Decades before #metoo, Cal chose his punishment for going too far with a girl he was crazy about: a life-sentence with a woman he could not love, whose frequent rages, untapped spending and ruthless children were his means to distract himself from longing and regret. The girl from his past also condemned him to periodic postcards bearing no return address. Rather than increasing his despair, the postcards helped stoke the imaginary life he maintained with her, including dialogue about his plight, images of her showing up while he plays his sax in a nightclub, and even sex, the very realm that had initiated her retreat from him.
A Real-Time Memoir
Something Wrong With Her is a poignant memoir about a girl who didn’t feel the sexual awakenings she knew she was supposed to feel, and about the boy who loved her nonetheless. Thirty years later Cris went back to find that boy, now a man, only to discover that he’d never stopped yearning for her. Worse, in an attempt to cauterize his feelings for her, he’d sealed himself into an abusive marriage. Something Wrong With Her is an astonishing real-time testimony of a couple’s re-connection, and their candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.
Something Wrong With Her is the foundation for a feature film, Anagorgasmia, a fictional sequel to a memoir, to be released in 2017.
Would her life have been better if she’d had sex with her supervisor when she was 23? Hester Smith is a woman who always played life near the sidelines—until she decides to rescue a teenage Mexican prostitute. She’s up against the border sex trade in Southern California that works like a drug cartel, where the smuggled contraband is teenage girls forced to work as prostitutes in undeveloped canyons just outside suburbia. Law enforcement agencies know it happens, as do investigative journalists, yet the illegal sex trade continues to exist. Most people, comfortable in their homes only miles away, express some brand of shock in the moment they hear about it—and then they go on with their lives, assured there’s nothing they can do.
While she prepares for the rescue, Hester discovers that the man with whom she almost had an affair—her mentor when she was a 23 year-old student teacher—had been simultaneously having a sexual relationship with a 16 year-old student. Hester mines her own memories of the would-be affair and ultimately tracks down the former 16 year-old. When these two women with a shared scandal in their pasts confront one another, the meeting coincides with the last step necessary to rescue the teenage prostitute Hester has tried to protect. It is only this mayhem that allows Hester to finally take ownership of her decisions and regrets.
The title-story, “Trickle-Down Timeline,” which swims within a timeline of carefully selected items from the Reagan presidency, sets the tone for the collection: The “new” conservativism in American politics, which essentially began with Reagan, is a backdrop designed to color these stories about individual people struggling with their own lives in the era just before computers, at the dawn of “safe sex,” for a sub-generation of people who came of age without a war in Vietnam to unite them. The book’s format allows this title story to tint and launch the rest of the collection, arranged with each corresponding to a year from the 1980s.
“Cris Mazza chronicles the 80s as the media would like us to forget them, a decade not dictated by yuppies driving Porsches and dining on nouveau cuisine, but by financially struggling young couples and allegedly liberated women whom the myth of “having it all” has left with little. Trickle-Down Timeline encapsulates the Reagan era with more ingenuity and genuineness than a dozen Bright Lights, Big Cities and Less Than Zeros, and proves that Mazza’s reputation as a formal innovator is still going strong, and is coupled here with the emotional wisdom that comes with hard-won experience.” — Gina Frangello, author of A Life in Men and Slut Lullabies
“Titled after the Charles Kingsley fairy tale, this dizzying novel opens on epileptic, prematurely retired Tam Marr-Burgess, who is pushing 46, and whose attempt to collude with her landlady in a minor fraud goes very bad. The result is an immediate, spectacular eviction. As Tam lights out from the Chicago suburbs, Mazza sets up several parallel narratives, each of which has echoes of the other: Tam is headed for the family enclave in Maine, where she had her first seizure when swimming at school, was either saved (the official story) or sabotaged (Tam’s version) by her elder brother, Gary, and never swam again. On arriving, she rescues an infant from a Laundromat toilet, and then hides the baby and its petulant teen mother at the family lighthouse. She also joins her amateur genealogist sister, Martha, in digging up information on three mysterious figures: a baby saved from the waves by Tam’s lighthouse-keeper ancestors, a relative named Mary Catherine, and a local ghost-all of whom may have things to tell them about their own lives.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“A gripping tale of compulsion, obsession, and forgiveness, set so evocatively amidst the fogs and furies of the offseason Maine coast. It’s also an intriguing exploration of the ways in which our ancestral pasts echo within our own psyches.” — Lisa Alther, author of Kinflicks and Kinfolks
“Shipwrecks, doomed lovers, family secrets, sea-babies, toilet-babies, and historical-reenactment sex are but a few of the facets of this deftly kaleidoscopic novel. With Waterbaby, Cris Mazza shows us how, through resuscitating our pasts, and rescuing each other, we might just save ourselves.” — Alex Shakar, author of Luminarium and Savage Girl
Probing deeply into the world of the severely disabled, often told in a broken shorthand, this short novel describes a government-run institution where patients, caregivers, and the state itself seem malformed and dysfunctional. Teri and Cleo are minimum-wage caretakers in a ward for severely disabled children. They are expected to feed, bathe, clothe, and carry out the required therapies for their patients within a system where funding is only continued if therapy produces improvement. But the state-paid therapists know their patients cannot improve. As their personal failures begin to emulate the travesties occurring in the ward, Teri and Cleo gradually succumb to the collapse of their own balancing act. [Review by Lydia Netzer.]
