Close to Home: A Novelby Barbara Hall
When you enter the town of Fawley, you take a step back to a simpler time, back to when neighbors shared potluck dinners, church socials were the only/b>
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In the tradition of Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy comes this sensual, beautifully written novel of the South, about a world on the verge of change and the secrets it fears will be revealed
When you enter the town of Fawley, you take a step back to a simpler time, back to when neighbors shared potluck dinners, church socials were the only parties decent people attended, and people knew who they were and what they valued—and didn’t tolerate outsiders who tried to change things.
It is into this closed but nonetheless appealing community that Danny Crane brings his new wife, Lydia. They met at Myrtle Beach, where they spent a week in the rush and confusion of falling in love. The relationship that ensued startled them both, and the fact that they married six months later was equally disorienting. It was an act of passionate conviction and blind faith.
From the outset, Lydia finds Fawley to be different from the exclusive and privileged environment in which she was raised, secure in both “name” and “position” in her family’s stately home in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. But gradually Lydia comes to realize that few things in Fawley are as they seem, for behind the serenity and the clean-scrubbed façades, there exists a tradition of suspicion and anger, of hostility toward outsiders and fear of change of any kind.
Even more disturbing is her realization that Danny, too, is not what he had seemed—that beneath the easy charm lies a darkness borne of distrust and deception, and of secrets too closely kept. In a struggle to hold on to the marriage she continues to believe in, Lydia is forced to confront the forces that have shaped her husband—the town of Fawley itself, and Danny’s family, most especially his cousin Kyle, whose personal magnetism even Lydia has to acknowledge, but whose hold on those around him becomes more and more destructive. Filled with the heat generated by passions too long suppressed and secrets too long kept buried, Close to Home is both a sensual and a literary gem.
Lydia, daughter of the aristo Hunts of Fairfield County, Virginia, longed for a place where "people still thought the rain was clean and Democracy worked and God was coming." She marries handsome Danny Crane, sales manager for a construction company in the old, poor, isolated Virginia town of Fawley. She had trusted her heart; surely "magic things would happen to them." Like an anthropologist, she observes the ritual Sunday dinner at the home of Danny's parents: taciturn father, unliberated mother, waifish brother Rex, still home, still closeted. Nearby there's Aunt Rita and her ever-live-in daughters; only scarred daughter Joyce has escapedto work in a market. And hovering chillingly is Danny's cousin, one-legged Kyle, a one-man calamity-cluster, to whom Danny is inexplicably bound. To Lydia, though, Kyle is "evil . . . supernatural." Among those others in the shadow of Kyle: Joyce, whose hard life will be released by violence and a kind of love; Kyle's woman Amanda, steadfast in her acceptance of abuse; and the town of Fawley itself, which recognizes how dangerous Kyle is but refuses to exile one of its own. Danny seems obsessed by the need to rescue Kyle, and there are reverberations from an old murder and a mutilation. With Danny's increasing withdrawal from life and challenge, Lydia begins to fear that her marriage is doomed. In the wake of three murders, fire, and Kyle's increasingly menacing presence, Lydia flees Fawley. But can she stay away?
In spite of some too-snappy brushwork on the cast, Hall keeps one's interest in the tangled webs Lydia discovers.
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Close to Home
By Barbara Hall
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Barbara Hall
All rights reserved.
The house where Danny Crane grew up, and where his parents and brother Rex still lived, did not have a number. The road it was situated on did not have a name. The rough asphalt that twisted through farmland was simply called Route 48. The Crane home was a modest L-shaped brick house with a carport and a screened-in back porch. It looked lonely and alienated from its surroundings. There was a mailbox jutting out like an elbow in the front yard. There was neatly trimmed boxwood on all sides, and an ornate letter "C" on the metal screen door. Other than that, the house had nothing to say for itself.
None of this struck Danny as particularly strange, but to Lydia, even after three years of marriage, the whole concept was exotic and mildly disturbing. Danny had grown up in one of those sad, detached places she remembered passing on long road trips with her parents. She'd watch those isolated houses shoot past and she'd wonder who could be content to live in them. Where were their neighbors? What had they done to deserve being stuck out in the wilderness? And if they were there by choice, what had driven them to that kind of seclusion?
Every Sunday she and Danny made the trip from town out to his parents' house for lunch, and every Sunday she entertained these thoughts as they drove down the winding country roads. She wasn't sure if she was disapproving; perhaps she was just fascinated. Perhaps she was even charmed. All she knew was that as they pulled up in front of the house, greeted in the yard by his father's hunting dogs, she had the sensation she was being sent on some sort of field trip. In the presence of his family she felt like an anthropologist, her mission to observe the behavior of an obscure, aboriginal culture.
