||Gale / Cengage Learning
||Nov, 17, 2010
At last - a humorous as well as biting novel about baby boomer women, fear of aging and loss of romance within long-term marriage. No Penelope Perfect pining over Pierre's pectorals here. My Occasional Torment dares to ask and answer - What makes a woman a woman and how in the world would a man know the answer? Now taken on as a stage play by Nigg Media Productions. Premiere date in February.
Barnes & Noble.com
Nigg Media Productions Presents . . . !
So who’s tormenting Julia Connery? After thirty-three years of marriage, her husband, of course. A self-righteous, Scottish-obsessed, damsel-in-distress-saving husband; a magnet attracting a parade of women wanting to interview him for their unwritten books and bask in his Scottish glow. Meanwhile her gangster-obsessed father-in-law knows Julia’s afraid of him and a bit disappointed his son didn’t marry someone else. Her own son lives buried within baggy clothes and teenaged angst, whose passion in life is to tweak his father’s pride. Even the Connery ancestors, their ashes inside urns within Julia’s bedroom closet, whisper disappointments in her direction. A next-door neighbor known as The Vampire tries to run Julia’s marriage even though The Vampire caused her own husband to “explode” years ago. No wonder Julia starts talking to a figment of her imagination. Rather than provide comfort, this figment reminds Julia of her husband’s unaccounted hours-long disappearances. When the figment lays down its challenge—Find me a man and a woman who still desire each other after fifty years of marriage or I’ll never go away!—Julia strives to do just that. Each effort brings failure and Julia fears her marriage will soon become a romance-free zone, or worse. With the shocking truth of The Vampire and her “exploded” husband revealed, Julia sees her marriage with renewed passion, and her task becomes clear. My Occasional Torment celebrates romance not only surviving, but also thriving within marriage, and nothing as simple as a husband can stand in the way.
Julia Connery on men: What is it about men, when they’ve got a thought, a project or a problem, the whole world vanishes and the only thing that exists or matters is their thought, their project or their problem?
Iris Newberry on women: We get old and take pills to replace the hormones that are no longer doing the job on their own, we get our ovaries and uterus yanked out, and cancer seems to keep its devil’s eye on the rest of our bodies. After all that, Julia, what in the world makes me a woman?
Sebastian Connery on John Newberry: We’ve got a vampire neighbor with a dead husband, and the dead husband lives only five miles from his widow . . . and not asking Iris about it is like having a chocolate cake put in front of you on your birthday and being told you can’t eat it.
Roby Connery on Iris Newberry: A woman who buries somebody without somebody to bury could know almost anything.
When I turned fifty, it didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time.After all, I wasn’t far gone from my forties. Fifty-one, though. Fifty-one hit me hard.
Turning fifty-one meant to tell me I was marching toward sixty.
Sixty sounds a hundred years older than fifty-nine. Fifty-one told me there was no going back. My parents turned sixty and seventy and eighty, and then died two years ago. First her, then him. This aging thing was for them, not for me.
Then she came along.
Like a child’s imaginary playmate, she popped out of my mind. I thought my brain had created her for my own comfort, to talk about things I found difficult to share with Sebastian.
She showed up for the first time after my father’s funeral, watching me in the bathroom while I freshened my makeup. Back then, her voice was like a whisper. "They weren’t happy together, you know."
"Mom and Dad."
“Of course they were happy.”
She shook her head. Nameless and plain, a pleasant smile, thin like a waif, and so pale and ordinary up and down, as if she were a canvas waiting for a brush. "Tell me, could you ever imagine them doing it? You know what I mean, doing it?"
“I know doing it, and I don’t think of such things about my parents.”
"Since I’m saying it, you must be thinking it."
“I suppose. Well, of course.”
"Because you know they stayed married for fifty-two years for the sake of you and your sister. More than half the time your father would rather get drunk in a fishing boat and your mother would rather walk barefoot through a landfill than look at the other one naked."
I dropped my lipstick in the sink and considered slapping this figment of my imagination. I insisted, “Well I’m not thinking it now!”
Of course you are. You have to be or else I wouldn’t have mentioned it. She laughed and moved her hands to her hips. "Nobody makes it happily to fifty years of marriage. Nobody."
“Sebastian can’t keep his hands off me after thirty years!”
"He’s been disappearing every now and then, ever since Old Sebastian went off to Dignity Place."
“He always comes home. Always.”
