@Expectationsby Kit Reed
@expectations is a fabulous work of women's fiction by a writer who has made a career of delving deep into women's hearts and finding the truth of their feelings and their lives. Reed's fiction has always examined the female and familial conditions with a sharp eye, a truthful insight, and a unique style that leaves her readers breathless and wanting/i>
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@expectations is a fabulous work of women's fiction by a writer who has made a career of delving deep into women's hearts and finding the truth of their feelings and their lives. Reed's fiction has always examined the female and familial conditions with a sharp eye, a truthful insight, and a unique style that leaves her readers breathless and wanting more.
Jenny is living a typical suburban life, one she's no longer sure she really wants and doesn't know how to change. When she stumbles upon an online community where people create their own lives through words, she dives in headfirst, eager for something new.
But soon Jenny becomes so far removed from her life that she can no longer even see the line between reality and fantasy; she's even got an online lover who insists that he will leave his own family, take her away from it all, and make their virtual life a reality. Eventually Jenny will have to make a choice: return to her husband, her children, her home, her "real life"--or escape into the arms of a fantasy world that may never become truly real.
"Oh, what a tangled Web Reed weaves! In the chilling tradition of future shocksOrwell's 1984, Levin's Stepford Wives@expectations leads us into the amazing temptations of online "life" and "love." Log on at your peril." Lois Gould, author of Mommy Dressing
"In her dark, dangerous, irrestistible novel, Kit Reed plunges the reader into the psychological equivalent of a seedy waterfront bar-a band of desperate misfits, linked by modem, whose passions and projections shatter their real lives. @expectations, however, is less a snapshot of cyber-life than a portrait of our hidden selves." M. G. Lord, author of Forever Barbie.
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Can you guess what it's like to love two men at the same time or how hard it is, shuttling between two worlds when you don't know where your heart belongs? The tension is tremendous. It's all you think about. I love Charlie Wilder, I love him to the bone but when he kisses me and leaves me behind in sleepy Brevert, the best part of me goes running out to StElene because Reverdy is waiting in the GrandHotel StElene, at the center of the neverending party. I am deep in the life of the offshore island, where everything is slightly different.
Sometimes I zone out while Charlie's talking, replaying the last thing my secret lover said to me. Sometimes when I'm with Reverdy, my heart and body go running back to Charlie, and these alignments change without warning. This is how in love we are: Reverdy knows all about Charlie, and Charlie? I can't tell him. How do you handle this kind of tension? Smile, and dissemble.
I'm not this kind of person, really. It just happened. I can't figure it out, so how can I explain it? I fell in love with Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Wilder on sight, I fell in love with his sweet, steady manner and that deceptively easy grin. I married him for life, and ended up in this dismal town. Marooned. Then I met Reverdy, and now...Who knows how these things happen? They happen.
In my office today, sixteen-year-old Amanda Yerkes drones on. I nod in the right places, but I don't hear her. I hear Reverdy and me:
"Reverdy, this is intense."
"Of course. There's an expression for this kind of love," my lover says. "Imagine we are living out Goedel's Theorem. Doyou know about Goedel's Theorem?
I'm dying of it. When are we going to...
But Reverdy says, "Oh, love! The more we have to be apart the better it getsthink about it. Everything we care about is right here. Shimmering. Because it's waiting to be realized. Beautiful!"
"Beautiful, but it's so hard!" I want to understand. Goedel's Theorem of Incompleteness: can I find a book that completely explains it? Will it explain Reverdy? I press. "Explain."
"Nobody can," Reverdy says, "that's the whole thing. Everything you care about, suspended. Anticipation. It's the tension! Proofs are dead objects. Closed cases. Finished." This is how he overturns me. "Our future is forever."
It is profound. More powerful than sex. My lips move but no sound comes out. "The future is forever."
It's all I think about. It keeps me going, and slow, humid little Brevert, South Carolina is hard going. If I'd grown up down here it might be different. But I am the outsider, no more entitled here than the off-duty Marines who wander up and down Front Street, bored blind and homesick for some big city. I am homesick for my loft on lower Broadway, busy day and night, filled with people, where Brevert is dead empty. It's like being dropped on a dead star by a ship from an overpopulated planet. The houses along the bay look like bit players out of Gone With the Wind. Overhead, Spanish moss hangs off the live oaks like The Mummy's wrappings. They say a privateer went down out there in the channel and I half expect the bones of the dead to come to the surface and reassemble.
