She is having three affairs at once: with an S&M pornographer, a beautiful woman found through a personal ad, and a randy heterosexual bartender. Two of her lovers don't know her real name...and that's exactly how she wants it. To escape her past, and perhaps find herself, this smart, troubled, and hilariously cynical young New Yorker is fabricating another identity. As Rose Anne Waldin, or Rosie, she doesn't have a mother who still haunts her, nor an ex-husband who kicked her out after her numerous infidelities. But she does have a new apartment, dyed hair, different clothes and an obsession with murder. It is Rosie's intention to break society's taboos, test its limits, push the envelope...and get away with a shocking, perhaps violent, act.
With an intoxicating velocity, Bye-Bye pulls us into the netherworld of the New York performance art scene, the steamy arena of sexual pick-ups and put-ons, and the back alleys of a broken heart. Award-winning first novelist and poet Jane Ransom has created a daring black comedy, a psychological thriller edged with an utterly original class of conundrum. Fearless, erotically charged, and ultimately affirming about the catharsis of fantasy, creativity, and desire, Bye-Bye is a fast, literary, brave new read.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||4.50(w) x 7.18(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Jane Ransom is the author of two books of poetry, Without Asking, which won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, and Scene of the Crime. Bye-Bye, her first novel, won the prestigious New York University Press Prize for Fiction. The recipient of various literary awards, Ransom has lived in Madrid, Paris, and Puerto Rico. She now resides in New York.
Read an Excerpt
I draw her outline, head to toe.
What follows is not easy.
I pin the bottom of the page under my right wrist, while tugging the top margin up with my left hand, stretching the paper taut like the side of a pup tent. With my right hand I stab the picture repeatedly with a needle, staying inside the lines, never pricking the same place twice.
Now her skin's as rough as a cheese grater. I clip around the riddled figure, wad her into a crisp sponge, drop her into hot chocolate.
My mother used to stride through country fields trailing her palms along the weed tops, unleashing clouds of insects. While I chew patiently, cowlike, the paper dissolves into many bits. I think of the way she sucked on stalks of grass. Yummy, chocolate. How she spit on dry stones to make them shine.
A real flirt.
She habitually caressed her coffee spoon while she talked, slipping her thumb into and over its curves, along its edges, around and around and around, without looking. I had to look, mesmerized, mute. I swallow hard to get it down, gritty chocolate cement coating my tongue.
My mother was hard to get rid of. Because in fact she was already gone. How do you throw out a tenant who left yesterday? How do you evict a ghost? Alive or dead, my mother has always haunted me. Although I spent relatively little time with her, I could never get out from under her.
"No, dear. Orson Welles did the radio broadcast, but Herbert George Wells wrote the book."
As she spoke, my mother patted the inside of my elbow to comfort me in my stupidity. We sat thigh to thigh, having steak at the Ponderosa because Mom was visiting me at college, a very rare visit. My boyfriend gazed back and forth, waiting.
"Is that right?" he finally said for me, looking at her. "Wells, wells, wells."
She smiled, bravo, winked at him, squeezing my arm.
Whether it was The War of the Worlds or the world's wars, I could never compete. She always outdid me. She always knew better.
"Exactly what do you mean by that, dear?"
"Oh it's just, like, a phrase, Mom. You know."
She didn't trust me, not even after my graduation in journalism, magna cum laude. Without warning I had dropped by California to see her.
"Well let's think." Mom didn't give up. "There's really no such thing as 'just a phrase.' When you say, as you did just now, 'Occupying Grenada isn't exactly the Normandy conquest,' one wonders just which Normandy conquest you're referring to."
"I meant the famous one." Now I was in trouble. Mom had caught me.
"The famous one! Really dear, let's think. The 'Norman Conquest' came when William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, whereas the 'Normandy campaign' refers to the Allied invasion of the Continent in 1944. These are both famous, but neither's precisely 'the Normandy conquest.' You see your mistake."
I wanted to be as ruthlessly intelligent as she was.
