Call Me When You Land
Michael Schiavone
(The Permanent Press)
Katie is trying to raise her fifteen-year-old son and you know how easy that is. She is also an alky ... probably ... although she denies it (don't we all?) preferring Grand Marnier straight to something simple like bourbon on the rocks. When her sister calls her about this drunk-every-night business, Katie replies that "AA isn't happening until I rape the cat or drive over a mother and her baby carriage."

Katie's father left her an ocean-front house in New England and she works in a bar there in nearby Gunnerside. She also paints, only the people in her pictures have no faces ... even though her galleries have told her they don't want no more no-faces in the paintings. Katie seems to have gotten pregnant by her present boyfriend appropriately named Peter.

Peter feels an abortion is in order but she explains that her son wants to be in a real family. "C. J used to beg me for a little brother or sister. He absolutely ached for a sibling," she explains. She doesn't reveal that that was back when he was but five-years-old.

§   §   §

If you are planning to have a fifteen-year-old son, don't. And if you have any doubts, read this at once. "No man will ever crush you like your son," says Megan, who runs the place where Katie works. No wonder Katie hides her booze (and her boozing) from young C. J. As if she could. Our children, no matter how hard we work to deceive them, know everything. She decides he needs a job to get some spending money. She says, "I see a lot of kids your age working at Star Market."

    "I'm not bagging groceries."

    Katie's phone rings. "Who calls now?" she asks, pressing the ignore button.

    "Probably Mother's Against Drunk Driving," he says.

This refers to her recent brush with the law where she might have gotten run in and a hefty fine if she hadn't charmed Officer Rollins with her lies. Did I mention the dialogue in Call Me When You Land is a kick-in-the-pants? When she gets on C. J.'s case for his new earring, she says, "It really looks awful. I'd rather you get a tattoo that no one can see."

    "Fine, whatever you want." He removes the stud from his ear. "I'll get a MOM heart tattoo on my shoulder first thing tomorrow."

Call Me When You Land is presumably about juggling a job and a lover or two, being an artist, raising a hockey-loving, wise-acre son, and dealing with the fact that his father --- her ex Craig --- was recently found defunct in a motel in Carson City. He was a wanderer, on a Harley, and when he does himself in with his "habit," (turns out he had a hankering for heroin), he leaves his Harley to Katie and C. J. It appears early on in the book and in their driveway, spooking Katie, enthralling C. J.

That's presumably the plot, but there are dozens of other stories running around on these pages, enough to be squashed into a story by Dickens or, worse, John Cheever. For instance, what's it like to have a mother and a father who were, to all intents and purposes, AWOL. Mum wrote bad poetry: one of her death-bed presents to Katie is one "about two handicapped cows discussing Schopenhauer's philosophy."

How do you deal with your teen-aged son, the father of whom was never there, even when they were conceiving him in some motel? And how do you handle a sister (who too may be among the walking dead) as she hauls in a small fortune in consulting, even sending you small checks to pay the property tax.

Then there is boyfriend Peter who doesn't ask but demands that she get an abortion: "'We can't get close. And that's fine for you and me, but not that,' he says grimly, pointing at her stomach." Katie's life is a shipwreck, but she makes do. Long before she does, the reader comes to see her as a great mother, despite daily wranglings with her dope-hating, vegan, ice-hockey nut for a son. (I had heard about mayhem in the rink, but here it is demonstrated with verve.)

I can attest to the fact that being a single mother is a bitch, but I've never had it shown so graphically. I mean let's get real: having to hide a joint from your own son. "Why are your eyes so red?" he asks.

    "Allergies," she says, rubbing her nose. "Maybe you can go downstairs and get me a Claritin."

    "More like Visine," he mumbles.

    "What was that?"

    "I didn't say anything," he says.

--- Lolita Lark
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