Year of the Rat

Year of the Rat

by Marc Anthony Richardson

Paperback(1st Edition)

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2017 American Book Award Winner
Winner of the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize

Marc Anthony Richardson's Year of the Rat is a poignant and riveting literary debut narrated in an unabashedly exuberant voice.

In Year of the Rat, an artist returns to the dystopian city of his birth to tend to his invalid mother only to find himself torn apart by memories and longings. Narrated by this nameless figure whose rants, reveries, and Rabelaisian escapades take him on a Dantesque descent into himself, the story follows him and his mother as they share a one-bedroom apartment over the course of a year.

Despite his mother’s precarious health, the lingering memories of a lost love, an incarcerated sibling, a repressed sexuality, and an anarchic inability to support himself, he pursues his dream of becoming an avant-garde artist. His prospects grow dim until a devastating death provides a painful and unforeseeable opportunity. With a voice that is poetic and profane, ethereal and irreverent, cyclical and succinct, he roams from vignette to vignette, creating a polyphonic patchwork quilt of a family portrait.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573660570
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 09/27/2016
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Marc Anthony Richardson received his MFA from Mills College. He is an artist and writer from Philadelphia. Year of the Rat is his debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

Year of the Rat

By Marc Anthony Richardson

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 2016 Marc Anthony Richardson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57366-868-2



For she had just whisked away the white sheet that was covering the red clay corpse and was now standing in the swelter of the hospital house with those eyes rising to rivet the soulless holes of the doctor's — she ain't dead, she said, she ain't dead, wake her up: my mother is dead. Died in nineteen forty-nine. Down in the red claylands of the southern savanna. She died on a table turned into a gurney by being fastened with four fast wheels to serve the orifices of Thanatos, and the family that eats together stays together comes to mind whenever my mother my malady — my mother is dead. Died at four and a half. Hit by a motorcar. Wild as she was she had run too far — so when it tore around the bend it threw her off a red dirt road into a red clay ditch which caught her like a mitt; the driver kept going, dust cleared, he was white as white as a ghost the driver, so when he kept going he disappeared and my mother all dusty and shadowy in the red clay ditch was so scared she fell asleep: a man with a mule saw it all. The white pall would fall. And in would storm the storm into that hospital house, whites stopping my nana, telling her her daughter is dead, hit by a motorcar, brought in with a broken clavicle and leg and a nasty blow to the head, so she's dead, says the doctor and nurse, she is gone, untethered from us to tumble about on a tumultuous sea for coloreds and they cannot get her back — so that's when Nana at five-foot-two with a sepia hue and the high chiseled cheekbones of a Blackfoot pushes them apart, the doctor and nurse, pushes them both apart as if together they are a curtain of white and marches straight back into that emergency room, a kitchen, to behold the large maple dining table fastened with four fast wheels and covered with cotton matting to serve up the fresh course of a dead pickaninny, and then bumps aside the nurse who has just placed the wet white pall over the small and broken body and throws it back so fast that it whips and turns the nurse's cheek, so that the blood of two could be on this sheet; she ain't dead, she says, turning to face the doctor who's hurried in after her, wake her up, she says in a low and even tone, punching the soulless holes out of the back of his head with her eyes and I can smell the smell of my mother's water pipes having released full strength, I can see the eyes of my nana clenching the tissue of one dead child already, her second born my would-be uncle's body, I can feel her eyes jolting the doctor's scruples, driving nail-like into that thick bias in him the stark probability of his purple mortality; so without further ado, while pinching closed the little nose, this bigot puts his mouth onto my mother's mouth, as tiny as it is (Nana looking onward in shock, I'm sure, containing herself barely), and then rises and presses down on that tiny chest cavity with a tentative yet resolved palm to return to that mouth-to-mouth, alternating the two until at last, like a golden apple chunk, out comes my mother's shadow and she is breathing again.

Except this isn't what happened at all, the truth is not distorted here but rather a certain distortion is used to get at the truth, for when my nana told the doctor to wake her daughter up he did nothing, he did absolutely nothing, so she just prayed. All she had to do was plead the blood of the lamb and that was it that was that, and since my mother had lived nearly nine years into the new millennium, as to whether or not I could swallow this didn't make any difference now did it, sick women live forever. She had been living her death her entire life. For that eighth year into the new millennium, her last year alive, inside a one-bedroom apartment her thirty-five-year-old son had since resumed his role in her perpetual teleplay: the program of a sixty-three-year-old woman whom he'd never known without a malady; the mind had been reared for it. Outside snow and inside a gated community, a stasis a stoppage of the bodily fluids for the crippled and the decrepit and for the offspring they'd taken in to take care of them, I was sharing with her a folie à deux a madness of two, for lunar New Year, year of the rat, I ended up holding her half-naked body in the dark while we writhed in wavelengths from the heavens, washed aglow by death throes and the hottest evolution of the television.

