Alice Bliss: A Novel

Alice Bliss: A Novel

3.8 28
by Laura Harrington
     
 

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A profoundly moving, uplifting novel about those who are left at home during wartime and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.

When Alice learns that he father is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Matt Bliss is leaving just as his daughter blossoms into a full-blown teenager. She will learn to drive, shop for a dress for her first dance, and

Overview

A profoundly moving, uplifting novel about those who are left at home during wartime and a teenage girl bravely facing the future.

When Alice learns that he father is being deployed to Iraq, she's heartbroken. Matt Bliss is leaving just as his daughter blossoms into a full-blown teenager. She will learn to drive, shop for a dress for her first dance, and fall in love all while trying to be strong for her mother and take care of her younger sister. Alice wears her dad's shirt every day, even though the scent of him is fading and his phone calls are never long enough. Life continues without him, but nothing can prepare Alice for the day two uniformed officers arrive at their door with news.

Alice Bliss is a gorgeous, transforming novel about the support of a small town looking after its own in times of loss; the love between an absent father and his daughter; the complicated love between Alice and her mother, Angie; and first love between Alice and the boy next door. It's a universal story and yet it touches on something very personal: these characters' struggles amid uncertain times echo our own, lending Alice Bliss an immediacy and poignancy that are both relevant and real.

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Time is running out. The number of days until Alice Bliss's father gets called to Fort Dix and then to Iraq is dwindling painfully in her mind. She will go through the motions of saying goodbye and promising to be brave, but she can't imagine life without him. He's leaving just when she needs him most. At 14, she is a nervous teenager, facing the prospect of her first date, first dance, and first kiss during his absence. Though she's promised to look after her mother and sister, Alice is so unsteadied that she wears one of her father's shirts every day for weeks, until her mother insists that she wash it. Moving through each moment as if he were still there—eating foods he liked, doing chores they shared, recalling past conversations, Alice carefully patches each day back together, ticking off the days until he returns. While his calls and letters are never sufficiently long enough to ease the constant ache of his absence, time passes and almost imperceptibly, Alice picks up the strands of her life again, finding comfort in dulling routines while always implicitly preparing for that one irrevocable knock on the door.

A resonant story set against the uncertainty of war, Alice Bliss is a novel about the deep fusion of love and loss. Alice's complicated relationship with her mother, her abiding love for her absent father, and the first love she finds with the boy next door combine to define the young woman she's fast becoming. Alice is a memorable character and her poignant story is bursting with the richness of life.

Publishers Weekly
Playwright and lyricist Harrington transforms her one-act musical Alice Unwrapped into a moving debut about loss and survival. Fifteen-year-old Alice has always been closer to her father (they share a love of working with their hands) than to her mother, but when she needs him the most, he's deployed to Iraq. Alice flexes her independence by claiming his workshop as her own and wearing his shirt. She feels a mix of responsibility and resentment toward her precocious little sister and her disengaged mother, and pursues typical teenage rites of passage while fearing the arrival of bad news. When it comes, Alice inspires her family to preserve her father's traditions and to craft new ones in his honor. The playwright's facility with language is evident throughout: "Maybe, she thinks, maybe he'll be home in time for cucumbers, and if not cucumbers, then for corn, and if not corn, then surely in time for tomatoes." Though the fluid narration offers access to many characters, this is the story of Alice, her courage, fear, and optimism, and her heartbreaking discovery of the extent to which her father's life will shape and guide her own. (June)
Library Journal
At 14, Alice Bliss enjoys a close relationship with her father, Matt, and doesn't relate well to her mother. Alice and Matt are in sync; they plan their garden together, and he teaches her how to care for their tools. Alice's mother, Angie, adores high heels and dressing up to go out. She stresses to her husband that she is "not a farm wife." When Matt is called to active duty in Iraq, the small family nearly disintegrates. Angie checks out, and Alice refuses to wear anything other than Matt's old shirt. She is left to navigate young adulthood, relationships, and the care of her younger sister, Ellie, while waiting for word of her father's fate. Harrington, a playwright and professor of playwriting at MIT, chooses a timely topic and obviously loves her characters, but her debut novel is an adaptation of her off-Broadway musical, Alice Unwrapped, and reads very much like a play. Stage directions and stilted dialog take the place of what should be flowing scenes and descriptive characterizations. VERDICT This valiant effort could work for those with loved ones overseas, but the novel's structure falls flat. It would be better reworked as a screenplay for young adults. [See Prepub Alert, 1/17/11.]—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews

Playwright Harrington's first novel, based on her one-woman musical, focuses on the upstate New York family of a National Guard reservist called into service during the Iraq War.

