Monday, May 25, 2015

Sheila Deeth's Second Novel, Infinite Sum, Now Out!

From the author who took us to... Paradise...  comes a new novel. A novel that is edgy and full of suspense, yet sensitively woven around the life of one individual, Sylvia...

Sylvia grew up in the area that includes Paradise. She was there when dangerous things were going on... Remember the woods?

Now she's an adult with children and, fortunately, a husband who loves her, even with...her issues...

You see there are parts of her past that she doesn't remember. Other times she becomes deeply depressed and unable to function as she should. The one thing that has helped her throughout her life is her love for art, for creating images of people around her, of the world around her, and, sometimes, what happens to her... But there are times even that doesn't work...

“Don’t try to decide what you’re going to paint,” says the teacher, and I wonder; if I don’t decide to dab my brush in paint, does he think some glorious image will appear unaided?
“Don’t restrict yourself.” But I’m bound by the page.
“Let inspiration arise from your subconscious. Set it free.”
The teacher’s voice rises skyward with his words, and I watch him lift manicured hands, so very consciously and theatrically. But we’re working in a warehouse, under a lofty ceiling of snaking conduits and tangled wires. Around us, deliberately inspiring objects are artfully displayed—paintings, sculptures, a vase of flowers, a crooked pile of boxes covered in cloth. Distant spotlights splash the walls, while layers of gauze and canvas tumble down in wild abandon. In the midst of it all, we painters guard our easels, proudly wearing our different shapes and styles, eagerly devouring the teacher’s wondrous wisdom, and ready for art.
But my subconscious really doesn’t feel like inspiring anything. My hand holds the paintbrush, level with my eyes, as if I’m measuring angles or judging the shade for some curious tone. But I’m staring pointlessly at flowers. Yellow roses, tipped and veined with red; I mourn them as they dangle over the rim of a glass vase. Their feathered heads promise magic in that precious moment before falling. And then, in silence, one lonely petal drops. I let my paintbrush dip and stroke its sunset onto the page and think, yeah great; this is me, inspired by dying flowers.
Colors, shapes of blooms and stems; I add them to my canvas, and my hands are painting fast. Wash blue with white for the vase’s pure translucency. Bite my tongue and feel my lungs expand as breath swells fiercely through my head. I dip and stroke, streak and lie, bend and rise until my kneecaps ache. Red clings to tipping tips of petals while darkness piles its urgency behind, and angles bend with a flower’s sharpening shot at eternity. Ruined lives are encased in the vase’s delicate glass, and my fingers flash with ease.
“Let inspiration arise from your subconscious,” the teacher repeats.
I’m in the zone. Then I wake and he’s announcing it’s time to go home.
The canvas in front of me is filled with red and black. Broken petals swell with decay, laid out on a layer of coal. Shattered flowers lie torn and dead and scattered, never to return. What did my subconscious have in mind?


Infinite Sum

By Sheila Deeth

I’m a mom. I’m married, and I have three sons. I worked as a computer programmer before the kids were born, and I used to be a mathematician. But I’m also a wannabe artist who dreams in color and longed color and longed to be famous once.
Art, color, nightmares, and the subconscious; they’re all a mystery, filled with possibilities of hope and change. But math is different. Math is real and solid, right or wrong, with no uncertainties. Art plays games, while math follows rules. Art soars, and math measures its path. Art takes you where you don’t want to go. But math lets you stay unmoving, right where you are.
Measures don’t change just because your mind gets distracted. Integers don’t shatter and their edges won’t cut. They’re not sharp. Real numbers don’t paint in red and black. And equations never land you in therapy.
The teacher laughed when he saw my
 blasted roses the other day.
“You obviously needed to get something
out of your system, Sylvia.”
There again, equations probably don’t land you in art class either. But I’m giving my dreams one final fling before going back to work. I’ve promised Donald I’ll get a job when Adam turns ten; use those hard-learned mathematical skills; sum those graduate letters after my name into a winning résumé, though I’m not sure they sum to me. Donald says pictures won’t sum to anything, but excuses my time here because “You always liked painting,” as if we’re discussing a nice new shade of pink for the bathroom wall. Still, time’s gone by and all I produce are sheets of stabbing red and angry gray. Black lines like prison bars don’t pictures make.

