Breaking Out of Bedlamby Leslie Larson
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,
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.
—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.”
“Breaking out of Bedlam is a fun—and inspiring—read, that proves you’re never too old to really start living.”
“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.”
“Heartwarming and funny, with nary a slip into sentimentality.”
“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
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Read an Excerpt
Breaking Out of BedlamA Novel
By Leslie Larson
Shaye Areheart BooksCopyright © 2010 Leslie Larson
All right reserved.
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 andthey 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.
Excerpted from Breaking Out of Bedlam by Leslie Larson Copyright © 2010 by Leslie Larson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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After reading the oneline review, I thought I would give this book a try. What a huge disappointment. The concept of the story could have been good, as was the beginning. The story was just fair and the further it went the worse it became. I was not sure I would even finish it, but worked my way thru it.
I bought this based on a preview, and I was disappointed that the rest of the book did not quite live up to the promise. It was just ok.
HILARIOUS!!!!! IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A LIGHT HEARTED, HAND CLAPPING, GOOD FEELING SUMMER READ, LOOK NO MORE THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU. I COULD NOT STOP LAUGHING AS I ATTEMPTED TO READ THIS BOOK. LARSON HAS A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR. CORA SLEDGE IS BEING FORCED OUT OF HER HOUSE AND INTO AN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITY. BUT CORA IS NOT TAKING THIS LYING DOWN. CORA DOES NOT WANT ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE PALISADES WHICH LOOKS BEAUTIFUL ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT THE INSIDE IS A WHOLE OTHER STORY. WHILE DETERMINED TO DIE IN THIS FACILITY, CORA BEGINS TO WRITE A TELL-ALL JOURNAL ABOUT HER LIFE. CORA IS UNLEASHING ALL OF HER SECRETS AND REGRETS AND LETTING THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY. BUT WHEN CORA STUMBLES UPON A ROMANCE WITH ONE OF THE FELLOW RESIDENTS THINGS START TO CHANGE. THIS WILL DEFINITELY BE ONE OF YOUR GREAT READS. ENJOY...........
I love this book! It's funny, a little sad and too truthful as it reveals how life really can be for many older people who get forced into an assisted living facility by have relatives that think they cannot live alone. Ms. Larson's main character, Cora Sledge, seems like one of your own family as her story unfolds in the journals she begins writing in during her stay at the Palisades. She climbs out of her pill-popping funk and creates a new, stronger and wiser Cora. Cora is a hoot and yet so vulnerable in her discovery that SHE can take her life back and "break out of bedlam". Kudos to Leslie Larson for writing such a wonderful book.
Have you ever wondered what life events have shaped a difficult person, someone you prefer to keep at arms length or would rather not have around at all? Leslie Larson has us consider our moral judgment of people (who perhaps we have disregarded along the way) through the development of her protagonist, Cora Sledge. Cora, a recent resident of an assisted living facility, weighs in at about three hundred pounds and exists somewhere between an off-putting manner and just below the haze of a pill-induced fog. We are pulled into Cora's story as she journals about the daily happenings at her new "so called home." Through Cora's writing, she evolves and we gain a rare glimpse at her past dreams, disappointments, tragedies and sorrows and find that she is after all human, and not too unlike each of us. A surprisingly good read that has us looking for more from Leslie Larson.
This book was fantastic. I was hooked from the first page and zipped through. Cora was delightful and multi-faceted and her observations about her fellow "inmates" were just hilarious. More importantly, she grew immensely as a person even as she grew smaller in size as she reflected on her life, especially the parts that were painful to review. A well-rounded novel, full of interesting people and insights. I highly recommend it. My best friend and I are hoping for a possible sequel.
I liked this book from start to finish, it was an entertaining tale of an elderly woman who refuses to give up her dream of going back to live in her own home. I was afraid it was going to be depressing, since it's set in a nursing home (assisted living center), but it wasn't. I enjoyed Cora's writing in her journal about the secrets she's held onto for all these years. I'm looking forward to more from Ms. Larson.