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Going in Circles
Table of Contents
About The Book
Charlotte Goodman has had enough surprises.
In fact, she reached her life’s quotient when her husband of five months walked out on her, only to abruptly change his mind a few weeks later and move back in. Stung by a whiplash of grief, resentment, and confusion, Charlotte calls a time-out, taking a small apartment where she can figure out what she wants. Instead, the thought of making even the simplest choices triggers an anxiety attack. In order to get out of bed in the morning, she must concoct a to-do list for each day, The Plan, one with absolutely no surprises.
“Without The Plan, horrible things can happen. I’m likely to end up sitting on a curb beside a taco truck on Sunset Boulevard, crying over a carne asada burrito, wondering where my marriage went. I can’t handle being the Weeping Burrito Girl.”
Charlotte knows all this self-absorbed introspection isn’t good for her, but she’s running out of people to turn to, as seemingly everyone in her life is pressuring her to make an immediate decision about her future. Then her new friend Francesca—an impulsive, smartass co-worker—offers Charlotte salvation in the unlikeliest of places: the fast-paced, super-tough, bump-and-bruise-filled world of roller derby.
Sure, it’s dangerous. Yeah, she could get hurt. But what’s a little physical pain when healing your soul is at stake? The question is: whether she’s on or off the track, will Charlotte be strong enough to stand on her own two feet?
I’ve done the thing where I’m awake but I haven’t yet opened my eyes. I’m in that twilight haze where I know I’m not asleep but I can’t move a muscle. I’ve only got a second or two left before the panic will set in that I’ve somehow slept myself into becoming a paraplegic, that during the night I wrestled in some kind of nightmare that caused me to twist in horror, snapping my own neck, dooming me to an eternity of immobility.
Naturally, this will then trigger a second wave of fear. If I have separated my head from the rest of my body there’s no real way that I can let anyone know this has happened. I will have to remain useless and numb, stuck in this position until someone figures out I’ve gone missing. I fear that it won’t be a matter of hours, but perhaps days or weeks before anyone truly notices. My office mate, Jonathan, will eventually get bored with this unexpected man-holiday and will finally ask someone if I died.
But first, there’s this special just-up time, when I can’t move and I can barely think, when everything is perfect. I’m half in the real world but still able to clutch on to whatever dream I’m reluctant to depart. That makes this person I am—this Charlotte Goodman, age thirty, a skinny brunette with absolutely no singing voice and a deep aversion to paper cuts—nothing more than a concept. I’m not a real person and I don’t have to be. Yet.
The dream I just fell from was gloriously mundane. I was sitting in seat 16A of a Continental flight somehow headed to a Starbucks, where I was to pick up a DVD for Sandra Bullock. This was supposed to be important. I was sitting next to a college frat boy who was singing the words to . . .
No, wait. I was sitting next to a sorority girl who was talking about her boyfriend who was the lead singer for . . .
Damn. Nothing. It’s gone.
Matthew used to say that every morning. It was a sarcastic dig at how terrible I am for the first hour before I get three good cups of coffee into me. It’s not new—back in high school my parents would sometimes find an excuse to leave the house rather than wake me up early. They became avid churchgoers just to avoid my morning wrath. I know it’s not right to hate everything before nine in the morning, but I don’t understand how everybody acts like it’s okay to be up at that hour. If we all got together and took a stand, we could all sleep in and force mornings to become a time for sleep and sleep only.
An early riser, Matthew would be well into his day, coffee brewed, having sometimes already gone for a run, taken a shower, and eaten breakfast before I waddled into the room, half-asleep, half-dressed, usually with only one eye open.
“Shh,” he’d say, cradling my face with one hand. “Half of Charlotte is still asleep. Right Eye needs more dreaming.”
And he’d whisper, pretending to tiptoe around the right side of me, the one that could wake up with a roar. “Shh. Right Eye is such an angel when she’s sleeping.”
This was before we were married, when there wasn’t a question as to whether we were supposed to be together. Now I hear Matthew say, “Morning, Sunshine,” even though he isn’t here to say the words.
I’ve had to come to accept the fact that every morning my eyes will eventually open. I will wake up, and then I will have to get out of this bed. I’ll brush my teeth, take a shower, put on clothes, and do all of the things almost everybody else seems to be able to do every single day no matter what is happening to them. I used to be one of those people, the normal ones who would make coffee and go to their jobs and joke with their friends and be productive members of society. Not anymore. At least not now.
