"Rodriguez weaves a wonderful story with her new book, Carefully. Multiple characters are easy to follow as they fill her story with twists of adventure and ironic fate. It was a very enjoyable book from start to finish.’’
–– Charlie Catlett
“Hosannas in the highest for this brilliant novel. I was up until midnight reading it, savoring all the characters, plots and subplots, and particularly Rodriguez´s philosophical asides. I can only say that the author of this book is a great soul that the world needs to hear from more often.
–– Joyce Sunila
“I was lucky enough to read it on the beach where I happened to be; I read it in bed; read it on the couch, at breakfast and even in the bathroom. I found the book entirely surprising and satisfying. It is a very good story, very well told and beautifully written. I found the story kind of mystical, but with real people acting in the ways humans go about screwing things up; except for the bird, who I think most people should identify with. You captured feelings I haven’t had since 1969 when everything was the future.”
–– John Underkoffler
“Carefully is remarkable. I read it immediately after re-reading Great Expectations, which was a little unfair, but it held its own and became engrossing, surprising, entertaining, perplexing, complex...”
–– Roger Robinson
“Carefully is an ambitious mix of magical realism, character study and detective novel. So many strands are expertly woven together, creating a living, breathing community that I was sorry to leave when I finished a read that was wonderfully satisfying. “
–– Jennifer Granville
“Carefully was wonderfully entertaining, refreshing and thought-provoking. I loved the ending.”
–– Adel Hillman
This is a novel about Everything. Not itemized, of course, but acknowledged. “All stories are fragmentary,” we are reminded, “because all existence is one.”
Then a particular story begins, with a pleasant spring morning in the small town of Sago in New York’s green Hudson Valley, when defrocked priest McGavin Gordy is visited by an angelic presence that he doesn’t actually see, but whose authenticity he does not for a moment question. He understands that he has been touched by the Infinite, and that his life has been transformed.
Meanwhile, however, a feral crow that Gordy has called Scaramouche, pursues his own straightforward interests, one of which is persecuting Gordy’s case nurse, Marsha Melchior, because she once smacked him away from stealing her lunch.
And thus unfolds a human story (well, partly human) in which good things happen, bad things happen, and ordinary people try to act responsibly with imperfect success, as CAREFULLY wickedly plays with the notion of some purposeful order in the universe, and with the ways our minds use language-told stories--like this one--to try to pull some sense out of the ungraspable and overwhelming Everything.
All stories are fragmentary, because all existence is one.
That is to say, were this book a thousand volumes long, each volume with the full size and heft of a loaded boxcar, its text would still be inadequate to describe what human experience is actually like, swamped as that experience always is with the trivial, the irrelevant, the tangential, the discontinuous, the unknown, the misperceived, the imagined, and so forth.
A writer writing a story must first of all write something a reader will recognize as "a story," after all, a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, with extraneous elements responsibly edited out, and with, all in all, a very simplified line of causality. The writer's first task is to edit out what doesn't belong, as the sculptor's is to chip away what isn't the chosen form, to extract a shape from the mass. There will always be more missing than mentioned. And we accept this as a given.
"Stories," Oike this one) those formal narratives with characters and incidents and a proper shape, provide the mind with a sense of order. They select patterns from some overwhelming everything and calm--impermanently, but at least for a while--the looping, restless and unstable ocean movement of our minds' continuous absorption, digestion, and defecation of too much.
What I am suggesting, to put it another way, is only a kind of humility-for myself as well as for you-as we, writer and reader, progress through the story that is to begin further down this page. Of course, as I tap these words, there is no "you." I am the sole and only reader.
Father McGavin Gordy was visited by an angel that morning. He saw it at the moment of waking, through slitted, sleep-softened eyes, a shimmering radiance in the air of the room. And he could smell the scent of it as well. It seemed a normal thing, like something he had been walking toward all his long life. And yet he held his breath, waiting for it to speak. When angels come, they come with a message.
There is no sense that is so like memory as the sense of smell, .with its singular elusiveness, the alternation of having and loss (or invasion and relief for that matter) that rides the inhale and the exhale-drawing in, casting out. Inspiration, expiration. It was the scent of it he would remember, holding it rapturously in his body as he held his breath. The scent, like the moment, in a moment to be dispersed and gone. And the slight, glancing iridescence of light through his hovering lashes. But the room was silent except for the rackety chirp of birds outside and the occasional caw of a crow. And so in a few moments he opened his eyes. He'd had to exhale to keep breathing after all. And it was gone.