Salt-of-the-earth Matt Bliss considers it his moral obligation to serve his country, although he hates leaving behind his beloved, distraught wife Angie and his daughters: 8-year-old Ellie and 15-year-old Alice. Once he's left for duty, Angie throws herself into her insurance career but can barely function domestically. Precocious Ellie starts wetting the bed and reading Matt's dictionary aloud. Stalwart Alice, with whom Matt has always shared a special bond, tries to pick up the slack at home with only minimal success. For support she turns to her longtime best friend Henry, the unbelievably caring boy every mother hopes her teenage daughter will luck into as her first love. At the cusp of adolescence, Alice finds their relationship changing in confusing ways, especially when an older, popular but equally sensitive boy named John shows an interest in her. Teenage romance takes the passenger seat when word comes that Matt has been declared MIA. Fortunately, the Blisses receive succor from Angie's mother and brother, as well as many friends in their idyllic small town. Angie rises to the challenge, helping her daughters function day by day. By the time they learn Matt's fate, Angie and Alice have struggled past minor mother-daughter tensions to offer each other consolation.Alice is in many ways a different girl by story's end. The novel closes with a lovely image that theatrically arcs back to the opening scene.

It feels curmudgeonly to fault Harrington's earnest, uplifting (and apolitical) approach to this topical subject, but the surfeit of sensitivity weakens its impact and the reader's interest.

From the Publisher
Chosen as a “People Pick” by People Magazine, a “Listeners’ Top Book Pick” by NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook, for the Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” program, as an Entertainment Weekly "Best Reads of the Summer," as a Publishers Weekly First Fiction title, and was the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction in 2012

“Harrington creates nothing less than a fully realized vision of a young complicated girl.” —Entertainment Weekly

“I put down this book and thought, there is no one like this beautiful, feisty girl, so fully has Harrington brought Alice Bliss to life. The great sorrow, of course, is that there are many Alice Blisses out there. The power of Harrington’s richly delineated novel lies in putting a girl like Alice before us and asking us to remember how many others are staring down the long hall of adulthood with a father or a mother gone to war.”  —Sarah Blake, bestselling author of The Postmistress

“There are thousands of American kids like Alice, facing down their teen years with a parent gone to war. Her story is harrowing and heartbreaking, but it reads like truth.” —People (Four Stars)

“This book may be the Our Town of the twenty-first century.” —Anne Roiphe, bestselling author of Epilogue: A Memoir

“Though the fluid narration offers access to many characters, this is the story of Alice, her courage, fear, and optimism, and her heartbreaking discovery of the extent to which her father’s life will shape and guide her own.” —Publishers Weekly

“Heartbreaking yet edged with promise, Alice Bliss explores the wounds of war, love, and family bonds while illuminating the strength of a young girl’s spirit. A stunning debut.” —Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

"Through the eyes of 15-year-old Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington brings to life the impact of war on our nation's most vulnerable. A beautifully told story about life, loss and the gift of unconditional love." —Tanya Biank, author of Army Wives

“This is a remarkably sensitive first novel, full of splendid characterizations … It’s a heartbreaker—have tissues at hand—with promise shining through the pain.” —Booklist (starred)

“You won’t see Iraq in these pages … [Harrington’s] book, in the end, really isn’t about this war. It’s about kids and fathers, about growing up with decent values and then being shaken hard and having to figure it out from there. It’s a very fine book, and if rips your heart out, that’s not a bad thing.”
—Jesse Kornbluth, Headbutler 

“A powerful, wrenching story that reads as simple, unadorned truth.” —School Library Journal (A Best of the Year So Far in the “Best Books 4 Teens” category)

“Alice Bliss adroitly illustrates the burden of war, not only on those deployed, but also on those left behind. And without saying so explicitly. Realistic in its portrayal of family dynamics, community life, and response to major life events, the story of Alice Bliss would be a helpful read for families whose loved one(s) are deployed.” —New York Journal of Books

“Alice is a true heroine: intelligent, passionate, strong-minded. Watching her find her way is an absorbing pleasure.”  —Margot Livesey, author of The House on Fortune Street

“Meet Alice Bliss, the heroine of Laura Harrington’s gorgeous page-turner of a first novel. Like Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Alice is destined to become a household name. In luminous, haunting prose Harrington enters the minds and hearts of all of her characters, imbuing her story with a timeless wisdom.” —Charlotte Gordon, author of The Woman Who Named God and Mistress Bradstreet

