Bliss

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Overview

“Sometimes a lie is the best thing.”

Francesca Valentine is a successful, beautiful, world-renowned violinist. But when her perfect life is shattered, she must confess to a history of carefully calculated deception.

Claudine Jenkins was a musical prodigy who clung to her one true love—a violin given to her by her aunt Hattie Mae. Claudine grew up protecting herself from the tauntings of her father and her twin brother by eating herself into obesity. Her mother was an alcoholic ...

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Bliss

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Overview

“Sometimes a lie is the best thing.”

Francesca Valentine is a successful, beautiful, world-renowned violinist. But when her perfect life is shattered, she must confess to a history of carefully calculated deception.

Claudine Jenkins was a musical prodigy who clung to her one true love—a violin given to her by her aunt Hattie Mae. Claudine grew up protecting herself from the tauntings of her father and her twin brother by eating herself into obesity. Her mother was an alcoholic who was indifferent to her, at best. But all that would soon change.

Feared by most, yet adored for her exotic beauty, Hattie Mae Jones remained a mystery even to those who thought they knew her best. But when her dark past threatened to destroy her perfectly laid plans for the future, she became determined to have her way. Would she have gone as far as committing murder?

What happens when three generations of lies come to the surface? Power, deceit, greed, and lust collide—leaving you with sheer Bliss.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345506443
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/30/2008
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Pina received her M.A. from the University of Southern California. She is a member of the adjunct faculty at Pasadena Community College and lives in Southern California with her two children, Julian and Maia. Bliss is her first novel.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Part 1

CHAPTER 1
MAY 2002

Prominent violinist’s life exposed. Noted violinist Francesca Valentine’s past is revealed. Can you guess which classically trained musician used to weigh 300 pounds . . . see page 8 for details. Ms. Valentine, who just appeared on 60 Minutes last week and has received numerous awards for achievement in the field of classical music, finds herself in the middle of a scandal of sorts. It appears that she is not who she has claimed to be . . . story at eleven. Francesca Valentine, born Claudine Jenkins, could not be reached for comment. . . . This is unbelievable, Mother. What is going on? Did you know there were reporters outside? Mother? What in heaven’s name are they talking about? Who in the hell is Claudine Jenkins? Oh my God, Mother, is this you?”

Francesca couldn’t bear to answer her daughter. Jess was waving some clipping in front of her face, ranting like it was the end of the world. Perhaps it was; only time would tell. She bolted to her favorite place—a refuge where she wouldn’t have to see the stricken look on Jess’s face, glimpse the questions burning in her eyes. What would she say? Where would she begin? How would they ever be able to look at her the same way again? She didn’t think there was anyone else alive who really knew her, the girl she used to be, the pathetic crea- ture plastered across the front page of every major newspaper and sleazy tabloid. She’d been wrong. Francesca stared at the framed magazine covers that were hung along the walls of her expansive dressing room. She smiled; she was beautiful. Sometimes it was almost impossible to believe that she looked like that, so captivating that people wanted to take her photograph and so alluring that men would want to be seen with her in public. Didn’t they understand that the woman on these walls was the only woman who mattered? That other woman, the one in the clipping and on the news, didn’t exist anymore. Why was that so hard for everyone to accept? People change. She began to weep. She believed she had taken care of everything, wrapped up every loose end, severed all ties that connected her to Claudine. Claudine. It felt like a lifetime since that name had rolled across her tongue. She hadn’t planned on ever uttering it again or remembering anything about that woman. Now partial truths were everywhere, and ignoring the countless inquiries wouldn’t make them disappear. Samuel, her fiancé, and her children, Jessica and Jon, would discover that she was a liar, a perpetrator, a common hypocrite. She’d succeeded in reinventing herself. They’d had no idea until now that she used to be someone else.

“HAVE YOU SEEN her?” Jon asked Jessica.

“Yes.”

“Is she talking? Has she said anything? There’s got to be some reasonable explanation for this. We’re going to sue the bastards for slander, that’s what we’ll do.”

“No. She’s not talking to me, anyway. She locked herself in the dressing room when I asked her about this . . . this . . . ridiculous photograph.”

“Does Sam know? Mother. Mother, come on, Mother, open the door.” He pounded, hoping she would say more to him than she would to his sister.

They were discussing her like she was some criminal. She heard the agitation and anxiety in their voices, especially Jessica’s. The girl damn near thought she was royalty. Francesca worked hard to make sure her baby girl never felt less than, beneath, anyone else. Perhaps she overdid it just a little. She said a silent prayer that this wouldn’t destroy Jessica. Jon was resilient, he’d be all right, of that she was certain. She laughed at the irony of it all. After all of this time, fate would force her to reveal everything. She’d been discovered, found out. She wasn’t necessarily concerned about Samuel’s reaction or the backlash from her adoring fans. She had to make her children understand that she had done what she had to do for their survival and her own. They were grown now. They would forgive her eventually. She could handle this. Claudine Jenkins could handle anything.

