Fiona Range

Overview

Fiona Range's thirty years have been the battleground between her good upbringing and the innate recklessness she defiantly attributes to the beautiful Natalie, the young unwed mother who abandoned her in infancy. Most of Fiona's troubles seem to be kindled by a mix of the wrong men and the excesses of her kind heart. Finally rejected by the embarrassed and highly regarded Hollis family who raised her, Fiona has spent the last weeks of summer trying to get her life in order.

But...

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Overview

Fiona Range's thirty years have been the battleground between her good upbringing and the innate recklessness she defiantly attributes to the beautiful Natalie, the young unwed mother who abandoned her in infancy. Most of Fiona's troubles seem to be kindled by a mix of the wrong men and the excesses of her kind heart. Finally rejected by the embarrassed and highly regarded Hollis family who raised her, Fiona has spent the last weeks of summer trying to get her life in order.

But it takes only a single careless night to further condemn her in the eyes of the community. Finding herself even further estranged from relatives and friends, Fiona is drawn to the one man who wants nothing to do with her. He is her rumored father, Patrick Grady, so cruel and unstable that her Aunt Arlene and Uncle Charles Hollis fear for her safety. But, as always, Fiona will listen to no one. Determined to make Grady acknowledge their relationship, she pursues him in spite of his threats and increasingly erratic behavior.

This is a deeply moving and hauntingly tragic tale of goodness undermined by guilt, of obsession, and of the twisted bond of betrayal committed in the name of love.

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Editorial Reviews

San Diego Union Tribune
With depth and assuredness, Morris has crafted a grim and complex tale of love...
Susan Kelly
In Fiona Range, Morris effectively shows the dirty undergarments of so-called polite society, casting an unsparing eye on the high crimes and misdemeanors performed by people cloaked in respectability. Fiona Range, the novel, is a wealth of passion and heartbreak.
USA Today
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
From the best-selling author of Songs in Ordinary Time, comes a "quick and enjoyable" story of goodness undermined by guilt, of perilous obsession, and of the twisted bond of a betrayal committed in the name of love. Reviewers noted "the lack of emotional maturity in the characters was a disappointment." "A psychologist would make a mint in this town." But most thought it was "intriguing" and "would give a book club a lot to talk about."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Small towns are never as ordinary as they seem; everyone has secrets. In her well-received novels (A Dangerous Woman, etc.), Morris has honed this territory with empathy for those on the fringes of community life. Here she raises the stakes: it's the best families in town that have the most to lose, and thus to hide. Fiona Range is the black sheep of the Hollis clan, residents of Dearborn, Mass. When her unwed mother abandoned her as a baby, Fiona was raised by her aunt and uncle. Headstrong and reckless, she has always felt like an outsider. At 30, she has never attended college, held a good job or had a relationship with a good man. She's now waiting tables, drinking, satisfying her need for intimacy by sleeping around, and despairing about her future. Then her cousin Elizabeth returns from New York with a physician fianc , an event that devastates Elizabeth's hometown boyfriend. Fiona becomes sexually involved with both men, a fact not lost on anyone. Meanwhile, she's determined to achieve a relationship with badly scarred Vietnam vet Patrick Grady, who everyone says is her father, though he vehemently denies paternity. The reader catches on far earlier than Fiona that her uncle's warnings about Patrick's violence hide a secret of his own, and that his vaunted charity to Patrick and others is hush money. The plot seems to go in circles as Fiona ignores common sense and repeatedly behaves rashly, afterward suffering guilt and self-disgust. In fact, Fiona's headlong self-destruction distance her from the reader's sympathy. Yet there is sustained tension in the narrative, and the denouement packs a thriller's excitement. Agent, Jean Naggar. BOMC selection. (May) FYI: Morris's Songs in Ordinary Time was an Oprah Book Club selection. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
A wild young woman tries to go straight by reaching out to the forbidding man who is reputedly her father. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Johnson
...utterly engrossing...Morris is in complete charge of her hardscrabble literary territory...and Fiona is without question her most complicated, compelling character to date.
Entertainment Weekly Editor's Choice
Entertainment Weekly
Morris is in complete charge of her hardscrabble literary territory…and Fiona is without question her most complicated, compelling character to date.
The New Yorker
As readable as its heroine is compulsive, this is the kind of book that makes you stay up half the night.
The Chicago Tribune
A fascinating portrait of a woman whose instinctive sense of mystery about herself leads her to uncover that secret at all costs.
The New York Times Book Review
[Morris] can bring the ordinary to life with sheer clarity of vision.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469244242
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 2/19/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary McGarry Morris is the author of four highly acclaimed novels. Entertainment Weekly included her latest, Fiona Range, on its list of the best books of 2000. Vanished (1998) was nominated for both the National Book Award and the Pen/Faulkner Award. A Dangerous Woman (1991) was made into a feature film starring Debra Winger in 1993. Songs In Ordinary Time, was the 1997 Oprah Book Club Selection, and is available from Brilliance Audio.

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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


It was dark, so dark, yet somewhere far away, deep in the night a bird was chirping. Fiona Range's eyes fluttered and closed, then shot open into blackness. She couldn't breathe. Every nerve throbbed with the blind acuity of fear. Hot at her neck was the foul, ragged snore of a naked man. She gasped, stiffening as he stirred. The musky reek of sweating loins rose up from the sheets. He grunted, then rolled onto his belly, his hairy arm falling like a club across her bare chest. She struggled to sit up, but his arm shifted, pinning her shoulders. His snore grew sluggish. All she could see was the back of his head. "Hey! Hey, wake up!" she whispered, chin rigid against his arm. Her mind raced with blurred images.

    She remembered leaving the party, then cold hands stuffing her legs into a car so he could close the door. It must have been him, this nameless, faceless man in her bed. He had helped her up to her apartment, because she kept stumbling on the stairs. She hadn't been able to find her key so he had dumped out her purse on the hallway floor, but then he kept trying to unlock the wrong door, and all she could do was laugh. And then—oh, God—her prissy neighbor, Mr. Clinch, peered out and pointed across the hall. "That door," he hissed. "That's where she belongs." In there. Here—on this bed where he took off her clothes, and begged her to please, please stop laughing while they made love, then afterwards, when it was over and she wanted to hold him he buried his face in the pillow and sobbed.

    What in God's name had she done? Only her eyes moved. The darknessbegan to take shape now with the faint glow of dawn swelling behind the window shade. The room was the same shambles of boxes and magazines, books for her course, her uniform, a Coke can on the windowsill, clothes piled everywhere, scarves on the doorknob, bras on the floor. Shoes, boots, socks. Scattered price tags. She'd buy things, makeup, sweaters, CDs, wear them, play them, let the bags drift to the floor. What the hell did it matter? Her life was a mess, out of control. There was a stranger in her bed.