Alice Bliss is a poignant tale about the homefront horrors of war when a father leaves his wife and two girls for a tour of duty in Iraq. It is a touching reminder of our need for community to help those left behind find inner peace in a time of war.” —JoeAnn Hart, author of Addled

 “Strong storytelling and a rich emotional core.” —Jenny Downham, author of Before I Die

“Laura Harrington writes with grace, humor, and uncanny wisdom about loss and resilience and the workings of the human heart.  Alice’s is a voice we need to hear, telling a story that lights up a dark corner of the sky.  ALICE BLISS is unforgettable.” —Rachel Kadish, author of From a Sealed Room and Tolstoy Lied

“An incredibly poignant story. [Harrington’s] portrayal of what families face when a loved one is deployed makes the novel appealing for males and females, adults and teens, alike.” —ALAN’s Picks

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670022786
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
06/02/2011
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
8.38(w) x 5.78(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: August 20th

This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone. She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft, sandy dust of the single-track road between her toes. Her sister fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyperexcited to unconscious in a flash. Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder, and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, "Come home when the dance is done."
She can hardly believe it. The dance is still in her feet, still in her bones, the steps like an intricate game. She danced with everyone and anyone at all, old and young, men and women, just to stay on the floor and moving. The caller was a blind man with two fingers missing from his left hand. His face was wrinkled and brown from the sun, his body heavy and the voice that called the steps strangely high and sweet. A boy's voice in a man's body. A boy's wildness, as though he had no awareness of himself in his body.
She gave in, finally, and danced with her father—embarrassed to be asked by him, worried that everyone would be watching and judging and thinking her still a child. But he surprises her. He is a good dancer. Precise. His hands firm on her back or her hand or her arm. She is suddenly dancing better than she has ever danced before, suddenly experiencing the freedom inside the squares. She can let go because he is so confident. She is tasting something adult, grown-up, or almost tasting it. It is just beyond her reach, this feeling, what it is, how to name it and understand it. Now it is pure sensation, unadulterated fun. Years later she will remember his touch on her back, pulling her in, letting her go, her own helpless laughter, the way he guided her, his touch steady and strong, and how he held her close and let her go, over and over again.
The dust beneath her feet now is cool, the day's heat long gone. It is mid-August and already you can feel fall coming with the way night rushes in. She pulls on her sweater and as she crests the first hill she can see almost all of Small Point, the shape of the island dark against the water. She can hear the waves on the beach below her. There are fires still burning at a few campsites, but mostly it is true dark.
Alone on the road, she stops. What is she feeling? Intensely awake. Aware. A bit scared. She senses everything, her body open to the sky and the night, the smell of salt and pine and wood smoke, the wind, the scratchy wool of her old sweater, her hips loose in her jeans, her feet cool and tough and sure on the road.
In the distance she sees what look like stars on the water. Following the dip in the road, she loses sight of them, but cresting the next hill she sees them again. She breaks into a jog and takes the turn down to the ocean, away from her campsite. There it is again. Another curve and she can see where it is: the Devil's Bathtub. She is on the beach now, walking toward the outlying rock formation, a wide cleft in the rocks that becomes an eight foot pool at high tide and empties to sand at low tide.
There are fires on the water. How can that be? And now she sees them: a group of boys lighting small wooden rafts on fire and setting them afloat in this natural pool. They are quiet, intent. Why are they doing this? It's so beautiful, the small rafts floating, in flames, and then gone.
The boys have run out of boats; the last fire winks out. Now they strip off their clothes, daring one another to dive in. She crouches where she is, watching them, their pale bodies against the dark rock. She has never seen a naked boy before. She is not close enough to see much, but their nakedness is loud in the dark. Her eyes pass over each boy as though she could run a hand across a face or a chest, along a thigh.
She turns and lies in the sand, listening to their shouts as they dive and splash, listening as the cold and the search for their clothes quiets them. And the sky overhead is raining stars. These are the Perseids her father has told her about. She wants to get up and go and find him, she wants to tell the boys, Look up! Look up! But she can't move; there is magic occurring in front of her eyes. The heavens are throwing jewels at her feet. It is impossible, as impossible as fire on the water, as impossible as her hand on the chest of a naked boy, and yet here she is, seeing it with her own eyes.

