According to family legend, members of Katherine Millar's family "get the key of the door and the hammer of doom at the same time" when they come of age. Which is why Long opens her clever fourth novel with Kat expecting the worst on her 18th birthday. An outcast at school, Kat longs to break away from the suffocating English village of Bank Top. As she wraps up exams and considers her next step, however, a boy turns Kat's world upside-down-leaving her to question everything she's been told about her father, who fell to the family curse in a fatal accident, and her mother, who abandoned Kat shortly thereafter. Long brings to life a host of quirky characters, including Poll, Kat's nearly blind and caustic paternal grandmother who raised her, and Poll's constant companion, Dickie the Dogman, a scavenger who regularly brings gifts of fatty bacon or vacuum cleaner attachments. Long's prose is faithful to the regional dialect, and the story effortlessly encapsulates the end of adolescence and Kat's mixed emotions as she redefines her notion of family and strikes out on her own. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Family Sold Separately: A Novelby Kate Long
On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Katherine wants only three things: a smidge of social grace, the body of Courteney Cox, and two parents. What she has instead is an almost complete lack of friends, a pudgy figure, and one
From internationally bestselling author Kate Long, a perceptive, vivid, and painfully funny novel about family ties and growing up
On the eve of her eighteenth birthday, Katherine wants only three things: a smidge of social grace, the body of Courteney Cox, and two parents. What she has instead is an almost complete lack of friends, a pudgy figure, and one extremely eccentric, nearly blind grandmother named Poll. Since Katherine’s father died and her mother disappeared, Poll is her only family. And not only does Poll buy all of Katherine’s clothes, but she forbids her to leave the house unless it’s absolutely necessary. Would a chance to go to Oxford count? But the bigger question is: How can she abandon her grandma?
Just when Katherine has resigned herself to a lifetime of watching daytime television, sparring with Poll, and visiting the town library for “fun,” along comes a handsome, magnetic young man named Collum, who claims to be Katherine’s long-lost cousin. But as Katherine is about to learn, when it comes to family, things aren’t always as they seem.
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“Funny, touching and utterly winning.”
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Dogman turned up on our doorstep at nine o’clock sharp, wolfhound in tow.
“You’ll love me,” he said. “I’ve brought you a crevice tool.”
“Let him in!” yelled Poll from the kitchen.
He rustled past in his grubby raincoat and I pressed my back to the wall in case he brushed against me. The dog sniffed my crotch, then trotted on.
“Here you are,” he said, rooting in one of his plastic bags and pulling out the crevice tool for me to admire. It’s true, I had been wanting one for about six months. Ours had disappeared; probably Poll threw it out by accident, we lose a lot of stuff that way.
Poll marched in and snatched it out of Dogman’s hand. She felt it carefully all over, then took it over to the floor lamp to peer at it in the light. “Well, aren’t you lucky, Katherine Millar? She’s always moaning about dog hairs. Winston sheds all summer and all winter, it’s a wonder he in’t bald. Say thank you. Where did you get it, Dickie? Car boot?”
Dogman grinned. “I found it.”
Nicked it, more like.
Poll handed it over to me and I squinted at the maker’s mark. “But it’s the wrong brand,” I said. “This is off a Dyson, we have a Lervia. It won’t fit.”
“Get away,” said Dogman. “Bit of duct tape on the end of your tube, it’ll be fine.”
I could have inserted the tool into his mouth, Tom and Jerry style.
“Are you seriously expecting me to start mauling with duct tape every time I want to use the thing? Putting it on and taking it off? I’m not going through that performance.” I dropped the tool onto the settee. If Poll wanted to claim it, she could do the hoovering herself.
Poll tutted and Dogman shook his head sorrowfully.
“Young people today,” said Poll, “they want life gift-wrapped, they do. Tek no notice of her, Dickie. She’s on t’ crest of a rebellion all t’ time. I think it’s hormones. At least, I hope that’s all it is.” She raised her eyebrows at him.
Piss off, I nearly said.
“One day I’ll die,” Poll’s always going, “and then you’ll be sorry, my girl.”
No I won’t. I’ll put the bloody flags out. I’ll tie a red satin bow around Winston’s neck, dance stark naked up and down Mesnes Park, and put an ad in the “Celebrations” column of the Wigan Observer.
She always had a lot to say
She had a tongue sharp as a knife
But now my grandma’s passed away
I’m off to start a whole new life.
In remembrance of Pollyanna Millar,evil-minded shrew and dog-botherer
That night, after Poll had groped her way along the landing from the bathroom, I wrote in my diary:
New Year’s Resolutions
1.Stop eating (lose 10 kg by Valentine’s Day)
2.Get everyone at school to call me Kat, not Katherine, as sounds cooler
3.Try to make friends with Donna French X X X lush lush
4.Decide what to do about My Future
Then I lay down on the bed, under Dad’s old posters of Blondie, and tried to block out the bad thoughts that always gather about this time by doing A-level essay plans in my head. Finally I turned out the light and blew Dad a kiss, like I always do. It might be mad, but it helps.
I share my room with two dead people. As well as Dad, in his jar on the windowsill, there’s Great-grandma Florence, who was Poll’s mother, in the bottom of the wardrobe inside a black and gold tin. I never think about her, to be honest, except when I’m hunting for shoes.
