Closer to Fine

( 3 )

Overview

In this luminous debut novel about a young woman putting her life back together after the death of her brother, Meri Weiss explores hope after heartbreak, and the myriad ways that those we love can make us whole again.

Growing up, Alexandra and her older brother Ashley were never close. Her decision to move in to Ashley's Upper West Side apartment to care for him during his final months surprises herself as much as anyone, but it can't erase the guilt Alex feels at the years ...

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Overview

In this luminous debut novel about a young woman putting her life back together after the death of her brother, Meri Weiss explores hope after heartbreak, and the myriad ways that those we love can make us whole again.

Growing up, Alexandra and her older brother Ashley were never close. Her decision to move in to Ashley's Upper West Side apartment to care for him during his final months surprises herself as much as anyone, but it can't erase the guilt Alex feels at the years they wasted. Now, four years after his death, with a bout of depression and a suicide attempt behind her, Alex feels fragile but no longer broken. As for normal-only with her roommate and best friend Jordy and their gay friend Jax can she feel anything close to that.

Then Alex's therapist, Sam, bequeaths her a cryptic message that changes everything. The note reads simply, "You're missing a piece of yourself." At Sam's funeral, Alex meets Tucker-the charming, cute son of one of New York's wealthiest businessmen. As their romance deepens, Tucker tries to draw Alex out of her safety zone. But is Tucker the key to Sam's riddle, or is the real answer still waiting to be found?

At once humorous and heartbreaking, and peopled with deftly rendered characters, Closer to Fine is an exquisite first novel about love, loss, and self discovery, written with uncommon verve and grace.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The opening 20 pages of this debut griefer show New Yorker Alexandra Justice, then 24, bonding with her brother Ashley-34 and dying of AIDS in his Upper West Side apartment-after years of being only in vague touch. The remainder of the novel takes place four years later with flashbacks to Alex's childhood, college years and recovery from her brother's death. She inherited a million dollars from Ashley, a successful documentarian, so when she gets fired from her director's assistant job while caring for him, she has the freedom to grieve in her own way in the aftermath. She meets Tucker, a dilettante painter and billionaire's son; dances 'til dawn and takes road trips with her gay friend Jax and her best friend Jordy; visits her uncle diagnosed with cancer; and ultimately understands how to play the cards she was dealt. Anyone who has endured the pain of a dying loved one will recognize the feelings behind this often melancholy dirge and Alex's slow, painful finding of her way. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780758226907
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,222,165
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Meri Weiss was born and raised in New York. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree in English; she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Long Island University and a Master of Arts in Literature from SUNY New Paltz. Meri has been a college English instructor and freelance writer for the past seven years. She currently lives and teaches in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Closer to Fine
By MERI WEISS
KENSINGTON BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Meri Weiss
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-2690-7



Chapter One My day is shot before I even walk into the minimalist, pretentious lobby of my brother's building. First of all, it's nine o'clock on a Sunday morning and there are several places I'd rather be-specifically my bed. Second, I'm on the Upper West Side, which may as well be China to someone who rarely ventures above 14th Street. Third, I've been called upon to care for someone I barely know. I know him, but not in the way you're supposed to know someone who is ill. I haven't seen him in six months, and he told me he was sick only four weeks ago.

Plus, I can't find my favorite shirt; there's a hole in my drawer. I turned my apartment upside down but there's still no trace of it. I've had that shirt for ten years. Needless to say, I'm way beyond pissed when the elevator man lets me into the penthouse apartment.

The monstrous space is unabashedly clean and tidy, as it has been on the few other occasions I've been here. It's the smell that alerts me to the changes. I recall the scent of lemon-not industrial, cleaning solution-type lemon, but sweet, soothing lemon-and today it's barely noticeable. I also vaguely remember the aroma of expensive candles but that, too, is hardly apparent. It smells sterile and cold, like dead air.

The living room and kitchen are spotless, but they are more than just unsoiled; they seem lonely, as if few feet have traversed their floors of late. All the shades are drawn, lending the room an eerie quiet. The words quiet and Ashley simply do not go together, at least from what I remember.

I hear footsteps emanating from somewhere down the hall, so I head for the fourth door on the right-so many doors, so few inhabitants-and knock twice. The door opens and a woman in white-white shoes, white button-down shirt, white pants-smiles at me. Her blonde hair is pulled into a tight bun at the base of her neck.

"You must be Alexandra, Ashley's sister. He told me you were coming to spend the day with him. I'm Sally."

She extends a latex rubber-gloved hand. Her handshake is extremely firm.

"He's just waking up from a nap. Will you fetch him some juice so he can take his pills? After he takes his medicine, I'll leave you two alone."

