Book + Beer: Betty Superman and Modelo Especial
I hope you’re not an amateur, the type to quaff dark beer in the summer, light in the winter. The sun all splattered as a flung ball of cheese, so time for Mexican. Today, Modelo Especial (of behemoth Grupo Modelo). You’ll need a heavy, cold glass. (If you can, a chalice [or goblet] would be best, preferably one with scoring [You can do this yourself with a glass cutter] on the inside bottom of the glass, to create a CO2 nucleation point.) You do drink your beer from glass? You do understand that aroma, clarity, head retention, bubble stream, the sheer synaptical rush, the anticipation, etc. is dependent on glass? Listen: Do you want a quality head? Yes, yes, you do—it traps the essential effervescent volatiles. What? You want to just release the volatiles like a bunch of damn kids running round the Walgreens parking lot? Ah, Jesus. You sick-ass. You know what, let’s move on.
Parents. Or, a parent, this woman (the men whirl around with all the gravitas of a vacuum cleaner). Betty Superman (Rose Metal winner) dominates, is the word I’m using. Who is she? Mingy fuss-budget. Rueful drag. Lying truth-yawper. Despotic depressive tarantella. Candy bar cad. Underdeveloped sloppy-knocker. God gossiper. Emphysemic tart. Mother. To this narrator. To this daughter trying to figure out something about her mother. To settle something. To grapple, to slam, to lift to a light, to see, to step upon, something. Tiff Holland (several glow poems here) has created a case study of characterization. A repulsion and an embrace. A homage and an exorcism. A bring up and a take down, of Betty Superman, not so easy—she dominates.
Do you even know how to pour a beer?
Go 45 degree angle into the center of the glass. Now when half through the bottle, slowly tilt glass up and pour remaining beer atop. (Tip: Bring bottle further and further from glass as you pour. You’ll look bad-ass and get a thicker head.) Please use a clean glass, not because I give a shit about cleanliness, but rather because a dirty glass inhibits flavors. And you’re going to need flavors. Know why? Because Modelo Especial is not an especially flavorful beer. It is, however, the beer that was in my refrigerator. So. How does it pour? It pours a tone golden and clean as a bell hung between the horns of a bull walking an alfalfa field. Tinkle, ting. No lacing at all. Clean.
Betty Superman is one of those books sort of aching for the classroom. (Sorry, I teach, and look for these things.) You could build many, many character exercises. You could hold a semester on verisimilitude. You could discuss linked stories (sort of a hot topic recently). You could have your class look up the lyrics of “Superman” by Barbra Streisand. You could discuss the role of narrator, how they reveal and hide away, to effect. You could seriously discuss creation of a dynamic personage. Betty Superman, the character, pulls you in, because of her contradictions. She is narcissistic and caring, caustic and nostalgic, intolerant and understanding, strong and weak, stubborn and yet able to yield, overbearing and then fading away into a curled ball of dropped thoughts/scattered remembrances/rose-tinted bile. She is complex. I didn’t know what to think, and this did three things for me: 1. Kept me reading to gather more information, to shape my opinion of Betty Superman. 2. Once I made some conclusions (For example, I feel Betty Superman is possibly a frustrated, closeted homosexual who secretly wishes she would have come out decades ago), I wanted to read further to pry additional clues. 3. Had me seeking technique—how did Holland create such a vibrant character? (Otherwise, I was looking for things to steal. Hey, I’m a writer.)
As I earlier intimated, Modelo Especial tastes sort of like the tongue of a grass-fed horse. Pours a spotchy, hazy, not-unlike-urine gold color with a thin mosquito-netting of bubbly head. Lots of carbonation. Big-time, thus making it crispy. The smell is a little linoleum, like crumbled up edges of Pop Tarts. The flavors are limited, at best. Slightly broiled malt with a musty, almost un-bathed making-out-in-a-basement aftertaste. The finish is dry, but again, still a tad stale, and the basement thing continues to overpower. Mouthfeel is light, as you expect. I’m going to be honest: this is an average summer beer. It is a beer you can absolutely pound. I use it for athletic events, such as bocce or disc golf, and might drink 12 in two rounds and feel I’m at level 4 to 5, as for alcohol. The beer does not hold great body, but who wants body in this style? It’s a summer beer. I give you permission to add a shard of lime and I rarely give that permission. So.
I think the language could have done more, but I also think the book’s narrator (Betty’s daughter, remember?) is stunned, by memory, by pain, by illness, by a daze/haze of what her life has become. (And the universal horror: what if she is becoming her parent?) So, in many ways, I can see an argument for toning down the bells and whistles, as far as lyricism. I do think the language does an excellent job with items, specifics, namings, with setting. It’s rather depressing when Walgreens is the center of your day. Or: I don’t mean setting, I mean Place (big P). Walgreens isn’t Walgreens—it’s metaphor and reality and daily, daily life. Glaring, selling, artificial, that awful, awful word, convenient; well, Walgreens, in this book, is purgatory, is hell. And all the trappings of Walgreens leave the store, become an aspect of the story, of Betty Superman.
My mother keeps her money in a Pringles jar.
Pall Mall. Marlbaro. Merit.
I know for a fact that any given moment the bra is home to several tissues, her asthma inhaler, roughly thirty dollars in cash and one or two hard candies.
This last item leads me to one thing I have neglected to say about Betty Superman: It is funny. In the best way. This “stuffed” bra is humorous, but it also points to a life of coughing, of somewhat meager means, of the two pitiful hard candies…of a limited horizon. A statement of: are these items what my life has come down to? The type of humor that is sad, in a very real way. Or this opening to another story, “Stretched.”
Mom’s not all the way in the car when she asks if she ever told me she had her pee-hole stretched.
Well, OK…Again, funny, but not ha-ha funny, and as Betty Superman unravels and exposes her life to her daughter, we, as reader, begin to shift our perspectives on this dominating force. I, for one, initially wanted to slap Betty Superman, and then run away. Far away from her harsh world. I ended the book wanting to put my arm around Betty Superman, and maybe telling some kind lie, maybe saying softly, “Hey. It’s going to be OK.”