Patricia Traxler Blood: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780312304010

Blood: A Novel

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9780312304010: Blood: A Novel
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From talented newcomer Patricia Traxler comes a brilliant literary suspense novel about how desire can become jealousy, obsession, and finally murderous rage. Blood is equal parts auspicious literary debut, pageturner, and erotic novel about four people whose lives become irrevocably intertwined during one year at Radcliffe College.

The narrator, Norrie Blume, is a painter who has accepted a prestigious fellowship at the college; she's excited to leave her job as a commercial graphic designer and take up the artist's life. But she's also in the middle of an intense love affair with a married colleague, an affair that is threatening to consume both their lives. At Radcliffe, Norrie develops friendships with two other fellows, a journalist and a poet. One is deep, comforting; the other ruled by need and guilt. These three intense relationships quickly begin to infringe upon each other, and soon the four of them seem to be hurtling toward some shocking-and perhaps tragic-end.

Blood is a triumph of suspense writing, a true psychological thriller about the nature of desire and the danger of love.

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About the Author:

Patricia Traxler was born in California and now lives in Kansas. An award-winning poet, she has published three volumes of poetry, and her fiction and poetry have appeared in such publications as The Boston Review, Ploughshares, The Nation, The Kenyon Review, Slate, and Ms. magazine. This is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
I’d spent most of the week packing my worldly belongings for the move to Brattle Street, and by Friday night I was nearly finished. I found it unsettling, how easy it was to sort my life into boxes I arranged in rows on the floor. I hadn’t moved in a while—several years, in fact—and I’d forgotten how this felt.
As with every life decision I made, I was tormenting myself in its aftermath, plagued by what my pal Liz liked to call “buyer’s remorse.” (She used the term for everything but real estate, which thus far had played no meaningful part in her life or mine—in particular, it was how she described her own feelings in the wake of any new romantic commitment she ever made.) Actually, I’d been happier with this Watertown house than with any place I’d rented before, so it was easy to feel remorse.
Increasingly in the last few days, I’d found myself wandering through the familiar rooms at odd hours to appreciate the wonderful light in every room and contemplate the beauty and integrity of the architecture. I was just renting half of the house, and I shared that half with a housemate, Jill; but the rooms were huge, and with two stories we each had loads of room to ourselves. The best thing about the house, for me, was the sunny studio I’d set up on the second floor. For years before moving here I’d dreamed of having a home studio. And now I was giving it up.
Of course, I had to remind myself that the advantage of a home studio was severely mitigated by a housemate like Jill, who tended to walk right in on me without knocking while I was in the throes of painting and practically levitating, most recently to share with me a Newsweek story on “Breast Cancer Among Childless Women.” (“Childish women deserve it,” I’d responded, deliberately misreading the Newsweek headline she’d thrust into my field of vision.) Jill was the creative equivalent of a cold shower.
It would be good for me to get into my own apartment, even if moving to Brattle Street did mean giving up the studio, for it would provide me with the solitude that would allow me to paint undisturbed during my Larkin Fellowship year at Radcliffe. This was the chance I’d never had before to be a full-time artist, and I was eager to discover what it was like to live alone and be truly immersed in painting. I wanted to test myself, to see how far I could go in my art with nothing to impede me.
My desire for privacy was compounded, of course, by Michael’s presence in my life. We’d been involved for over a year now, and it was never easy finding a way to be alone together. Jill worked the same hours I did and went out infrequently beyond that. Clearly I needed to live alone for the sake of both love and work, and the low rents Harvard Housing offered its students and fellows would enable me to rent without a roommate. I simply couldn’t afford to live by myself anywhere else in or around Cambridge on the modest stipend the Larkin offered.
“Well, great!” Liz had said when I told her what Radcliffe was giving me to live on for the year, “So, what car are you planning to live in?!”
And she was right—it wasn’t much money, not enough to live on in any deep comfort. But I’d taken a year’s leave of absence from my graphic design job at Aperçu Archive and was determined to make it on my Larkin check so that all my work time could be given to painting.
As I got the last of my books into a box and taped it shut, I saw it was nearly seven o’clock and realized I was hungry. I’d forgotten all about making some arrangement for dinner, and it occurred to me for about the millionth time how nice it would be to have a normal boyfriend I could go out to dinner with on Friday nights. But there was no point in feeling sorry for myself in this relationship; I wasn’t a kidnap victim.
Sometimes I couldn’t quite believe I’d put myself in this situation. I could clearly remember having my first inkling that I’d fallen in love with Michael before it had ever occurred to me that the two of us might be heading toward more than friendship. Even then, I didn’t give him any indication of how I felt. Although I believed in lots of things other people might not, I didn’t believe in affairs with married men.
