Medium 9781912573196

The Parts Left Out

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"The road out to the Bromfman farm in late August is no different from thousands of other roads to grain farms in Kansas-hard-baked dirt dusted with a fine powder of yellow clay that shifts almost imperceptibly with the slightest movement of the air. Randy Larsen was on his way to the farm in response to a call saying someone had died out there." Thus begins the suspenseful story of a poor farming family in which each generation holds the next in its deadly, predictable grip until murderous opposition explodes. The characters, all beautifully drawn and sympathetic in their own way, are determined to escape this fate, and some seem close to doing so. Thomas Ogden's debut novel has received international recognition and Best Seller Ranking:Number Four on the Israeli Best Seller List for the year 2017--Ha'Aretz Newspaper ("The New York Times of Israel")Israel's Critics' Choice 2017 Top 10 works of fiction. 'A beautiful and touching novel.' - Maariv, Tel Aviv'Without any harshness, and with a steady voice, Ogden writes the story of trauma, transmitted from one generation to the next, until it is interrupted, violently.' - Ha'aretz, Tel AvivPraise from Italy:'Thomas Ogden, who is perhaps the most renowned psychoanalyst writing today, demonstrates his prowess as a writer of fiction in his stunning debut novel, The Parts Left Out. His keen eye for the complexity of human relationships and human frailties makes the characters so real and compelling that they seem to step out of the page. Ogden's novel confirms that the truest concepts developed in psychoanalysis have already appeared in the insight of the artist. This story takes hold of the reader in its opening paragraphs and does not let go until its heart-wrenching ending has been told. I found this book almost impossible to put down.'- Antonino Ferro, M.D., President of the Italian Psychoanalytic AssociationPraise in the United States:'Ogden writes movingly and convincingly about everyday life, at the same time that he writes tragedy. . . The dialogue rings true psychologically, at the same time that it is unnerving . . . I do not find this a conventional novel in the sense of offering a smooth or consistent narrative, much less a single point of view. Rather it is jumpy, unsettling . . . but this is also, I believe, its strength.'- Madelon Sprengnether, Regents Professor of English, University of Minnesota, International Journal of Psychoanalysis'Not only is Thomas Ogden the most creative psychoanalytic author writing today, but in this novel he shows himself to be a wonderful teller of tales. The Parts Left Out is an auspicious achievement. As a work of fiction it succeeds in accomplishing the most difficult of feats: to be both a spellbinder and an in-depth exploration of human traits that bring on unspeakable tragedy. Tom Ogden knows the human mind as few do. In The Parts Left Out he demonstrates his remarkable understanding not only of the mind, but of the human heart as well.' - Theodore Jacobs, MD, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

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One

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ONE

The road out to the Bromfman farm in late August is no different from thousands of other roads to grain farms in Kansas—hard-baked dirt dusted with a fine powder of yellow clay that shifts almost imperceptibly with the slightest movement of the air. Randy Larsen was on his way to the farm in response to a call saying that someone had died out there. In Arwood County, one of the deputy sheriffs makes a routine inquiry into the circumstances of every death that occurs outside of County Hospital. These investigations most often turn into simple condolence calls. Randy supposed that one or another of the parents of Earl Bromfman and his wife—he couldn't remember her name—had died during a visit.

Randy knew Earl in high school when they were teammates on the football team. Every year some of the older players would razz the younger ones. Earl, a junior when Randy was a freshman, looked out for Randy when he first joined the team, something for which Randy remained grateful to this day. He remembered Earl as a “farm kid”—one of the children of farming families whose lives were unimaginable by those who grew up in town. Farm life was a life ruled by nature in ways the town kids could sense, but could never really grasp. Forces of immense power—hundreds of miles of black clouds of locusts that eclipse the sun; league after league of wheat blight that has the power to destroy an entire year's labor of thousands of people; farm animals’ desolation after a stillbirth; the havoc wreaked by an aberrant early frost or a summer hail storm—all of this hovered silently over the farm kids, knowledge that nature has no enemies, nor does it have its favorites, knowledge that drew these children inward into terrible fear in the face of the limits of their parents’ power to control their own fate, much less that of their children.