January 29th
Matt Bliss is somebody who knows how to be happy. A former engineer, he's now a carpenter, doing what he loves, a craftsman, meticulous. He likes to say he escaped from his career and got himself a job. He coaches Little League even though neither of his daughters shows any aptitude for baseball. He was a pitcher on the local farm team right out of college, until his father told him to get serious and he went to grad school for his engineering degree. He still pitches for a local team.
Matt grows vegetables. Alice helps. They grow the best corn and the best tomatoes in town, not like there's much competition anymore. Ever since Mr. Hendrickson down the road died, the old time guys who put in vegetables every year have really dwindled. Matt says, "You just wait, the hippie kids will bring it all back again; all that poison in our food now, people are waking up. You can do it yourself.
Good food. Cheap." And they've got this black dirt he loves to go on and on about. Topsoil eighteen inches deep. "Beautiful stuff!" He keeps trying to get Angie interested in canning or preserving or freezing their bounty, but this is not Angie's bailiwick.
So Alice and Ellie and Matt are the ones to snap beans, make tomato sauce and tomato juice and salsa, grape jelly and grape juice. Matt wants to plant three more apple trees in the side yard where Angie would like to have a nice patio. Two more cherry trees, too, right next to his grape arbor. Apple butter, he tells her, apple pies, cherry pies. Angie rolls her eyes and says: "Matt Bliss, you did not marry a farm girl." He laughs and picks her up and kisses her. Times like this the two of them head off for a "nap" hand in hand. Eventually figuring out just what this euphemism means makes Alice a little queasy. Here it is, right in front of her face, the power of opposites to attract.
Angie would love to stay in a nice hotel; Matt likes to camp. Angie is upwardly mobile, a striver if ever there was one; Matt likes things just the way they are. Angie thinks they're living in a starter house; Matt thinks they're home. Angie likes French perfume; Matt likes to get his hands dirty. The fact that Angie might like those workman's hands on her perfumed skin is a thought Alice vigorously chases from her mind.
The army reserve was a bone of contention, too. Angie all hung up on what's fair, why should Matt have to do it, what about his own family. Matt talking about doing what's right, not letting somebody else do what he should do: serving his country, an example to his girls. Finally they agree to disagree and Angie seems reconciled to it, even seems to enjoy the additional income, the occasional dinner in a nice restaurant, all dolled up in a new dress and high heels. And, oh, there's that perfume again, Matt's laughter, Angie's surrender, and another closed door.
But now, with the war dragging on and on, Matt's unit has been called up. He's heading to Fort Dix. Until recently reservists got six months of specialized instruction. Now they are fast-tracking volunteers through six weeks of supposedly high-quality, hurry up, move 'em out training.
The weeks prior to his leaving are an insane rush. Angie and Matt talk late into the night, every night, sitting at the kitchen table. They argue. Angie tries not to cry again, they pore over health insurance, Matt's will and living will, the power of attorney forms. They try to anticipate what Angie will be facing in the coming months.

They are running out of time. They all know it. It's in the air they breathe.

Alice is so tired her eyes are burning but she can't sleep. As long as her father is still awake and still in the house and still talking or drinking coffee, Alice wants to be near him. So she sits in the dark at the foot of the stairs and listens.
"Why are you insisting—?" Angie's voice pops up a register when she's upset.
"You know why."
"Tell me why the United States Army is more important than your own family."
"It's not an either or equation, Angie."
"You like this. You're actually excited."
"I like the work, I like my crew, I like the challenge, the chance to—"
"But leaving us, Matt—"
"You know I don't want to leave you."
"They'll throw you right in the middle of—"
"I'm going where I'm needed."
"I need you. Doesn't that count anymore?"
"Of course it does."
"I never imagined—never—that you would do something like this. You were going to play baseball for god's sake. Baseball! How did we get from baseball to—"
"Angie, it's not just about you and me."
"Okay, so you're the selfless hero and I'm the selfish wife. You think I want this role? I didn't sign up for this. This was not part of the plan."
"I know."
"I hate this, I really hate this."
"Sweetheart . . ." Alice can hear the ache in his voice.
"I want . . ." Angie's voice breaks.
"I don't want to be one of those guys who gets old and says, I wish I had done this, I wish I had done that."
"Oh, Matt . . ."
"I want to contribute, and I don't think we should just send our kids to this war."
"But what if—?"
"Don't you have any faith in me?"
"Of course I do."
"I'm coming home, Angie."
"Promise me."
"I promise."
It's quiet for a moment.
"I want letters, you know," Matt says. "Real letters. With perfume. You can't carry an e-mail around in your pocket."
"You're not so deluded you actually think this is romantic?"
"I do. A little."
"It won't be romantic if—"
"Oh, yeah," he teases her, laughing. "The fallen hero, blah, blah, blah."
"Matt!"
Alice hears the kitchen chairs scrape across the floor and knows it is time to beat a retreat up the stairs to bed. But she waits another moment, and another. She wants to see her dad one more time tonight.
They walk through the kitchen door. The dining room light is nothing more than a warm glow, illuminating them. Matt pulls Angie to him and kisses her, and kisses her some more.
Alice backs slowly up the stairs, carefully stepping over the creakiest step, third from the top. She puts her freezing cold hands under her armpits to try to warm them as she walks down the hall to her room. She waits to duck inside her door until she hears them on the stairs. Matt has his arm around Angie's waist and he has even managed to make her laugh. That soft, musical, surrendering laugh Angie saves just for Matt and his beautiful blue eyes.
Alice closes her door as softly as possible and leans against it, hoping they have not heard her. She hears them pass by whispering and giggling like little kids.
Ellie has kicked her covers off as usual. Alice pulls the quilt over Ellie and then climbs into her own bed. She listens to Ellie breathing; she closes her eyes, tight, tight, and tries to breathe through the knot in her chest. She wishes she could call Henry but that would mean waking up Mr. and Mrs. Grover and getting into trouble for calling so late. She wishes they still had their walkie-talkies hooked up. She could ask Henry to leave his on so she could listen to the static and hear him sleeping and breathing the way she did that whole terrible month in fourth grade when her grandfather was dying. What happened to those walkie-talkies she wonders, and what's Henry doing right now? She'll ask him tomorrow. If it doesn't sound too crazy in the cold light of day.

