They buried her father at noon, at five she found his journals, and in the time it took to read one-and-a-half pages her world turned upside down… he thought she was a failure.
Every child, no matter what age, wants to know their father loves them, and Tessa Curzio – thirty-six, emerging writer, ex-rocker, lapsed Catholic, defected Scientologist, and fourth in a family of eight complicated people – is no exception. But just when she thought her twitchy life was finally coming together – solid relationship, creative job; a view of the ocean – the one-two punch of her father’s death and posthumous indictment proves an existential knockout.
She tries to “just let it go,” as her sister suggests, but life viewed through the filter of his damning words is suddenly skewed, shaking the foundation of everything from her solid relationship and winning job to the truth of her family, even her sense of self. From there, friendships strain, bad behavior ensues, new men entreat, and family drama spikes, all leading to her little-known aunt, a nun and counselor, who lovingly strong-arms Tessa onto a journey of discovery and reinvention. It’s a trip that’s not always pretty – or particularly wise – but somewhere in all the twists and turns unexpected truths are found.
Author and longtime Huffington Post contributor, Lorraine Devon Wilke, takes an irreverent look at father/daughter relationships through the unique prism of Tessa’s saga and its exploration of family, faith, cults, creativity, new love and old, and the struggle to define oneself against the inexplicable perceptions of a deceased parent. Told with both sass and sensibility, it’s a story wrapped in contemporary culture but with a very classic heart.
After The Sucker Punch is a family saga. Tessa, a dreamy, thirty-something, sometime artist/writer/drifter with aspirations to something better than her current humdrum life, attends the funeral of her father, Leo.
After the Wake, and while staying at her mother's house, she reads one of his many journals.
What Leo wrote is so shocking, it changes Tessa's life and the lives of everyone in her extended family.
Four factors mark Lorraine's brilliant debut as something special. Firstly, her characters. Each so individual, so distinctive and so well defined, you can tell who is talking without the character being named. That's no mean feat. Secondly, the dialogue is crisp, sassy and real, patter so realistic, you can hear it taking place. Thirdly, the way Lorraine links and merges the historical comments Tessa reads in the journal into the real time narrative is shrewd and repays rereading. Then, finally, there is Tessa herself, the novel's protagonist. You may not like her - two days after completing the novel, I am completely ambivalent about her* - but she is real and you can follow her train of reasoning at all times.
None of her behaviour is extranormal and you can imagine doing the same things she does (and that's not a necessarily recommendation).
You watch her progress and change. You understand her one minute, then you can't comprehend what she's up to the next. Then immediately after, you want to reach into the pages of the book and wag your finger at her. You live her deliberations and you can feel her confusion on your fingertips as you turn the page. At no time does Tessa lapse into stereotype. She constantly surprises you and - whether you like her or not, you cannot stop following her trials and tribulations for a second.
The supporting cast is excellent. Her family, particularly the harassed Micheala, and the alcoholic brother, Ronnie, are similarly absorbing. Tessa's long suffering boyfriend, the corporate sportswear schill David, struggles manfully to accommodate Tessa's whys and wherefores before being completely overwhelmed by them in some of the novel's saddest scenes.
Her relationship with best friends Katie and Ruby would satisfy any fan of chicklit, (and I quite fancied the hapless, heartbroken Ruby, in a Sir Lancelot kind of way), but it is Aunt Joanne who steals the show.
The Catholic Nun-cum-Therapist helps Tessa deal with the aftermath of the revelations unleashed by Leo's journal and becomes by far the strongest foil for her increasingly self-destructive angst. You long for her to reappear in the narrative - perhaps because she is the only person strong enough - and brave enough - to confront Tessa, whose self-absorption is relentless.
Like the best contemporary fiction, nothing significant happens.
People talk on the telephone (which happens a lot in this novel). Conversations take place in cars, in coffee bars, around the water cooler, on sofas, in the still life of the marital bed, the post-coital cigarette smoke still swirling between the blades of the fan rotating overhead.
There is virtually no action - just like real life.
The sheer joy of the ATSP is its very ordinariness. These are ordinary people going about their business, all of them affected to one degree or another by the portentous, unhinged rantings of Leo Curzio.
If you like contemporary fiction and novels about people, I strongly recommend After The Sucker Punch.
Forget the e-book for once:Treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy the paperback for twelve bucks or so. It is lustrous, with its cream pages, one and a half line spacing and comforting, airport-shelf heft. It is a book which is written for paperback and meant to be read in bed; absorbed, over time, savoured by lamplight.
— Mark Barry
A Contemporary Portrait:
Lorraine Devon Wilke's "After the Sucker Punch" is a keenly executed character study. Tessa Curzio has made hard and brave choices as an artist, which are called into question when she is confronted with the disapproval and disappointment in her deceased father's journals.
Besides the fully dimensional portrait of Tessa, the reader is also given a sweeping account of latter twentieth and early twenty-first century life in the singular culture that is South California. The novel is tightly structured and holds its complex elements with a sure and skillful grip. The dialogue pops and presents an array of characters who at times either enhance or undermine Tessa. All of the action is informed by Tessa's response to her father's harsh and haunting perspective.
While we never get over our childhoods and families, we do need to come to terms with them in order to get on with our lives. That's Tessa's challenge and what makes her particular saga universal and compelling. Wilke's fast-paced narrative is delivered with a light tone that is also deceptive, as the issues it embraces are anything but easy. The musical aspect of this ultimately uplifting account literally sings through the pages. A thoroughly engaging and enjoyable read.
