The Possibility of You

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I recently visited the amazing book club at Boulevard Books & Cafe in Brooklyn, where owner Tatiana Nicoli led a lively discussion with the store’s 40-member club.  I was so impressed with the store, which is gorgeous and hosts lots of authors.

Here I am with another happy book club.  Yes, they all loved the book, but we had also just eaten chocolate peanut butter pie.

I had a great time another night Skypeing in with the Talk the Talk Book Club of Augusta, Georgia.  Check out this great blog post by host Leasher Robinson about our evening together.  Thanks too to Tonya Burdette for getting us organized!

Click here to download the Book Club Guide for the book.

Want to read a bit more before you decide?  Some excerpts:

Bridget, 1916

The city was in the grip of a mania.  Barely three weeks since Floyd had fallen ill, none of the doctors guessing what was wrong with him until too late, and now all of New York was on high alert against what the newspapers called “the baby-killing disease.”  Every day, the death toll climbed: 30 to 50 to 75 to 100 to 150.  Everyone with enough money spirited their children away to the country and the rest were shut up inside their suffocating apartments.

Holiday festivals were canceled and children were banned from movie theatres.  In the park, the goat carts had disappeared and no toy boats floated in the pool.  And at the playground, Bridget saw with a shock that they’d emptied all the sand from the sandboxes and covered the concrete with oil, to keep down the dirt, the dirt that bred the germs.

The Italians brought it, is what they said, though the Negroes were immune.   Kissing was dangerous, the newspapers reported.  Cats were thought to spread the disease and dogs too, with thousands of animals turned out into the streets by fearful families, to be caught and exterminated by city officials.    There were cat-catching contests, with boys whose families needed money more than they needed the boys rounding up cats and turning them into the police for a bounty of ten cents a head.

There were fly-catching contests too, with flies blamed for picking up the disease from infected children and open garbage cans and dead animals and spreading it on their feet and wings.

Close your windows!, the health department ads commanded.  Cover your garbage!  Clean your house!  Kill all flies!

Billie, 1976 

No contradictions were allowed, yet Billie and Jupe embodied nothing but contradictions.  Jupiter , son of fifth generation African-American Brooklyn burghers, had attended private schools and would be heading to medical school after spending a year working and studying for the MCats while living at home to save money.  Yes, he hoped to be a pediatrician, yes, he wanted to help poor kids, but he was further from being a Black Panther than, well, Billie herself.

Billie was the one who’d grown up in mostly-black poor neighborhoods, who’d gone to crappy public schools where the teachers may have pitied the children, but never challenged them.  She was the child of the single parent, the parent who left her home alone while he went to the bar, who slept through the morning alarm, who collected welfare money he spent on drugs instead of clothes or food.

He was also the parent who introduced her to Dickinson and Whitman, who encouraged her to be proud of her individuality, to make her own way in the world.  He may not have had the money to send her to college, or even been willing to fill out the forms for her to get financial aid – “I don’t want the feds knowing my business, babe” – but he had encouraged her to simply show up at classes as if she belonged there.

“You have more right to be there than those spoiled assholes,” he told her.  “You’re smarter than any of them.”

But did it matter if she was the smartest one in the class if she’d never be able to claim a degree, use it to go to graduate school or find a job?  And now that her father had died, now that Jupe had graduated and was heading back to Brooklyn, she didn’t even have a home or a friend.  All she had were a dozen garbage bags full of junk, her father’s ancient books, and an owl-shaped vase containing his ashes.

And, right, whatever was in the box under the bed.

Cait, present

Someone was pregnant with her once, just as she was pregnant now.  This was something she tried, had always tried, not to think about.   She’d always claimed, to herself as to everyone else, that she didn’t want to know anything about the woman who’d given birth to her.  She gave me away, she always said, if anyone was insensitive enough to press her on the issue.  Why should I be interested in her?

But she was interested, she felt now, suddenly, intensely; more than 30 years worth of interested.  Who was her biological mother?  Was she young or older, rich or poor, alone or in a relationship?  Was she in love with my father?  Was she raped?  Was she a drug addict, incompetent, beyond caring, the way Riley’s mother had been?  Did she want me at all?  And if she didn’t want me, why didn’t she have an abortion?  There may not have been RU-486 in the 70s, but abortion was legal and safe and if anything more available and acceptable than it was now.

And so why give your baby away at birth rather than end your pregnancy?  Catholic?  Ignorant?  An early pro-lifer?  Or like Cait, in the grip of something infinitely more complicated.