Praise for The Magnificent Mary Ann:
"Kraske’s third novel, The Magnificent Mary Ann, is the most moving of his fiction, in large part because he paints an incandescent and wondrous portrait of Mary Ann Jaalkov, who emerges from poverty, abuse and illiteracy in rural Arkansas to star status on the New York dance scene...Kraske’s scintillating portrait of the magnificent Mary Ann will remain etched in any reader’s mind."
-- Robert Douglas, Critics at Large
“Passion, intrigue, murder – and dancing; the perfect American love story . . .”
"Consummate craftsmanship....a great read."
--David Shea at http://davidsshea.blogspot.com/
"I really enjoyed this tale. Philip Kraske is a talented author who has created two diverse but fascinating characters."
-- Citation for Award from Readers Favorite Awards
Be careful about the advice you give: someone just might take it.
On a two-hour airplane flight, road warrior Hal Dormund, half-delirious from jet-lag and meetings in eight countries, gave a rambling monologue of advice to a teary-eyed teenager – she would turn out to be a runaway -- who had sat down beside him. “Find what you like best and work like hell at it,” he said.
It is now seven years later, and she has finally found him to thank him and say that she took his advice to heart. All of it: to Hal’s amazement, Mary Ann recites whole passages of his monologue word for word.
What Mary Ann liked best was dance, and from the moment she got off the airplane, that is all she has done: train and train and train. And it has paid off: she is now the star of a Broadway dance production. It debuts just weeks after her reunion with Hal, and love and success embrace her for the first time in her life.
And what a strange life. Having dedicated herself to dance, she is utterly innocent, knows nothing of the world, can scarcely distinguish between an ocean and a lake. Until she joined the dance company, nobody has ever treated her as more than a hired hand. Her family of Arkansas farmers didn’t even search for her when she ran away. Until now.
Now she is an PR embarrassment to her father, a TV preacher whose ministry is about to go national. And she is the leverage that a vile CEO is using in order to get out of paying Hal’s company for a completed contract. “You want to get cooperation?” he tells Hal. “Don’t put your prisoner on the rack. Put his mother or his brother – or his girl.”
But the central figure, shining amidst the circling black clouds of ambition, greed and jealousy, is Mary Ann: beautiful, robust, joyful, loving – in a word, magnificent. She is a jewel that the reader, like Hal, will never stop turning one way and another, delighting in every facet.
Plunking down your cash. The Magnificent Mary Ann is available in print at Amazon or any of a dozen online sites. The Kindle edition is based on the first edition, and thus has no award seal or "Second Edition" on the cover.
This excerpt is one of my favorites, and I think it's the one that best displays for you the elements of the book: the characters, their relationship, the lurking danger.
"Oh, Hal, don't say that!" Mary Ann cried. "Please don't say that! They're all great guys – the whole dance company is -- and I love 'em like they’re family, but they don't have, y'know, they, you can't, they can't, really, like, tell you anything. I mean, those guys, they know where to buy nice clothes and stuff, and they know how to make a big party and cocktails and they're great, wonderful dancers, but....I mean, none o' those guys are ever gonna work in nuclear power."
"Well, you know what I mean." And her hands shaped a ball that the meaning occupied.
We sat down on the sofa, silent for a long time, our hands joined, feeling the shift and shudder of the building around us and the distant sizzle of New York street life. Now and then Mary Ann, brow wrinkled, examined our hands. It was past midnight. I finally suggested that we go to our respective beds.
Mary Ann agreed; we got up.
"Hal, there's a, can I, um, would you mind if I sort of gave you a, sort of a, a kind of question?" All this in a blurt, and it was clear that more was coming, and it was making Mary Ann's face red.
I checked my shoeshine. "Sure -- ask away."
"Like, about, I mean, it's a sex kind of thing, like."
My oxfords needed new strings. "Anything at all."
"Okay! Ah, do you ever, is it, when you want to hug somebody a lot -- do you get that, ever, like?"
"What -- want to hug somebody?"
"Yeah, like. Yeah."
"Sure, I like to hug people."
Annoyed: "Hal, I'm talkin' about women! You know... Huggin', like, a woman, I mean, pretty much a woman."
"Well, sure. Women especially."
The answer didn't satisfy her much, but damned if I had a better one. "So, like, what do you do? The hug, I mean."
With patience: "Well, if it's the right moment and the right place and the right person -- er, woman -- I hug her."
Mary Ann's brow wrinkled into a thousand waves now, and she sucked in her bottom lip, thinking. "Boy, that's a lot o' right stuff! Gosh!" she gasped.
"So how about it, Mary Ann?" I said finally. "You ask me, this looks like we have all the rights just where they have to be."
Slowly, checking off my list on her fingers: "Yeah, I mean, we got the right place -- I mean, that's no problem, 'cause it's my own house -- with Alba, I mean. And we got lotsa time. And golly, I'd sure like to hug you -- and not, y’know, just quick, like in Chicago."
Had I hugged her in Chicago? I knew better than to question her perfect memory. "Well, then, let's get to it," I said, holding out my arms.
She frowned. "Now that ain't quite what you're s'posed to say, is it? I mean, the guy."
