Gabriela and the Widow, by Jack Remick: A Story of Memory, Immortality and Redemption

Gabriela and The Widow ($14.95, 280 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-147-7), a work of literary fiction by Seattle author Jack Remick, tells the story of a dying aristocrat and the Mixteca caregiver who helps her assemble the jumbled pieces of her past, a process that gives them both love, closure, and the courage to move on.

Gabriela and The Widow is a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Award.

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“The characters of Gabriela and la viuda have remained with me since I read the last line and closed the book. Jack Remick is a master storyteller, an intuitive man and a writer of the highest caliber. With Gabriela and The Widow, my first introduction to the author, he has gained a new fan. I highly recommend this book to you.”  Read more ….

–Eleanor Parker, author of a A Decent Woman

“A lyrical treasure that paints a magical mysterious world of two women, so close they inhabit each others’ dreams and relive each others’ experiences …. This is a beautiful, horrific, captivating read full of the lights and colors, the smells and music of southern Mexico and central California. The story held me to the screen and that says a lot.”  Read more …

–Arleen Williams, author of The Thirty-Ninth Victim

“Remick laces Spanish and English dialogue, crusted agéd skin and voluptuous beauty, bloody violence and exquisite tenderness. As he blurs boundaries we are sucked into this story, chapter by chapter, until we too transform, we too feel we have glimpsed the answer to immortality’s riddles. Gabriela and The Widow is sure to hook readers who enjoy a well told and fascinating story where all the gem-like details fall together to form a rich and satisfying puzzle.”

—Paula Lowe, Publisher, Big Yes Press, former editor Solo Novo Magazine.

“The plot is complex and filled with revenge, sometimes sadness, and a level of mystery and intrigue that only a well versed and experienced author could accomplish …. A master tale by a master talent.”  Read more …

—Terri Forehand, Writing and Others Ways into the Heart

“Riveting …. This is not a neat morality tale. Remick’s novel invites us to taste the blood and to roll in the sweat. It also invites us to enjoy one subordinated woman’s payback.”  Read more …

—Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home (October, 2013)

“Jack Remick’s words forces the reader to keep turning the pages. The plot is complex and filled with sadness, regret, and a level of mystery and intrigue.”  Read more …

–Blogcritics

“I found the book to be a gripping read. Gabriela is an amazingly resilient and resourceful character….  It’s not an easy book to read at times in terms of the harsh content, but it’s one you can’t put down. You get so drawn to Gabriela with her freshness and uncomplicated approach to things.Jack Remick has a gift with character creation. He portrays everyone sharply, even minor characters that we only meet in passing. We know exactly what makes them tick and whether we like them or not within a sentence or two. There is plenty of action, an intriguing plot and a lot of enjoyment to be drawn from this novel.”  Read more …

–Stephanie, BooksAreCool.com

5 Stars: “A wonderfully-crafted novel that will be very hard for readers of all ages to put down for long. It is a book about pain, hardship, and emancipation. It is mesmerizingly written, just like a well-crafted musical piece.” Read more …

–Irene S. Roth, author and writer

“A book that is deep and more than just a story is a book that will stay in your head for many years. I think I found such a book …. The story is extremely captivating. You want to keep reading to find out what is next is store for the young girl and what new things she will discover with from the widow …. More than a simple story, this is a detailed examination of life.”  Read more ….

–Rebecca Graf, A Book Lover’s Library

“His characters (from the main characters Gabriela and La Viuda to supporting/walk-ons) are vivid and bring their own background, even if we never learn what it is. The narrative captivates you and plays on all the emotions of each character.”  Read more …

–Alexandra Michele, Family Matters Blog

“Each character in the story feels real, even the ones we only meet for a short time. You can hear, see and feel them moving about as Gabriela slowly finds her way, both in life and internally. You will feel the deepness of this young girl and her desire to find a place to call home …. A truly remarkable novel on many deep levels with symbols to bring you back around full circle.” Read more …

–V.S. Grenier, author and editor

The Widow (La Viuda) is ninety-two years old. She lives in a house filled with photos and coins, jewels and a sable coat. Aware that her memory is failing but burning with desire to record the story of her life on paper, she hires Gabriela, a nineteen-year-old Mixteca from Mexico. Gabriela is one of the few survivors of a massacre and treacherous journey to El Norte.