I nod, back away from the door and walk back to the kitchen. I drop my bag on the gleaming counter and open the refrigerator. I grab a carton of orange juice and search for a glass, opening and closing four cabinets before I find one. I pour the juice, spilling some over my fingers. As I wash my hands, it occurs to me that now is the time to escape. I can hand the juice to Sally, explain that I'm not qualified to be here-neither as a sister nor a caretaker-and run away, back downtown, where I belong.

But Ashley told Sally I was visiting. Does that mean he's looking forward to seeing me? Maybe he tells his nurse everything, like how long it's been since he and I shared a meal, or even a laugh. When I saw him last, it was because my mother instituted mandatory attendance at Thanksgiving dinner-whoever didn't go would be cut out of the will. None of us thought she'd follow through with her threat, but we realized if she was going to such lengths to get her kids around a table, we may as well show up, eat some turkey and make nice. Ashley hadn't looked sick-thin, maybe, but not sick. He and I had talked about what restaurants we frequent in the city and what movies we had seen.

I walk back to his room and knock on the door.

"Come in, dear," Sally answers.

When I open the door, she is leaning against the threshold, blocking my view of my brother. She glances at the juice and shakes her head.

"Oh no, not orange juice-he doesn't like orange juice."

He doesn't? Then why the hell is it in the fridge? I wonder.

"It's for guests," Sally continues. In addition to hospice work, she must also read minds.

"The apple juice, dear. On the left side." I turn to head back to the kitchen. "On your way back, could you grab a fresh pillowcase? He had some trouble while he was sleeping."

I nod, wondering but not wanting to ask what trouble means. I dump the orange juice, put the glass in the dishwasher and pour some apple juice into a clean glass. I begin to open and close doors in the hallway, hunting for the linen closet. I'm trying to be quiet, but apparently I'm not doing a good job, because Sally's head pokes out from Ashley's bedroom.

"What are you looking for?"

"The linen closet."

She points to a door near the bathroom. "Have you ever been here before?"

I slowly stroll down the hallway, careful not to spill the juice, which I'm carrying with both hands, like a child. "A long time ago."

A long time ago explains so much about Ashley and me.

I hand the glass to Sally, remove a perfectly ironed white pillowcase from the linen closet and enter my brother's bedroom.

"Hi, Alex."

"Hey, Ashley. How are-" I am very rarely speechless, but as I absently look up, my words catch somewhere between my stomach and my throat.

"I've been better. How are you?" Ashley responds. The man lying in bed sounds like my older brother, but it can't actually be him. He is gaunt and frail and pathetic-looking. He looks like a withered balloon after a raucous birthday party.

"I'm OK," I manage to utter.

"Can I get a kiss from my youngest sister?" Ashley asks. "You can kiss my hand if you want."

I envelop him in a hug and kiss him square on the lips.

Sally takes the pillowcase from my hand and puts it on a large, fluffy pillow.

"Now make sure he stays in bed," she instructs. I turn around to face her so I won't miss any of her directives. "He can, and should, eat and drink anything he wants, except alcohol, of course. Give him plenty of hot tea, water, milk-lots of fluids, and lots of rest. I'm sure you two want to talk all day, but he really should sleep as much as possible."

So Ashley doesn't offer Sally much personal information. I nod effusively. Sally rolls the rubber gloves off her hands, drops them in a wastebasket and pats Ashley's shoulder.

"I'll see you tomorrow."

"Thanks. Bye."

We watch Sally leave and listen as the elevator doors open and close. And then it is just us.

"So how are you?" he asks.

"I'm OK," I reply, leaning against his night table. Pill bottles rattle, along with my nerves.

"Thanks for coming. I'm sorry if Mom forced you."

My palms begin to itch. "She didn't. Not at all." Liar.

"Mom and Dad usually spend Sundays with me, but one of her friends invited her to a luncheon of some sort, and I made her go. She could use a week off. I'm sure she just felt guilty about me being alone. You can leave whenever you want. I won't tell."

"I don't want to leave." Two lies in two minutes-good thing I'm not a Catholic.

"Alex, you're halfway to the door already. It's OK, really. At this point, I'm way past bullshitting. I can read the paper until Stella stops by later-it'd take less energy than trying to converse with you."

He sighs and leans back into his array of pillows. My eyes sting but I command them to stay neutral.

"I was just wondering where I left my bag. Let me go check." I'm out of the room in three-and-a-half steps. I march into the kitchen and find my bag. I also find Ashley's stocked bar. A bottle of vodka is in my hands before I realize it's way too early to imbibe liquor. I unscrew the cap, tilt the bottle into my mouth and swallow. Then I open my eyes and exhale.

