Breaking Out of Bedlam

Breaking Out of Bedlam

3.8 12
by Leslie Larson
     
 

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Cora Sledge is horrified when her children, who doubt her ability to take care of herself, plot to remove her from her home. So what if her house is a shambles? Who cares when she last changed her clothes? If an eighty-two-year-old widow wants to live on junk food, pills, and cigarettes, hasn’t she earned the right? When her kids force her into The Palisades,

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Overview

Cora Sledge is horrified when her children, who doubt her ability to take care of herself, plot to remove her from her home. So what if her house is a shambles? Who cares when she last changed her clothes? If an eighty-two-year-old widow wants to live on junk food, pills, and cigarettes, hasn’t she earned the right? When her kids force her into The Palisades, an assisted living facility, Cora takes to her bed, planning to die as soon as possible. But life isn’t finished with her yet, not by a long shot.

Deciding that truth is the best revenge, Cora begins to write a tell-all journal that reveals once and for all the secret she has guarded since she was a young woman. In entries that are profane, profound, and gossipy, she chronicles her childhood in rural Missouri, her shotgun wedding, and the terrible event that changed the course of her life. Intermingled with her reminiscences is an account of the day-to-day dramas at The Palisades—her budding romance with a suave new resident, feuds with her tablemates, her rollicking camaraderie with the man who oversees her health care, and the sinister cloud of suspicion that descends as a series of petty crimes sets everyone on edge. The story builds to a powerful climax as Cora’s revelations about her past mesh with the unraveling intrigue in the present.

Cora is by turns outrageous, irreverent, and wickedly funny. Despite a life with more than its share of disappointment and struggle, she refuses to go gently into her twilight years, remaining intensely curious, disinclined to play it safe, and willing to start over. Breaking Out of Bedlam captures the loneliness and secrets that lurk within families, the hardscrabble reality facing women with limited resources, and the resilience of a woman who survives, despite all the odds, through an unlikely combination of passion, humor, and faith.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A kick….Reading [Cora’s]’journals,’ as she reawakens, finds a friend and a paramour, and plots her escape, is a hoot.”
The New York Times

“Tough-edged Cora Sledge, 82, is a reluctant resident of The Palisades nursing home—a ‘prison [where] your only crime is you lived too long.’ Her tell-all journal, recounting dramas at the home (thefts, love affairs, rivalries) and a tragedy buried in her past, is profane, harrowing, comical—and Cora’s voice is spot-on.”
AARP Magazine

Breaking out of Bedlam is a fun—and inspiring—read, that proves you’re never too old to really start living.”
Instinct magazine

“Larson has drawn a winning character in Cora . . . a Confederate Stone Angel, with our Hagar as template. Like Hagar, she is rude, crude, arrogant, and totally without apology—and readers should admire her for it.”
The Hamilton Spectator (Canada)

“Delightful . . . Larson injects a jolt of liveliness into the bleak setting of an assisted living home, thanks to the obstinate and crass narrator, 82-year-old Cora Sledge. . . . Cora’s machinations—sometimes wily, sometimes curious, always funny—and her lovable crustiness give this plenty of heart and humor.”
Publishers Weekly
 
“Heartwarming and funny, with nary a slip into sentimentality.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Leslie Larson is a writer of tales that are hilarious and heartbreaking at once—no easy feat, but the mark of great storytelling. She writes with an intimate eye and heart about citizens so familiar to the American landscape, we don’t even see them.”
—Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

“Leslie Larson has created an original in Cora Sledge. Overweight with secrets, tough as she is ill, Cora is about to spill the beans on her ill-mannered, kidnapping children in a journal given to her by a grandchild. Instead, what she discovers in this moving and funny novel about assisted living is, to her astonishment, a primer on love.”
—Helena María Viramontes, author of Their Dogs Came with Them
 
“Is death a tragedy or a triumph? Is it a nightmare or a dark comedy? Do we put our accounts in order, or do we exact our revenge? Is there, even, a touch of grace? Somehow, Leslie Larson manages to explore all these possibilities in this powerful novel.”
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Into the Beautiful North
 
“In a voice brimming with wit, energy, and originality, and with a keen eye and a pitch-perfect ear for language, Leslie Larson delivers us a protagonist like no other. Through Cora Sledge’s unique perspective, we ache and laugh along with her until the very last page, and she reminds us that longing and acceptance are at the very core of the human condition no matter what our age or circumstance.”
—Alex Espinoza, author of Still Water Saints

"Few women have kept me as worried and curious and awake at night as Cora Sledge, the 'heroine' of Leslie Larson's great new novel. Her life is huge, and tragic, and comic, and stalwart, and her voice is astonishing. How does Larson know these things, especially the things we're all afraid of, that we'll end up helpless, powerless, loveless, after such lives we think we're living? Read this novel to see redemption."
—Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon and A Million Nightingales

“Meet pill-popping, slovenly, sharp-tongued Cora Sledge, all three-hundred pounds and eighty-two years of her. Be prepared for surprises at every turn, from the moment her children shove her out of her home and into Palisades, a cinder-block warehouse for the aged. There, love, skullduggery, and heartbreak await Cora and finally lead her to a well-lighted path. In BREAKING OUT OF BEDLAM, Leslie Larson gives us high hilarity and deep tenderness, allowing neither to rob the other. In Cora Sledge, she gives us a woman who is brave enough to look closely at the sum of all her years and to learn new love from old sorrows.”
—Kate Maloy, author of Every Last Cuckoo