    "Hey! Hey, you!" She was going to be sick. "C'mon, wake up! Wake up!" She jostled his arm until he curled onto his side. On her feet now she reeled dizzily, then groped her way to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet and groaned, her throbbing head heavy in her hands.

    It had been a birthday party for her friend Terry's husband, Tim; a double celebration because the previous day, Brad and Krissy Glidden's first baby had been born after years of trying. Brad Glidden and Tim had been best buddies since high school. It had been Fiona's first night out in months. All she'd wanted was to feel a little happy for a little while, but oh God, what had she done? She had danced with everyone, even with poor, brain-damaged Larry Belleau, who kept slobbering her with kisses, then the next thing she knew they were both in the pool. God, she'd even danced with Goldie, the stinking collie, until Tim said she was disgusting and told her to leave. Brad Glidden insisted she have coffee first, so she was drinking coffee and eating stuffed grape leaves on Terry's kitchen stool. Then the dog jumped up on his hind legs, his fur prickly against her chest while she fed him grape leaves. She shuddered remembering the feel of Goldie's slimy yellow teeth as she kissed his mouth. She had no idea who was curled up in her bed.

    She took deep breaths, trying to calm her stomach enough so she could stand up. She had to brush her teeth, had to scrub away this disgusting taste: dog breath and him, whoever the hell that was out there. She scrubbed until her gums bled. His smell was still on her.

    Larry Belleau. She froze with her hand on the doorknob, suddenly afraid it was him. Larry had never been right since his diving accident at the quarry years ago. Most people avoided him, because he was such a nuisance, but she had always gone out of her way to be nice to him. My God, she hadn't gone that far out of her way, had she? No, the guy in her bed was thin, and Larry was huge. And besides, Larry didn't drive. Maybe it was someone she didn't even know, a total stranger, someone she'd met on the way into the building last night.

    When she came out of the bathroom, he was gone. The blanket lay heaped on the floor. The front door was ajar. Across the hallway Mr. Clinch's door opened as he reached out for his newspaper. Their eyes met, and he looked away. She darted back inside and yanked up the shade to see her lover running barefoot down the walk to his car. His shirt was unbuttoned, and he carried his shoes. He glanced up as he fumbled his key into the door lock. She saw the panic on his face, the terror, the same revulsion she was feeling. It was Brad Glidden. Krissy and their new baby were coming home from the hospital in the morning. This morning. Today—in that car, the car she had left the party in, the very same white Volvo station wagon that was squealing out of the parking lot now.

    "Bastard, no-good bastard," she muttered as she turned on the lights, wincing in the glare. What had she been thinking, sleeping with Brad Glidden? But as usual, she hadn't been thinking, hadn't cared or been careful. And now this mess. "Nothing but messes, nothing but goddamn messes, messes, messes," she groaned as she kicked the scattered clothes into a heap. She staggered and had to catch herself on the table edge. She hated her life, hated her new apartment in this decrepit building. After six weeks she was still living out of boxes. It was too small and dark and more expensive than her old place where she'd still be if she hadn't taken pity on Todd Prescott last summer. Because of him, she'd been evicted and her family had washed their hands of her. And to top it all off she'd just slept with Krissy's husband. "Jesus Christ! What's wrong with me?" she moaned, pressing her fingers into her throbbing temples.

    Too drained by the shower steam to even wash, she held on to the soap bar and let hot water run down her back. When she stepped out she barely had enough energy to towel herself off, much less dry her hair. She combed the dark waves straight and dripping wet against her neck, then put on her pink uniform, shuddering as the cool nylon clung to her damp skin. Her eyes stung so much she could barely keep them open as she tugged the sheets off the bed and threw them onto the pile of clothes, but she had to leave all the lights on and the radio playing and the window wide open to keep herself awake she thought as she curled up on the bare mattress for just a minute while the brisk September breeze rasped the crooked shade back and forth against the window frame.

    She woke up at six forty-five. The coffee shop opened at six-thirty. Wincing, she lifted her head slowly from the pillow, then made her way to the door. She had been late often enough, but had never missed a day of work in any job.

    Fiona Range's teeth had been filled without novocaine, her wounds stitched without anesthesia, her heart broken too many times to count. Once as a child she fell from a tree and broke her arm but didn't tell her aunt until hours later when her favorite show had ended. When she was fifteen her appendix burst before she realized the severity of her daylong belly pain. Hearing that the same thing had happened to her mother as a girl had pleased her, because it was another brushstroke in the hazy portrait of Natalie Range, the wild young woman who drove off weeping one rainy afternoon, never to return. In the ensuing thirty years her mother had not once called or written or cared. And Fiona was only the tougher for it.

    She still bristled whenever anyone in the family referred to her high threshold for pain. It seemed to reduce her strength to a blankness, a numbness, a dead nerve, a deficit, one more congenital flaw bequeathed by an errant mother and rumored father, Patrick Grady, the town eccentric, who ignored her existence.

    Two months ago when she'd been evicted, her cousins declared her an emotional burden, a bigger drain on their parents than any familial responsibility warranted. And so, like her mother, Fiona had also walked away without guilt or regret. They said they were fired of all her mishaps, tired of caring for someone who only cared about herself. But it had been precisely that, the caring, that always caused her so much trouble. The only reason she'd let Todd Prescott stay in her apartment over the Fourth of July weekend was because he had been so sick and depressed.

    But didn't she know Todd was still using drugs? her uncle Charles had asked. What had she been thinking? My God, a drug raid in his own niece's apartment. Taken in and raised with his own children, she had been given every advantage, the same care and attention as her cousins, and yet there were always these messes, these fiascoes, these—

    "Crimes!" her cousin Jack had sputtered, too incensed to notice or heed his father's cold stare. The judge was not used to being interrupted, certainly not in his own home, and never by his son. "Yes! Crimes!" Jack declared with the same disdain and relish with which he had always regarded her transgressions.

    Well, call them what you will, her cousin Ginny had said; it was time to draw the line.

    They could at least listen to her side of it, Fiona had demanded. Of course she'd known Todd was using drugs; that's why she'd finally broken up with him a year ago, but she had no idea he was selling coke. She had been out of the apartment working or partying most of that long, hot weekend. And when she was there it hadn't occurred to her that his visitors were all buying from him.

   "Well with such classic judgment we can only thank God the undercover cop knew who you both were," Jack said.

    "What he knew was that I didn't have a goddamn thing to do with any of it!"

    "What he knew was that you were Judge Hollis's niece, and that this would probably destroy him if it got out," Jack had said through clenched teeth with both sisters nodding; even Elizabeth, who had always been her staunchest defender.

