This spellbinding story introduces the unforgettable seventeen-year-old narrator, Luke Prescott, who has been brought up in a bohemian matriarchy by his divorced New Age mother, a religious grandmother, and two precocious half-sisters. Having spent a short lifetime swinging agreeably between the poles of Eastern mysticism and New England Puritanism, Luke is fascinated by the new fields of brain science and believes in having evidence for his beliefs. "Without evidence," he declares, "you just have hope, which is nice, but not reliable." Luke is writing his college applications when his father--a famous television star whom he never knew--calls and invites him to Los Angeles for the summer. Luke accepts and is plunged into a world of location shooting, celebrity interviews, glamorous parties, and premieres. As he begins to know the difference between his father's public persona and his private one, Luke finds himself sorting through his own personal mythology.
By the end of the summer Luke thinks he has found the answers he's been seeking, only to discover that the differences between truth and belief are not always easy to spot, and that evidence can be withheld: when Luke returns home, his mother reveals something she knows will change everything for him.
With Blind Sight, Meg Howrey gives us a smart, funny, and deeply moving story about truth versus belief, about what we do and don't tell ourselves--with the result, as Luke says, that we don't always know what we know.
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May 26, 2009
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Excerpt from Blind Sight by Meg Howrey
I have been thinking about names, actually my name in particu�lar, for about ﬁfteen minutes now. What I should be doing is work�ing on my college application essay. That's one of three things I have to do this summer. The other two are running between seventy and seventy-ﬁve miles per week, and getting to know my father, whom I just met. I've made a training schedule for running, and the essay only needs to be between three and ﬁve hundred words, so those two shouldn't be that hard.
My father ﬂew me out here to Los Angeles ﬁve days ago. I wouldn't say that I know him yet.
Anyway, before I get to the essay, I've got to ﬁll out the personal information section on these forms: name, gender, ethnic afﬁliation. "Who are you? What are you?"
It's a very American kind of question, "What are you?" People are always telling you how they are Sicilian, or Polish, one-sixteenth Cherokee. People might hear my last name, and say, "Oh, is that English* Your family is from England?" And I will say, "No, my fam�ily is from America." Because when it was your great-to-the-eighth� power grandparents who emigrated here from England I feel like, "Yeah, I'm not really English, okay*"
I guess this doesn't happen so much in other countries, where they don't have an Ellis Island to chop off two syllables and six letters from your last name. Imagine this kind of conversation going on in Tokyo:
Japanese Speaker One: Hello, my name is Fumio Watanabe.
Japanese Speaker Two: Water . . . NOB . . . hay* Am I saying that right* What is that? Russian*
Yesterday I visited my dad for the ﬁrst time on the set of his TV show and there was a little confusion at the security booth. I gave my last name, "Prescott," but the ID tag they had for me said "Franco." I guess they assumed that I would have my father's last name. It seems weird that he would have told them I do. Anyway, Mark Franco isn't even my father's real name.
My father's real name is Anthony Boyle. He had to change it when he became an actor because when you do a movie or a televi�sion show you have to join the Screen Actors Guild and there was already an Anthony Boyle registered in the union. Two actors can't have the same name, so my father had to change his. He didn't make "Franco" up: it's his mother's maiden name. She is second-generation Mexican. (His father was "maybe Irish and something else.") I forgot to ask where he got the "Mark" part.
My father told me that if people ask him what he is, he says he is Italian. His manager told him to do that because being Italian sounds sexy and being half Mexican and half maybe-partly Irish sounds "kind of random."
If my father had kept his real name, then we--my family--would have made the connection that the guy on television and in movies was my dad. But since he and Sara--that's my mom--didn't really know each other that long, well, not really at all really, and Sara didn't have any pictures of him, and she never watches action movies anyway, and you don't usually consider that famous people's names aren't actually their names, you can see how the whole thing got lost in translation.
Knowing this about my father's background, I see that I could check off the "Hispanic" box right here on my applications, but that seems shady. I just met my father. It doesn't seem ethical to try and cash in on his partial ethnicity, and furthermore out him as a not-so-sexy-as-Italian half Mexican. And like I said, I don't even have his last name, either Boyle or Franco, since he and my mother were never married.
Sara was married once and that is how I have my two sisters, Aurora and Pearl, but after she got divorced she took back her maiden name. This was all before I was born. So all three of us kids have always been Prescotts and when we moved in with Sara's mother--my Nana--that really worked out because Nana is also a Prescott.
Nana is a Prescott by marriage, but her ancestors have been in America for a long time too. She has a special Bible from the seven�teenth century with her maternal family tree written down on the inside covers. I guess it was a good way to keep track of people. And the family Bible they wrote in often became a keepsake kind of thing, something to pass on to your children, especially if you were poor and the only other things you had to leave your children were, like, a calico blanket and a thimble.
I should say that Nana's family Bible is not a collectible item. It's held together with masking tape, and there is water damage and ripped pages and stuff. Nana has it stored now in a special acid-free box. Before that, she kept the Bible inside a ziplock bag at the bottom of her nightgown drawer.
