Marsha’s Deal by Laura Solomon
UK: CreateSpace Independent Publishing (2017)
RRP: £7. Pb, 65pp
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
In Marsha’s Deal we are straight away introduced to the writer’s skill, coupled with her lyricism and absolute control of her subject matter. It is essential for a story to have “life”. If, by this, we mean energy, vitality, and intellectual stimulation, then Solomon’s stories are teeming with these attributes. Take ‘The Reckoning’. The story begins:
Marsha Lee Henry died on a Friday. She took her own life at Dignitas, the Swiss euthanasia clinic, after being diagnosed with Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, a rare disease that mean various parts of her body would turn to bone when damaged. (1)
This is quite a long story that grips us from the start, and carries us through a narrative that is threaded with the author’s gift for directness, wonderment and subtle sadness and sympathy, as in the second story, ‘The First Time Around’:
Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Marsha tripped over the
corner of a rug in her home and hit her hip on the corner of a table.
It bruised and a second bone grew, and Marsha began to have
difficulty walking. (9)
I love the scenarios the writer sets up – their intense drama is expressive and a substantial part of each chapter. At the end of the third part, ‘The Second Time Around’, all is right with the world:
Marsha never remembered he deal she had made, but in both
her waking and dreaming lives she had the sense that she
was winning. (58)
It’s a somewhat alarming story, but every word seems to say, It’s true.
Solomon has a natural and persistent interest in comedy, crime, surrealism and relationships. The stories in Marsha’s Deal have a natural and persistent spiritual or psychological curiosity, which she clearly delights in exercising. But her explorations of demons, obsessions and tyranny are never tedious or long-winded. She revels in the possibilities of discipline – in form, line and rhythm – to produce precision. Solomon knows that restriction, embraced, becomes a strait jacket, and she uses discipline to devastating effect in the story. That she can address such a subject, without a shadow of subjectivity – with an observer’s eye – and with such musical power, is nothing short of joyous. Threat, dread, danger and delicate balance, are served up in the finest language: The novel fuses Solomon’s lyrical gifts with her fascinating contemplation of the physical relationship with the spiritual. In a lesser writer’s hands, such a venture would feel pretentious. But Solomon’s flights of imagination, her accessibility and humour, make her novels fulfilling to read.
Marsha’s Deal is a book which leaves those who have read it feeling less alone and more alive. It’s effect is deeply moving. I can’t think of any other book that casts its net so widely, or one that has introduced me to so many vivid and memorable scenes. Marsha’s Deal is a blessing of a book. It is life-affirming, fired by belief in the human and spiritual at a time when much of the world feels unreal and inhuman. This is a book of great force connecting Marsha’s aspirations with her humanity, helping her to stay alive and true to herself.
Patricia Prime is co-editor of Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today and a reviewer for Atlas Poetica, takahē and other journals. In 2020 she will be one of the editors of Contemporary Haibun Online. Besides reviewing, writing poetry and articles, she writes traditional verse, renga, linked verse, tanka prose, haibun, cherita and limericks.