Francesca straightened her floor-length gown and opened the door. They were waiting for her. Judgment cometh.

“Yes, Jessica,” she said as she reached for the newspaper clipping. “This was me.”

“I think I’d better sit down,” Jon said, motioning for his sister to join him. “Was that really your name, Mother? Claudine Jenkins?”

“If I’d been born with a hillbilly name like that I would have changed it, too,” Jessica added.

“You were, and I did,” Francesca answered.

“Mama, what are you saying?”

Jon interjected, “Why don’t you stop asking so many questions, Jess, and let her explain before you get hysterical.”

“Explain what, Jon—that she’s lied to us all these years, every day of our lives, Ms. Perfect, Ms. I’ve Never Made a Mistake? Don’t sit there and act like this revelation isn’t affecting your pristine image of her—I know it is. I know—”

“You don’t know anything yet, Jess, so sit down and shut up. Can’t you see how difficult this is for her? Try thinking of someone other than yourself for a change.”

“Go straight to hell, Jon.”

“Enough of this bickering. Do you want to hear this or not, Jessica?” Francesca said softly.

“Look, it doesn’t matter what’s disclosed in this room today or any other day, Mother—my name is Jessica Marie Valentine, and I was born and raised right here in San Francisco.”

“No,” Francesca answered quietly. “Your name is Lula Mae Jenkins, and you weren’t born anywhere near here.”

“Good Lord, Mama.” Jon spoke nervously. “What have you done?”

“Get comfortable, both of you. This won’t be easy for any of us. Yes, it will be difficult for you to hear, and even more painful for me to confess, but I’ll start from the beginning, the very beginning. A long time ago, before either of you were born, someone gave me a violin.”

CHAPTER 2 JANUARY 1968

“Deeny! Claudine! Get yo bacon-eating ass in here and clean up this kitchen. Um, um, um, big, fat, and lazy, just like yo triflin’ mama. You ain’t gone be that way round me though, ’cause I ain’t havin’ it. Claudine, do you hear me talkin’ to you? This shit better be cleaned up by the time I get home from church.”

Claudine heard him. She always heard him, and she knew better than to acknowledge him, respond, or give the slightest impression she was participating in his biweekly tirade. She tried that once, attempted to explain that it wasn’t her mess. She had heard ringing in her left ear for three days behind the backhand he had given her for having the nerve to speak to him at all. She could still hear him mumbling under his breath as he walked around, inspecting every room. He liked to do that. He thought he was the black Sherlock Holmes. She guessed it made him feel in control.

“Walkin’ round here suckin’ up everythang in sight. Gone fall through the floor into China one of these days. Ass so wide, gone have to grease the door frame with Crisco so you can slide through. Messin’ round with you gone make me late for my solo.”

She lingered in the small bathroom until she felt the walls vibrate. It seemed as if the whole house shook when he slammed the front door. He was her daddy all right, and he hated her just as much as she despised him. It had always been that way. She couldn’t remember a time when it was any different.

Claudine made her way through the house until she reached the kitchen. It smelled odd. Her house usually had a peculiar smell. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew it wasn’t normal for a clean house to have such an odor. It reminded her of funk, pee and her brother’s farts, all mixed up. She lived in a duplex, the Tilbos on one side and Hattie Mae, her mother’s sister, on the other. Hattie Mae wasn’t home much, though; always had something to do, somebody to see, some place to go. She didn’t have an official job to speak of, but she did have some official money. She owned a sky blue Chevrolet, the Press & Curl around the corner, and the en- tire house they lived in. Claudine noticed very early on that her daddy, “the Deacon,” might talk crazy to most people, her mama included, but he never raised his voice to Hattie Mae; nobody did.

Claudine wiped the last piece of egg from the counter, dried the heavy cast skillet, and scrubbed away bits of raw egg that had congealed on the side of the stove. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Bone made this mess. He never cleaned up after himself. Her brother was so vile that she didn’t see how those fast girls could stand to be around him. No one ever made him clear the table or change his own sheets, and he had nothing else to do but breathe. She, on the other hand, continuously had rooms to clean, crusty sheets to change, and an early violin lesson to get to before class.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with the Gabrielle Pina, Author of Bliss

How did you get the idea for Bliss?