That was my mistake. We had the same name for a while, sure, but we'd never be equals.
I could never catch up. She had been menstruating for years and years by the time I got my period in fifth grade. I still love the smell of new Kotex. I don't know why. Sometimes dogs go crazy over shoes, sniffing the leather like drug addicts. That same year my breasts grew big as hers. She forbade me to wear a bra. "You're too young. And because I said so." The boys tortured me at recess, calling me "Jiggle Tits," "Floppy Knockers," and "Boom Boom Bazoom." But Mom did invite me to try tampons. "Here, let me put it in for you." I wanted to say no, but I couldn't say anything.
I wondered about her motives.
Why she left us the following year. Women are tricky like that. They pretend to be your mother then poof, they're gone. Surely, it was her departure that eventually gave me the courage to finish her off. Still, I think we loved each other. If ever I do get another dog, I'll name it after her. "Sit, Mom. Heel, Mom. Stay, Mom. Play dead, Mom. Good Mom. Bad Mom. Bad, bad Mom." She's actually dead, not playing. "Good girl!" And I'm...smart now. Got it? There are plenty of other women around if I want that kind of company. I'm not under anybody's thumb, not anymore, not unless I want to be.
I yawn wide as a horse and try to remember if whoever's beside me is male or female. I slide my hand along the ceiling of the blanket suspended between us, take blind aim, lower my hand. An erection. Large, firm...cold. Some lesbian with a strap-on dildo? Wait. I feel balls. Also cold. A strap-on with balls attached. I drop my hand farther, to stroke the inside of the thighs...cold. I open my mouth to scream, then don't. Although now I realize that even if I wanted to, I could not wake this man, now or ever nevertheless, I disengage myself from the sheets as stealthily as possible.
My Lover has once again rudely awakened me.
"I said, get up. You're so helpless like this in the morning. Anyone could do what they want with you. Get up. Darling, would you make me breakfast?"
"Some dead guy was in bed with me."
"Better dead than alive," she says. "Dead men have fabulous hard-ons."
"Did you tell me that last night?"
"I'll tell you that every night if it makes you happy. Anything for your pleasure. Only please make me breakfast. Us. Make us breakfast."
"Yeah. Some dream. Gotta pee first "
"Don't forget to uh, wait a minute, I didn't get a chance last night, untie your uh, from the "
"Ow. Fuck. Just fucking untie me now."
"I guess," My Lover says. "Although you do look nice, all twisted up on the floor. A little bruise would spice up that knee anyway."
But the truth is, bruises don't bother me. They are social butterflies, making colorful appearances, without depth. They don't hurt. For menstrual cramps, I bite my hand, to shift the pain around, get it confused. Like most perversions, this is not very original.
One of the best experiences I've ever had was waking up from an abortion. I found myself floating in an astonishing absence of discomfort or anxiety. It was Demerol. It didn't last. What I can't figure out is whether anesthetics eliminate or merely conceal suffering. Does the pain still exist even if you don't feel it? This is like that Zen koan about the falling tree. Puzzles and anesthetics give me pleasure, opening a trap door in my claustrophobic self-consciousness.
My Lover is a puzzle. My Lover is an anesthetic. My Lover is a religion a vague, impersonal power, pleasant to surrender to. Sometimes it's healthy to go to a doctor who touches you all over, then addresses you with no more warmth than an IRS agent. I imagine men pay prostitutes for this kind of distant intimacy. Women can get it free from each other, hug kiss hug kiss, chérie.
My Lover is the opposite of my ex-husband, in gender and in relation to me. With him, I was always feeling something. Marriage riddled me with emotion, slow rages that wrecked my posture for days, greedy joys that threatened to catapult me into the fourth dimension, or even into having kids. When I myself was a kid, our family dog licked and licked my new kitten until the kitten was dizzy with happiness. Mommy, Mommy. Well I assumed it was happiness.