January 31st

Matt is in his workshop puttering around with a cup of forgotten coffee sitting on the windowsill. It's a cold day with flurries and a gusting wind, so he's got the woodstove going full blast and he's wearing his tan work jacket with the ripped pocket. Alice slips in and sits on a wooden crate near the stove. What is she doing here, exactly? Her English homework lies forgotten in her lap. She is, what? Hanging out? Breathing the air? Daydreaming? Making a nuisance of herself? All of the above? She brought her dad a toasted muffin as a way of interrupting him and then stuck. Like a burr. She is uninvited, she feels awkward; but this is where she has to be even if Matt would rather be alone.
But Matt would not rather be alone. There are things he wants to say to his daughter before he leaves but they all sound so portentous and ominous that he can't bring himself to begin. There are things she needs to know, things she needs to prepare for, and it's really not fair to leave all the talking and informing and awkwardness to Angie. So he talks about the garden instead. He pulls out last year's plan and asks Alice to come over and take a look. She throws another log in the woodstove and joins him at the workbench.
"So I was thinking less corn because there will only be three of you."
"What about Gram? She can always take the extra."
"Because that way we could squeeze in another row of yellow beans."
"Okay."
"And beets."
"You're the only one who likes beets, Dad."
"Okra?"
"Blech."
"Broccoli?"
"Two plants at most."
He notates the changes as they talk.
"You can do peas spring and fall like we did last year."
"Can we do basil?"
"Sure. And Mom likes arugula."
"Yeah."
Suddenly Alice's hands are clammy and she can't lift her eyes from the plan.
"You don't like it," he says.
"I liked it just fine last year. I thought last year was perfect."
"No changes? No building on our successes and learning from our failures?"
"We didn't have any failures."
"Just way too much yellow squash."
"Okay. Let's take out half the yellow squash."
"But keep the corn?"
"Yes."
"And everything else."
"Just like last year," Alice says, slowly and carefully.
"Because . . . ?"
"Because I want it to be the same."
Alice manages to look him in the eye, which is when he can see how hard she is working to stay in control.
"Okay." He smiles at her. "We'll go with last year's design."
"Good."
"You want gourds even if I'm not here?"
"Yes!"
In the far corner of the garden Matt grows decorative gourds. They are strange things: bumpy and lumpy and misshapen. But they are colorful and surprising and they serve no purpose other than to amaze. Alice has every intention of growing gourds this year and every year for the rest of her life.
Matt labels the plan with the date and tacks it up on the wall.
"You can rototill mid-April if the ground isn't too wet and heavy. You can call Jimmy Rose to do it; or ask Uncle Eddie to help you."
"Got it."
"You might have to pester Jimmy. He gets busy."
Matt looks out the window at the snow covering the garden.
"And I want you to help your mom."
"I know."
"No, Alice. Really help her. Like you're her partner. I want you to help her take care of Ellie and the house and . . . She's gonna need you."
"Okay. But tell her to remember to ask me."
"What?"
"She acts like I'm supposed to know everything she wants and when I don't she gets mad. If she'd just tell me. Or ask me—"
"You tell her."
"She doesn't listen to me."
"Keep trying."
Alice looks at her feet.
"Honey? Keep trying."
"Okay."
"You know where all my papers are."
"Dad! We've been over this!"
She doesn't want to hear about his will and his life insurance again. She doesn't even want those papers to exist.
"I opened up an account for you." He reaches into his back pocket and holds out a bankbook from the local bank. "It's just a basic savings account. But I put five hundred dollars in there for you. In case you need something."
"Dad, it's okay."
"Or there's an emergency."
She's backing away from him. She doesn't want to touch the bankbook.
