The haunting debut novel that put Kate Zambreno on the map, O Fallen Angel, is a provocative, voice-driven story of a family in crisis—and, more broadly, the crisis of the American family—now repackaged and with a new introduction by Lidia Yuknavitch.
Inspired by Francis Bacon's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, Kate Zambreno's brilliant novel is a triptych of modern-day America set in a banal Midwestern landscape, told from three distinct, unforgettable points of view.
There is "Mommy," a portrait of housewife psychosis, fenced in by her own small mind. There is "Maggie," Mommy's unfortunate daughter whom she infects with fairytales. Then there is the mysterious martyr-figure Malachi, a Cassandra in army fatigues, the Septimus Smith to Mommy's Mrs. Dalloway, who stands at the foot of the highway holding signs of fervent prophecy, gaping at the bottomless abyss of the human condition, while SUVs scream past.
Deeply poignant, sometimes hilarious, and other times horrifying, O Fallen Angel is satire at its best.
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About the Author
Kate Zambreno is also the author of two novels and three books of nonfiction. She lives in New York and teaches writing at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.
Lidia Yuknavitch is the author of the National Bestselling novel The Small Backs of Children, winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award's Ken Kesey Award for Fiction as well as the Reader's Choice Award, the novel Dora: A Headcase, and three books of short stories. Her widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water was a finalist for a PEN Center USA award for creative nonfiction and winner of a PNBA Award and the Oregon Book Award Reader's Choice. She founded the workshop series Corporeal Writing in Portland Oregon, where she also teaches Women's Studies, Film Studies, Writing, and Literature. She received her doctorate in Literature from the University of Oregon. She lives in Oregon with her husband Andy Mingo and their renaissance man son, Miles. She is a very good swimmer.
Read an Excerpt
O Fallen Angel
By Kate Zambreno
Dzanc BooksCopyright © 2009 Kate Zambreno
All rights reserved.
She is his Mrs. and he is her Mister the Mommy and Daddy the two of them forever and ever and ever they will never part they will never be apart except when Daddy has to go make the bread and she has to bake it. She stands at the door she stands on her tippytoes to blow him a big kiss. Goodbye Daddy! He brings home the bacon, she fries it up for him bacon and eggs and pancakes and waffles and maple syrup mmm-mmm good what a wholesome meal it is good for you eat up Daddy! All this talk of trimming fat is nonsense Mommy doesn't listen to what she doesn't want to hear. Mommy doesn't know how to change with the tides it is tradition her Mommy made her hubby bacon and eggs and pancakes and waffles and that is what she makes her hubby! She knows how to make her hubby happy! (Hint: it's through his stomach!) And yes her own daddy dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 50 but one must not think of such things! Yes Mommy is well-trained in the art of good housekeeping. She keeps the house, she stays inside the house because she's only wearing pink slippers! Such dainty feet! She prefers to stay inside the castle her darling hubby has built for her. She is the princess in the castle and she sticks her head out the window when her hubby pulls up in his chariot a fresh tank just off the line she sticks her head out the window she's dizzy she doesn't get much fresh air except when she's puttering around the garden Daddy recognizes her blonde bob just as blonde and sunny as the day he met her when it was down to her waist and he could slip his hand around that waist just a little thing. Of course now she helps Mother Nature it is Honey-Blonde Hi-Lites her tattooed hairdresser tells her he keeps on going lighter and lighter which makes her nervous and nervouser she pats her hair with no small amount of alarm her hairdresser is a boy with tattoos he makes her apprehensive all that black ink on his arms shapes that seem Satanic what does his mother think? It makes her think of her girl Maggie but she doesn't want to think of Maggie does Maggie have tattoos deep dark wells of ink that she's hiding from her mother? And Mommy's lost in thought and Daddy has already come up from the driveway and the security system beeps and the dog is barking and her heart jumps a bit inside she's a nervous person especially lately with everything Maggie's been putting her through and Daddy comes up to her at home at last such a long drive on the highway of life and she puts her little arms around him her short little arms and he pats her on her fanny her large fanny covered in pink sweatpants with the word Juicy on her sweet bottom she loves pink anything pink pink pink and he says Hi Baby and she says Hi Daddy and she's calm and restful because her Prince is here thankgod.
