"Wonder When You'll Miss Me"
(Reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran JAN 29, 2003)
Do kids today still dream about running away to join the circus? It has always sounded somewhat appealing to me, the spangly costumes, the death defying stunts on the high wire, all that ethereal cotton candy. I'm just guessing on that last count however, because I have a terribly mean mother who refused to buy my brother and me cotton candy on the grounds that it would rot our teeth. She also put the kibosh on my watching "Old Yeller" since I was and still am an unabashed dog freak. But I digress. The new novel "Wonder When You'll Miss Me" by Amanda Davis showcases the journey of a young girl who finds healing and transformation through the circus.
"We meet Faith Duckle, a formerly fat high schooler from Gleryton, North Carolina at a local hopsital where she is recovering from a suicide attempt. The victim of a horrific sexual assault, about which she told no one, Faith loses 58 pounds in the hospital, gains a measure of self acceptance, and is pronounced at least partially cured and returns home to her widowed mother and their antiseptic and isolated existence. Coming home means Faith must also return to high school and to her classmates, several of which were among her attackers. Faith's high school is a cold place, one that you are afraid your children are attending right now. Faith's English teacher, Mr. Feldman, "was a mousy man, oddly formal with small rounded shoulders and a terrible balding pattern. Books got him so excited that his high forehead turned red. . .Shakespeare practically made him froth at the mouth." Davis is clearly in tune with the teenage soul. Faith, a true adolescent, searches for solace only with her peers but of course finds none.
Faith is not alone in this however, as she is constantly accompanied by an apparition, a walking, talking, noshing, bloated ghost of her former self whom she calls "The Fat Girl." Davis is coy here, never really acknowledging whether the fat girl is a schizophrenic hallucination, as she seems more like an imaginary friend, albeit one whose "eyes squinted to nothing beneath their enormous folds of flesh. She spat a watermelon seed and it bounced off the concrete wall. . . Juice dripped down her chin." Faith comes closest to a friendship with a co-worker, Charlie, a gay heroin addict in love with a circus sideshow freak. The fat girl Girl doesn't trust Charlie and advises Faith, cajoles her, and ultimately pushes her into a violent act of retribution against one of Faith's attackers. Up to this point the reading is tough, Davis forces the reader to acknowledge painful truths about Faith and even the fat girl. The violent act proves somewhat cathartic, in a grotesque sort of way; it allows Faith to literally run away to join the circus, hoping to find Charlie and his boyfriend Marco.
The two travel with a small family circus and although Faith nearly dies trying to find it, she eventually hooks up with the group and finds herself entranced by the aerialists. "She flew lightly, gracefully, as though it were perfectly natural to trust her entire body to this single thread. . .and the entire crowd gasped." Faith is drawn to this transitory life because of its anonymity, its illusion of family bonding, and the hard monotony of life on the road. Davis never lets us assume that Faith's (now known as Annabelle) new life is perfect, as there are plenty of emotional roadblocks in Faith's new life. We are left however, with a measure of hope for Faith/Annabelle, that she will find a small measure of happiness under the big top.
- Amazon readers rating: from 41 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The Beatrice Interview with Amanda Davis
- Short Story: Louisiana Loses Its Cricket Hum published at FailBetter.com
- Read a chapter excerpt from Circling the Drain
- Salon.com review of Circling the Drain
- The Village Voice review of Circling the Drain
- FFWD Weekly reivew of Circling the Drain
- Reading Guide for Wonder When You'll Miss Me
- Ayelet Waldman's note on Wonder When You'll Miss Me
- January Magazine review of Wonder When You'll Miss Me
- Amanda Davis, Dies at 32
- The New York Observer on Amanda Davis, 1971-2003
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About the Author:
Amanda Davis was raised in Durham, North Carolina, and was last living in Oakland, California, where she taught in the MFA program at Mills College. Davis is also the author of Circling the Drain, a collection of short stories. Her fiction, nonfiction, and reviews have been published in Esquire, Bookforum, Black Book, McSweeney's, Poets and Writers, Story, Seventeen, and Best New American Voices 2001. Wonder When You'll Miss Me was her first novel.
Sadly, while on a book tour for her new novel, Amanda Davis and her parents died in a single engine plane crash piloted by Mr. Davis on March 14, 2003 in North Carolina.