Murderer, Tax Dodger's Widow Shake Up Protagonist's World
This Autumn, WNIJ again invites northern Illinois authors to read, and discuss, their stories. Recently, a trio of writers published shorter works that add to the growing body of quality literature from this area. To showcase these quick reads, we created our first-ever "Fall Book Bites" series. We'll welcome back Susan Azar Porterfield and Molly McNett during the next two days. Today, we'll meet G.K. Wuori, author of Infidelity, a novella.
The story is about a middle-aged trial lawyer named Jim O'Hara who's become jaded about his career and complacent in his marriage. Then two people enter his life and shake it up: Johnny Mondragon, who's accused of murdering his wife; and Sophie Skribneski, a widowed mother who's also Jim's tenant.
Each newcomer becomes a topic of conversation between Jim and his wife, leading to differing opinions which expose cracks in their relationship.
Johnny asks Jim to defend him on the murder charge and then admits that he shot his wife several times before hammering a screwdriver up her nose and into her brain. Wuori calls that final, gruesome detail important to the story:
"I wanted to show that Johnny was not just acting impulsively," the author says. "He was in a hyper mood, really over the edge about his wife, his life, his work -- everything." Wuori continues. "He wanted to perform this one last act, this awful act, to show he was in control."
Sophie, the other newcomer, lost her home because her late husband refused to pay taxes. She takes a job assisting an old couple, but the work ends when the couple dies, and Sophie falls months behind on her rent. In order to repay her landlord (Jim), she applies to become a participant in a drug company trial:
The corporate people asked about her diet on the questionnaire; if she bit her fingernails; if she was sexually extreme; if she smoked, drank, had accidents; if she was ever incontinent, and, strangest of all, if she could sing. They weighed her, they measured her, they put her on a treadmill, and they floated her in a tank of water. "So if I drown," Sophie had said, "you'll know I wasn't a witch?" No one laughed at her comment, and she hoped she hadn't spoiled her chances for the job.
Sophie gets the job. Not long after, her body starts showing side effects which she logs in a special journal. Noises, she writes, are the worst:
Her mind felt obligated to undertake both a census and analysis of every blip that popped through the quiet apartment, every whoosh of air outside, every squeak of a wheel bearing in a passing vehicle, every syllable of someone walking by and talking to his dog. The noises in the apartment, though, were the most problematic. All the creaks and flutters in the old house, every squeak, every groan, came to her (she said) in images, and not all of them beneficent. "My sensual gear," she said, "is like a clock ticking in a tunnel. Even the simple act of peeing feels like an afternoon spent at Great America."
When Jim sees what Sophie is doing to pay the back rent, he feels a mix of pity and admiration for her, and the two become friends. As Sophie's symptoms worsen, Jim spends more time with her and her daughter, Chantal, and less time with his wife. In the excerpt below, read by the author, Sophie gives Jim more details about the changes she's experiencing.
Wuori, a DeKalb native, says Infidelity began as a short story but grew to 117 pages, a typical length for a novella.
"I didn't have any particular length in mind," Wuori says. "I eventually got to that point where this is much deeper, richer, and we know more about Sophie, Chantal and even Johnny Mondragon."
Tomorrow, our "Fall Book Bites" series continues with new poems by Susan Azar Porterfield. Listen during Morning Edition, at 6:34 and 8:34. Then come back here for more information. #WNIJReadWithME