Let us digress a bit to the rear of this housewife: It is quite a fanny. It is the size of one of her new beigey suede seat cushions that she begged hubby to buy even though they're downsizing at the plant (Daddy said yes of course Daddy is always agreeable Always Agree With Your Wife he told his son on his wedding day). Mommy is not in any danger of downsizing. Do these suburban wives' rear ends grow so big from so much time sitting around on their not-so-dainty derrieres? This housewife is now as big as a house. Hubby too has a gut on him, that slings over his belt that he keeps on having to loosen and loosen. Too much of Mommy's good cooking! Mommy's had two babies and two grandbabies—Mother Nature is to blame. It's all those buns in the oven that gave her those big buns! And all of the butter for her monumental butt. Butter in everything! Butter and lard! That's the American way! Mommy is a stupendous baker! More than a Good Housekeeper! A Great Housekeeper! But Daddy looks like he has put on the sympathy pounds as well (Daddy is always so sympathetic to Mommy). A moment on their lips forever on their hips! They are both fat. They are not talk-show fat but they are fat nonetheless. But they are happy fat people. When they look at each other they see themselves as two young crazy (yet Catholic) kids in love. Daddy likes the cushion on his baby. More cushion for more pushing! Their darling son Mikey who lives nearby with his darling wife and their darling children bought them one of those newfangled exercise machines one year for Christmas (Mommy would never say X-mas, it's like crossing out Jesus). Every time Mikey comes over he first a) pats the dog a grinning golden retriever "our angel" Mommy calls her b) asks if there's anything to eat because his wifey's not half the cook his Mommy is even though she is half the size and then c) asks if they've been exercising. It is his third thought but it is a thought nonetheless! Mikey is such a thoughtful boy, isn't he? Such an angel. My son is such an angel Mommy says with that ringing in her voice that makes her always sound on the brink of tears to whomever will listen. Mikey asks whether Mommy and Daddy have been exercising really he asks Mommy because Daddy has enough on his plate with the lay-offs at the plant he needs to lay-off his feet when he gets home and sink into the beigey sofa and have Mommy scurry around fixing him tasty things to eat, Daddy is a hard-working engineer the hardest-working engineer he builds great big SUVs like the ones they all drive. He commutes to the dark bad city every morning he wakes up at 5am so Mommy can live in her Dreamhouse in the country far far away from all the scary city people alright let's just say it a whisper the scary (black) people they keep on coming closer and closer we keep on moving farther and farther away. Poor Daddy, Daddy's got to rest. But Mommy hasn't been exercising she just simply doesn't have the time she says, what with the dog and Daddy and the housework Mommy doesn't go on the thing. She's scared of it she dusts it once in a while she doesn't know anything about technology that's Daddy's job she doesn't know anything about computers or even how to operate her cell phone and frankly she doesn't care to. If Mommy knew how to do everything then Daddy wouldn't feel as useful and that's not very womanly is it? Daddy shouldn't worry about another lay-off, although it hasn't happened yet thankgod, so it's Mommy's job to make him feel important. What if Mommy went on the great mechanical monstrosity and she tripped and fell because of her short little pudgy legs and fell flat on her face, the red face her hubby holds so dear and kisses so fondly when he walks in the door? And her nose started bleeding! Well, what then? Mommy is capable of imagining all sorts of tragedies—that is what Mommies do best. But really Mommy doesn't like to sweat—it's unpleasant. Mommies don't sweat and Mommies don't poop and Mommies don't fart. They do tinkle. They do go to the little girl's room. They do piddle. (That's what Maggie is doing thinks Mommy piddling her life away! Piddling away her expensive college tuition!) Mikey asks if Mommy has been exercising but he really wants to know if Mommy's taken the dog out for a walk Mikey cares more about the dog than he cares for his poor mother (even though they got the dog after the kids all moved away it was to replace her birdies in her empty nest). Mother have you taken Laci out for a walk? Mommy likes dog names that are human names Laci is the daughter she never had Laci is the name of that poor girl that poor girl whose husband murdered her while