The rest of Poll’s family are buried in Bank Top cemetery, a sloping field down which the gravestones are moving imperceptibly, along with the wall that’s supposed to keep them in. If you climb up on the war memorial in the middle you get a good view, a clear view anyway, of the dirty brick town of Harrop below, with its derelict paper mill and defunct locomotive works. Surely this can’t be where the occupants of the cemetery are headed? I can’t see the attraction myself.
My big dream is to be normal. I need to ditch the socks and frocks and be more like other girls, but it’s not easy with a grandma like mine.
“Makeup? What do you want to wear makeup for? You’ll ruin your skin. You’ll end up looking like a clown or a prostitute, one or t’ other. Smear some Vaseline on your face, that’s all you need at your age. I were a married woman before I owned a lipstick.”
We have this bollocks continually.
It’s dawning on me, now I’m reaching my eighteenth birthday, that actually a lot of things Poll says are rubbish, e.g. that mending your socks while you’re still wearing them brings on terrible bad luck. “It’s sewing sorrow to your heart,” she always moans. “You’ll rue.” She also reckons that washing your hair while you’re having a period sends you mad, and that sleeping with a potato prevents cramps.
When I was younger I believed her, so therefore all the other kids assumed I was mad too and wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I couldn’t catch a ball either, and I wore a hand-knitted school cardigan instead of a bought one from Littlewoods. I pretended I didn’t care.
“Not everyone has a mother and a father,” I would recite when they cornered me on the rec. “Me and my grandma are a family too.”
“Piss off, Fatso,” they’d say. “You don’t even call her grandma. How weird is that?”
“She doesn’t like it.”
“She doesn’t like you. You’re mental. Your mum killed your dad and then ran off. Weirdy-weirdo.” Then they’d run away screaming and screwing their index fingers into their temples. Weirdy-weirdo would skulk by the trash bins for a bit and then go and stand by the teacher till the bell went.
The trouble with Bank Top is that everyone knows everyone else’s history.
Poll doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her—which is lucky, because in general they don’t. She’s as blind as she wants to be: some days, you’d hardly know she had a problem; others, she’s all but bed-ridden. “It’s like having a black spot pasted on the front of your eyeball,” she says. “If I look at your head, now, all I can see is an empty space.” She’s got peripheral vision, though, so you’d be unwise to try anything sneaky.
The Rehab Officer likes to stay upbeat. “Here, we prefer the term partially sighted,” she says when Poll goes to be assessed for extras, e.g. hand-rails, magnifiers, large-button phones. Not that she bothers with most of these aids; after all, it’s what I’m there for. I’m just a two-legged guide dog.
When she first began to lose her sight she was given this handy booklet, Coping with Age-Related Macular Degenera-tion. It’s full of top tips for someone with a reasonable take on life:
•Use strong lighting throughout the house, particularly on stairs.
Poll says, “If you think I’m getting an electrician in you’ve another think coming. Pass us that flashlight.” Our sockets are loaded to buggery and we have nine table lamps in the living room alone.
•Tell others clearly what you need.
No problems with this one. It’s all I get, all day and every day. I shop, cook, clean, wash, iron after a fashion, lay her clothes out for her every night and put her eye drops in. She doesn’t need the eye drops, she just likes the idea. She needs the ICaps dietary supplement pills, but she won’t take them, of course.
•Use your cane as a signal that you need help.
Or a weapon. She may only have limited vision but she can always locate an ankle bone from a good height.
•Don’t dwell on your difficulties. Treat your visual impairment as a challenge to be overcome.
To be fair, she isn’t much into self-pity. Anger, petty-mindedness, pig-headedness; now those she does a treat.
•Get to know your neighbors; build up a community around you.
Don’t know if Dickie the Dogman counts as community; he certainly hangs around our place enough. Poll thinks he’s marvelous because he’s always posting tat he’s got off the market through our dog-flap; loaves with big holes all through them, unperforated toilet roll, bacon that’s about 90 percent fat. And they have these long gossip sessions in the kitchen while Wolfie lolls about on the flags and tries to chew his own paws off.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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She has heard her entire life about the family curse that haunts the Millers. Katherine knows when she turns eighteen tomorrow she will meet the doom that destroys every generation when they turn adult.--------------- Not that Kat has had much of life anyway In Bank Top, England. Her dreams will never be answered even the simplest ones like social acceptance by her peers, a lithe body, leaving the hamlet forever and two parents her dad died when the curse struck in an accident and her mom fled the village leaving her with Poll, her legally blind grandma known for verbally ripping skin, and Poll¿s companion garbage dump scavenger Dickie the Dogman. Kat knows Poll needs her so she has no hope except to become as acerbic as her grandma is while watching afternoon television shows that require no brain power. Everything changes when Collum arrives at Bank Top, claiming he is Kat¿s cousin. ------------------ This is a fascinating look at a teen on the brink of independence adulthood struggling between her desires and her family responsibilities even as she anticipates the expected disaster to strike any moment. Kate better understands now why her mom left but feels guilt over considering doing the same because she believes her caustic grandma needs her. The local dialogue is a two edge sword as its usage brings a sense of location, but can be distracting. Still FAMILY SOLD SEPARATELY is a strong character study starring a dreamer who fears her flights of fancy will prove either futile or nightmarish.---------------- Harriet Klausner