Now I’ve had to develop a few defense mechanisms, tricks to accomplish a real-life calendar day without too many setbacks. Since I began employing these tactics, I have a 75 percent chance of making it to the next time I’m in this glorious bed without a full-on breakdown. Yes, there are still crying jags and the occasional panic attack. And sure, one time I kind of lost my shit at a Ruby Tuesday. But in my defense, that waitress knew what she had done.
Defense Mechanism Number 1 is crucial and happens every morning without fail, right here in this bed. Before I leave the safety of my crisp, white sheets and the soft, warm comfort of my purple flannel duvet, before I head out into that harsh, cruel society known as Los Angeles, California—home of the beautiful and the clinical—I make a plan.
This plan is important. It is the plan of the day. It doesn’t take long, but I have found without The Plan, horrible things can happen. I’m likely to end up sitting on a curb beside a taco truck on Sunset Boulevard, crying over a carne asada burrito, wondering where my marriage went. It doesn’t matter how much pain I’m in, I still have an awareness that people can see me, and I couldn’t take knowing that to someone I’d just become the Weeping Burrito Girl.
The Plan keeps me from tangents. It keeps me from having to just float out there. Ironically, I learned this from Matthew. He liked planning, order.
Likes. I have to stop talking about him as if he’s dead. He’s still here. Just not here.
I hope he’s not dead. First of all, that’s going to look really suspicious. And second, I’m not really sure how I would be supposed to act at the funeral of my estranged husband. Would everyone think that I was secretly enjoying myself? Of course they’d think that, deep in the evilest parts of their hearts. Who wouldn’t?
Look, as far as I know, today, right now, Matthew is alive. And if he’s not, I had nothing to do with it.
Okay, so I’ve definitely decided I need to figure out what I’m going to do about my marriage before my husband dies.
I suck in my cheeks and tilt my head back on my pillow, trying to stretch out my face. For the past two weeks, I’ve been waking up with a feeling that someone has slammed a hammer into my skull. It has gotten worse every night, and this morning it hurts to open my mouth even the slightest bit. I wonder how long I can go without talking to anybody. Could I make it through an entire day, even if I left the apartment? That sounds like such a glorious luxury, being a mute. How wonderful not to have to keep answering the worst question on the planet: How are you holding up?
I lurch myself up and over until I’m in a seated position. I make my feet touch the floor as I decide on the plan for today.
Okay. Leave the bedroom. Make coffee. Write email that you will be late for the office. Do not check your email to see if Matthew wrote. Go to Dr. Benson’s office for this jaw pain. Go to work. Come home and hide.
Once The Plan is firmly in place, Defense Mechanism Number 2 will often be itching to take over.
Defense Mechanism Number 2 is a little more complicated. It took a while for me to be comfortable with it, and I’ve pretty much sworn myself to secrecy about it. If anyone else learned about Defense Mechanism Number 2, I would be put in the rather vulnerable position of having said person possibly think I was unhinged. Certifiable. But when I tried suppressing Defense Mechanism Number 2 I learned that it’s not really up to me. I mean, it’s me, but it’s not me.
Sometimes, for no other reason than to get through This Hour Right Now, I have no choice but to pull myself out and narrate my own life, to myself, in the third person. I know it’s me, but somehow, this way, it can also not be me, and that makes it so much easier to deal. That’s Defense Mechanism Number 2.
So, look. I sleep, I drink, and sometimes a male voice in my head tells me what’s happening to me. Perfectly understandable, considering.
In my head he sounds like a dad. Not my dad, but someone’s dad. Half folksy, half serious, a man who’s already lived a life and knows that this one I’m in is just going through a rough patch, nothing more. He kind of sounds like Craig T. Nelson. Well, really he sounds like John Goodman. This is probably because when I was a kid I told a bunch of my friends at school that I was related to the dad on Roseanne, and if they didn’t believe me they could just check out our last names, which were exactly the same.
So when things get rough, when I don’t know what’s going to happen, when The Plan can’t protect me, I let Uncle John do the talking. I let him go on in his stomach-stuffed voice like I’m tucked into bed waiting for one last story before I close my eyes, and soon everything’s going to be okay.
Sometimes I even start to believe him.
© 2010 Pamela Ribon
Reading Group Guide
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Recently separated (while still technically a newlywed), heartbroken Charlotte Goodman must choose between a severely conflicted marriage and the terrifying prospect of single life. While searching for the “right” thing to do, she struggles to drown out the voices of her overbearing mother, self-righteous boss and cynical co-worker. In such an uncertain phase, Charlotte is desperate enough to try anything that will bring her strength, confidence and answers. Under the guidance of an eccentric new friend, she finds that salvation in the unlikeliest of places – Roller Derby.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1.) Discuss Charlotte’s tendency to imagine John Goodman narrating her life as a way of coping. Is this method effective? What does it mean that she is ultimately able to shed his voice and live in the ‘first person’?
