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Compelling and taut, suspenseful and compassionate, A Hole in the Universe will continue to resonate long after the last page is turned.
On the web: marymcgarrymorris.com
"Who was it, then?" Gordon Loomis squinted through the blur of sweat. The jug-eared face was the same, bland, the deep chin cleft its only discernible feature. He dragged his starched sleeve across his forehead. He still wasn't used to the heat of a proper room. The closeness of his brother's voice seemed the only air to breathe.
"You know what I mean!" Dennis said. "And besides, people forget. I mean, twenty-five years! That's like what? A lifetime ago when you think of it. Nobody's the same person they were then, just like you're not."
"But I am. I'm still the same," Gordon said. His thick fingers struggled with the tiny collar button. Three hundred and fifty pounds, six and a half feet tall. Just as big then-"Loomer," because he took up so much space. Because of the way he leaned so close to hear. Because he never knew quite what to do with himself or where he belonged.
"No, you're not! For one thing, you used to be a complete slob, and now look." Dennis laughed, pointing at Gordon's hairbrush, the comb placed in the exact center row of bristles. "What do you call this? Obsessive-compulsive? Anal retentive?" He meant the rows of coins stacked heads up, the sleek black flashlight, and still in its box the blue tie Dennis had bought for him to wear today. Gordon had laid it all out last night. Some things he could control. Most he could not, like this job interview.
He took deep breaths to block out the nasally thrum of Dennis's voice. "I don't get it. Lisa and I had you all set up in Mom and Dad's room. So why'd you go and move your stuff in here? It's the smallest room in the house."
"It's my bedroom," Gordon grunted, chin raised and straining, the button almost fastened.
"Was your bedroom. Was-twenty-five years ago. But life moves on, Gordon! Right? It does, doesn't it?" His brother's pained smile rose like a welt on his lean, boyish face. Gordon knew better than to answer. His younger brother was as thin-skinned and mercurial as he was generous. It couldn't have been easy all these years with his greatest desire, Gordon's freedom, so fraught with expectations of disaster. In the week that Gordon had been home, Dennis had criticized his every decision. His brother's confidence in him was strongest with visitors' Plexiglas between them.
"It's so damn dark back here." Dennis looked out the window into the leaf-tented patch of shade, the old tree's crown grown bigger than the yard. Now Gordon would hear how he should have gone to California: he'd have a fresh start there, complete anonymity.
"Damn!" he muttered, and Dennis started toward him just as the button went through.
"You're so nervous!" Dennis handed him the tie. "It's just an interview. What's there to be nervous about?"
Gordon turned his damp collar over the tie. The interview was too soon. He wasn't ready. Freedom was like this new suit Dennis had bought for him. It might look a perfect fit, but it felt as if it belonged to someone else. Gordon tried to knot the tie, then yanked it apart. "I never could do this!" He threw it down on the bureau.
"C'mon, big guy," Dennis coaxed, slipping it back around Gordon's neck. "Hey! After all you've been through, this'll be a piece of cake! You'll do fine!"
Gordon glared until Dennis stepped away. His hands trembled as he fastened the tie himself.
"Knot's too big," Dennis said, shaking his head.
Gordon pulled tighter, his face a mask again, eyes half-lidded to this speck in the mirror, not a man, but a point in time, that was all. No more than a moment. A moment. And then it would pass without pain, without anger or loss.
"Now what'd you do? You got the wrong end too long." Dennis chuckled. "Here, let me." He reached out.
Gordon stiffened. "There." He stuffed the longer narrow end into his shirtfront. "You can't even see it."
"No!" Dennis howled with dismayed laughter.
"That's the way I always did it," he said.
"Sure, when you were a kid. C'mere!" Dennis was undoing the tie. "We don't have much time left."
Gordon recoiled from the sour intimacy of his brother's breath. According to the corrections manual, each inmate had his own space, a circumference of twenty-four inviolable inches.
"That guy I told you about, Kinnon, my patient?" Dennis murmured with the last loop. "I called last night to double-check, and he said it was all set. He said he'd already laid the ground work. He'd already explained things."
"Things. You know what I mean, the details."
The knot dug into his gullet. Details. The scrapings of flesh-his-gleaned from under her fingernails. The cuts on his enormous arms measured, photographed: the quantifiable proof of her grasping, desperate struggle against the pillow. Details, twenty-five years deep, most like flotsam released in pieces, surfacing through dreams, or snatches from a song, certain smells: the damp sweetness of shampooed hair, or even abrupt silence into which would rise her muffled pleas, soft moans, the last earthly sounds of Janine Walters and male fetus. Kevin.
"He said he explained it all, you know, how young you were and everything," Dennis said as they got into the car.
Everything. Gordon stared out the window. As if it were one of those crazy things kids do? A prank? Just break into a house and kill a sleeping woman. His eyes closed. "I hope you never forget! I hope every day of your miserable life is a living hell!" her raw-eyed mother screamed with the verdict. She had wanted him dead.
"So now you just have to show them what a normal, regular guy you really are." Dennis grinned. "Plus, you've got all these letters." The folder between them was thick with testaments to his good behavior and trustworthiness from chaplains, wardens, guards. "The best one though's from Delores."