"Or your mom can't handle things for a few days."
"Dad!"
"Alice, there are things you need to know."
She trips backing away from him and sits down, hard, on her butt. Which is funny. In an awful sort of stupid, annoying way.
He reaches out to help her up and pulls her into a hug. It's a real hug, the kind of hug he used to give her before she started turning into a teenager and growing breasts and getting sweaty and unsure. He holds her for a long time. She breathes him in. Sawdust. Wood smoke. Cold coffee. Aftershave. Linseed oil. Dad.
Matt is trying to stay right here with Alice; he is trying not to let his mind run off with all the what ifs that have been keeping him awake at night. He's wishing his parents were still alive. His mom would know how to pick up the slack, or how to step in if Angie and Alice really can't get along. And his dad . . . his dad would plant the garden with Alice, and take her to baseball games and . . .
"I need to show you something."
"Not your will again."
"Come over here."
He leads her to the big wooden tool chest. He pulls out the first three levels of tools, then opens a drawer and slides that out completely. Underneath the socket wrenches there's a plain white envelope with her name on it. He opens the envelope and fans five one hundred dollar bills.
"What's that for?"
"It's there if you need it. And in the envelope there are some important numbers. The VA so you can get benefits, my lawyer, my life insurance . . ."
"Dad! You're talking like you're not coming back."
"No, no, no." He grins at her, and his whole face lights up. "This is like carrying an umbrella in case it rains, and then it doesn't rain, so . . ."
"What?"
"It's just insurance. It's just an umbrella. You can't take it too seriously."
She wants to believe him.
"And together, right now, I want the two of us to make a list of who you can call if you need help."
She's looking at the floor and she's thinking, no list, no cash, no strategies. Can he just back out, refuse to go, change his mind? Could they move to Canada? Or Mexico? Could they just get into the car and go? Or could she get violently sick right this minute or have some awful but minor accident that would keep him from leaving?
"C'mon. A list."
"Define help."
"Shoveling the driveway, jumpstarting the car, advice on a repair, moral support, somebody to take you to the movies or the library or out for ice cream."
So they agree on Gram and Uncle Eddie and Henry and his parents and her favorite teacher, Mrs. Cole, and Mrs. Minty, who lives down the road, in a pinch, and her parents' friends the Hoyts, from the old neighborhood, and her dad's baseball buddy Bobby Lester. She adds Mrs. Piantowski, the lady who bakes bread for Gram's restaurant, at the last minute.
Her dad writes all these names down in his perfect block printing and adds the phone numbers from memory or the phone book. And then he adds the family doctor, dentist, banker, and insurance man.
He writes up a second copy to put in the house and tacks the original to the inside lid of his toolbox. He pulls the only chair over to the woodstove next to Alice's crate and opens the door to the stove so they can watch the fire burn. He picks up the muffin and hands a piece to Alice before sitting down and stretching his feet out to the fire. They sit like that, not talking, for what seems like a long time.
Outside the back window Alice can see the outlines of the garden, some of the furrows visible under the snow, stretching away in long thin rows. She can't imagine doing the garden without her dad. It's his thing; she's always thought of herself as his assistant at best. She can't imagine doing anything without her dad and she starts to feel like she can't breathe. And then she looks at him. Just looks at him as he watches the fire with muffin crumbs on his lap.
"I'll write to you."
"I'm counting on it."
"Every day."
"Good."
She takes a breath.
"Dad . . ."
He closes up the woodstove.
"We need to go in, I think."
Not yet, Alice thinks, not yet.
"I wish . . ."
"Me, too, sweetheart. Me, too."

