Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Brush with author Carolyn Chute

In between reporting jobs early on in my career, I decided to try freelancing. The pitch letter offered a change from the monotony of job hunting. With no idea what I was doing, I gave it a shot.

Carolyn Chute had just published her first book about hardscrabble life in New England, The Beans of Egypt, Maine. I thought she would make a great profile so I called Chute in Maine. She invited me for lunch.

She and her husband Michael, a silent, deep-eyed man with a full, long beard, had me to their cabin for sandwiches. I can’t remember what kind – peanut butter, I think. At the time, I hung around with flannel shirt and hiking boot hippies who looked like the Chutes and lived in teepees and home-made houses without electricity. But, these two were real rural types familiar with the hardness that living on the edge brings.

Their sweetness was welcoming and we had a nice visit but I never got an assignment. An early lesson in freelancing – don’t pitch a story that every magazine, newspaper, radio and television show has already done. (I did get a good meeting with a magazine editor out of it.)

Anyway, I haven’t read anything by her since just but the review of her new
book reminded me of that story and her work. I’m not much into guns but I’ll take another look.

The School on Heart's Content Road
by Carolyn Chute
Nov. 2008

Inside the kitchen is Mickey. To Donnie, his brother’s narrow face and wolfy eyes look cunning, the arms, the shirtless chest and neck rather skinny a few months ago, more tanned today than yesterday, and more muscular, filling this house with threat.

Donnie is breaking. Donnie is dying. There is no shouting this time. Just the gloink-gloink of Mickey pouring that red Kool-Aid from the pitcher into a cup. He takes Mickey one-handed by one bare shoulder. Because of the bag of groceries, he can’t use both hands, and he can’t think of what to do with the bag. There’s only seconds to deflect the threat, and it is all so graceful, not like a brawl, because the boy puts up no resistance, is easily shoved along, out through that back screen door, the spring making its thin wiry music, out into the yard with the million crickets in chilling song, sun gone, silver dusk turning to a sweet cold August night.

“Go away,” Donnie whispers. “You can’t live here anymore. Get out of here. Go!” All in a whisper.

Mickey, no shirt, no shoes, just jeans and his leather wristband, streaky blonde hair, untied, hanging all about his narrow face like a little girl in early morning, he looks up at one window of the big house fleetingly, then backs away.

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