It's not my fault I grew up in big brown-shingled house in the deep North instead. It's not my fault I was an only child. Come straight home after school and don't let anybody in until I get back from work. I kept running to the window. Right, I had an only mother, but that wasn't her fault. It's nobody's fault that my father's nuclear sub went down and never surfaced, it just didn't. We get stuck with our lives. Back when I still told Charlie everything he said, "Stop beating yourself up. I love you and I promise to make you happy."
So I married him. Now he's never here and I keep running to the window. I didn't know I was marrying the Corps. "Look," he said after we'd set the date, "bad news. I'm being transferred."
"How long have you known?"
He got red and wouldn't answer. So that was one deception. But he handed his heart to me, saying, "If you want me to leave the Marines..." The idea was so terrible to him that he couldn't finish. He blurted, "Can you handle it?"
I love him!
I packed everything I cared about in boxes and came with him. I tried. I did! "Pretty," I said when we rolled down Front Street that first afternoon, but I was thinking, Oh, my God.
His hand closed on mine and I felt that familiar shock of love and desire. He is so warm. "I know, I know," Charlie said; ~ he's trying too. "It's OK, baby, it's only for a little while."
It's not his fault that every time he calls me baby I get smaller. "Don't worry, Charlie, I'll be fine."
"Oh, Jenny, I love you so much." I was getting used to my new name. Jenny Wilder. "Jenny, I need you."
"Me too." Whither thou goest, I will go. I guess, but he should have warned me that he was being transferred.
That's not the only thing he kept from me. There's not much room for me in the new house. It's filled with leftovers from Charlie's first marriage.
And my friends and my loft aren't the only things I left behind. I left my practice. Right, some of the most messed-up people are therapists. As if, solving other people's problems, we can get a grip on our own. I'm trying. So I told my funny, articulate urban neurotics goodbye; it was a stretch but I told them they'd do fine.
Now I deal with neurotic Southerners, which is why I am sitting here listening to Amanda Wetherall. Sweet old Martha Henderson saw my references and brought me into her practice. We work in this antebellum house on Front StreetTara with strip lighting.
Patients sing their old, sad songs for me while I murmur creatively and stare out the window. My Southerners are all sad because they have problems but they're proud, too, because whatever's eating them dates back to the War Between the States, losing it was the last big thing that happened in this small town. Some of these family pathologies have been festering since the first settlers waded in through the marsh grass. I listen, but my heart goes out the window.
When Amanda winds down I crank her up with another question and I fix my eyes on the point where the marsh grass verges into the bay and flows into the inland waterway. If I squint I can almost see StElene.
I can hear everything Reverdy said last night and everything that's waiting to be said, I'm on fire with it. Then the querulous little hook in my patient's voice tells me she's done for now.
"Yes Amanda," I say. "I think you're onto something."
She knots her knobby little hands in her skirts and blushes. I smile and dissemble.
I'm doing OK, too, dissembling, until Martha sticks her head in. My nice partner is like a mom, good-natured and a little worn, and she's the closest thing I have to a friend here. She sees that we're summing up but she and Amanda are old friends. "Sweetie, you're looking better. Jenny, when you have a minute? Amanda, don't look at me that way. You really are filling out a bit!"
Amanda turns white and protects her concave belly. Poor anorectic kid. She wants not to eat; her parents want her plump and pretty for her debut at the St. Cecilia's Ball. Brevert is one of the last places in the world where things like debuts matter. Amanda and I both know where the eating disorder comes from, but knowing a thing and doing something about it are different matters. Martha gives her a pat and waits until she's halfway downstairs and out the door.
My heart is halfway down the stairs and out the door too, but I smile nicely. "So. Martha. Sit down?"
"Sometimes I think parents ought to be tried for war crimes."
"Or force-fed, like geese," I say. "Poor kid."
"But we can't let her starve herself to death." Now that she has me off guard Martha pounces. "Jenny, are you all right?"
"Who, me? I'm fine. Why?"
"This is me you're talking to. What's going on?"
I keep it light. "Nothing, Martha, there's nothing going on."
"Yes there is. You've gotten so..."
I don't want to hear her say, distracted. "I'm fine, it's a little tired out today, OK?"
She grimaces. "How are you with the words, strung out?"
I face the window so she won't see the expressions chasing each other across my face. Strung out. Everything boils up. Should I tell her? Not tell her? "I'm fine. Really."
