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.
~Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
On the first of each month,
a guest writer
how they spend the day.
January 1, 2024: Minrose Gwin
The Accidentals by Minrose Gwin, which received the 2020 Mississippi Institute for Arts and Letters Award in Fiction, starts with Olivia who’s listening to the birds–a cardinal and a mockingbird. It’s 1957, and earlier in the week, she’d been to the bank and was surprised to find so much money in the account. “How he’d saved $638.76 out of his paycheck I had no earthly idea. For a moment I thought maybe I’d misjudged him, maybe he was more interesting that I’d realized. Maybe he had a secret life…”
Olivia herself becomes interesting with that observation. And she does have a secret. She’s getting an abortion. “The girls were growing up, now was my time to build something new. I picked up the sheet. Its ordinariness calmed me.”
The Accidentals was published in 2019, when the abortion scene that follows would for the most part have been a part of our history. And yet, now it is not. After, when she tells her husband Holly what she has done and he asks where she got the money, she tells him.
Would you like to know what that money was for?” His voice had a different tone than I’d ever heard. Soft, with menace behind it, the purr of the cat before it pounces.
Then he told me about Paris, how he wanted it to be a nice trip with all the extras. “We would have gone in May,” he said, “when everything is in bloom…”
He wanted me to cry, he wanted me to say I was sorry. But I couldn’t and I wasn’t.
We hear from the girls who are growing up, about how the dad sneaks them through the woods to the back of the zoo to watch the giraffes dancing with joy. “The longevity of animals, he told us, is directly related to their happiness.”
Minrose Gwin is a storyteller, and one of the strengths of this novel is how one thing leads to another. About a third of the way in, this passage from Grace, the older daughter, underscores the causality of events and allows us to see the bad luck in their path.
I pulled up my gown and touched my belly with the edge of the knife. A welt appeared, then a dot of red, then another dot. I thought about slippage, how easily one thing can lead to another, how bad luck coils and strikes. Two extra hours at the zoo and everything is lost.
About three fourths of the way in, and many years later, June, the younger daughter, feels this same sense of how one thing can change everything.
I ‘d come to understand that I had set something in motion that could never be undone.
In a Bayou Magazine interview with Barb Johnson, who I met when I was in New Orleans in October for the Louisiana 50-bookstore event, Minrose talks about the three images that inspired the book, the third of which also inspired the title, a painted bunting at her backdoor feeder when she was in North Carolina and teaching at UNC.
An ‘accidental,’ my birder neighbor said of the painted bunting, blown off track from its normal migration path. I’d never heard that term used as noun, and the whole idea of being an accidental struck me as enormously generative. Aren’t we all accidentals in one way or other, blown off track in life’s great migration? In any case, the central story of the sisters, June and Grace McAlister, came to me through the images and blessings of animals.
In the same interview, Minrose talks about the challenges of writing The Accidentals, which took seven years. The book covers half a century and has seven first-person narrators.
Each important personal moment in the book is accompanied by a historical event: the murder of Emmett Till; the Russians putting little Laika into orbit; the Cuban missile crisis; the day the first man walked on the moon; the explosion of Challenger; the Obama election, and so on. Each of these events punctuates the characters’ struggles…
Minrose was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and now lives in Albuquerque, where I got to say hello in person at the New Mexico 50-bookstore event this past April. Her novel The Queen of Palmyra was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and a finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel Promise was shortlisted for the Willie Morris Award in Southern Literature. She has nine books out in the world with another on the way next year. Hub City Press will publish Beautiful Dreamers in the fall.
Come back on JANUARY 1st to read how MINROSE GWIN spends her days.