I confused Victoria Patterson with a friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen in years when I wrote my first review of Drift, and I proofed the post countless times and I never saw the mistake (Ms. Patterson pointed it out). I’ve since gone on to read this fantastic collection of linked short stories that defy the common thinking that “short stories don’t sell”, or that no agent will buy them. These stories will remind you of Carver, Cheever and Updike, and I’m not using those comparisons lightly. I went through a period where I was reading Ms. Patterson’s stories right along with Cheever and Updike, and I really feel like they are as good as those legends. Here is her version of “When I Fell In Love”…
Homage to John Updike’s Rabbit, Run by Victoria Patterson
At the encouragement of my born again Christian father—who had been unable to alleviate my doubts and was anxious for me to accept Jesus—I spoke with his pastor, voiced my reservations. This was in the mid-eighties, in Newport Beach, California. I was fifteen years old and church was mandatory. How, I asked, can you believe that people born in India, how can they be going to hell? Isn’t religion an accident of birth? What if I were born a Muslim?
Unable to answer my questions—or at least not to my satisfaction—the pastor subsequently avoided me, and I took up the hobby of scowling at him. As a distraction, I read John Updike’s Rabbit, Run in church, camouflaged it inside a Bible. I had found the book in my mother’s bookshelf next to a biography of Lauren Bacall, and I was intrigued by the title, which seemed like a kid’s book akin to Peter Rabbit, even though I knew it was for adults.
Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom pierced through me—with his hunger for meaning, his desperation, his restlessness, and his desire to flee. Like Rabbit, I was selfish and impulsive; but, also like Rabbit, I was sensitive and empathetic, a seeker, and I felt trapped (“You get the feeling,” he says, “you’re in your coffin before they’ve taken the blood out”). Rabbit rebelled against people “advertising their belief that the world arches over a pit, that death is final, that the wandering thread of his feelings lead nowhere.”
Although the church sermons weren’t meant to be controversial or provocative, they troubled me, for that very same reason. In my teenage view, the more complex and controversial the subject matter, the less anyone seemed able or willing to discuss it. Instead of straying from complex topics—infidelity, sex, death, religion—Updike plunged in. And his characters, like the people around me (including myself) were hugely flawed. Jack Eccles, the Episcopalian minister, was suffering from a lack of faith, and he liked to golf and hang out with teenagers for the vicarious thrill of their sexual banter. Rabbit’s old basketball coach, Marty Tothero, was limp and defeated, and I loved him. Janice, Rabbit’s wife, found comfort in television and alcohol. And Ruth, Rabbit’s lover, was a former prostitute.
The subject matter, the stream of consciousness feel of the prose, the brisk present-tense pace, the sad humor, and the bold declaration of sexuality as an uncanny force, made me want to write: What magic—to be John Updike. To make someone—me—feel less alone. Like Rabbit, I wanted to, “Wake up with the stars above perfectly spaced,” in alignment with life, with some kind of certainty and meaning, even if my heart was heavy with anger and confusion. I was bursting only with the certainty of uncertainty, and instead of tidy conclusions and bromides, Rabbit, Run offered me respect for ambiguity: for its mystery and its music, both within life and within a book.