In Ginnetta Correli’s debut novel, The Lost Episodes of Beatie Scareli, the reader, cast as an audience member, is no less a part of the script than the other offbeat characters. The only stipulation is that our participation is limited solely to watching the scenes play out from Beatie Scareli’s unfortunate life. Written as a pseudo-screenplay, the “cast” includes Beatie’s father, a neglectful man with a strong potential for danger; Beatie’s mother Frata, a schizophrenic who believes she is Lucy Ricardo; Beatie at age 12; Beatie as an adult commenting on scenes from her troubled youth; and the reader, identified simply as “You.”
The reader’s frustration in being unable to help Beatie is nothing compared to Beatie’s powerlessness in her own life, which is an all-around catch-22. In episodes where Frata is in the early stages of madness, Beatie grasps onto scenes that can be loosely defined as normal, but that inevitably turn into something sordid. She imagines her parents as a happy couple, a Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, on a beach trip where her father and Frata are, for a moment, still in love. But the happy-couple act disappears as quickly as it comes, and a damaging fight ensues on the way home. Beatie is the inevitable witness, and all she can do is invite the reader to witness with her.
Petey, Beatie’s stuffed bunny, is her only confidante. Their “conversations” are therapy sessions that carry Beatie through her mother’s escalating psychotic episodes and her father’s ensuing abuse and neglect. When Frata becomes institutionalized, Beatie’s father no longer speaks to her. Scenes at the dinner table typically go like this:
Father and me sit at the skinny bar table. Father sips soup.
“Did you have a good day at work, Dad?” Silence.
“Do you like peas, Dad?” Silence.
“I like tater tots, Dad, you know, the kind we deep fry in oil …” Silence. “Dad, are you mad at me?” More silence.
Beatie retains a child’s hope that somehow, some way, things will work out and she will have a normal family again. Instead, the episodes from the life of the Scareli family become something of a horror show, with Frata’s frequent courting of the institution, refusal to take her medicine and subsequent marriage to a very creepy fellow hospital inmate. When Beatie’s father throws her to these wolves, it is just another situation where the reader, as a non-participating viewer, feels as powerless as Beatie to change her life. As if to drive this point home, Beatie sometimes sees her life as if it is someone else’s: “I watch another girl who sits in a Datsun. She sits in the car with a man. The car drives to a mental hospital.” This method of escapism is also one of evaluation. It is one way Beatie tries to sort things out by looking at things objectively.
The novel-as-script acknowledges that it contains no form of comedy – not even so much as a speck of black humor is to be found. Beatie’s mother, in the midst of one of her own “episodes,” says:
“Octavious, please keep an eye out for the director or camera person. We need to go over this script. I’m not sure it’s funny, and I don’t know if people are going to laugh…”
Mother is right. This is not a funny script, is it?
If I Love Lucy is intended to make light of life’s situations, then The Lost Episodes of Beatie Scareli is, as the anti-Lucy, intended to examine those quandaries more closely, no matter how difficult the answers might be. Rather than providing material that helps us laugh at ourselves and our situations, this novel is about honestly revealing what has happened, about laying a life out on the table in all its yard-sale shabbiness so that the reader can finally determine its worth.