents 117

View-Master 135

PS 141

Driving to the Moon 165

Magic Words 195

Intervention 223

Me and Big Foot 249

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First Chapter

Going Away Shoes

Stories
By Jill McCorkle

ALQUINQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL

Copyright © 2009 Jill McCorkle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-632-9


Chapter One

GOING AWAY SHOES

Debby Tyler is a mythical stereotype, the oldest child who stays home to tend the sick and dying mother while her sisters marry and have prosperous lives elsewhere. They pity her, she can tell. They tell her stories of late-blooming love and how they want to send her on a cruise, something batted around every year before the holidays but has yet to materialize. "It could happen, Debby," they say. "Remember The Love Boat?"

Does she remember The Love Boat? Shit. She still watches The Love Boat on those afternoons when she needs sounds and distractions but is too tired to read. What do they think she can possibly do all day while emptying a bedpan and answering to nonsensical screams and requests and more recently just monitoring vital signs and preventing bedsores. She knows all the reruns, nature shows, game shows, and soaps. Though when all is said and done, the soaps are the best place to be - vapid and dramatic people and situations and thus familiar to what she has witnessed her whole life in this very house.

The Tyler family myth is old, overused, and unoriginal and yet very much alive, as family myths are in so many households, feeding and thriving on the pretense that everyone is happy and A-OK, that in fact they are a unique family to be so happy and A-OK. And of course there are a few characters in the family. The lineage includes an Icarus type, brilliant but doomed Uncle Ted, who crashed his Cessna, killing himself and two women he'd met at a convention called BoyToysRUs while en route to another convention called Beat Me in St. Louis. And a Persephone, rescued by her mother from the underworld, in the form of Wanda, Debby's sister, who was shacked up with Paulie Long in a drug den, and their mother got all dressed up and drove down to Smyrna to get her. Wanda then had to go to rehab, which was referred to as "Wanda's much needed vacation from the stresses of young womanhood." The experience returned her rigid and righteous and ready to save any and all who were on a different path, a choice in Debby's opinion that was just as bad and should be illegal.

Debby's other sister, Carly, would be Narcissus. She always has an eye in a mirror or window while watching herself conduct The Carly Show, which is all about Carly's face and body, what's new and changing. In fact, Carly, Wanda, and their mother all fit the Narcissus profile, whole lives jockeying for the hall mirror or those on the car visors. Even on Debby's graduation day, when she needed somebody to button that shitty white eyelet empire-waist dress she was made to wear, she could not get help because they were all involved in doing their own hair and hose and zippers as if they were the ones about to stand up as salutatorian and say the prayer. God, don't let me turn into them, she prayed in that moment, before really offering a more general prayer about healthy strong minds and those people who nurture them. She saw them there in the front row - her father dozing, mother turning to nod to those who wanted to tell her what a good job she had done with Debby, sisters looking around to see who might be looking at them and interested in asking them out.

"I still don't see why you left out the Lord," her mother said afterwards. "I had written it on your paper - 'In Jesus name I pray.' Didn't you see where I wrote that?" Her mother went on to say how her dress was buttoned crooked, how on earth did that happen. She bet the people there on the stage - the principal and vice principal and that girl she should have beaten out for the better spot - noticed it, too.

Sometimes Debby felt like Prometheus. Just when she got her liver healthy and plump again, the eagle descended to peck on it. The eagle with piercingly dramatic mascaraed eyes and talons done perfectly in Revlon's Rich Girl Red.

Dear God, next time I have a whole liver, please break the chains and let me catch a Greyhound the fuck out of here.

It's hard to watch a soap opera and not feel somewhat better about your own life - they have such huge problems and such stupid ways of expressing them. They say "I don't understand" every other line, which is a stall tactic used to carry things over to a commercial. It's like back before they had the shot clock in basketball and a team could just stand there dribbling and passing the time away. That's what she's doing there at her mother's bedside, dribbling and passing the time away.

The caretaker. She is the caretaker. They call her this with praise in their voices, usually after mentioning the phantom cruise, other times after reciting all the wonderful things they have recently accomplished, a recital that never allows them to look her in the eye. They look so little they didn't even notice she has recently highlighted her hair, that she is in great condition - better abs than either of them - thanks to Sunrise Pilates on the local channel.

And there's the real answer: they can't look and see her as a person with needs and desires the same as theirs. That would be way too difficult. There is clearly some shame, just not enough. They can rationalize that she gets to live for free because she is the one stationed in their mother's house. That's what the slave owners said, too. Good room and board. They have convinced themselves that were she not tending their mother, Debby would be all alone in some piece of crap house barely making ends meet. (She never came close to marriage, they often say.) They all know that the will provides for equal distribution of everything, including this house, and no one has ever suggested it should be otherwise. "If I have a dollar when I die," their mother has said since they were children, "then each of my girls will get thirty-three cents and we will give that final cent to the Lord."

