You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

A father’s secrets haunt ‘You and I and Someone Else’

Debut Southern novel traces the intricacies of family relations.


Anna Schachner’s effortlessly entertaining debut novel, “You and I and Someone Else,” explores the unexpected ways in which people handle the tragic blows dealt out over a lifetime. Suspected affairs don’t necessarily involve betrayal. The reappearance of an ex doesn’t have to evoke jealousy. And secrets don’t require a shattering of the earth to be earth shattering. One thing that makes the book such a pleasure – along with poetic sentences that incite immediate second readings – is that the Atlanta author doesn’t rely on flashy dramatics to engage the reader’s interest.

Frances “Frannie” Lewis exists in a web of interconnected characters, not all of them alive at the tale’s onset. The main ones are introduced in the revealing prologue, which readily gives away details that could have been surprises for the reader if revealed in the proper timeline. We learn that Frannie’s new love interest, Jude, will propose and that his ex-wife, Rita, will soon be carrying an “unborn child low against her narrow hips.” We also meet Frannie’s parents, who she blames for the secrets living inside her, and Rita and Jude’s son Evan, whose accidental death at a young age led to the end of their marriage.

The tell-all element in the first pages seems to send a message: This story is about life’s intricacies, not plot points. The first chapter quite literally begins at the beginning, the night Frannie was conceived during her father’s brief break from Navy duty. It happens hours after the first seed of suspicion is planted in her mother’s mind – one that would fester for 38 years – when she observes him having lunch at a restaurant alone instead of visiting his crazy Aunt Clarisse, as he’d claimed.

It is a mysterious lie, foreshadowing a trove of other secrets that at best make his wife and daughter feel they aren’t enough, and at worst make Frannie think her mom doesn’t love him. Some of these secrets are largely harmless, like learning to crochet or opening a third credit card. Others are harder to explain, like yearly trips to work as a carnival barker for a gorilla woman, an undeveloped tangent that hints at a Tom Robbins influence. And then there is Melissa, the mother he often visits after her husband dies in the Navy. He feels obligated to care for her son, Hugh, who later makes a pact with Frannie to keep their own relationship to themselves – a “childish power play” turned familiar guilty pleasure.

Jump forward to the late ‘90s – a time frame ascertained when Jude playfully swats Frannie, now 36, with a newspaper bearing a photo of President Clinton, a detail that exemplifies Schachner’s mastery of showing, not telling. Frannie has just moved from Charlotte to a one-grocery-store town in North Carolina, and references to the scrutiny of small-town life are frequent: “Then we sat side by side on the steps so that the neighbors wouldn’t miss any more developments in our relationship.”

She first meets Jude when he is despondent and riding a child’s carousel in front of a discount store. They begin dating around the same time his quirky, depressed ex-wife moves back to town, making her presence well known. Complications are compounded when Frannie’s father reveals he has lung cancer, then “Mama” conveniently suggests that “Daddy” might live longer if Frannie were to get pregnant. The good daughter abides by drafting a list of candidates for fatherhood that “contained two people, a man I had known since childhood, and, of course, Jude.” But the plan is derailed by discouraging news from Frannie’s doctor.

Thoughts of potential new life juxtaposed against imminent death brings previously taboo topics to light, like that of the stillborn baby her mother delivered when Frannie was 12. When a newly hired cleaning woman finds the baby food Frannie had rebelliously stolen at that time stashed in a bedroom closet, she demands Frannie and her mom return the expired jars to 7-Eleven, prompting a bonding experience in which the stillborn child’s intended name is finally revealed: Alice. Frannie longs for that kind of openness between her parents, and is determined for it to happen before her father dies. The novel’s resolutions seem less wrapped up with a pretty bow and more buried under layers of tissue paper in an honest, satisfying way.

Except on rare occasions, Schachner’s prose displays a mix of “beauty and practicality,” which is how Jude describes Frannie during their second meeting, and it shines best in darker moments. After her mother, still pregnant with Alice, is taken to the hospital on a stretcher that “disappeared into the ambulance like a baking tray into an oven,” Frannie starts to make a list of reasons she should go to a dance. “It became, however, a list of all the reasons the baby might not have wanted to be born, which began with dentist’s visits and ended with me.”

The most captivating story line, though, is that of Rita and Jude’s lost son. Jude’s reticence to discuss him leads Frannie to seek out Rita, a woman whose grief manifests itself through a “dystopic film set” around her child’s grave at their former home. It was a backyard “made of toys,” a shrine with a jack-in-the-box and limbless action figures hanging from tree branches, tricycles and bikes littered everywhere and a mock garden of baseball bats and tennis rackets stuck in the ground. The collective imagery of this vibrant story, painted in the mind by Schachner, will not dissipate anytime soon.

MORE BOOK REVIEWS

A hasty marriage unravels in Civil War era ‘The Second Mrs. Hockaday’

‘Bandit’ a raw meditative look at life with a bank robber dad



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Gal Gadot, Lynda Carter meet at ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere
Gal Gadot, Lynda Carter meet at ‘Wonder Woman’ premiere

Two are more wonderful than one. Gal Gadot and Lynda Carter met, embraced and posed for photographs at Thursday’s premiere of “Wonder Woman” in Hollywood, ETOnline reported. >> Read more trending news Carter, 65, made the Wonder Woman character famous during its television series run from 1975 to 1979. Gadot is starring...
U2 makes post-concert stop at Whataburger in Houston 
U2 makes post-concert stop at Whataburger in Houston 

After another grueling concert on the road, U2 can be forgiven for acting in mysterious ways. The Irish rock ’n’ roll band finished their show in Houston on Wednesday night and decided to eat at a local Whataburger, KDFW reported. >> Read more trending news After arriving, members of the band posed for photographs with some...
Here we go again: TMZ says Joseline assaults Stevie J at restaurant with hot mushrooms
Here we go again: TMZ says Joseline assaults Stevie J at restaurant with hot mushrooms

Joseline and Stevie J attempted reconciliation earlier this year. That didn’t last long. CREDIT: Getty Images This was posted on Saturday, May 27, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.
Gregg Allman’s death means the end of another Brotherhood
Gregg Allman’s death means the end of another Brotherhood

Among the most perfect live albums ever recorded, “At Fillmore East” by the Allman Brothers Band was also the Fillmore’s swan song, recorded just before the New York City venue closed in the summer of 1971. The Allmans continued to play music through the next four decades, beset by tragedy, triumph and personnel changes, and while...
Gregg Allman dies: Cher, Warren Haynes, Chuck Leavell share their grief online
Gregg Allman dies: Cher, Warren Haynes, Chuck Leavell share their grief online

Gregg Allman sounded robust on songs including “I’m No Angel” and “Midnight Rider.
More Stories