My guest today is an intriguing character from one of Fred Misurella’s novels. Please help me welcome Jamie Sasso straight from between the covers of A Pontiac in the Woods. First we’ll get a quick look at Fred’s background and then we’ll dive right in with finding our more about Jamie.
A Pontiac in the Woods is the fourth in Fred Misurella’s cycle of novels about the modern American family. The others are Only Sons, a saga of two competing Italian immigrant families in rural Pennsylvania; Arrangement in Black and White, the story of an interracial marriage in Connecticut; and A Summer of Good-Byes, about an American couple’s attempt to restart their marriage on a visit to Provence in the face of past infertility and the wife’s recent extramarital affair. Misurella has also written Lies to Live By: Stories, and Short Time, a novella about the Vietnam War. His literary journalism has appeared in Partisan Review, Salmagundi, Voices in Italian Americana, Italian Americana, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals. His essays on Primo Levi appear in The Legacy of Primo Levi and Answering Auschwitz. He is the current book review editor for VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), a former Fulbright scholar in France, and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. He lives with his wife and children in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
Betty: How would you describe your childhood?
Jamie: Miserable, especially at the beginning. I was abandoned as an infant, adopted by an older set of loving parents who died when I was still a young teen. From there it was catch as catch can because I never really knew what I wanted to do, or even what was possible. Then a social worker, Mr. Santa, began helping me.
Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?
Jamie: A pretty good public school full of kids and parents with snotty noses constantly pointing skyward. So, to be truthful, I didn’t enjoy it. In fact I fought a lot because everyone thought I was weird. Maybe I was. But running track with the boys helped, and when I met nerdy Misha I finally found someone I could trust (and dance with).
Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?
Jamie: Please, that’s really my business, don’t you think? In any case, it went, and it went well enough from there for me to want more. But you know, there’s a lot more important stuff in life than sucking tongues, so let’s get to it.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?
Jamie: Achievement? For a fourteen-year-old girl living on her own (yes, in the woods, in a Pontiac) what do you think the answer should be? I survived. In a certain way I thrived, which is even better than survival because it gave me a sense of what path I could take and what I might be able to do if I kept pushing forward.
Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
Jamie: My drug-addled birth parents, who abandoned me. And then my living situation after my adoptive parents died, while a distant, no-brain cousin told me to fuck off because he just wanted money. Who could be proud of that? I kept wondering what I had done, if it was somehow all my fault.
Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?
Jamie: That’s a no-brainer, believe me. I’d like my adoptive, loving Mum and Dad to have lived many, many years longer. I still miss them and feel cheated I couldn’t see them grow old and content with me and what I might become. I think of them and miss them every single hour of every single day.
Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?
Jamie: A repeat abandonment, and the whole world either should know and understand that already or is incredibly dense.
Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?
Jamie: A lot, I think. Read my story. I pretty much let it all hang out, even the sucking tongues parts.
Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?
Jamie: Sometimes I think Mum and Dad were too good to live. Maybe I jinxed them; maybe I was too bad to have them with me all this time. I just wish I could hug them again and explain the shit that I’ve been doing.
Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?
Jamie: Jesus, what a question! Somebody who will love me and stay with me a long, long time without getting bored or disgusted; nice eyes wouldn’t be bad either.
Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?
Jamie: Again, read my story: I love to run; I love to dance. And before the pandemic, New York was perfect for both those things when Misha and I went there.
Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?
Jamie: I’d like to stop feeling abandoned again or threatened by it all the time. Even with Mr. Santa and Misha that shit comes over me still. I cannot stop feeling alone.
Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?
Jamie: Good at dancing, better at running. I ran with the boys’ cross country team in high school (there was no girls’ team) and was faster than all but the top one or two. Bad? I don’t know. I’m bad at feeling sorry for people who haven’t suffered as I have. Is that selfish? Probably so.
Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?
Jamie: Please… I’m a constant runner. I like to keep things light. I don’t carry a handbag; no phone either; just some identification in my pocket and, maybe, a paperback or two in a very tiny backpack.
Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?
Jamie: Don’t have a refrigerator, so it’s all canned food and boxes. But that may change if things work out the way I want them to. Check out my story for more details.
Jamie Sasso finds herself alone, with no family or home. Cast adrift by a distant cousin in another state, she finds she cannot tolerate her county’s foster care program. But where can she live, how can she feed herself, and in what way can she plan for her future? Will she even have a future? A Pontiac in the Woods explores those issues and raises meaningful questions about them. With the help of a social worker, Mr. Santa, Misha, a young man she meets at a dance, and her school’s track coach she begins to find her way. But the way is never smooth. More important, she cannot find for sure where that way will lead.
I hope you find the stability and loving home you’re seeking, Jamie. Best of luck to you! And thanks to Fred for giving you the freedom to come talk with us today. It’s been interesting!
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