Nearby: bedlam, the northern section of this city this northern city, a blight of municipality where deadly caprice and cul-de-sacs form a fearful symmetry, and where all hell breaks loose and niggers hate nothing more or quite as much as themselves. Although there are the museums, the Rodin and that widely held and most muscular Thinker, gardener of thought of minotaur of thought (where is the now? where is the now?), those lively and maggoty Gates of Hell, and those large immutable extremities of that slightly larger-than-life sextuplet of dribbling aqua-discolored candles of ghoulish altruism, The Burghers of Calais; and down the Parkway towards the city's center is the Academy of Art and Museum, my raison d'être at the time, for I had already completed a year in a four-year curriculum. However that winter, due to an anarchic inability to support myself, I had to suspend studious leisure to revert to work to return to my studies in the fall: it was a long shot, I knew, but with a traveling fellowship I could tour another countryside, sharpen my eye widen my mind whet my palate inside a Florentine atelier as a painter's apprentice, to buy my mother away someday from here without compromising the vision. For two years earlier I had motored across this country from the Pacific to the Atlantic, towards the Northern East, towards a grim and crumpling armpit of a city a beautiful gray city where beauty is earned and eaten like a little bit of bread, whose colonial streets and segregated neighborhoods look like tombs or as though bombs and home girls and hand grenades had blown away gaps in the mortar the memory, towards this birthplace of freedom; however after the stabilization of her post-brain-tumor behavior I undertook the traumatic return to the golden Pacific, some three thousand miles once more to my love my rib my Medusa Marie — yet in less than a month back out west I would relinquish the auto to hurl myself deeper into an already-catastrophic debt, to be flown home once compunction precluded a separate existence: being away from the mother's maladies made me feel as though my love my rib my Medusa Marie could be pulled out from under me, and I was wholly made of doubt and glass.

So that now she sought the sufferer's bliss: a medical miracle in the making or some dietary undertaking, smoother than all the rest, but one shouldn't hope for the best in substitute spread if one has already risen from the dead, thrice for three sons, one shouldn't hope for a miracle if one is a symptom of god. So: she subsisted. Sick women live forever. Even her brain knew the backwardness of this since that doctor had discovered its protest encysted in it, the meningioma tumor; she had to tap her skull, the doc, had to crack her head open with an electric saw in order to scoop it out, and so our foreheads had matching dents: mine from falling down as an adolescent and hers from falling apart as an adult — yet I knew I knew I threw myself beneath those wheels, the devastating wait, the wait for some kind of culmination; time and time again I had participated in idolatry, the worshiping of suffering; everyday I flung my bones under the crushing credence of that five-foot-two two-hundred-and-seventy-so-pound Jagannatha, for it was never simply about giving things up or restraining myself against destructive pleasures, those things that were done to regain good grace were only stones building up the altar, not the sacrifice. I surrendered to her body because it wasn't dead, that's why I'm here, I thought, because it isn't dead, so I decided to wake it up — but the clue as to how the hell I was supposed to do this eluded me, because in a benign state I had made the mistake of asking her to write down all her illnesses all her surgeries, everything that has ever happened to her, hoping I could help her hoping I could figure her out. And she did. Write it all down. A table of contents:

I. illnesses i'm treated for by uncle sam he pay for

1. hip and thigh sprain

2. lumbar disc hernia (my back)

3. nervous disorder (my legs)

4. depression

II. i also have

5. insomnia

6. high colesterol

7. high blood pressure

8. anjá pictoris (my heart)

9. allergies

10. irregular breathing

11. bad bladder control

12. chronic constipation

13. diabetes (lost all my teeth)

14. operations

a. head

i. broke by a motorcar

ii. mengeoma tumor (my brain)

b. neck

i. thyroid

c. collarbones

i. broke by a motorcar

ii. broke by a baseball

d. eye

i. diabetic retinal (my right eye)

ii. cataracts (both eyes)

e. leg and knee

i. left leg broke by a motorcar

ii. right knee replaced

f. ankles

i. calcium deposit (too much in my body)

g. wrist

i. carpal tunnel (my left)

h. stomach

i. partial hysterectomy

ii. full hysterectomy, one week later i laughed too hard and my bowels and intestines come out, took a long time to heal

iii. infected ovary six months after that, my cootie cat smelled bad that's how i known

iv. scar tissues removed from that operation a year later

v. bad needled injection for diabetes, gangrene set in and had to have a chunk of my stomach tooken out the size of a grapefruit, stomach left open to heal from inside out for a year

i. back

i. slipped disc L5-S1 (removed but not replaced)

III. births

had three sons, the first in '67 the second in '69 and you in '72. you was the hardest and didn't want to come and had to pay for you. you was suppose to be the girl and after you the tubes was tied.