At the beginning, I couldn’t imagine that my feelings for Michael might be reciprocated anyway—he was an increasingly successful fiction writer and I was just the woman who had designed the cover for his book of short stories and was working on a cover for his upcoming autobiographical novel, This Cold Heaven, which was a lyrical, rowdy, and poignant account of growing up Irish in South Boston’s projects. Everyone at Aperçu knew this would be Michael’s last book with a boondocks house like us; it was inevitable he’d go on to bigger things.
Everything changed between us one Monday evening when he was leaving our office after a long meeting with his editor. He saw me walking to the bus stop in a pouring rain and offered to drop me off on his way home. I knew he had no idea I lived way too far to “drop off.”
“I live in Watertown,” I told him.
“What? I can’t hear you.”
“I LIVE IN WATERTOWN,” I yelled, leaning from the curb toward the open window of his car, rain flooding my mouth as I spoke.
“SO WHAT’S YOUR POINT?” he yelled back, grinning. “HOP IN!”
I did, and by the time we pulled up in front of my house on James Street, the rain was beating down on the car like a million tap-dancers, and he suggested I wait until it slowed a bit.
We sat outside in his car laughing and talking far beyond the rain, far beyond good sense—long enough for me to know he felt the way I did. At some point, the inevitable moment of silence occurred, during which he looked at me so intensely and ardently I had to avert my gaze.
“I think this may be dangerous,” he said after a moment, his fingers tapping the steering wheel nervously. “I think we’d better try to control our imaginations, Honora.”
“What,” I said lamely, falling shy suddenly.
“We both know what. I think I love you or something. I have to try not to.”
It was six more months of torment before we gave in to our feelings, and both of us knew two things immediately after our first tryst: We were made for each other, and we felt guilty as hell. I’d never allowed myself even to consider being involved with a married man—cheap, needy women did that, women who didn’t care about other women. Women named Honora definitely did not do that. (All my life, I’d carried my first name the way an ant carries a large bread crumb, made humble by its heft.)
Michael had never “stepped out” on Brenda before, he told me, and he’d always supposed he never would. In addition to his disquiet in the role of adulterer, he was finding our eleven-year age difference a continuing source of angst: “It’s such a cliché of midlife crisis,” he moaned, “the seedy, long-in-the-tooth, very married writer falling for a young, beautiful woman just as he’s achieved some middling relief from insolvency and obscurity.” I told him that the only compelling evidence I saw of a midlife crisis was his view of himself as “seedy” and “long-in-the-tooth” at forty-six and of me as “young” when I was thirty-five and likely heading for a bout of midlife distress myself. Charitably, I let the “beautiful” slide.
We decided over and over again not to see each other anymore, not even to talk on the phone. Each time we came to that point, I knew I couldn’t be the one to break that resolution no matter how I missed him. He was the married one, and I wasn’t going to argue him away from his marriage—that would be wrong. Of course, it was true I’d been committing vigorous and enthusiastic adultery with him every chance I got, and most people would call that wrong, too. The thing about adultery is, it’s full of moral rationalizations and ethical contradictions, and if you’re going to be in it, you have to choose your wrongs. Prioritize your rights. Looked at objectively, it’s not pretty. In any case, it’s a stomachache.
So we would resolve to stop, and we’d mean it. We would live through three days, five days—one time even eight days—of torture, and then he would call me, and we’d fly into each other’s arms again.
Somehow, after more than a year of it, we’d gotten to this place.
Now, just as I bent over the last packing crate with a marking pen and scrawled BOOKS, I heard the screen door open and close behind me. I straightened and spun around to find Michael standing in the doorway across the room, grinning his lopsided grin.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, shoving a strand of hair behind my ear. Why did I never remember to lock the front door? At least that would have given me a moment to collect myself. Michael’s auburn hair was tousled as if he’d run all the way to Watertown from Brookline.
“Can I take that to mean you’re glad to see me?” His eyes strayed to my shorts. “Wow,” he added and then shook his head. “I can’t believe I said ‘wow.’ I hate that word. But you look great.”
Goddamn shorts, I thought. I had an ass like two prize watermelons, and I didn’t like imagining the eyeful he must have had while I was bent over the book box with a marking pen.
“Don’t even start with the Irish flattery,” I told him. “I look like hell tonight.”
“If that’s hell, I’m feeling better about the afterlife all the time,” he said. “You look adorable, you idiot. I’ve never seen you in shorts.”
“My point exactly.”
“What’s the big deal?” He laughed. “I’ve seen you stark raving naked after all.”
“You could have called, you know. Don’t you children of Irish immigrants ever phone before visiting? Or knock before entering?”
“Nope,” he said cheerfully. “We’ve had no proper upbringing. Most of our formative years were spent cleaning chimneys for those Protestant bastards in the Back Bay.” He paused, turned serious. “You know, I could see you in here from way out on the sidewalk. Don’t you put down the shades at night, Norrie?”
“Not always,” I admitted, surreptitiously tugging down the legs of my shorts in back.
