PATRICK McMANUS

"This is a wonderful book -- authentic Alaska, deeply funny, and, as the title suggests, about life on its most precarious edge."

KIRKUS REVIEW

 

“Loners seeking solitude in the Alaskan wilderness find love, and a kind of family. In this colorful debut, Foreman introduces a cast of ornery misfits, each of whom has his or her own reasons for ending up in bleak Toehold, Ala. Lovely Mary Ellen, aka Mel, has been on the run since she was a teenager, fleeing a hateful mother who did her best to sever Mel’s only loving family ties." 

PATRICK McMANUS

 

"Watching Gideon is the best novel I've read in a long while. Foreman so completely captures honky-tonk men and women and assorted hustlers of the 1950's variety, it is downright eerie."

Toehold Review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 

“Loners seeking solitude in the Alaskan wilderness find love, and a kind of family. In this colorful debut, Foreman introduces a cast of ornery misfits, each of whom has his or her own reasons for ending up in bleak Toehold, Ala. Lovely Mary Ellen, aka Mel, has been on the run since she was a teenager, fleeing a hateful mother who did her best to sever Mel’s only loving family ties. Cody adored his own mother, a flower child from the Haight, but he’s discovered he can’t be at home anywhere near other people. He prefers the silence of the wilderness or even of the carcasses he expertly mounts as taxidermy. Throw in a few other outsiders, such as Buddy, a former marine who abandoned civilization when his wife took off, vowing to “take his pension and move as far away as he could get and still be in the United States.” Add Native Americans, such as Summer Joe, back from a jail stint for bigamy, and the oversized bartender Sweet-ass Sue, and the small settlement of Toehold is complete. But, like a darker version of Northern Exposure, love blossoms even among these gruff types. The catalyst comes slowly and rather late in this novel, through one of Mel’s typical harebrained schemes. She advertises her rented trailer as the “Golden Bear Lodge” and herself as a hunter. She has, in fact, seen a magnificent golden-furred grizzly and dreams about making him her prize. But when an obnoxious Los Angeles film producer answers her ad, he sees only a scruffy town and a pretty chick. Although the producer remains an annoying stereotype, by the time this delayed action kicks in, Foreman has fleshed out his oddball cast. The ensuing developments basically concern Cody and Mel, but in Foreman’s assured prose the others’ stories come to life as well, for a denouement that flows as smoothly as the river. Oddball romance rich in local color.”

 

Toehold Excerpts

 

EXCERPT 1 -- TOEHOLD

“I’m here for the action,” Ray went on, “But I don’t want any hassle with it. Bottom line is: I come to the woods to find a little peace and quiet. If you can’t find peace and quiet in the boonies where the hell are you going to find it? Am I right?”

“No, you’re not,” said Cody as he made his way back up to the bar.

“Back off, Cody,” ordered Mel. “Let’s get movin’, Ray.”

“I might have something to tell your dude might save his life,” Cody said. Nothing he said sounded friendly.

“He don’t wanna hear it, and neither do I,” she said.

“Go ahead,” said Ray. “What do you have to say?”

“Good man,” said Cody. “Peace ‘n’ quiet. I’m with you there. Silence in the woods is somethin’ you hear very loudly. It’s the loudest sound there, but, see, you really don’t hear it too much, maybe two, maybe three times during the day. Dawn. Dusk. An hour before light. An hour before dark. You hear it then. It’s when the beasts of the day and the beasts of the night take each other’s place. If you’re still, you can sense them passing through a kind of cease fire zone as they exchange positions in the forest. So, y’see, it’s nearly, but not absolutely, silent. There’s still movement. Time goes by. The third silence is death. You can’t deny it. I’ve seen a lot of predators stalk their prey. They don’t necessarily carry death itself, but they carry the real possibility of it – death on the way, death to come – so they carry it in silence. That’s why a man can sense an animal watching him. You can actually feel the silence. Animals leave the area or stay still as my mounts. A victim – downed prey – is death-in-fact, and that silence is deeper than any. All of a sudden, there’s an absence of life in the forest. You can’t not pay attention to it, it’s so much there. This kind of silence – the third one – isn’t one of peace but of anticipation, an anxious kind, like a dark room when you don’t know what’s in it. Peace – the kind you’re talking about – is only when the woods is filled with the noise that most people love and accept as quiet."