"You know better, Julia honey. Those extra gaps of time between Sebastian leaving work and Sebastian coming home."
“Maybe once a month. Twice at most. He’s my husband, not my property. Men have their friends and hobbies.”
"Name the friends. Tell me his innocent hobbies. What makes him disappear?"
“It’s not a disappearance. It’s a few hours away after work once a month or so, maybe to clear his thoughts.”
"It took only a few hours for Sebastian to find his hobby, with the first Lola. Lola One." I noticed at that moment it was no longer a pleasant smile on her face. She gave me a nasty smirk and a devilish wink. She then offered, "Call me Lola Two."
I moved to slap her, but my hand was like a hammer falling through a cloud.
Still with the smirk and wink, this Lola, Lola Two, said, "Did that hurt?"
I squeezed the sides of the sink, focused on water droplets gathered around my lipstick in the basin.
"I’ll show you what men really want. All men. Including Sebastian."
At the time of my father’s funeral, this is what my lovely brain brought to me. Lola Two. Not a comfort, but a new torment to remind me of my parents’ miserable marriage. Something new to water and fertilize my seed of doubt.
The next time I saw Lola Two was a few months after her first appearance. She decided to show up, sit beside me on my front porch, and say nothing for a while. Together we sniffed at the summer breeze and watched the houses across the street tucked away in their solid splendor.
In Highland Park, Illinois, my home is typical of the older neighborhoods; brick and stone, two stories, garage in back in a large yard, lots of trees and shrubs filling the lawns. The branches overhead hum with cicadas and the streets echo with voices of children at play.
"You could have been anything you wanted to be."
I looked at Lola Two and saw something different about her.
"You made it through graduate school. You earned excellent grades and had your own opportunities. But you married Sebastian instead and have been nothing but a housewife ever since."
“What do you mean by nothing?”
She smiled at me, and I saw. Her teeth blindingly white, her nose thinned down so you could spike it through paper. "Don’t get so defensive. There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife. Nothing at all."
“What did you do to your face?”
Her smile broadened and she closed her eyes, and she looked as though I’d paid her a compliment.
"I’ve been to Dr Plastic. The type of doctor you’ve been wondering about since your early thirties. Let me tell you, the man’s a genius. Teeth bleaching. Nose job. Don’t they look wonderful on me?"
“What was wrong with the way you looked?”
She tossed her head back and laughed. "Oh, Julia. I’m just showing you what you’ve always suspected. Dr Plastic is making me into what men really want."
“Sebastian’s happy with the way I am.”
"Where is Sebastian?"
“At the college teaching summer classes.”
"Are you certain? Don’t you want to check?"
“There’s no need to check.”
"Of course you have to check. We’ve read the same magazines. You stand a twenty-five percent greater chance of getting divorced because you’re a housewife, is all I’m saying. Some husbands insist they don’t want their wives to work outside the home, but then they turn around and get bored with their housewives. But don’t worry, working women stand a thirty-five percent increased chance of getting cheated on. I don’t understand the numbers, but they must be true if they’re printed in Cosmo. I’m certain Dr Plastic would agree."
“There’s no Dr Plastic. Maybe I’ve thought such a person, but he doesn’t exist.”
"Trust your thoughts, Julia honey. Just look at the house across the street. The Martins’. Beautiful home. Three kids. A dog, an apple tree in back, picket fence. About as Norman Rockwell as you’ll find in Highland Park. But you don’t talk to the Martins. Why? Because you know about them. He’s cheating on her with Mrs. Marbry next door, but Mrs. Martin doesn’t care ’cause she’s got it going on with Mr. Havlicek in the house to the south of yours. And two houses to the north, Mrs. Winthrop told you something personal a few months ago, something you never wanted to hear. She told you her husband’s so fat he hasn’t seen his own pecker in ten years. You know what she’s doing with Mr. Kramer in the house across the street and one over to the north. And even Mr. Winthrop found somebody’s housekeeper on the block west of here who doesn’t mind showing him exactly where his pecker is."
Lola Two yawned in her chair and touched at her new nose. "Then there are the three divorces, four separations, and the couple you know as the Screamers with their poor, eldest son and the twins who have to listen to it all; the Unkers, five houses to the north."
Of course I was stunned by what she knew. What I knew. She raised her feet to rest them on the brick banister, breathed in sweet summer air, and slouched low in her chair.
