Tourist Season: Stories by Enid ShomerTourist Season: Stories by Enid Shomer

Tourist Season: Stories

byEnid Shomer

Paperback | March 27, 2007

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In Tourist Season, award-winning author Enid Shomer offers ten brilliant, richly detailed unforgettable stories of resilient women, aged seventeen to seventy, each at a pivotal point in her life. Their journeys cross distances of place and mind: A middle-aged Floridian who learns that she is the reincarnation of a Buddhist saint takes daring steps on her path to enlightenment; a long-buried secret forces one woman to leave the daughter she deeply loves; a Radcliffe student faces shocking family truths and taboos during the summer of 1966; an unexpected kinship forms between two women who land in a county jail after an excursion to Las Vegas. These travelers wander through shifting emotional landscapes of love, sex, and relationships, and often miss the destinations they’d wished to reach–of insight, connection, and understanding. Whether journeying to new geographical locales or exploring uncharted personal terrain, Tourist Season offers a provocative, engaging, and often humorous road map of the heart and soul.

“[When reading Enid Shomer’s stories,] the thing one quickly senses is the will and the voice, someone saying, in effect, ‘Relax, be comfortable, I’m going to take good care of you.’ These are very fine stories.”
–James Salter, in Imaginary Men

“Beautifully made, surprising and inevitable, wonderfully inventive and deeply true, these stories are full of small, irreverent, straight-faced miracles. They will lead women of all ages to suspect that the best may be yet to come.”
––Pam Houston, author of Cowboys Are My Weakness and Sight Hound
Enid Shomer’s stories and poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. She is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Florida Arts Council, and her debut collection, Imaginary Men, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award and the LSU/Southern Revie...
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Title:Tourist Season: StoriesFormat:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 7.95 × 5.2 × 0.59 inPublished:March 27, 2007Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345494423

