Monday, August 25, 2014

"Deep Down Things" by Tamara Linse

Deep Down Things
by Tamara Linse

Deep Down Things is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt, my review, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For another book by Tamara Linse, including an interview with the author, please see my blog post on How to Be a Man.

Deep Down Things, Tamara Linse’s debut novel, is the emotionally riveting story of three siblings torn apart by a charismatic bullrider-turned-writer and the love that triumphs despite tragedy.
From the death of her parents at sixteen, Maggie Jordan yearns for lost family, while sister CJ drowns in alcohol, and brother Tibs withdraws. When Maggie and an idealistic young writer named Jackdaw fall in love, she is certain that she’s found what she’s looking for. As she helps him write a novel, she gets pregnant, and they marry. But after Maggie gives birth to a darling boy, Jes, she struggles to cope with Jes’ severe birth defect, while Jackdaw struggles to overcome writer’s block brought on by memories of his abusive father.
Ambitious, but never seeming so, Deep Down Things may remind you of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.

Jackdaw isn’t going to make it. I can tell by the way the first jump unseats him. The big white bull lands and then tucks and gathers underneath. Jackdaw curls forward and whips the air with his left hand, but his butt slides off-center. Thirty yards away on the metal bleachers, I involuntarily scoot sideways—as if it would do any good. The bull springs out from under Jackdaw and then arches its back, flipping its hind end.
Jackdaw is tossed wide off the bull’s back. In the air he is all red-satin arms and shaggy-chapped legs but then somehow he grabs his black felt hat. He lands squarely on both feet, knees bent to catch his weight. Then he straightens with a grand sweep of his hat. Even from here you can see his smile burst out. There’s something about the way he opens his body to the crowd, like a dog rolling over to show its belly, that makes me feel sorry for him but drawn to him too. With him standing there, holding himself halfway between a relaxed slouch and head-high pride, I can see why my brother Tibs admires him.
I haven’t actually met Jackdaw before, but he and Tibs hang out together a lot, and they have some English classes together. I haven’t run across him on campus.
The crowd on the bleachers goes wild. It doesn’t matter that Jackdaw didn’t stay on the full eight seconds. They holler and wolf-whistle and shake their programs. Their metallic stomping vibrates my body and brings up dust and the smell of old manure.
With Jackdaw off its back, the bull leaps into the air. It gyrates its hips and flips its head, a long ribbon of snot curling off its nostril and arcing over its back. Then it stops and turns and looks at Jackdaw. It hangs its head low. It shifts its weight onto its front hooves, butt in the air, and pauses. The clown with the black face paint and the big white circles around his eyes runs in front of the bull to distract it, but it shakes its head like it’s saying no to dessert.
The crowd hushes.
Then, I can’t believe it, Jackdaw takes a step toward the bull. The crowd yells, but not like a crowd, like a bunch of kids on a playground. Some holler encouragement. Others laugh. Some try to warn him. Some egg him on. My heart beats wild in my chest like when my sister CJ and I watch those slasher movies and Freddy’s coming after the guy and you know because he’s the best friend that he’s going to get killed and you want to warn him. “Bastard deserved it,” CJ always says, “for being stupid.”
It’s like Jackdaw doesn’t know the bull’s right there. He starts walking, not directly to the fence but at a slant toward the loudest of the cheers, which takes him right past the bull.
I turn to Tibs. “What’s he doing?”
“He knows his stuff,” Tibs says, his voice lower than normal. The look on his face makes me want to give him a hug, but we’re not a hugging family, so I nod, even though Tibs isn’t looking at me.
Tibs is leaning forward, his eyes focused on Jackdaw, his elbows on his knees, and his shoulders hunched. Tibs is tall and thin, and he always looks a little fragile, a couple of sticks propped together. His face is our dad’s, big eyes and not much of a chin, sort of like an alien or an overgrown boy. He has the habit of playing with his fingers, which he’s doing now. It’s like he wants to reach out and grab something but he can’t quite bring himself to. It’s the same when he talks—he’ll cover his mouth with his hand like he’s holding back his words.
Tibs is the tallest of us three kids—CJ, he, and I. CJ’s the oldest. I’m the youngest and the shortest. Grandma Rose, Dad’s mom, always said I got left with the leftovers. Growing up, it seemed like CJ and Tibs got things and were told things that I was too young to have or to know. It was good though, too, because when Dad and Mom got killed when I was sixteen, I didn’t know enough to worry much about money or things. They had saved up some so we could get by. But poor CJ. She in particular had to be the parent, but she was used to babysitting us and she was older anyway—twenty-two, I think.