    "You don't believe me, do you?"

    "No!" cried Jack and Ginny, and Elizabeth had closed her eyes, sighing.

    "Well then, I guess I'm out of here," she'd said, slamming the door behind her. She was tired of their disapproval, the silent censure, their eagerness always to assume the worst. If they wanted her back they knew where she was.

    It must have been the same for her mother all those years ago when Patrick Grady came home from Vietnam, one side of his handsome face bunched up in rippling scars from napalm burns. He denied Fiona was his child and refused to marry Natalie, who had then just slammed the door and left her misery behind. In steely tribute to her mother, Fiona still passed Grady on the street without blinking an eye or slowing her pace.

    Most people in town tolerated Grady, attributing his strangeness to a war no one would admit to having supported, but she had never felt any pity for the man and certainly no sense of obligation. He was an outsider because he wanted to be, and she was an outsider because he hadn't wanted the responsibility of fatherhood.

    Fiona Range had learned long ago to take what life dealt and make the best of it. She might be hurt, but no one would see her bleed. She would be in control, in complete control, and right now as she drove to work the trick was to think it all through. As long as she got everything straight in her own head, then it didn't matter what anyone else thought. Brad Glidden wasn't about to tell anyone, and neither was she. She had brought this on herself and she would plow through it. Pain was just another level of consciousness, and working against it now seemed as desirable an ache as grinding sore teeth. That's just the way things went in a place like Dearborn. You could find a ghost on every street corner if you looked hard enough. But she never had to look because the past was with her every day and everywhere. Even her job was a daily reminder now that Chester had recently married Maxine, who used to go out with Patrick Grady. Fiona might be able to change what she became, but nothing could change what she came from. And to tell the truth, most days she didn't give a damn. But then, most days didn't start off the way this one had.

    She pulled down the narrow alley and parked behind Chester's Coffee Shop. In the kitchen Chester Adenio was frying eggs and turning bacon on the grill. The smell of sputtering grease turned her stomach. She had to open the back door again and take a deep breath of fresh air.

    "Hurry up and get out front!" Chester called. Sandy Rudman, the other waitress, wasn't there yet. "Come on! Come on! Maxine's having a bird out there," Chester said.

    By his own admission, Maxine had been the worst waitress he'd ever had. After two months of tearful breakdowns every time she dropped a tray or made a mistake on an order, Chester had put her on the register. The coffee shop certainly didn't need a full time cashier-hostess, but Chester had fallen in love. Counting back correct change and seating parties during rush hours soon proved as stressful as waitressing, but with Chester's encouragement and increasing devotion, Maxine persevered.

    He and Maxine had been married only a few months. Chester would have preferred that she stay home, but the coffee shop had endowed Maxine with a status she'd never had living in the town housing project. This drab, worn little place had become her dream, her showcase.

    Fiona tied her apron, then opened the door into the dimly lit dining room. Maxine's bright red suit and orangey hair darted like flames through the hunched shadows as she poured coffee and passed out menus. Fiona groaned. George Grimshaw was sitting right there in the booth by the door. He was the last person on earth she felt like talking to right now. Looking up from his open paper, he nodded politely at Maxine's mindless prattle. His dark blue van was parked out front. "Grimshaw and Son, Plumbing Co." said the gold-leafed letters on the door, though his father had died recently, leaving George alone in both the business and their little bungalow on Elm Street.

    George had been only eight when his mother died. It was then that Fiona's cousin Elizabeth began to look out for him. He and Elizabeth had been a couple from third grade all the way through high school, before drifting apart in the last few years. He still asked about her, and last Christmas when Elizabeth was home they'd gone out for coffee a few times. Fiona had known George all her life, but little more than small talk ever passed between them. He had never been able to hide his disapproval of Elizabeth's wild cousin.

    Chester's bell rang and Fiona wheeled gratefully around back into the kitchen. With the whoosh of the closing door the bright row of funnels, ladles, and spoons swayed over the workbench, and she felt dizzy. She watched Chester place a sprig of curly parsley between the shimmering yolks, then rip the completed order slip from the nail. Fresh parsley and lemon slices, like Maxine's growing wardrobe, proof that he and his wife ran a first-class operation here.

    "For your funeral, I'm going to send a wreath of fresh parsley. I promise," she said as he dabbed grease from the plate rim with a towel. "Maybe even spell out Chester with lemon wedges." Her hoarse laughter exploded into a coughing spasm that made her sore eyes water and nose run. She leaned on the counter. Her chest ached. She only smoked when she drank. Last night must have been a two-packer.

    "You look like shit warmed over," Chester said through a grin of sharp little teeth as he picked up the plate.

    "Aren't you the sweet guy."

    "Jesus, your hands're shaking." He peered out at her. "Don't tell me you're back with Prescott, that loser, again, that asshole."

    "Chester, how many times do I have to tell you? I am footloose and fancy-free. I do what I want; go where I want." She tried to laugh, but the boozy rasp clotted in her throat. She turned quickly to cough it away.

    "It's not so funny anymore," he called as she headed into the dining room with the plate of eggs. "You'll see. One of these mornings you're going to wake up and wonder what the hell happened. Where did it all go? Your good looks, your friends, your whole life!"

    She stopped dead, then turned around and kicked open the door so hard it banged back on the wall. "Look, Adenio," she growled, advancing on him. "I don't go around giving my unwanted opinion about you watering down the milk and the soup and the juice and even the goddamn ketchup bottles every night, do I?"

    "Well I hate seeing such a beautiful woman as you just giving it away to every—"

    "What? What'd you just say?" She dropped the plate wobbling onto the counter.

    He stared back. "You heard what I said."

    "Look, just keep it to yourself, okay?"

    The door flew open. "Shh, shh, shh!" Maxine pleaded, finger at her mouth as she wiggled into the kitchen on spiked heels, her snug skirt binding her knees in a geisha-like gait. "There's customers out there!" She pointed back at the still swinging doors. "Customers!" she gasped.

    "Well maybe you don't want to hear it," Chester continued, his whiskery chin out over the shelf, "but you work for me so I'm gonna say it. You're no cute little party girl anymore. It's way past that now, so who the hell do you think you are, dragging in here like that? You look like crap, you stink like booze and whatever the hell else you do!" He threw down his greasy towel.

    "Chester!" Maxine ran around the bench and grabbed his arm. "Please, please stop! The customers!"

    "So? What? Am I fired? You want me to quit?" Fiona demanded, her raw voice confirming every accusation. Her head trembled as she reached back and untied her apron. "Fine! I've got no problem with that!"