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“An incredibly poignant story. [Harrington’s] portrayal of what families face when a loved one is deployed makes the novel appealing for males and females, adults and teens, alike.” —ALAN’s Picks

Meet the Author

Laura Harrington is an award winning playwright, lyricist and librettist. She teaches playwriting at MIT and lives in Gloucester, MA. Alice Bliss, her first novel, grew out of her one-woman musical, Alice Unwrapped.

www.lauraharringtonbooks.com

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Alice Bliss 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
Lannie More than 1 year ago
"Alice Bliss" is a story that will touch the hearts and souls of every American reader, every family that has ever lost someone to war. Matt Bliss wanted to live life taking care of his family but he felt he owed something to his country. This is a heartbreaking and moving portrayal of a family trapped in a war that's both far from home and also right in front of them. The family is faced with insecurity, fear, every imaginable nightmare, but ultimately hope. A character-driven story, Alice, a 15 year old girl is the major protagonist, her actions, reactions, and emotions about her father's deployment, with her mother, Angie, her younger sister, Ellie, Gram, Uncle Eddie, and best friend, Henry, all playing a significant part in Alice's life without "Dad" in it. This is a moving story that certainly is befitting our lives in America at the moment.
Nikkayme More than 1 year ago
Alice Bliss is one of those sincere, slow-moving, but rewarding and well-written novels. It centers on the Bliss family - 15 year old Alice in particular - who are struggling with life after the family's patriarch and Alice's father, Matt, ships off to war. The novel is very much a character-driven story; its driving force being Alice and her actions, reactions, and emotions about her father's deployment; with her mother Angie, her younger sister Ellie, Gram, Uncle Eddie, and best friend Henry all contributing to Alice's life without Matt in it. Alice comes off as very young in the beginning of the book, so much so that I didn't realize she was a high school student. As her voice takes hold though, it's evident. Her love and closeness to her father are also brought into striking focus. Alice adores her father and life without him is killing her. She is close to Matt, he understands her, he shows his love for her in ways that Angie never does. This brings out the age old quarrels in the mother/daughter relationship. Alice and Angie do not get along. They love each, but they don't really like each other all that much. Matt's absence only heightens the tension in their relationship. Alice wavers between sadness and anger towards her father, missing him, but hating him for leaving her. She loses the person she was before he left, just as her mother does. The two of them don't know who they are in the absence of the person that means so much to them. For Alice, this time is full of growth. She begins to realize that she's not a little girl anymore. She's strong, despite her tears, weak, in spite of her independence. It's this push and pull that fully immerses the reader in her life. Laura Harrington skillfully captures the ups and downs of family and the good and bad in every relationship. Matt is overseas, fighting a war, missing in a war, and Angie can barely bring herself to cook dinner for her children. She's shut down because she's lonely and scared and has no idea how to raise a hormonal, attitudinal, and angry 15 year old, while still caring for a precocious 8 year old, a house, working her job, and paying the bills. She's lost. This feeling resonates well throughout Alice Bliss, bringing the reader to a precipice of emotion. Told in the passage of days, weeks, months, with letters to and from Matt interspersed throughout, Alice Bliss will grab ahold of the reader's heart and squeeze until you can do nothing else but hold onto its characters and hope for the best. Each chapter, each day that passes, brings more sorrow and more uncertainty for the Bliss' that are left behind, but the resounding message of hope, despite insurmountable odds, is felt in every turn of the page; in every imagined or remembered word from a father to a daughter, a husband to a wife. Alice Bliss is a heartbreaking and moving portrayal of a family trapped in a war that's both far from home and right at their front door. Laura Harrington has broken down the walls that separate those unaffected by war from those who live with it every day, by dropping every insecurity, every fear, every nightmare, and every hope in the laps of readers with Alice Bliss. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll yearn for closure that seems so out of reach, but you'll appreciate how each downfall leads to an ultimately uplifting end.
The_Reading_Reviewer More than 1 year ago
When Matt Bliss made good choices to support his country as well as his family he never imagined the impact it would have on any of them. Joining the Army National Guard provided extra income, which everyone saw as a plus until the reality of war came knocking and Matt was called up to serve because they desperately needed boots on the ground, even those filled by an Engineer. His wife is unsure how to cope without him and his daughter's especially seventh grader Alice cannot deal with their father being away. Alice and her father have always been close and having him not there to discuss the garden layout or work on a project is breaking her heart. He wants to share his life with her but Matt knows he has to keep in mind he may not be there to do that and Alice try as she might does not want to hear any of this. Matt ships off and those left at home take on new roles and personalities especially Alice who quickly has to become an adult and take over running the house to help her mother out even though she is still just a child trying to figure out how to deal with middle school. Alice has great friends who stick with her and she maneuvers the landmine that is her new life but nothing will ever be the same regardless of the outcome. What Matt wanted most was letters from home "something to carry with him close to his heart" and Matt wanted to leave letters to his family so he filled journals with letters and notes to his daughters so at every critical point in their life they have his wisdom to take with them. This is not Matt or Alice's story alone it is the real life of every soldier who leaves their family knowing they may never come back and everyone it impacts. It is truly the most difficult book I have ever read and it is a great story that we should all understand. I had a hard time reviewing it because it breaks my heart writing words that can never give you the complete emotion impact of how real this story is to some family right now. But you should read this book and you should remind yourself that if you are not doing something to support the men and women who are defending the rights we are so fond of, then maybe it is time you did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
