The Possibilities
Kaui Hart Hemmings
(Simon & Schuster)
Sarah St. John works as a factotum on television in a ski village in Colorado, but she's been on break for a few weeks because her twenty-two year old son just died in an avalanche. She's listening to a rap CD, one of her son's favorites, where the rapper is intoning "Life's a bitch and then you die." Sarah says it's "the truest thing I've heard all day" but not only is it hoary and old but, being old and hoary, it's plain wrong.

It should be, "Life's a bitch and when you're ready to die, they won't let you because the medical profession is deathly afraid of a lawsuit." They keep you going even if you are more than ready to opt out --- so it has little to do with our feelings and lots to do with torts.

Fortunately Cully won't be worrying about lawsuits because by the time the rescue team gets to him he's less of a tort and more of a torte, or, better, a TV frozen pot pie dinner. Which can leave one looking pretty unsightly.

When Sarah goes to see his body "the worst thing was that he looked afraid, and I couldn't see how this expression would ever be thawed." In other words, a tart torte.

§   §   §

I dropped The Possibilities soon after this deep-freeze (I was fearful of chilblains), but then I put on my winter togs and picked it up again because although it's about The Ultimate Chill it's also a chance for me to hang around people doing stuff I could only dream of: living in a snow-drenched part of Colorado with lots of millionaires who play all day --- ski, do television gigs, go to fashion shows, and get divorces.

It can even be moderately funny in a politically incorrect sort of way. Sarah's best friend Suzanne does a fantasy about a friend who thought that she and Sarah were "life partners."

    "God, we'd look good together though, wouldn't we? You'd be the trophy. I'd be Mrs. Payroll. Or we'd let ourselves go and just be butchy together. Buy matching fleeces. Maybe snowshoe to various huts. Don't they snowshoe? Or curl. I could see lesbians getting into curling. Anyway, whatever, don't ask, don't tell."

§   §   §

Sarah's son's ex is named Kit, and she pops over to bring back Cully's datebook and ends up vomiting in Sarah's kitchen sink. Evidently it wasn't the toaster waffles they had for breakfast. (Sarah's dad, a real wag, exclaims "Wowza! . . . . That was some fine work.") It turns out Kit is pregnant with Cully's baby.

The throw-up scene brings all our characters into the kitchen together so they can mourn their loss and at the same time clean the sink and start to think about the new family member now blossoming in Kit's belly.

And even though she's abashed by her big upchuck --- this is the first time that the family even knows that Cully had a love --- they tell her to relax, just let everything hang out. Like what could be bugging her to make her barf in front of strangers. It is better, she's told, "to say something, to talk about something that has no meaning, that won't trigger any emotions. Just get talking."

So Kit starts talking about toads. "Boreal toads."

    The way they mate is the male jumps on the female's back and she carries him around for days. This stimulates her to lay the eggs. That's all he does. He sits on her back. When she delivers the eggs --- that's when he fertilizes them.

That may be the perfect image for all of them in the room, all carrying something around on their backs or in their panzas. Susan's father is retired (not wanting to be retired); Billy, Susan's ex-husband, and Susan, both have to put up with people who don't know from nothing what to say (what do you say to a family who have just lost a first-rate son?). And Kit now going about with this new kit in her kaboodle.

Kit is obviously no dummy, but doesn't mention the fact that she forgot to wear her Lippes Loop to bed with Cully. Despite this boner, Susan tells her she must have done well in school and Kit says that it may be true, that she remembered "things you don't need to remember."

    "Like what?"

    "Like . . . George Washington had dentures made out of hippopotamus tusk."

    "Really," I say.

    "Yeah," she says. "Dude had hippo teeth."

So Kit is now established as an expert on toadfrogs and 18th Century dental care.

Sarah is fascinated by what went on between Cully and Kit (aren't we all?) but like most parents, she knew nothing about the doodlings going on in the television room. Plus, she didn't even know that Kit existed until her son got salted away, leaving one of his most important parts behind.

§   §   §

We spend a fair amount of time in The Possibilities living with these characters, and we think what great surprises lie in store for the unknown little toad-in-the-hole: a great-grandfather who is slightly nuts, a charming cowpokey kind of a grandfather, a grandmother who is a daytime television star, a mother who is willing to talk about anything that pops in her bean, and a father who ends up, after we hear all the tales told about him, as one we'd not ever refuse if he offered us his hand (or his seed).

But then the author goes moral on us, has Sarah St. John telling Kit that she has to go off and consult with her own family cross country, people who we've not met, and don't especially care for after all: Kit took off from them because they just aren't her type. Now she's found some people she obviously thinks are a hoot, and Sarah boots her out, shuts off the whole possible new family scenario (what characters for a new baby to grow up with!), sends poor Toad Lady off to the far reaches of the Upper Bronx to be with her doltish family, for God's sakes.

--- Lolita Lark
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