There was never any question of skipping the Sunday lunch. It was written in stone. Once she had suggested to Danny that they spend a quiet Sunday to themselves and he looked at her as if she'd suggested they try drugs or yoga.
"Well, we could," he'd said, scratching his chin in contemplation. "I'm not sure how that would go over."
"Let's try it and see."
So they had, one Sunday two years ago. She had cooked a chicken and they'd eaten it together in the stiff silence of their kitchen. Danny had kept giving her tense smiles and complimenting the food beyond its merit, and when the exercise was over he'd excused himself and gone to the phone to call his parents.
The rest of the day was lost. Danny hadn't been able to concentrate on any of his usual activities—gardening, watching football, paying the bills. He'd paced the house, looking out the window, checking his watch to see if it was time for bed.
Lydia had thought about confronting him, suggesting that his connection to his parents was a little too strong. She was his family now, after all. But then she remembered that Danny didn't really pay an excessive amount of attention to them; during the week, he hardly mentioned them. It was just this Sunday thing. It was a tradition. And as Lydia came to learn, Danny had trouble extricating himself from traditions. There weren't many, but the ones he honored were as inviolable as any law of God or nature.
You wanted something different, Lydia reminded herself as the truck bounced over the rutted asphalt. Well, this is different. Sometimes, indeed almost every time, she tried to picture her own family, who usually ate out on Sundays, branching at the Ritz Carlton or the Four Seasons, then wandering through the Dumbarton gardens to examine the foliage. Her parents did not speak to her anymore. They had disowned her after her marriage. She and Danny had made a fruitless pilgrimage to her home to announce their engagement. Her parents had treated Danny with cool respect, but Lydia had endured the journey, fully aware of what was smoldering beneath their inescapable politeness. The way they avoided her eyes told her that it was over. This trip was not an introduction; it was a farewell.
They had not attended her wedding, naturally, and the only communication they kept up was a coldly engraved Christmas card each year. She knew this was one of the reasons she was so hard on Danny's family. They had to take the place of her own now. And that was no easy task.
"What are you thinking about?" Danny asked, not every time, but on this particular Sunday, early in March, as the first signs of spring were struggling to arrive.
"The dogwoods," she said, gazing out the window. "Wondering when they'll bloom."
"When they're ready," he said, and squeezed her shoulder.
This Sunday, as always, lunch was an overdone affair. Sally, Danny's mother, cooked enough for an army, then looked wounded by the amount of food left over.
"I can't believe what y'all didn't eat," she said, pinching her lip. "Look at what I've got to put away."
"Surprise, surprise," Danny's brother, Rex, said. "The fifth battalion didn't show up."
Rex was a sickly, waifish man. His hair was racing to desert him and his skin was the color and consistency of tapioca pudding. But he always dressed well and scrutinized the appearance of everyone around him. Rex seemed misplaced, for many reasons. One, of course, was that he was almost twenty-nine and still lived at home. Another was that he possessed a kind of sophistication out of keeping with his surroundings. His vocabulary was extensive. His mannerisms were slightly effete and superior, as if he had spent years studying abroad and felt he had no place to practice all the skills he had acquired. The truth was, Rex had never left home at all, scarcely ever ventured further than the public library, where he worked four days a week.
Danny's parents were more consistent. His mother was an attractive woman with too many years of cooking around her middle, but other than that, not much to betray her lack of exposure to the world. She was simple yet composed. Her dark hair was just turning gray and was always neatly styled. She wore just enough makeup and very little jewelry. She had a warm smile and melancholy brown eyes that had been passed on to both of her children. Both of them had been imprinted with her physical characteristics. Neither of them even remotely resembled Nelson, her husband. He was of grade A Scotch-Irish stock, complete with bone white skin, broken blood vessels around his nose, thin, sandy blond hair, and fierce blue-green eyes, roughly the same color, Lydia imagined, as the North Sea. Sometimes Lydia wondered if Nelson felt slightly betrayed by the fact that his children looked nothing like him. But it was hard to imagine Nelson feeling agitated about anything. Danny claimed his father had had a ferocious temper at one time, but it was gone now, like an old skin he had shed.
Danny could do no wrong in his father's eyes. Only Rex could get to him. This was visible only to those curious enough to look, and Lydia was always looking.
"Oh, damn," Nelson said quietly, swiping at a gravy stain on his shirt.