“But anyone at all out there could see you larking around in here, you know.”
“I wasn’t actually quite so much larking as packing.” I said. “I’m sure no one was out there watching, Michael.” As always, I was both warmed by, and resistant to, his protectiveness of me.
“Sometimes I worry about you, that’s all.”
“We have my mother to do that,” I said. “And she puts lots of time into it, so she’s even better at it than you are. You could say she has a vocational calling.”
“Well, I’m suddenly thinking the woman may have a point with her cautionary phone calls.” He brushed a lock of hair out of my eyes; his voice softened. “I was hungry to see you.”
“I thought you were going to write tonight,” I said into his mouth as I kissed him.
He pulled me close, letting his palms rest on my offending rear. “Yeah, I kept trying, but I couldn’t quite get you out of my mind no matter how I tried. So I threw aside my darkly brilliant manuscript and gave in to the siren song.”
“It must’ve been some other siren. I was definitely not singing you to me tonight. I’ve got to move out of here tomorrow.” I glanced at the stairway, then said in a lower voice, “Jill’s home tonight, you know.”
“Yeah, well, I figured as much,” he said in a kind of cheerful resignation. But he let go of me and stepped back a bit. “I just wanted to see your face.” He brushed my upper arm with the backs of his fingers, and then he looked over at the rows of boxes on the floor.
“So you’re moving tomorrow? I thought that was next weekend.”
“Well, it was. But they’re letting tenants move into the vacant apartments early if we want, to avoid congestion next weekend when everyone in the world will be descending on Brattle with moving trucks.”
“Surely you’re not going to try doing all this yourself?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I’ve got a truck coming first thing in the morning for all the furniture and boxes. I’ll move the stuff from the studio myself over the next few days. I don’t trust them with that. Jill says I can use her car.”
“Jesus, Norrie—there’s a lot of stuff up there—easels and lamps and dozens of paintings, just for starters. I’ll come and help you with that. Otherwise you’re going to have to make about a hundred trips over to Cambridge and back in the car.”
“That’s sweet of you, Michael, but I can manage it. I really can.”
“Tell me, is there anything you can’t manage alone, Honora? Ever?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Actually, I knew what he meant, but I didn’t know how to talk to him about it. I was leery of becoming dependent on him. When you allow yourself to depend too much on a man and then he goes away, you’re left sprawling and helpless, as if your skeleton had been removed. I could still remember watching our neighbor, Mrs. Mumford, teach my mother how to use a checkbook after Daddy died. Mother wasn’t stupid—it was just the way she’d been raised, to let a man take care of her. Night after night I’d wake to find her hugging my doorway in the dark, wraithlike in her long flannel gown, telling me she’d “heard a noise.” She had no idea how to live without Daddy, and she lost years and years adjusting to life after he was gone.
I think it was only after I won a four-year scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design and moved away from her—three thousand miles away—that she learned to be alone and to enjoy it. I’d taken a lesson from all that and made a point of being self-sufficient from the get-go.
“You never let anyone help you,” Michael was saying. “And, hey—you know I won’t try to run the show. I promise to take orders as docilely as a tiny lamb, while at the same time employing my considerable brawn for the heavy lifting, okay? I can rent a U-Haul trailer, and we’ll get everything over to Cambridge in one trip tomorrow afternoon, singing camp songs all the way.”
Except for the camp songs, it did seem like a good idea. I wouldn’t have slept easily on Brattle Street tomorrow night, knowing that all my paintings had been left behind. I looked up at him and grinned. “You’re not going to give up on this, are you?”
“No, ma’am, the Irish never give up. Does the potato famine ring a bell? So, okay, I’ll arrange a U-Haul for tomorrow afternoon?”
“That’ll be swell. Thanks.” We grinned at each other. He knew he’d won this round.
Just then Jill came down the stairs, her car keys in one hand and a large, hardbound book in the other. She must have her book discussion group tonight.
She stopped when she saw us and said, “Oh,” with no particular inflection.
Awkwardly I introduced her to Michael, wondering what she might’ve overheard, and midway through the introductions I recalled that I’d introduced them the last time she’d come upon us together in the living room.
She acknowledged him and then smiled nervously, looking down as she left the house.
“I thought that went well,” Michael said, raising one brow.
“Right. You know, I think she recognized you.”
“Well that wouldn’t take a brain surgeon. After all, you introduced us—twice.”
“No, I mean, you the author—I think she heard your name just now and in that second she recognized you from your jacket photo.” Michael really laughed at this.
“You think everyone’s read my book. Several people haven’t, you know. You’re just letting your paranoia blossom again, darling.”
“Oh, Jesus, didn’t I tell you? Maybe I didn’t—I found Jill reading This Cold Heaven a few weeks ago for her Episcopal women’s book discussion group.”
“How depressing,” he said, “I’d hoped for more of a Hell’s Angels kind of constituency.”
“Whatever,” I said. “I’ll just be glad to get my own place so I don’t have to think about what a roommate has or hasn’t noticed. The new place is really private.”
The six-story, Harvard Housing building I was moving into was right on the edge of Harvard Square. It offered one-, two-, and three-bedroom...

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