The other evening, for the want of anything more dramatically interesting, we were about to watch a comedy film on tv, Raising Arizona with Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter, about a couple who steal a baby, when Anita asked me what it was about.
I said it sounded as if it would be very similar to Simple. one of her books.
She looked puzzled, so I rattled off the plot of the book. When I had finished, her jaw was hanging open. ‘How on earth do you remember all of that? I wrote it so many years ago and don’t remember it that well.’
As Anita’s editor, it was no surprise to me that it was still in my head. I had read, edited and formatted that book extensively, as I have with all of her books and can practically recite them all verbatim.
Raising Arizona was meant to be a comedy, but was disapointing. I thought I could watch anything that starred Nicholas Cage, but I was wrong and it got me thinking. By comparison, Anita’s book Simple couldn’t be more different if it tried. Dramatic, sad and full of the nastiness that human beings inflict on one another, especially a mentally challenged man/child like Simple. Not quite as violent and brutal as its forerunner, Bad Moon, but if it was a film, I would wear out the tape in no time!
Excerpt from Simple
I had been walking for so long my legs were slowing down, beginning to stiffen. It would be light in a few hours and still no sign of Simple. I saw the ridge up ahead in silhouette against the night sky and made myself walk a bit further.
Looking down from the top of the ridge, I could see a few lights twinkling on the outskirts of town and the faint gleam of the river that ran down the mountain. I sat and rested my legs, enjoying the cool night air on my damp skin. Then I heard a sound, something was moving about in the darkness behind me. I hid behind a rock, hoping whatever it was wasn’t bigger than me, wishing I had brought Jack’s rifle along.
My heart didn’t slow down, even when I saw it was Simple coming out from wherever he had been hiding. He was carrying something wrapped in a blanket, holding it close to his chest, tight, like he was afraid he would drop it. I stepped out from behind the rock and startled him. At the sight of me, he froze, only his eyes moving frantically from side to side.
‘Leanne shouldn’t be here, Gran be m-mad.’
‘Not as mad as she’s gonna be with you. Where you been?’
He didn’t answer me and sat down on a fallen tree. It was my turn to be startled when the blanket he held moved all by itself. Knowing him as I did, I expected a wounded animal, but I was wrong. He unwrapped the blanket and held up a baby, not a year old. Its white skin gleamed luminous in the pale moonlight and I could see it was a little boy. I didn’t know what to think. Simple had been gone for weeks and I had missed him so much. What on earth did he think he was doing?
I sat staring at the baby, its tiny head swallowed up in his huge hand, so filthy against the clean skin. He couldn’t have had him for long.
Finally, I found my tongue. ‘Where did you get the baby, Simple?’
He looked at me, his big dark eyes swimming with tears, and said, ‘For Lizzie, s-stop her crying’.’
‘Where did you get it? Tell me, we have to take it back!’
‘No, for Lizzie. A b-boy like Simple. Stronger than Lizzie’s.’
This was going to take the rest of the night. I had to make him see, to understand we had to take it back before half the town came looking for it.
‘Everyone’s been looking for you, Simple. I missed you.’
‘M-me too, m-missed Leanne. Then I come back, bring baby for Lizzie.’
I tried to tell him Lizzie couldn’t have this baby, that he had taken it from its Ma and was a bad thing he had done. ‘We must take him back before the sheriff comes looking. Before Jimmy finds us.’
He kept trying to say they had plenty of babies in town. ‘Lizzie’s die. Lizzie can’t make a g-good baby.’ He wrapped the blanket around the baby, holding him so tight I feared he might crush the life out of him. I suddenly realised that the baby hadn’t made a sound, so I looked closer to see if he was still alive. Seeming to sense my presence, his eyes flicked open, a gleaming deep blue in the pale moonlight.
I asked Simple if he remembered where he took the baby from.
‘Town,’ he said. ‘Like b-baby long time.’ He looked funny as if he was trying to remember something. I couldn’t understand what he meant.
‘Like you, long t-time . . . Ma wanted b-baby . . . Simple g-got . . .’
I still didn’t understand, but I couldn’t think about Simple’s words, I needed to get this baby back where it belonged, and quick. I would ask Gran later what Simple was on about. I told him I knew the baby came from town.
‘Do you remember which house, please say you can? Show me where the baby belongs, Simple? Jimmy’s out looking’ for you, you know what will happen if he finds us with this baby.’
Simple looked shocked, as only he could. Eyes wide, mouth open, head shaking, words failing him. The thought of Jimmy touching the baby did the trick though, rather than see the baby hurt, he said, ‘We take it b-back.’
I followed him to the edge of the woods, close to town. Dawn was starting to break in the east, a gradual reminder that daylight would soon give us away. Creeping behind a row of whitewashed houses, Simple stopped beside an open window. I held my breath as I watched him climb in and put the baby back from where he had taken it.
Simple is the follow-up book to Bad Moon, Anita’s first book and is another story about the backwoods people of West Virginia. At the time of writing, some 25 years ago, it seemed as though Anita was channelling actual people, the stories so disturbingly real. Neither Simple or Bad Moon are pleasant stories by any means, being full of raw, powerful emotions and unbelievable cruelty.
They were written long before the world of Indie publishing, so we approached traditional publishers with the help of a well-known literary agent. They all said the same thing, that they were impressed with the strong powerful writing, and that they were well written, but they wouldn’t fit with all the other books on their list. I can appreciate this now, as finding the right category has been hard. If only those publishers had the courage of their convictions and made room for us!
Simple is a nickname his cruel family have given him, due to him being mentally challenged and cursed with a terrible stutter. His real name is Ethan, and although a giant of a man, he has the heart and mind of a child. He spends his time in the woods, tending to wounded wild birds and animals.
His grandmother and brothers beat him for everything he forgets to do, and many things he shouldn’t have done. When his half-sister Leanne cannot bear to watch any more cruelty, they make a plan to escape. But when they try to run, they bring the wrath of their vicious family down on their heads, and the results are terrifying…