Picture of Vera Jane Cook

Vera Jane Cook

Dancing Backward in Paradise Book Bubble

Yes, Tennessee Williams Influenced Me

I was an actress for about ten years and fell madly in love with the work of Tennessee Williams. I found his characters so flawed and so vulnerable. I found his dialogue so lyrical and beautiful. In my first published southern novel I hope that my readers find just a trace of that influence. That would make me very happy. This scene between Grace and her Mama is where I see that hint of Tennessee Williams and his wonderful eccentric oh, so southern characters.

Excerpt Grace & Her Mama:

I smiled and sat on one of the kitchen chairs near her. Mama had a glass of bourbon on the table but I didn’t see the bottle. I looked into her eyes. I could tell she was stone cold sober. “Are you feeling okay?” I asked her.

“Oh, just a bit nostalgic, honey.” She reached out for my hand. “You know, when I think of everything I had in my head at your age, it just tears me apart. You know why?”

“Why, Mama?”

“Because I believed I’d always be young and capable of following my dreams forever. I never thought I’d grow old. I imagined myself sitting on top of the world, having people stop me and ask for my autograph.” She laughed softly and held onto my hand.

“You’re not old, Mama.”

“Do you know that I was a very serious young woman? Did you know that, honey?”

I shook my head and she stared at me a bit before she started speaking.

“I felt deeply about the world around me. I wanted it to be compassionate…to become compassionate. I didn’t want anyone anywhere on earth to feel pain. I believed in putting up a good fight against oppression—so many people are oppressed, sug.”

“I know, Mama.”

“I believed in the right side of the law and in my political party—Democrats, of course. I beheld in my dreams the possibility of a perfect world. Then, after Kennedy’s assassination, I guess I lost hope. We’re living in crazy times, sug. We’re writing history, though. A better world will rise from these ashes. Oh, yes, I was so full of passion when I was young. My heart was so alive then, so much more accessible than it is now.”

“Life is still good, Mama,” I whispered, but she didn’t seem to hear me.

“Did you know that your mama believed that one day the universe would become a warm and welcoming place where the poor were given comfort and the hungry did not suffer? Did you know that?” she asked, and I shook my head.

“I honestly believed that all human suffering would cease. I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to do good things. Oh my God, what I could have been, the deeds I could have done because I cared so much, so very much about the whole damn world and every living thing in it.”

“I think you’ve done good, Mama. You’ve done good by Tommy and me. You done good by Daddy, too.”

She laughed and put her head back. “Love is not enough,” she said. “Loving a man, loving your children. It’s not enough.”

I looked at her. I’d never heard her say that before, and it made me so sad I wanted to cry.

“Oh, don’t be upset, honey. All I mean is you’ve got to have something for yourself. You’ve got to have some part of you that has nothing to do with your man or your children. You’ve got to care about the world.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“You’re going to New York City, honey. It’s the only place I know of where things are so damn crazy and mean, so miraculous and exciting, so painfully alienating that you just might find yourself amongst the confusion. You can’t find yourself in Hixson, honey. They’ll stamp a soul for you, right on your forehead if you want, and they’ll tell you who you are. But in New York City, you get to tell the world who you are because you have fallen into a finer paradise, and when your star is burning bright—that’s when you find your soul, that’s when you can return anywhere on earth with the knowledge of your truest self.”

I looked into my Mama’s eyes. I was surprised that I understood her.

“Yes, I married your daddy. I loved your daddy, but he can’t do that for me. He can’t show me enough ugliness. He can’t show me enough possibility. He can’t mirror mindless indifference or interminable hunger. He can’t reveal the rotten stench of the vapid or the brilliance of the gifted. He can’t scar my soul like New York City. He’s too kind and he’s to adoring of me to mirror my enormous discontent. You’ve only got to get there, honey. Walk those streets and know that desire, feel that city in the very fiber of your bones. You’ll crave the energy so much you might think you’re high as a cloud, but then, you’ll discover who you are in the loneliness of your room, and in the comfort of the friends you make, and if you so choose to return, you will return with the most important gift of all. You will never want again. You won’t even ache. Darling, your cup will overflow.”