“Bold readers, brace yourselves. Cris Mazza has found the perfect subject for her high-energy prose and her pitch-black compassion: an Institution serving, and staffed by, the ‘disabled.’ Mazza’s sexually confused caregivers and the doomed exuberant boy they love all come to frightening life. But calling this a ‘slice of’ life would diminish it: DISABILITY is as dense, relentless, tender, savage and strange as moment-by-moment life itself, conjured on the page whole.” — Elizabeth Searle author of Girl Held in Home and Celebrities in Disgrace
In the 80’s a 20-something young woman advertises her services as a model to photographers. She discovers their weaknesses, seduces them, then extorts them by claiming to be under-age. In the 90’s a 40-something man is married to a doctor who only views him as a sexual object. He embarks on a who’s-kissing-who / who’s-saying-what-to-who misadventure that only an adolescent should have. In these two reversals of sexual harassment and gender-inferiority, Mazza explores such issues as the language of bodies, sexual desirability as an innate urge, latent adolescence, plus what the genders share … and what they can never share. [Review by Debbie Lee Wesselman]
“Cris Mazza’s stunning memoir worries the notions of belonging… Her tales of her native California expertly excavate an always surprising and always rewarding experience cache. It is a book about scourging, scouring, and scoring (in the musical sense) the stuff, the scraps that make up the worlds we remember and the worlds we inherit.” — Michael Martone, author of Not Normal, Illinois and The Flatness and Other Landscapes
“… Mazza reveals a normality beneath the California myth that seems all the more… exotic with the passage of time.” — Los Angeles Times
“Mazza’s… experience is rooted not in image but in a primal connection to the land itself. ” — Chicago Tribune
“A versatile and probing novelist, Mazza is at her clarion best in this riveting improvisation on the lost world chronicled in her memoir, Indigenous: Growing up Californian (2003). Ronnie works in the geriatric hospital in which her stroke-afflicted father lives, but Medicare patients such as he are being forced to leave, and she decides that now is the time to attend some mysterious, unfinished business involving the remains of her brother and mother, whose shocking deaths have so cruelly oppressed her. But their odd quest is interrupted by a pack of violent suburban teens. Rescued by a handsome and enigmatic migrant worker advocate, Ronnie and her father follow his lead and seek shelter deep in the canyons. As they struggle to survive, their tragic past unfolds in vivid flashbacks, and Mazza’s mythic and mesmerizing tale charts the cruel paradoxes inherent in migrant worker’s lives. Vital in its intimacy with the earth and archetypal in its sorrows and redemption.” — Donna Seaman, Booklist
“Her fiction…has teeth…A gifted editor of innovative fiction by women, Cris Mazza is also one of its most audacious practitioners.” — Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award winner for author of Lord of Misrule
“Provocative . . . Dialogue and characterization are among the strong suits in Mazza’s emotionally charged novel, in which she demonstrates that the reciprocal capacity for devotion between dogs and humans is at least as powerful as the most self-serving and venal human motives.” — Library Journal
“Mazza’s language in this short story collection cuts right to the bone… With delicious satire, Mazza, a PEN Nelson Algren Award winner, illustrates our human frailties and oddities, showing us that keeping our eyes and hearts open is the best defense.” — Library Journal
“Literary sitcoms from hell… Ms. Mazza is a subversive, anarchistic writer… hardly forgettable.” — Wall Street Journal
“The theme of naming — its difficulty, its arbitrariness, the potential for multiple names — grounds Mazza’s new novel, paradoxically, by unsettling it. In this narrative of female rage, the ambiguity of abuse and the difficulty of negotiating a meaningful life as a woman in America, the author of Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? stays with themes she has handled provocatively in the past and continues to work with passion, insight and a certain cold beauty.” — Publisher’s Weekly
a novel “A deftly written, disturbing novel.” — Publisher’s Weekly “A fascinating, unsettling tale.” — Booklist
short fiction With images by Ted Orland
“…similar to watching a porno flick and a game show simultaneously.” —Columbus Dispatch
Pen/Nelson Algren Award Winner “Talent jumps off her like an overcharge of electricity… Mazza refuses to clarify, to give into realism or allegory. She prefers to let the ripples of her puzzle carry us into the murk at the edge of the pool… To stir us with those lyrical, savage scenes.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“[These stories] are remarkable for the force and freedom of their imaginative style. Ms. Mazza’s characterizations often have the stark quality of black-and-white sketches. And her portraits of suffering are tempered with a fey humor.” —New York Times Book Review