I was and am still intrigued with the idea of powerful women, women who are fearless, women who can almost bend steel with their minds. And I wondered how our grandmothers and great grandmothers survived so gracefully without battered women’s shelters, high powered divorce attorneys and weight loss programs. Also how one moment, one event can alter the course of your life.

What would have happened if you took a left instead of a right? What if everything you believed in was a lie? What if the person you thought you were didn’t exist? These questions haunted me and Bliss was born out my quest to answer them.

You open the book with the line “Sometimes a lie is the best thing.” What did you mean by that?

Well, what would have happened if Hattie Mae told Harlan she was pregnant? Would Bone have even survived without Hattie Mae? Some of the characters in Bliss felt their deceptions were necessary for survival. One lie affected the lives of so many people.

Why did you pick the violin?

I thought the violin was a romantic instrument, an instrument quite difficult to master. Also I think as a society we’re accustomed to seeing women of color singing and playing the piano, not necessarily mastering an instrument at that level.

How much of you is in your characters?

I can’t say exactly. I think a little bit of me is sprinkled around here and there. I love food, hence the consistent macaroni and cheese references throughout the novel.

What writershave influenced you?

Toni Morrison, Anita Diamant, Octavia Butler, and Alice Walker. I could go on and on as there are so many.

What do you want the reader to take away from your novel?

Feelings of hope, determination and perseverance. I want the reader to feel the pain, the struggle and the joy of the journey. I also want the reader to laugh. Laughter is good.

Are you working on anything else?
Yes, my second novel tentatively titled “Anything But a Simple Woman.” Imagine that.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Pina opens Bliss with the line "Sometimes a lie is the best thing". What does she mean? In the end, was lying the best policy? Was there a time when lies no longer served to better Hattie or Claudine’s lives?

2. In her struggle to survive, Hattie's determination to succeed leaves no room for idleness or pleasure. When she finally escapes Georgia, she does not relinquish her steely resolve and the single-mindedness she developed there never really fades. Why can't she leave her past behind and start anew?

3. Claudine's life is never wholly her own. Hattie orchestrated many of the most important moments, and in some ways, lives her own life through Claudine's. Was Hattie using Claudine? Was she selfish?

4. In some ways, Hattie has saved and destroyed Claudine's life. How is this?

5. As much as Bliss is about love between mother and daughter, it is equally about the enduring power of hate. The hate Hattie feels for the governor motivates many of her actions. How important is hatred in creating Hattie's strength? In his own way, does the governor also hate Hattie?

6. Claudine's childhood was full of harsh words from those in and outside of her family. When Willy Earl shows his interest in her, Claudine is willing to forgive almost anything. How important is Willy Earl in saving Claudine? Would she have been better off without him?

7. Hattie never experienced a loving relationship and was unable to understand the value of Claudine and Francesco's love. Was their relationship appropriate? If Claudine did not give up Francesco would she have achieved the same success?

8. Claudine and Hattie re-inventthemselves in Italy to leave their past behind. Do they succeed? Can you ever truly escape your past?

9. As governor, Harlan has the power to manipulate those around him, and this is what he loves about Hattie. Does he ever truly love her? Is it possible for him to ever understand her? Does he have any redeemable qualities?

10. Claudine's weight provides her with a sense of security -- a cushion between her and the rest of her world. How else does she survive her childhood? Could Hattie have imagined the level of emotional abuse Claudine would suffer as a child?

11. Bliss is a story of triumph over adversity; Claudine becomes a renowned violinist despite Hattie's virtual imprisonment by the governor and the economic hardships of her family. What was the price of this success? How many people are destroyed by her climb to the top?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2011

    Very little about music

    Bliss is a run-of-the-mill story of an African-American girl abused and mistreated by family and friends. She grows up to be a world-famous concert violinist, but there's almost nothing about her training, the musical process, the pieces she plays, her experiences at Juillard. She is merely described as playing "like an angel." If you want a typical story about a poor girl who makes good, read it. If you want anything about the musical experience, read something else. I doubt the author has much musical background.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Everyone should find themselves in this book. It reenforces the saying: "there is no love like a mother's love."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2005

    This book is a page turner.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I basically read it in two days. I always enjoy a book where women, especially African American women, triumph. It was enjoyable from the beginning to the end. I can't wait for her next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2003

    Read this in one night

    This book had me hooked from the first page. The characters were vivid and alive and the writing was crisp and flowing. The non-stop action and movement kept me engrossed. Excellent book

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2003

    Great summer read!!

    Perfect book to read on the beach. Will definitely hold the readers attention.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2003

    Simply put -- OUTSTANDING!

    Bliss is truly a must read! Once you've started, you will not be able to put it down. Absolutely, a great story and a quick read. Looking forward to future books by this great 'new' author!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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