Books by Susan Thames

Released: Aug. 1, 1997

Mother and daughter flee home with too little money and no plans in this depressing and catharsis-free first novel—set in the '50s—by the author of the story collection As Much As I Know (1992). Twelve-year-old Lily Wolsey's mother, June, doesn't like knowing that her traveling-salesman husband sleeps around on his business trips, but she's willing to look the other way until the day he chooses to move in with one of his other women. Stuck in her mother's house in Covington, Virginia, with no one but Lily for company, June decides to run away, taking her daughter with her. The trouble is, June has no plans, no skills, and nowhere to go—so instead of moving to another town and starting life over, June and the confused Lily keep driving, roughly in circles, around the southern half of the US. Wherever the Wolseys go, trouble follows: A visit to a cousin ends abruptly when June and the cousin's husband are caught with clothes askew; a stay with an in-law in Florida ends when June, drunk as usual, is raped by their hostess's son. Meanwhile, as their finances decrease, June steals, lies, and prostitutes herself to pay for yet another motel room or repairs for the car. Lily, terrified of being left behind, shrugs off the years of school she's missing and learns to flirt with men for money just like her mom. Eventually the two take to buses and trains, sleeping in flophouses until a longer stay in a black-owned bar on the poor side of Memphis gives Lily the time to catch her breath, collect a few dollars, and leave her mother. A tale of degradation and desperation, for those who like their coming-of-age stories extra noir. Read full book review >
AS MUCH AS I KNOW by Susan Thames
Released: Feb. 3, 1992

In Thames's first collection, the title story—the homecoming of a prodigal daughter, her own young daughter in tow (the product of a cousin's love)—has genuine lift to it, touching down very low in female degradation before reaching very high for believable family reconciliation. Strong waves of true emotion wash through it at the right intervals, making it ultimately stirring. Too bad, then, that so little here (and a five-story collection seems a handicap for even the strongest talent) is in the same league. Every one of these pieces has to do with a child's being either shut out of or cruelly shut in by family neglect, selfishness—and the tone is generally passive, muffled, set in amber. A mother beats out her daughter for a boy's affection in ``Lorna Mitchell's Vision''; in ``The Miracle,'' a drug-dealer's family is so exotic and pathological that it implodes; in ``Gone,'' a woman's grown retarded son leaves her to live on his own, dooming her to memories of incest and denial. A stylist of no great distinction (``I grip the top of the iron headboard, crushing the cool molded tubing into my palms until my skin burns and my fingers ache. Sobs like a churning sea roll inside me, choked back by the barbed edges in my fever-scarred throat...''), Thames must depend solely on feeling for her stories to succeed—but except for the title one, these pieces lack the progress of feeling-unfolding-in-time that allows a character more than a stunned victimhood. Read full book review >