    "No!" Maxine gasped from behind as she tried to retie the apron strings. "He just wants you to settle down a little bit. Tell her!" she implored her husband.

    He reached into the large tin egg bowl, taking two eggs in one hand which he cracked neatly on the stove edge then opened onto the sizzling grill.

    "Tell her!" Maxine demanded.

    "She knows," Chester said. He scraped the unserved cold eggs from the plate into the trash, but saved the bacon.

    "Chester!" Maxine warned in a rising teary whisper. "Don't you do this to me, Chester! Don't!"

    "It's okay," Fiona said, watching him reheat the bacon. If he said one more word Maxine would storm out again in tears and she'd be all alone out front. "Chester means well. He's just not used to a woman having as good a time as a guy, that's all."

    "It's not the same thing, and it never will be!" Chester growled as he garnished the new plate with parsley before passing it to her. "A man doesn't get a reputation like a woman does!"

    "Chester, I was born with a reputation. You know that!" she called back.

    "No, not a reputation! With that big, fat chip on your shoulder! That's your trouble!" he shouted after her.

    Heads turned when she entered the dining room. Her regulars smiled, relieved she was back. Maxine's fussing could jangle early-morning nerves.

    "Fiona!" George Grimshaw said as she served him. It was obvious he had heard the raised voices, as had her party of grinning landscapers in the next booth. His earnest face mirrored every emotion, and right now it was red. "You're looking good. As usual," he added with a stiff smile.

    "Thanks, and the same to you too, George."

    Muscular in his dark blue shirt and work pants, he looked better than good with his buzz cut and his clear bright eyes, his square solid body and flat healthy stomach this Saturday morning. Probably lifted weights at night when everyone else was out having a good time. Probably hadn't had a good— She caught herself with a bawdy chuckle that seemed to make him squirm. She glanced back at the landscapers and flipped the page on her order pad. One man was drumming his fingers on the table. "We've been waiting for you, beautiful," he said with a wink.

    "Guess who I just ran into," George said as she started toward them. "Brad Glidden!" He grinned.

    "Yah. So?" Her heart began to race.

    "He told me about the baby. That's so great. I know they've been trying a long time."

    "Yah, they have." Her mouth was dry.

    "He looked terrible. Course I didn't tell him that. I think he was probably on his way home from the hospital or something."

    "Probably." She stepped back.

    "Oh, and I saw your uncle the other day at the courthouse," he said before she could leave.

    "The courthouse! Don't tell me you're in trouble, George!" She tapped the pad on his shoulder and turned.

    "No!" he said with an urgency that made her look back. "Actually, I was working near there so I thought I'd stop in and say hello." He stared up intently at her. "I think your uncle Charles was surprised to see me."

    "Well, no more than me, George. But, hey, you better start eating. I'll catch you later."

    "But wait!" he said as she turned away again. "What do you think about Elizabeth's big news?" he asked with a faltering smile.

    "I don't know, George, what do you think?" She tried to laugh. She hadn't heard a word from anyone in the family since their July banishment of her. But he probably knew that too.

    "I was really surprised."

    "Yah, me too."

    "But you must be glad to finally have her back now, huh?" He tugged at his open collar.

    "Of course." She took a deep breath.

    "So I guess she's home for good now," he said almost as if it were a question, and, not knowing what else to do, she nodded. There was an odd pleading cast to his eyes as he continued to stare.

    "Hey, you better eat your eggs while they're still hot." The thought of having her cousin back made her smile even though she'd had to hear it from George Grimshaw. Elizabeth taught in a boarding school in New York. In these last few years she'd seldom come home for any length of time.

    "Well, will you give her my best then when you see her?" George said as she headed toward the next booth.

    "Yah, sure," she said, surprised he wouldn't just call himself. Through the years Elizabeth wouldn't be home an hour before the phone would start to ring with George's dogged invitations for coffee, a drink, a movie, a ride, a walk, whatever Elizabeth wanted, though she had seemed uneasy with his company her last few times home. In the park there was a huge copper beech tree and into the bark of its elephantine trunk had years ago been carved "Geo + Liz 4ever." Pathetic, she thought, as she took the men's orders. Elizabeth had gone away and made a new life and here sat poor George hunched over greasy coffee shop eggs, still hoping, still yearning for his childhood love.

    "And don't forget, beautiful, extra homefries for Eddie, tell Chester," called the oldest man in the crew as she started for the kitchen with their order.

    "Yah, yah, yah," she muttered, wondering suddenly if Elizabeth's eating problem had returned, though last summer she'd looked great. She'd even put on enough weight so that they were almost the same size again, an observation that had sent Ginny into a paroxysm of raised eyebrows and mimed warnings; as if Elizabeth had gotten so fragile over the years she couldn't take a little kidding. But then Ginny had always been jealous of the bond between her younger sister and her cousin. Inseparable as children, Fiona and Elizabeth were only four months apart in age, though poles apart in temperament. They'd grown up sharing secrets, the same bedroom, and a deep affection for one another. Their paths diverged eleven years ago when they went off to college; Elizabeth to Smith and Fiona, with Uncle Charles's pull, to Dearborn Community. As expected Elizabeth had graduated with honors, gone on for her master's, and had been teaching ever since. To no one's surprise Fiona had flunked out freshman year.

    She pushed open the kitchen door to find Chester slumped over the counter, brow in hand.

    "Jesus, not again," she groaned. Maxine had stormed out.

    "Don't." His heavy eyes lifted. "Don't even start."

    "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't." She sighed, passing the order slip. "Eddie said extra homefries." She leaned her brow against the cool metal shelf. Her head hurt.

    "Eddie! Who the hell's Eddie?" He flung the slip at her. "Eddie who?"

    "I don't know. Eddie. What's it matter?" She threw it back.

    "The way you said it, like, Eddie: like it's some friend, Eddie, I'm supposed to know from God knows where. Jesus Christ! They're all the same, these people; they come in here, they think they're entitled, like I'm just some bum, some scag. Like I got nothing better to do than this!"

    "Huh?" She shook her head in dull exasperation. "Look, it's just some guy named Eddie. One of the landscapers. From Greenbow, alright?"

    "Yah, and what the fuck does he want from me?" he bellowed, pounding the counter with a force that sent all the funnels, ladles, and spoons clanging into one another.

    "A few fucking extra homefries!" She glared at him.


An hour later Maxine returned freshly made up, her lips painted a glossy plum, her tear-stung eyes gleaming with black liner. She was still upset with Chester, but determined to make things right. Chester continued to be a ball of nerves, but if he said anything she'd be gone. Self-control was a painful new discipline. For twenty years he'd ranted and raved and no one had ever given a damn until Maxine.

