After Lucy: A Novel

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Porter Ellis once believed he would be a famous painter — until a decade of eking out a living as a graphic designer crushed his dreams.

Suddenly his wife, Lucy, dies of breast cancer, and Porter discovers that he can't deal with her parents. Sneaking out of town with his twelve-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, he sets out on an adventure that he hopes will mend their broken hearts. Along the way, chance encounters with a number of eccentric and amusing characters help ...

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Overview

Porter Ellis once believed he would be a famous painter — until a decade of eking out a living as a graphic designer crushed his dreams.

Suddenly his wife, Lucy, dies of breast cancer, and Porter discovers that he can't deal with her parents. Sneaking out of town with his twelve-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, he sets out on an adventure that he hopes will mend their broken hearts. Along the way, chance encounters with a number of eccentric and amusing characters help him realize that he must face his sorrow and restart his life.

Hilarious and poignant, After Lucy is a wild ride through family relationships, emotions, and hopes for the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
When Porter Ellis's wife, Lucy, succumbs to breast cancer, he takes their two kids on an adventure. Trading in his wife's Mazda for a camper, the three hit the road on a trip meant to mend their broken hearts. Though many found it "interesting, enjoyable, and surprisingly satisfying," a few readers thought the "characters lacked definition."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Young widower Porter Ellis, adrift after his beloved wife, Lucy, dies of breast cancer, trades in her old car for a dilapidated hippie van and takes his two children for a road trip across the country. This piquant debut novel starts off appropriately quiet and torpid, as the ambivalent, grief-numbed Porter flounders before taking the plunge into adventure. Once the Ellises leave their Pittsburgh home and get on the road, however, the story blazes with intensity. The kids, Kaylie, 12, and Ben, eight, are up for the ride, but complications ensue involving Lucy's doting, affluent parents, who are understandably over-protective of their grandchildren and consider Porter's jaunt irresponsible and dangerous. Indeed, Porter, a frustrated artist with a dead-end graphic design job, has no idea where he's going. He and the kids are headed perhaps for Rocky Mountain National Park, but they stop at an Indiana ramshackle "RV resort and spa" established by Deadheads, where the major activities are nude bathing, smoking pot and listening to the Grateful Dead. There, they befriend one of the residents, Delilah, a pregnant masseuse with a gentle touch. Trapped by a bad hangover, angry in-laws and a leaky transmission, Porter finally confronts his grief, his increasingly complex and intimate relationships with his children, and his future. Jones uses humor deftly (the family is plagued with problems involving a cell phone) and sensitively portrays the anger, guilt, frustration and possibilities of renewal that follow the death of a loved one. Meandering passages, including some static scenes at the commune, slow the narrative's pace, but the Ellis family's reclamation of their lives is stirring, with faithful, unaffected dialogue and real emotion. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Jone's amiabel first novel about a man trying to come to9 grips with his life after his wife's death has a lot of potential-much of it unrealized, however. A few weeks after Lucy dies, Porter Jones impusively buys a well-worn, psychedelically decorated camper. He leaves his job and takes 12-year-old dughter Kaylie and eight-year-old son Ben on a trip from Pittsburg to the Rocky Mountains-to the great displeasure of his overbearing and wealthy in-laws. Circumstances (plus a brochure Kaylei finds in the camper) lead the trio toa conclave of former Deadlheads living a druggy, bucolic existence in Indiana. There, Porter ,eets Delilah (coincidentally the previous owner of the truck, whose former boyfriend drove it to Pittsburg and sold it to the used car dealer who sold it to Porter), who convices Porter to abandon his plans and drive her back to Pittsburg so that she can tell her former boyfriend that she is pregnant. Jones, winner of numerous writing awards, is a natural story-teller, but he has diluted Porter's story with too many characters who mostly come off as caricatures. For comprehensive fiction collections only.-Nance Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060959425
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Jones

Daniel Jones has edited the Modern Love column in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times since its inception in October 2004. His books include two essay anthologies, Modern Love and The Bastard on the Couch, and a novel, After Lucy, which was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Award. His writing has appeared in several publications, including the New York Times, Elle, Parade, Real Simple, and Redbook. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wife, writer Cathi Hanauer, and their two children.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Pittsburgh in mid-June, dry and bright with a high sun, and Porter Ellis was in that kind of fragile mood where something as dumb as the weather could make him feel good. As he cruised along Washington Boulevard and rumbled out onto the potholed span of the Highland Park Bridge, Porter couldn't believe this was the same gloomy city where he'd spent his entire adult life. The Allegheny River -- that smelly trough of green goo -- looked like one big vacation. Sleek boats shot up and down its shimmering surface. Clusters of fishermen dotted the industrial shoreline, casting their lines merrily into the swill.