You can't fool another shrink. "Don't give me that, Jenny. You were one person when you came here. Now you're somebody else."
Bingo. "I love you, Martha, but I can't talk now, I've gotta go. The kids are expecting me."
"Jenny, if you ever want to..."
"No. Don't. Just later, OK?" Even if I explained you wouldn't understand it. I hug her and run home.
The kids. The hell of going home is that it isn't my home. It's Charlie's house, complete with Charlie's children. That's the other thing Charlie forgot to tell me until we were almost married.
Coming home to Charlie's house is like walking into a sequel to Friday the Thirteenth. The camera tilts. Either the enemy is lurking or it isn't. I unlock the door and wait on the sill. I listen. For the shish of fabric rubbing round, fat bodies, the giveaway giggle, or harsh, wet breathing. Are they lying in wait again? Did they mean it when Charlie made them swear there would never be another ambush? Thirty-four years old, and Charlie's kids make me feel like a fifth grader. Ten years old, when I didn't know anything and everything could hurt me.
I stick my head in. The house smells of mildew and camphorwood and damp rugs but not of Pop-Tarts or macaroni in the microwave. Cheer up, you could be alone here. "Anybody home?"
"Patsy? Rusty? If you're in here, say so. Enough, OK?"
Fine, I think, and shut the door behind me. Tracking shot through the empty house: living room, nothing; nobody in the hall closet, no one in the kitchen. I relax a little. I make tea, and all the time I am listening hard. Still no sign. I'm alone! Maybe I can sneak off to StElene for just long enough to calm my heart and maybe, oh maybe, touch base with Reverdy. I start upstairs; everything in me goes soft with anticipation, my blood quickens...
I ought to be used to it by now but my heart hits fast- forward and I shriek. "Dammit, Rusty. Patsy!"
Patsy lunges, too late to scare anybody. It's silly but she does it anyway, with her pudgy arms rigid in that movie monster lurch. "Heeeee!"
I shriek again, so she doesn't feel slighted. Any mom would do the same, even an unwilling one. Kids who've just lost a parent deserve all the kindness you can manage.
("It's so great to see you getting along," Charlie says with such joy that I can't bear to tell him they hate me. "After all, they're your children now." No they aren't.)
So this is the worst thing that Charlie kept from me. That his ex-wife Nelda settled the custody matter for once and all by getting herself killed in a car wreck. When we went to the Carlyle to meet his family the day before the wedding Charlie tried to make it look like a wedding gift! At the door to the family suite he said:
"Jenny, I have a wonderful surprise for you."
When the door opened I was looking higher, expecting adult faceshis parents. Somebody gave the children a little shove; their father ordered them to smile, but they didn't.
"Mine." Blindly, he beamed at me. "I knew you'd love them."
When we'd done lunch and the Radio City Music Hall with his kids, when we'd bought them presents at Schwarz and ice cream at the Plaza and we'd sponged the chocolate off their fronts and delivered them back to their aunt; when we were finally alone I said, "God, Charlie! Why didn't you tell me?"
Then my Charlie put his heart in his hands and gave it to me. His eyes filled up and his face crumpled in apology. "Oh Jenny, I love you so much. I was scared you wouldn't marry me!"
Grinning, he spread his arms. I walked straight into them.
Now wonderful Charlie is safe in his bright, neat office on the base and we are here. Rusty is giving that high, false mean-little-boy laugh. Patsy sulks, glowering. I keep trying but they really don't like me. If somebody said, "Kids, this is your new mom," would you like me? No it isn't.
"Look. Guys." I've been there! Orphaned is where alone starts. I offer hugs but they struggle free. They won't let me love them; they won't even let me like them. I can buy a smile with forbidden food. I would do anything. "Tell you what. Dad's going to be late, let's get pizza."
So the kids are muttering on the rug in front of the TV when Charlie comes in. Let them wallow in pizza cartons and Moon Pie wrappers for God's sake, if it makes them happy. I am beached on the sofa, pretending we are a family while they hide in their own little world. Charlie sweeps me into a hug but over my shoulder he sees the rubble. "Oh, baby, if you feed them junk food they'll never shape up."
That his kids are unhappy bothers him, but Charlie can't say that. Instead he picks on something he thinks he can change. Their body images are in direct collision with his sense of order. Rangy, fit Charlie and his schlumpy children don't match. With that military carriage, my man looks like a Marine officer even when he's nakeda living reproach to the butterballs clinging to his legs.
