This weekend, I took a brief segue from Ned Stuckey-French’s powerhouse text, The American Essay in the American Century, which I am absorbing slowly and with relish, and picked up Meg Tuite’s new novel, Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011). I ordered a signed copy of Tuite’s book a few weeks ago, and thought I would just take a quick look at the first few pages on Saturday. Before I knew what was happening, I had read the book from start to finish, with just one night of sleep between the first eighty-six pages and the final forty-eight. I am a notoriously slow reader, largely because I am restless and easily distracted. So I knew I was holding something unusual in my hands when I couldn’t put down this book.
In Domestic Apparition, Tuite has fused individual stories and flash fiction pieces, many of which first appeared in literary journals, into a single first-person narrative. Having read a few of her stories before buying the novel, I was familiar with the in-your-face, smack-in-the-middle-of-the-action feel of her work. There is little attempt to draw in the reader with lengthy descriptions of character or setting, or a slow-burning build toward the action. Instead, the story starts with both the protagonist and the reader tossed into the middle of a chaotic, complicated world packed with deprivation, emotional need, deeply felt characters, and violence. Somewhere beneath it all is an aching vulnerability that you begin to suspect just might break your heart. Tuite keeps the reader at the same emotional distance her narrator needs to maintain to survive, but just long enough to reveal what happens when the truth – and raw emotion – finally kick in.
Tuite doesn’t flinch in her exploration of a gritty, working-class life, and her prose is decidedly unsentimental. Her characters range from a broken housewife and an abusive husband to a rebellious older sister, a brilliant brother, and a teacher described as “…a myopic, old woman with a pink barrette and brown teeth who spent a large portion of her day trying to figure out what her pension would be if she quit that afternoon….” Nearly every sentence or description packs a wallop: “His fabricated face, pliable in its chilling meteorological leaps and depths, ravaged over his features like a typhoon blasting through a village built on sticks.” I got the sense that I could read this book over and over, and pick up something different in each sentence every time.
Domestic Apparition isn’t a pretty book. It is as tough as its narrator, and it challenges the reader to look past convenient, academic definitions of class and society toward the human beings struggling to survive within them. Regardless of our backgrounds or socio-economic class, many of us wonder what it would be like to throw off the illusions we create about our lives every day, and finally understand what is real. Meg Tuite challenges us to do just that.