 

Two

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TWO

Instead of returning to the diner as was her pattern after her previous visits to the drugstore, Marta made her way directly to the dry goods store. She selected a pair of leather work gloves and some leather shoelaces. The next thing she knew she was on the street again, and had no memory of who had been at the cash register or of having opened her purse to pay for her purchase. She looked at her hands to see if she was carrying a bag that contained work gloves and shoelaces, and if so, what sort of bag it was. She saw in her left hand a brown paper bag. She peered inside and saw the work gloves and laces that she had intended to buy, which reassured her that she was not losing her mind. Nonetheless she worried that she might have appeared strange or said something nonsensical, or worse yet, said something about why she was buying these things. She wondered if she was dreaming and would soon awaken to discover that her life was quite simple and conventional. What a gift that would be—but her life had never offered up gifts of that sort.

 

Three

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THREE

After listening to Melody's account of what happened that morning, Randy said that he would like to take a few minutes to think about what he had heard and seen before deciding what to do about it. He walked around to the back of the house and went into the kitchen again. The room itself had a strange feel to him, aside from the fact that Marta's dead body was laying on the floor. He had been in hundreds of houses in the course of the past twelve years as a deputy, and this one was different. The whole first floor was a single room, with a bathroom tucked under the stairs to the second floor. The first floors of other houses no bigger than Earl's, were divided into a kitchen, a living room, and sometimes a small dining area next to the kitchen. The undivided first floor of Earl's house gave Randy the feeling that whoever built the house had given up on it, left it unfinished. It looked more like an empty doll's house than a place where a family of four people lived.

From where Randy was standing at the back door of the house, he noticed that all four walls of the room were bare: there wasn't a single family picture, photograph, or children's drawing, not even a calendar or a clock to break up the bleakness of the pale yellow walls that were streaked with grease-laden dust. The rectangular oak table stood stolidly in the middle of the room. Three of the wooden chairs were tucked neatly in place, while the fourth, with its back to him, was pulled out from the table. On the side of the room to Randy's left, a flight of stairs climbed steeply to the second floor with a handrail secured to the wall, but without a banister. The two walls in front and in back of Randy each had two curtainless windows on either side of a door between them. In the far left corner, peering out of the dark, was an easy chair with a small table and lamp next to it. These pieces of furniture seemed unanchored, bearing no connection with anything else in the room.

 

Four

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FOUR

Once the children were bedded down, Earl sat by himself on the front porch of the house. He did something he had loved to do when he was a boy, and had loved to do with Warren and Melody when they were small. He held his hand a half-foot in front of his face. With all the lights out in the house, the darkness was complete: he couldn't see even the dimmest outline of his hand. Earl found the absolute absence of light both wondrous and frightening. The throbbing din of crickets filled the void left by blindness. With his feet up on the railing, Earl sat tilted back on one of the metal kitchen chairs. When he lit a cigarette, he could see for a flickering instant the other three chairs gathered round him like children waiting to be told a story. The chairs, each with a torn red vinyl seat, had been left in a heap of odds and ends by a neighbor after selling his farm and loading in the back of his truck all that he felt was worth salvaging from his twenty-five thankless years of wheat farming. It was hard for Earl to believe that he had killed Marta earlier that same day.

 

Five

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FIVE

In the days immediately following Marta's death, Earl, Warren, and Melody were surprised by the way in which the rhythms of life on the farm seemed oblivious to Marta's absence. Without uttering a word about what they were doing, they seamlessly took over the various chores that had been Marta's. Her absence did not leave a hole, it opened a space. Earl was aware of how different this was from the weeks and months following the departure of his parents from the farm. They moved East when Melody was six and Warren two. Earl's father, Henry, was no longer able to tolerate the damp, cold Mid-West winters, which caused his arthritis to flare to the point that he could barely walk. They moved to North Carolina, near Earl's sister Leslie and her family. Flora, Earl's mother, died of pancreatic cancer six or seven years after the move.