"Wow," Debby said once, laughing, "the Lord won't know what to do with all that." She was still working full-time at the local paper then, covering social events and activities in town: engagement and retirement and silver wedding anniversary celebrations, ceremonies for Eagle Scouts and 4-H and the DAR. She was thorough without being boring; in fact people often told her they felt that they had been present at an event, she described it so well. She tried to make the most modest attempts (a church fellowship hall strewn with confetti, plates of pimento cheese - stuffed celery) seem elegantly simple, and those that were ostentatious (goody bags that equaled a week's salary for anyone earning minimum wage and floral displays trucked in from out of town) she let speak for themselves. It was a matter of selecting which facts to tell and which to leave out, obviously a tactic she had long observed and studied.

"I'll give the Lord 10 percent then, and maybe even more," her mother had said. Sometimes Debby's mother promised the Lord more when she didn't like the way Debby wrote something up. "Keep laughing at me, Debby Lynn Tyler, and the Lord will get every last goddamned cent."

Who knows where Debby would be or what she'd be doing had she not stepped in to help her mother. At the time it was no big deal; it would be a temporary bridge to a retirement village, where her mother might play cards and go on little group trips here and there, have her own little kitchenette. But almost as soon as Debby moved in, things went from bad to worse, and the place they had in mind was no longer an option. Their mother was in between a place where people are still living and thriving and one that is a kind of death row. So Debby is still here and she doesn't even know herself where she might be otherwise, and in recent years, she has stopped trying to imagine. Now she just freelances on occasion, sharing her expertise with younger reporters about how to describe a wedding without it sounding as awful as it was. "When the bride and groom read their own vows," she tells them, "don't even try to quote. And just tell the color of the bridesmaid dresses and that the bride wore white or ivory satin or silk or whatever. Simple is always best." It takes a while for them to learn, and some of them never do.

Our sister, the caretaker, bless her heart. Of course, if not for mother, she'd be all alone herself.

Caretaker sounds like Debby might be wandering some lovely rose garden, snipping away thorns and breathing in a heavy heavenly perfume. Instead she is changing Depends while trying not to humiliate this woman who gave her life just in case there is a moment of consciousness and clarity, the desire to make amends or to offer something that might resemble love. Those moments of consciousness do not come very often now and haven't for the last several weeks; the sound of the oxygen tank has taken over the house as if the very walls are expanding and contracting. If it were Debby lying there, she'd want to be unplugged. Nothing has been more horrible to watch than that woman on the news day in and day out, with her people arguing over her fate. If they'd cared at all, they'd have gotten those goddamned cameras out of the room and handled their business in a more dignified way. "Please Release Me, Let Me Go." - that was her mother's favorite song years ago, and whenever Debby thinks of it she pictures her mother at the kitchen sink, hair sprayed into a perfect little flip, apron cinched neatly around her wasp waist like all the mothers on the reruns - June Cleaver, Harriet Nelson, Margaret Anderson - only not like them at all.

Please release me, let me go.

Debby has contemplated writing a little note in what looks like her mother's handwriting saying as much: I never want to be kept alive by unnatural means. Debby could find the note in the bottom of one of her mother's purses and present it to her siblings the next time they pop in.

The purses - there are at least a hundred. Just two years ago when her mother was still mobile and before Debby moved in fulltime, she would arrive to find her mother standing in the doorway waiting. If she came by from work at five in the afternoon, or if she ran outside to check the mail during a visit, when she reached the front door, her mother would be waiting there, purse clutched and ready to go. It reminded Debby of all those stories you hear about dogs, like Roosevelt's Fala, who never stopped waiting for his master's return. Or her mother's ancient chihuahua, Peppy, who never took his cloudy eyes off of his mistress even when he couldn't move from the tiny heating pad where he spent his last days. The vets would have you believe that dogs have no sense of time, that they don't sit for a week worried and wondering what you're doing on vacation. And isn't it easier to believe that? Debby had hoped that the same was true of her mother, her tiny bird shoulders sloping down, gnarled knuckles clasping tight to a purse. Her world had gotten so small by then, reduced to a closet of shoes and purses that she changed often through the days, transferring a stick of gum and Kleenex, pen and lipstick - from leather to silk to straw and back, as she relived a lifetime of various social events.

Debby remembered the times that she rummaged her mother's purses, sometimes finding things she didn't want to see. She had often reached in during church looking for a pen to draw on the bulletin. She liked to do beards and earrings on the pictured preacher and all the deacons. Sometimes she did little speech balloons and made up secret letter/number codes in which she let them say things like, Give it to me, baby. Oh yeah, the kinds of things she had heard on occasion from her parents' room during their big parties when she and her sisters got all dressed up and served canapés and then did a version of "So Long, Farewell" so their mother could feel like some kind of Maria von Trapp mother of the year.

