Make a Wish But Not For Money


Daily Hampshire Gazette

Steve Pfarrer

Jan. 29, 2015

For her first novel in several years, Valley writer Suzanne Strempek Shea has been inspired in part by the former “Dead Mall” of Hadley, the Mountain Farms Mall on Route 9 that was largely vacant for many years before being reconfigured with freestanding stores like Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy.

In “Make a Wish But Not For Money,” middle-aged Rosie Pilch has become another victim of the recession of 2008-09, laid off from her longtime job as a teller at a western Massachusetts bank. So depressed she has trouble leaving her home, Rosie is jolted out the door when a friend suddenly elopes and leaves her a palm-reading business in the nearby Orchard Mall, a once-popular place now down on its heels and slated for the wrecking ball in a few months.

Rosie may know all the ins and outs of processing deposits, but she’s in the dark when it comes to reading palms — until she discovers she really can see all kinds of details in people’s hands, spinning along like a highlight reel. She shares that information with a growing body of customers, drawn to her dusty storefront by word of mouth.

“On top of the lines she sees the information, rooted in past and present and future, of those who now, three months into her time at Orchard Mall, are waiting in pairs of twos and threes at the beginning of the gray industrial carpet sixteen steps away.”

Rosie’s surprising abilities throw a new wrinkle into the future of the few remaining mall tenants as they prepare to leave: Maybe there’ll be a new start for them and the mall itself. And Rosie, after reading the palm of the building’s maintenance man, has reason to reassess her commitment to her self-absorbed fiancé, Scot.

Shea has fun gently tweaking the legacy of the old Mountain Farms Mall (or old, underleased malls everywhere). Some of the businesses sharing underused footage with Rosie are the “Affordable Attorney” and “The Village Barber”: the Orchard Mall has been designed to simulate a traditional New England town, where three large walkways merge to form a “Town Common” consisting of “a gazebo, dry cement pond, flagless pole and much square yardage of once-emerald AstroTurf.”

In notes accompanying her novel, Shea says the book and its title were inspired by a visit she made years ago to a palm reader in New York City; the woman used that exact phrase with her. “I don’t know what else she told me,” Shea writes. “She could have given me that night’s winning lottery number, but all that stuck with me was her question.”

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