Gabriela and The Widow is a story of chaos, revenge, and change: death and love, love and sex, and sex and death. Gabriela seeks revenge for the destruction of her village. The Widow craves balance for the betrayals in her life. In the end, The Widow gives Gabriela the secret of immortality.

Remick says, “With Gabriela and The Widow I set out to write a novel about two women. One an immigrant, Gabriela, on a journey to the North, the other a dying old woman, a Widow who lives in the desert. I was drawn to the subject of the collision of cultures that is ripping America apart right now, but I also wished to examine how women relate without men. The men in Gabriela and The Widow are marginal—they are punishing, they are brutal, they are cheats and liars—but this is not a misanthropic book. It is the story of how The Widow makes Gabriela in her own image and sets her free from her bloody past. It is a book about mothers and daughters, it is a novel about women for women, but it is also a mythic recasting of the story of women before men.”

Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer, and novelist. In 2012 Coffeetown Press published the first two volumes of Jack’s California Quartet series, The Deification and Valley Boy. The final two volumes will be released in 2013: The Book of Changes and Trio of Lost Souls. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press, in 2011. Click here to find Jack online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She stood at the window watching the blackening sky. She smelled the dry hot dusty desert air. Heat boiling in through the window made her sweat so she unbuttoned her chambray shirt and rubbed her belly, fingers smooth over her slick skin. In the sky, she saw a flicker of light—a single yellow glowing dot.

Leaning on the sill of the open window, Gabriela watched the sky fill with a swarm of fireflies like the ones she had seen some evenings in the jungle. The swarm grew until the sky framed by the window glowed like light in a mirror. The light was so bright and the insects so many that they lit up the cactus in front of the steel chain fence and under the cactus the stones on the ground. The swarm of fireflies kept getting bigger and with the swarm there came a dry hard clicking like the sound of teeth chattering.

And then across the sky she saw darting bats.

Black and gray bats swooping through the mirror of light, hundreds of them. Where they struck, holes gaped open in the light, leaving long trails of black. The flutter of wings beat against the rattling of the fireflies and chills ran up Gabriela’s arms as the bats turned and swooped, smashing into the glowing swarm of insects until only a few dots remained against the blackness and then there was only the sky, empty, and off in the distance and high up and beyond, stars sparkled. There was silence.

Gabriela glanced down at the table where she had been working on the List—strips of paper overflowing from the box, sheets of paper with long lists of places and objects on them and there, on a strip of yellow paper a single firefly struggled. Its light blinked once, twice, then died. She picked up the strip of paper with the insect on it and walked to La Viuda’s room, where light spilled out into the dark hallway.

La Viuda, as always, sat in her nest of pillows reading and as always without glasses. Gabriela looked in. She said,

“Señora?”

La Viuda glanced up from her book. She closed it, one finger marking the page. She said,

“Come in child. You look … excited and you’re half naked.”

“I have seen death, Señora. There were so many and now they are all dead.”

“Death excites you so you strip off your clothes?”

Gabriela held out the dead insect. La Viuda scooped up the black dot in the cup of the nail of her little finger. She said,

“This time of year the fireflies battle the bats and always the bats win. But look at you. It worries me if you walk around half-naked like a crazy woman. Are you all right?”

“I am sorry, Señora. It is hot in my room. I will go.”

“No, no. There’s a negligee in my closet if you’re … if you need to put it on.”

Gabriela buttoned her shirt and tied the tails in a knot. La Viuda said,

“Come sit with me. What were you doing when this battle took place?”

“The List, Señora. All those pieces of paper. How do I make order out of them?”

“Oh yes, the girls before you—all thieves, illiterate thieves. Not one of them had any idea about the color of my moods. I’d say—I’m not in a red mood, but the silly little fat ones kept on writing no matter how I felt. Have you eaten?”

“Yes, Señora. We ate at seven.”

“Seven? Good god, what time is it now?”

“Eleven, Señora.”

“Eleven? Why have you let me stay awake so late?”

“You were reading, Señora and the List …”

“Forget the List. I’m in a yellow mood and when I’m yellow I like to eat cucumber sandwiches and drink tea.”

Gabriela sat in the armchair beside the bed. She said,

“Señora. If you drink tea this late you’ll have to get up soon.”

“Or wet my bed,” La Viuda said. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? If I wet my bed then you could treat me like a child. I’m hungry.”

“I will bring you crackers and cheese,” Gabriela said.