Back home after the operation my husband served me dinner in bed: spinach pie and a Middle Eastern lamb stew he had made, following his family recipe I've rarely felt so taken care of. Hubby, hubby. He resembled Mom more than she herself ever did. My mother was not the nurturing type. But she and my husband were both the stoic, strong-minded, attractive, overall superior type. Which explains how I finally won her attention by having won his.
Back then, I lived in the real world. I remember it well. We had been married quite a while. I had grown used to my husband's physical proximity and my mother's distant brilliance. And then Shazam! my mother was suddenly there beside me, flesh and blood, while my husband's image flickered across the TV sky. She had arrived in New York the same evening he spent in Washington being interviewed on CBS.
It was the first time I had seen my mother in years. It was the first time she had seen my husband, ever. There he was explaining on air some plan to replace the franc, the mark, the pound, and the peso with a single European currency. Mom was ecstatic:
"So attractive. So well informed. So articulate."
That was just like my mother.
I was more cautious, remembering Esperanto and the metric system. But my husband said: "This can work. Money is whatever the various governments say it is, and people have to use it. Don't they."
Mom raised her index finger and nodded at the TV: "Absolutely."
After that she embraced him as her own. This began the next day when they met in person. "What a superb interview...You have such a fine grasp of European politics. And you put forth your points so elegantly. Money is a fascinating topic, much more complicated than most people realize."
That was just like my mother.
My husband nodded and thanked her politely, then turned to throw his arms around me, saying, "Sweetheart, Sweetheart. I missed you." Mom eyed me up and down as if meeting me for the first time. It was the beginning of a new era. She glanced at him again, as if to make sure. But it was clear: he would never betray me.
Things seemed simpler back then, when I lived in the real world. But whether they actually were or not, I can't tell. It did seem as if my life were following one reasonable thread which since then has frayed into many strands, raveling and unraveling beyond control.
When I bought the first oil painting, it felt slightly more eccentric than ordering a slogan T-shirt like the one my brother sent away for, that says, "I am God." I didn't like the painting, but that had nothing to do with it. I was curious. Curiosity is a dangerous drive. Oh, kitty, kitty.
But as the paintings began to stack up, I did start to suspect myself of some hidden motive. I now wonder if that's redundant. Probably all my true motives are hidden (or at least misplaced). So many things are redundant, repetitious, copies of copies, ad infinitum. In any case, I was more concerned with what people would think. I didn't hang the pictures for fear someone would see them and assume I was losing my mind. People began to suspect me of that, after the divorce.
I have the paintings on my walls now. They're pure kitsch, disturbing and tacky, but I'm drawn to them. Most women are fascinated by murder and mayhem. My husband ex-husband once told me that in some parts of the world, women can be put to death for wanton behavior like mine, and But there I go, raveling.
"Here we are: over easy, toast, jam, bacon, juice, coffee."
Why does My Lover always want me to cook for her?
And how is it that my ex-husband, such a busy man, can shop for and prepare perfect meals four or five nights a week, and not have a nervous breakdown? Whereas it sometimes takes me days to garner the specific energy to fetch groceries. Flaunting her financial superiority, My Lover has all her groceries delivered from Dean & Delucca.
She doesn't know about the paintings.
My Lover photographs women with women. She is somewhat notorious within the small world of lesbian pornography. (As a teenager, I myself used to draw little pictures; sometimes they were of a woman and a man, but sometimes they were just of a woman, with legs open.) Many magazines pay My Lover well for her work, although some don't. An article about her first caught my attention two years ago, in On Our Backs. The article was accompanied by a self-portrait boasting biceps and crewcut. I looked up her number in the Manhattan White Pages.
"Hello," I said. "I just wanted to say I'm a great admirer of your art."
She did not thank me because she did not believe me. She asked me my age and name, in that order. She told me she was having a dinner party that night and that I was welcome to prepare the meal. I agreed immediately. I put on my black suede shorts whose zipper ran in a U shape-from my bellybutton, down under my crotch, and back up to the top of my buttocks between my two dimples. (I owned a few interesting outfits even then. Divorce does that.)