I bite down on several Tic Tacs as I amble back down the hall, my bag in hand. I feel more awake now. Ashley is staring at the doorway as I enter. I stand still for a moment, then drop my bag and approach the bed.

"Ashley, what the fuck is going on?"

"I'm dying," he answers matter-of-factly.

"But ... how ... why so ..." I can't gather my thoughts.

"Why so fast?"

I nod.

"Kind of like cancer; the later you're diagnosed, the more screwed you are."

"But aren't you really into health and exercise? How'd you not notice?"

"I've always been anemic, so I have about ten colds a year. It didn't really strike me as odd. Plus I was on location for most of last year. It wasn't 'till I had bronchitis for two months straight that I thought something was amiss."

I nod, understanding without comprehending.

"So really, how are you?" he demands.

I want to know more but his eyes narrow as he waits for me to answer.

"I'm annoyed, actually." I'm surprised I'm telling him the truth-I don't think I've told him anything since I was in elementary school, and odds are he didn't even listen then.

"Why, because you had to schlep to the Upper West Side?" he asks.

"That, plus I seem to have lost my favorite shirt."

Ashley motions for me to sit, so I pull up a strange-looking (no doubt expensive) chair and plop down. The chair's arms stick out in different, unparallel directions.

"Deceivingly comfortable chair, huh?" he asks.

I nod.

"So tell me about the shirt," he demands.

"I've had it since senior year of high school. It's soft and totally molded to my body. Maybe you've seen it-a white T-shirt with purple flowers."

"I can vaguely picture it. It's a hippie sort of thing, right?" he asks.

I roll my eyes. "Don't start with the hippie references, please."

"OK, OK. So why do you love it so much?"

I sigh, pondering how best to explain my attachment to this shirt without inviting Ashley's ridicule. And why does he want to know? What right does he have to know? If I don't answer him, though, the air will be full of awkward hostility.

"Well," I begin. "It feels like second skin. I'm totally myself when I wear it. And I've worn it in so many places over the years, on most of my favorite days. It's there, in all my great memories."

"Tell me about them," Ashley says.

"About what?"

"Your favorite days. The ones you wore the shirt on."

"Why do you care?" I ask.

"I want to hear about your favorite T-shirt-wearing memories," he says impatiently. "As if we have anything else to talk about?"

I glance out the window, considering his request. It's a bit too late for this. I shouldn't even be here. I should be at home with my best friend, Jordy, reading the paper and eating bagels. This is my time with her and Ashley is stealing it.

Ashley reaches over and touches my knee. I gaze into his eyes, which look, but don't feel, familiar. "Please, Alex?"

I don't really want to tell him-as my older brother, he should know these things already-but he's right. We don't have much else to talk about. I sigh. "OK."

"Good. Now go," Ashley orders.

I describe for Ashley the experience of my first Dead show, and my third show, where I heard my favorite song, "Cassidy." I tell him about my last-minute decision to drop acid with Casey and Brooke on a bleak, frigid night during sophomore year of college. I reminisce about the Dead shows at Deer Creek-the first ones I attended with a boyfriend. I laughingly recall the Dead show at Red Rocks, when Hannah and Kate got screwed with counterfeit tickets and tried to sneak through the boulders behind the massive stage. They didn't get in, but they did get covered in vicious scratches. In the car, everyone crashed and I ate three boxes of white Tic Tacs to stay awake while creeping along in the postshow traffic jam. I recount for him the last day of junior year, when finals were over and the stubborn sun finally showed itself, and Casey, Brooke, Jules and everyone else sat in the garden of Dimitri's, the prettiest bar on campus, and drank cold, delicious daiquiris.

I stop for a second and watch Ashley. He's leaning against the headboard, his eyes closed, a small smile spread across his face. I take a breath and continue to unspool my memories. I relay the enthusiasm I felt the first time I saw Aimee Mann, at The Beacon, and then at Town Hall and The Supper Club. I attempt to encapsulate the pure, complete joy I experienced at The Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden. I describe the lazy, perfect days in the Berkshires with Jordy, who's been my friend, seemingly, forever. I remind him about my high school graduation celebration, the last time anyone threw a party in my honor. I tell him about the most recent day I wore the shirt-in late July-when Jordy got a tattoo. When I'm finished, he opens his eyes and stares at me for a few moments, and then counts on his fingers, shaking his seemingly tiny head.

"How many Dead shows in total?" he inquires.

"Eighteen," I answer defensively.

"Wow," is all he says, frowning. "I wonder where you got that from."

"Have you been to any?" I ask.

"One, at the Meadowlands, for the experience," he answers, quoting the air.

