Authors: Dylan Hicks
Copyright Â© 2016 by Dylan Hicks
Cover illustration and lettering Â© Carolyn Swiszcz
Book design by Rachel Holscher
Author photograph Â© Nina Hale
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Amateurs / Dylan Hicks.
ISBN 978-1-56689-433-3 (eBook)
Thanks to Anitra Budd, Caroline Casey, Ben Findlay, Chris Fischbach, Amelia Foster, Molly Fuller, Carla Valadez, and all at Coffee House Press. Liz Van Hoose provided exceptionally perceptive, intelligent, and creative editorial direction. This book, I decided, didn't require Herculean research efforts, but I'm grateful to Kurt Froehlich, Jean Mohr, Benjamin Jones, Molly Pfohl Rand, Michael Tortorello, and others for sharing their expertise along the way. Thanks also to the novelist and anagramist Ed Park and to the artist Carolyn Swiszcz. And everything is better because of my wife, Nina Hale, and our son, Jackson.
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for Nina and Jackson
Marion straddled a vinyl-strap patio lounger, absently revising a metaphor about circuit breakers while her mother, Phyliss, trimmed an azalea bush in the Japanesque garden. Phyliss had been working unassisted for several hours (Marion felt a resistible pull to help), and the gardenâwith its Japanese maple and ornamental pines, its stone lantern and stepping stones, its rock beds, pools, and mossy little bridgesâwas reviving. Phyliss had majored in art history, and it was sometimes said that she applied that training to the arrangement of her garden and the glass-doored family room that looked out on it. It depressed Marion to think of the largely unused degrees, thwarted ambition, and undertapped potential of her mother's generation of women, potential so undertapped in this case that it was hard for Marion to imagine her mother (bibliophobic, susceptible to insipid prettiness) as a museum curator or a professor of art history, hard even to imagine her as a critic for a lightly circulated daily. But perhaps, in a fairer world, Phyliss still wouldn't have been drawn to such paths.
“I would bottle it,” Phyliss said.
“What's that, Ma?” For a moment Marion thought she was being asked to suppress her uncharitable thoughts.
“This is a gorgeous day. I'd like to bottle it.”
To hint that a warmer day ought to be bottled, Marion reached for her black crochet poncho, fringed and redolent of smoke, but she didn't otherwise dispute the day's gorgeousness. The willows on the Crennels' two acres were losing their wintry gold, and the elms, red oaks, and birches were budding or about to. A few clouds smeared the cornflower sky. Marion sipped her spiked Dr. Pepper, shaking the highball glass so she could enjoy the sound of ice cubes and rejuvenated carbonation.
Her anger over unused degrees wasn't strictly retroactive. Her own English degree from Northwestern had won her a secretarial
position at a literary agency, which in the end was less appealing than the Marshall Field's sales position her mother landed after college; at least Phyliss's gig came with a discount. Marion had initially trusted, despite her professed mistrust of the system, that once dues were paid and her taste and intelligence recognized, she would be given a shot as an agent. Four years on the payroll cast opportunities for advancement in a growingly chimerical light. One Tuesday she didn't come back from lunch.
She heard breeze-blown voices from the fourth hole, then an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency coming up the snaking driveway. “Here's your father,” Phyliss said. He took the stone path to the kidney-shaped patio. Corinne Wrightson trailed behind him in apparently borrowed tennis whites, her encased racket strapped around her chest. She was visiting for a week, home from Berkeley.
“Look who I found,” George said.
“I know I'm early,” Corinne said. “I thought we couldâ”
A jet briefly shadowed the patio on its way to O'Hare. When it passed, George turned to Corinne. “Fix you anything? G and T?”
“Jorge, she doesn't want a cocktail before tennis,” Phyliss said. The nickname arose from the occasional business George did in Mexico.
George smiled as if he and Corinne were in a secret society of drunken tennists. “Fun to see you girls together again,” he said.
Marion and Corinne hadn't been close since they were seventeen, when Marion started to break away from the village of Lammermuir and its namesake country club. It wasn't fair, but for many years Corinne seemed inextricably tied to Marion's earlier self, the neatly dressed, prim yet coquettish, anxiously beauty-obsessed self whose sweaters so magnetized the hearts and paws of local footballers (a history and legacy at the heart of Marion's novel). But these associations were ebbing, and though Corinne had never been a serious movement type, no matter the movement, her subcultural status currently seemed stronger than Marion's. She was living cooperatively,
doing something with film, while Marion was living parasitically, doing nothing with literature. In '67, Marion had helped draft a (scuttled) women's resolution at the National Conference for New Politics, shortly after which she became a reserved but allegiant member of the Westside group, Chicago's first women's liberation organization. By now she had lost touch with everyone.
She took the last sip and went to fish her racket out of the mudroom jumble.
The club's six tennis courts were buzzing with the vernal ebullience midwesterners understandably exaggerate. Corinne had learned the two-handed backhand but was still too slack for Marion's drop shots, though Marion guessed it would be unmannerly to demonstrate this more than once. “Let's just hit,” Corinne had said at the start, blocking a renewal of their teenage rivalry along with Marion's chances of having much fun. Marion never understood how non-competitive people so often prevailed at establishing the rules.
Corinne let down her long, center-parted hair as Marion latched the chain-link gate on their way out. They talked about this latest round of bombings, then about Marion's older brother, Chick, now wholesaling baseball caps in Buffalo. It was thoughtful of Corinne to ask about Marion's novel, though Marion wasn't sure she wanted to talk about it.