Degrees of Love

Degrees of Love

by Rachel Basch


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393332322
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/17/1998
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,299,859
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Rachel Basch is the author of three novels: The Listerner, The Passion of Reverend Nash, and Degrees of Love. She currently teaches in Fairfield University’s MFA Program and in Wesleyan University’s Graduate Liberal Studies Program.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


The caseworker wasn't there yet, and technically, Lily told herself, she wasn't late unless the caseworker knew that she was late. Jack, of course, knew that she was late. She could see him looking out the livingroom window. He'd probably just put away the vacuum and had not yet laced up his tan bucks.

She could say that she had spent the last five miles of the ride home from the hospital behind ... a thresher, a tractor, a backhoe? Or she could explain that for the past ten days she'd only left the hospital when she was sure that Katie was sleeping deeply enough that she wouldn't wake soon but not so deeply as to be in danger of slipping off into some other realm; and to leave Katie there this morning, after she'd waked up but before the doctor had made her rounds, had been difficult. Or she could tell the truth. She was dreading this interview with Mrs. Thoms from the state's Department of Social Services, almost as much as she had dreaded the daily debridement of Katie's bums. On her way home for the first time in over a week, she had stopped once for coffee, once for half a Xanax, and a third time for a pack of cigarettes, which she had later tossed unopened into a trash can when she stopped again to fill the Subaru with gas.

"Mom, Mom." Their seven-year-old, Ben, came running out to the driveway as Lily was pulling up the emergency brake. Brakes, gates, safety straps-she always remembered them now.

"That lady's going to be here any minute, Morn:' Ben allowed himself to be kissed when Lily stepped out of the car and even reciprocated with a one-armed hug.

"I missed you, buddy, alot."

"I missed you too."

"You look nice."

Ben looked down at his navy-blue shorts and white golf shirt. "We're supposed to," he said, looking UP now at Lily's brown T-shirt freckled with bleach.

"I know. I'm going to change."

"How's the little?" he said, studying her face for a moment, then bending down to pull up a fat weed from between two squares of slate on the front walk.

"Good. She misses you and Greg."

"Will she still have the bandages on when she comes home?"

Lily stopped walking and looked down at Ben, engrossed in uprooting a whole family of weeds now. "Her legs look much better. A little pink, that's all. Nothing like before, no blisters, nothing like that."

Ben had walked in while Jack was changing

Katie's bandages that first night, after the doctor in the ER had sent her home. He'd seen the tops and sides of his baby sister's feet and the front of one leg bubbling with green, fluid-filled blisters. By the time Jack carried her into the Shriners Burns Institute in Boston the next morning, Katie's feet were swollen and she was running a fever of 104. The doctor who admitted her at the Shriners cursed under his breath as he picked threads of macerated gauze out of the oozing blisters. Not nearly enough Silvadene ointment had been applied by the emergency room physician at their local hospital, the one who'd negligently released Katie from the ER, the one who'd later filed the report of possible abuse.

Jack was waiting for them just inside the house, behind the screen door. Through the mesh, Lily could see that he had dressed himself to match Ben, with navy pants instead of shorts. She imagined that Greg was similarly clothed.

"The Von Trapps," she said.

"Who's that?" Ben asked, sidling up to her.

"Christ, Lillian" Jack said wearily. "It's five past."

"I know," she said, fingering the blond curls at the back of Ben's head.

"You're just lucky you didn't pull into the driveway after her."

"I am lucky." Lily took her hand from Ben and squeezed the trigger of the door handle. "I'd say we're all lucky."

He'd done a good job of cleaning. The wood floors were free of any sign of the outdoors, of the dried grass and sand of summertime, of the three children who usually lived there. Jack had polished the diningroom table and cut some peonies from out back, and he'd bought a new high chair and placed it here, in this room where no one in her right mind would feed a sixteen-month-old, but where there were no hot plates or grills or burners, only mahogany and porcelain and glass.

She wondered what he'd done with the old high chair. She hoped he'd thrown it out. On some afternoon in the spotless future when she was rooting around in the basement for somebody's ice skates, she wouldn't want to stumble across that cheap tray with its brown half-moon where the pot must have landed, molecularly rearranging the plastic so that it had begun to fold in upon itself.

The high chair was still functional. The tray still slid across the arms, probably even locked in place. Lily thought that there must be an unfortunate mother in town who could have used it. But she would have hated for that woman to sit night after night feeding her kid rice cereal, staring at the scarred tray, to come to the inevitable conclusion that the chair had once been used by another mother as a means of punishment or even torture.

Lily wondered if Mrs. Thoms would want to see the chair. "Incongruities in the mother's story ... combined with the presenting injuries ... necessitatefurther inquiry in this case," the ER physician's report had stated. She'd want to see the kitchen, "the site." "She'll want to see that you've corrected the problem, installed safety devices, grasped the acute seriousness of the situation.," Linda Polowitz, the hospital social worker, and seemingly their only advocate in this whole mess, had said...

What People are Saying About This

Anna Monardo

"Written with intelligence and wit and a knowing heart, 'Degrees of Love' is a story so real the written page disappears and there is nothing by these lives -- Billie, Jack, their three small kids -- and a domestic refuge turned inside out. This story will stop your heart. With prose that is beautiful and alert, and dialogues so sharp it smack in your year. Racheal Basch thoroughly and unflinchingly uncovers the cruelist truth of family life: the enormity of parent's love for their children and the impossibility that love can ever keep those children safe." -- Author of 'Courtyard of Dreams'

Ann Hood

"Can this really be a first novel? In Degrees of Love, Rachael Basch invites us into a true-to-life contemporary family that is immersed in a contemporary drama that could happen to any of us. Engaging and wise, poignant and intelligent, Basch's entre into the world of fiction is a welcome one. Every parent should read this book. No; everyone should." -- Author of 'Somewhere of the Coast of Maine'

Tricia Bauer

"'Degrees of Love' is that first-rate combination of absorbing narrative and masterful prose. In this wise and moving exploration of the many layers of the family dynamics suffering through a crisis and recovering from it, Basch knows every inch of her territory -- from a major issue such as the nature of nuturing to the most subtle gesture of a child." -- Author of 'Boondocking'

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