A rumba of this American life
Courting Laura Providencia is Jack Pulaski’s first novel, and first major work since The St. Veronica Gig Stories(published by Zephyr) in 1986. Fifteen years in the writing, the novel bursts forth with a cast of characters that are sometimes warm and familiar, and at other times violently distorted as in a funhouse mirror. Courting Laura Providencia is a literary devotional; a rumba of this American life; a tale of love and the occasional fall or return to redemption.
It all started when I was in the seventh grade and decided to play hooky. The day suddenly turned dark and it rained. I took refuge in a public library, and from that day on my intermittent attendance of public schools never interfered with my reading. How this inexhaustible love became the need to write fiction is a mystery I am unable to analyze; it is sufficient that learning the craft of fiction requires more than one lifetime, and I’m a slow learner.
It is my hope that each chapter holds complete sway over the reader as a short story or novella would, and as the reader moves from chapter to chapter, the appreciation of the larger vision of the history, which is the inheritance of Isaac and Laura Providencia’s marriage, is conveyed to the reader with something of the same force and bafflement as is the experience of Isaac and Laura.
I have avoided the conventional movement of plot as a confluence of fate or destiny, and I hope that the kind of gratification that the reader usually finds in such symmetry will be surpassed by a keener sense of verisimilitude, and the mystery of all that makes up the life of Laura Providencia and Isaac. Everything happens at once and the multiple enchantments are also the story.
It may be that I’ve worried too much over the issue of genre, though I’m not truly concerned with vindicating any theory, but rather making use of the story telling strengths of the various forms of fiction; and what were the startling innovations of Garcia Marquez, J.B. Singer, and others are now conventions—an arsenal and a means of enriching the reading experience of readers.
—Jack Pulaski, Fall 2001
Isaac thought, before Laura the world had never been worth the trouble; and her knees, her knees were worth a decade of devotion. His mother was saying, “So I understand your mother is a widow? She works?” Laura said, “Yes.” “In a factory?” “Yes. She takes home piecework; she makes dresses. She made the suit I'm wearing.” “It's very fine,” his mother said, taking up the hem of Laura's skirt in her hand and examining it closely; and, “It's not easy for a woman alone.” Laura nodded. “You met Isaac at City College?” “Yes.” “That's nice, your mother—a widow alone—to work and maintain like that. She must be a wonderful person.” “Yes, she is,” Laura agreed. Isaac thought, this too is a story, and it's almost true. Mrs. Milagros worked in a dress factory, she had made Laura's suit, and she was certainly alone. It could be said that her life resembled the life of a widow.
Sarah heard and identified her husband's footsteps first. They turned and listened as he struggled with the door. Sarah sat, incredulous. She heard him fumble with the keys, scratch at the door like an animal, and rattle the door knob; he shoved and pounded. Sarah rose slowly from her chair, dumbfounded. Abraham, who was always so deft with tools, a skilled master at making things work, could not negotiate the door he had been coming through for thirty years, and he was hammering the door off its hinges. Sarah unlocked the door and pulled it open. Abraham stood there, one fist still raised in the air, grinning, drenched from head to foot; in one hand he held a paper bag from Stern's Pharmacy. His white, dripping hair was plastered to his head. He stepped into the kitchen, smiled, grasped the lapels of his light topcoat, and in the manner of a subway exhibitionist yanked open his coat and an ocean fell out. Sarah ran for a mop.
Isaac had another slivovitz. Laura said, “Please, Izzy, no more.” Isaac kissed the palm of her hand. His mother returned to the kitchen and mopped the floor.
For the next hour Isaac, his mother, and Laura discussed the benefits of education. Abraham had disappeared into the bathroom. Whenever Sarah called her husband, he cried from the bathroom, “Soon! Soon!” Sarah filled up a plate for Laura to nosh. The scent of the brisket filled the kitchen. The light in the window matured toward early evening.
Sarah was the first to recognize the man who had entered the kitchen as her husband. His hair was gleaming black, slicked down to the contour of his skull and reeking of Brilliantine. He was wearing his navy blue pinstriped suit with the wide lapels and the padded, enormous shoulders. In the breast pocket a white handkerchief was folded into a peak. Isaac thought of this as his father George Raft outfit, gangster chic, circa 1935. “please Izzy,” his father said,” do me a favor. Go to the phonograph and put on Xavier Cugat.”
Jack Pulaski grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. His stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, Ohio Review, Ploughshares, MSS., and The New England Review, as well as in two anthologies: The Pushcart Prize I and The Ploughshares Reader. He is the recipient of a fiction award from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, and his stories have twice been singled out for high praise in the Nelson Algren Short Fiction Contest. Pulaski currently lives in Vermont.
Courting Laura Providencia, by Jack Pulaski [PB]
Courting Laura Providencia
ISBN 0-939010-67-4 (paper)
5¼ x 8½
Pulaski has a gift for combining the lyrical with the earthy.
—N.Y. Times Book Review
Jack Pulaski writes convincingly about so many different cultures it is hard to pigeonhole him. He looks at life through the eyes of Jews, Italians and Puerto Ricans, each change of heart and mind as believable as the one that preceded it.
The writing is dense, sensual, often hilarious and entirely confident; the characters are real, with sights, sounds, and smells crowding the page.
—The Seattle Times