A Plan for Women

A Plan for Women is my fifth novel. The title was meant to say that men used to(do they still?) have a plan for the women in their life, a complex plan that involved women being what they wanted them to be, and, the women being what they’d promised the men they’d be(do women still promise way more than they can deliver because it’s in their nature to give, and then give some more?), and the damnable confusions of sex—wanting it, getting it, giving it—and all the primal stuff that’s going on in the background that surfaces with having sex, just the whole damn thrilling and maddening mess of intimacy that we get into. I don’t remember much about the reviews, because by then I was not reading them(I did much later) and had asked my publisher not to send them to me, and asked my friends not to tell me about them. This book has some of my favorite scenes, such as Louise’s redneck father making her mother help him on the garage roof, helping him find a squeaky place in the car he can’t locate, the dog who was scared of thunder(a border collie, of course), all the scenes with Mary Pristine Calhoun, Walter’s sister, and Zephyry, a man who’s lost all his memory(the way I wrote him, he’s as naïve as a 14 year old girl, and is like a pet), and gets re-created by Mary Pristine exactly as she would want a man to be. The book has a sacrilegious part, a one page chapter I should have edited out, some people were so offended, and rightly so(I really hate that I left that in), where I pretend that when Mary, in the bible, was told, “go and sin no more,” that that phrase had been transcribed improperly, and what was really said was, “gonads, sin no more.” And, of course, if that had been true, then the responsibility was on the man, and not the woman. I shouldn’t have left that in. The book does have a funny/scary Br’er Rabbit chapter that comes out of nowhere but makes sense. I like this book a lot. It came out the last week in August, in 1997. I went on the book tour, and in South Carolina, no one, that is, zero, no one, came to the bookstores in Charleston or Columbia. “Everyone’s still on vacation,” the bookstore owners told me. Later on, I did give in and read some of the reviews, and I found out it often got terrific reviews, but I didn’t know it, at the time.

Here’s the opening chapter:

Men adored Louise for the pleasure she took in pleasing. Women, it seemed, loved her for what they saw in her heart.

They noticed how eager she was to give herself and they remembered this about their own youth, and they sadly wished her well as they watched her sail off into the sea of men around her.

So Louise, a trusting country girl in a clean white nurse’s uniform, working in a small town in North Carolina, prim and Southern and well-made, skipped along the surface not knowing exactly what it was about her everyone wanted, not understanding how lucky the man who found her heart would be, simply enjoying life and seducing, in her oddly innocent way, everyone around her—her patients, her family, her friends, and Walter.

Walter’s parents, then, would naturally have adored Louise when they met her. His father, especially, was moved to say something to his son he’d been thinking about for some time.

“You know,” his father said, “you bring a girl home to meet us.”

“Right.”

“And then you bring some more.”

“I bring more?”

“Yes.”

“And they’re all lovely women. All of them.”

“Thank you.”

“And I look in their eyes and I see how they feel and what they’re thinking, and it makes me sad.”

“Sad?”

“They’re thinking something you’re not. It’s unfair, Walter. It’s simply unfair.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes, you do.”

“What’s your point, Dad? Make your point.”

My point is this. Stop. Stop whatever it is you’re doing with these girls. It’s not right.”

“Not right?”

“Just leave them be.”

Walter’s father was eighty-six years old. He had practiced medicine until he was eighty-four. He was an old man who had married late in life and conceived his son even later. After all these years, he still did not know Walter.

“I treasure Louise,” Walter said. “I would never hurt her.”

The visit soon ended. It was just after supper on a summer evening in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The house the young couple left, the house where Walter had grown up, was spacious but modest and represented the dignity and lack of ostentation that physicians in the South from his father’s generation thought proper. Few doctors whose practices had begun to thrive in the late forties and early fifties bought Cadillacs when they finally could. They bought Pontiacs or Buicks. The idea of flaunting one’s wealth didn’t suit good Southern physicians back then. Modestly and a virtuous life and a dignified presentation of one’s self and good works for mankind had been mandated for Walter. It hadn’t always been easy to live up to all of that.

“You’re not happy?” Louise asked as they drove home.

“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m happy to be with you.”