The Off Season
by Amy Hoffman
Wisconsin. 200 pages, $24.95
OFF SEASON in Provincetown: cold, harsh, and beautiful all at once. The days are short, the tourists are gone, and the townies remain. New to P’town are Nora and Janelle, lovers who have a common dream to live there through the off-season, a place where they can mend their bruised relationship, where Nora can pursue her art, and Janelle, her beautiful African-American partner, can recover from cancer treatment.
In an effort to grow stronger, Janelle walks on the beach. Always thinking of Nora, she develops a knack for finding sea glass, which Nora uses to make jewelry. Nora, the struggling artist, worries aloud about the financial inequality between them. Janelle answers, “Do what you need to do, sweetheart. … I’ve got us covered.” Nevertheless, Nora sets up a booth at the annual Thanksgiving craft fair in hopes of making money. There she meets Baby Harris.
Right on page one, Nora has admitted that she’s a cad, and she later repeats this confession. Still, nothing that we know about her would predict that she would soon choose, for no particular reason, to blow up her life. But when Baby Harris pursues Nora, they end up in the home that Nora shares with Janelle, who’s expected home soon, which doesn’t prevent Baby from seducing Nora. When Janelle comes home, she knows immediately what has happened. Nora’s shirt is buttoned unevenly and there’s a lipstick smear on the collar. After a short and bitter exchange, Janelle shoves Nora out the door. Homeless and without her belongings, Nora has to manage on her own, and this is the story that ensues.
Nora’s task of making a new start involves surviving the winter in Provincetown, which means finding shelter, finding a job, and meeting some townies. To do that, she gets involved in a movement to clean up the polluted water, because statistics are showing an abnormal cluster of cancer in the area. All of this may sound like a tall order, but now that Nora has been kicked out of her home, things seem to be laid at her feet. She quickly befriends Miss Ruby, a woman on a broken-down scooter who has an extra bedroom. Some problems make staying with Miss Ruby difficult. She has an uncounted number of cats, smokes incessantly, and, despite her poor health, does little to change her diet or habits. Financially, this resembles the set-up with Janelle, albeit far less pleasant. Nora starts painting in a neighbor’s shed that Miss Ruby says she can use. Eventually, the neighbor comes home and tells Nora to leave. Nora continues to see Baby, in an open relationship. With luck on her side, she falls into one part-time job and then another.
The narrator tells the reader about her sins and atonement, which would usually make for a good story, but the reader is left with questions. We’re told, for example, that Nora was a teacher before coming to Provincetown, but what and where was she teaching? Her first-person account involves mostly external things—the world of people and activities—but she offers little about her inner thoughts. What demons are at work? Of her breakup with Janelle she muses: “One day, I was half of a peaceful, loving couple; the next, apparently, a libido driven maniac.” But why? Is there something in her past that she’s not telling us about? We know so little about Nora’s background that her motives are opaque.
The Off Season moves along at a swift pace with short, titled chapters. P’town is brought to life with vivid descriptions of the town and its maritime surroundings. I felt less of a connection to the protagonist, though, whose personality, background, and motives are not fully realized.
Martha Miller is a Midwestern novelist and playwright.