ISBN - 13:9780345494429

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Read from the Book

Chosen   It was a Tuesday afternoon in early June. School had been out for a week. Iris’s husband, Aaron, had settled a lamb roast in marinade, then taken the dog, Mimi, for a walk on the golf course. When the doorbell rang, Iris was reading Harper’s and working a toothpick rhythmically in and out of her teeth. From her kitchen stool, she saw two dark shapes through the wavy glass panel of the front door.   She rose and peered through the peephole, her line of sight passing through the wooden door and then through the eye of the aluminum flamingo rampant on the screen door. Two bald heads tonsured with gray fringe swam into view, then two pale, placid faces and loosely knotted orange neckties framed by black lapels. “Yes?” she called through the closed door. “Iris Hornstein,” they said in unison. They were both slight, and looked vaguely Chinese. One was much shorter than the other.   “Yes.”   The taller one opened the screen door, withdrew a business card from his pocket, and held it up to the peephole. Mr. Lu Something-or-other Sama. An address in Topeka. No, Tibet.   “What do you want?” Iris asked. She was suspicious of the matching black suits and limp, featureless white shirts. Mormon missionaries? Collectors for some charity she had never heard of? She pictured Tibetan orphans trudging up a snow-laced alpine path.   “To speak with you,” Mr. Sama, the taller one, who seemed to be the spokesman, answered.   “I don’t contribute to charities without reading about them first.” Her rehearsed line, used for years with solicitors. “Do you have a brochure you could leave with me?” Her voice trailed off without conviction.   “We don’t want money,” the shorter one said, less patiently.   “Do we need an appointment?” Mr. Sama asked. “Oh, goodness,” he fretted. “You are very busy at the present moment?”   The man was blushing, apparently at the thought that he had interrupted something important. They looked so sincere, and so unusual; she might as well see what they wanted. Aaron would be back in a few minutes, anyway. “No, I’m not very busy.” She slid the deadbolt back, opened the door, and gestured toward the rattan sofa in the living room. “Come in.”   “We bring you happy news.” A smile creased the taller one’s face, rounding his cheeks until they shined. Bowing slightly, the two men made their way through the doorway and sat side by side. Their smiles broadened into parades. Their eyes glimmered.   “How can I help you?” Iris asked, genuinely curious by now. Were they selling condo shares? Sweepstakes? Was there a Chinese lottery?   “We have an annunciation for you.”   “You mean an announcement?” The correction was automatic. A speech therapist, Iris had spent her professional life listening to deflated vowels and blunted consonants, the pleadings of stutterers, not to mention simple mispronunciations.   The men turned to each other, silently conferring. “No. An annunciation,” Mr. Sama insisted. Iris watched with some alarm as he unbuttoned his suit jacket and reached inside a narrow orange sash at his waist. It was the same brilliant shade as his tie, as the robes of those Buddhist monks who had immolated themselves—in Vietnam? Cambodia? Iris could not place the footage, but it played vividly in her mind, the protean orange of the monks’ robes flying up in flames.   From the sash, Mr. Sama withdrew a colorful piece of cardboard, which unfolded downward, like a wallet pack of family photos. In a decorous tone, he began to read, glancing up periodically to make eye contact, as if he had learned public speaking from Dale Carnegie or the Toastmasters: “Based upon the words of the Dalai Lama, upon the sage writings of our Buddhist brothers and sisters, upon certain omens and signs given to us in dreams and in wakefulness, upon the mystical divination and divagation of soothsayers and mathematicians in Tibet, in India, and in Big Sur, California, and upon names and times written down with significance in his lifetime, it has been determined that Iris Hornstein is the reincarnation of the Great Adept, his holiness, the Saint Amar-jampa.” He took a breath. “You will assume your place, receive training in the ways of a Tibetan holy personage, and share your spiritual enlightenment.” He jerked the paper accordion up, swatted it outward, and trapped it in his hand like a card sharp. The two men looked joyous. “You are this Iris Hornstein.”   “I doubt it.” She eyed the open door. Where was Aaron? “There must be more than one Iris Hornstein.”   “Mother and father were Isador and Mildred Hornstein?”   “Yes.”   “Born on February 13, 1948, in the city of Miami, in the state of Florida, in the U.S. of A.?”   “Yes.” Iris suddenly remembered how the salesman had maneuvered her into buying her first car. She never had to say yes to the car itself, only to the features. She had bought power steering and sea green.   “At two fifty-three in the morning?”   “Two fifty-three? I really have no idea.”   “It is written on your birth certificate,” the short one said. “We have visited the courthouse.”   “Oh,” Iris said.   “Om mani padme hum,” Mr. Sama said.   “Mani padme hum,” Shorty echoed.   They rose and bowed, moving toward Iris like shy boys at a dance. Kneeling at her feet, they gently pried loose her hand clamped on the armrest of the chair and kissed it, closing their eyes reverently. When they opened them, they were full of tears.       Iris’s only connection to Eastern religion was through her cousin Alta, who in the late sixties had lived for a year as a disciple in the ashram of Meher Baba, an Indian mystic famous, paradoxically, for his humility. Baba had taken a vow of silence for twenty years, spoke briefly from his sickbed, then died. A photo of this avatar had hung for years in her cousin’s living room, looped with garlands of paper flowers and tin prayer wheels. Privately, Iris had mocked Baba, who reminded her of Danny Kaye with a goofy, mischievous gleam in his eye. In her cousin’s glossy eight-by-ten, Baba was turning toward the camera energetically, his robes in a blur of motion, as if someone had just tapped him on the shoulder to deliver a telegram. His skin was taut and gleaming, his nose a thin white ridge with sculptural hollows on either side suggestive of privation. But he was grinning gleefully, as if about to burst into song and dance. A bony index finger pressed against his pursed lips, counseling silence in the interest of enlightenment or world peace or something that her cousin had never explained.   Iris didn’t know why Alta had chosen an Indian ashram for her soul-searching instead of one of the communes that were popping up in the States. She decided the ashram was probably full of middle-aged American women. She imagined her cousin in a long gauzy skirt whisking along stone paths between huts while, in the center of the enclave, native women dished up braised offal afloat in lentil soup. Undoubtedly everyone wore sandals and bound their hair with wooden sticks and leather thongs. Although Alta regularly sent Iris postcards that barely withstood the mail and grew yeasty in the Florida heat, she had never really explained what she had been searching for or what she had found.     Not knowing what else to do, Iris offered the men iced tea. “Or would you rather have Coke?”   “We cannot allow you to serve us,” Mr. Sama said, “Holiness.”   “Look, I’m flattered, but there must be a mistake. I’m not even a Buddhist. And I’m certainly not Tibetan, as you can plainly see.”   “You will learn whatever you need to know. Your soul is in a state of preparedness. You are full of wisdom.”   Iris remembered the weird flashes at the health club she’d experienced lately while on the treadmill. Sometimes, during the endorphin rush, an assortment of hugely simplified statements or pert observations ticked across the screen of her mind, like headlines at Times Square. Toothpicks prevent gum disease…. All concepts of honor are based on lack of birth control. Or was it, All concepts of honor are only a substitute for birth control…. Melons that smell ripe are rotten. That sort of thing.   “You are a well of spiritual guidance.”   “Then I hope you brought a bucket and a rope.” Iris laughed at her own joke. The men blinked.   Was it possible? Iris didn’t even believe in God, let alone reincarnation. “I don’t believe in reincarnation,” she blurted. At the same instant, the possibility that everything they had said might be true prodded at the edge of her mind, gently and hesitantly, like a kitten with its plump, soft paw.   Mr. Sama was not fazed. “It does not matter. Souls select their proper vessels. We shall teach you how to speak through the old soul and the new one together.”   Shorty nodded his agreement.   “I have two souls?”   “We will come to all that.” They smiled knowingly, affectionately, the way you might smile at a child who has mispronounced a word.   “I’ve heard the Dalai Lama is a wise, good man,” Iris conceded. She’d seen the Dalai Lama on TV blessing a throng in Dharamsala, India. An American woman in the crowd had reported a surge of bliss when His Holiness touched her hand. “But I’m Jewish,” Iris added.   “We know.”   Shorty went to the kitchen and found three glasses and filled them with cold water. He opened the freezer and took out ice cubes. In the wire basket hanging above the sink where Iris kept vegetables and fruit, he found a single shrunken lemon and squeezed it into the water glasses. Iris realized with fright that she knew all this, though he was working behind her back, out of sight. Then she told herself it was natural for her to know it because she could hear him and there was nothing else but garlic and onions in the basket, so it was only logical to assume the lemon was—   “You left the door open,” Aaron boomed, releasing Mimi from her leash and closing the front door. “I see we have company.” He looked with bafflement at Iris in her chair and the small, dark-suited man kneeling at her feet. Mimi trotted over to Mr. Sama on the floor, licked his cheek once, and curled into her dog bed opposite the sofa.   Shorty said, “I will fix another glass of refreshment.”  

