In Jami Attenberg’s second novel, Catherine Madison is in her truck heading to Las Vegas. She’s leaving her small Nebraska town, her husband and her dysfunctional family. What she’s keeping is a suitcase full of money. From the start, we realize Catherine is running from something. She’s paying for motel and hotel rooms in cash and signs her maiden name in an attempt to cover her tracks — but it’s not until she arrives in Vegas and meets up with Valka, a cancer survivor with her own set of problems, that we come to know how deeply troubled Catherine is.
With casino lights and celebrity impersonators (even a transgender Prince) in the background, Catherine opens up to new friend Valka about her insecure husband and her insecure self when it comes to intimate moments with him. She tells of her deep love for a younger wild sister and her love/hate relationship with her chain-smoking, beer-drinking mother. Throughout these talks with Valka, Catherine reveals dark secrets about her past she always intended to keep buried. With Valka’s help, Catherine comes to understand that with her painful past, she needs to revisit and resolve some personal issues before she can leave them behind.
Attenberg moves The Melting Season along with crisp, gritty, bold words. She doesn’t pretty up her main character’s demons, which enables the reader to truly get to know this disquieting heroine and pull for her. As a late, middle-aged man, I’m not sure if I was suppose to “get” this book or not, but I did. It’s honest, direct and shows that even difficult, troublesome experiences from the past can still somehow be redeemed in the future. The Melting Season is a satisfying, refreshing read — one of the best novels I’ve read in a very long time. Grade: A