Publishers Weekly
In her delightful second novel (after Slipstream), Larson injects a jolt of liveliness into the bleak setting of an assisted living home, thanks to the obstinate and crass narrator, 82-year-old Cora Sledge. The overweight, pill-popping Cora is placed in the Palisades by her children after they deem her unfit to care for herself. Once there, she begins writing in the journal her granddaughter gave her, her entries eventually revolving around a big secret from her past. Meanwhile, around the Palisades, Cora is often in the midst of—if not at the center of—resident feuds, both the victim and suspect of a spree of robberies and the recipient of a suave new resident's amorous attention. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cora decides to take control of her life, and as she questions the loyalty of those closest to her, she reveals intimate feelings and personal heartaches that have always been obscured by her rough exterior. Cora's machinations—sometimes wily, sometimes curious, always funny—and her lovable crustiness give this plenty of heart and humor. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
The octogenarian heroine of Larson's pointedly comic second novel (Slipstream, 2006) refuses to adjust meekly to life in an assisted-living facility. At 82, Cora Sledge is grossly overweight, unable to walk more that a few steps and secretly addicted to pills. Deciding she can no longer take care of herself in the San Diego home where she lived for decades with her husband Abel (recently deceased), her three middle-aged children move her into assisted living. The kids are probably right, but Cora is fighting mad when she begins a journal to record her suffering at The Palisades. Though an obvious plot device, the journal works because Cora's cantankerous voice is so strong and authentic as she describes her present life and remembers her past. Born in Missouri of tough working-class stock, she married Abel, who knew she was pregnant by another man. Although she grew to love her warm, decent husband, she learned to steel herself against the kind of heartbreak she went through with her lover. Cora has become a woman who keeps her distance even from her children. Nor does she suffer fools, among whom she includes the doddering residents of The Palisades, described with withering hilarity. The one friend she makes is gay health technician Marcos, who brings her forbidden snacks and cigarettes. Cigarettes also bring her into contact with fellow resident Vitus Kovis, an Eastern European charmer. Soon Cora is losing weight and weaning herself from the pills, driven by her girlish passion for Vitus, who admits to a checkered past. When The Palisades is struck by a string of thefts, Cora's prize crystal, a gift from her father, goes missing, and her ungrounded suspicion of Marcos almost destroystheir friendship. Meanwhile Cora's daughter meets Vitus, now Cora's fiance, and has her own suspicions, as do readers. Fortunately, suspense is less the point here than Cora's hard-won self-reclamation. Heartwarming and funny with nary a slip into sentimentality.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307460776
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
03/01/2011
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,172,775
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

THE BLANK BOOK

I got this book from my granddaughter Emma. The cover looks like a gunny sack. It has a dried purple flower on the front, and all the pages are blank. It’s supposed to be pretty. The purple pen that goes with it is squishy, like chewed-up gum. “So it doesn’t hurt your hand, Gamma,” Emma said. I laughed, thinking where my hand has been these eighty-two years, and what it’s done. I was polite, though, and asked her real nice what in the world I’m supposed to do with it. “It’s for your thoughts,” she said. “If you have any memories or reflections you want to write down. Or a poem, maybe, or a sentiment you think is meaningful.”

That girl has always worked my last nerve.

They all feel guilty for putting me here, so they’re trying to keep me from losing my mind. I also got a jigsaw puzzle (one of the biggest wastes of time I can think of) and an embroidery set (which I have always hated) for Christmas. My son Dean even gave me a paint-by-numbers kit with three kinds of dogs: a poodle, a collie, and a German shepherd. Do they think I am retarded? That I’ve gone back to my childhood?

They don’t know the first thing about me.

I put those other gifts down in the day room and they got snapped up like nobody’s business. I tucked this book in my top drawer thinking I could tear the pages out if I needed some blank paper. It’s thick as a damn Bible. I don’t know who in their right mind could ever fill it. Then this morning I got up early, when the light was just starting to come through the blinds. Usually my pills knock me out ‘til breakfast, when the walkers and wheelchairs make a slow-motion stampede for the dining room. But this morning was quiet. Nobody calling out from their bed, or knocking a mop around. The phones at the nurses’ station weren’t ringing yet, the gardeners weren’t running their leaf blowers, and the delivery trucks weren’t idling outside my window.

This morning I sat straight up in bed like somebody called my name. Lots of times I can’t get out of bed at all. I stay there all day, dozing and waking up, dozing and waking up. I might swallow a few more of my little darlings to settle my nerves. Sometimes whole chunks of the day disappear. Fine by me. But today I woke clear as a bell. I did my bathroom business, sat down here at my dressing table, and started to write.

I got a plan. I’m going to write down everything I ever wanted to say. I’m not holding nothing back and I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks. Most people don’t tell the truth about their lives, including me. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I lied to keep myself alive because life is hard and there’s things you got to do. But now I got nothing to lose. I’m going to tell the truth, once and for all. I hope those that put me in this place read it when I’m dead—which I have a feeling won’t be long. Maybe then they’ll see.

The trucks are starting to idle outside new, spitting fumes right into my window. And the inmates are creeping down the hall, yelping like animals fighting to get to the watering hole. Damned if I’m not hungry myself. Those rubbery eggs don’t sound half bad.

I got another reason for keeping this book. It’s called leaving a paper trail. Something fishy’s going on in this place and I want a record in case anything happens to me. That’s right. There’s whispering, and shifty looks, and things gone missing.

It’s all going down here.

I’m using the purple pen.

I’ve always had the prettiest handwriting.

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Meet the Author

LESLIE LARSON is the author of the novel Slipstream, which won the Astraea Award for Fiction. She lives in Berkeley, California.

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