"What do you mean, from Delores?"
"Her letter. I told you I was going to ask her."
"No, you didn't!"
"Well, I thought I did. I meant to. I must've forgot, that's all. No big deal." Dennis backed into the street, then had to wait while a chunky young woman in a skimpy sundress carried an infant while maneuvering a sagging stroller across the street. Roped onto the stroller was a television set.
"And where the hell do you think she got that?" Dennis sighed and shook his head. "Don't forget: Keep everything locked. Mrs. Jukas said you even leave a window open and they're in like rats."
"You shouldn't have done that. I can't believe you asked Delores without asking me first."
"What? What're you talking about? It's just Delores! What's the big deal?" Dennis said. The minute the woman passed, he hit the gas and raced up the street.
"I don't want her to write a letter." He gripped the door handle. The contents of his stomach rose and fell with the blur of signs, sunstruck glass, cars passing, the honk of a horn. On the way home from Fortley, Dennis had to stop on the highway three times while Gordon dry-heaved alongside the car.
"What're you talking about?" Dennis shouted. "She already did! She wrote it! All it says is how she's known you all your life, and what a decent person you are. You know, things like that."
"No! Take it out!"
"But it's just a letter. She wanted to!" Dennis kept looking over, stunned. "It's not like I put pressure on her or anything. You know how she feels about you."
"No. I don't want it in there." Gordon reached for the file, but Dennis clamped his hand over it.
"Will you tell me why the hell not?"
"Because." He felt breathless, as if he were running up a steep hill. "Because she shouldn't have to have her name mixed up in this." Because he didn't want to owe her any more than he already did for all her letters and visits through the years. He had nothing to give. He had to be careful, careful of everything. More so now than ever before.
"Have her name mixed up in what? What do you mean? She's your friend, that's all." Gordon groped for the handle to roll down the window, then remembered. It was a button now. "Can you slow down a little?"
"You want to be late?"
"My stomach, it feels funny."
"You're nervous, that's all."
"No, it's riding. The car, I'm still not used to it. It makes me feel sick." Eyes closed, he turned his face to the open window.
"Jesus Christ," Dennis muttered, slowing down. He said no more until they pulled into the Corcopax parking lot. "Oh, and one more thing. The only opening right now's in Human Resources."
"Human Resources? I thought you said laminating. They're not going to hire me for a job like that. Why didn't you tell me? I don't want to do this."
"Look, Gordon, let's get something straight here. I'm doing the best I can. I've got one hell of a busy life. I've got my practice, my family. I've got a million things I could be doing, but right now this is the most important thing. This! Being here! Helping my brother get off to a good start, that's all!"
"I'm sorry." He hung his head.
"You want me to butt out, you just say the word."
"Because I got so much shit going on right now, I can't begin to tell you," Dennis said with a disgusted sigh.
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm just nervous, that's all. It's just a lot all at once. I mean ..." No company was going to hire him to work with people. Unable to say it, to give up even that much of himself, he rubbed his face with both hands. All he wanted was to be left alone. In Fortley he'd at least had that.
"Aw, c'mon, Gordo! You're going to do fine!" Dennis assured him as he got out of the car. He handed him the file. "I probably shouldn't get your hopes up, but I think this is a done deal. At least that's the way Kinnon made it sound." He waved, watching a moment, then pulled up alongside as Gordon trudged toward the gleaming glass-and-granite building. "Jesus! You've got to look more confident than that! C'mon, Gordo! Head up! Shoulders back! Go get 'em!"
In the lobby, Gordon slipped Delores's letter from the file into his pocket. All along the way, in the elevator to the third floor, then down the long bright corridor to the personnel office, he could feel people staring at him. Conscious of the sticky-sounding tread with every footstep, he walked quickly, met no one's gaze. He shouldn't have let himself be pushed into this. He wasn't ready. He woke up every morning disoriented to be home in his own room, as frightened as he was grateful to be free. He should have had Dennis come with him. Not into the interview, of course. Just to be close by. But, no. He couldn't always be a burden. As it was, Dennis had canceled three patients to bring him here. So far, every decision had been made for him: his new clothes, the house fixed up and ready, cupboards filled, even orange Popsicles in the freezer because Lisa, Dennis's wife, remembered his saying once how much he missed them. Personnel. His hand closed over the knob.
"Right in there." The receptionist's eyes swept over him. She pointed to the open door. "They're waiting," she said as he hesitated, caught between flight and paralysis. Her chair squeaked as she turned. Not every day she got to see a murderer.
"Mr. Loomis." A delicate woman in a hot-pink suit rose from her desk. After a lifetime of gray, colors came as a shock. As did beauty. Softness. His face reddened with the limp graze of her slender palm. He lowered his eyes to keep from staring at her face.
She said her name. Jamison. Then something about Brown. Who was Brown? He tried to follow her rushed explanation, then saw the bullnecked man in the corner. Mr. Brown would be just sitting in on the interview, a kind of monitoring process, that was all. She seemed extremely anxious that he understand this.
