The Angels’ Share by Rayme Waters (Winter Goose Publishing; 282 pages; $15.99).
Cinnamon Monday is a survivor. She’s only 25, yet her life has been characterized by drug abuse, neglect, and physical violence. If her drug addictions don’t kill her, then surely her boyfriend, Kevin, will. Cinnamon’s world is not pretty; it’s gritty, stained, painful, and dangerous in Rayme Waters’ powerfully provocative, atmospheric and affecting novel, The Angels’ Share.
Waters was born in San Francisco and grew up in Northern California and in Sweden. Her short story collection, The Island of Misfit Girls, was nominated for a prestigious Pushcart Prize and a Dzanc Award. The Island of Misfit Girls won a storySouth Notable Story distinction. The Angels’ Share is her debut novel.
In The Angels’ Share, Waters shows us both the past and present of Cinnamon in alternating chapters. This method of storytelling adds an element of mystery to Waters’ tale. There is such tragedy within these pages. But there is also a great deal of hope.
As a young girl, Cinnamon turns to literature and has two imaginary playmates. Her parents are hippies: her father, a pothead drifter; her mother, the offspring of wealthy parents who once owned a renowned San Francisco hotel. Cinnamon makes friends with the characters in novels; they never leave her side, as her parents were wont to do.
When her mother returns to her family home to beg Cinnamon’s grandmother for money, the young child sees the opulence that her mother turned her back on. Cinnamon’s grandmother is cold and distant, a stickler for proper decorum and ladylike behavior. Quite the opposite of her mother.
Waters contrasts these two worlds with eloquent precision. At home, pot occupies a place of honor on the kitchen table. Her grandmother, meanwhile, has a large cherub that she points in the direction where she will be. If the angel points toward the stairs, the grandmother is most likely in her room. If its hand is directed toward the door, then the grandmother is out. This is Cinnamon’s world, and she is a different person in each environment.
As she grows up, this gets more difficult for her to do. For the teenage Cinnamon, drugs become a tantalizing escape. Cinnamon sees drug use almost on a daily basis. Her father does not even notice when teenage Cinnamon steals a portion of her father’s pot to give to her friends. She feels like such a social outcast in high school and hangs around the stoners simply because they let her–in return for marijuana, of course.
Before long, though, Cinnamon graduates to the hard stuff, like crack and meth. Kevin goes crazy on the latter and beats Cinnamon to a bloody pulp. Later, he has no memory of what he has done. On one occasion, he abuses her so violently that she ends up in the hospital.
Her hospital stay is really a wake-up call. She cannot continue down the path she is on. She must change if she wants to life. A winemaker takes an interest in Cinnamon and gives her a job at his winery. He also gives her a new purpose in life and a pride in herself that she’s never had before.
Because Waters was born and raised in Northern California, she brings San Francisco and its environs to life in her richly-imagined story. Waters’ characters and her setting make this a compelling tale. The Angels’ Share will appeal to many different readers as it is part mystery, part coming of age, and part romance.
One caveat: This is a hard novel to read because it feels so real. Cinnamon’s trials and pain become the readers’. Yet her triumphs become ours, as well.
The title, The Angels’ Share, refers to the alcohol that evaporates out of an oak barrel when stored at 60 percent humidity or higher. The term alludes to the belief that guardian angels watch over the wine as it ages. Waters clearly and fully researched winemaking in this story, making it a more flowery, full-bodied tale. Maybe guardian angels were also watching over Waters as she set out creating this exquisitely rendered debut.