"Figures," I respond.

"And I sat in a luxury box!" he laughs.

"Loser," I say.

Ashley chuckles. "Do you see why I made you talk about all those shirt-related memories?" he asks, serious again.

"Because you're bored?"

"No, to show you it's all right if you don't find the shirt. You don't need the shirt. It's all inside you," he says.

I roll my eyes. He seems a bit uncomfortable, so I get up and rearrange the half-dozen pillows behind him, careful not to jostle him.

"Jesus, Ashley, nice bedding." I don't think I've ever touched such silky, soft sheets.

"One thousand count, from London. Quite pricey, and relatively annoying when I miss the piss bottle and pee on them."

"I brought Star Wars Trivial Pursuit; we can play later if you want," I tell him.

"OK," he replies. "Did you know that in Star Wars, when they land after the big battle, Mark Hamill yells out 'Carrie!' instead of 'Leia?'"

"Duh, I told you that."

"Oh yeah, right."

I feel like I'm supposed to be doing something helpful. "Do you want or need anything?"

Ashley cocks his head, as if distracted by the music, and then states, "'I would like a nice, mind-altering substance, preferably one that will make my unborn children grow gills.'"

"The movie-line game? Now?" I ask him. "It seems a bit inappropriate." Ashley shrugs. "It's what we do; isn't it?"

I look at my fingernails, then out the window-anywhere but in my brother's weary eyes. He's right-it's what we do; it's how we fill the vast void between us.

"Yeah," I answer, finally meeting his gaze and accepting the challenge. "Party Girl."

"Way to go, Alex. I thought I'd nail you on that one."

"Try picking a line that's not from one of my favorite movies. Do you want anything or not?" I ask.

"A cup of tea would be lovely," he says in a sugary voice.

When I return with Ashley's tea, I realize the CD has ended, tossing us into silence. I quickly move to the stereo, which looks as if it might cost more than my monthly rent. I scan the racks of CDs, relieved to see they're organized in alphabetical order. I grab one, slide it in and sit down. The song is familiar and reassuring.

"Ooh, Sophie B. Hawkins. Good call. I like her," he says.

"Me, too. Cool songs, good lyrics. Plus, she's hot."

Ashley nearly chokes on his Earl Gray. "What?"

"Don't you think she's pretty? And sexy?"

"Sure, but I didn't know you thought about women that way," he says.

"Ashley, a woman can consider another woman empirically attractive without being threatened. We're not petty, like you boys. Or catty, like you personally."

Ashley stares at me, his bullshit meter on high. "Alex?"

"What?" I answer.

"Have you ever ... um ... you know?"

"Been with a woman?" I finish his question, although it is a treat to see him blush. He nods-embarrassed at the fact he was too embarrassed to articulate the words. "It's none of your business," I tell him.

"Oh, come on, Alex."

I don't answer. He looks at the ceiling while I direct my gaze at my shoes (which need to be re-soled). A minute passes, then another. Our eyes meet, and he speaks.

"Yes, I've been a shitty brother. You're not winning any awards in the Best Sister category. And we both know I'm going to die."

I see Ashley-really see him-for the first time in years. He's right, on all three counts.

"So, have you been with a woman?" he asks.

"Yes."

His sallow face fills with delight. "And?" he inquires.

"It was ... fun," I answer.

"Fun? That's your response?" I nod. "More fun or less fun than with a guy?" he asks.

"I don't know. I'm not sure what-" to say to him.

"Wait a sec, Alex. Are we talking about one drunken smooch or-"

Why should I reveal this? I haven't even told Jordy. Ashley has not earned the privilege of knowing this part of me.

"The 'or' scenario, in college," I answer.

Ashley's face goes perfectly still, as if he's savoring every sentence-every word-of this conversation.

"Do you think you might be-" I can see the smile creeping across his lips.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Closer to Fine by MERI WEISS Copyright © 2008 by Meri Weiss. 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.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2008

    Excellent writing and story development.

    I read the book in four days. The engaging characters and story line and accessible writing style had me turning page after page after page. The music angle added a connection making the story seem that much more real.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2008

    You'll Fall in Love

    Meri Weiss has written a captivating novel that you won¿t want to finish--only because it¿s too hard to part with the characters. You'll want to linger after their conversations are over, accompany them on road trips, grieve with them during losses, and hug them after triumphs. It's a story that stays with you because the characters are real on every page.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2008

    HIGHLY RECOMMEND

    It has been a long time since I last had trouble putting a book down. I enjoyed every minute of this one. Characters are complex but real and being part of their lives lets you laugh and cry along with them. Beautifully written and an absolute pleasure to read. Funny and heart wrenching at the same time.

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