Nancy McCabe's FOLLOWING DISASTERS
I just finished a fun novel called Following Disasters, by Nancy McCabe, about a girl named Maggie-Kate, who inherits her aunt’s old house at a transitional time in her own life. The house seems to be haunted with the spirit of her aunt, a woman whose one ambition in life was to have children and raise a family, an ambition that was, sadly, thwarted by her illness—lupus, an autoimmune disease. Oddly enough, I read this novel on my way back from visiting Milledgeville, Georgia, the location of Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Flannery O’Connor—one of our great American writers—was also afflicted with lupus and died young. When you visit her family homestead, called Andalusia, you can see the interior of the house just as it was when she was alive—the small desk with her typewriter by her bed, her crutches balanced against an adjacent bureau. I kept thinking of those sad-looking crutches as I read this novel—of lives cut short and dreams thwarted by disease.
But Following Disasters is not a gloomy book—it covers a wide range of emotional territory, including humor. I want to read you a funny scene that comes toward the beginning of the novel. It’s Valentine’s Day, and Maggie-Kate and her friend Erin are in high school, complaining about boys and love.
Here it is, an excerpt from Following Disasters, by Nancy McCabe. Nancy grew up in Kansas, and has lived in Missouri and Nebraska.
Earlier today, when other girls had talked about their cards and flowers and Valentine’s dates, I’d had to douse my flicker of regret at breaking up with Richard. But now my regret had died away. I was secretly amazed at how Erin had insinuated herself into my life and taken it over. Her presence was like an unexpected gift that I hadn’t realized I wanted so much. But just as I was thinking this, Erin dropped the chocolate back into the bowl and started talking about the college biology major guy named Francis she’d been dating. He had confessed to having feelings for her.
“He’s not at all my type,” Erin said. “I need to figure out how to let him down gently.”
Dread twisted my stomach. A light in Erin’s eyes made me think she wasn’t entirely telling the truth, that maybe, for once, this was someone she was really interested in, and I was tired of her deserting me all the time. If she did it for random guys, what about when she had a serious boyfriend? My mother had always seemed to abandon me whenever she got involved with someone, at first preoccupied, later depressed.
Erin waited for me to say something, but I didn’t. I was afraid of sounding needy or accusing.
“He’s the kind of guy you’d go out with, actually,” Erin said.
“Boring?” I asked.
“With depth and wisdom and character.”
I sifted through the bowl of heart-shaped candies that tasted like sweetened chalk and said things like “Be Mine.”
“Love sucks.” I rained a fistful of Conversation Hearts into Erin’s outstretched hand.
“I feel so guilty,” Erin said. “How do I get rid of this guy? I’m afraid he’ll be devastated.” She smiled dreamily.
I flipped one of the hearts to its blank side. With a felt tip pen, I wrote, “Love sucks.”
Erin printed on another, “You jerk.”
We scribbled faster and faster, screaming with laughter as we shoved the hearts back and forth: “Drop dead,” “Go away,” “No way,” “Hate Your Guts,” “Eat Worms and Die,” “Not With U.”
Then Erin started writing two-parters. On the back of one that said, “Let’s fly,” she wrote, “Into the ground. To “Be My Queen,” she added, “—Anne Boleyn.”
“The great thing is that anyone who eats them will get sick from ink poisoning,” Erin said.
Nancy McCabe’s Following Disasters was published by Outpost 19 in 2016.