This month’s Across the Page features books by noteworthy independent presses: Red Audrey and the Roping, by Jill Malone (Bywater Books); Family Outing, by Troy Johnson (Arcade); and Another Love, by Erzsébet Galgóczi (Midnight Editions).
Red Audrey and the Roping by Jill Malone (Bywater Books)
Jill Malone’s debut novel, Red Audrey and the Roping, is an absolutely gripping and beautifully written story about a woman struggling to figure out how her past reflects her present life and future.
Jane Elliot is in the hospital recovering from a serious head injury. Though she has been there for several weeks, no family or friends have come to claim or visit her and the circumstances of the accident that landing her there are vague at best.
The novel opens with a meeting between Jane and her psychologist, Dr. Mya, and then journeys back to the events that led up to the accident. For unknown reasons, Jane resists the team of doctors working on her case and trying to learn more about her life.
As the story unfolds, Jane is forced to come to terms with her haunting past — both distant and immediate. She has recently returned to Hawaii after abandoning a stable and loving relationship with a woman in Ireland by leaving a “Dear Jane” letter. She is still grieving the childhood loss of her mother, a gifted storyteller who suffered from mental illness and eventually took her own life.
“If my mind would sort properly, I could explain,” Jane thinks at one point, and indeed she has plenty to figure out. In her recovery, Malone carefully weaves together several narrative strands, each of which are intriguing enough to fill an entire novel.
Nearly every aspect of Jane’s life is binary. She teaches Latin at the University of Hawaii and surfs. She is bisexual. She seeks people to take care of her, including best friends Grey and Emily, but is also a masochist who allows her new sadist boyfriend, Nick, to leave welts so deep she can barely sit back in a chair.
Audrey is the one character who is finally able to break through to Jane — primarily because she is unwilling to accept Jane’s disengagement and unrest. Though Jane’s recovery in the hospital is centered on her physical injuries, the process of memory and the literal act of telling her story forces her to confront her past and to see exactly how it has shaped her present.
Malone is an extremely talented storyteller and Red Audrey and the Roping is a magnificent debut. The novel is accomplished on nearly every level — engaging characters, lyrical prose, and a mystery that is certain to keep you turning the pages. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to read more — or at all — this is the perfect book to pick up and devour.
Another Love by Erzsébet Galgóczi (Midnight Editions)
When Eva Szalánczky is shot and killed while trying to cross the border from Soviet controlled Hungary to Yugoslavia, Lieutenant Marosi recognizes her immediately.
Though they essentially work on opposite sides of the communist regime — he as a border patrol and she as a dissident journalist — he was in love with her back when they were classmates in school.
Eva is a lesbian and Marosi’s love for her was torturous and unrequited. Nonetheless, he is compelled to unravel the mystery of her death and to find out whether it was suicide or murder. Why did she not ask for his help to cross the border? And, if she was murdered, was it connected to her political activities or her reckless behavior surrounding the love of a straight woman named Livia whose husband was unpredictable and violent?