"What a neighborhood we’ve got here. After fifteen years on this block, no wonder you keep to yourself. You think you’ll catch the infidelity germ and infect Sebastian. But it’s airborne, honey. You can’t avoid it forever. After all, Sebastian’s proven he’s susceptible."
I told her we’re happy in our home and she waved her hand at a fly. I told her my bed is busy enough, and she snatched the fly in her hand and crushed it, only to watch the fly reappear and flit away from her imaginary flesh.
"You could’ve been anything you wanted to be. She pointed her Dr Plastic pixie nose at me. But you chose Sebastian and this neighborhood." With a wink, she said, "No marriage makes it happily to fifty years. Passion always dies and marriage is the cause of death. Marriage turns romance into misery. Always."
“What about the Newberrys?”
"The Newberrys over there?" Lola Two nodded at my neighbor’s house next door, to the north. Brown brick, vines up and down the porch, heavy gray-purple curtains sealing the windows. "You’ve got to be kidding. He’s dead and buried!"
Her laughing fit hit my ears so hard the sound of it remained in my head long after she faded away. And I remember the last thing she had said that afternoon.
"Don’t kid yourself, Julia Connery. When it comes to Sebastian and all other married men in the world, Dr Plastic is very, very real."
As soon as she vanished, I called the college, asked the front desk for Sebastian and waited. When he answered, he said, “What a pleasant surprise.”
“I love you, Sebastian.”
“Well. I love you too, Julia.”
There was nothing more to say. I knew I had failed.
Marriage is demanding, and after 33 years, Julia wants proof that hers will last. Everyone in Highland Park, Illinois, seems to be cheating, divorced, or widowed. She cannot forget the time her husband, Sebastian, a history professor at the local junior college, was unfaithful before they married, and wonders if she should visit the plastic surgeon to keep herself desirable. Compounding her fears is the steady stream of women students who have read Mitch Albom and Frank McCourt, and now want her husband to be their inspiration. In between her fears that she is not woman enough, or Scottish enough (she’s three quarters) for her husband, she is also worried about her elderly father-in-law, who obsesses about
gangsters; her 17-year-old son Roby, who is at war with his father; and their widowed neighbor, whom they all call the vampire. With insight and humor, Robb tells a tale that shows you are never too old or too married for romance. — Patty Engelmann / Booklist
Romance Reviews Today
Romance Reviews Today www.romrevtoday.com
MY OCCASIONAL TORMENT - Bee Robb
Highland Park, Illinois – Present Day
Julia Connery has been married thirty-three years to her husband Sebastian. A professor at the local junior college, Sebastian mesmerizes his female students with a fake Scottish accent that makes women swoon over him. I say fake because he has never been to Scotland, but that doesn’t stop the swooning. In Julia’s closet are urns that contain the ashes of long deceased Connerys waiting to be taken back to the motherland.
Family is everything to Sebastian, but he and son Roby seem to clash over everything. Julia’s father-in-law, Old Sebastian, is in a nursing home, Dignity Place. Not only is he obsessed with the mob, but is convinced the body of mob figure Little Nicky One is buried in the walls of Dignity Place. His time now is spent knocking holes in the walls, much to the chagrin of the staff, Julia, and Sebastian. Roby adores his grandfather, even as he believes his dad is impossible.
MY OCCASIONAL TORMENT is an engaging read that will keep readers laughing, as Julia becomes prickly with her insecurity about her looks and her husband’s faithlessness. She feels bad about her dislike for her father-in-law, whom she privately calls Old Toots. Julia keeps talking to herself and manifests her alter ego, Lola Two. Yes, she is a figment of Julia’s imagination. Each time Lola Two appears, she looks like an advertisement for plastic surgery to the extreme. She taunts Julia that there is no such thing as love and marriage ever. Lola Two points out Sebastian’s absences—where does he go? With Lola Two taunting her, Julia, sets out to prove there is love in a marriage, and it is lasting.
MY OCCASIONAL TORMENT kept me chuckling as this character driven story embraces Julia’s family’s eccentric life. Secondary characters are funny and outrageous. Old Sebastian makes Julia’s life hell until she decides to make peace with him. Will he find Little Nicky One’s bones? Lola Two keeps taunting Julia at the worst times. But will Julia banish Lola Two and accept that love and marriage do exist, even as the years take their toll and Sebastian loves her just as he did on their wedding day? But the biggest question of all, will this family ever get to Scotland? Enjoy, folks.
Deborah C Jackson
Romance Reviews Today
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