Seeing Clear by Cara Blue Adams, 2021
The magic trick:
Becoming a story about the stories we tell ourselves
We’re off to Vermont this week, and that gives me a chance to champion the amazing new You Never Get It Back story collection by Cara Blue Adams. It reminds me of Margaret Laurence’s A Bird In The House collection, which is about the highest praise I could give.
The collection follows Kate Bishop throughout her life, and that life begins with a childhood in Vermont. It’s those handful of stories that feature her mother and younger sister that are my favorites.
“Seeing Clear” is a bit of an outlier in that it doesn’t focus its attention on one event in great detail – the night of a new year’s party, a three-day family vacation, as examples. Instead, this story tells the story of one relationship, Kate and her father. And it’s that approach that I think is maybe more revealing about Kate’s character than the information or ideas contained wherein.
There isn’t any level of detail to be shared. Her father was mostly absent, battling addiction and depression in faraway locations. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say he dies. But the story doesn’t even focus on that. Instead, it’s more a mourning for the way he lived. Kate has formed a tidy narrative around some postcards he sends to her. It becomes a personal myth; not so much to comfort maybe (though it is perhaps that too) but more to just set to order the chaos of her life. It’s a structure to fend off the pain, maybe.
So “Seeing Clear” is less a story in itself and more about the stories we tell ourselves.
And that’s quite a trick on Adams’s part.
My father’s suicide attempts began when I was ten. He worked at killing himself more earnestly than he had any job. First, it wasn’t overt, just lots and lots of cocaine. Then, when that failed to do anything other than get him high and in debt to the sorts of people you’d rather not be in debt to, he switched approaches. A string of overdoses followed, along with a pretty severe beating. Next came the botched murder-suicide that left my mother with bruises on her neck and him asleep in a motel room for four days. The constitution of an ox, the police said. That many pills would’ve killed anyone else.
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