beh88 More than 1 year ago
well written, touchingly heartbreaking,
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
The tears flowed while reading this book. Highly recommend keeping Kleenex nearby! I do not believe I have ever read a book written in the point of view of a teenager. What a great experience! I could feel what she was feeling as I am a mother to a teenager. This book shows the intimate story of a family whose father is called to active duty in a time of war. Laura Harrington amazing book, Alice Bliss, tells the life story of a teenage “Daddy’s Girl”, Alice Bliss, struggling with her father, Matt, being shipped out of upstate New York with his National Guard unit to Iraq. She misses all the time they spent playing baseball, working in the garden, and helping him with an occasional working job. She realizes life does go on even if her dad isn’t there to witness it. Alice joins the track team, attends her first dance, and falls in love, all while missing her dad terribly. The change from tomboy to young woman was very poignant. Alice, while trying to remain strong, finds that she has to take care of her sister and her mother. The mother, Angie, seems to drop the ball a few times I found I could not blame her. Ellie, Alice’s younger sister, appears to not be as affected but definitely feels the loss of her dad and becomes closer to her mother. In this book you hear and feel the ups and downs that a family goes through when the father is called to active duty in a time of war. I was in tears reading Alice Bliss. Trying to imagine ho w I would react and keep my life going in I was put in this position tugged at my heart. Alice Bliss tells the story of what many families in America are going through. It opened my eyes and made me appreciate the families of military persons. If you manage to make it through the book without tears you can still feel all the fear, loneliness, and losses of the Bliss Family. You can also feel the love and the hope they have for each other.
teachkids32 More than 1 year ago
A truly factual account of what life is really like for children and spouses of deployed loved ones. A must read!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We read this book for school, may possibly be the worst book i've ever read. He characters were so selfish and angry, and reading i third person gets old really quickly. I would not by any means reccomend this book.
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CherubsLibrary More than 1 year ago
Alice Bliss is a superbly written story about a young girl - a teenager - dealing with her father joining the Army reserves and then being activated and sent to Iraq. It's about a tightly knit and happy family - mom Angie, dad Matt, Alice, and her younger sister Ellie. We're given insight into how Matt prepares his family for his leaving. He makes lists of things that need to be done. Of people to call and how to plant the garden. He writes letters for them to read on certain occasions should he not return. It's the story of a family adjusting to a husband's and father's absence and how each has new roles to play in the family. Alice struggles with the normal teenager's angst as well as dealing with her mother and sister and her fear her father won't return. Who handles repairs to the house and the car? Who just helps? It's about a family preparing for the 'what if'. What if he doesn't come back? You can make your lists, make a will, and know who to call, but how do you really prepare? You'll find yourself crying as you read this story. And you should. We mourn the loss of our soldiers, the men and women of the military who serve to protect our freedoms. But what do we do for those left behind as their loved ones head off to war - the moms and dads, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters? What do we do for them to let them know we won't forget? How do we help them when their loved ones are gone? Alice Bliss came highly recommended to me. I pass that recommendation on to you. It's a read well worth your time.
Pinheadpress More than 1 year ago
Alice Bliss is a heartwarming, bittersweet coming-of-age story against the backdrop of the Iraq war. Laura Harrington's writing style is effortless as she captures the essence of a young teen grappling with responsibilities and difficult life lessons beyond her years. The book shows that "it takes a village" to help a family overcome a personal tragedy. Keep a box of tissues handy, as you will quickly be drawn to the characters' plight as I was, reading through my tears. Alice Bliss will resonate with you long after turning the last page.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It has been a long time since I read a book that not only I could treasure, but my 14 year old daughter could as well. Both of us could relate to the characters who vividly jump from the pages. Without lecturing, the reader feels the happiness and pain these characters feel as they meet the challenges of every day life. Even those truly difficult challenges that military families endure on a daily basis. This is one of those books that stays with you and I couldn't pick up another book to read for a week as I needed time to digest this one. If you are looking for a thought provoking, endearing book, this is for you.
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Mushie23 More than 1 year ago
Have a box of Kleenexs handy...a must read...Being the wife of a deployed military personel and the mother of a teenager it gives you a new outlook