From the Publisher
“Adrienne Miller's enormous talent is evident on every page. . . . She has written a big, smart novel that's confident and juicy.” Curtis Sittenfeld, The Washington Post
“Miller's handling of this crew is a joy, the characters revealing themselves through a clever and deftly synchronized plot and unflaggingly witty prose.” The Boston Globe
“When Miller lights the narrative fuse, her readers wait for the fireworks with heart-pounding giddiness. . . . Yet, oddly enough, it isn't the zany plot that provides the most excitement. Instead, the pyrotechnics come from Miller's enormous wit and linguistic creativity.” The New York Times Book Review
“The Coast of Akron is a joy to read and decipher.” The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Splendidly realized characters . . . Miller is a gifted ventriloquist.” Chicago Tribune
“As a farce, the book could not be more bizarre, or more dead-on-target. . . . The novel this one most resembles is Don DeLillo's classic White Noise. Like the Gladneys of DeLillo's book, the family in this lively debut has a slaphappy giddiness that seems almost to come from something in the air.” The Independent (London)
The soul of the Haven family decays inside a massive faux Tudor dubbed On Ne Peut Pas Vivre Seul "One Cannot Live Alone." Barraged with the spiraling lies and self-deceptions chronicled here, however, readers may wonder whether living alone is such a bad idea. This first book by Miller, Esquire's award-winning fiction editor, entertains, even fascinates, but ultimately strands the reader with the family's unresolved conflicts and filthy laundry at a homestead literally in flames. The story centers on Merit Haven Ash, grown daughter of two artists, Jenny Meatyard Haven and Lowell Haven, and Fergus Goldwyn, Lowell's lover and Merit's surrogate parent. Miller's talent for caricature is evident early on, as Merit observes her husband Wyatt's obsessive-compulsive behavior, and Fergus, as fabulously bitchy as he is lonely, describes Lowell's evil self-obsession. The author tempers her humor admirably, too, tucking in heartbreaking moments of self-reflection. The trouble is that the scenes don't hang together. Lowell and Jenny are fascinating raptors, and the reader is ready for confrontation as Miller tells the characters' secrets and escalates the drama toward a costume party that is the family's finis. But along the way, Merit and Fergus morph so extremely that their behavior stops making sense. Perhaps their leaps in personality are Miller's take on what happens to children and adults childlike in their desire for love when they are betrayed. At the (abrupt and confusing) end, however, it's not the fault of readers if they feel as lost and confused as troubled Merit and her adoptive parent, Fergus. Agent, Christy Fletcher. Author tour. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Brilliant artist Lowell no longer paints and has abandoned wife Jenny for Jenny's best friend, Fergus. Now Fergus is trying to win back Lowell's estranged daughter with a lavish party. A highly touted debut. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Inflamed artistic temperaments and miscellaneous relationship issues preoccupy two generations of immediate and extended families-in a crowded debut by Esquire's literary editor. Somewhat contentedly married Merit Ash stoically endures her Mr. Fixit husband Wyatt's finicky perfectionism, while performing her tasks for local regional magazine Ohio Is without tumbling too quickly into bed with sexy slacker co-worker Randy. Nor does Merit lack other baggage, most of it inherited from her father, Lowell Haven, a flamboyant artist best known for his absurdly egocentric "self-portraits" (Lowell as the Wife of Bath and other Canterbury Pilgrims, Lowell Crucified with Cow Crucified Next to Him, etc.), and mother Jenny, herself a painter, long divorced from Lowell, whose imagined grisly deaths dominate many of her canvasses. We learn their histories through omniscient narration of Merit's increasingly distracted misadventures; excerpts from Jenny's diary detailing her flight to London in the 1970s, "work" as a woefully unqualified au pair for a bisexual rich twit's family, and fateful meeting with dashing young Lowell; and the tres gai effusions of real estate heir Fergus Goodwyn, who was Jenny's high school confidant, and now lives with his lover Lowell (and other spongers) at On Ne Peut Pas Vivre Seul, a 65-room mansion smack in the middle of the Ohio heartland, that's a cross between Fawlty Towers and Michael Jackson's Neverland. The story's actions (so to speak) are focused toward a lavish climactic party, at which it seems perfectly reasonable when the Ashes' preadolescent daughter Caroline arrives costumed as Caligula, and no big deal when Jenny reveals what's meant to be a bombshell but infact strikes us as simply further calculated eccentricity. It's all funny for a while, but eventually the reader feels as if trapped at an endless cocktail party, pinned in a corner with Truman Capote, Nancy Mitford and Alec Guinness as Gully Jimson in The Horse's Mouth. Mostly frosting, not nearly enough cake. Author tour
Read an Excerpt
The Coast of Akron
By ADRIENNE MILLER
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX Copyright © 2005 Adrienne Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter One Wyatt's glasses were crooked again. Merit rinsed her hands in the kitchen sink, shook them, and took three long, resolute steps toward him. She removed his glasses. Wyatt had just come in from mowing the lawn. He smiled. She smiled. Merit and Wyatt had been married for five years.
Merit held the glasses up to the ceiling light. Somehow, every pair went immediately lopsided on Wyatt. These years of repositioning (on three different pairs of glasses) had led Merit to think-and she'd voiced this suspicion more than once, alas-that maybe his ears were crooked, just a little bit.
Wyatt wore long pants (mosquitoes), although it was August and, at 7:00 p.m., ninety degrees. This past week, he'd rigged up an ultraviolet-light mosquito killer. A fan drew the mosquitoes into "the unit" (Wyatt's term) and into a tray of water. He'd cleverly added a few drops of liquid soap to the water, which, he'd explained, lowered the surface tension. The unit didn't work tremendously well, in Merit's opinion, so now Wyatt was, for reasons unclear to Merit, trying to create carbon dioxide. Merit wasn't sure how one created carbon dioxide exactly, or what it had to do with the mosquitoes; she didn't like the idea of killing animals, even insects, and didn't ask.