2.) In her first meeting with the psychiatrist, Charlotte insists, “Of course there’s one right way. One way is wrong, and then there’s one way that’s right” (67). Does this prove to be true in the end? Which other characters might or might not agree with this statement? Do you agree with it?
3.) Observing Petra’s plastic surgery at one point, Charlotte notes that, “Petra is trying to freeze herself as an image that exists only in her head, and unfortunately she is losing this battle” (74). Do you think that Charlotte might be guilty of the same crime? What are the consequences of attempting to live in limbo?
4.) Discuss Charlotte’s assertion that the idea of ‘soul mates’ is depressing because it means that, “We’re all just human puppets dancing on the invisible strings of an unknowable creator” (77). Do you agree or disagree?
5.) When faced with the task of creating a pseudonym for herself, Charlotte claims that there is, “something intriguing about the concept of losing my real identity” (120). Discuss the ways in which this alter-ego in fact helped Charlotte regain her ‘real’ identity. What was particularly empowering about her experience as Hard Broken? What name would you choose for yourself?
6.) Discuss Ribon’s choice to make Matthew a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Do you see a larger theme of control recurring in the lives of other characters? Which ones? How so?
7.) How does Jonathan’s ability to salvage his marriage inform Charlotte’s failure to do so? How are the two cases different? Similar?
8.) In her description of a ‘transition’ in roller derby, Charlotte notes that, “When it’s over, you’re still skating in the same direction, but you’re facing the other way. You’re going forwards, facing backwards” (156). How is this process paralleled in her personal life?
9.) Discuss the effect that both Charlotte’s fight with Francesca and Andy’s disappointment in her friendship have on helping Charlotte escape her overwhelming grief.
10.) What is the significance of Charlotte’s miniatures? How do they help her to find order amidst chaos? Why does Matthew’s destruction of these miniatures lead to the destruction of their marriage? How does talking about this moment help Charlotte make her final decision?
11.) Discuss the irony involved in Matthew’s comment that the hallway light is out. How does it signify a finite end to the relationship for Charlotte?
12.) In Francesca and Charlotte’s debut in the rookie roller derby tournament, Charlotte is able to successfully deviate from the ‘plan’ and take the lead. How does this triumph mark a transition in her attitude towards life?
Tips for Enhancing Your Book Club
1.) Visit Pamela Ribon’s popular blog at www.pamie.com. She started it in 1998 and was nominated for a Lifetime Achievement Bloggie award in 2006.
2.) Check out Roller Warriors, a 7-part documentary series covering the 2008 Kansas City Roller Warriors, as well as the recent Drew Barrymore film Whip-It!, based on the YA novel Derby Girl, written by fellow L.A. Derby Doll alumna Shauna Cross.
3.) Support your local roller derby league! Visit www.derbyroster.com to find out where the action is in your area.
4.) Already a derby girl? Be sure to check out Rollercon! (www.rollercon.net)
A Conversation with Pamela Ribon
1.) Where did you get the idea for this novel? Was there a particular scene that you envisioned first?
It started out with a very different story, one still stemming from the concept of “Well, I don’t have the kind of money needed to have my own Eat, Pray, Love healing experience. What do I do to get out of this sadness and confusion?” In earlier drafts, the main character had made a huge mistake, and was starting from zero with absolutely everyone in her life. That story was more about trying to determine good relationships from bad. At the time I’d just started up with the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, and my agent was fascinated with what I was physically and mentally going through just to learn how to play. She’s the one who suggested that Charlotte’s story could take a similar direction. I joked, “You mean I should write Eat, Cry, Shove?” And it sort of took off from there.
2.) How is this novel different from (or similar to) your previous novels?
It’s similar in terms of dealing with changes in your important relationships– your partner, your family, your best friend… I’m interested in the roles we take on for other people in our lives, and what happens when the power shifts, when the players in the game disobey the rules. The biggest difference between this novel and anything I’ve written before is that I’m writing about sports. I have a whole new respect for people who can describe the action in a game both accurately and passionately -- sports reporters, color commentators, J.K. Rowling. That woman invented an entire sport and we all read it and said, “Yep. Got it. Brooms and magical glowing shuttlecocks. To the Quidditch match!”