    At noon Sandy Rudman still hadn't shown up. Every table was taken, and the wave-crashing fury in Fiona's head had subsided to a dull ache. Maxine was trying to help, but she had just dropped a tray of Cokes which Fiona was wiping up. For fifteen minutes a man and a woman had been sitting at the front table. They stared glumly over closed menus. Chester's pickup bell kept ringing. Fiona hurried into the kitchen for the order. When she came out the couple were on their way to the door.

    "I'm so sorry," Maxine chirped after them. "Believe me, this doesn't usually happen, but—" The door closed in her face, and when she turned tears welled in her eyes, and her blunt, pitted jaw trembled.

    "Hey," Fiona said, squeezing her hand. "It's okay. It's all right." She tried to make Maxine laugh. "What's the worse that can happen? We got another thirty minutes of hell here, and then it'll be over."

    "I feel like I'm falling apart," Maxine said in a small voice. She turned abruptly toward the window so no one could see, though all eyes were on her.

    "Well could you maybe just hang in there for a couple more minutes?" Fiona whispered at her ear.

    "I'm just not any good at this," Maxine gasped. "I'm just no good, and that's why Chester wants to sell this place."

    "No, he doesn't," Fiona scoffed in a low voice.

    "Yes!" Maxine looked up. "He told me! That's why I went home!"

    Now Chester's bell rang with a frantic tempo.

    "Look, go do the register. I'll get the order."

    "Do you think it would help if I said anything?" Maxine asked.

    "He'll get over it," Fiona said, racing off.

    "That's not what I meant," Maxine said as the kitchen door swung shut.

    The turkey clubs were up along with two tuna plates. Spatula in each hand, Chester worked the covered grill like a xylophonist, flipping shaved steaks, hamburgers, a grilled cheese, patting down fish cakes.

    "One more minute on the steak and cheese, two on the burgs!" he called over his sweaty shoulder. "How's it going?"

    "Fine, but you forgot the fries," Fiona said, checking the slip.

    He slid down to the fry basket, gave it a shake, then dumped the sizzling french fries into a dish. "How's she doing out there?" he asked, bending to read the next order.

    "Great!" she called as she backed through the door into the hushed dining room, where Maxine was addressing her customers.

    "And so I just wanted you to know that's what's happening and to tell you how much we really, really appreciate your patience. We really do. Really. You're all very nice people, and we want to thank you. So thank you. Thank you very much. Believe me, it means an awful lot to Chester and I."

    The silence swelled as Maxine serenely mounted her stool at the register. Those who knew Chester either bit their lips or covered their mouths. No one dared laugh under the quick sweep of Fiona's warning eyes.

    The coffee shop was empty when Sandy finally showed up at two-thirty. Mandy, her three-year-old, had been up all night with croup and hadn't slept until this morning. Sandy had made the mistake of lying down too for a quick nap that lasted until two o'clock.

    "You gotta get your phone back on," Sandy said, following Fiona around. "My car wouldn't start, and I needed somebody to stay with Brandy. I ended up having to call a freaking cab. Five bucks he charged me, plus I had to drag them both down to the emergency room at four in the morning!" Sandy's greatest skill was making everyone else feel responsible for her troubles.

    "That's too bad," Fiona said; one reason to be grateful her phone had been shut off. At least it had cut down on the number of mercy missions to Sandy's. And yet she felt bad for Sandy, having to raise two children alone when she was just a kid herself. Her parents had thrown her out with her second pregnancy. Her pretty face made her sweetness a liability.

    "Yah, but one good thing," Sandy was saying. "I met that friend of yours there, that Todd Prescott. And he even gave us a ride home. He was so nice!"

    "Oh yah, I'm sure. And what was he doing in the emergency room at four in the morning? An overdose maybe?"

    "No, his friend was sick." Sandy frowned and bit her lip. A minute later she said, "I was wondering, do you still, I mean, do you still have, like, you know, feelings for him?"

    "Yah, I do," Fiona said. "Strong feelings of hate and disgust."

    "Oh, that's good." Sandy grinned. "Because he asked me out for coffee sometime, but like I told him, you know, I just wouldn't do that, I mean, I couldn't if you were, well you know, still having feelings, like, if you still liked him. In that way, I mean."

    She put her hands on Sandy's shoulders. "Sandy, if I ever hear that you went out with that dirtball Todd Prescott I will never, ever speak to you or have anything to do with you ever again. Do you understand?"

    "But we can't even speak now," Sandy said, pouting. "How come you won't get your phone turned back on?"

    "First, I have six months' worth of bills to pay."

    "Jeez, six monks!" Sandy said. "How'd you do that?"

    "Well, let's see. I had to get new shocks on my car and new tires so it'd pass inspection. And because of that asshole Prescott I got thrown out of my apartment so I had to go get a new one which meant I had to come up with a security deposit and first and last month's rent." She looked back at Sandy. "Plus I have a few people who owe me money."

    Sandy winced. "I know, I know, I know." "What's it up to now?"

    "A hundred and twenty." It was probably twice that. Sandy was always broke, and how could Fiona refuse when it was for milk or baby food.

    "I've almost got it, honest to God," Sandy said.

    "Yah, okay." Her eyes felt so heavy now she could barely keep them open. Thank God she didn't have a class tonight.

    She was in her car the minute her shift ended. A horn tooted behind her. George Grimshaw was getting out of his van at the mouth of the alley. She rolled down her window.

    "Maxine said you just left. I was hoping I'd catch you." He leaned on the door. He smelled of dampness and oil. There was a smudge of grease on his chin she kept wanting to rub off, more out of irritation than any fondness for him.

    "Yah, I'm beat. I got this brutal headache."

    "You look tired."

    "Lunch was crazy. We were out straight, and Sandy never showed up. It was insane."

    "You must be beat."

    She bit her lip. Hadn't she just said that?

    "I tried to call you last night, but your phone's not in service—or at least that's what the operator said."

    "Yah, I got sick of all the telemarketing calls, so I had it shut off," she said with a straight face.

    "You could let your machine screen the calls. That's what I do."

    "But then you're still being harassed."

    "Yes, but at least you'd have a phone."

    "A phone perhaps, George Grimshaw, but what about principles?" she said, then shuddered with a deep yawn.

    "You better get home and rest." He patted her door and stood up.

    "Yah, I better." She shifted into reverse then looked back quickly. "So why were you trying to call me? What'd you want?"

    "Nothing really. I just thought I'd call, see how things're going." He shrugged. "You know, just uh—"

    "Just uh, to talk about Elizabeth maybe?" she interrupted, then felt guilty seeing him wince. Poor George. He had no idea how near he stood right now to a deadly viper.