“Yellow. You see? You understand my moods and my colors and you don’t want me to pee my bed but you’ll constipate me with cheese. What kind? Cheddar? I don’t like soft cheeses. What have you done to my List?”

“The List is very heavy, Señora, and your life is very dangerous.”

“Where is the List?”

“On my bed,” Gabriela said. “It is very heavy now.”

“Heavy? It’s paper, how heavy can it be? You mean the List is very thick, is that what you mean?”

“Yes, Señora. I mean thick.”

“This battle has disrupted your brain, Gabriela. My advice to you is never leave the List alone in your room because it might infect you with what I have and what I have you don’t want because it can only end one way—look at me. Not a wrinkle on your half-naked thin body and you’re still pure as rain but now you want to stuff me with cheese.”

Gabriela patted the old woman’s hand and she looked into her sharp blue eyes that were as empty and distant as the sky. The old woman licked her lips and said,

“Bring me the List, we’ll burn it.”

“I do not think you want to burn it.”

“Don’t try to lift it, Gaby. You’ll break your back the way life has broken me but who am I to complain? I have you and this firefly and there are so many but every year at this time the bats come for them so I think a ham sandwich would be perfect do we have ham such a thin little arm such brown skin but ham is salty and I don’t like soft cheese and a cup of tea.”

Gabriela stood and she tucked La Viuda into her bed of pillows and she removed the book and set it on the chest beside the bed. La Viuda said,

“The fireflies and the bats. Remember that they always fight at this time of year but the emerald ring is in the chest. It’s there and it’s yours.”

“Oh no, Señora. I want nothing but to be with you.”

“Open the chest.”

“If I touch it, I will die, Señora.”

“You will die anyway. So you might as well die with the ring on that lovely slender brown finger of yours. The other girls had no feeling for my colors and they were fat with fat thick fingers and not one of them could see when I was in a red mood and when they tried to put on the ring it was like stuffing sausage in a tube of lipstick. So put on the negligee and pretend that you are a seductress and we’ll have some Ovaltine because Ovaltine reminds me of the year we spent in Switzerland.”

“Sweetzerland, Señora. En castellano que es?”

“Suiza. El Señor took a company there for a large water project in the mountains—I think something to do with glaciers—but surely that’s already on the List.”

“Zurich, jess, Señora. Suiza no.”

“Zurich is in Suiza,” La Viuda said.

“And Sweetzerland is in Suiza also, Señora?”

“Try on the negligee,” La Viuda said, “because I can’t have you flitting around like a naked firefly. And wake me in time, will you? Not a second before, not one minute later. Do you understand time?”

“Time is made up of hours, Señora, and the hours make up the days and the days make up weeks and the weeks make the year.”

“Perfect. In the woman business, we must have time down pat.”

Gabriela waited until La Viuda closed her eyes. Then she turned off the lamp and, taking the dead insect with her, returned to her room, to the desk, to the box of strips of paper.

On the table beside her sat the boxful of paper slips. Small rectangles of paper each written in a different hand—some slanted to the left, others to the right. Still others were printed in block letters. They were written in a rainbow of green and black and red and blue inks, some of the notes so faint they read like fingerprints of ghosts. But all of them were jumbled in a chaotic mess in the box and as Gabriela tried to sort them out she grew impatient.

On the left side of the table, she had laid out the slips with objects written on them—

The Atahualpa
Emerald ring
Bergamot pot

The Atahualpa? And what was a bergamot pot? She had no idea.

On the right she had set out the slips of paper with places written on them—

Lima
Rotorua

—where was Rotorua?

Moscow
Cosala

In the middle, on the table, were the sheets of yellow paper with columns of dates and places, objects and letters, but there was no order to it. The dates were out of sequence—1998, 1970, 1969—and the objects were listed under the dates and the places were listed but there was no connection between the objects and the places. This chaos worried Gabriela because of La Viuda’s obsession with the List but so far as Gabriela could see, La Viuda’s life—if the box of strips was her life—was a mess. How to tell her—“Señora, your life is a mess and the List can’t be put together from the pieces you have here. There is much work to do.”

And so Gabriela began again.

On sheets of white paper, she made units that contained a date, an object, a place. And under that a slot for photo and another for letter. She knew now that with those parts, she could bring some order into La Viuda’s life. She also knew that everything depended on the old woman’s memory.

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