Seven Days and Seven Sins
By: Pamela Ditchoff. Publisher: Shaye Areheart, 256 pages, $23. Review: A skillfully written collection of overlapping stories explores the seven sins and their roots in secret aches.
Reviewed by Thomas Haley
Special to the Star Tribune
'Seven Days & Seven Sins" is the second novel from Pamela Ditchoff, whose 1995 debut, "The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies," mixed fact with fiction to tell stories of midgets, conjoined twins and Catherine the Great, among others. Her new book, completely fictional and less fantastical, is populated with characters no less unique.
Set on Lantern Hill Lane in Lansing, Mich., "Seven Days & Seven Sins" comprises chapters that function as short stories. Each has a main character, conflict and resolution, and the chapter titles alternate between the seven deadly sins and the lines from the nursery rhyme that begins, "Monday's child is fair of face."
The residents of Lantern Hill Lane interact with one another the way most neighbors do -- that is, barely at all. Take the chapter "The Third Sin: Anger." Megan, whose husband has recently died of cancer, lashes out at everyone except her young son, Jake. When Megan returns home from work one night, she sits in her car, staring through her front window where her neighbor Gloria baby-sits with Jake. "The thought occurs to Megan that Gloria's husband will be waiting for her in bed. Gloria will undress, turn off the light, and fall into the breathing, warm flesh of a man who loves her."
To Megan, Gloria and everyone else function only as bitter reminders of her loss and fuel for her rage.
In the very next chapter, though, "Thursday's Child Has Far to Go," our focus shifts to Gloria, whose husband, Steve, has no idea she's frantically hiding a heroin addiction. In a quick aside, we get Gloria's perspective on her night baby-sitting Jake: "Gloria doesn't mind sitting for Jake; she has never snorted at Megan's, and although she was still a bit high when she got here, there was never a question in her mind that she couldn't properly care for Jake."
Impressively, the overlaps in the characters' lives not only give us the thrill of being the only ones to know the whole story, but also emphasize the differences between appearance and reality. Megan's apparent sin of anger, we understand, is actually the manifestation of her sorrow. Similarly, Cora, a mail-sorter who longs for love in "Envy," is not jealous of her better-looking neighbor so much as she is desperately lonely. Over and over, we learn that the "sins" are but the symptoms of secret aches.
While Ditchoff's characters are painted with broad enough strokes to fit neatly with her chapter titles, the men and women of Lantern Hill Lane aren't simple; rather, they are focused intently on a particular memory, flaw, desire or wound. It is the privacy of their obsessions that Ditchoff portrays so skillfully from so many different angles, and the pain of such privacy that is the novel's most compelling theme.
Thomas Haley also writes for Rain Taxi. He lives in Chicago.