Mighty Girl

Book Excerpts

return to homepage


"Your total ignorance of that which you profess to teach merits the death penalty. I doubt whether you know that St. Cassian of Imola was stabbed to death by his students with their styli...Pray to him, you deluded fool, you "anyone for tennis?" golf-playing, cocktail-quaffing, pseudo-pedant."

"Santa, honey, that's a sweet little Blessed Virgin you got on top that TV," Mrs. Reilly said. ...Santa said, "Ain't it nice, though? It's a little Our Lady of the Television. It's got a suction cup base so I don't knock it over when I'm banging around in the kitchen. I bought it by Lenny's" "Lenny's got everything," Mrs. Reilly said. "It looks like it's made outta nice plastic, too. Don't break."

"My mentality, uncontrollable and wanton as always, whispered to me a scheme so magnificent and daring that I shrank from the very thought of what I was hearing. "Stop! I cried imploringly my godlike mind. 'This is madness!'"


"It occurs to me that, just as the Carthaginians hired mercenaries to do their fighting for them, we Americans bring in mercenaries to do our hard and humble work. I home we may not be overwhelmed one day by peoples not too proud or too lazy or too soft to bend to the earth and pick up the things we eat."


"Suddenly, there was a great inrush of youngsters from the opera, who just grabbed girls and kissed them without proper come-ons. Teenagers, drunk, disheveled, and excited, they ruined our party."

"I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww!'"

"We were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one noble function of the time, move."


"When the men at the counter weren't slipping quarters in her pocket they were bringing her things, souvenirs or friendship cards, once or twice a ring. Mama smiled, joked, slapped ass, and firmly passed back anything that looked like a down payment on something she didn't want to sell."

"Say the wrong thing, and she'll take the shine off your teeth."

"Anney never said what she was thinking, but her mind was working all the time."

"You do the right thing because the world doesn't make sense if you don't."


"I have spent weeks in the dessert, forgetting to look at the moon, he says, as a married man may spend days never looking into the face of his wife."

"Nowadays he doesn't think of his wife, though he knows he can turn around and evoke every move of her, the weight of her wrist on his heart during the night."

"Some people you just had to embrace, in some way or another, had to bite into the muscle to remain sane in their company. You needed to grab their hair and clutch it like a drowner so they would pull you into their midst."

"Tenderness toward the unknown and anonymous, which was tenderness to the self."

"The Englishman murmured that the introductions to such songs were called, 'burdens.'"

"If I gave you my life, you would drop it. Wouldn't you?"

"He has been disassembled by her. And if she has brought him to this, what has he brought her to?"

"But now he cannot bear this wall in her. You built your walls too, she tells him, so I have my wall. She says it glittering in a beauty he cannot stand."

"He feels everything is missing from his body, feels he contains smoke."

"She had always wanted words, she loved them, grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape. Whereas I thought words bent emotions like sticks in water."

"There are those of us who are destroyed by unfairness and those who are not."

"Love is so small it can tear itself through the eye of a needle."

"The angular look of a queen, someone who has made her face with her desire to be a certain type of person."

"When he talked like that, she hated him, her eyes remaining polite, her mind wanting to slap him, and she realized even that was sexual. For him, all relationships fell into patterns. You fell into propinquity or distance."


"He first noticed Rahel in the school library and then again, a few days later in Khan Market. She was in jeans and a white T-shirt. Part of an old patchwork bedspread was buttoned around her neck and trailed behind her like a cape. Her wild hair was tied back to look straight, though it wasn't. A tiny diamond gleamed in one nostril. She had absurdly beautiful collarbones and a nice athletic run. There goes a jazztune, Larry McCaslin thought to himself... He held her as though she was a gift. Given to him in love. Something still and small. Unbearably precious."

"Kochu Maria's laugh had that slightly cruel ring to it that young children's sometimes have. She was frightened by the BBC famines and television wars that she encountered while she channel surfed... She viewed ethnic cleansing, famine and genocide as direct threats to her furniture."

"The sun shone through the Plymouth window directly down at Rahel. She closed her eyes and shone back at it."

"The yam leaves continued to nod long after the train had gone, as though they agreed with it entirely and had no doubts at all."

"The great stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don't deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don't surprise you with the unforseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover's skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don't. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won't. In the great stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn't. And yet you want to know again."


"All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add because the frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh."

"A moment later I heard my sweetheart running up the stairs. My heart expanded with such force that it almost blotted me out."

"The hollow of my hand was still ivory full of Lolita."

"...scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies."

"If a violin string can ache, then I was that string."

"In a street called Thayer Street, in the residential green, fawn and golden of an academic townlet, one was bound to have a few amiable fine-dayers yelping at you."

"The growing volume of her absence began to weigh upon me in the windy grayness."

"There was still that stream of pale moths siphoned out of the night by my headlights."


"In school she was one of several authoritative, agressive, not quite beautiful girls so potent in their money and their athletic confidence they simply stood where they stood and insisted that the local notion of desirability be reconfigured to include them."