One night when I was about nine, I guess, Nana said at dinner, "Well, I suppose after we clear the table, I might show the children the family Bible," and maybe we all said, "Yay," or whatever because we had all heard about it but never seen it. Nana brought it down from her room--at that point it was still in a ziplock baggy--and we all sat around and looked at the names of our ancestors.
Daniel Perkins (b. 1657, d. 1709)--Abigail Perkins (b. 1664, d. 1738)
That was the ﬁrst line. The dates might be off by a year or two.
"Abigail Perkins," Sara told us, "was one of the women who were accused of witchcraft in the Salem trials."
My sisters Aurora and Pearl sort of oohed at that; so I oohed too even though I hadn't gotten to the Salem witch trials in school yet.
"Did they hang her*" Aurora asked.
"Oh no," Nana said. "She had to go to prison for a little while and then they let her go. She was just ﬁne."
"She must have been terriﬁed," Pearl said, liking the sound of that. "Absolutely terriﬁed."
"It's nothing to worry about," Nana said. "We don't really know anything about it."
"Aunt Nancy did some research on Abigail Perkins," Sara said. "She thinks Abigail might have confessed and that's why they let her go."
"Not that she really was a witch, of course," Nana said.
"Maybe she was," Pearl suggested. "Maybe she was the one real witch and gave the one real confession."
"That's a very creative idea," Sara said.
"They weren't witches," Aurora announced with authority. "They were probably midwives or healer women."
"Anyway," Nana said.
"Let's read all the names out loud," Sara suggested. "Everybody can do one line." So we did that. They ﬁlled the front inside cover of the Bible and continued on the back, right down to the bottom of the page. The handwriting got much clearer, regular cursive mostly toward the end where we got to Nana and her two sisters, and Sara and her two sisters, and then my two sisters and me. Aurora read that one out loud, and we all applauded ourselves.
"I'll just make some tea," Nana said, going into the kitchen.
"There are a lot of Emilys." Pearl leaned over the Bible. "I wish my name was Emily. It's a million times better than Pearl."
"You can be anything you like." This was what Sara always said to Pearl when Pearl complained about her name. "You tell us what you want us to call you, and we will call you that."
"Everybody had girls," I said, looking at the names. "Unless they left out the boys' names*"
"They didn't leave them out," Sara said. "There weren't any boys. Does anybody see another pattern*"
We all leaned in closer.
"There's always three," Aurora said. "Three girls. Unless people are missing."
"No, that's exactly right," Sara said. "And only one person in a generation ever had children. See how there's only one line coming down from every set* Only one of the sisters ever had children, and when she did, it was always three girls."
"Oh yeah," Aurora said. "I get it now."
"Pretty cool, right*"
"Is it supposed to mean something*" I asked.
"Well, what do you think*"
"I think it means something," Aurora said.
"It means something if you believe it does," Sara said. "Remember, it's not, 'I'll believe it when I see it.' It's, 'I'll see it when I believe it.' "
That was when I suddenly thought of the Plinko game. I had played Plinko at the county fair with my sisters that very summer. It's this game where you are given a ping-pong ball to drop at the top of a wooden board with nails sticking out of it. It's like a kind of maze. You drop your ball in at the top and it falls down, bouncing left or right depending on which nails it hits, and what angle it hits them on, and eventually your ball falls into a bottom slot. The object of the game is to have your ball land in the WINNING slot in the middle of the bottom, and if you do, you get a prize. You watch other people do it, and you strategize and think, "Okay, I'm going to start my ball at the far left corner, because then it will have to mostly bounce right, and it'll kind of work itself over to the middle." But of course strategies like that don't work when the game is entirely random. You can't do anything to improve your odds.
So thinking about that, and looking at the names running down the pages of the Bible, it didn't look to me like a family tree. It looked like a family Plinko game, with girls ricocheting off of girls.
A few years later I did a search on Ancestry.com and found out that those names in the Bible are accurate. None of those women had any boys and there were only three girls to a generation and all of those girls always came from a single member of the previous generation.
It's hard to say why. Take Nana and her sisters, for example. Her younger sister Eileen is still alive, but she never visits because she breeds Dandie Dinmont terriers and says she can't ever leave them. She lives in Nebraska, and sends my sisters and me checks for fourteen dollars on our birthdays and at Christmas. "The mystery of Great-Aunt Eileen," Aurora says, "is not, 'Why did she never marry and have children*' but, 'Why fourteen dollars?' " No one has an answer for this. But I guess we can take it that Great-Aunt Eileen's reproductive interests are pretty much canine.
The other of my grandmother's sisters, the one my mother was really close to--Great-Aunt Nora--died the year my sister Pearl was born. It is Sara's belief that Pearl is actually Great-Aunt Nora reincarnated. (Pearl is totally not into this idea and says that it is "an invasion of her free will" and also "gross.") According to Sara, her aunt Nora was very spiritual and had these amazing psychic powers and through those powers she always knew that she was not "the one" of her generation to have children.
So Nana was the one. Not that she would ever describe herself that way. If you ask her about the whole thing she will just say, "Yes, our family has always run to girls."
The precise geometry--not to mention redundancy--of how our family has run to girls is not especially mysterious to Nana because it falls into the general mystery category of God's will, which is also something you will see only when you believe it.