It had been three weeks since Porter's wife had died. And today -- after all the well-wishers had come and gone, after the phone calls had slowed to a trickle, after Porter's boss had delicately hinted that maybe he should return to work soon -- Porter traded in his wife's old Mazda on a used truck with a camper on the back and decided that, startingno, he was going to try to be happy. He was going to appreciate his life, damn it. And he wasn't going to allow himself to be dragged down any further by grief or by his in-laws' opinions of how he ought to conduct his life and the lives of his two children, who now, as he did not need to be reminded, had no mother.

Porter descended the off-ramp into Sharpsburg, drifted past its bars -- IRON CITY BEER! -- and pizza pubs and auto-body shops, then turned onto Kittanning Pike and began the steep climb to Fox Chapel.

How many times had he made this drive in the past twelve years? A thousand? Three thousand? But always in Lucy's Mazda. He'd spent so many hours behind the wheel of that car,the stick shift felt like an extension of his hand. Downshifting his way up Kittanning Pike was a rhythm as familiar as breathing -- fourth to third at Oakhurst, third to second at the Greenwood Cemetery, and then the slow, grinding push over the top into Fox Chapel, where the road left behind all the lower-class drudgery and pollution of the valley and began its happy journey through forested enclaves of million-dollar homes and sprawling golf courses.

As he climbed the hill today, Porter kept waiting for the drag of gravity to puff at him, for that plaintive sigh of the engine to tell him to downshift, but this truck, despite its age and the added burden of carrying the camper, powered on up like a mighty plowhorse. The camper itself was a faded Magic Bus -- a purple-and-green tin shack complete with shag carpeting, velvet curtains, and a spare gas can that had been affixed to the rear bumper with silver duct tape. But the truck's engine thrummed. Porter sailed over the top with an exhilarating lift and whoosh that he had experienced only inside the plush, suede comfort of his father-in-law's Mercedes E320. Porter kept it floored down the backside and carried too much speed into the first sharp corner, and as the camper rocked on its haunches, Porter had to grip the wheel and tap the brakes to bring it under control. Feeling chastened, he negotiated the three roller-coaster hills of Old Mill Road and swung into the entrance to his in-laws' house, which was marked on either side by decorative split-rail fencing.

The Winters' driveway was a hushed, leafy tunnel that served as a drumroll for the sight of the Winters' house, which burst into view at tunnel's end to the accompaniment -- in Porter's mind, anyway -- of trilling woodwinds and an angels' chorus. Sloping up toward the house, as if in homage, was an exquisite carpet of dandelion-free Kentucky bluegrass (which had arrived by flatbed truck, in stacked layers of sod, several summers before). The driveway ascended the lawn in two short switchbacks, graced along the way by terraced pockets of tulips and rosebushes, towering maples and Douglas firs. Porter had never seen nature so whipped into shape as it was here, always trimmed to perfection and dolled up in its Sunday best.

The house -- sitting atop the yard like a statue on a podium -- was an English Tudor jumble of eaves, peaked windows, and white stucco that William had built to match his childhood house in Oxford, England. Tucked neatly into the backyard, as if out of embarrassment, was a full recreation facility: a red-clay, tennis court; a sand play area with slides, swings, a jungle gym, and an in-ground trampoline; and a teardrop-shaped pool surrounded on its fat end by an apron of pale blue ceramic tile, at the edge of which sat a white cabana, with its minibar, bathroom, and TV den.

For years Porter and Lucy had managed to decline the Winters' offers offinancial support, determined to forge their own way in life. But the Winters' backyard paradise was their one guilty indulgence. It, had started that first summer, when Kaylie was eight months old. It was an evening in late May, a real scorcher of a day for so early in the summer, and, unfathomably, Porter had chosen to grill kielbasa on their cramped porch. Kaylie was a red-faced piglet in Lucy's arms, and Porter was circling their little hibachi with fork and hot pad in hand, cursing trying to avoid the smoke. And Lucy said, "You know, we should call my parents and see what they're up to. I'll bet they'd love to have us come over and take a swim."

Normally Porter would have laughed at the thought. He had struggled to like Lucy's parents, or even just to be pleasant with them. But that evening, standing teary-eyed in the funnel of kielbasa smoke that kept pursuing him around the porch, he'd imagined that pristine...

After Lucy. Copyright © by Daniel Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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