"Ah, right -- sorry. Something a little more, ah, in the mood."
"Yeah, even in dance, you know, Sergio, he's always talkin' about textura. And that's kinda like, y'know, like, feeling."
I put my hands on her shoulders. "Mary Ann, I really want to hug you, and really hard."
"Hey, that was great! Okay!" She shuffled closer. Then the uncertainty flared again. "Well, now, you gotta, like, rehearse this a little with me here. I mean it's my first time and all that. It's not like I, there's just, I don't, like...." She huffed angrily. "Well, I mean, to start with, do I put my arms under your arms, or do you wanna do that, like in Chicago?"
"Mary Ann, c'mon! You've hugged people before."
"But not a man, Hal! Not a real man. Please, Hal. Just tell me how, this first time."
I shrugged. "All right. Well, there are no rules, exactly. Ah, but generally I prefer to put my arms under the woman's, and you can kind of put your arms up around my shoulders." I took hers and put them in place. We were still a hand-width apart.
"Oh, yeah -- we do that in this one jazz step where the guy lifts the girl by the waist."
"Right, and now we kind of squeeze together, nice and slow."
We started to, but Mary Ann jerked back. "Now, am I gonna be on the right or on the left? My head, I mean."
A choreographic question. "Tell you what. This first time, you pick a side, and I'll just follow you."
"Yeah. Yeah. Right. Improv. That's a good idea. So I'm leadin'. Okay." She was nervous. "Oh, and can I unbutton some o' your shirt?" she whispered. "Not many. Just one or two. Or maybe three."
The collar of my business shirt was already open one button. Fumbling, Mary Ann undid the buttons down below my chest and pushed apart the lapels a bit. "Oh wow! This is gonna be great!" she cried nervously.
"Okay, now raise your arms and put them around my shoulders."
She did. Mary Ann's shoulders were tight, and I told her to loosen up her arms. "That's it -- loosen everything up. In a good hug, you press everything together."
This alarmed her. "Everything? Hal, I'm not a harlot, you know."
That strange word again. "No, of course not. Just enjoy yourself."
We hugged. I was taller than Mary Ann by a few inches, and I leaned my head against the side of hers -- on her right, by the way. God, what a body! It was like embracing a tiger. She shifted, and her back muscles leapt like soldiers jumping to attention. My left hand was near the base of her spine -- though I had an instinct not to explore any lower -- and even there I could feel the perfect definition of her buttocks. Her shoulders moved forward, and they embraced me too. Now she seemed to grow into me a few inches. Warm waves of indescribable joy fell over me one after another as if I were at the very gates of heaven. I clutched her closer. A short, single note vibrated in my throat. I lowered my head and kissed her neck by the shoulder, amazed at how deeply felt this was.
"Oh! Oh, Hal!" She raised her head, and I kissed her more, even part of her throat.
Suddenly, she vibrated, the muscles along her spine rose and shivered under my palms, and she wrenched the length of her body, easily wrenching mine along with it. Again, again, again. And then she went slack again, molding so deeply into me that she might have gone unconscious. A sigh sped past my ear.
"Oh, Hal, you're wonderful, you're everything, you're the greatest!" she panted.
For the life of me, I could have sworn she'd had an orgasm.
Early the next morning, in a cab on the way to JFK, I was still amazed at what I had done -- sheepish. I felt as if I had taken candy from a baby or seduced the neighbors' daughter. How had I got so caught up in a moment like that? How could I lead her on? "You fool, she's only twenty!" I muttered. I had a few more things to tell The Beast Inside of Me, but the taxi driver was trying to get my attention:
"Hey, yo. M'man. M’man!"
Shaking myself: "Yeah. What’s up?"
"You want me to slow up for this party followin' you? Or they know the way?"
"Someone's following me?"
The man nodded. "Yeah – what I figured. You didn't know, did ya?"
"Big-ass four-by-four, five-six cars back, left lane? Noticed ’em just after flag-down."
I had a notion to turn around and take a look, but checked it. "You sure?"
"'Member that dippy-divin' shit we were doin' ta get onna the freeway ramp? Your man hustled his ass right along with us."
"You make a habit of watching for people following you?"
He laughed darkly. "Make a habit o’ watchin’ out for any large-type mo-fos lookin’ to put me onna six-o’clock news, ’cause turns out maybe my fare’s carryin’ two keys o’ angel dust in his briefcase. Happened just last month, middle o’ day shift: stopped the cab, cold-blasted the fare, did the brother right in his seat. Ain’t gonna happen to me, no sir.”
I shrugged. "Maybe they're just going to the airport."
"Yeah, and my momma's from fuckin' Norway."
I turned around and looked. I could just see it, a Jeep Cherokee fifty yards back, one lane more over to the left. The windshield was tinted.
"Here’s the deal, m’man," said the cabbie. "I'm gonna change lanes -- like I'm gonna go down Hutchinson P-way? He changes lanes too, you out a hunnerd bucks."
"And if he doesn't?"
"JFK onna house, m'man."
I looked back again at the Jeep. "You're on. Go."
I lost a "hunnerd," but it was worth it: I knew now that the opposition played for keeps.