Glory Days, by Melissa Fraterrigo. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, September 2017. 180 pages. $19.95, paper.
Melissa Fraterrigo weaves together an intricate tale of loss, failure, greed, cruelty, hurt and comfort in her work Glory Days. At the heart of her story is the land of Ingleside, Nebraska, and the experiences it encounters through the tales of six individuals. The most notable story, of Luann and her father Teensy after losing their farm to the construction of the amusement park Glory Days, is interspersed with Footer’s story of his gruesome birth and steady decline into insanity and murder, Fredonia’s story of her life’s hardships encountered from the ability to see people’s deaths and their spirits, Jeremiah’s brief but heart-wrenching story spent coming to terms with the afterlife, and Gardner’s story of attempting redemption for the family and loved ones he’d hurt in his life.
Glory Days is a murky read of fading between the past and the present. The blending of both the characters’ past with their movement into the present creates a sort of vacuum where time itself does not seem to exist. Often reading one passage requires rereading of a previous one, as the short sentences and frank manner of delivering information that characterizes Fraterrigo’s writing do not draw attention to these tense shifts. One example of this can be found when “she waved her hand maniacally…” and just two sentences later in the next paragraph: “Luann doesn’t favor either of them right now….” Moments like these happened often within different character stories and could be confusing when trying to discern whether the character was talking about their past or what was happening to them currently. Despite this, both the tense shifts and the short frank sentences could create very impactful lines, like when Luann is rocking a dead boy’s ghost in her lap after having survived a bad tornado storm and her father’s declining mental stability: “Smoke scrolls in the distance, her daddy’s work. And this, this holding on, hers.”
What makes the story also a bit difficult to understand, but rewarding to figure out and unpack, is the way that each character’s story becomes revealed to the reader. Glory Days is a map, each character a different road all leading to the same destination, the end of their struggles. Throughout the entire ride in this map that Fraterrigo created, the reader is never truly sure where they will end up. In the chapter “Bastard” the reader is introduced to a young man named Footer who appears to be a troubled youth, with a story of his mother’s brutal murder and a need for closure by breaking into his mother’s old home. The reader is left feeling pity for Footer, and then several chapters later conflicted when the troubled youth ends up becoming a main antagonist and terrorizer of both Fredonia’s daughter Tricia and Luann.
The story of Footer is one road, Luann’s another, and so on for each character all with different intersections just like a map. The roads are messy and bumpy as in the case of Luann and Footer. Luann is first seen in the beginning of the story as a young girl just trying to keep her daddy sane and keep herself from seeing ghosts: “I tried to tell him there’s no such thing as ghosts, but he gave me a hollow look like there’s no real thoughts in my head … I listened for her footsteps. Stiffened in my bed. Counted my breaths. Mama?” But then several chapters later see her aiding Footer in the kidnapping of several children from the amusement park Glory Days: “They never meant much harm. They only took them away for a few hours.” To finally lying to her father for money to fuel her drug habit: “She’d called asking for money … and when he refused, knowing she’d smoke it up, she called him an asshole.” The roads are sometimes straight and expected, like Teensy’s story of his childhood, always watching and letting people hurt him. Whether in the past with his adoptive father and his brother Gardner, and even the people at his school, to the present with his own daughter Luann, he always seemed to suffer unfortunate hardships due to the people around him. Regardless of how and when, at some point each and every story interacts and overlaps with each other, much like highway interstates or roundabouts. It is up to the reader to be able to understand these connections and make sense of them.
The story overall is quick-paced and easy to read. It was only challenging initially to get a handle on what was going on in the first few chapters, when there were no quotes used for dialogue. “I am eight now. Do I like to swim? You must get lonely out here, no playmates your own age.” The first two sentences were Luann speaking, but the next was the actual dialogue from a lady speaking to her. After the third chapter however, quotations were used, and this no longer became a problem. Due to the story being a conglomeration of different characters and how their lives weave with one another, many details of what is to come are foreshadowed but never fully revealed to the reader until much later. Footer’s insanity is classified as “he got a reputation for being odd,” long before the reader has seen him even hit another person. This is both a strength and a setback of the book. A strength because it keeps the reader curious and interested. A setback, because combined with switching to a new character each chapter, the lack of information makes the reader feel disoriented and unsure of where the story is going and, more importantly, what the story is supposed to be about. The greatest appeal though that comes from reading Glory Days is the prose. Never overdone, but placed just right inside each chapter. Here’s a highlight from the very first chapter: “Everyone buys bits of us until only remnants are left….”
Asha Talib is a second-year college student at Wright State University. She is currently earning a bachelor’s in neuroscience with a minor in creative writing. She has hopes of writing a full-length novel in the future. She has served as an assistant fiction editor for her university’s literary journal Nexus, and will be promoted to the journal’s lead art editor position for the next school year.