Thursday, February 6, 2020

"Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes"

Kathleen West is a writer, teacher, reader, and semi-professional minivan driver. A life-long Minnesotan, she holds degrees from Macalester College and the University of Minnesota. She lives in Minneapolis with her hilarious husband, their two sporty sons, and an ill-behaved goldendoodle.

West applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes, and reported the following:
From page 69:
On his way home, [Henry] replayed Martin Young’s call in his head. “Bruising to the abdomen,” Martin had said. “Shock,” “stress,” and Melissa’s “lingering feeling” after Witches Over Willow Street that Julia didn’t like her. Something about the wrong look for the part? Her feet far too big? It all seemed trivial. He glided his BMW into the three-car garage and sighed.

As he opened the back door, Henry recognized the familiar smell of warm butter and melted cheese, b├ęchamel sauce for one of Julia’s famous baked pastas. “It’s me!” he called.

“Hi, honey!” Julia said without turning around. “I’m doing mac and cheese for dinner. I know it’s heavy, but it’s Andrew’s favorite. We have to celebrate!” Tracy raised her eyebrows at her father from the kitchen table. Her wet hair dripped on her gray sweatshirt.

“Dad,” she whispered as he approached, “didn’t you get my texts?”

“I did, sweetheart.” He avoided her eyes. He wasn’t entirely comfortable in his new complicity with their teenagers when it came to managing Julia. He could see their adoration of their mother waning each year, their eyes rolling harder when she offered advice. Their texts imploring him to forbid her from calling their teachers made him faintly queasy. Parenting had been more fun when he ran alongside their bikes and took them for ice cream.

“Julia” –he stood next to her at the stove—“we really need to talk.”

“I know.” She set her spoon down to the right of the burner. “I got the most insane call from Wayne Wallace. You know, the principal? He wants to meet with me tomorrow morning at seven thirty. There’s been a crazy misunderstanding.”
I’m happy to discover that Page 69 is indeed indicative of Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes as a whole. In this section, Henry Abbott is primarily concerned with managing his wife, Julia, the consummate helicopter parent. In her latest transgression, rather than waiting at home (like all of the other theater moms) for news of the high school musical auditions, she goes to school to see the cast list for herself. In a crowd of kids, and in the midst her overzealous celebration dance—her son, Andrew, has scored a sizable role—she inadvertently injures the female lead of the play. Once again, Henry is stuck smoothing things over. Things become immediately worse for them all when video of the incident surfaces on social media, and Julia’s notoriety reaches a new scale.

As a teacher for 20 years, I enjoyed building a fictional high school in Minor Dramas. I populated it with familiar characters (including a devoted English teacher who shares some of my physical traits and lesson plans), amped up the workplace politics, and delved into the ideas that have always fascinated me as a teacher and a writer: competition, ambition, parenthood, and redemption. Teachers are generally firm believers in second and third chances, and all of the characters here benefit.
Visit Kathleen West's website.

--Marshal Zeringue