This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Martha Tod Dudman gained respect and renown as a writer of brutally honest nonfiction – "Augusta, Gone" and "Expecting to Fly" – that laid bare her personal and familial relations. So we had to ask how much of "Black Olives" is based on fact.
With a laugh, she assures us that this novel truly is fiction. Yes, she lives in Maine, as does her main character, Virginia. And, yes, she's hit the 50 mark, as has Virginia. And, yes, she is not now married. But, no, she never panicked after seeing an ex-lover (David in the book) and hid in the back of his Jeep, burrowing down into the folds of his sweaters, as Virginia did.
"Black Olives" is a fantasy, a reflection on lost love. It's a walk down a trail of regret and recrimination, past blame, even past bitterness.
As Virginia hides in the Jeep and later prowls through David's house, she travels back over their 10-year relationship.
Many of her steps are full of recrimination, "So it wasn't all my fault, but sort of, mostly. My fault for being too busy. My fault for being too ambitious. My fault for turning away."
Was his impotence her fault? She wondered that, too. But she was blind to the possibility that he was seeing someone else. The problem had to be within them.
He wanted a wife; she was never ready to make that commitment. "He wanted me there in his house living with him. And the thought of it sickened me and made me feel dead inside; made me feel strangled."
But when he was gone, she crumpled. "He was the one I was used to. He was the one I knew.
"And without him I was just another woman alone. Drying up as I aged, alone in my bed."
Dudman's fiction works so well because it's true. At first, I thought that the readers who would "get it" would be women of a certain age. But "Black Olives" should resonate with anyone who's been blindsided by a loss of love, whether 20 or 60, guy or gal.
The book is small: 180 less-than-full-size pages. But it packs in lots of triggers that can shoot a reader back into his or her past. Dudman says that, when she writes, she does a brain dump, then trims and refines and trims again. The fine-tuning shows in writing that is meticulous and evocative without ever getting maudlin.
Martha Tod Dudman was born in St. Louis but left at an early age.