After The Sucker Punch is an aptly named novel because it packs a mighty punch and raises so many questions, I was left literally reeling by the end of it. Lorraine Devon Wilke commands our attention with a splendidly dramatic opening and never lets us off the hook until the very last page.
The novel is essentially the story of Tessa Curzio, who whilst attending her father’s funeral discovers that he kept diaries for fifty years and has used them to record less than complimentary observations about his family and friends. The trauma of the death of a parent combined with the diary findings serve to cast Tessa into a spiral of self-doubt and destruction. The diaries are described as a Pandora’s Box and indeed, once they’ve been opened, the lives of Tessa and her family will never be the same again. In addition to this, the effects of the Pandora’s Box seem to extend to the reader, leaving behind some very thorny philosophical questions.
LDW shrewdly uses the third person narrative to tell her story, which invites the reader to see the bigger picture. We don’t necessarily always agree with Tessa’s version of events, especially where her siblings are concerned. Tessa has a difficult relationship with her older sister Michaela but LDW offers us a glimpse of a woman trying to juggle her life as a wife, mother and teacher, whilst stepping up to her new role as the family designated carer for her newly widowed mother. Whilst Tessa may have little sympathy for Michaela, LDW ensures that the reader does.
Tessa’s relationship with her siblings is for me the heart and soul of the novel and anybody who has siblings will recognise the petty tensions and jealousies but deep visceral love that defines the bonds they share. Tessa to a large extent has removed herself from her family in order to survive and consequently much of the to-ing and fro-ing between them is via a hilarious series of telephone conversations.
LDW offers us the Curzio family and with it the question of whether parents are responsible for their adult children’s misery. Tessa grew up with an unstable mother who is prone to extreme mood swings and a distant, aloof father, who struggled with intimacy. Despite their chaotic childhood, Tessa and all five of her siblings have grown into accomplished, successful people. Ronnie, her younger brother has lost his way but still has the potential for a good life. However, they are mired in their childhood, looking for reasons as to why their parents are like they are. Tessa’s mother bemoans the fact that she feels like a “dartboard” as her children look to blame her for their difficult childhoods.
Tessa’s family dynamics reflect a period of time that will resonate with lots of us who grew up in the 60s the 70s. Children’s needs were not particularly taken into account and as Tessa points out there was “no concept of child abuse.” Her mother freely hits her children in anger and perhaps worse, they are subjected to the fear and anxiety of her constant mood swings. In some ways the fact that her mother has the capacity for great kindness, as when she reassures Tessa she isn’t sinful, makes her relationship with her children even more complex. In her role as a writer, Tessa covers a feature about fathers and daughters and finds herself comparing her own experiences with other more tangible forms of abuse. She comes to the conclusion that pain is subjective and so can’t be comparative – “it’s as deep as you feel it.”
There’s no denying that her father’s written words have a devastating effect on Tessa and cause her much soul searching. As she rails against his words, there is clearly the kernel of fear within her that they might be true. As she is forced to confront her fears, her life implodes around her. The only constant is her friendship with Kate and Ruby even though LDW allows just enough realism to creep into their relationships. Tessa can’t help but feel reassured by Ruby’s marital problems whilst suffused with jealousy at Kate’s seemingly perfect life.
At the crux of the novel is the idea of whether we should be judged by what we write. Leo Curzio’s diary habit is made more toxic by the fact that he wanted his family to read them. The diaries serve as a metaphorical hand grenade tossed into the bosom of his family with the potential to rip lives apart. Tessa’s aunt, who acts as the conscience of the novel, asserts that maybe we should be judged on our actions rather than by what we may write. To all intents and purposes Leo Curzio was a good man, who did his best to give his children the best start in life but, for some bizarre reason felt the need to vent his bitterness and resentment on paper. Which is the more valid Leo is the puzzle that Tessa is left to figure out.
In the end there are no startling revelations or absolute answers, just a sense of peace and the idea of trying to accept people as they are, warts and all. LDW has captured the spirit of family perfectly in that there is no perfect family. Her novel is funny, warm, tense, angry and ultimately shows us that life is to be lived and there’s no point in dwelling on the past.
The Independent Author Network presents the 2016 IAN Book of the Year Awards, an international contest open to the public with 24 fiction and non-fiction categories. Winners are eligible to receive a share of cash prizes exceeding $5,000.
After The Sucker Punch by Lorraine Devon Wilke is awarded as a Finalist in the General Fiction Category...
Right on the heels of two dynamic lists, eMediaCampaigns! Director of Operations, Fran Briggs, presents Part 3 of the Best of Summer Reading, 2014 Part 3. Each of the three lists put the spotlight on a select few of endlessly gifted and distinguished authors.
"The Best of Summer Reading, 2014 Part 3 helps enthusiastic readers make quality decisions as it pertains to their reading selections," says Briggs. "It's also a victory lap-an opportunity for 10 more authors to showcase their unique talents while capturing the attention of readers who enjoy multiple genres."
Popular UK book blogger invites guest author, Mark Barry, to choose his top-5 summer reading list. Of that top-5:
After The Sucker Punch by Lorraine Devon Wilke
"A sweeping, seventies, old school family saga that’s also long enough to engage you for a good week on the beach. In fact, it’s made for the beach and the airport. Beautifully written, light, accessible, I have yet to come across a book as good as this in Indie. In fact, you genuinely would not know this is an Indie book. It is sublime and – like many books we write – underappreciated, especially over here."
The 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards honors Lorraine Devon Wilke's After The Sucker Punch with an Honorable Mention in the Literary Fiction category.