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"A queer tour-de-force . . . Compelling and astonishing."–Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things
Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris's will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of.
In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter's sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall?
Told over the course of a funeral and shiva, and written with enormous wit and warmth, All My Mother's Lovers is the exciting debut novel from fiction writer and book critic Ilana Masad. A unique meditation on the universality and particularity of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity, All My Mother's Lovers challenges us to question the nature of fulfilling relationships.
|Penguin Publishing Group
|6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
August 21, 2017
Maggie is in the midst of a second lazy orgasm when her brother, Ariel, calls to tell her their mother has died. "Don't pick up," Lucia says, the lower half of her face glistening. But Maggie doesn't listen; she lives for moments like this.
"Hello, Brother. I am currently being eaten out. What are you up to?" And when Lucia pulls her face away, peeved, Maggie leans up on her elbows and says, "No, don't stop."
But then she listens, and she sits up and pulls away from Lucia, tugs her knees close to her body, protective. She can feel her face turn stony, is sure the color is draining from it as her brother talks. She sees how she must look through her lover's shifting features, Lucia's eyes widening with concern, her mouth hanging open a little, chin still wet.
"Okay," Maggie says. She repeats it. Then: "I'll text you my flight details." She doesn't say "I'm sorry," though she is, nor "I love you," though she does. She can't think clearly enough to say the things people are supposed to say in such moments. Not because she's stuck-she isn't. She isn't even thinking about her newly dead mother, nor of the violence of her death, a car crash along a route she can picture well. Instead, Maggie is several steps ahead, thinking of the funeral, of who she needs to call, of what will happen to her father. She's thinking about whether they need to print programs, whether the synagogue will do that, and whether that's even really a thing, or just something people do on TV. She's thinking about her planner, sitting in the kitchen, so far from where she needs it.
"Mags, you're scaring me," Lucia says. She's sitting very close to Maggie now rather than between her legs, kneeling, her brown breasts hanging heavy, nipples grazing Maggie's knees. "Where are you going?"
Maggie stays hunched into her phone, looking at flight options, prices and times. "Home," she says, and she leans forward to kiss Lucia, whose lips look especially swollen, though it's just that her lipstick is smeared despite its no-smear promise. "You've got a smudge," she says, and thumbs it away. "My mom died."
"What?" Maggie tends to shriek when she's surprised, but Lucia goes soft and still. It makes people lean forward to hear, and somehow amplifies her presence. It's one of the things Maggie likes about her so much. Her solidness, the space she takes up without trying. "Babe, your mom?"
"Yeah," Maggie says, lowering her eyes to her phone again. "A tree crashed into her car. Can you hand me my wallet?" But Lucia pulls the phone out of her hands instead. "Hey-!"
Lucia holds Maggie's face in cupped palms, looks into her eyes like she's trying to find something there, something that isn't. "I think you're in shock."
"No, I'm not." Maggie jerks her head away and gets up. "Fuck it, it'll be easier on the laptop." She grabs her underwear from the ground, pulls on the baggy Babadook T-shirt she wears to sleep, and walks out to the living room where her laptop is still hooked up to the TV, paused on the credits of the documentary she and Lucia had been watching. It's Monday already, the night having turned early morning without her realizing. She needs to compose an email to her boss to explain why she won't be at work for a few days. She needs to call her dad. She needs-
"What can I do?" Lucia has followed her, still naked, and hands Maggie the wallet she left in the bedroom, on the chain she keeps attached to her jeans.
Maggie doesn't know what to say, because she doesn't know what Lucia can do. Her mother has never died before. She's never before had a girlfriend for this long, this many months in a row. She doesn't know what having a person help her in this intimate way should look like. She can't ask Lucia to call her dad for her. She can't ask Lucia to look up flights for her. She can't ask Lucia to figure out how to get hold of the will and whether her parents still have the same lawyer now as they did a decade ago, a plucky blond woman named Janice, whom Maggie had the displeasure of meeting when she got arrested for smoking pot at age seventeen. She isn't even sure what she's told Lucia about her mother, whether they've really talked about their parents. It seems like they've been too busy fucking the life out of each other for most of the past five months.
