Thursday, July 22, 2010

Full Moon at Noontide - guest post by Ann Putnam


This is the story of my mother and father and my dashing, bachelor uncle, my father’s identical twin, and how they lived together with their courage and their stumblings, as they made their way into old age and then into death. And it’s the story of the journey from one twin’s death to the other, of what happened along the way, of what it means to lose the other who is also oneself.
My story takes the reader through the journey of the end of life: selling the family home, re-location at a retirement community, doctor’s visits, ER visits, specialists, hospitalizations, ICU, nursing homes, Hospice. It takes the reader through the gauntlet of the health care system with all the attendant comedy and sorrows, joys and terrors of such things. Finally it asks: what consolation is there in growing old, in such loss? What abides beyond the telling of my own tale? Wisdom carried from the end of the journey to readers who are perhaps only beginning theirs. Still, what interest in reading of this inevitable journey taken by such ordinary people? Turned to the light just so, the beauty and laughter of the telling transcend the darkness of the tale.
During the final revisions of this book, my husband was dying of cancer, and he died before I could finish it. What I know so far is this: how pure love becomes when it is distilled through such suffering and loss–a blue flame that flickers and pulses in the deepest heart.
As I finish this book he is gone three months

Hi Anne,

Welcome to Writing Daze Ann,

Thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here.

Ann, you teach creative writing, but your book is a memoir. Why did you choose to write non-fiction for your first novel?

Thank you for a wonderful question to think about! Yes, I do teach fiction writing just about every semester. Now I’ve published short fiction and written two novels, which I’m currently revising, so fiction is the logical choice for me. In fact I was in the middle of revising a novel called Cuban Quartermoon, which is set in Cuba just after the discovery of Che Guevara’s bones, when life intervened and my duties as caretaker for my father and his identical twin brother took over everything. When my uncle died, I began taking little notes—just words or phrases or lines someone had spoken, or first, quick impressions of what my family was going through. When my father died six months later to the day, I found I had collected several little notebooks full of such things. Now the really interesting take on this question for me is why didn’t I render this family drama in fiction? Why did I choose memoir? My first novel was autobiographical and so this narrative of my parents might seem a natural for fiction. Still, it was the voice that emerged from my little scattering of writings that felt like a memoir to me more than fiction. I needed to be wholly, fully myself, with no masks at all, to tell this tale.

That being said, I must tell you that many scenes had to be invented, as it were, out of memory, dream, intuition, but invented from absolute fidelity to the “truth,” if that doesn’t sound completely contradictory.

I’d like to illustrate this with an example from my memoir, which involves my paternal grandmother, whom I had never met, who watched her fiancĂ© die in a boating accident. It was the event that marked and marred the rest of her life. I needed to understand this and the only access I had to her was through my imagination:

“Once the boat flipped over, she’d gone under fast, her skirts weighing her down, but she’d pushed through the dark green water with her strong, swimmer’s legs, to see William swim away from her and toward his sister, :Pearl, to see her grasp his neck and pull him down, no thrashing to the surface for a second try. She saw the rush of water knit itself back again, still as glass. When the other boats reached her she’d called out to leave her and save the others. She’d stayed like that, hugging the boat for over an hour, refusing rescue until it was clear even to her that they were gone. It was the first of May.

As they carried Alfreda off the dock, she looked back one more time to that place in the water where the boats now circled, so still, so dark. How could he be so suddenly gone? That night she lay numb and disbelieving in her boardinghouse room, while thunder cracked against the house and the wind blew the curtains and someone came in but who? to shut the window. She lay with her head in the pillow and tried to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw him floating over the bottom in that green, murky water, his arms outstretched in astonishment. She did not see Pearl anywhere. It was better to keep her eyes open. So she watched the lightning flash across the sky as Will lay at the bottom of the lake, and she knew her prayers had gone unanswered. When the lightning shattered the sky, she wondered what goodness ruled the universe now.

They’d spread the tablecloth on the grassy hill above the beach, where they’d gone for a picnic—the bowl of fried chicken covered with a white linen napkin, and potato salad and cucumber pickles, fresh bread, and fruit. There would have been chocolate, of course. Pearl would have brought it from the candy store where she worked.

And the next day the trespass of her picture in the paper, her life so suddenly laid open for all to see, how she was carried off, half out of her mind. She was twenty-one. Then the violence of the hooks and barbed wire and dynamite to bring the bodies up, and the taste of the day bitter on her tongue forever after, and the plums, where were the plums? Who had eaten the plums?”

ANN PUTNAM teaches creative writing and women’s studies at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She has published short fiction, personal essays, literary criticism, and book reviews in various anthologies such as Hemingway and Women: Female Critics and the Female Voice and in journals, including the Hemingway Review, Western American Literature, and the South Dakota Review. Her recent release is Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye. You can visit her website at

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