Cris Mazza

"Many Ways to Get It, Many Ways to Say It "

(Reviewed by Debbie Lee Wesselman JUN 4, 2006)

Many Ways to Get It, Many Ways to Say It by Chris Mazza

Cris Mazza, a writer long known for her psychological novels and insights into sexual politics, has written another arresting novel.  Divided into two parts, as suggested by the title, Mazza's novel delves into the empty lives of Lorilee, a bus driver whose possibly impotent husband lives on dreams and not much else, and of Clay, a teacher leading teenagers on a cross-country bus trip and whose physician wife sees him only as a sex toy.  Both Lorilee and Clay are desperate to break out of their proscribed circumstances.  They want something new, a high, anything to break the monotony of day-to-day life.

The first part of the book is told through Lorilee's eyes.  In 1978, she and Dale marry right out of high school, in city hall since neither family will pay for a wedding.  She is a "I Love Lucy" groupie, and he dreams of a career as a rock drummer.   Neither is much into measured decisions.  When Dale asks Lorilee soon afterward why she married him, she answers, "For the hell of it, I guess."  This attitude, of making important decisions on a whim, defines Lorilee; she seeks the high, the thrill, the "buzz," of risk.  Ever since experiencing a jolt of air turbulence as a child, she has sought to recreate it:  "The same feeling could be manufactured well enough on a roller coaster or fast Ferris wheel, but it was always best when she was taken by surprise.  Yet that's not easy.  You can put yourself in a position to be scared out of your wits, but if you sit around waiting for it, it'll never come.  Just being a daredevil isn't good enough."  As Dale falls into deep denial about his future and ignores Lorilee, she discovers that the best way to recreate the buzz is first through modeling nude for photographers and then by having one-time sex with them and with strangers.  First, she justifies this by telling herself that they need the money, and soon, she discovers the buzz of leverage­­––what she can do to the men who cannot resist her.  Instead of rescuing her, however, her secret life creates even more of an emptiness that can only be satisfied through escape.

The second part––Many Ways to Say It––is told from Clay's point-of-view as he begins a cross-country bus trip with a group of high school kids and his physician wife Val.   Clay is a high school teacher with little ambition who is "kept" by Val for purely sexual reasons.  Once again, the women in Mazza's fiction have leverage through their sexuality over the men who act on desire first, only to find themselves vulnerable after the act.  The bus driver turns out to be Lorilee, whom Clay erroneously calls "Lora." (No one in the book gets her name right.)  In this section, we see Lorilee's avid pursuit of her buzz from an outsider's perspective.  Lorilee has left Dale and has accepted a job to drive a charter bus across country; however, here, since the focus is on Clay, she becomes a siren more than a woman desperate for thrills.  Clay, who regularly cheats on his wife, becomes obsessed with "Lora" and the idea of sleeping with her even though she refuses him time after time.  Lora always seems to be in the periphery of the small crises that occur, both as observer and instigator.  Even as Clay begins to realize the kind of leverage she uses, he cannot squelch his yearning.  He becomes her emotional captive, and, through her, begins to see his life for what it is.   

Structurally, the novel can be seen as two novellas connected by  a common character:  Lorilee.  The first "novella," Many Ways to Get It, is stronger than the second, primarily because Lorilee's point-of-view is more compelling than Clay's.  Lorilee is quirky and complex; she watches every episode of "I Love Lucy" and has girlish fantasies about romance –– and then throws it all out as she calculates how she can get what she wants.  Clay, though believable as a character, simply does not have the dynamism that Lorilee has, partly due to his submissive relationship with Val.  Even when he tries to take charge, it is without conviction. In fact, the set-up of Lorilee's character in the first part has much to do with the success of the second since the reader is as intrigued with Lorilee as Clay is. 

Many Ways to Get It, Many Ways to Say It is one of Mazza's strongest books.  It centers on the unfulfilling, restless lives of these protagonists and how they seek to make up for their failings through sexual encounters.  The sexuality in the novel is far from erotic; it is desperate, utilitarian, and necessary.  At the heart of most of Mazza's novels, there is a general bleakness, and this novel is no exception, although here it is less crippling than in Exposed.  Watching Lorilee plunge into her desperate encounters is like watching the proverbial train wreck:  readers will not be able to look away even as they wish they could stop it from happening.

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About the Author:

Chris MazzaCris Mazza was born in Southern California and grew up inot early adulthood in San Diego County.

Mazza has written about a dozen onvels and collections. Her first novel, How to Leave a Country, while still in manuscript won the PEN / Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction. The judges included Studs Terkel and Grace Paley. Since then, Mazza's fiction has been reviewed by a number of major publications. She was also a recipient of an NEA fellowship. In spring 1996, Mazza was the cover feature in Poets & Writers Magazine.

She now lives 50 miles west of Chicago and is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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