When Maggie's foot begins to fall asleep, she realizes how long she's been sitting with it underneath her on the couch. The same position her mother always sits, an inherited trait, or maybe a picked-up habit. Sat, she thinks. The same way her mother sat. The tense change feels like a fist around Maggie's esophagus, its permanence making the edges of her vision cloud. But no-she can't fall apart yet. There are practicalities to attend to. She's been staring at flight options for far too long, switching to another tab and googling "how to plan a funeral fast" and "Jewish funeral" and "what do to when your mom dies." She pulls her credit card out of her wallet, inputs the numbers. The tips of her fingers are numb.
A mug of tea appears next to the laptop, not steaming, which is good, because Maggie can't drink anything hot. She usually puts an ice cube in her tea to avoid needing to wait fifteen minutes before drinking it; Lucia must have seen her do this, or maybe it's been that long already. "Here you go, babe," Lucia says, and sits on the couch next to Maggie, her hip-now underpantsed, her torso T-shirted-pressed close. "Did you find a flight?"
"Yeah, in the morning."
"We should get a few hours of sleep before I drive you to the airport. Come on, let's go to bed."
"You're driving me?" Maggie looks up from an unhelpful listicle of ten things no one expects when losing a parent. Lucia's irises are usually two different shades of brown, one deep and rich and the other golden in the light, almost like an eagle's eye. In the shadow of the dark living room and the glow of the laptop screen, they just look black, as if all pupil, like on the night she and Maggie met, both of them on molly and dancing to EDM at an overpriced warehouse party.
"Of course. I mean, if you don't want me to, I won't, but I'm here, babe."
Maggie wants her to. She also doesn't. This is not where they're at yet. This is what she usually considers too real. This is when she bails.
"Look," she starts, but she can't go on, and so she doesn't say that Lucia doesn't have to, or that she should leave, or that Maggie wants to be alone, because it isn't true. She doesn't want to sleep alone, if she can even sleep. She wants Lucia's teddy bear warmth. She exhales. "Okay."
August 21, 2017
In the barely there light of early morning, Maggie pulls her medium suitcase out from under the bed. She doesn't know if there's going to be a shiva or not, doesn't know what her mother would want, if she wanted anything, if she had any plans. Was she too young for that? Maggie has to stop what she's doing and calculate from the birth year in order to zero in on her mother's age. Sixty-three, she thinks, sweat pooling in her armpits at the shame of not remembering.
"Can you turn that off?" she snaps at Lucia, who's making coffee in the kitchen, her phone playing a soothing acoustic guitar playlist. "I need to concentrate." The music stops mid-strum, and Maggie feels even worse.
She'll pack enough clothes for ten days, just in case they do a shiva. Her dad is a lapsed Catholic, and she and Ariel weren't raised particularly anything, though when she was small, when her maternal grandparents were both still alive, they would visit from New York to celebrate the High Holidays, going to synagogue and eating lavish meals at the rarely used dining room table. She has only glimpses of those years, the softness of Bubby's hands, how everyone said Maggie looked just like Nonno, which confused her because he was bald. She does remember her mother crying when the calls came about their deaths, barely a year apart. And she remembers her mother packing, though that seemed to be a constant activity.
Now it's my turn, Maggie thinks. She packs work clothes because those are appropriate, some of her all-purpose jeans and tank tops for lounging around or doing errands in, and the obligatory black dress and heels. Why women need to wear heels to funerals, she doesn't know, especially when everyone ends up poking holes in the grass when they reach the cemetery. What she does know is that it's expected.
"Are you ready? Got your ID? Money? Phone?" Lucia hovers at the door, clutching a thermos of coffee for them to share. Her hair is pulled back into the severe ponytail she wears on a day-to-day basis, so tight that it flattens her curls to her scalp, leaving the hennaed highlights looking like squiggles in a word processor, and then flares into a kinky puff right outside the hair tie. Maggie often thinks about how lucky she is that she first saw Lucia with her hair free and wild and flying as she danced. She's attracted to Lucia any which way, but she looks less approachable with this ponytail, more adult and businesslike. Of course, Maggie tends to look similarly grown-up when she goes to work, where she still feels like a kid playing dress-up.
