An L.A. story in every sense, Gina Frangello’s latest, heralded novel also is a portrait of the modern family in America, examining assimilation, the legacy of secrets and the morality of desire, across ethnicities, nationalities and sexualities. Here, a scene of a family in turmoil, with much left unsaid.
Something is wrong with Gretchen’s son Gray when he sits down in the breakfast nook. He looks different, alien, but Gretchen can’t place it. She keeps staring at him and it’s like she’s taken someone else’s black coat accidentally in the pile of coats at a party, when she’s a little bit drunk and the coat looks like hers and maybe is even the same designer but something is implacably wrong. She watches Gray as though feeling inside the pockets of this wrong coat, hoping for some evidence of its wrongness or, better yet, clues to whom it actually belongs.
Troy saunters into the room for coffee, looking sexy and angular and hateful like someone who would be cast to play a Nazi in a miniseries, and takes one look at Gray and says, “Where the hell are his eyebrows?”
“Huh?” Gretchen says.
“Why doesn’t our kid have eyebrows?” Troy snaps, and they both turn back to Gray, who is shoveling cereal into his mouth. For an instant, their eyes meet above his head in a rare moment of collusion: Is it possible that Gray has never had eyebrows? Has he been eyebrowless from the get-go, and somehow Gretchen and Troy forgot to . . . notice until now?
Gretchen glances at a photograph on the hutch of the three of them in better-if-still-not-good times, when Gray was maybe three, and no—thank God!—there are his eyebrows in the photograph. Kind of pale, but definitely present. She says, “Uh, Gray, honey. Did something happen to your face?”
“Did something happen to my face,” Gray states in that inflectionless way of his.
“Yes. Your face.”
“Your eyebrows!” Troy says. “For Christ’s sake, Gretch, be specific at least, what are you trying to say? Are you asking him if he’s had a facelift? Are you asking if he has a black eye? Say what you mean!”
“Your eyebrows.” Gretchen feels herself turning red. “Where did they . . . go?”
Gray laughs. “Did you shave your eyebrows, honey?”
Gray spits milk and cereal chunks into his bowl, giggling. “No!”
She and Troy are both on him now, standing above him, handling his face, searching for clues. There are still some strays protruding from his fair skin, which is reddish around where the missing hair should be. Troy pokes her too hard in the arm and mouths, What the fuck?, but Gretchen says quietly, “Gray, did you pull your eyebrows out?”
“Why are you yelling?” shouts Gray.
“I’m not yelling, honey.”
“Stop yelling at me!” Gray bolts from the table, knocking some of the milk from his bowl.
“Oh my God,” Gretchen says to Troy. “What are we going to do?”
“Do you have an eyebrow pencil?” Troy asks.
“No, I don’t. Do you?”
“Why would I—what’s wrong with my eyebrows?”
“I don’t understand how he did it,” Gretchen says. “Did he spend all night pinching his little eyebrow hairs one by one and yanking them out at the root? Why would he do that? I didn’t even know that was possible.”
“I love how in Gray’s moment of crisis,” Troy says, “you manage to twist this around so that you’re implying that something is wrong with my eyebrows.”
Gretchen huffs out of the room. Troy doesn’t follow her; she can hear him pouring coffee into his portable mug and then, seconds later, exiting into the garage—its door rising—presumably on his way to the gym, where he goes every morning (or pretends to go every morning). Gretchen heads upstairs to Gray’s bedroom, some of the wind stupidly taken out of her sails by the fact that Troy didn’t chase her.
The last two years of her life have been marked by more Bette Davis exits than the whole forty years prior, but now that she is thinking of it, not one such departure has ever been met with anyone pursuing her. She leaves rooms in a thunder but no one ever seems to care that she is gone.
Excerpted from EVERY KIND OF WANTING by Gina Frangello, Counterpoint, LLC / Soft Skull Press, 2016.
Gina Frangello is the author of the Target Emerging Authors selection A Life in Men, which was a book club selection for NYLON magazine, The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown. She is the author of three books of fiction: SLUT LULLABIES, a Foreword Magazine Best Book of the Year finalist, MY SISTER’S CONTINENT and EVERY KIND OF WANTING. She is the founder of Other Voices Books, has served as the Sunday editor for The Rumpus, the fiction editor for The Nervous Breakdown, executive editor for Other Voices magazine and the faculty editor for TriQuarterly Online. She can be found at www.ginafrangello.com.