by Roberta Degnore
A young woman from a strict, religious family and trapped in an equally oppressive marriage struggles to break free in the midst of the Great Depression.
The year is 1932 and Pearl Tild is on her way from Tucson to Los Angeles. Traveling by train with her companion, Gordon McAndless, something feels wrong. Upon arriving in LA, the cause of Pearl’s unease is revealed: a dismembered corpse is found packed into her steamer trunk. From here, Degnore returns to the beginning to trace the story of Pearl, a unique woman who has an unusual perspective of the world, and the events that led to the discovery of her macabre cargo. Pearl is a wonderfully complex character weighed down by the emotional baggage of growing up in her dysfunctional, rigidly religious family. Her emotional state is revealed as much by the peculiar cadence of her speech and the idiosyncrasies of her behavior as by the historical details Degnore provides in small bits and pieces. This fascinating study of human behavior wraps around a cleverly written murder mystery where the identity of both victim and murderer are held in secret until the last possible moment. Degnore subtly peels back narrative layers to bring Pearl’s deepest fears and desires to the surface. At times this careful dissection takes a little too long, which creates a few slow spots; but the large-scale effect is too compelling to resist. Through Pearl’s eyes, her husband, friends and family are also revealed to be full of flaws and human frailty. But, as Degnore gently yet adamantly insists, don’t be too quick to judge—chances are, what you thought was certain is uncertain.
A thoughtful, engrossing story of a young woman desperately fighting to find her own voice even as family, friends and society try to keep her silent.
She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, as well as three other Master’s degrees in subfields of psychology. Always impressed with the idea of being a Renaissance person there’s little she hasn’t tried, tasted and ultimately turned away from in boredom. Lucky accident of time, she has sought out pursuits that would have been deemed worthy of burning at the stake before instead of being simple quests for fun.
Always moving in broad arcs instead of straight lines, she travels widely and learns whatever she can wherever she is from whoever happens to be there. Africa, Eastern Europe, and travels especially to Rome, Florence, Milan (for opera at LaScala) and Amsterdam are her latest targets for chasing more of everything. Unfortunately, she has gone beyond Blondie’s suggestion to die young and stay pretty.
Ms. Degnore is based in New York City but returns frequently to Los Angeles.