"Daddy, don't fret. That shirt just might see in the millennium," Rex said. "That fabric would survive a nuclear war."
"What? It's a J. C. Penney shirt."
"Oh well, far be it from me to insult the Patron Saint of Wash 'n' Wear."
"Rex, you didn't eat any of your squash," Sally interceded, sensing trouble.
"I don't like yellow vegetables, Mother. This you know. Particularly when they are cooked beyond their original molecular structure. Daniel isn't exactly devouring his portion," Rex observed, suddenly turning his attention to his brother. "What's troubling you? Things slow in the land of concrete?"
"Business is fine," Danny said defensively, spearing his squash, which hung limply on the fork.
"We can't eat a lot," Lydia said, "because we have to go to church tonight. For the potluck dinner."
"Oh, you don't have to go to that," Sally said. "They have too many functions, if you ask me. Just another excuse for that John Evans to run his mouth."
Lydia smiled, relieved by her mother-in-law's critical streak. Buried beneath Sally's compliant nature there was a seed of something dark and suspicious. Sometimes Lydia thought that if she could get Sally drunk, the two of them would finally connect. Lydia liked her mother-in-law, but it was no secret to her that Sally distrusted her. No woman would have been good enough for Danny, but certainly no woman with her credentials. Danny, in Sally's mind, needed a good, salt-of-the-earth gal who'd live to please him and let her own needs go untouched. Instead, here was Lydia, with all her breeding and her career and her ideas. What on earth did Danny need with that, when he had plenty of ideas of his own?
Then, too, Lydia was sure Sally could detect her own detachment, the way she held herself just outside the immediate experience, observing and analyzing. Sally had once confided to Danny that she felt Lydia was like somebody from the 1RS, constantly looking for a mistake. Danny had thought that was enormously funny; to his credit, Danny enjoyed his wife's tendency to scrutinize everything. He wanted Lydia to like his family, but he did not mind the fact that she did not accept them at face value.
Out of nowhere, Nelson said, "Pike never did like squash himself."
The table went silent. They all stared at their plates, as if they were required to meditate at the mention of his name.
Uncle Pike, Nelson's brother, was the family's acknowledged saint. He'd been dead some twenty years, but it was as if it had happened yesterday. This was one of the first things Lydia had learned after she'd married Danny—that Pike's death presided over the family like an ominous but sacred cloud.
Pike was Kyle's father. He had also fathered four girls, three of whom still lived with their mother, Rita, in a farmhouse down the road. The women had hardly ventured out of the house since Pike's demise. No one was sure why. More frustrating, at least to Lydia, was that no one even asked why. Like so many things about this family, Pike's death was shrouded in mystery. Lydia had heard the story a number of times but still could not make sense of it.
It went something like this: when Kyle was a teenager, he'd been shot in the foot in his own front yard. He told his father that a black man, driving past, had shot him for no particular reason. In a violent rage, Pike jumped in his truck and went chasing this loosely described culprit. As the odds would have it, since half of the county was black, Pike had found a black man and confronted him. The black man, in a panic, had shot Pike dead. And nothing since had been the same.
This was a long time ago, long before Kyle had lost the same leg in a car accident. Bizarre accidents seemed to visit this family as regularly as the Avon lady. Lydia could make no sense of it, but she had decided that it wasn't really her business to work out the details. Still, she wondered. Every day she wondered how a family could accept these occurrences, never asking why. She had never really understood the concept of stoicism until she married into the Cranes. Maybe she could learn something from them, the freedom of not knowing.
After a respectable silence, Rex said, "Well, there you go. I take after Uncle Pike, and he was perfect."
"You're damn right he was," Nelson said, his eyes flaring, revealing something of the temper Danny always talked about. "He was as perfect as anybody could be."
"People always get perfect after they die," Sally said quietly.
"What the hell does that mean?" Nelson demanded.
"Nothing. He was a good man."
Lydia wasn't sure if Sally truly respected Pike as much as she was required to. Maybe he had bothered her, the way that Kyle bothered Lydia, although thankfully, she rarely saw him. She had gotten a bad feeling about Kyle that first day she had laid eyes on him at Myrtle Beach. It wasn't just the missing leg. Something else was missing in Kyle, something that made him dangerous, even from a distance. Just knowing he was there, and that she was related to him, made Lydia feel uneasy. The fact that Danny seemed tenaciously protective of him made her uneasier still.
Sally slid her chair back and started collecting dishes. Lunch was over. Pike's name had ended it, like a benediction.
