Terry Marotta's New Book Worth the Read
December 19, 2002
"Vacationing in My Driveway," by Terry Marotta, will cheer you up if you're down. Marotta is the author of the Capital Weekly's "Speedbumps" column. The book is Marotta's way of comparing stressful situations like going to Disney World with three sick children in tow to enjoying a moment of peace in the driveway.
Subtitled "How to Relax and Enjoy Life's Ride," the book reprints 52 of the syndicated columnist's weekly pieces arranged in chapters titled January through December. "It is in our routines, not in the break from them, that we are most at our ease," she writes. ". . .any time you let yourself sit a moment, parked on any least square of earth or patch of asphalt you fell suddenly and ecstatically alive on vacation and ready to bless this life and call it good."
Marotta was on of two sisters raised by an older mother who had married for true love, but was left alone when her husband left the family. They lived in the ancestral home with two "antique" aunts who greatly valued storytelling.
Marotta went to parochial schools and Smith College, taught high school English, married and began writing columns when she became a mother (of three natural children and one foster child, now almost all grown). Her mother and the aunts have died. Marotta recently became a massage therapist in Woburn, Mass., according to the clippings she sent to the paper, along with her book, published this year by Ravenscroft Press.
One of the things that makes Marotta's writing fun is her unexpected observations, for example this one from a December entry: "In the piney groves of our own personal memory, this season seemed captured exactly by a novelty you could buy for $3.00 at any dime store in America. Made of lightweight brass, it featured a small carousel of horn-blowing angels with little wands suspended from their tummies, which, when stirred by the gentle air currents of four slender candles beneath, circled causing them to ping melodically against four dome-shaped bells. . . So I jumped when I saw an ad for what seemed an updated version. This was made of wood instead of brass; stood two-and-a-half feet tall; had shepherds and wise men as well as angels; and turned out to send them spinning so fast in the hot wind of its ankle-thick candles that within two minutes of watching you felt sick and had to go lie down. Maybe it's a metaphor for the modern Holiday."
Another nice thing about Marotta's writing is that it gives you that "hey, I've noticed that, too," feeling, for example, when she writes about a dog whose ear flipped inside out. "Trotting on, he leaves it that way, as a man running for a train feels his tie flip up on his shoulder."
Another of her writing tricks is the masterful use of what I will call the "weave-in and wind-up." She weaves in disparate elements of a story, then winds up the tale by juxtaposing them, often to funny effects. The final sentence in the February chapter, "Your kids above, redecorating your world and sailing along among the stars; you down below, trying to limp to a crooked sink on rocky Chiclets," has a good wind-up, but to get the weave-in you'll have to buy her book ($12.95 at Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.com).
Two essays are particularly fine: "Be with God," about the sudden death of a close friend beloved by the community, and "The World's Bright Shapes," a meditation on the dawning of self-consciousness, memory, and death. Though the subject matter this is sad, reading these essays makes you happy. They provide that old byproduct of Greek tragedy catharsis, a cleansing of the emotions.
As faithful readers know, her essays are not all downers. Witness the one about the adult education class in American slang for recent immigrants. They pair off to learn contractions like wouldja, couldja and howja by reading questions from a sheet. "Couldja draw a picture of a fish?" His partner looks dubious but sits down and draws one. . . "Don't show my fish!" exclaims one man. "I am a wimp artist."
"Is not wimp a word having to do with prostitutes?"
"No," says a third confidently. "That word is slot. A slot."
Or the one about the goings-on in a park: fishermen in a dinghy, a young couple under a willow tree. "The girl leans against the willow.
The boy leans against the girl. They bury their noses in each other's necks for a while. Then they kiss. One moment, during the kiss, the girl reaches back, wraps her arms around the willow, and looks wholly a woman. The next, the kissing over, she tugs with invisible fingers at her too-long shirt sleeves and looks wholly a child. One of the fishermen is watching them too. He shakes his head once, slowly. He smiles a wistful smile.
Not each essay delivers, however, which she acknowledges herself in "Self-consciousness." ". . . the best pieces come thudding out all at once, like newborn calves. All you have to do is be there to catch them, and untangle the limbs a bit." My only regret is that she didn't leave out the stillborn ones. No one would mind if there weren't 52 weeks represented, because any amount of time with Terry Marotta would be a pleasure.
As a syndicated columnist, Marotta has striven to be real, profound, or witty in 600 words or less every Wednesday for 23 years. If the book is any indication, she often manages all three. Her first book, "I thought He Was A Speedbump" came out in the 1990s. Let us hope there will be more to follow, starting with a memoir, because this reader, at least, likes it best when she describes self and family.
©Copyright 2002-2012 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.