    "No," he said quickly, then leaned down to the window again. "I was just going to ask if you wanted to, well, that is, if you might consider going out sometime. With me, that is," he added, pointing to his chest.

    "Are you serious?" She couldn't help laughing. For one so volatile, so unpredictable herself, she was never prepared when steadier souls veered off course.

    "Yes," he said with an emphatic nod. "I'm dead serious. I mean, you've known me a long time. You know I don't say things I don't mean."

    "Well no; I mean, yes, I guess you don't."

    "So what do you think? Will you consider it?" He grinned.

    "Yah! Sure, I'll consider it." She burst out laughing again. "Oh George," she groaned, as he stepped back from the car. "I'm so sorry. I'm just a mess, I'm so out of it. Of course I'll go out with you. You name it. Tell me when, time and place, and I'll be ready!"

    "Tonight! Seven o'clock!" he said, grinning. "We'll grab a bite somewhere, then maybe catch a movie," he called, then ran back to move his van, before she could say she hadn't meant tonight.


She had slept for a couple of hours before George arrived in a cloud of cologne that made her eyes water and her nose run. He was all dressed up in a sport jacket and tie. He'd been lucky enough to get reservations at the Orchard House, he said with an uneasy glance at her jeans.

    "Well when you said a bite to eat, I just figured ..."

    "Oh no! I know, I just thought the Orchard House would be nice. I haven't been there in so long. My fault, I should have called and told you."

    "But I don't have a phone, right?"

    "Right. But still, I should have let you know."

    "You just did." She laughed. "So I'll change. I don't mind."

    She ran into her bedroom and put on a skirt. When she came out he was still standing by the door, glancing through the coffee-swollen pages of an old Time magazine. There was no place to sit because the chair and sofa were piled with clothes and boxes. "I'm still unpacking," she said as she locked the door. His quick smile brought back Elizabeth's patient bewilderment with chaotic Fiona. She was already dreading the evening. Across the way her neighbor's door opened a crack. "Hey, Mr. Clinch," she called, tapping on his door as she passed. Little creep, she thought with an uneasy shiver. What if he knew Brad or Krissy? Her head hurt. George's cologne was making her feel queasy again. She didn't want to do this, didn't want to be with him, but he was lonely, and in some fuzzy, unconnected logic—the pulse-beat from her sound, moral upbringing—it seemed a way to make up for last night. Penance: her hair shirt, George.

    "I've never moved," he said, following her down the stairs. "Must be kind of exciting though. Having everything clean and new and freshly painted."

    About as exciting as going out with you, she was thinking.

    It was cold inside the plumbing van. The loud rumble and rattle of pipes and tools with every bump and turn was painful to hear and made the ride to the Orchard House seem even longer. Tiny white lights outlined the branches of the gnarled apple trees surrounding the old farmhouse that for years had been the best restaurant in Dearborn.

    Fiona couldn't remember the last time she'd been here. The waiting area was a small front parlor furnished with upholstered chairs and on one wall a long black church pew. She settled into a red wingback chair while George waited in the hallway for the hostess to return. She watched, amused to see him so nervous. He kept leaning over and peering out the window by the front door. He checked his watch for the third time, then glanced around before removing the reservations book from its stand. He turned a page, then quickly put it back just as the hostess arrived. She wondered if he had lied about having a reservation. But now the hostess was saying their table was ready.

    As soon as they were seated George ordered whiskey, straight up. Fiona was surprised to see him reach for it the minute it came. He drank half. Never much of a drinker, he was obviously nervous, his store of small talk already depleted on the ride here. He kept looking at his watch. The dull throb in her head was gaining momentum. Let him start the conversation for a change, she thought, slipping two aspirin from her pocket. She gulped them down with her soda water and immediately felt guilty. Poor George, it wasn't his fault. He was just too damn nice, never wanting to offend anyone or, God forbid, cause a stir, but his uneasiness was really getting to her. Why did he keep looking around at all the other tables like that? It made him seem furtive, as if he didn't belong here, as if he were an intruder in so fine a place as this, as if he were a little boy again, the plumber's son in the middle of the night on the cellar stairs. He smiled at her and nodded, then turned again to look back over his shoulder. An older couple had just entered the dining room. The hostess seated them at the round, candlelit table behind George. He checked his watch. "It's filling up fast. Just one more left," he said of the empty table by the door. He took a long breath, then glanced back at the door again and sighed deeply.

    "Do you think it's too crowded?" she asked. He was a nervous wreck. "We don't have to stay here. We can go someplace else."

    "Oh no! This is great! It's so beautiful here." He drummed his fingers on the padded tabletop and looked around again. "It's always been your aunt and uncle's favorite place. They celebrate all their important occasions here," he said, his voice thinning with alarm. He cleared his throat and didn't seem to know what to say next.

    She stared at him. And here's another bulletin, she wanted to say: your father's favorite place was Foster's Pond. He caught a lot of fish there. "Really?" she said, her tongue in mortal combat with her heart as she took up the menu. What in God's name had she let herself in for?

    He looked around again. Two women, both in black dresses, were being seated at the table by the door. He checked his watch. "Well! Here we go," he said, opening his menu with an anxious grin. "The grilled mushrooms! That's your aunt Arlene's favorite. And your uncle Charles, he always orders the crab cakes," he said so reverently she felt like screaming.

    "And what about Elizabeth, George, what does she like?" she asked, straining to at least be civil.

    "It used to be the snails." He glanced up and shrugged. "But who knows now."

    "Um, that's true." She pretended to study the menu. "She has been away a long time."

    "Yes. And people change. Some people."

    "But not you, right?" she said too quickly.

    He lowered the menu, his mouth opening then closing again before he spoke. "I didn't mean that the way it sounds. I'd never say anything bad about ... about anyone in your family. I hold every single one of them in only the highest, the utmost regard." He squirmed under her bemused gaze.

    "Feel better now that you've gotten that out?" She began to wonder if the message he was struggling to deliver came from Elizabeth.

    "It's just that I don't want anything taken the wrong way. By anyone!" he said. "Well, what I mean is, Elizabeth has her life now, and I have mine, but of course there's always going to be the family, even though they're separate. I mean apart. Well, in certain situations, that is. What I mean is, from you and me. Like right now." Pausing, he peered at the menu as if for his place in the text. "The thing is, the Hollis family, well, they're all such wonderful people." Seeming only more frustrated, he took a deep breath.

    "Can I tell you a little secret, George? Something you may not know." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. She had just recognized the couple at the table behind him. They were the Goldbergs, old friends of her aunt and uncle. She hadn't seen them in years. "The Hollises, they fart and they burp just like everybody else. Just like you and me."

    "But they all try really hard, you know, like your uncle," George said. "I mean, he's probably the finest man, the most principled man I've ever known. He's always trying to help people."