"I'm good," she says, patting her pockets for the items Lucia listed. Her wallet is there. Her ID is in her wallet. So is her debit card, her credit card, and the emergency card connected to her dad's account, which is all the money she tends to carry outside of bar- or club-hopping, which is the only time she'll make the effort to carry cash. Her phone is in her back pocket. She nudges Lucia into the hallway and begins to lock the door. But she remembers-"Wait, shit, I gotta get my weed."
Lucia grabs her arm to stop her. "No, are you crazy? You can't fly with that."
"No, I know," Maggie says, her voice trembling. Of course she can't. Though people do. And she wants to. She can't handle this sober, can she? "But maybe? I can stick it up my vag, I've heard of people doing that."
Lucia shakes her head and yanks the door shut all the way. Maggie doesn't know what just came over her. She's always in the mood to get high, but she's not an idiot. This would be the worst time to find out what the TSA would actually do if the caught her. She doesn't fight Lucia on it again, and they walk downstairs and get into Lucia's car. She'll get some when she arrives, she consoles herself.
On the ride over, Lucia tries to ask Maggie about her mom, like how old was she, and does Maggie know what happened exactly, and how close were they, but Maggie doesn't really answer beyond sixty-three and car accident, splat, a sound effect she hopes isn't accurate the moment she utters it along with a loud clap.
"We weren't," she tries, "I mean, she- I loved her, obviously, but she was weird about, you know." She waves a hand between her body and Lucia's, and Lucia catches it, holds it fast. "She always thought it was a phase. Rebellion or something. And she was gone a lot. We weren't super close."
Maggie doesn't know what else to say. Her mind is already in California, picturing her dad sitting in his office, but he wouldn't be there now, would he? She hasn't talked to him yet; it's an impossible task, to pick up her phone and call him. She texted Ariel the details of her flight before she went to bed, so she knows someone will come get her, and she'll figure things out from there.
"We're here," Lucia says, interrupting the silence that fell between them. She puts her hand on Maggie's bouncing knee, stilling it. Maggie stares at the hand, a few shades darker than her own skin, which seems to wear a permanent tan. There were jokes throughout her childhood about her father not being the father. But he is, of course. Maggie's Italian nonno was a Sephardic Jew-his ancestors banished from Spain or Portugal to North Africa or Greece, maybe, intermarrying or having affairs along the way, as people did, before eventually ending up in Italy. At least, that's what the family always speculated. Maggie's eyes feel dry, as if she's been staring at Lucia's hand without blinking for hours when she's pulled back to reality. "Babe?"
"Yeah. Okay. Hey, thanks," Maggie says. "You didn't have to do this." She moves to open the door but Lucia pulls her back and kisses her, softly, and Maggie yields to it, kissing back harder. But her desire is shut off, something that she doesn't think has ever happened to her before, certainly not with Lucia. She pulls away, uncomfortable. Kissing seems like an odd thing to do right now. The slapping of lips together, the lapping of tongues-such a strange way to show affection, to express want. Maggie touches one of Lucia's breasts and squeezes it a little bit. "Everything is so weird."
"I know. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Mags." Tears are gathered in Lucia's eyes, and Maggie knows she has to keep moving. She hasn't cried yet, and can't let herself now; there's much too much to do.
A loud tap on the window saves her. It's a man in a neon orange vest, one of the traffic attendants meant to move folks along and prevent loitering. "This is a drop-off zone," he says sharply when Lucia rolls down the window. "So drop her off and move or you'll get a ticket."
"Yes, Officer," Lucia says.
"What a prick," Maggie fumes when the window is shut again. "And he's not an officer, you know, he's just some security dickwad," she adds.
Lucia shrugs. "Be safe, babe," she says. "I'll check in with you, okay? Tell me when you land?"
"Sure." Maggie forgets this as soon as she's out of the car with her suitcase and her Trans by JanSport backpack, the same style she's had since high school, the only purse she ever wants or needs.
On the plane, the pilot talks about how they're all going to miss the complete solar eclipse. "You won't see it right in California," he admonishes. Maggie and Lucia were planning to video-chat during her lunch break to watch it together. Oh well, she thinks, as the plane begins to accelerate. She has a row to herself, since apparently a Monday morning in August isn't prime flying time. She's grateful for it, and once the plane is in the air, toe-ankles her way out of her Converse, the same pair she's flown in since moving to the Midwest for college. A good-luck charm.