I was honored to be asked to be an early reader of Sheila Deeth's second novel, Infinite Sum, and to see it now out! Deeth has a tremendous skill in being able to create a character's internal life, as if readers personally are meeting a new individual, one they immediately are attracted to and someone with whom you would like to be friends. And when you learn more about that individual's life and learn about the pain and anguish faced by that individual, you, too, feel those feelings--wanting in some way to help your this case...remember...

Meet Sylvia (played by Samantha James)... We are sympatico... There is one difference, however. I remember everything traumatic that has ever happened to me, that has affected my mental and emotional life. Sylvia has not... What Sylvia does have though are all of the pictures that she ever drew while she was growing up.

Sylvia's youngest son has now turned 10. She was supposed to return to work then--that was the agreement with her husband. Obviously, readers will realize that she is not ready to go back to work. She has started back with her therapist. Perhaps she was wanting to get ready for the work environment. But as slowly as she has been going, her therapist has suggested that Sylvia go through her art work. I'm not sure this was a good idea--is it always important that we understand our feelings? Yes, I have to admit that I do think it is important, even if what she discovers will hurt... At least then you can choose what to do with those feelings, rather than remaining in a world where you know something is missing... Or, maybe, you will understand why you are afraid not to be there, at home, when your son comes home from school... afraid that something will hurt him, if  you are not there to protect him from danger...

Next meeting she wants me to tell her what happened, using words instead of pictures. Why?
“Because then you might realize what you’re trying to hide.”
I’m not hiding anything.
“So tell me,” she says, while I settle back on the sofa. “Tell me about the first time you met him. What was the weather like?”
But dryer in the forest I remember, and beautiful in that clearing when the sun came out.
The figure at the edge of the trees watches me. Sunlight blazes in front of him; shadows of trees and water loom behind. Is that a head maybe, a leg? Is this perhaps an arm? But it’s not clear. It could be
someone slinking, hiding in shade. Or it could be just the way I chose to render the shapes of trees.
I walked home alone from school that day. Bad idea, but nobody knew there was anything wrong in the park back then. It was spring in my first year of Junior High. I didn’t feel like a new girl anymore. I knew my way around. And I could have caught the activity bus, should have I suppose, but it was always so crowded, rocking with noise and boys who’d stayed late for sports. I might not find a seat. After art class all I wanted was a bit of peace.
It was raining, I remember, that heavy spring rain that tries to wash the memory of winter away—rain that drips down the back of your neck and splashes up from the ground to soak your legs. The sky kept switching from thick gray clouds to glimpses of summer blue. There should have been a rainbow I guess, but then, my life was full of should-have-beens.
I should have been home earlier, Mom would say. Should have been doing my homework. Should have taken extra math not art. Should have walked with Sharon to the gates. I should have told them when I first knew. Should have made Lydia stay at home. Should have worn a different
skirt, a different shirt. Should never have gone out looking like that and especially not to school, and not to the woods. Should sing louder in church.
I could have taken the main path through the park. It was wide and well-lit, well-travelled, and went from the wrought iron gates up and over the hill. But puddles had turned its paving stones to lakes the night before. Small waterfalls splashed with every step, and rain seeped in through the seams in my school shoes.
I’m not sure why I thought cutting through the trees would be any dryer, but I did it anyway.
Spring leaves caught the downpour, softening it, flavoring it with hints of minty green. The rain took on a slippery sound instead of incessant drumming. The ground was slick, soft and wet with mud, while autumn’s debris lay scattered like pages of a book. I started to run, my backpack banging heavily, my arms outstretched for balance as I skidded between downed branches and withering trunks. Then I saw the clearing and had to stop and gaze...

