I was born in 1957, the oldest of what would turn out to be five of us, and my mother needed help. In those days, she referred to Fanny as a maid. These days, I use the word housekeeper. But in the way that household help often is, Fanny was so much more. My favorite memory is our sitting on bar stools in the kitchen in 1966 waiting to find out if I would have a fourth sister or finally a brother.
In Maids, Abby Frucht‘s enchanting slim volume of 87 pages, we meet Ida and Della and Cynthia, and our childhood. From bullfrogs to brooms, from The Grenadines to Finland, from twin beds to the color of our skin, from then into the future and back again. The epigraph by Geoff Manaugh reads, “Every landscape reveals more of itself as you search it.”
This book is described on the back as being “in poetic form,” but I have to say I never once thought poems. Perhaps it’s the prose writer in me, but Maids reads (and I’m not alone here) like a collection of linked stories.
Whatever you call it, the short pieces, long sentences, and lack of commas were a masterful choice, conjuring a different place and time–the blur of childhood and the haze of young adulthood. The lack of commas in particular slowed my reading, often causing me to reread a sentence, after which I’d come away with a jolt of meaning I’d missed the first time around.
[C]ommas bug her because they cause a divide between halves of a thought parts of a recollection…”
In this excerpt from “What Is/Was Her Name Again The Pretty Maid From Finland,” note how the lack of commas contributes to that feeling of wait a minute, is she saying what I think she’s saying.
For instance once Aunt Stella said but when I got back to the telephone the caller was gone. Of course he didn’t say he was he wouldn’t why would he but I could tell by the sound of his voice he was by how he sounded when he asked is the house still available he was but all I said was excuse me for just one minute I need to get this same meatloaf we’re eating out of the oven but when I got back he’d fled he had hung up the phone he was extremely polite he was very well spoken I felt/feel lousy about it except I have to imagine it’s best for the neighbors.
Abby uses details to conjure people. From “Mirrors,” “the bottle of Windex she carries and the dangling rag.” And details to conjure time periods. From “Sheets,” “Swanson’s foil trays.” She uses repetition of themes and threads and language–all of which contribute to the cohesiveness of this book but more than that they create the feel of those mysteries that start in childhood and linger into adulthood and even now make us wonder. From “Occasionally,” “Also is it wrong to hope to imagine Cynthia’s feelings?”
I will leave you with this line from “Broom,” where the puppy Truman is watching the nightly sweeping. “It’s the thing he believes she is tussling with not the thought behind the spine of it…” The end of this story is pure delight.
Thumbs up. Maids out today from Matter Press.