Painting On Glass
“Gracefully crafted, psychologically nuanced, deeply satisfying, [PAINTING ON GLASS] has not one hackneyed, predictable episode, not one wrong note. She has fulfilled the promise of her first novel.”
“A novel about values, about what is ‘new’ and what is ‘old;’ about what was best about the '60's and what was worst. For those who want to remember or discover what this time period was like, this novel is a quiet but powerful blast from the past.”
--Los Angeles Times
“Painting on Glass successfully captures not only the zeitgeist of the 1960's but also the mixture of seriousness, ambition and impulsiveness that is the burden of youth. . . The nature of [Rachel and Jake's] ambivalent, fraternal, yet sexually tinged relationship is fascinating territory.”
--San Francisco Chronicle
“The milieu of Painting on Glass, the sensibilities, anguish, confusion and struggles of the generation who felt the impact of Vietnam has only now been given the attention demanded. Films and novels have plunged into explorations of the veterans of the fighting, but equally fascinating is the story of the veterans of the struggle against the war. Jessica Auerbach has brought understanding and sensitivity to the description of a peculiarly lost generation of young Americans.”
Read on for a selection from Painting on Glass:
Rachel waited two weeks to get his first letter. Had he been there, next to her, she would have strangled him for keeping her waiting so long. She’d have punched a fist against his chest and told him he was a real idiot.
But he wasn’t there. He was on some island near Toronto, though in what body of water she’d no idea. She’d have to look at a map. Definitely in another country, though, and not coming back real soon. Not coming back at all.
“Why an island, Jake? Why not downtown Toronto? An island puts you farther away. Now I need to take both boat and plane to reach you out there where you float. Write soon, tell me as fast as you can, how often do the boats go out there?”
“On a really crystal clear day,” he wrote back, “I can see New York State, flattened and dark, way out across the other side of Lake Ontario, and for an exile, Rach, that’s a whole lot better than no view at all. There’s a beach, of sorts. Not exactly the highly touted white sands of the Caribbean, but it’s all right. The boat crosses from Toronto on the hour in summer, a couple of times a day in winter. My cottage is nearly dead center on the island, about three short blocks from the ferry slip. I could meet you at the dock, whenever you say.
“It’s quiet as hell out here. No cars are allowed. People have wagons to bring their belongings from the mainland. They pile them up with groceries or fireweood and pull them onto the ferry. I found a wooden wagon with built-up sides under my front steps when I moved in. This is definitely not like the real world. That’s why I like it. There’s a sense of sanctuary.
“Come summer, of course, I’m sure the place will smell like popcorn and be noisy and trashy, but I don’t care. Maybe it’ll make me think I’m on vacation. A brief stopover between part A and B of life. That’ll help to keep me from defining my exile too well.”
And then another hiatus without letters, though she churned them out to him, daily. She imagined him sitting on the floor of a shack with a blanket thrown around his shoulders for warmth. No electricity. Sitting in a corner in the dark.
He sent a picture postcard of Ward’s Island. “News from the Islands,” he’d scrawled on back as though he were in the Bahamas. The photograph showed a stark little place with rows of tiny cottages. Not hovels, though. Genuine summer houses. “My new home,” it said at the bottom.
Next he sent a ferry schedule. No letter. She couldn’t believe it. No letter? She turned the envelope inside out. She thought maybe a note had gotten stuck inside somehow.
She gave him hell. “If you don’t tell me more, you’re doomed, Jacob. You’re there and I’m here and a ferry schedule is very much beside the point. What the hell is happening in your life? Did you get Landed Immigrant Status? Can you get a job? Have you gotten one?
“Do you need money?” she wrote to him. “Write to me, damn it.”
And then another long white envelope was visible behind the glass door of her post office box. She bent down low and peeked through before she even dared turn the combination lock so as to avoid disappointment, and she saw, yes, it was his handwriting, that oversized R of Rachel serving as testimony that Jake was the sender.
“Sorry,” his letter began. “There’s been so little time. I’ve been trying to set this place up so it feels like home (or somebody’s home that I’m visiting, at any rate) and looking for work, which is the world’s greatest bitch here, believe me. Rachel, I want to talk to you, not write letters, I want to hear your voice. I’ve thought of calling, but I haven’t because I think it’ll just set me back. There are moments when I maintain sanity only through tremendous effort of will. I don’t have a phone and won’t for a while because I have no money for luxuries.”
She saw, as she read her own letters, that they bordered on vulgarity with their passages of phoney cheer. She wanted to write: it’ll get better, you’ll see. It’ll be over soon. What is it, she wondered, you’re supposed to do for the You Can’t Go Home Again Blues?
“Tell me about the border crossing,” she wrote, her hand forming the letters clearly to make sure there was no ambiguity as to what information she sought. “Tell me details so I know what you went through. So I feel it with you, Jake.” Then she fought with her need to tell him how she missed him, how she had so much to say that needed answers now, not next week after her letter traveled across two countries and his traveled back again. And below her name she wrote, “I miss you something awful, Jake.” And immediately thought to toss the paper out -- why tell him he’s missed here when there’s nothing to be done about it? But they had this agreement: no ripping up letters. No rewriting. First thoughts. True thoughts. So she sent it.