Dearly Departed

Dearly Departed

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by Elinor Lipman

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With her trademark humor and warmth, the beloved author of The Ladies' Man and The Inn at Lake Devine explores going home again; about finding light in the dark corners of one's inhospitable past; about love, golf, and DNA.

Everyone in King George, New Hampshire, loved Margaret Batten, part-time amateur actress, full-time wallflower, and singleSee more details below


With her trademark humor and warmth, the beloved author of The Ladies' Man and The Inn at Lake Devine explores going home again; about finding light in the dark corners of one's inhospitable past; about love, golf, and DNA.

Everyone in King George, New Hampshire, loved Margaret Batten, part-time amateur actress, full-time wallflower, and single mother to a now-distant daughter, Sunny. But accidents happen. The death of Margaret, side by side with her putative fiancé, brings Sunny back to the scene of the unhappy adolescence she thought she’d left behind. Reentry is to be dreaded; there’s no hiding in a town with one diner, one doctor, one stop sign, one motel. Yet allies surface; even high school tormentors have grown up in unforeseen and gratifying ways. Just possibly, Sunny begins to think, she wasn’t as beleaguered as she felt she was. And maybe her mother’s life was richer than anyone suspected. Add to the mix a chief of police whose interest in Sunny exceeds his civic duty, and you have the makings of an irresistibly beguiling tale from an author who writes with all the wit and wry authority of a latter-day Jane Austen.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Readers can count on Lipman for stylish, sprightly novels imbued with a deep affection for her all-too-human characters. Her newest offering continues the high standard set by her first novel, Then She Found Me (LJ 3/15/90), and continued through her recent The Ladies' Man (LJ 6/1/99). When Sunny Batten, now in her early thirties, returns home to tiny King George, NH, following the accidental death of her mother and her mother's fianc , Miles Finn, she is thrown back into a milieu that she had gladly left years before. Sunny, the most talented golfer in high school, has nothing but unhappy memories of her adolescence, when she and her mother braved the displeasure of the town by forcing the school administration to make her a member of the previously all-male school golf team. The caring and sympathy that she now receives from everyone she meets comes as a shock, as does meeting Miles Finn's son, Fletcher. Fletcher could be her twin: he has the same facial structure and the same flyaway, prematurely gray hair. Were there pockets in her mother's past of which Sunny was unaware? In this delightfully breezy novel, Sunny learns that you can go home again, with surprisingly happy results. For all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/01/01.] Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another sharply observed, if avowedly romantic, comedy of manners from Lipman (The Ladies' Man, 1999, etc.), an unreconstructed Janeite. Sunny Batten gets jolting news from the King George, New Hampshire, police. Her mother has died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, thanks to a faulty furnace. "She and her fiancé didn't suffer," the police chief tells her gently over the phone. Sunny—short for Sondra but unreflective of her general outlook on life—is devastated. Though they'd been living apart (college, a series of jobs), she and her mother had always been emotionally close. Or so she'd thought. But when she recovers enough to contemplate something other than her horrific loss, she finds that little in her mother's actual world corresponds to her own idea of it. Fiancé? How could there possibly be such a person when Sunny knew nothing of his existence? In the days that follow she learns much about Margaret Batten that comes as a surprise. Miles Finn, the putative fiancé, had in fact been her mother's secret lover for well over 30 years. In addition, there is every likelihood that his relationship to Sunny herself was weightier than she had at first been led to believe. And that being the case, certain ancillary conclusions are unavoidable. At the funeral, for instance—the double funeral, that is—Fletcher Finn, son of the deceased Miles, a brash young man only slightly younger than 31-year-old Sunny, materializes—disconcertingly. Which is to say that his resemblance to her is so striking that the assembled King George folks gasp collectively, leaving Sunny to consider the sudden, unnerving possibility of siblinghood. But not everyrevelation is disquieting. This is Lipman, after all, and the sensitive, kind police chief turns out to be Joey Loach, who sometimes sat behind Sunny—rather yearningly—in high school study hall. Austen would have approved: astringency with a happy ending.
From the Publisher
"Almost nobody writes serious entertainment with more panache."–Chicago Tribune

"Witty and wry . . . this is summer reading at its best."–The Atlantic Monthly

The Dearly Departed contains a core of dark and mordant wit that distinguishes it, in delightful ways, from the norm.”–Washington Post Book World

"Nothing short of brilliant.... A story so funny and so pleasurable that the reader can only wish it did not have to end."–Booklist

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
426 KB

Read an Excerpt


Come Back to King George

Sunny met Fletcher for the first time at their parents’ funeral, a huge graveside affair where bagpipes wailed and strangers wept. It was a humid, mosquito-plagued June day, and the grass was spongy from a midnight thunderstorm. They had stayed on the fringes of the crowd until both were rounded up and bossed into the prime mourners’ seats by the funeral director. Sunny wore white—picture hat, dress, wet shoes—and an expression that layered anger over grief: Who is he? How dare he? Are any of these gawkers friends?