In church she found hotel keys and toothpicks from a martini - faint fruity liquor traces held tight inside the lining. Lighter and cigarettes - Virginia Slims and then those long thin brown ones - Mores. "I want More," her mother said often, her comic and dramatic effect demanding the spotlight, not knowing that her desire might arrive years later in the form of lung cancer and dysfunctional children. Inside the depths of those purses was a whole warehouse of information: theater stubs, grocery bills, drugstore receipts. Even now, Debby can stand in front of her mother's closet and glimpse her own life there. The soft red calfskin purse that brushed her cheek when she grabbed her mom around the waist and begged not to be left at Bible camp. The teetering patent stiletto that she focused on when her mother bent to kiss her goodnight and that she heard clicking down the hall, as she struggled to stay awake and listen to the voices of the adults gathered in the living room to play charades long into the night.

She stands before her mother's closet, this sealed treasure like Tut's tomb of shoes and purses, and all she can think of is the miles traveled. The best article she ever wrote was experimental, a travel piece all about D.C. She was hoping to pitch it as a regular thing so she could explore new places several times a year. She did all the standard tourist stops but the focus of that piece was the Holocaust Museum because she could not stop thinking about that mountain of shoes. The orphaned objects held the memory of the person, arch to instep, leather molded to contours of flesh and bone. The click of all those heels lost to time, coming home, going to work, meeting a lover on the outskirts of town.

Sad times - lost souls, everyone looking for a good one. Everyone seeking a cobbler of the heart. She put that in the article. She also wrote that one way to determine a good soul is to imagine that there is another holocaust and that you are crippled or freckled or someone who loves monster truck pulls or has a body mass index slightly higher than average, an SAT score slightly lower, whatever the undesirable trait of the day might be, and you ask, Will you hide me? Will you save me? Will you sacrifice your life to do so?

The editor told her that several readers had complained that people don't want to hear sad things or take depressing trips. "Our readers do not want questions that make them think," he said. "They just want to be entertained." He would like for her to write a piece about Disney or Six Flags or Myrtle Beach, something people can use.

Debby used to blame her own sadness on her childhood and a lifestyle in which the kids were secondary, like pets, a lifestyle in which someone else, usually an elderly sitter, helped out with homework, tucked them in. Debby often fantasized that she was a child growing up in what her mother called "the cracker box houses," a row of tiny mill houses out near the interstate. She knew the children who lived over there and knew people felt sorry for them. They wore hand-me-downs and got free school lunches. But she envied the freedom they seemed to have. Their parents were either not there or working too hard to monitor and comment on everything they did.

Her sisters had bought the happy picture that had been painted of their lives and even now pretend that it had been wonderful right up to the day their dad died and they discovered (and never mentioned again) that his coworker at the bank, a large coarse woman they had all referred to as Big-Butt Betty, was more than just a friend. He died young and with plenty of life insurance; Betty was not a gossip nor someone with a social life. These two facts allowed the family happiness myth to survive and even grow, becoming easier and brighter with each passing day.

After her purses, Debby's mother loved her mink stole. She wore it to church and to cocktail parties from November to February regardless of the temperature. Then there were her shoes, of course. There was box after box of the special dyed-to-match shoes (Debby's mother made them say "peau de soie") labeled like artifacts: Engagement Shoes 1947, Wedding Shoes 1948, Cotillion 1951, Valentine Ball 1955, and so on. She loved her little Joan & Davids with the silver heels and that cute little storage bag that came with them. She once told Debby and her sisters that she wanted to be buried in the spectator pumps she wore with her Going Away Suit after the wedding. "There's still a little rice in one," she said. "Take that out when it's time." She was young when she said that, their father still alive, and even younger those afternoons when she took out all the shoes and let the girls try them on and practice walking in heels. The one childhood game they could all agree on was Cinderella as they looked for the perfect fit.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle Copyright © 2009 by Jill McCorkle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2011

    Better than expected!

    I dont typically read short stories-(no reason, just dont) :0)
    I *really* enjoyed these! The stories were thought provoking and intriguing. I would recomend this book- it seems like the type of book you can pick up and read again-

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2009

    Lots to Think About

    McCorkle's short stories are thoughtful, with intriguing characters who are caught in ordinary circumstances that they resolve in mundane or wildly different ways. The variety is fresh and unique.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2013

    Sorry

    Ray197

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    BlackStar

    Shall join

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    A dracopyre

    Watches from a tree

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted March 13, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2009

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