A favorite spring fever fantasy of mine goes something like this: What if I just walked out of my life and assumed a completely new identity? What if I simply created a new persona, complete with birth certificate, driver's license, credit cards? What if . . . ?The logistics may seem daunting at first, but certainly not impossible. Track down a birth certificate of someone born around the same time as you, pay a few dollars to the registrar for a certified copy. Obtain a driver's license using the birth certificate as ID. With a driver's license, it is a simple matter to obtain a credit card or two, then a passport, and you're off and running. Literally.
Of course, you need a plausible disposal method for the old you, preferably something that will not be questioned too strenuously. Say, a drowning death in which the body is not discovered. This is particularly effective if you are in some far-off country where the forensics team is inept, unconcerned, or buyable.
Francesca Woodbridge is in just such a place, a small island off the coast of Greece. Her marriage is unraveling, her teenage son is about to leave the nest, her Russian lover (who is also her gardener) has disappeared without a Dos Vedanya, leaving her love life and her shrubbery in disarray. Packing her passport and wallet into a knapsack, she clambers down a steep trail to a deserted beach. All she needs to do is plant the evidence, then wait for the inevitable discovery of her sad demise.
Francesca decides to embark on a trial run before taking the final plunge (so to speak), so, as freshly dyed redhead Jeanne Thompson, she makes the journey back to her Washington hometown. Taking up residence at a small (and cheesy) hotel, Francesca takes a week-long time lapse snapshot of her life and comes up with some insights very different from the ones she left with.
In the course of her tale, Francesca weaves in the mysterious shooting of her lawyer husband, the untimely and grotesque death of his father, the comforts and constraints of a midwestern upbringing, and an unsettling vignette about Chernobyl and its aftermath. For Francesca, the spectre of Russia has exerted a tug ever since she can remember, from the wheatfield missile silos of Cold War mid-America to the shy refugees of the post-Communist years, from whom she chose a gardener, a confidante, and a lover.
My Russian is a brilliantly crafted story of a woman whose life has somehow gotten away from her, who has slid down a slippery slope into dissatisfaction, and the extraordinary choices she makes in coping. ¦Bruce Tierney lives in Nashville, Tennessee.