    "Huh!" she scoffed with a little thud of her fist on the table. "Always trying to help people! I'll tell you the kind of help. It's all for show, for credit. To get their picture in the paper or their name on another goddamn plaque somewhere, that's all they care about! Believe me!"

    They both looked up sheepishly with the waitress's arrival.

    The minute she left with their order, Fiona told him about this summer's banishment. The Goldbergs had grown silent. She spoke softly, but felt herself getting upset again. "I mean, there I was with no place to go, and my family, well if I can even call them that now." She rolled her eyes. "The Hollises, I should say. Yah, the Hollises with all their family unity and loyalty talk. And then when I was never more in need of unity and loyalty not one of them would help me or even believe me."

    "Not even Elizabeth?"

    "No! She wouldn't even look at me. I asked if I could move back home for a while, and Uncle Charles said, `No, Fiona. We finally have to say no to you.' At first I didn't really get it. I figured they thought I wanted to move back home for good or something. No, no, just a week, I tried to tell them, two weeks. A month at the most, just till I find another place. `No, Fiona!' Uncle Charles says like I'm in his courtroom or something. `It isn't even that you stepped over the line once too often, but that you've stepped over it too far this time.'

    "`What? What line?' I asked him. `Selling drugs!' he says, looking at me, you know, like I'm some trashy defendant he can't stand the sight of anymore, and then he just walks out of the room!

    "`But it wasn't me!' I start yelling. `You know it wasn't me! You know it was Todd Prescott. Jesus, I mean, selling drugs! How can you even think that of me?'

    "`I'm sorry,' Aunt Arlene says. `But you're thirty years old now and you know we've always done our best and given you everything that was in our power to give.' And the whole time she's talking she can barely even look at me too. `So now, Fiona,' she says, `I'm afraid we have to let you suffer the full consequences of your actions.'" Fiona's voice quavered and she had to take a deep breath. "And so with that she started sobbing so hard she couldn't talk, which of course only made everyone even more upset with me."

    She sat back, relieved by the waitress's arrival with their salads. She had never seen her aunt so distraught. Her hands had trembled out to Fiona in such helpless anguish that Jack had to call his father to help get her upstairs.

    "What about Todd?" George asked the minute the waitress left.

    "That prick!" she blurted, and the Goldbergs turned with cold stares. "I'm sorry," she said quickly, then buried her face in her hands. "Oh God," she whispered. "They know my aunt and uncle."

    "They couldn't hear," he said softly, staring at his salad. His face was red. "Not with all this hubbub," he added, and they both laughed. They began to eat. It was George who finally broke the silence. "what I meant was, wouldn't he tell them the truth if you asked him? I should think he at least owes you that."

    "Well, that's because you think like a decent, responsible man, and all Todd cares about is himself. But you know what kills me, what's so ironic here? No matter what he does his family gets him out of one mess after another, and me, I don't even do anything, and my family—excuse me, the Hollises—they just want me out of their lives. I don't know, maybe they always did." She gave a bitter laugh. "And I was just too dense to notice."

    "But what about Elizabeth? I mean, she knows what Prescott's like, and she knows you better than anyone!"

    "I don't know. I think she's been away so long she just listens to them now." Elizabeth's rejection was still the deepest wound. She shrugged with a forced smile. "But then again, who knows, maybe she's waiting for me to call her." She paused. This was his cue. "Or maybe not," she said.

    "Yah. She's changed, so she thinks everyone else has too," George said slowly, as if interpreting a foreign language.

    "Something like that." She sighed. So maybe this was just a night out with lonely George.

    The waitress served their dinners. As they began to eat he seemed determined to talk only about food: what they were eating now; his self-description as a die-hard meat and potatoes man, declared with the staunch pride of a political affiliation.

    No wonder Elizabeth had stayed in New York all this time, Fiona thought, blinking the glaze from her eyes as he asked if she did much cooking.

    "I try not to," she said.

    He not only loved to cook, but was determined to share the details of every single meal he had prepared in the last week. "So then, what I did last night was make this kind of hash thing with the last two slices of meatloaf."

    "Here, try some of this." She held a forkful of her veal to his mouth.

    Surprised, he kept looking at her, cheeks reddening as he chewed.

    "Thank you. Would you like to try some of mine?"

    "Sure," she said, and his hand shook as he raised a forkful of tenderloin to her mouth. "Delicious!" She nodded. "And really tender too." She returned to her dinner. When she looked back up he was still watching her. "Aren't you going to finish?" She gestured at his plate.

    "Yah, I was just ... thinking," he said quickly, then winced as if with regret.

    "Um," she said, taking a big bite of her roll. "Dangerous habit to get into." She finished the roll, then started on another as if chewing and nodding might facilitate the somber pronouncement he clearly needed to make.

    "You see, Elizabeth and I ... well, that's beside the point." He swallowed hard. "The thing is, I'm really enjoying this. I am! Are you?"

    "Yes. This has been great," she added weakly, then apologized for all her complaining about the Hollises, but until tonight she had been too hurt to tell anyone.

    "At least you get things out." He looked at her. "Elizabeth never does. I mean, everything always has to be so cheery and upbeat. But I think that's part of what happened."

    "What do you mean?"

    "I don't know how to put this," he began slowly, "but in some ways I used to think Elizabeth was almost perfect, that she was almost too good."

    "Oh God, I used to tell her that all the time, and then I'd feel so guilty!" She laughed, but could see this wasn't at all what he had been trying to say.

    "I mean, I know we were just kids when we were going together, but now I think it was more that Elizabeth felt responsible for me than she ever really ... well ... well, you know what I mean." He cleared his throat, looking so miserable that she put her hand over his and assured him her cousin had loved him. In fact, she had told Fiona countless times growing up that she knew she would never love anyone the way she loved George Grimshaw.

    Poor George, she thought, embarrassed by his wan smile. Poor George, Elizabeth used to say when they were children. You know what people call him, the plumber's son, she would fume, typically finding injustice in what was a fact of life. His father often had to take him along on emergency calls. George had spent many nights on strangers' cellar steps doing homework under a dim bulb or dozing in the truck while his father plunged and reamed his metal snake through clogged waste pipes. Fiona remembered the time Elizabeth finally prevailed upon her father to call Mr. Grimshaw and tell him to drop George off whenever he needed to. In his terse, polite way Mr. Grimshaw let the Judge know he and his boy were managing just fine, thank you.

    "Good night, Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg," Fiona said as she pushed in her chair.

    "Oh!" Mindy Goldberg said. "Fiona! I didn't know that was you."

    "Yah, right," she said under her breath as George followed her to the door.


