Driving under the Influence offers three wry, witty and wise tales whose verbal sparkle illuminates but never disguises the jolting, bruising realities of modern life.
The title novella centers on man-crazy Natalie, a PR whiz, and her former grad school roommate Joey, an economist with no illusions. In league with them are Juliet the landscape designer, Nan the housewife cum volunteer and Dana the radio journalist. Five women couldn’t be more different, but these Fifty/Sixty Somethings have a morale-boosting credo: friends support friends. And support is very much needed as crises come and go: seductive gurus, pushy kids, spousal abuse, sexuality surprises, widowhood, coronaries, sexism, auto accidents, ageism and ageless self-doubt, to say nothing of the need for reassurance after hope-crushing experiences like this encounter between Joey and the only interesting man she’s met in years :
“The bare shoulders do get kissed, and those tiny silk straps are soooo in the way. Somehow we reach his bedroom, where the clothes come off. Oh! Oh! Oh! I’m with a man who knows how to make love, which turns me into a gloriously amorous creature. Oh yes, I think! Oh yes! Yes! This was worth waiting for. But there’s waiting and waiting. Eventually I am getting impatient, frustrated, annoyed, because he is not ready, not ready, not ready, and I am.”
“Dangling Woman” introduces Penelope Strong whose life is in suspense while José Suarez, the District Attorney, prepares to charge her for the murder of her husband. Penelope’s case isn’t helped by a daughter who’s out to punish her or by José’s melange of motives. He’s running for Congress. Will a show trial help José trump an opponent who threatens to split the Hispanic vote, or will a Suarez family secret destroy him first? This is a story of jealousy, ambition, intertwined families and hard-fought politics in the small world of Northern New Mexico, and the endgame begins with a freak accident on a ski lift:
“Penelope has known District Attorney “José-call-me-Joe” Suarez for years and years. Of course, she’ll tell his detectives what happened to Harris and exactly how. They’ll believe her. They’ll be sympathetic.
“Neither is the case. What the guys are conducting is the classic grilling. She’s bereft. She’s dazed. She’s numb. A hapless bug is being poked and prodded by sadistic boys. She watches, fascinated, only gradually realizing that she’s the bug.
“In her real life, the life that’s been interrupted by this improbable accident, Penelope is an attorney. She knows the law. She calls the shots. Not now, though. José’s boys aren’t suffering from a comic overdose of tough guy crime scenarios, as she’d initially assumed. They are doing precisely what Suarez wants them to do.
“Oh my god! she thinks. Her spine straightens. Her eyes work the room. She’s herself again and very scared. Not only do I need a lawyer, she realizes, I need a lawyer with experience in murder cases. She asserts her right to representation…..”
The short story “Senior Moments” suggests that popular culture is way off base when it comes to memory lapses among the not so young. It reframes the notoriously distressing “senior moment” in a positive, even joyous way. This liberating inspiration comes to the narrator when she’s asked to care for a six year old grandson while her daughter-in-law attends a conference in a distant city.