The Tenth Girl Slow Read chapters 6 & 7

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far without saying, OMG this cover! I love it so much. It may be what first piqued my interest: the school with its deep roots that are somehow rootless anyway. Birds flying above and below, and up close, the background is full of computer coding/gibberish. And all of it in the cool blue of fracturing ice. It’s just excellent. And designed by Jeff Miller, it looks like.

The downside to slow, deliberate reading is that I am easily distracted. By pandemic. By work. By my own glitchy brain. Apparently, my reading style is either “All at once, now now now!” or “huh, I know I was reading something, wonder what it was, oh well,” and picking up a different book* to burn through.

*btw Michelle Birkby’s The House at Baker Street is a good read for those of us who adore Sherlockiana: this case is a mystery solved by the team of Mrs. Hudson and Mary Watson. The tone is spot on, the mystery is gripping, the characters feel well fleshed out, yet recognizable as the characters Conan Doyle created. Holmes and Watson are nicely themselves even if they’re mostly swept off the page. I will definitely read more books by Birkby. This book was right up there with Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection.

Anyway, back to The Tenth Girl.

Chapter 6: Angel 2020-200 : Angel shows up at the breakfast, realizes that she is the only ghostly presence there, and takes the opportunity to eavesdrop on all sorts of conversations. As a method of giving the reader information we weren’t privy to from Mavi’s POV, it’s excellent.

Again, we get the invocation of the mysterious, increasingly ominous “Tenth Girl”—this time when Morency (the unpleasant head of household with her baseless grudge against Mavi) brings the girl up to Carmela as a bad idea–part of Carmela’s greater cause.

We learn more of Angel’s past; we meet her sweet-natured younger brother Rob, her older, arrogant half-sister Liese, the jerk that Liese married. It’s a family disaster waiting to happen, and if Angel’s committed some terrible act of violence, I have a candidate I’m willing to nominate to be her victim.

As an aside, I think this is why I’m not as hooked into her character as I am Mavi’s. These disasters are already in Angel’s past. They’ll be revealed to us, but they’re already done. Mavi’s problems, however, are currently happening which gives them an urgency. Of course, really, Angel’s story is the current one and Mavi is in 1978? I don’t know. My brain persists in thinking that Mavi is current and Angel is the past. Books with characters from two times are always tricky for me. The last one I read that worked well for me was Simone St. James’ The Sun Down Motel.

Unsettled by her memories, Angel decides to teach Mavi’s bratty students (who remind her of her own family bullies) a lesson by haunting them. Some vicious, strong Others nearly drop a roof on the girls. Angel sees the Others and sparks out—the ghost version of blacking out? Or did the Others yank her life energy away from her?

As much as I am not sold on Angel’s character, I am 100% sold on Faring’s writing. This opening section has so much wonderful imagery in it that it’s just flat-out pleasurable to read. There is Angel’s musing that food to her is “now as edible as crumbling plaster moldings”, or the alarmed quiver that strikes her “jelly-thick as an electric eel”, or the amazingly predatory description of Carmela de Vaccaro’s mouth as she withholds information from her loyal minion.

Faring has a way with making villains super-unlikable with one or two lines. First, I hated Domenico de Vaccaro for mocking Mavi’s appetite, and now I hate Angel’s brother-in-law. Not only does he smack Angel around, but he tells her to “learn your place, kid” and holds gratitude over two orphans’ heads. It’s an economic trifecta of terrible.

I’m trying to figure out what the numbers on Angel’s chapters represent. The first one was 2020-0, the second was 2020-100, and this one is 2020-200. So presumably the year plus…? Right now the tag numbers remind me of class levels. Basic haunting, haunting 101, midlevel haunting…

Chapter 7: Mavi, Argentina, March 1978. Mavi meets up with sympathetic fellow teachers at lunch. She and Yesi play a very similar game to the mean-spirited students. Instead of playing “What might have become of the tenth girl, Miss Quercia?”, Mavi and Yesi play, “What is Carmela’s real motive for opening this horrifically isolated school?”

But their game lacks viciousness—they don’t intend their target to hear it, and their imaginings are more absurd than violent.

At the core though, it’s still the same game. Another teacher—Mole, as Yesi dubs her—flattens the fun by giving telling them Carmela has lost her daughter to an unnamed illness and has retreated from the world to mourn.

 Mavi grades her students’ English essays and the reader gets snippets of five of them; it’s quickly clear that there is a lot of unpleasant stuff going on in her students’ home lives. Plus, the cracks are beginning to show in the de Vaccaro family façade: Carmela treats Morency with casual contempt, despite her devotion, belittles her in front of the school as head of household and a third-generation family servant. For Morency, who prides herself as a partner, this is cruel. Domenico has nothing to do and spends most of his time stoned and hateful.

At dinner, Mavi presses for answers on the tenth girl and gets shut down by the loyal, aggressive Morency. But Carmela says she’s been ill and will arrive shortly. Given this in conjunction with Carmela’s dead daughter, I find myself wondering if the Tenth Girl is Carmela’s daughter. In the world of haunted houses and time ghosts that feed off the past living, why not?

Mavi, for reasons that elude me and feel a little contrived, decides to follow Domenico to his rooms (even though he’s been nothing but hateful to her and any sensible girl would treat him like a scorpion and avoid him). But it’s great from a plot point because Domenico has secrets and troubles like whoa.

He seems aware that he’s being watched and followed and says:

“Don’t follow me. Don’t touch me.” …..

“I know what you are, and you disgust me,” he says, “You’re hollow at the core. But having me won’t help you. I’m nothing but a bad memory given shape by a disgruntled God.”

And he shuts the door.

p. 105

And oh Domenico, there’s a lot to unpack in his little rant. It feels like he’s talking to the ghosts, more than to Mavi—though poor Mavi takes it personally. Apparently Domenico has a strange self-image. It’s one thing to have a bad self-image, to consider yourself a mistake or an abomination or whatever terrible thing we might label ourselves. But a bad memory? That’s a strange label to apply. I can’t wait to see what’s going on with him. That’s the plus of him being so unlikable; I’m interested in his situation, but not concerned.

Mavi slinks off to seek solace with Yesi, but Yesi is working. Mavi ends up lost in her own memories: revisiting the moment when she learned that her mother and her mother’s guerillas were responsible for the death of one of Mavi’s classmates— a young girl who resembles one of her current students.  Yet another type of horror; the emotional haunting of a bad memory constantly revived by a young girl who can have nothing to do with the original event.

So that’s chapter 6 & 7. I’ll be honest, I’m a little further ahead than that, but I don’t want these slow read accounts to be endlessly long. But there are some strange changes ahead to discuss!