Inspired by three (real) albums of protest music released in 2018 -- "Retake the Middle Ground," "Unfollow," and "World Almost Over?" -- the novel follows the travails of three (fictional) songwriters as they deal with issues from writer's block to physical intimidation, from trolls to the seemingly endless social media feeds devoted to politics.
World Almost Over?
Kim had fully expected to be fired on Friday when she showed up at noon with only the excuse that she had spent the night in jail after a party.
Something about the story, however, had struck a chord with the owner. So instead of being fired she was subjected to nearly an hour's worth of nostalgia about the owner's wild partying fraternity days. Plus, of course, the story that she had already heard about a dozen times: that the owner, when a freshman, had been a background extra during the cafeteria scene in the movie "Breaking Away." He could, as he had said a dozen times before, be clearly seen in the final movie.
Kim quickly drafted an email, in which she tried to sound cheerful and optimistic, telling everyone that the next meeting of Political Music Club needed to be put on hold until she had found a location where that big of a crowd could be accommodated.
Then she put on her telephone headset and went about her customer service duties, attempting to sound cheerful despite being exhausted and feeling quite depressed.
"I'm on my way to my mom's house," Kim said over the phone to Jenny. "I've only been back to visit her twice since I moved to Bloomington, so I'm spending the weekend with her."
"Are you gonna tell her that you were in JAIL?" Jenny said with a laugh.
"I haven't decided yet."
You haven't decided whether you'll tell your mom that you were in JAIL?"
"I really don't think that's funny."
"JAIL?" asked Jenny through her continuous laughter. "Okay, I'm sorry I won't mention JAIL again… No, maybe once more. JAIL!"
"Don't mention it. But seriously, the reason I called you is, have you checked your Club email?"
"No, not since I got out of JAIL!"
"Okay, Nathaniel said that there's a dude trying to get hold of you. When you didn't answer him he sent a message to the 'info' address and Nate got it."
"What does this guy want?"
"Check your email and see."
"I don't want to check my email."
"Check your fuckin' email, Kim."
"Fine. I'll call this dude and just give him your phone number."
"Don't you dare!"
"I will fuckin' dare!" shouted Jenny, and the line went dead.
"Hello?" said Kim, "Hello? I swear this better be a loss of signal and not you hanging up on me. Hello?"
"Everyone in Bloomington talks about this movie called 'Breaking Away.' Have you ever seen it, Mom?"
"'Of course?' Why 'of course?'"
"Of course I've seen 'Breaking Away.'"
Kim said, "I'd never even heard of it until I moved to Bloomington, but everyone there likes to quote it."
"Oh, I'm sure you've seen 'Breaking Away.' I'm pretty sure it's in the box."
"The box in the garage with all of your dad's old VHS tapes. I'm sure you've seen it. With the bike race and the boy who thinks he's Italian but he's not."
"Never seen it."
"Oh, I'm sure you have. They filmed it in Bloomington."
"Yeah. I got that. I just didn't figure it was a real movie."
"Of course it was a real movie. It had Meg Ryan's ex-husband in it… Dennis Quaid. And the actor from 'The Wonder Years.'"
"I've heard of 'The Wonder Years,' but again, I don't think I've ever seen it."
"And the actor who played the father in 'Sixteen Candles.' He had the heart attack while shouting 'Refund? Refund?'"
"Okay," said Kim, giving up. The two were seated in Kim's mother's kitchen. Kim looked around at the familiar decor, but noticed that something was different."
"You took down all the pictures?"
Her mother replied, "I've still got your graduation photo there over the microwave. See?"
"What about all the others? What about the ones of you and Dad at the lake?"
"I don't know. It just seemed time."
"Huh…" said Kim. Her phone began its default ring, 'Pride, In the Name of Love.' Kim looked down, saw that it was an unknown caller and ignored the call.
"Mom," said Kim, "How do you keep going when you're down?"
"What kind of question is that?"
"I don't know. I just had a rough week I guess."
"Have you been going to church in Bloomington?"
"Well, there you have it."
"Mom, you go to church and you still have bad weeks."
"I have the kind of week that the Lord wants me to have. One day, I'll find out why He put me through the bad ones, but for now…"
"…I accept it as God's will" Kim finished with her.
Kim's mom shrugged. "It works," she said, "And that's the answer to your question."
"Yeah but…" Kim began, but she was interrupted by the sound of her mother's phone ringing.
"Oh," said Kim's mother, "It's your Aunt Laurie." She picked up the phone and answered, "Hi… Whatcha up to?… Yes, Kimberly got here safely. Do you want to say 'hi?'…Okay." And she passed the phone to Kim.
"Hi Aunt Laurie. How are you?"
"I'm good. How are things in Bloomington?"
"Oh, good and bad I guess."
"Have you met any new friends?"
Kim began to laugh, "Oh yes. I've met some friends."
"Well that's good. Did your mom tell you she's got a new boyfriend?"
"Your mom's got a new boyfriend."
Kim looked up at her mom and answered in an overly loud voice, "No, my mother did not mention that she had a new boyfriend."
"Oh, give me that," said her mom as she took the phone from Kim, "I swear Laurie, you have always been trouble. Mom and Dad…"
"…should've given you to the gypsies," Kim finished with her.
"I will talk to you later Blabbermouth," her mom said into the phone, "What?… Yes, I'm bringing pie to the bazaar. I said I was bringing pie to the bazaar I'll bring pie to the bazaar. And I will speak with you later. Goodbye."
"Boyfriend?" Asked Kim.
"It's not like that. Well, not completely like that. It's Bill from church. You know Bill."
"I know Bill. And you're, what, dating? And isn't he younger than you?"
"Oh, I don't want to talk about it."
Kim just silently stared at her mother.
After nearly a minute had elapsed, Kim's mother said, "My grandmother is still alive."
Kim was puzzled. Her mother continued, "I might have another forty years on this earth."
Kim still seemed puzzled. Her mother continued again, "It was fine when you were her but now…" Her mother paused uncomfortably for several moments. Finally, she decided to say what she was thinking, "I don't want to spend the next forty years alone."
"Oh, said Kim, "No, I'm sorry Mom. I hadn't thought of that. It's just, you've never mentioned anything like that. But sure… Sorry."
"It's okay. That's just why I've gone out with Bill a few times. After church at first, then I suppose what you would call real dates."
"Great," said Kim, "That's actually great, Mom. I'm sorry I didn't put two and two together. That's great. When is your next date?"
"I don't know. We'll see. I had to cancel, so we'll see."
"Wait," said Kim, "Did you have a date scheduled with him tonight? But then I invited myself over?"
"Oh, don't be silly. You can invite yourself over here any time you want. Your bedroom is still here. Come visit. Move back. Whatever you want."
"Wow," said Kim, "I just had this amazing deja vu. I think that's almost exactly what you said to me when Kevin broke off our engagement."
"Kevin. Don't get me started on Kevin."
"But wait, you didn't answer my question Mom. Did you cancel a date tonight?"
"Well, yes. But it's really fine."
"You should call up Bill and tell him the date is back on. I'll drive back to Bloomington. I've got a lot of stuff to do there anyway."
"Don't be silly."
"It's only noon. We'll spend the day together and then I'll go back home and you can see Bill."
"You're being silly, Kimberly."
"Fine. I'm being silly. But I'm leaving here at six o'clock. You can either call Bill or spend the evening alone. Your call."
In the end, Kim convinced her mother to re-make the date with Bill, then the two women had gone to lunch where they engaged in very pleasant, not overly personal or deep on either side, conversation.
The subject of JAIL did not come up.« previous next »