she was pregnant with their poor unborn child and everyone thought at first she was missing a poor pregnant lady defenseless and helpless and lost oh lost in the forest and everyone was really a wreck about that, everyone including Mommy. Mommy wept tears and tears for Laci more tears than she has ever wept for her own daughter but Mommy doesn't want to think about that no Mommy doesn't even want to talk about that Maggie has dug herself into her own hole and she will have to dig herself out of it it's called Tough Love! It's a parenting technique. Like guilt and manipulation. But that poor girl she wanted to be a good Mommy and she was killed before she could be a good Mommy and fulfill her destiny like those poor women who get their babies cut out of their bellies not like Maggie no not like Maggie already in her twenties and no real plans to speak of. Maggie who is just going to let her fertility years pass her by yes just pass her by, so selfish, Mommy would have had an SUV-full of babies if she could have but her kidneys weren't the best so after Maggie she had to have her tubes tied which is a sin but she went to the priest and he forgave her, Father-Whats-His-Name the Mexican one. He is from El Salvador Hubby corrects her although always mildly gently like soap for newborn babies he is such a gentleman. When she was a little girl she had her whole life mapped out a whole housefull of children! in their pajamas with the footsies for Christmas morning! Mommy and Daddy sleepyeyed but joyous that they could purchase all the presents under the tree! But now Mommy's had all of her insides scooped out like a watermelon and she supposes yes it just wasn't meant to be and God's plan of course who is she to criticize God's plans which work in mysterious ways and she just has to be content to be a Mommy to Laci and to Mikey and to Maggie but Maggie doesn't let her love her and of course she's a Grand Mommy to the two most precious angels in the world Mikey Junior Junior and Missy. They are all M names M&Ms Molly and Mike that's Mommy and Daddy's names Molly and Mike gave birth to Maggie and Mikey then Mikey married Melissa and then Mikey and Melissa had Mikey Junior Junior and Missy and if there's one more bun in the oven (Mommy has her fingers crossed) it will be another M name maybe Mandy? Or if it's a boy maybe Mark? Or Matthew? They're both in the Bible it's the only book Daddy has ever read cover to cover. Cover to cover! he says.
Yes Molly is now a Mommy just like she always wanted to be she tells Melissa a story Melissa is her daughter-in-law but she loves her as if she were really her daughter she is so sweet and round and rosy-cheeked and a good Irish-Catholic girl and before she set about the business of having babies she used to be a schoolteacher for retarded children for special children Daddy corrects her gently of course gently Yes you're right honey for special children but not as special as Mikey! Or Mikey Junior Junior! Or of course Missy! This is the story: Ever since Mommy was a little girl she would kneel down and say her prayers and every night she would pray to God for a GOOD CATHOLIC HUSBAND and when she met the man of her dreams her prayer was answered thankgod he was such a GOOD CATHOLIC HUSBAND and she liked Mike, yes she did she LOVED MIKE forever and she was a GOOD WIFE to him and above all else a woman must be GOOD must be polite and cheerful and helpful why couldn't Maggie be more like her cousin Mindy such a good girl yes Daddy even thinks so so nice and helpful and polite and oh she is studying to be a nurse which is what Mommy studied to be before Daddy took her away from the world of work and placed her where she belonged, in her hearth and home, yes Mindy is so lovely Gosh she's like a model Daddy says so gorgeous and well-groomed but she knows her place not like some other M name we can think of but not say. Not all self-involved and self-ish and anything else involving a self which is not very womanly.
Maggie used to be a good girl and at some point Maggie stopped being a good girl she doesn't know when that was. When she stopped being a good girl.
But deep inside Maggie is still a good girl. She is a good girl who is trying to be bad. She is a good girl who is trying to upchuck the evil she feels inside of her. Her poisoned soul.
That is why Maggie starves herself. That is why Maggie binge-eats and then sticks her finger down her throat and makes gagging noises. Because she is trying to vomit up all the poison, all the poison she has let inside of her, everything bad she has ever let inside of her, and if they knew they wouldn't love her anymore.