"Shhh Charlie, they're trying."
"Look at them!"
They suck in their cheeks and tighten their bellies.
"Jen, really." He doesn't say it but I know it by heart. My father trained me to run a taut ship. "They're..."
I whisper into his neck, "Don't say fat," and he doesn't.
For my sake, he makes his voice bright. "Tell you what, kids. Let's go out for a walk!"
Somehow I get left behind in the shuffle. If the kids could make me disappear, they would. In these family encounters, Charlie feels their loss even more strongly than I do. He indulges them and I love him for it. But I need him too! I try, "Charlie, when there's time I need to..." Talk to you.
"Aren't we supposed to tell each other everything?" What can I say? Not clear. I can't let this drag on, loving Reverdy and not telling Charlie.
"Sure, honey, sure." He kisses me. "Later, yes?"
"Yes." I love you, Charlie, I just...
Gently, Charlie runs his knuckles down my cheeka promise of things to come, but when we finally get the kids to bed we are at cross purposes. We both want the same thing but there's something I have to do.
"Where are you going?"
"The computers. I forgot to store these records." If Reverdy left a note for me at StElene, it will turn up in my email.
"Yeah, records. You're an email junkie, admit it."
"It'll only take a minute."
He's sleepy, he wants me, he reaches out. "What's the point? It'll only be Martha dumping more work on you. Computers. Pieces of junk."
"Necessary pieces of junk." I slip away. "Right back, I promise."
"Let it go, babe. You won't die."
That's what you think.
Thank God he doesn't come after me. It doesn't take long. Reverdy's note has been forwarded. Two a.m. I am on fire with it.
Back in our safe, warm bed, Charlie and I make better love than ever. I really do love him and I know if loving Reverdy makes loving Charlie even better than it is, it can't be such a bad thing. Besides, by the time we're done it's too late to start anything and if I tell him, it will only hurt him. Another minute and Charlie will go crashing into sleep. In my heart I've already left the room and when he turns to kiss me good night I murmur into his neck because what I have to say evaporates just like everything else I've ever tried to tell him.
Confusing, this. And wonderful.
Waiting for Reverdy is sweet but lying here is sweet. Our breath synchronized, our flanks touching. But my mind does the same dance it does every night, seesawing between guilt and anticipation.
I don't have to go tonight. I don't ever have to go back, I think, if Charlie turns out to want the other thing I want, the thing I haven't named because I'm only now coming to terms with it. Which is: I am sick of being outnumbered here. I can wake him up and open the question, but if I do, I'll never get away in time. If we talk, it will make me late!
Reverdy will leave because he thinks I'm not coming.
But this is the man I'm married to for life, there is something we both want that he doesn't know I want, and if I can only...I touch his arm. "Oh, Charlie." It's crazy. Let's have a baby. He sighs in his sleep. I shiver and slide closer to the edge of the bed.
I can't just come out and say that.
So sometime soon after, I run my hand over Charlie's profilewhen I'm leaving the bed this way I never touch, I just bring my fingers close. I don't want to wake him up, but I want him to feel the airthe grace of the gestureand know that he is loved. I let my fingers outline his strong neck, the line of his shoulder and then I ease off the bed like a sailor jumping ship, blow him a kiss and slip out. When I look back the bed is bobbing in deep shadow like a small craft in the bay. Charlie likes a taut ship, but to me right now the bed looks like a raft with Charlie on it, floating away.
I'm not hurting anybody. I'm not!
What People are saying about this
&$151;(Lois Gould, Author of Mummy Dressing)
Meet the Author
Kit Reed has been the recipient of two Guggenheim fellowships and an Aspen Institute Rockefeller Fellowship. Her novel, Little Sisters of the Apocalypse, and a short story collection, Weird Women, Wired Women, were finalists for the James W. Tiptree Award. She has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award for short fiction. A novel, The Ballad of T. Rantula, was named to the American Library Association list of Best Books for Young Adults.
Short fiction comprises the majority of her work. Most of her stories are science fiction and fantasy, where Reed is generally considered one of the best feminist sf writers, often writing about women's issues and body image through a science fictional filter.
Kit Reed is the author of the Alex Award-winning Thinner Than Thou and many other novels, including The Night Children, her first young adult work. Reed has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and has been a James W. Tiptree Award finalist. Kit Reed lives in Middletown, CT, where she is Resident Writer at Wesleyan University.
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