 

EXCERPT 2 -- TOEHOLD 

 

                        How Sweet-ass Sue Got to Toehold, Alaska

 

Sweet-ass Sue weighed eighteen pounds six ounces at birth, larger than a polar bear cub. Her mother complained throughout her entire pregnancy that she felt like she was carrying a cow. Sue was a full blood Athapaskan Indian with a frame like a refrigerator – big, very big, but solid. She was not Walmart Fat at all, just huge. If she had on a football helmet you’d mistake her for a nose tackle. She always wore her raven black hair in two long braids hanging down her back topped with a purple headband. People have a tendency to believe, when somebody’s so big, that deep down inside they’re really just a pussycat. Sweet-ass Sue gave the living lie to such bullroar. She had a heart, but you’d have to dig halfway to China to find it. People knew one thing about her for sure: they didn’t want Sweet-ass as an enemy. They weren’t totally sure they wanted her as a friend, either.

 

            Sue was in her forties, so she just missed out on the time when female athletes were coming into their own. Even so she would have had a tough go of it because her sport of choice was football. So often Sue wished she had been born a boy, not because she wanted to sleep with other girls (which she certainly did not, high school gossip to the contrary) but because she wanted to compete in a man’s game at a man’s level. She considered it a cosmic misfortune that she had been super-sized at birth but handed the sex of a woman. By the time she was sixteen she was six feet three inches tall, weighed two hundred and fifty pounds with the sleek, muscular haunches of a draft horse, and she could bench press three hundred. So Sue decided to right a cosmic wrong and go out for the football team. She was bigger than any of the guys except for the star defensive end who had her by a hair. Still, the coach dug in and said no way. She was a girl; she’d get clobbered; he didn’t want to be responsible for what he considered child abuse.

            “Why not take up soccer?” he said. Sue pointed out that their school had no soccer team to which the coach threw up his hands and insisted, “No can do.” Then he pulled his sweat pants out of the crack of his ass, took a sip of his diet Pepsi, and said could she excuse him, he had a practice to prepare for. Sue never had been one to take no for an answer, she decided this called for drastic measures. How to prove that she had the stuff to play football?  When she finally thought of a way, she knew somebody was going to get hurt, but she didn’t think it’d be her. Whatever. Sue was willing to take that chance. This kid had guts for days!

            “Stop thinking,” she said to herself. “Get to it.”

            And she did.

 

            At lunch the next period, in the cafeteria in front of the entire school, she knocked the tray out of the defensive end’s hands and told him to watch where the fuck he was going. He didn’t know what to do.

            “Are you gonna apologize or what?” she demanded.

            “You bumped into me,” he retorted.

            “You calling me a liar?” She went right up in his face. Then she pushed him.

            “You better cut this shit out,” he threatened.

            “Why? You gonna hit me?” she said.

            “You’re a girl, goddamnit,” he squealed totally confused about what the hell was going on here.

            “I think you’re a pussy,” she replied.

            “What the hell are you?” he said.

            “You calling me a pussy? Huh? You insulting my sex? Huh?”

            He was completely bewildered, and then she smacked him across the face. “Does that feel like pussy, asshole?” she taunted. “Does it?”

            “Let her have it,” shouted one of his teammates. “She’s asking for it.”

            “Yeah, kick her ass,” yelled somebody else.

            “He can’t,” Sue yelled back. “He’s afraid of a girl. He ain’t nothing but a pussy himself.”

            At that, the poor kid lost it and punched Sue so hard she fell backwards into a table. The rest of the students expected to see blood and tears. What they got instead was a smile on Sue’s face. “Is that your best shot?” she wanted to know. “You didn’t kill me with it, and you’re going to remember that mistake for the rest of your life,” at which point she charged head first, speared him in the belly, and landed two hard shots to each side of his jaw before he hit the floor. Later, in the nurse’s office, he didn’t remember anything after the charge. The school still refused to let her play football. In fact, the administration refused to let her continue as a student. They kicked her out and wouldn’t let her back in the door. Not that she gave a shit. As soon as she came of age, Sue joined the Coast Guard and struck out for what she hoped would be more interesting than watching TV and chewing whale blubber.

 

            It was there that she got her nickname and met the love of her life.

***

           

            The Coast Guard wasn’t as interesting as she thought it might be. Sue found herself wishing she had joined another branch of the service, the Navy or Air Force, so at least she could have gone some place exotic. Her first tour of duty was in the Aleutian Islands which, as far as she was concerned, was a serious dearth of imagination on the part of the bonehead who made the decision to station her there. Stationing an Alaskan Indian in the Aleutian Islands. Come on! Where’s the brains in that? So, Sue put in for a transfer to Key West because she heard it was a happenin’ town, only she got shipped to Mobile Bay off Alabama instead. Shore duty. Perfect. A six foot three inch woman of color in the redneck capital of the world. Sue was in a world of misery. She thought of going AWOL, someplace in the Arctic that didn’t have a name. How would they ever find her? She decided they wouldn’t and was damn close to taking off when a chunk of pure, unadulterated happiness came her way.

