A poignant ride through different phases of the protagonist’s life, Domestic Apparition is funny, sarcastic, dark, reflective, and touching. The first few stories are set in Michelle’s domestic life—her resistance to being drafted to school when she is six years old, her awe for her brilliant but eccentric brother’s courage in challenging a strict Catholic teacher in school, her admiration for her older sister’s guts, her parents’ relationship, and her mother’s unfulfilled dreams. Gradually, we move toward her life when she starts living by herself in college with roommates, her tedious job at a Holiday Inn which she is pushed into by her demanding boyfriend, and finally her job in the heart of corporate America.
While we laugh with Tuite at a six-year-old Michelle grudgingly completing art work in “Sinister Age of the Draft,” we don’t laugh when a fifteen-year-old Michelle discovers the possible criminal life of her older sister amidst the hysterical tears of their mother in “A Thousand Faces of A Warrior.” Tuite, through her sarcasm and humor, points to the grim realities of American domestic life. While the father dominates her mother (“Leader of Men”) and holds regular Sunday sessions to criticize his family (“Family Conference”), sessions which end up in calamitous clashes, a letter from her aunt unveils to Michelle her mother’s talents and dreams of being a writer, now suppressed through years of submission to an authoritative husband and unruly children (“Garbage Picker of Memory”).
Through the stories, which trace the experiences of a maturing young woman, Tuite explores multiple facets of American domestic life that shape children’s lives and characters. While the lopsided relationship between the docile mother and belligerent father reflects on gender relations in the 1960s and ‘70s, Tuite demonstrates how Michelle grows up with a stronger personality who maneuvers through drugs, alcohol, and boys in her teens and stands her ground. What makes the stories delightful and realistic is the emotional terrain each story maps.
In “Brenda Stantonopolis,” we see a teenaged Michelle hating but secretly admiring and fearing the titular character for her physical beauty and clout with boys. The author draws attention to the delicate emotions of a relatively docile student when Michelle confronts the school’s hottest girl and realizes the latter is ready to become friends. Tuite aptly captures Michelle’s dread as it turns to surprise. We also see Michelle as a committed friend when she carries a gun around to avenge the gang-rape of an unstable roommate in “Thirteen”; however, Tuite in her realistic vein ends the story with Michelle identifying one of the rapists, feeling a resurgence of rage, but eventually sitting next to him to share a beer. We are left guessing what her next steps will be. In the last piece, “The Bottom Line,” Tuite narrates a story very similar to the film The Devil Wears Prada in that Michelle stumbles through corporate America under the tutelage of an Amazonian lady-boss. But the story ends with the untimely demise of the boss, and Michelle, and readers, recognize the futility of power, money, and corporate clout when faced with fatal disease.
Domestic Apparition is an immensely enjoyable and quick read. Through scenes of school, domestic, college, and professional life, Tuite paints a series of pictures of American life that will resonate with many of us. Deftly using humor, colorful and powerful language, and minimalistic emotional scenes, Tuite represents scenes of everyday life from domestic America that will make readers laugh, cheer, feel rage, and reflect on their own lives.