A Girl Could Stand up
A NovelBook - 2003
A debut novel of startling originality that follows a young girl''s passionate and eccentric quest for invincibility, courage, trust, and love.Leslie Marshall''s first novel is a startling, fresh, totally captivating new voice. With Elray Mayhew, she has created perhaps one of literature''s more unforgettable young heroines. Elray Mayhew loses her parents on her sixth birthday at an amusement park going through the Tunnel of Love. The boat the three of them are in is leaking and Barkelyand Jack''s feet are on the wet floor so that when the electrical moon falls from the ceiling and into their laps, they are electrocuted. Elray survives intact except for a crescent shaped scar on her right underarm. In following years she can touch the scar and communicate with them, receiving instructions, or offbeat and amusing comments, in their distinctive voices.Elray, orphaned, is now in the custody of two uncles, brothers each of Barkley and Jack. Harwood is a macho, heavily-drinking photographer who travels about the world on assignments. Aunt Ajax, as he prefers to be called, is a cross-dressing gay man who gives up his fringe existence in New York to come to Washington, move into Barkley and Jack''s old house in the Cleveland Park, and throw himself full throttle into motherhood, albeit, at times, a misguided version of it.Elray doesn''t speak for days and spends most of her time hiding in a crawlspace under the house. During a gathering after her parent''s funeral she''s there, listening to everyone shuffle above her and hearing them call her name, when she lets out her second massive scream. It''s her voice returning, her Aunt Ajax, one of her new official guardians, runs to check on her. Following her is her Uncle Harwood, official guardian #2. The three of them, camped out under the house, decide to mark the day as Crawlspace Day. Crawlspace Day will be celebrated annually to mark the day that their lives became entwined, and she''ll receive, belatedly, her cake and her gifts, all under the house.By the time she''s twelve, Elray is spending all her time creating adventures and going on solo explorations. One day, creeping through the crypts of the Washington Cathedral that is near Half-Moon Street, she comes eye to eye with Raoul Person, a boy just her age as awkward, precocious, and alone as she is. Their story is the beating heart of this novel. They connect immediately, and together they form a partnership to practice "the art of invincibility"-something they''d both been trying toconquer-and christen themselves The Invincible Heels. He''s her fellow knight and from crafting amateur black and white movies, to imitating their actual deaths in makeshift coffins, to a harrowing midnight swim across the Potomac when Elray just escapes drowning, they challenge each other to confront their fears.Although they remain close, as they move into the period termed "The Vertical Bog"-Elray''s wry code for puberty-they drift apart. Her interest in filmmaking deepens, and Raoul begins running after the girly-girls. Elray withdraws, mourns Raoul, and hears less and less from her parents when she touches her scar-she''s growing up. She still feels like a failure after their harrowing crossing of the Potomac, combined with typical low self-esteem of her age group, she decides to master her largest fear-going back to Glen Echo and riding again through the Tunnel of Love. Harwood accompanies her, and afterwards, she finally feels like a young adult.And happening all at the same time, Elray''s paternal grandmother-long thought dead-resurfaces and sues for custody of her granddaughter (she claims to have faked her death in a fire at Blackie''s House of Beef to free her family from her destructive drinking and gambling ways). Elray, at this fragile stage in her life, delights in the weirdness of the situation and welcomes the elegant, grand, smoking and dancing old woman, while unwittingly betraying her family by disclosing all their secrets to her. These family skeletons are then hurtfully exposed at the custody trial-along with Elray and Raoul''s films that showcase their countless unsupervised hours. As her peculiar adolescent life flashes before her, Elray embraces the situation and invites not only her grandmother, but the pregnant Rena (who, after having a secret affair with Harwood, falls in love with Ajax) to live with them. As the new-fangled family gets adjusted to their new circumstance, Rena and Ajax announce that theyare inlove and proceed to get married.In the meantime, her films having made a splash at the trial, Elray embarks on a film career with the new camera she receives on her sixteenth birthday. After a brief infatuation with a pretentious film professor, Elray winds her way back to Raoul. Just as she finds bliss and comfort in his arms and decides to finally unveil the very real Raoul to her family, she is confronted with a very dramatic scene of Rena in labor and Granny having a heart attacccccck simultaneously. In a wild ambulance ride, Granny finally passes on and Rena gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, who seem to embody the spirits of Elray''s mom and dad.We end with Elray writing a letter to her niece and nephew as Raoul, now her husband, and Harwood, are off in China on an archeological dig. Rosie and Valentine are turning 18, and in her letter she explains that her gift to them is their family''s story-this novel.A Girl Could Stand Up is exquisitely tender and moving. It is aninspiring reinvention of the very notion of family-think of the Sopranos or the Osbournes-but is loving and exhilarating, as well. It is a celebration of people who don''t follow the rules, don''t adhere to the status quo, and are all the more compelling for it. You''ll cheer them on, want to pull them right out of the book, and invite them over for dinner.
Publisher: New York : Grove Press, c2003.
Edition: 1st Grove Press paperback ed. --
Characteristics: ix, 374 p.