Bookclub Guide

1. A strong sense of place has traditionally been important in Southern fiction. What role does the state of Florida play in this collection? Can you imagine these stories taking place in another part of the country?2. What makes these stories especially modern in your view? Why couldn’t Tourist Season have been written fifty years ago?3. Shomer’s stories have been described as both poignant and humorous. How would you characterize the humor and how is it connected to the serious drama?4. In “Chosen,” Iris Hornstein travels to Tibet to don the mantle of a reincarnated Buddhist saint. Can you imagine this happening to anyone you know? What does this story suggest about religion?5. In “The Other Mother,” Sheila learns the true story behind Royal’s adoption when Royal is nearly an adult. How do you think Sheila would have reacted if she had learned the truth when Royal was much younger?6. What impels Garland McKenney, the protagonist of both “Fill In the Blank” and “Sweethearts,” to commit her crimes? What do you think might prevent her in the future?7. In the story “Tourist Season,” what do you think Frieda means when she tells Milt, “We’re both like Knoblock”? How would you characterize Frieda and Milt’s marriage? How does Frieda’s work as a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot affect her life and their relationship?8. In “Rapture” we learn that Janet “hardly ever referred to herself as an artist or to her work as art,” yet her show tours the South and is featured in an important art magazine. How do you explain this discrepancy? Do you think it is related to her fate?9. “The Hottest Spot on Earth” alternates between two points of view, which is rare in a short story. Why do you think the author chose this technique rather than tell the story from a single viewpoint? What pulls Jill and Patricia together and what pushes them apart?10. A key aspect of “Sweethearts” is Garland’s relationship to Carlene, the housekeeper. What role does race play in this story?11. How would you describe Abby Presner’s behavior toward the unnamed young man in “Crash Course”? Why do you think she doesn’t get frightened until after the incident?12. In “The Summer of Questions,” Riva unravels secrets she hadn’t even suspected existed. What mysteries does she solve and which remain? At the end of the story Alma says, “When you’re not being beautiful, make trouble.” What would Riva’s likely response to this be?13. Do you believe that Helen in “Laws of Nature” is actually becoming younger, or did you read this story as a metaphor or fable? What do you think the author intended? Which other stories address the aging process?14. What role do marriage and work play in these stories? In which stories are the two at war with each other, and in which do they coexist more happily? If you are married, what is the relationship between marriage and work in your own life?15. The women in Tourist Season range from seventeen to over seventy. What differences do you see between the younger and the older protagonists? What do they have in common? Why do you think the author chose to include women of such a wide age range in the same collection?16. If you could be any of the women in these stories, which would you choose? Which character did you most closely identify with?17. Iris in “Chosen,” Sheila in “The Other Mother,” Garland in “Sweethearts,” and Helen in “Laws of Nature” all leave their old lives behind and find new ones. Do the catalysts for change come from within the women, or does environment or circumstance effect the need for change? What do you think might cause you to change your own life so drastically?18. In what ways are the characters in these stories all tourists in their own lives?