IV. migraines

had cluster migraines from 14 to 33. lost my lives to them at least two times i could remember that put me in hospital of overdose, one by the doctors and one by myself. i was give so much medicine and even morphine needled myself. but i died at 4 ½. the doctor pronounced me dead and ever since i been walking.

We die only once, and for such a long time. For every day she took a paragraph of pills and peed on herself still, took a handful of, let's say, ten twenty pills at a time and just gulped them down. And on a routine basis near the sciatic she had steroids stabbed into her spine and behind the oft-ice-packed caps of her knees, because ever since she was dis-eased, ever since she was tainted by her first quietus, she had been in such varying degrees of pain and impediment that her footfalls, itty-bitty as they were, had stretched infinitely beyond her years. And she was so nice, never spleeny or whiny, she was so fucking long-suffering it made me sick, and just like a mama bird she would not only give you the food off her plate but off her palate, just regurgitate the goop into the gullet. She'd give you her damn dentures if she thought you needed them because deep down down deep she lacked facility, she lacked the ability to explore her unexplained selves, her terra incognita if you will, lost it a long time ago when she married my father, the pawn of his pain — yet she was the pawn of her own. She was a damn hero and like most heroes she was only fulfilled in a proud modality of dying because she had lacked the ability to lose herself through verse form or craft: All heroism expiates — by the genius of the heart — a defaulting talent; every hero is a being without talent; a man eliminates himself from the rank of his kind by the monastery or some other artifice — by morphine masturbation or rum — whereas a form of expression might have saved him.



Where is the now? where is the now? for I have looked up the word redundancy and it says see redundant. The Academy, the two-century-year-old school of art and museum, the first in the country, is right in front of me again and I have only two seasons to return; however due to the completion of a bygone degree and debt-doubling interest, exacerbated by all the lowly paying positions I had procured thereafter in great exquisite cities, by my habitual neglect, I am no longer eligible for anymore godsend; I have a partial scholarship but the other part needs tending to, so with the bank report having reached the nadir of a negative status, since it is early April, year of the rat, an unethical filing on the tax return is attempted — yet the accountant the aunt, the first of the seven sisters, just says you can't claim your mother as a dependent because she makes more than you.

Back in February I thought about getting a prominent position on a farm somewhere, some collective youth farm out there on the outskirts of here, for I have more than enough know-how, but the thought of traveling and working forty hours a week every single week, of becoming a seven-to-three or a three-to-eleven or an eleven-to-seven field hand farming beautifully fucked-up children inside an artificial environment, a non-home and then coming home to a non-home had made the decision for me: I would work with schoolchildren again. I started shadowing; no bosses (none on site), only one child to hold down (so I thought), and it pays more for fewer hours (not really) — ultimately I need to make the same or just about the same I would've made on a farm: I'm not trying to work more hours; drawing is more important. Although I need to amass the monies, although there is something a little bit perverse about shopping through a field that'll offer less hours (let alone utterly defeating the purpose), I need time to study by making just enough to stay sane, because after a week without creation — the antithesis of genesis — comes a nightfall of alcohol intake, of cavorting fighting fornicating and other fundamental merriments, so in the scraped-up face of dawn I take to shakes and shivers and cries into an enemy pillow, growing mossy with hate.

Yet the art is also under stress, for an illustrious illustration agent had told a promising illustrator that no one was going to pay him to be his own psychotherapist; she was referring to the unsavory content of his drawings, their lack of perspicuity and color, you say, she said, you only relish extremes, black and white being inherently dramatic, but this won't help me sell you; I like your drawings, I wouldn't have called you in if I didn't, but you can be a little bit disturbing at times, a little disagreeing. I disagree. Good behavior is the last refuge of mediocrity, I said. Black and white can be the illustrator's best friend. Color can compromise compassion. Color can rob integrity of the real nitty-gritty and as far as working-my-own-shit-out-through-my-work is concerned I am sorry, but drawing illustrations — especially for children — can be the most enriching and disturbing thing for me: have you ever seen some of the classical illustrations for Lewis Carroll's classic? However, I didn't say, drawing disturbing images has never been so therapeutic as when I was antagonizing the police: I made them once out west, those sirens of law, get out of their black-and-white and kick my kidneys a couple of times just to get me to get going, just to get me to stop doing what I was doing. I was not sober. I was yelling I'm my father's son my father's son all the way through, and afterwards every day for several days it was just like I had crazy monkey sex: pissing sideways and being prostrate or having poor posture and pain and I was suffering sirens. I was pissing blood. And let me assure you. The sound is disagreeing.


Excerpted from Year of the Rat by Marc Anthony Richardson. Copyright © 2016 Marc Anthony Richardson. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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