Cover image for Going nowhere sideways : a novel
Going nowhere sideways : a novel
Curran, Leigh.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Santa Barbara, Calif. : Fithian Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
222 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It's the summer of 1968 in New York City. Molly Williams is young, conservative, and inexperienced... and then she finds her boyfriend necking with his male roommate in a Greenwich Village restaurant. She freaks out, hitches a ride in a psychedelic van bound for Woodstock, does drugs for the first time and winds up in the medical emergency, tent in the arms of Johnson, a gentle, spiritual Asian-American who lives in a Pennsylvania commune with his old lady.That's just the beginning of a roller-coaster ride through the thrills and fears of growth and complicated relationships. Readers experience Molly's ups and downs with her...from her relationship with Johnson to an emotional, physical, and artistic love affair with her former sister-in-law. Their love scenes sizzle with lyrical eroticism, frosty, and explosive jealousy and, of course, furious food fights.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Energetic, fictive diary entries track one woman's 1960s and '70s in this engaging, well-constructed first novel. Molly Williams is 40 and near suicide when she begins rereading the journals she started in 1969; the story they tell comprises most of the novel. Young Molly, a sheltered Connecticut WASP, sees her New York boyfriend kissing a man, flees him and finds herself at Woodstock, where she drops acid, flips out and gets help from a sensitive Chinese-American man called Johnson, who becomes her long-term companion. Back in New York City, Molly immerses herself in late-hippie culture, works at a New Age bookstore, embraces the goal of "unconditional love." She follows Johnson and his young son to a farm in Pennsylvania owned by Johnson's neurotic wife, Mathilda. By 1979, Johnson has become an altruistic lawyer, working against pollution and for Native Americans; Molly considers his politics self-serving, and his desire for another child a ruse to defeat Mathilda. The disillusioned Molly becomes involved with Nancy, a celebrated photographer. Later journals cover downtown New York's sex-and-art scenes, and the frightening advent of AIDS. Curran, an actress and playwright (The Lunch Girls; Alternations) has made her first novel partly a tour of its decades' zeitgeists, and mostly a story of slow growing-up. It asks, and shows, how a young woman of Molly's obvious intelligence could be exposed to so much '60s altruism and yet lack a sense of who she is. Curran's prose maneuvers ably between the requirements of narrative drive and the improvised feel of real journals; interpolated present-tense scenes give Molly's story a satisfying conclusion. Readers may want to shake Molly at times, but they'll enjoy sharing most of her trip. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Molly's wide fingers drift across the cover of her journal. She doesn't think she'll keep on reading. It makes her feel prickly and stifled. Pinned like a butterfly to the indifferent pages of an unremarkable life.     She pulls at the oversized sweatshirt that has become her nightgown and shifts her weight on the floor of the closet in the Manhattan walk-up she moved into shortly before Woodstock and, until recently, thought she had left behind.     The voices of children collect on the stoop underneath her window as Molly leans against the closet wall and stares at the jungle animal sheets that lie damp and twisted on the history of her bed. For the past month they have held her agony and been her place of peace. Then two days ago she curled in the fetal position and put down roots. They spread into her box spring and on down to the place beneath. And this morning when she opened her eyes she was actually sucking her thumb.     `It is definitely time to get up,' she thought as her upstairs neighbor flushed the toilet. `Time to put on my coat, pay my bills and get some food. Time to quit stewing and start DOING!'     It took every fading particle of determination, every flickering sliver of hope for Molly to lift her chest and maneuver her hips to the side of her bed. For a while she sat in the startled breath of a new position and wondered how a spirited girl who passionately believed there were no accidents could end up a thumbsucking bag of bones whose entire life felt like a train wreck. Then, in case she was tempted to put down roots, she moved her right hip off the edge of her bed and reached for her winter coat with her toes. She was swatting at the hem when she heard something slide under the door in the living room.     `Perfect,' she thought, `an eviction notice.'     And as she summoned the energy to stand, her winter coat slid to the floor of her closet and landed on top of an unmarked box. Molly meant to pay her rent, she really did ... but the lump on her closet floor was far more compelling and as she moved her coat to one side, the chatter returned in full force.     `Molly, leave the box where it is and pay the rent. You are such a panic artist. Fuck you. Asshole. This is constructive. What if he calls the police? What if he does? You don't mean that. Try me. Molly, get off your knees. We are through looking back. That's why we got out of the bed. Thank you for sharing. Close the box. You read this shit you won't get out alive! Good! Good? You heard me ... good!'     Molly's upstairs neighbor turned on the shower. Molly could hear the water running through the pipes inside her closet as she opened the journal Davis had given her and started to read. Almost eighteen years had passed since she'd taken refuge in its cool, blue-lined pages. Eighteen years of telling the truth, then tucking it away in an unmarked box.     `That's nice. Now, let's get up. I might as well be on my way to Woodstock. Molly, don't go there. But nothing's changed. That's why we're going to pay the rent and press on. Molly?' Later On the long, slow voyage from Woodstock to our former lives I learned about Matilda, Johnson's live-in old lady ... and about the baby they are expecting and the commune they are getting ready to leave New York City for. I said babies made me nervous. I thought it was best to come out with it. Johnson laughed a gentle laugh and said: They make me nervous, too. I said: Then why are you doing it? And he said: `Pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses understanding.'     Then there was this silence. I can't explain it. It was as if we both stopped breathing. As if we sensed, deep in our bones, the next step was levitation. Then some jerk tooted at us because we had neglected to move forward the half inch we were allotted every fifteen minutes and all Johnson said was: Kahlil Gibran. I nodded like I knew what he was talking about. Then he smiled because he knew I didn't and I blushed because I knew he knew and very gently he said: The Prophet. And that was the first time I felt helpless. And probably because he could tell, he started talking about how "The Prophet" changed his life. How it taught him all about Unconditional Love.     By then I didn't know whether to laugh or cry or jump out the window. Every time he opened his mouth he took me someplace I hadn't been but had been secretly trying to go! It was much more liberating than acid! But the body part.... And the last year of waiting for Davis to get it up.... I swear to God, if J.'s old lady hadn't've been pregnant ... or, for that matter, if she'd hadn't've been ... I would have taken him right there on the front seat of his VW bug. Well, assuming it was mutual.     Anyway, by the time he got around to asking me about Davis, he was so beside the point (Davis), all I could do was laugh and admit how totally relieved I felt to be finally FREE!     Free to do what? ... asked Johnson.     I don't know. There is so much going on! Protests, riots, assassinations, demonstrations ... the entire Age of Aquarius ... and, it's like ... where have I been?! Who have I been? WHY have I been?     Johnson looked out the driver's window at green trees and pockets of poverty. He seemed suddenly sad. As if he'd turned a corner that was all his own. A persistent breeze tugged at a strand of his hair gradually lifting it until it slithered like a small snake across his high forehead. I felt suddenly responsible. As if I'd hurt his feelings. Said something careless and unthinking about children when I asked him why he and his old lady were going to have their baby ... especially if it made him nervous.     There was this woman I met on the way up here ... I babbled. I can't remember her name. Anyway, she couldn't have been more than nineteen and she was already a mother ... but, she was in her life. You could tell. Her love was ... what you were talking about.... Unconditional. You could see it in her eyes. When I said babies scare me ... it's like ... I don't want to have them because I'm supposed to ... that's all. Or because I don't know what else to do with my life. When I turn forty I want to be proud of the choices I've made.     Johnson sighed and brushed the snake off his forehead.     I want to be proud of how I've handled the unexpected ... he said softly.     And I hoped, however stupidly, that he was referring in his own elliptical way to US.     By the time we hit the New York Thruway we had abandoned the meaning of life for the science of astrology and the stories of our birth. I went first. I was an induced baby who managed to arrive a day late, nonetheless. My mother said (still says) it was a sure sign I would always insist on having My Own Way (which is the polite way of calling me Selfish). I say I was a day late because I wanted my stars to be in the right position because I didn't see the point of taking up space on earth if I wasn't going to live a useful life.     Johnson's birth was normal except for the fact that his mother only spoke Chinese. His father was away on some secret mission for the Air Force and somehow his mother got herself to the hospital and when the nurse approached her with the birth certificate asking what she was going to name her baby she said the only English word she knew which was the name of her doctor ... Dr. Johnson. J. was lucky. My doctor's name is Snelling.     Anyway, when J. was eight his parents separated because his mother insisted on treating him with acupuncture instead of taking him to a doctor for Western medicine. But his father was a Fundamentalist and the only needles he'd seen stuck in anything were in Voodoo dolls. When Johnson caught pneumonia from his best friend in grammar school his mother reassured his father that his fever was a good thing ... he was releasing toxins. But when the fever didn't break Johnson's father pirated him, in the middle of the night, to the emergency room of the local hospital where Johnson proceeded to get worse. His father, who (in Johnson's words) "meant to be patient but saw to it that he failed" ... blamed his Chinese wife and she blamed the chemicals in Western medicine and the wound grew and festered until the truth, which had never been entirely clear, had been successfully buried.     