Desperate times call for desperate measures, so the saying goes. But what if, in your desperation, you are alone, with nothing but the clothes on your back? And, then, what if you lose those clothes, too? Such are the desperate times of 24-year-old Rita Jackson, who finds herself homeless on the streets of San Francisco, trying to avoid heroin and prostituting herself for money for booze, cigarettes and cheap motel rooms. Rita is the sad, lonely and unforgettable protagonist of Kim Addonizio's new novel, MY DREAMS OUT IN THE STREET.
After a nasty fight, Rita's husband, the dashing and only slightly less dysfunctional Jimmy, storms out of their apartment. By the time we meet them a year later, they have lost each other in the city. Rita circles the city, visiting the places they frequented together. She has lost everything in the previous year, starting with her husband, until she is homeless and strung out --- with no money, no ID and eventually no clothes. She is haunted by her past --- a childhood filled with abandonment, rape, abuse and even murder. Without Jimmy (and even with him), she drinks to numb herself but feels guilty and ashamed of her actions and even for the things done against her.
Jimmy is looking for Rita, but with less intensity as Rita's search for him. He is working as a waiter in a fancy restaurant and has an apartment where he can listen to his blues records. He hangs out in bars with friends, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to stay out of trouble. He gets a tattoo with Rita's name under a heart, but twice he sees her, disheveled and alone on the street, and doesn't go to her. He, too, is overcome with guilt and shame.
After Rita witnesses a crime in the hallway of a scummy motel, she meets Gary Shepard, a private investigator assigned to the case. Charming and strong, Gary at first feels like a safe presence for Rita. But his attraction to her becomes too intense, and she's still in love with Jimmy. Soon, Rita's life is spiraling down faster than ever. She and Gary end up together in a motel with no belongings and very little money, and a killer is after her because of what she saw in the motel hallway. After leaving Gary, she becomes vulnerable to the madman's clutches; still, she seeks Jimmy and holds on to the hope of their reunion.
MY DREAMS OUT IN THE STREET is intense and gritty. Rita, Jimmy, Gary and the other shadowy characters are all damaged and depressed, violent to themselves and to others. But this is also a love story. Jimmy and Rita seem, in the traditional literary sense, destined to be together --- it's just a matter of finding their way to each other again. We are not given a concrete conclusion but are left feeling hopeful for the couple in the near future (although to contemplate their long-term success doesn't engender much hope at all).
Addonizio's prose is light and forthright --- a realism verging on lyricism, without sentimentality but not lacking beauty. MY DREAMS OUT IN THE STREET is short but doesn't feel sparse at all, and in fact readers may be left wanting more. This is a dark and disturbing, yet oddly romantic, summer tale worth checking out.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 7, 2011
My Dreams Out in the Street