I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how he or she spends the day.


credit: Nancee Lewis Photography

February 1, 2016: Elizabeth Marro

Casualties, which will hit bookstores on February 2nd, is one of those thick novels you never want to put down, that you look forward to getting back to, and that you don’t ever want to be over. Caroline Leavitt described it as “moving and full of heart” and called it a “gorgeous debut.” I agree. 

casualtiesBy the end of Chapter 1, the main character Ruth is an interesting woman in the middle of a real situation. As a reader, I was in. What follows is a close look at how Betsy does this. If you’d prefer to read the chapter yourself first, click Casualties where you can read all but the last paragraph. And then when you’re ready to pre-order from Powell’s, click here.

On the first page, Ruth is on the phone with her assistant complaining about the failures of her nineteen-year-old son who is fourteen hours late for his birthday dinner. I’m not in yet.

On the second page, we discover that Ruth moved to where she lives now to be close to yet another high school for Robbie. And she thinks,

Her turn will come—and when it does, she’ll be living so close to the ocean that the sound of waves will lull her to sleep every night and wake her every morning.

Ruth has a dream, and it’s the same as mine.

Every guidance counselor and teacher Robbie had had used to go on and on about his potential. He must still have it in there somewhere.

I laugh to myself. Ruth has a sense of humor. Then she thinks about the lasagna and the thirty-dollar Death by Chocolate cake in the fridge and the community college brochures on the table. These details make her real.

She can’t let him know about the splinter of pain that burrowed deeper with every hour she sat alone waiting for him, hoping that he’d do what he said he’d do.

As Ruth waits, she tries to stay calm. Betsy taps into something we’ve all felt–waiting for someone hour after hour. On the third page of the novel, when Robbie arrives, Ruth says,

“Happy birthday.” Even she can hear how bitter she sounds. She sees his grin of surprise fall away before it gets started. Had he been happy to see her? He’s already shrugging; there’s the hunch of his thick shoulders and the smirk she has come to hate.

I know this scene: mad at someone I love, knowing I shouldn’t say the hurtful thing, then I’ve said it, and I was right to try not to say it, but I’m human. Ruth is human. We all make mistakes we can’t take back.

On the fifth page, Robbie announces he has joined the Marines. Now he has done something he can’t take back.

“I’ll tell them the truth and they’ll kick you out.” Ruth has no idea if this is true, but she’ll try anything.

I’m interested in a character who will try anything.

Each word out of his mouth seems to put more distance between them. She has to stop him; she has to find some way to fix this.

On the sixth page, we’re inside Ruth’s head and her last thought tells us so much about her. Plus, I’m a fixer too. I get it.

“I’m doing this because I have to, Mom. Be proud of me. Just give it a try, okay?” She understands that he means to sound tough, final, but Ruth hears the uncertainty he is trying to hide. She hears it and, in a flash of instinct, understands that he is asking her not to hear it.

I’m so interested in these people now–each of these flawed characters who exists in my world of lasagna and Death by Chocolate cakes. And then the final nail. Ruth thinks,

He’s put himself out of reach. The balance between them has shifted. Then, through the tears, through the loss threatening to engulf her, Ruth feels something that frightens, but also exhilarates her.

She is relieved.

Ruth is honest with the reader. This character is going to let me in to everything, and I don’t want to miss that.

In just six pages, I’m in.

Betsy is a frequent commenter on this blog, and she has her own blog, where she’s just started a lovely series called: Today’s Walk. She also has a beautiful website, but if you’re one of those readers who doesn’t like to know anything about a book until you read it, save her website until after you read Casualties. Finally, if you enjoyed 365 things about me, you’ll love Ten More Things About Betsy.

Come back on FEBRUARY 1st to read how ELIZABETH MARRO spends her days.