My second book, Our Love Could Light The World, is a collection of linked stories about the Dugan family in the fictional town of Dunston, New York. The Dugans are made up of the parents, Potter and Lavinia, and their five children. Potter drinks and can’t hold down a job. Lavinia works like mad to keep everyone clothed and fed. One day, when she’s had enough, she leaves to marry her boss, Chip Starkhust, a well-meaning widower eighteen years her senior. Lavinia’s presence is always in her role as mother, wife, and second wife. I knew there was much more to her than that, and I wanted to write about her again, and even to give her her own book.
In The Amendment, my third novel, just published by Unsolicited press, Lavina takes on another new role, that of widow. Her husband dies in a freak accident. Her children are now grown. She’s suddenly on her own, and with considerable means at her disposal. Her family gathers around her, insisting that she feels much worse about her husband’s death than she actually does. Oh, she’s sorry he’s gone, but she’s not exactly grief-stricken. What she wants, more than anything, is to get out of town.
She hits the road, and as she puts miles between her and the only town she’s ever lived in, the ghost of both her marriages travels with her. A woman long accustomed to toughing it out, she becomes full of self-doubt and regret. She has no choice but to confront the severity of her own nature, and to question the effect she’s had on those close to her.
When grief finally hits, it hits hard. She is drawn to strangers, and helps some of them with money. The boundaries she’s kept around herself her whole life break. She’s open, daring, at times even reckless.
Seeing her evolve, reflect, and struggle to accept herself was inspiring. It’s like catching up with an old friend. Lavinia is fifty-three, a time of change in the lives of most women. Up to then, change has been at her own instigation. Now, with it thrust upon her, she keep heading west.
It doesn’t reveal too much about the novel to say that things more or less work out for her. She’s too strong a person to be down for long.
Because I loved working with her again, the Dugans reappear in my new book, currently in progress (but almost finished). This one is about Lavinia’s twin daughters, Maggie and Marta, artistically inclined millennials living lavishly in New York City on the generous funding of their step-father in the year before his death. They’re identical twins, and have gotten a little too close for comfort. The impulsive behavior of one of them sends the other running, and they decide to take a break from each other. The separation is hard on them both, but since they’re equally stubborn, they go forward on their own as best they can. Lavinia appears, but far less often, and usually off-stage. In fact, there’s only one scene when she’s in the room. This story is all about her girls, their peers, and their struggle for expression and success.
If I stay with the family yet again, I’m going to focus on the boys, Timothy and Foster. Timothy is a romantic, always-failing-at-love guy who can’t make much of himself. Foster is shy, overly-sensitive, and works with animals, finding them easier company than human beings. In terms of the challenges they might face, maybe they fall in love with the same girl, or team up in an effort to achieve a common goal, like getting their father to stop drinking (though, if you read The Amendment, you’ll see that he essentially has). Then there’s Potter’s sister, Patty, whom Lavinia visits in Montana on her way west. She could certainly use her own story. How she makes a life with her occasionally flaky boyfriend, Murph (short for Murphy) feels like it has a lot of potential.
So, stay tuned to find out what happens with all of the colorful Dugans. I bet you come to love them as much as I do.
Bio: Anne Leigh Parrish’s third novel, and sixth book of fiction, is The Amendment, just published by Unsolicited Press. Earlier titles are Women Within, a novel, (Black Rose Writing, 2017); By The Wayside, stories, (Unsolicited Press, 2017); What Is Found, What Is Lost, a novel (She Writes Press, 2014); Our Love Could Light The World, stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011). Visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Originally published at booksbywomen.org on June 26, 2018.