Lydia helped Sally wash the dishes and listened to her talk about what she'd read in Redbook or seen on Montel Williams. Lydia did little talking herself, except to say that teaching was fine, Danny's work was fine, and she was looking forward to summer. From the den Lydia could hear the TV inevitably tuned to the featured sport of the day. Upstairs, from Rex's room, the music from Phantom of the Opera drifted down. Sally lifted her eyes to the ceiling and gave her head the slightest shake. Lydia caught her eye and smiled.
"How are your parents, dear?" Sally asked her.
Lydia shrugged, concentrating on the plate she was drying. "I suppose they're fine."
"It's so sad. They still haven't forgiven you?"
Lydia shook her head, then said, "I don't think it's a matter of forgiveness.
They're just waiting it out."
"Surely they don't think you're going to come back, after all this time."
"My parents never give up."
"Well, I think it's ridiculous. Disowning a child. Life is short, don't they know that?"
"I don't think that's how they look at things."
"Well, I still don't know what it is about Danny they don't like. Maybe they just don't understand him."
Lydia just smiled and reached for another plate. It was pointless trying to explain the way her parents worked. The way Camille worked, all of her friends from her former life. They were not interested in changing. As far as they were all concerned, they were at the top of the ladder. And to understand anyone else, they would be forced to look down.
"I mean, around here he's considered a star," Sally said. "Maybe in northern Virginia that doesn't mean anything. Maybe you have enough stars up there."
The star quality Sally was referring to had to do with Danny's brief excursion into minor-league baseball. Just after college he'd been drafted by a farm team somewhere in North Carolina. He'd done pretty well there until an injury cut his career short. The whole episode, like Pike's death, was shrouded in folklore. Danny didn't like to discuss it, so Lydia had a hard time getting any perspective on it. She wasn't sure if Danny had been on his way to greatness or simply holding his own among the also-rans. What she did understand was that he was the only thing resembling a celebrity that Fawley had to offer.
"I'm sure if my parents got to know Danny, they'd feel differently," Lydia offered, though her mother-in-law seemed less than comforted. Why should her son have to prove himself to anyone? Lydia didn't know how to answer that. The question ran too deep and took her places she did not want to revisit.
Danny and Lydia left the Crane home with an armful of leftovers, sealed in Tupperware. They wouldn't eat them, she knew. The containers would take up space in the refrigerator until a gray, fuzzy mold grew on the top, and as Lydia pushed the contents down the garbage disposal she'd think of Sally, as if she were destroying a part of her mother-in-law's soul. Sometimes she imagined that Sally, wherever she was, would jump as the disposal blades went into action, as if she could feel her maternal instincts being devoured.
"So how bad was that?" Danny asked as they drove away. He always asked that, and Lydia always smiled and put her hand on his knee.
The Milton Memorial United Methodist Church quarterly potluck dinner was full to overflowing. For the first time that anyone could remember, there weren't enough chairs. The minister's wife, Dee Evans, brought down some red and blue plastic Fisher Price chairs from the nursery and sat on one herself, balancing her Chinet plate full of baked spaghetti, egg rolls, and carrot salad on her lap. Her husband, the Reverend John Evans, smiled at the sight, though it was obvious he felt such a show of sportsmanship was a little overdone. Long ago John had stopped trying to control his wife's behavior and instead prayed for the fortitude to understand and appreciate her whimsical nature.
Excerpted from Close to Home by Barbara Hall. Copyright © 1997 Barbara Hall. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Barbara Hall is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and television producer. She is the creator and producer of the Emmy-nominated television series Joan of Arcadia. Her TV writing and producing credits include Northern Exposure, Chicago Hope, and Judging Amy.
She is the author of four young adult novels, including Skeeball and the Secret of the Universe (1987, Orchard Press), Dixie Storms (1990, HBJ), Fool’s Hill (1992, Bantam), and the mystery House Across the Cove (1995, Bantam). Her previous novels include A Better Place (1992), Close to Home (1997), and A Summons yo New Orleans, all published by Simon & Schuster.
Barbara Hall lives in Pacific Palisades, California, with her daughter Faith.
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Did not get this book at all. Boring is the right word. I kept waiting on it to get better, to get interesting. I thought at times, it was getting ready to tell a story. NOT!
This was one of my favorites.....good writing and good plot.
You'al cant tell the corn pone from the corn but no one expects to in this ham - biscuit genre and ham is the word . buska
This book is so boring. Totally get the author is a liberal, usually I don't care but this was a snore. Don't waste your money.