Wyatt leaned over the sink and washed his hands with dishwashing liquid. Merit got a good look at his backside. Was his ass actually clenched, or did it just appear to be? She had never known. Wyatt could whistle, which Merit could not, but he was, pound for pound, as dreadful a singer as Merit was. Unlike Merit, however, he was oblivious to his talentlessness. His two current around-the-house favorites were "Band on the Run" and "Lady." If Merit were ever to tell Wyatt how bad his singing voice was, he would certainly disappear into his study, probably for hours, and would possibly stop talking to her for the rest of the day. She knew she was capable of hurting Wyatt. She knew she could hurt him more than he could hurt her.
For Mother's Day this year, Wyatt had bought Merit a miniature Persian rug mouse pad (priced at a remarkable forty-five dollars on Merit's fact-finding journey to Alfredo & Me Gifts at the mall) and two packs of paper cocktail napkins decorated with a field full of rusty greenish triangles that were meant to be either sailboats or pine trees. Merit had been curious about why he'd bought her a Mother's Day gift at all. But she hadn't commented on it.
Wyatt fixed things. Wyatt built things. His motto (Merit's husband was a man with an actual motto) was "In God We Trust. All Others Must Use Data." One of Wyatt's "personal goals" (Wyatt was, unlike Merit, someone with personal goals) was to have, within two years, a house whose lights were entirely controlled by sensors. He called his dream the Smart House. Merit had no idea whether the term came from some magazine or what, but she did know the term irritated her the way the words condiment, slough, slacks, and doily did, too.
The overhead upstairs hallway light had been the first step Smart House-ward, although the motion sensors there weren't exactly what you'd call foolproof. Sometimes, at night, when Merit lay in bed, she'd hear Wyatt curse, "God damn it, Wyatt" (after he'd stubbed his toe) outside in the black hallway, and she couldn't help thinking sometimes that her husband's in-progress Smart House could maybe be just a little bit smarter.
Merit's home with Wyatt was very different from the house in which she herself had grown up. She liked that.
When Caroline, Wyatt's daughter, was small, Wyatt built her bedroom furniture (furniture that, much to Caroline's recent adolescent humiliation, was still in her room). He had also built her a dollhouse, a sandbox, and a jungle gym. Last year, Wyatt had made a wooden enclosure-Merit refused to call it a "pen"-for their pig, Arabella. (Their animals, Merit knew, made Wyatt nervous.) The enclosure was constructed of three-foot-high cedar planks, the same planks that were being used for the deck. Uniformity was one of Wyatt's watchwords. On one of the enclosure's walls, he had mounted a fan, a very large fan, four feet in diameter, which, even on calm days, even under optimal sanitary conditions, was unable to entirely overcome the ... well, odor. To give him credit, though, Wyatt hadn't complained when, five years ago, just weeks after she'd moved in, Merit brought Arabella home unannounced. Arabella had been advertised in the paper as a Vietnamese potbellied pig. Only recently had Merit been able to admit to herself she'd been had. Arabella's present weight: approximately five hundred pounds. Wyatt had never once suggested he and Merit give Arabella away to a farm, where she'd surely be more comfortable and among her own kind, and had never made any "If we get nuked, at least we'll have Arabella to eat" jokes. Arabella was furry and piebald and wagged her tail like a dog. She had tusks.
There was a rabbit, too. Name: Tonya. Tonya wasn't allowed out of the bedroom. This was another of Wyatt's rules. In an effort to protect the bedroom walls from rabbit urine, Wyatt had taped up sheets of polyethylene film. Every quarter year he removed the previous quarter's rabbited plastic, measured each wall again, and cut four more pieces of premeasured polyethylene. Any occurrence of rabbit urine through plastic on any area of the bedroom walls (not to mention any occurrence of rabbit fecal matter anywhere other than in the bedroom's approved rabbit-fecal-matter receptacle) meant FAILURE in all caps and would require a redoubling on Wyatt's part of rabbit-containment efforts. The only mean thing Wyatt had ever said about Tonya was this: "It's like living with a goddamned squirrel." He'd said this through gritted teeth one night in bed. He'd awakened because Tonya was urinating on his face. Merit worried Tonya hadn't really ever liked Wyatt. Now she knew.
Merit's animal thing was entirely antithetical to Wyatt's nature. If it were up to Merit, the animals would just be allowed to run amok, but for Wyatt, who wished to organize that which was by definition unorganizable, the animals meant too much potential for unpredictable spontaneous interaction.
Wyatt owned a sweatshirt that said PERFECTION IS OUR GOAL and an older, pre-Merit one that said REENGINEERING! Caroline, Wyatt's daughter, had drawn in two dots over reengineering's second e with a blue Magic Marker. Merit guessed Caroline had seen the umlaut usage in a magazine to which Merit subscribed but which she never read. Caroline was thirteen. Merit still didn't know if the kids in her class made fun of her.
"Maybe this side is a little bit bent or something," Merit said, even though she knew it wasn't. She held the glasses up for Wyatt to observe.
"Could be the nose pads," Wyatt said. "Jiggle the nose pads around."
"It's not the nose pads. Look."
"Here. Give it here."
"Just keep your pants on, mister," Merit said.
Merit slid the glasses back on his face, careful not to stab his ears. Oh, hopeless! They were even more crooked than before.
"Much better," Merit said.
Excerpted from The Coast of Akron by ADRIENNE MILLER Copyright © 2005 by Adrienne Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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