 

            Each day when she got off work Sue would head for the gym where she’d bench press herself into near catatonia. Then she’d go outside to the track and run for miles. After all that, it didn’t matter to her where she was. She’d sleep until reveille the next morning.. One day, after her workout, she climbed into the stands on the side of the track to stretch her tired legs out in the late day sun. Hey, now! What…was…that? Hercules in a sweat suit? Oh…my…God. There, walking into the center of the infield, was the biggest guy Sue had ever seen. Taller than she was. Heavier by seventy pounds at least. Bulked. Ripped. Gorgeous, so gorgeous she had to turn her head away. It was like looking at an eclipse of the sun. He did eclipse the sun. He eclipsed everydamnthing in creation. And he was a man of color though she couldn’t tell his country of origin. All she knew was that in about three seconds she wanted to go there. With him. Now. That very instant.

 

            She watched as he took off his sweat suit and stood there in shorts and t-shirt. He made Mr. Universe look like a famine victim. Was he even real? Was he some kind of special effect? He leaned over, unzipped a ballistic cloth bag he had carried onto the field with him, and took out a steel ball the size of a cantaloupe. As he hoisted it in one hand to his right shoulder and drew a half-circle in the dirt with the left toe of his Adidas, Sue realized what it was: a shotput. She watched mesmerized as he tucked the shot next to his chin, held his left arm straight out and up from his shoulder, whirled his massive body like the Tazmanian devil, and launched the shot. It sailed like a cannon ball fired from a frigate. My God, the torque in that man’s body! The graceful immensity of it all. Sue watched him work out all the rest of that afternoon and the next, never failing to marvel that such bulk could move so fluidly.

***

 

            The closest thing Sue had heard thus far in the way of sexual endearment was that fucking her was like hanging onto the steering wheel of a runaway eighteen wheeler truck on a steep downhill grade with no seat belt. Men did not whisper sweet nothings in her ear. They begged for mercy. Ultimately, as far as Sue was concerned, they were a bunch of little itty bitty things, not worth the time or effort. If she had lived in Japan she would have hung out with Sumo wrestlers, but it seemed she wasn’t going to get any further than Mobile. OK, she was tough; she could live without it…until the day the man who put the shot walked onto that field. She lost her breath; her heart crumbled like a cookie; her legs went weak. On the third day he walked over to her and said, “Hi, sexy.” By the time those three syllables crossed his lips she belonged to him heart, soul, and all the good parts in between.

 

            He was a full-blooded South Sea Islander, a Samoan, which accounted for his size. She didn’t know it, yet, but her lover to be was hung like a whale. Once they were intimate, which was two steaks and six beers after they met, she took to calling him “Moby Dick,” and he took to whispering “Sweet Ass” in her ear. When they coupled from behind he said her ass looked like a big, beefy heart. He’d explode into her like a broke loose fire hydrant which set off a chain reaction of orgasms that put them both onto a new planet. When he came he’d kiss her hard on the spot where her ass met her spine, then he’d whoop and cry out, “Oh, Lord, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” His name was Manny, and he was the love of Sue’s life. They became inseparable, like a brace of matched Percherons in a field with no fence.

 ***

 

            Manny was the type of man who always went for the gold, no matter what he did. The thing about the shotput was that he intended to compete in the Olympics, intended to break the record and make his name, then open a gym and eventually a chain of gyms in southern California. He and Sue would be equal partners. Maybe they’d call their place “In the Buff” or “Buff It Out.” They discarded the names “Gym Dandy,” “Butt Factory,” and “Venus Envy,” though Sue kind of giggled with the idea of calling it “Moby Dick’s,” maybe have a logo of a giant sperm whale on their business cards, but Manny wanted to keep that monicker just their little secret, well, maybe not so little but only theirs nonetheless. He truly was a sweetheart, her sweetheart. “Old Faithful” she sometimes called him for a change of pace.

 ***

 

The thing about sudden death is: it’s so sudden. One instant the person is there, and the next nanosecond he isn’t. There’s the body. It’s still warm. There’s sweat on the brow. The person still holds whatever it was he was holding when he died unless it rolled from his hand in which case the object was still there, was just that second held in his hand which still has the shape of the thing. Maybe the eyes remain open, but they don’t see you anymore, those eyes that were always filled with you. Where did the person go so quickly? Why did they leave their loved one so empty, so scared, so desperate, so all in an instant so achingly alone?

             ***

 

            Even though she adored him, Sue was not the type of woman to always sit in the stands and watch her man do his thing. Manny sensed this (and, if he hadn’t she would have eventually told him), and one day at practice he strolled over to where she sat and said, “Come on, doll, I’ll show you how.” He was having a little difficulty catching his breath, but he’d really been working out hard. The trials were coming up, and Manny intended to intimidate the competition from the first toss. He’d been beating the record all week long in practice, and he was ready for war.