Gordon nodded. "I see. Yes, of course." He wondered how old she was. Or how young. He had no idea, no frame of reference for women. He tried to smile at Mr. Brown, whose emotionless stare never wavered.
"Let's see now." She opened a green folder, ran a glittering pink fingernail down the top sheet. "Your GED. A BS in business administration from Sussex State College." She glanced up. "Did you actually attend the classes?"
"What did they do, bring you? I mean, you couldn't just leave the ... the place, right?"
"The ones I went to, they had them right there. In the beginning. Those were the first classes. The first year. The courses, I mean. The ones everyone takes. Introductory, that is." His tongue swelled in his dry mouth. He kept swallowing. "Well, not everyone takes them. I mean, for the, you know, the ones that are ..." He rolled his hand to churn up the phrase from the perfectly still, dead air. "Taking the courses."
She nodded, took up her pen.
He was making this easy for her. "Not just potentially dangerous, but inarticulate," she was probably writing.
"The rest were by mail."
"You've had some counseling experience, Mr. Loomis?"
"Counseling experience," he repeated to calm himself. His breathing was the only sound in the room.
"Did you work with any of the other ..." She paused. "Men who were there with you?"
"No, ma'am. They had professionals for that kind of thing."
"What about peer-group activity? They must have had that kind of interaction. Most places ... facilities like that do."
"They did. But I didn't. I didn't do that."
"Because." He squirmed, wringing his hands. Because he hated talking about himself: the misery of it, the emptiness, the dead echo behind every word like footsteps through an endless tunnel. "Mostly I just kept a pretty low profile."
"For twenty-five years?"
"But what did you do? I mean, how'd you keep busy? You must've done some kind of work." She closed the folder.
"Yes. Of course." He'd worked everywhere, in the library, laundry, kitchen, dining room, infirmary. But mostly in the sign shop. "I was a good worker. I always worked really hard. I like working. I always did."
"Hmm." She looked at her watch. "Well! I guess that about covers it. Unless there's something you'd like to add."
"Just these, I guess." He handed her the file. "They're letters. They're all from people I know. Well, people who know me. And who think I'm a good ... worker." He'd almost said "person."
She thanked him, put the file into hers. "So what we'll do is go over everything and if something comes up, some position that's compatible with your particular experience, Mr. Loomis, then we'll certainly be in touch," she recited with a dismissive smile as she and Mr. Brown got up. Gordon rose in a panic. He couldn't very well go back to the car after such a short interview. The new suit. Dennis's canceled patients. "Excuse me! Could I just tell you about the sign shop?"
"The sign shop?" She glanced at Mr. Brown.
The prison shop made street signs for cities and towns all over the state.
Excerpted from A Hole in the Universe by Mary McGarry Morris Copyright © 2005 by Mary McGarry Morris. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 29, 2005
I couldn't put this book down. The characters were richly drawn, the writing was a pleasure to read, and the story kept me involved with every page. This is not chick lit. It is for someone who wants a truly good book to cuddle up with.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2004
Readers of Morris's four previous novels know that few can script dialogue with her skill and understanding of human foibles. This is rich territory for actor Jason Culp to mine and he does it superbly, whether it is the voice of Gordon Loomis, a man recently released from prison after 25 years or a 13-year-old street child who ekes out a living dealing drugs. Loomis has almost as much trouble outside prison walls as he did inside. He returns to his old neighborhood, which is dramatically changed. It's rundown, rife with drug dealers. His brother tries to help him find work, and Delores, the woman, who visited him regularly seeks to reconnect with him. He cannot forget his senseless crime; others don't want him to forget it. As she has done in the past Morris draws sharply etched, sympathetic portraits of the down and outers. We see them through her eyes and perhaps rethink our definition of forgiveness.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2004
An introspective, depressing book. The hero has stumbled out of 25 years in jail for murdering a girl when he was a teenager. Now in his forties, the book describes his travails in readjusting to his old neighbourhood. Throughout most of the book, the reader is teased with a constant ambiguity. Did Gordon Loomis murder the girl, or was it done by his sidekick? A deliberate result is a tension in the reader's attitude to him. Is Loomis really guilty but repentant? Or is he actually innocent? This book is not really a straightforward crime novel, per se. Emphasis is more on the psychological aspects of the character. Subtler than most crime novels. But perhaps somewhat unsatisfying to a reader who expects the latter. The passivity of Loomis, while maybe realistic, does not lend to an interesting read. One thing that Morris might perhaps have made more of is the adjustment after 25 years of absence. The book is set somewhere in 2003+. So Loomis is from the late 70s. Consider the myriad changes in American society since. Back then, no Walkmans or PCs. No cellphones. ATMs were just being introduced. No laser bar code scanners in stores. Plus, of course, the changes in fashions for men and, especially, women, during this period. Granted, Loomis would have seen some of this on TV when in jail. But that is vastly different from seeing it live. And of course, the change in prices. Morris periodically alludes to these changes throughout the narrative. But I would suggest that to Loomis, they would have far greater prominence. There have been in fact cases in real life with parallels to this. Like a woman who became a cloistered nun for several decades, early in the twentieth century. She then returned to society, and later wrote a book about the vast changes she felt.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.