During the later days of her life, Margaret Kroftis is a writer, living alone. As she experiences a personal tragedy, the narrative of this novel moves forward in an emotionally coherent manner that exists separately from linear time. Themes of loss and grief cycle and repeat and build upon each other. They affect the text and create a complex structure of crosshatched narratives within narratives. These mirror each other while also telling unique stories of loss that are at the same time separate from Margaret’s and deeply intertwined.
This groundbreaking debut demonstrates an affinity with the work of such contemporary European writers as Ágota Kristóf and Marie Redonnet, while existing in a place and time that is uniquely American. Composed in brief paragraphs and structured as a series of vignettes, pieces of fiction, and autobiography, The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis creates a world in which a woman’s life is refracted through dreamlike logic. Coupled with the spare language in which it is written, this logic distorts and heightens the emotional truths the characters come to terms with, while elevating them beyond the simply literal.
“In The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis, Mark Gluth does something I’ve never seen another author do: he captures perfectly the feel of daydreams. Though everybody in the book daydreams, Gluth doesn’t simply describe their thoughts; instead, he does something better and more brilliant—he infuses his words with the deceptive simplicity and surrealism of the fantasies we dream up for ourselves. Like daydreams, his book is brief but powerful; like daydreams, it is both heartbreakingly hopeful and heart-stoppingly honest. It’s a reverie that’s a revelation. It is great.” —Derek McCormack, author of The Show that Smells
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THE LATE WORK OF MARGARET KROFTISA NOVELLA
By MARK GLUTH
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2010 Mark Gluth
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE LATE WORK
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. -Buddha
PART I RAINER
MARGARET'S SITTING AT HER writing table, then walking downstairs to put a kettle on. A dog walks in the kitchen behind her and yawns. Outside the window the weather's a film of the seasons changing. Those are geese flying south. Upstairs, she's no longer cold. It's the tea. The dog turns three tight circles and lies down on the rug he's mushed up against the wall. Margaret's working on a piece of fiction. It's autobiographical in a sense. She dies in the end.
She goes into town to buy groceries. The sidewalks are covered with fallen leaves. They're trying to become a forest floor, she thinks. At the store she buys cans of soup and bread instead of ingredients. On the way back to her car she sees the bay. It looks like it goes on forever. For a moment she imagines the world like that: just the ocean and the weather.
After dinner she writes three sentences. They're not worth keeping, she thinks. She lets the dog out one last time then dries him off because he's soaked. She brushes her teeth and gets in bed. He burrows under the sheets and rests his black head on her feet. In her dream he can see ghosts.
The sun rises. It burns away the mist and the fog. Margaret watches the steam spin through the branches. The world's closed, the sky's a roof. Those are her thoughts. She sweeps up the oil seeds and millet from the porch. She sprays her hose at the eaves and the windows. Her hands are freezing from the water. She calls the dog. He runs up. She wraps her arms around his barrel chest and rests her head on his twitching back. She whispers in his ear as she tries to get him to hold still.
Margaret sticks her hand under the faucet in the kitchen. She slices an apple, drinks from a water glass. The dog eats a cracker, she takes something out of the microwave. Margaret eats and cleans up. She lies down on the couch, a shadow across the ceiling. A bird makes a sound outside. She thinks it's kids playing. There are no kids near here. She remembers something that she's holding onto. She tells herself that she will never forget it.
Margaret goes for a walk down by the water. A plastic bag washes up on the shore and gets caught on a wormy log. She picks it up. It's tangled with seaweed. She leans on her cane and thinks. The rain's suspended between the sky and everything else. The fog smudges the horizon.
Later, back up the path, she smells something. Twenty feet farther she can see in her kitchen window and it's so horrible.
Margaret's in the hotel room insurance put her in. She cries so hard she coughs, lies down on the bed, and makes a fist. She wants to punch herself like a wall.
They let her walk through what's left of her house. The fire gutted most of the ground floor. Upstairs, her office was largely untouched, her notebooks and computer.
Back downstairs, in the kitchen, her fingers are trembling. She's kneeling in front of the backdoor. She's memorizing the gouges his claws made in it as he tried to escape.
Part 2 3 DREAMS
WE WERE WALKING ON A TRAIL that I didn't recognize. You humored me and didn't pull on your lead. We walked through a field then entered a forest. The trees blocked the sun. The trail followed down into a valley. Fog rolled in and I thought of an owl. My foot slipped on loose gravel and we fell into a cave. It'd been hidden by brush. I landed on my ankle and you landed on your head. You yelped and shrieked and I dragged myself across the cold and wet floor. A pool of blood ranged wide around your head. I loosened your collar. I petted your face and smoothed your ears back. I looked into your eyes. They told me that you were scared, strong, sad, wistful, doubtful, confused, brave, and in pain. I told you I loved you. I told you how sorry I was. The words were worthless because whatever hope they came from was unfounded. You tried to bark and instead gasped for breath. Your leg began shaking like you were fighting something, then your whole body. I was overcome. I laid over you so you would feel protected and less scared. I hoped you couldn't tell I was weeping. You became a memory.
You were floating in the ocean. You were dying, then dead. Something had happened to you. I didn't know. It was just your body. It was bloated and distended. I was swimming alongside of it. I was still trying to save you. There wasn't a chance in the world. Then I was standing on the shore. I could barely walk in my clothes. Your fur was slack over your shrunken bones, your bottom jaw was missing. Crabs crawled through your sand-matted fur. Your body was lying in a shallow pool. I kicked seaweed over you. I couldn't think. It was what made sense in that moment. The tide washed it away. Your body moved with the water as it flowed in and out. You were stirring then still. I fell to my knees. I scooped up filthy sand with my hands. I poured it all over you. I thought that I could hide your body from the circling birds. I gave up. They would scavenge your corpse no matter what I did.
It was night and I was walking you through the neighborhood where David and I used to live. It was our first house together. This was twenty years before you were born. We were walking slowly. The cars in the driveways were covered with ice. I walked through a puddle and it splashed on my pants. My feet were soaked. You sniffed at something. You just stood there. It warmed up. The wind began to blow. My hood fell back. My hair fell in my face and got into my eyes. You were panting. It seemed like you were smiling. I looked at your face. I looked into your eyes. There was so much there. The moment was frozen. Everything lasted forever. Then you took off. The lead ran through my fingers. There was no way that I could react. There were trees and wetlands and empty fields behind the houses. That's what you disappeared into. It was like a thousand miles away. I just knew it was impossible to find you. I knew that I would never see you again.
Excerpted from THE LATE WORK OF MARGARET KROFTIS by MARK GLUTH Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gluth. Excerpted by permission.
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