Authors: Darcey Steinke
MORE PRAISE FOR
SISTER GOLDEN HAIR
“Steinke’s narrator, Jesse, is both unforgettably unique and a quintessential adolescent girl. . . . Jesse’s naive admiration . . . and her chameleonlike reaction to whomever she attaches herself to create a painfully true account of a tough phase of life made more so by the disillusions of the time. But as Jesse observes these characters’ hopelessness, she herself becomes more defined—perhaps more the guitarist than the girl in the song.”
PRAISE FOR STEINKE’S PREVIOUS WORK
“I became riveted by Steinke’s tone, a steady, lovely, hallowed, patient, things-in-themselves hum . . . [
is] a delicately wrought little volume . . . This is a beautiful book.”
NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“If the novel had an essence (eau de roman), a pithy core, Darcey Steinke would be its genius.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES
“Steinke writes some beautifully mystical descriptions of sexual encounters, and the conjunction of sex and the spirit, bodies and souls, is fascinating.”
“Erotic . . . beautifully crafted prose.”
“Steinke’s idiosyncratic, unsentimental fourth novel continues her examination of sexual and religious obsession . . . all the characters struggle to establish a relationship with God through contact with those around them, but Steinke’s prose repeatedly hints at the divine in tangible things.”
“Few authors understand America’s darkest fears and obsessions like Darcey Steinke.”
is an excellent account of a writer going head-to-head with the divine and finding some inner quiet—even in the darkest corners of her imagination.”
TIME OUT NEW YORK
“Darcey Steinke certainly knows her way around characters and plot . . . it’s a joy to see her inner life finally exposed.”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“Steinke unflinchingly recounts years of disillusionment in her stumble back toward faith.”
“She drew this atheist reader deep into her devotional tale, seducing with prose that is rich and filling, with images that are startling and deep.”
LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW
Copyright © 2014 Darcey Steinke
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, contact Tin House Books, 2617 NW Thurman St., Portland, OR 97210.
Published by Tin House Books, Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn, New York
Distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West, 1700
Fourth St., Berkeley, CA 94710,
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sister golden hair / by Darcey Steinke.
ISBN 978-1-935639-95-4 (ebook)
Teenage girls--Fiction. 2.
Dysfunctional families--Fiction. 3.
Roanoke (Va.)--Fiction. 4.
Virginia--Social life and customs--20th century--Fiction. 5.
“Hospital” by Jonathan Richman © 1971 Wixen Music
Publishing / Modern Love Songs. Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
Interior design by Diane Chonette
I’ll seek out the things that must have been magic to your little girl mind.
—THE MODERN LOVERS
The Vagabond Motor Lodge sat across the street from the Fiji Island restaurant, wedged between Johnny’s Auto Parts and a gas station with a flying horse on its neon sign. Our first few days staying there felt like a vacation. In the morning, after Dad left for his new job, we swam in the motel pool, doing cannonballs off the diving board as my mother lay out under a blue canvas umbrella with white fringe, watching cars go by on the highway. In 1972, I’d just turned twelve, and my family had moved for the third time in so many years. The August heat was ruthless on the bright cement, relenting only in bluish spots of shade. There was glamour in the way the heat slowed my body down and penetrated every moment with languor. In the late afternoon, when it was time for my little
brother, Philip, to nap, we walked in our wet bathing suits across the parking lot, heat rising around us in visible waves. Our mother let us stop at the gumball machine outside the front office. Inside, the motel owner, a bald man who wore a Texas string tie, sat with his little dog, Mr. Buddy, on his lap, watching television.
We were moving again and the reason was, as my father frankly told us, that there were not many jobs for defrocked ministers. The members of First Methodist hadn’t liked when my dad let his hair grow so long it brushed his coat collar, or that he traded his clerical collar for bell-bottoms and blue shirts with wide ties. They didn’t like it when he encouraged the youth choir to sing “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” accompanied by guitars rather than the organ, and they really didn’t like it when he started a Gestalt workshop in the church basement and began preaching against Vietnam. When he held a commitment ceremony for Barry and Don, a parishioner complained. This led to a clergy trial, with a jury of nine Methodist ministers who decided that his actions were not compatible with Christian teaching. They read from the Book of Discipline, stripped him of his credentials, and—from what I heard—my dad, who refused to defend himself anyway, walked down the center aisle and into secular life.
After getting fired, Dad stayed in bed and read from a pile of old
New York Review of Books
that we dragged from the rectory to each new rented house.
He read books about history, science, and psychology. Once he was over the shock, he started to get enthusiastic: church doctrine was draconian; we’d figure out our own relationship to God. He gathered us together and explained that we were going to make a fresh start in Virginia.
It would have been nice if my mother was the strong, long-suffering type, but this was not the case; with every move she got a bit more unhinged. When we were supposed to be asleep, she cried to my father about how unhappy she was. Explained the she felt like a zero, a nothing. Listening to her, I tried to judge her freak-out level. She was at a 5 pretty much all the time. Brow furrowed, vaguely unhappy. Often, say, around the dinner table, she got to a 4 or even a 3 if my dad was sullen or my little brother complained about the food. She’d been at a 2 the whole drive down, but now she was at a 3, a good 3, not a bad 3.
When we got back to our room the owner’s wife had made up our beds, vacuumed, given us new towels. She was skinny as a skeleton as she pushed her cart, loaded with tiny bars of soap, glasses in white paper, and clean towels. Every day while she worked inside the rooms, jerking her bones around as she pushed the vacuum, I gazed at the cart until I got up enough courage to ask for more motel writing paper. She turned off the vacuum, gave me a sour look, and told me the stationery wasn’t kiddie stuff, but she guessed I could have a page or two. She didn’t know I was writing a long letter to Francie
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
, telling her about myself and also how sorry I was her father drank.
By midweek we still hadn’t moved into our duplex in Bent Tree. We no longer walked down the highway, parking lot to parking lot, to Sambo’s for dinner, but instead ate American cheese sandwiches and chips from a big foil bag we bought at the convenience store.
After dinner we took baths and got into our pajamas, and our mother let us out in front of our room to play in the parking lot. Across the street the Fiji Island was lit up so we could see the huge carved Easter Island statues on either side of the bamboo doors. The sign out front, bookended by plastic palm trees, read
PINA COLADAS—TWO FOR THREE DOLLARS
. For some reason nobody could explain, an old railroad car sat to one side of the parking lot. My mom knocked on the window from inside our room, pointed to the highway and shook her head vigorously. Then she leaned against the orange headboard and read a magazine, occasionally glancing to the television screen where Nixon’s head was huge and wiggly like the bobblehead dogs older people liked to put in the back windows of their cars.