 

            They walked side by side to the throwing circle, bumping hips as they went, playing around. He picked up the sixteen pound shot and was showing her how to hold it when, seemingly out of the blue, he said, “Sue?”

            “What, babe?” she answered.

            He fell to the ground beside her and was dead by the time she knelt down. The autopsy showed that his heart was simply too small for his body. It was congenital, was always only a matter of time. Who knew?  For Sue, the love of her life had come and gone. The rest was just marking time.

            Sue’s was a big-shouldered grief. Everybody thought she was really tough about it, but Sue knew that if she uttered even a single syllable she’d cut loose a black hole of Hell and sorrow. She’d swallow herself up. Grief kept her moving like a vagrant hopping freight trains. It took her to the end of the world but not beyond, for her sense of ultimate survival was as big as the rest of her. It stepped in at the right time. She stopped at the edge and settled. If ever there was a place with a chance that somebody big as Sue might pass through, that place was Alaska. She thought, Toehold. Some time or other you’ve got to take a stand, and where does matter. 

 

Watching Gideon Excerpts

EXCERPT 1-- WATCHING GIDEON

 

"One bright day, shortly after Seaman First Class Jubal Pickett returned home to Natchez, Mississippi from the war, he and his son, Gideon, going on three, went for a walk. Gideon wrapped his chubby little hand around Jubal’s trigger finger and lurched along beside his father with happy determination. It was during this period of time that Jubal had his dream. In his dream, he and Gideon were walking together across a meadow somewhere in Yugoslavia when artillery shells began exploding all around them. Jubal didn’t know what they were doing in Yugoslavia since his tour of duty with the Navy ended early with a sucking chest wound at Pearl Harbor, but that was his dream and there they were. In the instant, without thought, without hesitation, Jubal threw  himself on top of his son to protect him with his own body as the shells screamed around them. In actuality, Jubal’s dream was so real he leapt out of bed and cracked his head against the bedside table on his way to the floor. In real life, he would die for his child, and Jubal knew this like he drew breath. The thought came to him that the Old Testament Abraham was one sick son-of-a-bitch. He, Jubal Pickett, loved his son so much that he’d never dare harm him. “Wouldn’t give you a nickel for him, wouldn’t take a million,” Jubal would say with a fond wink in Gideon’s direction. As far as Jubal was concerned, a man who’d kill his own son wasn’t but scum. Anybody’d do that to his own kid ought to be spread-eagled on top a hill of fire ants with corn syrup poured over his skin and his eyelids held open with cactus needles. The day Jubal realized this was the day he stopped believing in the benevolence of any God who would ask such a thing."

 

EXCERPT 2

 

"Jubal came from a long line of horse traders, boatmen, roustabouts, roughnecks, and thieves sometime late in the 18th century. His people, originally from the Scottish highlands, found themselves in the blue grass country of what would one day become the state of Kentucky, yet they were not bumpkins, peasants, yes, but canny and shrewd. The progenitor of the family, a man named Sid Pickett, came over as an indentured servant, but he learned horse-trading from his contract master, bested him with cunning deals on the side, and bought his way out before the end of his servitude. An astute observer, he noticed that boats, as opposed to horses, didn’t kick, bite, excrete, or eat, and so he became a member of a breed known up and down the Mississippi River as “Kaintucks”: hard, wild frontiersmen who trusted no one, who drank, fought, and built flatboats that they floated down the Mississippi River loaded with goods. They’d sell their commodities at Natchez, sell the boat for lumber, stuff the cash in their pockets, and walk home along the Natchez Trace, four hundred and forty miserable miles of footpath from Natchez, Mississippi through a little corner of Alabama and on up to Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Not surprisingly, bandits considered the Trace a mother lode of opportunity. They were merciless men who took the hard earned cash of their victims with impunity, and thought no more of plucking a person’s life than plucking a blade of grass.

 

More than once did Sid Pickett fight his way out of an ambush, but only once was he bested. Two men waylaid him and took his money. They’d gotten the jump, and they’d hurt him, but they hadn’t killed him, and that was their mistake. He managed to escape and flee, however, and instead of continuing home, George circled back and tracked them down. One of the robbers had walked deeper into the woods for a little privacy.  Pickett waited until the man dropped his leggings and squatted, then he bludgeoned the unsuspecting bastard from behind with a stone the size of a land turtle, and damn near tore his head off his neck. He came up behind the other one, too, hammered him with a blow to the back of his neck, and tied the stunned bandit’s hands in front of him before the thief could figure out what was happening. Then Sid grabbed his hatchet, chopped off both his hands, took his money, and left the poor wretch howling in the woods. There was a dark side to Sid Pickett. He conceived of revenge in tragic proportions."