Waiting in Place
Mary Allen, the protagonist of Waiting in Place, is on the journey of a lifetime, perhaps several lifetimes, to reunite with Matt, the man of her dreams; Terry, her twin brother, who died shortly after birth; and her young son Andy, who was hit and killed by a taxicab as he ran toward a waving Polar Bear Man standing outside FAO Schwartz toy store in Manhattan. But it’s not until she heeds the advice of Patience and Fortitude, the two lions flanking the entrance of the New York Public Library, that Mary begins to understand that sometimes waiting in place is the only way to find those you’ve loved and lost.
Darkness seems to blanket everyone and everything in the small Appalachian town of Jordan Creek, West Virginia, where Mary grows up. She worships natural light and counts stars, while living in the shadow of her mother, Debbie Mom, who functions in a Doris Day Que Sera-induced fantasy world. She envies her cousin Paula, whose “cross-eyes” allow her to look at the sky and earth at the same time; Paula’s epistles further the overall narrative, as well as her own search to come to terms with sexual abuse by her father. Others in Jordan Creek are searching for a better life, which many believe they will find in Hillbilly Heaven. But once there, they become disillusioned and increasingly angry at the reverend who has preached a lie for his own selfish reasons.
Mary sojourns high above the stars, deep beneath the sea, and to the steps of the New York Public Library, guided by serendipitous inklings picked up through dreams and vague memories. Excerpts from a fictional book titled Myths, Legends and Folktales from the Hollows of West Virginia support the underlying themes of the novel—Serata, the Ancient Night Journeyer (stars: creation of light), The Legend of Hillbilly Heaven (heaven: religious antidote for a downtrodden people), Mountain Mermaid (sea: what real love is and isn’t), and Mountain Monsters (earth: serendipity and synchronicity in Appalachian culture).
Mary’s extraordinary journey eventually brings her back to where she started, reuniting her with those she’s loved and lost.
Along for the ride of her life with her eccentric and larger-than-life mother, Velvet, and sisters Mel and Sam, Janie Summers is seeking a safe harbor—in place, time, and spirit. A wise-for-her-age and odd child from the heart of Appalachia (she counts things and is fascinated with death), Janie’s coming-of-age journey to find this illusive place is fueled by the 1965 Blue Impala, in both mundane and magical ways, including Voodoo and a TV variety show called Hillbilly Heaven.
Against the backdrop of the mid-60s to mid-70s cultural revolution, the novel spans a 15-year period in which Janie and her sisters live a precarious and unpredictable life based on the whims of Velvet, as she seeks her own dream to become famous. From their hometown of Coal Creek, West Virginia, Velvet moves the family first to Hollywood and then to Miami, where they become involved in a series of increasingly compromising events, prompting Voodoo spells aimed at Velvet’s “rotten men.” Things get out of hand, and they return to Coal Creek, bringing along Mambo Mama Matabay, high priestess of Haitian Voodoo.
Their hope of resuming a normal life in Coal Creek is thwarted by accusations of devil worship, a return of Velvet’s stalkers, and the collapse of the Coal Creek Bridge, which kills many. These events cause Janie to re-examine her place and purpose in the world, including her fraught relationship with Velvet. Finally, Janie does find her safe harbor, with serendipitous help from the Blue Impala. Both humorous and heartbreaking, Blue Impala proves that the journey to find one’s place in the world can be as illuminating as the destination itself.
Susan Long has always loved to write, first in her diary as a young child, and with chalk on the sidewalk. She has published essays in the Orlando Sentinel, a short creative non-fiction story, “Rediscovering Daddy,” in Voices of Lung Cancer, numerous articles in AAA member magazines, poetry in a college literary magazine, and reviews in Journalism Educator.
Susan recently completed her second novel, Waiting In Place. Her first novel, Blue Impala, was based on a short story of the same name, which was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s “Short Story Award for New Writers.” She’s now working on a compilation of her short stories and essays — Dreams of Appalachia–Take Me Home: Stories and Essays.