Like that time when we were kids when CJ was babysitting and I got so sick. Turned out to be pneumonia. I don’t know where our parents were. Most likely, they were away on business, but it could have been something else. Grandma Rose had cracked her hip—I remember that—so she couldn’t take care of us, but it was only for a couple of days and CJ was thirteen at the time. In general, CJ had started ignoring us, claiming she was a teenager now and didn’t want to play with babies any more, like kids do, which really got Tibs, though he didn’t do much besides sulk about it. But that day she was playing with us like she was a little kid too.
We had been playing in an irrigation ditch making a dam. I pretended to be a beaver, and Tibs pretended to be an engineer on the Hoover Dam. I don’t remember CJ pretending to be anything, just helping us arrange sticks and slop mud and then flopping in the water to cool down. I started feeling pretty bad. Over the course of the day, I had a cough that got worse and then I got really hot and then really cold and my body ached. My lungs started wheezing when I breathed. I remember thinking someone had punched a hole in me, like a balloon, and all my air was leaking out. CJ felt my head and then felt it again and then grabbed my arm and dragged me to the house, Tibs trailing behind. All I wanted to do was lie down, but she bundled me in a blanket and put me in a wagon, and between them she and Tibs pulled me down the driveway and out onto the highway. We lived twelve miles from town, in the house where I live now. I don’t know why CJ didn’t just call 911. But here we were, rattling down the middle of the highway. A woman in a truck stopped and gave us a ride to the hospital here in Loveland. Can you imagine it? A skinny muddy thirteen-year-old girl in her brown bikini and her skinny nine-year-old brother, taller than her but no bigger around than a stick and wearing red, white, and blue swim trunks, hauling their six-year-old sister through the sliding doors of the emergency room in a little red wagon. What those nurses must’ve thought.
On the bleachers, I glance from Tibs back out to Jackdaw. The bull doesn’t know what’s going on either. It shakes its lowered head and snorts, blowing up dust from the ground. Jackdaw bows his head and slips on his hat. Then the bull decides and launches itself at Jackdaw. Just as the bull charges down on Jackdaw, the white-eyed clown runs between him and the bull and slaps the bull’s nose. Jackdaw turns toward them just as the bull plants its front feet, turns, and charges after the running clown.
Pure foolishness and bravery. My hands are shaking. I want to go down and take Jackdaw’s hand and lead him out of the arena. A thought like a little alarm bell—who’d want to care about somebody who’d walk a nose-length from an angry bull? But something about the awkward hang of his arms and the flip of his chaps and the way his hat sets cockeyed on his head makes me want to be with him.
The clown runs toward a padded barrel in the center of the arena, his white-stockinged calves flipping the split legs of his suspendered oversized jeans. He jumps into the barrel feet-first and ducks his head below the rim. The crowd gasps and murmurs as the charging bull hooks the barrel over onto its side and bats it this way and that for twenty yards. The bull stops and turns and faces the crowd, head high, tail cocked and twitching. He tips his snout up once, twice, and snorts.
While the bull chases the clown, Jackdaw walks to the fence and climbs the boards.
The clown pops his head out of the sideways barrel where he can see the bull from the rear. He pushes himself out and then scrambles crabwise around behind. He turns to face the bull, his hands braced on the barrel. The bull’s anger still bubbling, it turns back toward the clown and charges. As the bull hooks at the barrel and butts it forward, the clown scoots backwards, keeping the barrel between him and the bull, something I’m sure he’s done many times. He keeps scooting as the bull bats at the barrel. But then something happens—the clown trips and falls over backwards. The barrel rolls half over him as he turns sideways and tries to push himself up. The bull stops for a split second, as if to gloat, and then stomps on the clown’s franticly scrambling body and hooks the horns on its tilted head into the clown’s side, flipping the clown over onto his back.
Why do rodeo clowns do it? Put their lives on the line for other people? I don’t understand it.
The pickup men on the horses are there, but a second too late. They charge the bull, their horses shouldering into it. They yell and whip with quirts and kick with stirrupped boots. Tail still cocked, the reluctant bull is hazed away and into the gathering pen at the end of the arena. The metal gate clangs shut behind it.
Head thrown back and arms splayed, the clown isn’t moving. Men jump off the rails and run toward him, and the huge doors at the end of the arena open and an ambulance comes in. It stops beside the clown. The EMTs jump out, pull out a gurney, and then huddle around the prone body. One goes back to the vehicle and brings some equipment. There’s frantic activity, and with the help of the other men, they place him on the gurney and slide him into the ambulance. It pulls out the doors and disappears, and the siren wails and recedes.
Tibs stands up, looks at me, and jerks his head, saying come on, let’s go. I stand and follow him.

