cover image The Formation of Calcium

The Formation of Calcium

M.S. Coe. Spurl Editions, $20 (234p) ISBN 978-1-943679-15-7

“Things happened in Chautauqua County which I would prefer to forget,” confesses the homicidal Mary Ellen Washie into a tape recorder, her bare thoughts forming the text of Coe’s knotty latest (after New Veronia). Mary Ellen, 54, recounts how she worked two full-time jobs to support herself and her second husband, Jim Dave, who hasn’t done much except drink ever since injuring himself while working at his uncle’s auto shop. Despite his depression and plea for death, he won’t give her the divorce she wants, so she kills him and flees to Florida. There, she assumes the name Deedee and falls into the good graces of Natalie, a churchgoing woman who runs a bingo scheme, drinks as much as Jim Dave did, and loves gambling. Deedee’s old life begins to haunt her, both figuratively and literally: a true crime podcast probes Mary Ellen’s story, while Jim Dave’s ghost appears in her dreams. The more Mary Ellen tries to reinvent herself, the more lies she tells and the more risks she’s forced to take, and her recordings veer from understandable desperation to myopic self-assuredness, making for a vibrant character study (“It’s like exhilaration and anticipation colliding down in your stomach, where everything real is felt,” she says about her gambits). It’s a wild, rewarding ride. (Mar.)