When I told J. my life was drab by comparison, he asked me why I felt I had to apologize. I had never thought of it quite that way ... which is what I mean about him and why it's so sad he's got this other life.... But, anyway, I told him how my parents are still married and living in the house where I grew up in Connecticut. And how my sister, Heather, is getting ready to go to Barnard and how my brother, Conrad, graduated from dental school in June and is now in practice in Greenwich with my father. And that while they are all nice people I can't honestly say I feel close to any of them ... except for my brother's wife, Nancy ... and how sometimes she and I go for walks in the woods and tell each other the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Or, anyway, as much of it as we can decipher.     Then, in the middle of the Palisades Parkway, some idiot threw a container of junk food out the window as if, in J.'s words: The world was his toilet. And that got us into a discussion of the environment. Words like Nuclear Waste and Carbon Monoxide jangled in the air waiting to be considered. I struggled to keep up. The depth of his commitment sent my heart soaring. His knowledge drew my brain inside his head. His love for his work filled me with the courage to define my own and when we parted outside of my apartment on 31st between Second and Third I had been reborn. Refocused. And I saw what was good about the movement and I felt the pride I'd always been leery of feeling at being born a member of the Peace and Love generation. He said: Good luck. And I said: Thanks. And he said: Stay conscious! It's not only your life ... it's your planet!     Yesterday I was fired from my "job" at the reception desk in the ad agency, for disappearing without proper notice ... and today I received a note from Davis on purple paper and stuck it in the back of this journal. I thought about opening it but something in me went completely cold ... like when my baby brother died and I heard my mother say: He's been sick for a long time. He would want us to go on. So that's what we did. That's what we always do. I can't even remember the last time we talked about him (Timmy). Time will do the same thing to Davis. PS: Am LOVING "The Prophet" Keep thinking about Unconditional Love and the woman whose name I can't remember. Have decided to call her Chloe. October Guess what? I got the job in that New Age bookstore on St. Mark's Place! I start tomorrow. I get to read about tofu and biorhythms and the power of thought. This is my new thing. The Power of Thought. It's right up there with Unconditional Love. In fact, when you really think about it, you can't have one without the other. Well, maybe if you're evil and SELFISH and only care about your own advancement. Anyway, I told this to Nancy. I said: It isn't up to politicians anymore ... it's up to us! Nancy nodded her head but I could tell she wasn't listening so I took her hand and said: Let's sit down right now and love Washington, D.C., unconditionally. Then, I'm sorry, she looked at me like I was deluded or pathetic and I told her to go fuck herself. And she said she had a lot on her mind and I told her it was time for her to hire a nanny so her life wasn't all about kids, kids, kids. April, 1970 Nancy's gone. Left Conrad with all three kids. Just like that. Heather read the note. It said something like: Dear Conrad.... I'm not who you think I am or who I wish I was. She didn't even sign it Love. Later I don't know why, but I keep expecting Nancy to call. Or at least show up at the bookstore. I surround her with white light (but I don't tell anybody). Mother is in a total snit. First I break up with Davis who we all know was the "perfect gentleman" ... and now Nancy, the "perfect mother," leaves Conrad. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I can see leaving Conrad. He is so committed to being solid. But the kids ... I mean, I never thought I'd hear myself agree with Mother, but talk about Selfish.... It's like there should be a law. People shouldn't be allowed to get pregnant until they know who they are. There should be a test. For individuals and couples. And it should be rigorous. I started to say as much (in semi-jest) and my father got off into this whole thing about Gloria Steinem and how she is the one who is really responsible. I said: But, Father, she doesn't have kids. And he said: My point exactly. Thank God Heather was on a break from Barnard. We went to the Yacht Club (because we could charge it to my parents) and had a good, stiff drink. Come on, Nancy! Get it together. Call! I won't hold it against you ... I promise. July, 1970 Started reading a great book today. That Jamaican woman told me about it. The one with the long, skinny face who came in on her lunch break to talk to Devon about becoming the new assistant manager. Hatia (sp?). It's called "Future Shock" and it's all about what will happen to the planet if we don't begin to DO something instead of talk, talk, talk. I invited her to that consciousness raiser on Saturday in Brooklyn. The one about nuclear waste. She picked my brain about Devon. I told her he's really laid back ... especially for a boss.     Still think about Johnson. Wonder how he's doing in his commune in Pennsylvania with his new baby. I hope he's miserable. But I'm better about it. Sunday Finished "Future Shock." Can't quit shaking. Hatia said I should start "The Findhorn Garden" right away so I don't collapse in total despair. Met this Armenian guy at a lecture on carcinogens at the New School, instead. He smelled like Patchouli so I slept with him. All I could think about was Johnson. So much for casual sex.     Still no Nancy. Hope she wasn't murdered. But I guess there's not much we can do if she was.     DON'T FORGET!: NEXT SATURDAY, 10AM--THE GEORGE MCGOVERN RALLY. BRING APPLES, WATER AND THE STAPLE GUN! Copyright © 1998 Leigh Curran. All rights reserved.

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