Some of My Favorite Lines
"Suddenly, I want something so bad, something so deep I can't name, like I'm in the snow and I'm looking in a window at a roaring fire."
"Because it's winter, the fields consist of gray dirt, open to the scouring of stray winds. The land is so flat beyond, blue above, hazy tan below, you can see the earth curve."
"The same people have been coming here for twenty, thirty years, old people who drink all day like it was their job. Clock in at 8, clock out at 5. It'd be funny if it wasn't so sad."
"It's like we're touching, only it's our minds that are touching, not our bodies."
"... rapid-fire, a series of things shoot through me. First, I have the strong desire to kiss her, but then out of nowhere this anger boils up and I want to hit her."
"I squash the feeling down where it should be, down with all the other stuff from my past.
"It occurs to me that all you have to do, really, is sit down and put words on paper. That's it at its most elemental."
"The next day, we're up in the early chill hours, goose-bumped as we slip on cold jeans and tuck our hands into our armpits."
"I wish my skills would allow me to describe this feeling. If I could, I guess then I could label myself a writer. Hemingway could do it. I can't."
"You just did it, right there. You described it. It wasn't a cliché and it was perfect."
"This is where I need to be a man and do what needs to be done."
"The point is, art's about doing, not trying to do."

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Welcome to the country town of Loveland, where "people from all over mail in their valentines so they can have a Loveland postmark", and where the locals spend their days drinking at the bar, riding bulls in rodeos, or fishing. Meet Maggie and her sister CJ and her brother Tibs who were orphaned when their archeologist parents died in a plane crash when Maggie was 16. As the oldest, CJ was charged with raising them. Now wanting children of her own, CJ finds she is infertile. In any event, she is in a dead-end relationship with fellow bartender Peter.
Maggie falls for charismatic Jackdaw from the first moment she sees him riding a bull. When he dislocates his shoulder and moves in with Tibs, Maggie and Jackdaw are brought closer together. However, CJ takes an instant dislike to him. Are her feelings justified?
While Maggie helps Jackdaw write his great American novel, Jackdaw's perception of her changes. He comes to resent her and often gets the unreasonable urge to hit her, just as his father used to hit his mother. Nevertheless, Jackdaw feels compelled to marry Maggie when she becomes pregnant. When baby Jes is born with spina bifida, Maggie remains optimistic and vows to be "the perfect mother", but Jackdaw blames Maggie for trapping him. And as Jes' condition worsens and Jackdaw's tolerance reaches breaking point, tragedy is bound to strike.
Deep Down Things is a heartbreaking account of one family's struggles to come to grips with both past and present tragedies. It is told alternately from the points-of-view of Maggie, her sister CJ, her brother Tibs, and Tibs' friend Jackdaw. This allows us to follow each character's story and is especially effective during the book's climactic scene, which we get to see from all four points-of-view.
Throughout the book, the author uses an extended metaphor centering on Jesus: the names "CJ" (as opposed to "JC"; her real name is also "Cleopatra" who is rumored to have fathered Jesus with Julius Caesar), "Maggie" (short for "Magdalene"), "Tibs" (short for "Tiberius", the name of the Roman emperor in power at the time of Jesus' crucifixion), and "Jes" (short form of "Jesus"); Jackdaw's comparison of Maggie to the Virgin Mary; the story of the bum who walks into CJ's bar; references to The Life of Brian; and the parallel of Maggie not being able to help Jes, just as Mary was unable to help Jesus on the cross.
By far, the author's greatest talent is her beautiful eye for detail. She has the remarkable ability to paint a picture with just a few choice words. She does this both in the way she perfectly portrays all four of her narrators, as well as in the way she describes the scenery. It's obvious she loves this land and knows it well.
Deep Down Things shares some similarities in theme to the author's previous book, How to Be a Man. In my review for that book, I stated that this author is a talent to watch. Well, now I'm watching her even more closely because I don't want to miss a thing.
Warnings: coarse language, sex scenes, domestic violence, gay and lesbian themes, alcohol abuse.

About the Author
Like the characters in Deep Down Things, the author Tamara Linse and her husband have lost babies. They had five miscarriages before their twins were born through the help of a wonderful woman who acted as a gestational carrier. Tamara is also the author of the short story collection How to Be a Man and earned her master’s in English from the University of Wyoming, where she taught writing. Her work appears in the Georgetown Review, South Dakota Review, and Talking River, among others, and she was a finalist for Arts & Letters and Glimmer Train contests, as well as the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize for a book of short stories. She works as an editor for a foundation and as a freelancer.

Enter the Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of 20 copies of Deep Down Things by Tamara Linse (ends 11 September).
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.