This is late, again, because my copy of the magazine is late, again, and I kept putting off reading the online version because I don’t like to read long stories online, and this is a long one. (And by online I mean in the digital version of the magazine, since this story is not available online to non-subscribers.) (Although you can’t read the story online if you’re not a subscriber, you can read Deborah Treisman’s interview with Gavin: This Week in Fiction: Jim Gavin.)
Too bad, because it’s very readable. In fact, it’s worthy of the Best of the Year list, which I’ll post in a week or so.
Costello—Marty—is a plumbing salesman in Anaheim. He’s got two daughters, one just out of college and the other in college. He lives in a nice ranch house next door to another plumber. He’s sixty, a veteran, and life hasn’t always been easy, especially given the ups and downs of the housing market in LA. But he’s good at what he does and right now he’s up for an award that will be given at a banquet that is really just a drunken mess. (Must have been fun to write the scenes with the drunk plumbers playing polo golf.)
Oh, yeah, and his wife is dead. Except we don’t know that right away. We find out fairly soon that she’s gone, but it takes a while to learn why. The neighbors invite him over for dinner, but he makes an excuse and stays in to watch the Dodgers on TV. (He doesn’t drink much, but he eats a lot of really bad food, and he does that while watching TV, too.) But finally it is revealed that his wife died of cancer and his daughters are trying to help pull him out of the shell that he’s been in since she died.
There are five other strands to the story that are quite interesting. First, Marty is interested in water, sailing ships, and the ocean. Was he in the Navy? He has a copy of Moby Dick and uses various sailing terms in his thoughts and speech. Second, Marty has a pool. Now, the pool obviously is related to his interest in the water, but it also is connected to his wife, who chose the tile and also insisted on an extra-deep deep end. The pool now is scummy and green because Marty hasn’t been taking care of it. Third, there’s a lizard at the bottom of the pool, which prompts a recurring discussion of lizards. Fourth, Marty’s dealing with some faulty plumbing products that have caused a problem in the business. And Fifth, there’s Francine, “the parish retard,” who keeps coming to the house even though Marty’s wife, whom she used to visit is gone.
Eventually it becomes clear that the reason Francine is coming by is to get the wife’s jewelry that she was promised. She takes it and leaves, and maybe Marty is now letting go a little. He agrees to go out to dinner with her daughters and he settles on a visit to Catalina Island for this event—a sailing voyage, of sorts, that also represents his coming out. He doesn’t win his award, apparently because of the defective plumbing, but he gets public praise and seems satisfied. And then, finally, there’s the pool, which he cleans up with chemicals and at long last removes the lizard—the wife’s cancer?—from the pool. (In the story he tosses the lizard over the neighbor’s fence and hears it land in his pool, and I didn’t like that ending. It’s as if he’s cursing his nice neighbors!)
Except for that last line, it’s a terrific story.
December 6, 2010: “Costello” by Jim Gavin