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Ruth Perkinson's Piper’s Someday [13 August, 2008]

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By Ruth Perkinson; Spinsters Ink; 173 pages

Ruth Perkinson’s Piper’s Somedayis her second novel, following Vera’s Still Point.  At the center is Piper, a twelve-year-old who’s lost her parents and brother in a car crash and now lives with her grandfather Victor in a decrepit apartment complex.  Victor spends most of his days drinking on the couch and this, combined with his incontinence, makes the place reek of alcohol and urine.  To make the situation nightmarish, Piper is repeatedly confronted with the lecherous advances of Victor’s friend, Crazy Clover.

Piper’s only comfort is her dog Someday, a gentle mutt with a bad leg.  Piper’s left to deal with her grief and isolation from her peers on her own until two lesbians, Jenny and Andrea, move into a nearby house under what seem at first like inauspicious circumstances: Jenny accidentally clips Piper with her truck.  But as the months go by, the three, along with Someday and the lesbians’ pregnant cat, Precious Pink, bond into something closely resembling a family.  One day, Someday disappears.  A distraught Piper is helped in her search by Jenny and Andrea.  What follows involves child custody, an unraveling of half-hidden truths, and a final attempt at escape to Canada. 

Perkinson is deft with Piper’s emotions.  Piper doesn’t cry much, but then that kind of loss has a way of leaving you to sort out details in a kind of stumbling daze.  On top of it all, she’s is dealing with the onset of adolescence.  Perkinson’s especially good at showing the divide between the internal world of children and those of adults who think that their words about the former are unheard. 

Piper’s Someday is an engaging short novel and it does an excellent job of portraying that time between childhood and adolescence when children shouldn’t experience heartbreak but often do.  It’s also part fantasy.  Piper’s life changes dramatically with the arrival of Jenny and Andrea, but under a set of circumstances that are a bit far-fetched and involve a rather dramatic, and somewhat unrealistic, bit of rescue.  This is, after all, fiction and we are allowed a bit of fantasy every now and then.  But the novel’s also a bit manipulative – a three-legged canine companion anda sweet pregnant cat? Lesbian saviors and  Canada? All of these elements come together to form a narrative that can be occasionally didactic and tries too hard to be heart-warming. 

In her portrayal of childhood and a lead young female character, Perkinson’s clearly drawing upon Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  That book is even mentioned constantly as Piper’s holiday reading.  Some of the similarities are so close as to straddle the line between homage and, well, needless copying.  Take for instance, a pivotal rescue scene in the book, which involves a neighbor, Mr. Wilson.  Piper only knows him and his wife as the elderly and somewhat ominously silent couple living next door until a pivotal moment that involves a confrontation with Clover.  Suddenly, Mr. Wilson bounds to the rescue, appearing from nowhere to save the day.  Afterwards, he turns to Piper and asks, “You okay?...We”ve been watching you, you know…Me and Mrs.  Wilson.”  Hey, Boo.

The book is set in Virginia, Perkinson’s home state.  Much of its force relies upon commonly held perceptions of the state’s residents as poor “ white trash.”  The figures of the lower class like, Victor and Clover, are pitted against lesbians and gays who are, it seems, uniformly heroic and literate and kind. 

While it’s understandable that Perkinson should write a novel that depicts gay and lesbian parental figures as nurturing and caring, one has to ask why that comes at the expense of rendering others as lesser human beings.  In Victor and Clover, Perkinson combines the worst sins that make it easy for us to sympathize with the lesbians: they are both drunk and filthy, and one of them is lecherous towards a child.  What if they weren’t so entirely evil but merely indifferent and uncaring? That might have made for a less predictable and less manipulative novel, but perhaps a more nuanced and interesting one. 

Originally published in Windy City Times, 13 August, 2008

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