I arrived with groceries at 5:30. Meeting her in person, I felt annoyed. It was going to be my first time with a woman; I had thought it would be better if she looked like a man. But in real life she turned out to be girlishly petite, much smaller than the photo had suggested, and also much prettier with her Judy Davis lips and wide, intelligent forehead.
"My guests will be here in two hours," she said. I prepared babaganoush, cucumber and yogurt salad, basmati rice with caramelized onions, green beans with garlic, and the lamb, braised in cumin, coriander, and cinnamon; my ex-husband had taught me to cook. While I worked, she talked. "Are you sure that's going to be ready on time? That stuff in the bowl looks greasy. Not everybody likes garlic. My God, don't overdo it with the salt there."
The guests were eight women, all except one over forty. The exception was a twenty-three-year-old former Miss Kansas. All the guests, including Miss Kansas, approached me (or rather, distanced themselves from me) with condescension, pity, and glee. I was immediately recognized as one more bimbo in a long line of My Lover's bimbos. Intuitively I acted the part, smiling dumbly, dashing about with trays and decanters, giggling inappropriately, wildly bobbing my head to mean "yes" or even "maybe." Later on, after the other guests had gone, I received high rewards for my efforts, once my host finally felt compelled to test the zipper on my shorts.
Copyright © 1997 by New York University
What People are Saying About This
"Reading Bye-Bye I felt driven by desire to see what would happen next. The protagonist explores some mighty perturbing situations but ultimately, this is a book about 'self' and also, more subtly, about bravery, for to view oneself as honestly as this character does requires nothing short of courage. I enjoyed this tightly narrated book immenselyand also learned about a part of me I am not always ready to admit exists."
-Lucy Greatly,author of Autobiography of a Face
"Bye-Bye is the most exciting book of its kind to come along in years. And just what is its kind? That of the quest for truthtruth as immediate reality, rather than as a relic to be stashed in a savings account. The quest is pursued through the intertwining tangles of love, bisexual eroticism, and perhaps friendship; its telling provides the freshest writing about sex since Henry Miller."
-Harry Matthews,author of The Journalist and Singular Pleasure
"Jane Reavill Ransom is gifted with a sharp eye for telling detail, a keen ear for the twists and turns of colloquial speech, and a wicked wit. Bye-Bye is a fiendishly funny and sinister shocker."
-Frederick Morgan,editor of The Hudson Review
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Jane Ransom's Bye-Bye. We hope that these ideas will enrich your discussion and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Many fine books from Washington Square Press include Reading Group Guides. For a complete listing, or to read the Guides online, visit http://www.simonsays.com/reading/guides
- The catalyst for the narrator's behavior seems to be the break-up of her marriage. What do you see as the reasons the marriage deteriorated?
- We know the narrator's assumed name, Rose Anne Waldin. But we don't know her real name or the names of several other important characters in the book. What are they called? How does their "namelessness" shape the way we view them?
- What is the narrator's new identity like? In what ways does it differ from her own?
- The narrator is fascinated with the "Andorgenie." Why do you think this performance artist holds such an attraction for her?
- Much of the novel focuses on the narrator's sexual adventures. What is her role with each of her lovers? What are her feelings about each one?
- Although the narrator is very cynical about psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, she frequently analyzes her own behavior. What reasons does she give for acting as she does?
- In talking about her family, the narrator tells a riddle, pointing out that she correctly answered it as a child. What is the riddle's relationship to the rest of the book? Is it symbolic of what is going on in the narrator's life?
- What is the narrator's father like? Her brother? Why do you think she finally decides, after eighteen years, to go back home?
- Why do you think the narrator's last lover is the bartender? Why do you think he is called The Bartender? Is his name symbolic? He is also a locksmith. Does this have a particular significance?
- What or who is the narrator saying "bye-bye" to? Does she succeed? What do you think is going to happen to her?