Or rather, in its place was the momentarily brilliant effect of a morning sunbeam through a glass full of wate: on his dresser, into which Jenna Clare had stuck a fistful of hyacinths . That was all. He was a little disappointed, but not dismayed. No, it had happened. He knew it. The Presence lingered in the scent of the hyacinths, and in the morning light, wistful and awe-hushed through the drinking glass with the water in it and the thick stems of the garden's gift. He knew now that he was not afraid of death. Well, to word it more carefully--because the process can be nasty-that he was not afraid of being dead. Yes, his faith should have freed him from that fear long ago, but after all, if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, as he made every effort to be, the true will of the Creator had not always presented itself to him with the clarity he had so ardently desired of it. Still, he had tried to do his best. And at this moment, his body sleep-heavy, his mind aglow with quiet joy, he believed with uncomplicated certainty that he was ultimately to receive forgiveness. The window was open, because the nights had been so mild, and the black-and-white checked gingham curtains were hooked back, the sunlit folds filling and relaxing gently in the breeze of the morning like the bosom of a sleeper that sighed but did not wake. There was a small chunk of blue glass on the deep windowsill. Very, indeed vastly, far away, the sun that was a fiery mass shone in its fury and heat out into a black void where its light made stone planets gleam. Ordered motes of dust, dumbly circling, hurtling in time so vast that the emergence and extinguishing of life itself is unnoticeable. Father Mac snuffled and turned his head on the pillow, enjoying the Bliss, as he regarded with fresh eyes everything about him-normal and ordinary and faded with familiarity. Now transfigured and unutterably Beautiful. Now Miraculous. Yes. Unfortunately, he had to pee. But that was miraculous , too. He smiled at the thought . All things bright and beautiful. All living functions blessed. He would pee joyfully. Some people, after all, cannot pee, or cannot pee without assistance. He could still do it like a man. Hosanna. Hallelujah. Praise for the morning. And praisein all humility before the glory of the Almighty, because He had made it and it was good-praise for a fully functioning whizzer. He threw back the covers and stretched out his creakiness a bit before flopping his legs over the side of the bed and heaving himself sideways into a seated position. Then he held out his arms wide to the world. It was a lovely, inexpressibly sweet, transparent day. And he was still alive. And nothing would ever be the same. He went into the bathroom, and this is, of course, nothing of particular relevance to the arc of what we are going to continue to call the "story," even though, well, it involves processes and actions that are part of the very essence of what it means to be a living creature, part of every single day of your life, if all goes well. He had replaced the toilet bowl and tank something like a decade ago-so, fairly recently as time is experienced when you have lived many decades and ten years is a much smaller proportion of your life than it used to be. But the sanitary fixture was installed in the same place, over the same opening in the floor, where the rectory's first toilet had been installed by a man much younger a much longer time ago. And so McGavin Gordy stood in just about exactly the same location (the underlying floor boards stressed but still firmly holding) where other boys and men had stood over the course of well over a hundred years, and as so many of them had so often done, while waiting for his body to do its necessary thing, he turned his face, looking over his right shoulder to gaze out the window at the branches of trees and the distant hump of the ridge with sky behind it. Each boy, each man, living his life, thinking his thoughts, gazing briefly over his right shoulder at the hump of that ridge, with the sky, in whatever its presentation was that day, behind it.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Jenna Clare heard him get up and make his way to the bathroom, and so she stopped folding laundry and cleared it off the kitchen table, punched the button of the coffee maker, turned on the waffle iron. There was no way of anticipating that anything noteworthy had happened upstairs. If anyone had suggested it, Jenna would probably have guessed some blood in the urine. Which was not, in fact, the case.
Well, that was what happened on that particular early morning, the Tuesday after Easter, and also other things happened both nearby and in remote places.
But to follow, however arbitrarily, what we are thinking of as our story, miracles do not happen in a vacuum. They are beheld by someone, not beheld by others. And they are implausible. That is, after all, the whole point. Miracles-if you are open to the idea that they occur-are awkward slubs in that wide, unspooling order of threads in which causes have effects, and effects, causes, and truly wondrous things do not simply plop unannounced out of nothing into the continuum that we march in. A reported miracle is by its very definition not something most people are going to believe. McGavin Gordy knew this. He wasn't stupid.
Even the Church, which trades in miracles, largely resists the invitation to be gullible. Enough with the potatoes shaped like the Virgin Mary, and the weeping this, and the bleeding something else. The Church sends its fraud-weary investigators to examine formally made claims, and those guys may believe in miracles as a matter of dogma, but they sure as hell (and they are sure of hell) don't show up thinking your claim is likely.