Earl was surprised by how infrequently he thought of his mother, but in a way it made complete sense. She had been less a discrete character in his life than she had been the stage on which his life was played and the audience for whom the play was performed. What was important was important because it was important to her. With her children she could be finicky about having things done right—not starting to eat before everyone was seated at the table, not slipping into sloppy language such as the use of words like “ain't,” double negatives such as “don't want none,” and the use of adjectives as adverbs, as in phrases such as “ran pretty good”—but she was rarely morally judgmental. Though Flora had not attended college, she was a very intelligent woman who liked nothing better than to talk with the minister about the sermons he delivered, particularly when her understanding of the piece of scripture from which he had read differed from his. The parables were, for her, commentaries on everyday life lived by ordinary people, not descriptions of the godly behavior of saints and the Savior. Neither did Flora view the minister himself as different from her or anybody else. She didn't hesitate to tell him when she thought a member of the congregation or a family could use a visit from him because of the comfort he could provide in the wake of a sorrow, a disappointment, or an embarrassment. She accepted people for who they were and did not ask them to be anyone else—all three of her children felt this keenly. When Earl, his brother Paul, and Leslie were talking about their mother soon after her death, they were surprised to learn that they each had secretly believed that they were her favorite, and they were all correct in feeling that. Each of them was different and she loved each of them differently, and loved each best.

 

Six

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SIX

Warren, sitting up in bed in the semi-darkness, staring at the shadows on the opposite wall, asked Melody, “What's a coroner?”

Melody answered, “I asked Daddy that and he said it's a doctor who examines dead bodies to see what they died of. They want to see if someone killed her.”

“They already know Daddy killed her. He's told them that himself.”

“But they want to find out if he did it on purpose,” she said.

“He was trying to stop her from stabbing me.”

“Warren, the deputy keeps trying to get Daddy to say that he didn't have to kill her to protect us or himself. He could have just pushed her or held her instead of hitting her so hard she went flying and broke her neck.”

“Do you think he did it on purpose?”

“No,” Melody said with finality.

“The doctor must think there's a chance he wanted to kill her—he said the funeral had to be set back for two days so he could take more time examining the body, didn't he?”

“Yeah. I don't know what they're thinking. They like to turn things into a murder investigation—it makes them feel like detectives in the movies,” Melody said.

 

Seven

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SEVEN

Randy had asked Earl whether he would like to be the one to inform Marta's parents of her death, adding that he was going to have to talk to them to complete the Sheriff's Department “paperwork” connected with her death. Earl said that it would be fine with him if Randy let them know. He said that he had never met them and didn't know if they were still living in the same small town in the western part of the state where Marta grew up.

Two days later Randy told Earl that he had spoken to Marta's father who said he was sorry to receive the news, but the journey would be too taxing for him and Marta's mother. He said that Marta's older brother was living somewhere in upstate New York, but they had not heard from him in years. They also said that they had lost contact with Marta's younger sister, and did not even know if she was still alive. Randy said that it struck him as odd that Marta's father included in his response the possibility that his younger daughter was dead. She was only in her early thirties. Melody and Warren had never met their mother's parents, nor did they know that she had a sister and brother.

 

Eight

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EIGHT

Toward the end of the fall semester of her senior year, six weeks after marrying Earl, Marta found a letter from the comptroller's office of the university in her mail box. This was not unexpected because at the end of each of the previous semesters she had received letters from the comptroller's office confirming the extension of her work-study scholarship. But before opening the envelope, Marta had a premonition that this letter was different from the others. She put the unopened envelope into the pocket of her green loden coat, and made her way up the four flights of stairs to the top floor. The apartment was dark, lit only on one side by the trapezoids of light on the ceiling cast by the streetlights in front of the building and the headlights of the occasional passing car. Marta let her backpack drop to the floor and made her way to her bedroom. She turned on the desk lamp and removed the letter from her coat pocket. With her heart pounding, she clumsily tore open the envelope.

 

Nine

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NINE

After the last amen was said in the funeral service, the guests slowly stood and waited quietly for a clearing in the movement of bodies down the center aisle. Earl, Melody, and Warren, in the front row, remained seated, staring ahead of them at the deserted altar. The guests, on stepping over the threshold of the front door of the church, were lashed by the white-hot rays of the noonday sun. Many held their palms to their foreheads as a makeshift visor, while others stooped, eyes to the ground, as they made their way forward, as if ducking under the blades of a helicopter.

As the guests rounded the southwest corner of the building, they found themselves in the dark shadow cast by the nave of the church. They paused as their eyes adapted to the dimmer light. Earl, Warren, and Melody were led by the minister through a side door in back of the altar. The four of them walked the length of the church to a spot in the shade where Earl and his children stood in a row accepting the condolences and good wishes of the guests, some shaking hands, some hugging, and others giving kisses on the cheek to the grieving family.