Unspoken but universally noticed was the physical attribute she and Fletcher shared—a halo of prematurely gray hair of a beautiful shade and an identical satiny, flyaway texture. No DNA test result, no hints in wills, could be more eloquent than this: the silver corona of signature hair above their thirty-one-year-old, identically furrowed brows.

The King George Bulletin had reported every possible angle, almost gleefully. Margaret Batten, local actress, and friend found unconscious, said the first banner headline. Bulletin paper carrier calls 911, boasted the kicker. An arty photo—sunrise in King George—of scrawny, helmeted Tyler Lopez on his bike, a folded newspaper frozen in flight, appeared on page 1. “I knew something was wrong when I saw them laying on the floor—the woman and a man,” he told the reporter. “The door was open. I thought they might still be alive, so I used the phone.” Inescapable in the coverage was the suggestion of a double suicide or foul play. Yellow police tape surrounded the small house. Even after tests revealed carbon monoxide in their blood and a crack in the furnace’s heat exchanger, Bulletin reporters carried on, invigorated by a double, coed death on their beat.

A reader named Vickileigh Vaughn wrote a letter to the editor. She wanted to clarify something on the record so all of King George would know: Friend in the headline was inaccurate and possibly libelous. Miles Finn and Margaret Batten were engaged to be married. Friends, yes, but so much more than that. An outdoor wedding had been discussed. If the odorless and invisible killer hadn’t overcome them, Miles would have left, as was his custom, before midnight, after the Channel 9 news.

Sunny was notified by a message on her answering machine. “Sunny? It’s Fletcher Finn, Miles’s son. Could you pick up if you’re there?” Labored breathing filled the pause. “I guess not. Okay. Listen, I don’t know when I can get to a phone again, so I’ll have to give you the news, which is somewhat disturbing.” Another pause, too long for the machine, which clicked off. He called back. “Hi, it’s Fletcher Finn again. Here’s what I was going to say. I’ll make it quick: I got a call from the police in Saint George, New Hampshire—no, sorry, King George. They found our parents unconscious. Nobody knows anything. I’ve got the name of the hospital and the other stuff the cop said. What’s your fax number? Call me. I’ll be up late.”

Sunny phoned the King George police. The crime scene, she was told by a solicitous male voice, was roped off until the lab work came back. Sunny pictured the peeling gray bungalow secured with yellow tape, its sagging porch and overgrown lilacs cinched in the package.

“Are they going to die?” she asked.

“Sunny?” said the officer. “It’s Joe Loach. From Mattatuck Avenue? We were in study hall together junior and senior—”

“I got a message from a Fletcher Finn, who said his father and my mother were found unconscious, but that’s all I know. He didn’t even say what hospital.”

Loach coughed. “Sunny? They weren’t taken to a hospital. It was too late for that.”

“No,” Sunny moaned. “No. Please.”

“It was the damn carbon monoxide. It builds up over time, and then it’s too late. I’m so sorry. I hate to do this over the phone . . .”

When she couldn’t answer, he said, “I saw your mother in Driving Miss Daisy at the VFW, and she was really something.”

Sunny pictured her mother’s grande-dame bow and the magisterial sweep of the arm that invited her leading man to join her in the spotlight. It had taken practice, with Sunny coaching, because Margaret’s inclination was to blush and look amazed.

“You’re where now? Connecticut?”

She said she was.

“Okay. One step at a time. Nothing says you can’t make arrangements by telephone. Maybe your mother put her preferences in writing—people do that, something like, ‘Instructions. To be opened in the event of my death.’ I could walk anything over to the funeral parlor for you. In fact, remember Dickie Saint-Onge from our class? He took over the business. He’s used to handling things long-distance.”

“I’m coming up,” said Sunny.

“She and her fiancé didn’t suffer,” said Joey Loach. “That much I can promise you.”

“Fiancé?” she repeated. “How do you know that?”

“That seems to be everyone’s understanding. Her cleaning lady wrote a letter to the editor to set the record straight. Plus, there was a ring on the appropriate finger.”

Sunny cried softly, her hand over the receiver.

“Can I do anything?” he asked. “Can I call anyone?”

“I’d better get off,” she said. “There must be some phone calls I should make. I’m sure that’s what I’m supposed to do next.”

“Just so you know, the house is okay now. They found the leak and fixed it, the town did, first thing. You don’t have to be afraid of sleeping there. I’ll make sure that everything is shipshape.”

“I think my friend Regina used to baby-sit for your sister,” she said. “Marilyn?”

“Marilee,” said Joey. “She’s still here. We’re all still here. So’s Regina. You okay?”

“I meant to say thank you,” said Sunny, “but that’s what came out instead.”

“You’re welcome,” said Joey Loach.

Fletcher sounded more annoyed than mournful when he reached Sunny the next morning. “Under the circumstances,” he said, “I would have thought you’d have returned my call.”

“You didn’t leave your number,” said Sunny.

“I’m sure you can appreciate that I wasn’t thinking about secretarial niceties last night,” he snapped.

“Such as ‘I’m so sorry about your mother’?”

“I didn’t know her,” he said. “And at the time of my call I believed she was still alive.”

Sunny quietly slipped the receiver into its cradle. It rang seconds later.

From the Hardcover edition.

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