3.) What drew you to roller derby? Are any of Charlotte’s experiences in the arena based on your own?
My sister and I used to watch roller derby on cable television when we were little. Back then it was as fake as the WWE, but we didn’t care. We didn’t understand a single thing that was going on, but we liked how fast they went on their skates, and how they’d knock the crap out of each other.
My introduction to real roller derby happened just like any other derby girl, I’m sure: at the opening weekend of the Sex and the City movie. I was there with two of my girlfriends, one of whom groaned as she took her seat. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m so sore. I just started training with the Derby Dolls last night and my thighs are killing me.” I was right there beside her at the very next practice. She somehow snuck me in without an orientation or audition (Behold the power of a Derby Wife). In fact, I didn’t see an actual bout until I was already in training for my first Baby Doll Brawl. Come to think of it, almost everything in my life that I love I somehow snuck into when nobody was paying attention. Roller derby, acting, writing, and at least half of the relationships I’ve been in.
I really did break my tailbone. I now know the meaning of the threat, “You’ll never sit right again.”
4.) What inspired you to include Charlotte’s passion for miniatures as a major theme?
The miniatures came out of a number of ideas that were circling my head about solving a problem that has no right or wrong answer. Charlotte feels like her life is beyond her control, that there’s nothing she can definitely hang onto. At some point during the writing of this novel, I found this little clay doll of a girl wearing a backpack and a polka-dot dress. She’s looking up to the sky, her fists clenched and pressed against her chest, just pleading with the world. And I’d been reading about Occam’s Razor, but I’m afraid if I explain that any further, I’ll sound ridiculously pompous. The short answer is: Charlotte is afraid to take control. The miniatures are all hers, and they are her gift. She got scared of where they could take her, but the reality is she’s the one who decides where they go. At first she thinks that a miniature, like Charlotte’s job, has a right way and a wrong way to do it, but as she grows with her work and takes risks, she finds a new direction, a new way to express herself. That’s how she takes control again.
5.) Which scenes were easiest for you to write? Which were the most difficult?
It is hard to tell a story about two people not being able to make things work without someone appearing to be The Problem. I don’t think that’s realistic. People sometimes make the mistake of assigning “weakness” to characters that endure heartbreak. I never understood that. Don’t we all often struggle much longer than anyone else in our lives can tolerate? Sometimes we do it to keep someone we love, sometimes it’s to understand exactly what’s wrong in an attempt to fix it… but I think often it’s just so we feel like we won.
I wouldn’t call any of the scenes “easy” to write, exactly, but I had fun writing about how I think about roller derby. The only problem was after I’d write about a jam I’d get amped to skate. Sometimes I had to miss practice in order not to miss a deadline. Then one time I jammed my finger at practice. I had to keep my finger in a sling for a couple of days, making it so that I hurt myself playing roller derby badly enough that I could no longer write about nor play roller derby. That was the worst.
6.) How were you able to infuse a novel about coping with grief with such refreshing humor?
I’m worried that I didn’t, but I’m even more concerned people will think I wrote that question. So thank you, Stranger I’ve Never Met Who Wrote Question Six. That’s nice of you to ask. I assure you early drafts of this novel were quite devoid of humor.
The voice of John Goodman came out of this struggle. I was trying to find a new way to tell an old story – girl is sad over a boy – without making Charlotte sound either pathetic or bitter. Both Charlotte and Matthew deal with their emotions by detaching and distancing…which is why they’re ultimately doomed. And for both of them we learn that the greater the distance they put between themselves and their problems, the harder they fall when gravity inevitably brings them back to reality. Wait, was this a question about how I made sad things funny? I don’t know. Comedy = distance + time. I didn’t come up with that equation, but it works.
7.) Does your life have a narrator?
Sometimes. When I was little and couldn’t fall asleep, my mom would suggest I tell myself stories until I fell asleep. Somehow that voice continued into my waking life, and would keep me company when I was having some of my most boring moments. And if I’m being really honest, I suppose the narrator started approximately when I gave up my embarrassingly large clique of imaginary friends.
8.) If you were in Francesca’s place, what advice would you give Charlotte?
Get over yourself.
9.) Do you have any plans for another book? If so, what will it be about?
I just stared at that question for thirty minutes and then had a panic attack. Thanks.
- Publisher: Gallery Books (April 20, 2010)
- Length: 336 pages
- ISBN13: 9781416503866
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- Book Cover Image (jpg): Going in Circles Trade Paperback 9781416503866
- Author Photo (jpg): Pamela Ribon Jessica Schilling Photography(0.1 MB)
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