It is true if they knew they wouldn't love her anymore. The only way we'll stop loving you is if you're a whore, that's what her father said.
Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned over and over again.
Mary Magdalene was a prostitute yes Mary Magdalene was a whore yes but Jesus forgave her he forgave her didn't he?
but not her Father no now Maggie is DAMAGED GOODS yes.
her tortured soul
Maggie needs forgiveness.
Maggie needs the great sweaty palm of forgiveness to
slap her upside the head.
So Maggie the good Catholic girl has taken a vow of poverty yes a vow of chastity yes she won't let anything inside of her, she gets down on her knees and begs for forgiveness, she gets down on her knees she gets down on her knees
her nose is running her tears are running snotty down her face he soothes her he smoothes down her hair then he pushes her down down down a red halo on his cock
Maggie is on a downward spiral yes Maggie is on an emotional rollercoaster yes.
Maggie has fallen down the rabbit hole.
Maggie is choking Maggie is drowning in all the poison she has ever swallowed so she files her nail she sticks her finger down her throat Maggie sticks her finger down her throat, that fingernail chipped with black, the black of Maggie's soul, here comes the oil up the well—holy moly it's black gold!
And then Maggie feels numbed and Maggie feels empty and Maggie forgets Maggie needs to forget Maggie begs forgiveness.
Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned This Is My Confession
Maggie tries to exorcise everything from her system it comes out through her pores all the demons the demons breathing slowly softly down her neck
Maggie has become her own permanent Lent:
no more sucking
no more breathing
no more sleeping
no more desiring
no more wanting
no more puking
no more drinking
no more going home with strange boys
no more waking up in strange beds
no more walks of shame
no more guilt no more shame
no more no more
Maggie is going to change Maggie is on the straight-and-narrow arrow Maggie is repentant she is Saul she is Paul she is Mary she is Magdalene she is a good Catholic girl.
Yes a good Catholic Midwestern girl she cannot forget her roots they are showing they are light brown through the black.
But then other times Maggie is a very bad girl yes a very bad girl because she doesn't care whether they love her anymore. This is when Maggie is filled with HATE.
This is when Maggie rebels. Maggie has always had an edge on her that Maggie.
It is a razor-edge she files against her nails which she sticks down her throat. It is a razor-edge that she slits her wrists with and out pours the sticky red of her blood and suffering. It pools around her feet.
Maggie is Ophelia.
Maggie is drowning in the whirlpool of her own emotions.
This is why Maggie wears all-black.
She is mourning herself.
She is mourning the void.
She is mourning her world.
Maggie is trying to externalize the demons she has deep inside. That is why she wears all black and has black nail polish. That, and she enjoys making her mother deeply unhappy.
Maggie why do you have to wear all black it's terribly depressing?
But can't you tell Mother? Can't you tell how dark and brooding I am? I am wearing all black and I am not your sunshine your little sunshine anymore.
bruises for eyes
a bleeding sore for a mouth
a red halo around his cock
The truth however is no matter how dark and demony Maggie tries to be in her heart deep inside she will always be a GOOD MIDWESTERN GIRL.
It is true. She cannot escape it. She cannot escape herself. She cannot escape her mother. She is nice and polite. She is a good girl. She crosses her legs at the ankle. She says I'm Sorry and Excuse Me.
She has difficulties saying No she can't say No to anybody because she wants to be well-liked.
This is why Maggie is so deeply conflicted. She wants to be good and nice and polite and smile at the cashier Maggie you're so pretty when you smile but then she also wants to rebel.
She is a rebel without a cause. She is Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass and her mother and father keep threatening to put her away, but no this is not the 1950s anymore Mother—Mommy hates when she calls her that—this is not the 1950s anymore you cannot simply put me away.
Maggie cannot be put away. This year Maggie won Most Congenial in her Ward at the Hospital.
You cannot simply put me away in the cupboard she says. I am not one of your ceramic statues to be dusted.
Excerpted from O Fallen Angel by Kate Zambreno. Copyright © 2009 Kate Zambreno. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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