This time the figure of the man is closer, approaching in front of the trees. He looks like a shadow untethered from the forest all around. Sun makes a halo behind his head with smudges of white on his shoulders, as if he’s an angel in disguise, mistakenly dressed in black. He casts no shadow.
I turn the page.
I tried to show how fast the figure moved, with lines at his back; mooring lines for a ship perhaps as he strains to leave the page. The trees are rendered lovingly with lacework of branches and leaves. But the man, the figure, is a shadow, nothing more—no features, just a hollow blackness tethered by trailing lines.
I turn again.
This picture’s filled with a face drawn too close to the eye, pencil dust still bleeding from the thickness of the gloom. Wisps of hair escape from a circular frame like a baseball cap. The chin’s shaded in lines drawn straight as rain, a beard perhaps. Flat cheeks, sharp nose with nostril hairs—the head’s tilted upward and the artist sees from below. Thick lips jut out. Black shadows hide the eyes under smooth-drawn lines for the edge of his cap.
I remember the angle, me looking up at him, while gentle breezes blew their scents of spring. Wind from the office’s heating blows over the paper, rustling it, reminding me of leaves.
Another picture shows another face. This time the perspective’s different; the position too. Parted lips take center stage as if the artist can’t
take her eyes from them. Lines and shadows hint at a tongue and teeth hiding between. But around the mouth the face has faded to patches of light and shade. There’s none of that bright white left behind when an eraser hides the features—this picture looks more like the artist never saw or bothered to draw them. Black holes for eyes, pale lump of a nose, but everything blunt-pencil shaded around the clear-drawn, intricate, shape of somebody’s bearded lips.
I stare at this one for a while, but still it doesn’t come clear. The man—why do I think I must have known him? He remains a stranger on the page, well hidden behind the black and white and gray.
The next picture is nothing but hands. Clasped hands, empty hands, open hands, closed hands, blunt-nailed hands, short-fingered hands, but ever, only, hands. They pass through, over, under each other, ghost hands and solid together, some bits erased while others raggedly remain. Impossibly twisted hands. Hands everywhere.
And underneath, covered, hidden away, pale lines like broken memories scar the page. Something’s almost invisible, drawn over and almost lost.
I see the girl from the clearing again, backpack, dark hair, short skirt, hands raised in the air.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
The next sketches are abstract, easy to ignore. I turn them over, one by one, waiting for something to spark a sign of hope. Sharp lines make shapes with eyes, nose, lips and tongues drawn into triangles and squares. They overlap, slide underneath, and peak from hidden edges, stop and stare.
In one there are just two pairs of eyes, one beetle-browed and dark in a rectangular box, one wide and white. Guilt and innocence bound or fated to unite?
Reality intervenes again when I come to a picture of a tree. Tall trunk, wide branches—the bark’s well-drawn, black-webbed with crinkled lines and layers of shade. The leaves—spring leaves—have grown from bud to green and form a glowing canopy now, no signs of snow. The ground is mixed, dry grass, damp earth, fall’s skeletal detritus awaiting summer’s cleansing rain. I admire the shading, the way I’ve mixed the pencils...

But there is something, someone behind that Tree, a flash of a foot???

By using the exploration of past art work, Deeth easily takes readers back, back into Sylvia's early life... We see Sylvia living on a farm with her grandparents and her  parents wanting to find another place--their own home--to live. But, when they finally did move, quickly, Sylvia was very upset and longed to stay there on the farm... Then we move on as Sylvia grows older, goes to school, but cannot accept that they no longer visit the farm where she loved the bull they had and the joy of seeing new kittens. After all they had been her friends, since her older siblings rarely wanted to play with her... and called her "silly sissy"... Sylvia didn't have many friends...

Sheeth is brilliant in setting up the suspense right from the beginning...some is almost torturous to the reader, as well as the character, as she explores her past through past scenes she once created--with her family, on the farm, in the woods...Then another flashback and she knows there must be...more... Will she ever really remember? Can she be free from her past and live a fulfilling family life?

I think what most amazed me was the ending...Sylvia had been so caught up with what she was living, and reliving, that she had not really heard Donald, her husband, when he had tried to talk to her, to tell her what was happening in his own life...How would she handle the news he shared; i.e., when she heard it for the very first time? An amazing story. If you are willing to be totally caught up into the inner life that can either break or make a woman, you just might think this is a must-read. For me, there was much to learn, to ponder, and, finally, realize that you can move on from bad memories...


Mongrel Christian Mathematician
Author, book reviewer, "fearful leader" of local writers' group...
Bragging rights
3 kids, all grown up, Masters degree in Mathematics from Cambridge University England

Here's a sample of another artist Sheila has written about...

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