What kind of man would lie to his own wife about having cancer? A man desperate to avoid being saddled with life's responsibilities. A man like Paul.
On a miserable October afternoon, as he stares down at his brother's whiny new baby, Paul realizes he's run out of excuses. His wife wants a family, but the last thing Paul wants is dirty diapers and a constantly screaming stranger robbing him of sleep. Then a lump is discovered on his arm, and with a little elaboration, the parenthood question is rendered moot.
With the dwindling time he pretends he's got left, he intends to start looking out for number one. But his "cancer vacation" hits a snag when he meets a mother and son in an airport bar who turn everything around—and even bring Paul to the brink of a life he thought he never wanted—because sometimes a man's got to lose himself completely to discover who he really is.
|File size:||500 KB|
About the Author
Matt Marinovich's work has been featured in numerous publications, including Open City, Mississippi Review, Salon.com, The Quarterly, and Other Voices, and anthologized in What If? and Bridging the Gap.
Read an Excerpt
I've always found it hard to have a normal conversation with my brother's wife when she's breastfeeding. In fact, I find it hard to have a normal conversation with Terry when she's not breastfeeding. Add the breast to the picture, and that saliva-encrusted rug slug she calls her baby boy, and I just go blank. My wife, Lee, I notice, can go on talking as if it were perfectly natural. My older brother, with his thinning blond hair and outdated goatee, doesn't really notice anything anymore. Eric's brain is in some kind of septic kid shock. They have three of them already, and to make ends meet, since Terry doesn't work, he's gambling online fourteen hours a day. Through some quirk of the system he clears about three thousand bucks a month, but his expressions have this strange automatic quality that rarely connect with anything that's being said. No matter what I say, I just feel like I'm dealing him another virtual face card.
We're sitting in a living room in South Orange, New Jersey. You can picture it. An old Victorian with vinyl siding, planted next to two other old Victorians with vinyl siding, a bunch of gruesomely colored toys lying on their sides in the patch of front yard, a dozen New York Times still wrapped tight in blue plastic on the front stoop because they don't have the time to read, or go to the movies, or even take a shower, and then you open the front door, with its depressing frosted glass design, and the smell hits you. Last night's grease fire, which is what Terry has been going on about.
"And all of a sudden I look up," she says, bouncing once on the couch to gether breast in the baby's mouth again, "and the whole stove is on fire."
"Literally," Eric says. He's sitting on a chair near the dining room table, hunched over, with a Sierra Nevada in his hand.
"What happened?" my wife shouts. I love Lee, but she drives me nuts. Disasters just excite her too much. Any kind of disaster will do. Sometimes, enjoying my first cup of coffee, I'll hear a low murmuring and realize that Lee is reading off the names of the latest soldiers who have been killed in action in Iraq. What am I supposed to do with this information? Bad luck is just bad luck. My brother's grease fire. Don't want to hear about it.
But I'm listening. I'm looking at my watch. Terry is still talking. The baby is still sucking. My brother still hasn't taken a sip of his beer.
"His whole head could have caught fire," Terry says. And then something strange happens: Eric smiles, just a little, and I know he wouldn't have minded if his whole head caught fire. It would have hurt, yes, no doubt about it. But he would have finally had a decent reason to escape this misery, if only for a moment, as he ran, flaming, across his own lawn. Free for a few yards, at least, before he collapsed.
"Close call," I say, letting my eyes dip down toward the baby, who glares at me greedily with his glittering blue eyes, his damp brown hair swept to one side, Hitler-style.
"Very close call," Terry says. Her face is not unpretty, despite the oily black bangs, but the rest of her body has become oblong. You could push her over and she'd come bouncing right back up again.
"You just have to be on guard every minute," Lee says. "You never know what's going to happen. You just have to be on guard."
Lee, on the other hand, is not oblong. It's October, but somehow she's retained the last of her summer tan, her curly blond hair pulled back tight, blinking her green eyes at the baby, teasing its fat hand with the handle of a rattle, which it immediately sticks into its mouth.
It doesn't have to be like this. Just a few months ago, we were doing fine. We'd decided to hike New Zealand. On the top of a glacier, we'd stared into each other's mirrored sunglasses, multiplying our sense of adventure. And then she planted a ski pole into the crusty ice and ruined everything. She told me she wanted to start a family. I hiked back in angry silence, doing my best to find a hidden crevasse.
I'm staring at her now, trying to catch her eye, knowing that she's about to cave in and tell Eric and Terry about the thing they removed from my bicep. Some stupid lump. An adnexal carcinoma. And yes, I'm going in tomorrow to get the results of the sentinel node excision and yes, there's a small chance it might have spread to my lymphatic system, but this isn't the time or the place. I'm perfectly healthy, and I'd like, if possible, to wind things up in New Jersey, not get lost in Newark like last time, and get back to Park Slope before it starts to rain. Clouds have been thickening all day, and as I look through the windows, I notice it's getting darker. The color gray, sitting on everything.
"Paul," Lee says, giving me a knowing look. "Do you want to tell them?"
"You're pregnant!" Terry shouts, bouncing on the couch again, the airlock broken between her child's mouth and her nipple. A jet of human milk arcs through the air and lands on the pink carpet.
"Congratulations," my brother says, half-raising that bottle of beer.
Besides trying to catch his head on fire, Eric has taken up smoking again. Cigarettes and pot. As we stand on the sagging back porch, he takes a joint out of the Marlboro Lights box, flips it onto his lips, and lights up.
"Here," he says, handing it to me.
"I can't," I say. "I'm driving."
"So what?" he says. "It's not like you have three kids strapped to the backseat."Strange Skies
A Novel. Copyright © by Matt Marinovich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How many different ways are there to say that you completely and utterly adored a book? I sat down last night to start this book, and didn't get up until I finished it. I connected with the main character from the first page, and can honestly say that he's one of the most pessimistic yet endearing characters I've encountered in a story in a long time. 'Strange Skies' is the story of a man named Paul, who is married to a woman he loves with all his heart. However, his wife is eager to change the life Paul loves...she wants to start a family. Not something Paul is too thrilled with. After finding a lump in his arm, the doctors send it way for biopsy, to find out if Paul is indeed inflicted with cancer. When the day of the big news arrives, Paul finds he is sadly disappointed to learn he is healthy as can be. Then, without even really thinking about what he is doing, he tells his wife, his friends and pretty much everyone he meets that he DOES have cancer. He's a dying man, and he uses this idea as an excuse to live life the way he's always wanted to. I laughed out loud several times as I read this book. I also found myself despising and respecting Paul all within the time it took to read a single page. Some of the things he does are immoral and wrong, yet he's funny as hell, which almost excuses his behavior. If you need a quick read that will make you smile, and even take a step back and examine your own life, this is a book for you. I loved it. Two thumbs way up.
Had its moments, but it was not terribly entertaining, especially during the many completely farfetched parts. 2 stars.
This book is a good read with well developed characters and enough twists and turns and unexpected events to be compelling. I enjoyed reading it but do not really want to give the plot away in this review. The story is serious, certainly, but with a lot of humor and hilarity. Enjoy