"Men may congratulate themselves for writing truly and passionately about the movements of nations; they may consider war and the search for God to be great literature's only subjects; but if men's standing in the world could be toppled by an ill-advised choice of hat, English literature would be dramatically changed."

"Viginia's eyes met those of one of the pugs, which stares over its fawn-colored shoulder at her with an expression of moist, wheezing bafflement."

"Of the three of them, Clarissa had always been the most hard-hearted and the one most prone to romance."

"gentle, almost to the point of translucence."

"Something about her face--the square jaw or the stern, inexpressive eyes--reminds you that people looked essentially the same one hundred years ago."

"She, Laura likes to imagine (it's one of her most closely held secrets) that she has a touch of brilliance herself, just a hint of it, though she knows most people walk around with similarly hopeful suspicions curled up like tiny fists inside of them."

"a world of harmony where children are safe (if not happy), where men who have seen horrors beyond imagining, who have acted bravely and well, come home to lighted windows, to perfume, to plates and napkins."

"She is full of a love so strong, so unambiguous, it resembles appetite."

"The potted aloe plants on either side of the black glass doors seem astonished to be there."

"The room has a smell, alcohol and pitch pine, bleach, scented soap, all floating heavily over something that is not rancid, not even stale, but not fresh. It is, she thinks, a tired smell. It is the smell of a place that's been used and used."

"Clarissa can imagine her daughter at fifty: she will be what people refer to as an ample woman, large of body and spirit, inscrutably capable, decisive, undramatic, an early riser."

"Spotlit Asian and African objects (Oliver surely thinks of them as 'dramatically lit') suggest, despite their immaculate and reverential display, not so much connoisseurship as plunder. This is the third time Sally has been here, and each time she's felt the urge to confiscate the treasures and return them to their rightful owners."

"This is a resigned and final sigh, running toward the nasal register, meaningful in it's lack of drama. It is like the first disinterested sigh a lover sends over the telephone wires, the sigh that signals the earliest beginning of the end."


"There is the general sense that the lives we lead here are busy with the neighborly business of making what twenty years from now we intend to call the good old days."

"He took the deer rifle from her father's closet, lay on the bed with the muzzle in his mouth, and pulled the trigger with his big toe. It was, according to the ex-girlfriend, 'a remarkable gesture.' As I considered the gesture on the table before me, it struck me, he looked ridiculous. His face had been split in two by the force of the blast, just above the bridge of his nose. He looked like a melon dropped from the cart, a pumpkin vandalized by neighbor boys. The back of his head simply wasn't. Here was a young man who had killed himself, remarkably, to deliver a message to a woman he wanted to remember him. No doubt she does. I certainly do. But the message itself seemed inconsequential, purposefully vague. Did he want to be dead forever, or only absent from the pain? "I wanted to die," is all it seemed to say clearly. "Oh," is what the rest of us say."

"In the name of diversity, any idea is regarded as worthy as any other; any nonsense is entitled to a forum, a full hearing and equal time. Reality is customized to fit the person or the situation. There is your reality, and my reality, the truth as they see it, but what is real and true for us all eludes us."

"It's not the suicide, we've always had that. It's the assistance that there is a market for. Janet Adkins didn't need the help, not with the killing part. She had the physical resources to swallow pills, pull a trigger, start a car, turn on a gas stove and thus avail herself of traditional methods. She had the psychological resources to overcome her fear of dying, a fear like the fear of any unknown. She had the spiritual resources to understand that God or Whatever Is Out There would, by virtue of its job description, understand her. What she lacked was the voice to shout down her own voices that whispered to her the case for living--part nature, part nurture, the voice that says to take life, however painful and imperfect, does damage to the rest of life. Is it possible to assist the ones we love with their dying instead of with their killing?"

"Unvexed by the existentials, should we not expect the marketplace to take over? The questions devolve from whether or not to who is entitled to who's going to pay cash or charge? to do you take American Express?"


"She went off with a distant customer, and Katz watched her go with something like paternal pride. 'She's pretty ugly, isn't she?' he said, with a big, incongruous beam. "
I sought for tact. 'Well, only compared with other women.'"

"The little town of Dayton...was the scene of the famous Snopes trial in 1925 when the state prosecuted a school teacher named John Thomas Snopes for rashly promulgating Darwinian hogwash... Snopes was convicted, and the law wasn't overturned in Tennessee until 1967. And now the state was about to bring the law back, proving conclusively that the danger for Tennesseans isn't so much that they may be descended from apes as overtaken by them."

"Trees can also deter destructive creatures like caterpillars by flooding their leaves with tannin, which makes the leaves less tasty and so inclines the caterpillars to look elsewhere. When infestations are particularly severe, some trees can even communicate the fact. Some species of oak release a chemical that tells other oaks in the vicinity that an attack is under way. In response, the neighboring oaks step up their tannin production to withstand the coming onslaught."

"And here is a thing that most of us fail to appreciate: we are still in an ice age, only now we experience it for just part of the year. Snow and ice and cold are not really typical features of earth. Taking the long view, Antarctica is actually a jungle. (It's just having a chilly spell.)"