Not that the Church was going to be alerted in this instance; of course, it wasn't. But the point is that a miracle at its heart is a deeply intimate message to the beholder alone. Like an epiphany, which is superficially similar, but essentially different. Both are flashes of light that pierce to the soul. By and large it is the innocent who see miracles. The jaded hope for epiphanies. They need them.
That being the case, something certainly seemed to have misfired if a miracle had manifested itself to Father Mac, who hadn't been innocent in quite some time. Definitely the man for an epiphany. But there. These things are not to be explained.
Jenna put the folded laundry on top of the dryer and then came back to get the juice and the milk out, set the father's breakfast place and a second one for Ethan Holland. And so the day proceeded. And so the sun, its being spring, shone cheerfully through the mesosphere and the stratosphere and the troposphere, and the kitchen window.
Ethan was in the chicken-wire-enclosed vegetable garden composting the dirt, yanking early weeds and setting seedlings as he had been since shortly after dawn probably. He lived over the garage, so it wasn't hard to get over there. Jenna glanced at the round, red-framed clock over the sink. It was eight-fifteen.
Jenna Clare was not pretty perhaps. But she was beautiful in a plain way. These things are famously a matter of fashion and personal taste. Suffice to say the eye lingered on her if there wasn't a lot of clutter about, on her mass of frizzy light-brown hair pulled back into a thick, stumpy braid, her curvy, short-waisted figure, her plump hands and toed-in feet. She had lovely skin, and that was a plus, very fair, so she sunburned easily and had to wear a hat with a wide brim in the summer . Her eyes were light blue, straight across and almost rectangular, her nose just slightly turned up, and she had a generous smattering of pale freckles. She was also a very good cook, and Father Mac appreciated that. There was a kindness about her. It was a beautiful morning. Yes. All the local living things were, in ways appropriate to their kind and to their circumstances, appreciating that. Jenna put her head out the kitchen door to call, "Breakfast! to the gangling figure of Ethan Holland, bent over in the garden, and to take a deep breath of the grass-fragrant air. Time passes in moments. Nothing stays. She brought her head back in.
The first batch of waffles was almost done. Jenna set out the syrup and the early, market strawberries. And in a few moments she heard the latch of the garden gate scratch open and click shut. And while she pushed a strand of hair from her face, the clock ticked and a car went by on the road, and the sounds from the second floor told her that Father Mac had lowered himself down on the top step, and with the help of hands and feet was rump-bumping downstairs, as he sometimes did on days when his knees didn't feel particularly springy.
Jenna was aware, though not particularly thinking about it, that just outside the door the double clunk of muddy shoes removed was followed by the soft shuffle of slippers. The screen door squeaked open and slapped shut, and Ethan came in, very tall in the low-ceilinged kitchen, and narrow-hipped, his lank, darkish brown hair long.
"Dang window screen's down again," he said.
"The one from Father Mac's bedroom?"
"Yeah," he answered, going to the sink to wash the hands he had hose-rinsed . "I set it back nice and snug. Double checked it. And this morning there it is, stuck in the forsythia bush again, window wide open. Ooh, nice! Waffles. Great."
But Jenna was not listening to him. She was looking at the figure of McGavin Gordy standing at the entrance to the kitchen. Ethan turned to see what she was looking at.
* * *
On a morning like this, with four appointments scheduled on opposite sides of the county, one of them with the nutcase who called himself "Father" Mac even though he had been defrocked in 1978, Marsha Melchior was just freaking not going to wear pantyhose, even if she had to be in court this afternoon. Chucking the bra was not really an option for a woman of her endowments, but driving for hours in pantyhose-no. That small defiance accomplished, she had pulled her fine hair back into an elastic band, got in the car in her sleeveless print sundress, armed with her laptop and thermal cup of coffee, oversized pocketbook and crunchable hat, remembered her cell, put on her sunglasses, cranked up the local country music station, and headed out to the stone house on Rackford Road that was still called "The Rectory."
It wasn't a bad drive really at all from the outskirts of the city along clear Route 12 with its rolling meadows and pleasant stands of trees, and houses becoming less frequent, down the bosky side roads and out again by the Angus Fa.rm market and nursery, onto Rackford.
As the car sped along, she avoided the road kill of some small animal that hadn't made it across the lane, spooking off a crow that was cleaning up.. And kept on going.
Scaramouche perched in the vantage of the tree for a few moments, checking out the road for oncoming traffic, and then dropped down again and resumed his meal. It wasn't peanut butter, but it was good. Mm hmm. Right tasty.