 

Ten

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TEN

Randy Larsen was amazed by the dexterity with which he was dismissed by Anne, whose last name he learned from other guests at the funeral later in the day. He had never met a woman so self-possessed. As Randy thought about their exchange, he was embarrassed but also intrigued. He wished he had had the equanimity to say to her, “When would be a more suitable time to talk?” He fussed over the words he might have used—would the phrase “more suitable time” have made him sound like a hayseed deputy attempting to sound “educated”? He considered and rejected the idea of following her after the reception or having another deputy follow her. It was as difficult to place her in relation to Marta's death as it was to place Earl. He had observed that she and Earl had not yet said a word to one another or even acknowledged one another's presence. It's not unusual for a person not to be on speaking terms with a relative. But this woman was the only member of Marta's family to attend her funeral, which, to Randy, suggested a division in the family in which she and Marta, and perhaps Earl, were on the same side of that divide. When Randy spoke to Marta's father on the phone, Mr. Noel showed not the least inclination to attend his daughter's funeral, and said he didn't know if his younger daughter, in her early thirties, was still alive. This woman is not supposed to exist. Neither Earl nor his children mentioned that Marta had a sister. And yet, she's not in hiding. Quite the opposite. She dresses in a way that draws attention in a highly effective, understated way.

 

Eleven

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ELEVEN

In the weeks immediately following Marta's breakdown, Earl felt so depleted that he could do little more than attend some of his classes, visit Marta, and sleep. He spoke with Anne by phone a couple of times a week. During this period, Anne broached what she felt to be a delicate matter. “I know you have a lot to handle and I don't want to add to the load you're carrying. And I don't want to be intrusive. I know it will sound horribly selfish when I say this, but I feel extremely lonely. It feels as if I've lost the only real friends I've ever had. Would you consider letting me continue to visit on the weekends the way I've been doing since the beginning of the summer? I know that it might look to others as if I'm trying to steal my sister's husband while she's in the hospital. That's all. It was hard to ask you that.”

There was a long silence during which the static on the phone line seemed to increase in volume. Earl, too, was concerned that Anne's spending the weekends alone with him in the apartment would appear shamelessly lascivious and a terrible betrayal of Marta. If Marta knew, she would no doubt blow a fuse. But he was sick of worrying about what would or would not upset Marta. He vowed at that moment not to allow Marta's insanity to dictate how he lived his life. What occurred between him and Anne was his responsibility, and he would answer to himself, and to nobody else, for it.

 

Twelve

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TWELVE

The guests at the funeral reception were staying far longer than Earl had expected, deep into the afternoon, despite the weight of the damp heat in the air. Instead of the grim faces and stooped shoulders that he had anticipated, there was the hum of lively conversation. The presence of old friends, long since moved away—and a glamorous, mysterious stranger who had an uncanny resemblance to Marta—was a rare and welcome event in the life of the people of this farm town, even if it took a funeral to bring it about.

After talking with their grandfather and Leslie, Melody and Warren turned their full attention to the woman who looked like their mother. Melody screwed up her courage to approach her, and Warren strode a single pace behind. As they stood next to her, not yet knowing what to say, she looked even prettier than she had from a distance. She smiled at them in a way that felt genuine and said, “Hello, Melody. Hi, Warren. I'm very sorry about your mother. I miss her too. I'm her sister, Anne.”

 

Thirteen

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THIRTEEN

Melody and Warren kept an eye on Anne all afternoon. They scrutinized the way she handled the other guests as they introduced themselves to her. Melody, completely enthralled with Anne, said to Warren, “I can't believe that she's our mother's sister, and that she's related to us. It's as if a hummingbird were born to a family of lizards. I've never seen anyone so beautiful except in the movies. That's how I'd like to be, not like all the other women here.”

Warren, interrupting Melody, said, “I don't like her. It's all an act. Why can't you see that? You don't mean anything to her. Nobody means anything to her except herself. We're an audience for her performance. We don't mean any more to her than we do to movie stars we see on television. They don't even know we exist.”

“Warren, stop that. You don't know what you're talking about.”

“And you do?”

“I know more about people than you do,” Melody insisted.

“You do? Is that why you knew how to play our mother better than I did?”

 

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