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Amy Gallup is an aging novelist and writing instructor living in Escondido, California, with her dog, Alphonse. Since recent unsettling events, she has made some progress. While she still has writer’s block, she doesn’t suffer from it. She’s still a hermit, but she has allowed some of her class members into her life. She is no longer numb, angry, and sardonic: she is merely numb and bemused, which is as close to happy as she plans to get. Amy is calm.
So, when on New Year’s morning she shuffles out to her backyard garden to plant a Norfolk pine, she is wholly unprepared for what happens next.
Amy falls down.
A simple accident, as a result of which something happens, and then something else, and then a number of different things, all as unpredictable as an eight-ball break. At first the changes are small, but as these small events carom off one another, Amy’s life changes in ways that range from ridiculous to frightening to profound.
This most reluctant of adventurers is dragged and propelled by train, plane, and automobile through an outlandish series of antic media events on her way to becoming—to her horror—a kind of celebrity. And along the way, as the numbness begins to wear off, she comes up against something she has avoided all her life: her future, that “sleeping monster, not to be poked.”
Amy Falls Down explores, through the experience of one character, the role that accident plays in all our lives. “You turn a corner and beasts break into arias, gunfire erupts, waking a hundred families, starting a hundred different conversations. You crack your head open and three thousand miles away a stranger with Asperger’s jump-starts your career.”
We are all like Amy. We are all wholly unprepared for what happens next.
Also, there’s a basset hound.
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Jincy Willett is the author of Jenny and the Jaws of Life, Winner of the National Book Award, and The Writing Class, which have been translated and sold internationally. Her stories have been published in Cosmopolitan, McSweeney’s Quarterly, and other magazines. She frequently reviews for The New York Times Book Review. A resident of Escondido, California, Willett spends her days parsing the sentences of total strangers and her nights teaching and writing.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Because the Norfolk pine was heavy, and also because she was wearing house slippers, having not yet dressed for the day, Amy took her time getting to the raised garden. Her house slippers were fuzzy, oversized, and floppy, and if she moved too fast, she would walk right out of them.
She was not yet dressed for the day because she had no reason to dress until much later, at which time she’d have to dress uncomfortably, and she was in no hurry to do that. At three o’clock a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune was coming to interview Amy as part of some bogus series about local writers. Although she’d specified no current events and especially no photographs, she didn’t trust a reporter who sounded on the phone as though she were eight years old and couldn’t think of anything funnier than not wanting your face on public display. Imagine, her laughter implied, denying the world the chance to gaze upon you. So Amy dreaded the interview but was not actively doing so, or thinking about it at all, as she shuffled toward the raised garden with the Norfolk pine.
She shuffled past her mimosa tree, where three goldfinches clung to a thistle-seed feeder, and past her green plastic pseudo-Adirondack chairs, covered with two seasons’ worth of dirt, seeds, and leaves, which she really must hose off one of these days. She shuffled closer to the raised garden, as the screen door banged behind her and Alphonse jingled past and up ahead of her, his great basset nose zeroing in on the very spot where she planned to dig, as though her trail had magically preceded her. James Thurber said that his bloodhound always seemed more interested in where he’d been than where he was; Alphonse had an uncanny fascination with where she planned to be, and a genius for thwarting her: ordinarily a sedate plodder, he could materialize in a chair just as she was about to sit down; if she suddenly felt peckish at two in the morning, he’d be waiting in front of the refrigerator, his eyes glowing red in the dark kitchen. Now he sniffed round and round the digging spot. “No!” she shouted. “Desist, you miscreant!” Alphonse feigned deafness, as though so anxious to relieve himself that he could think of nothing else, which was mendacious, as he usually slept in until midmorning and even then typically put off his bathroom break until noon. He was just messing with her head.
So she shuffled a little faster, intent on reaching her goal before Alphonse fully committed himself to his, and when she came to the raised garden, her eyes fixed on Alphonse, and lifted her right foot to step onto the low brick wall, she misjudged its elevation by perhaps a quarter inch, not enough to stub her toes and trip, just enough to throw her very slightly off-balance, the sole of her foot catching and scraping on the rough brick rather than coming straight down to meet it, and still she rose, her attention now divided between Alphonse and the heavy potted pine, her center of gravity higher than usual as she clutched it to her midriff, and then the slipper on her left foot did flop off and she did stub her left toes, or rather skinned the tops of them on the harsh edge of the brick, which really shouldn’t have been catastrophic, but was, because now she was thinking about three different things, Alphonse, her toes, and the Norfolk pine, so that somehow her balance shifted forward, and certain physical forces, inertia and momentum, began to announce themselves, clearing their throats politely. All was not lost at this point, they said, but a fall was possible, and Amy, over-thinking as usual, realizing that in such a fall the pine might suffer irreparably, focused on cradling it in such a way that it would not suffer, as though she were sixteen years old and lithe and presented with a smorgasbord of landing-position selections, none of which would injure her in the slightest, whereas what she should have done was jettison the damn plant and save herself, but no, and then she had actually lost balance and was pitching forward, her legs and feet heroically striving to catch up with her upper body, so that, still falling, she gathered speed, and, seeing that all was lost, she began to twist around in order to land on her back, and then her bare left heel slammed down on a sprinkler head and she heard her ankle crunch, but felt nothing because within the time it would have taken for the pain message to arrive in her brain, she had knocked herself out on the birdbath.
Copyright © 2013 by Jincy Willett
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