She said it was too late for the movies so they were rattling and clanging their way home. A bundle of copper piping kept rolling from one side of the van to the other. George had been quiet for the last few miles. Just as they turned onto Route 28 he suggested a nightcap at Pacer's. He'd installed their plumbing, but he'd never gone in as a customer, he said all in a rush.

    "I'm really tired. Plus I can feel that headache coming back," she said, touching both temples.

    "Maybe some other time," he said quickly. "I'm just curious more than anything. It's weird, you know it's the same with a lot of the new houses I do; you lay out all the lines, then after, you drive by and you can't help wondering who the people are and what the family's like." He looked over and laughed. "I know! You're thinking, oh my God, George Grimshaw's just as weird as he ever was."

    "No, I wasn't. As a matter of fact, I never thought you were weird. Far from it."

    "Yes you did. Admit it." He laughed again.

    "No, I always thought you were a really nice guy. All right, maybe a little too nice," she added, laughing.

    "Dull."

    "No! Steady. Dependable."

    "And that spells double dull." He laughed. "You want to know what I thought of you?"

    She winced. "No."

    "I thought you were the most exciting girl I knew. I remember once I told Elizabeth how sometimes I'd get short of breath just being around you, and she said she did too."

    "Oh Jesus!"

    "No, that's a compliment! And I meant it that way then too. I never knew what you were going to say or do. I mean, you weren't afraid of anything or anyone."

    She was silent for a moment. "Yes I was. I still am."

    "Of who? Of what?" he scoffed. "Name one thing you're afraid of."

    "I don't know, but I do, I get afraid." She looked over, amazed to be having such a conversation with him. "I don't like being by myself, but then when I'm with people I get, like, irritated and I just want them to leave me alone. Now that's really strange, isn't it?"

    "No, I know what you mean."

    Looking out at the lit windows they were passing, she was aware of a rigidity so dull and cold, yet as central to her being that it felt as if a steel rod ran from her skull to her heels. Fatigue and her hangover might make her easy prey, but it was usually in these raw moments when she saw most clearly that the Hollises had never really had a place for her. They'd done their duty and that was all. She'd never felt as loved as their own children. But then, that was the luck of the draw. No one's fault. It wasn't, as Uncle Charles was fond of saying, that everyone was born flawed. No, some were just born more blessed than others.

    "You know what else I always thought?" George asked, as he slowed at the intersection. "I always thought we were an awful lot alike in some ways. I mean, we both didn't have mothers."

    "But we had Elizabeth!" she said quickly.

    "That we did," he sighed, starting to turn.

    I changed my mind. Let s go check out your pipes."

(Continues...)

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First Chapter

Chapter 1
It was dark, so dark, yet somewhere far away, deep in the night a bird was chirping. Fiona Range's eyes fluttered and closed, then shot open into blackness. She couldn't breathe. Every nerve throbbed with the blind acuity of fear. Hot at her neck was the foul, ragged snore of a naked man. She gasped, stiffening as he stirred. The musky reek of sweating loins rose up from the sheets. He grunted, then rolled onto his belly, his hairy arm falling like a club across her bare chest. She struggled to sit up, but his arm shifted, pinning her shoulders. His snore grew sluggish. All she could see was the back of his head. "Hey! Hey, wake up!" she whispered, chin rigid against his arm. Her mind raced with blurred images.
She remembered leaving the party, then cold hands stuffing her legs into a car so he could close the door. It must have been him, this nameless, faceless man in her bed. He had helped her up to her apartment, because she kept stumbling on the stairs. She hadn't been able to find her key so he had dumped out her purse on the hallway floor, but then he kept trying to unlock the wrong door, and all she could do was laugh. And then-oh, God-her prissy neighbor, Mr. Clinch, peered out and pointed across the hall. "That door," he hissed. "That's where she belongs." In there. Here-on this bed where he took off her clothes, and begged her to please, please stop laughing while they made love, then afterwards, when it was over and she wanted to hold him he buried his face in the pillow and sobbed.
What in God's name had she done? Only her eyes moved. The darkness began to take shape now with the faint glow of dawn swelling behind the window shade. The room was the same shambles of boxes and magazines, books for her course, her uniform, a Coke can on the windowsill, clothes piled everywhere, scarves on the doorknob, bras on the floor. Shoes, boots, socks. Scattered price tags. She'd buy things, makeup, sweaters, CDs, wear them, play them, let the bags drift to the floor. What the hell did it matter? Her life was a mess, out of control. There was a stranger in her bed.
"Hey! Hey, you!" She was going to be sick. "C'mon, wake up! Wake up!" She jostled his arm until he curled onto his side. On her feet now she reeled dizzily, then groped her way to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet and groaned, her throbbing head heavy in her hands.
It had been a birthday party for her friend Terry's husband, Tim; a double celebration because the previous day, Brad and Krissy Glidden's first baby had been born after years of trying. Brad Glidden and Tim had been best buddies since high school. It had been Fiona's first night out in months. All she'd wanted was to feel a little happy for a little while, but oh God, what had she done? She had danced with everyone, even with poor, brain-damaged Larry Belleau, who kept slobbering her with kisses, then the next thing she knew they were both in the pool. God, she'd even danced with Goldie, the stinking collie, until Tim said she was disgusting and told her to leave. Brad Glidden insisted she have coffee first, so she was drinking coffee and eating stuffed grape leaves on Terry's kitchen stool. Then the dog jumped up on his hind legs, his fur prickly against her chest while she fed him grape leaves. She shuddered remembering the feel of Goldie's slimy yellow teeth as she kissed his mouth. She had no idea who was curled up in her bed.
She took deep breaths, trying to calm her stomach enough so she could stand up. She had to brush her teeth, had to scrub away this disgusting taste: dog breath and him, whoever the hell that was out there. She scrubbed until her gums bled. His smell was still on her.
Larry Belleau. She froze with her hand on the doorknob, suddenly afraid it was him. Larry had never been right since his diving accident at the quarry years ago. Most people avoided him, because he was such a nuisance, but she had always gone out of her way to be nice to him. My God, she hadn't gone that far out of her way, had she? No, the guy in her bed was thin, and Larry was huge. And besides, Larry didn't drive. Maybe it was someone she didn't even know, a total stranger, someone she'd met on the way into the building last night.
When she came out of the bathroom, he was gone. The blanket lay heaped on the floor. The front door was ajar. Across the hallway Mr. Clinch's door opened as he reached out for his newspaper. Their eyes met, and he looked away. She darted back inside and yanked up the shade to see her lover running barefoot down the walk to his car. His shirt was unbuttoned, and he carried his shoes. He glanced up as he fumbled his key into the door lock. She saw the panic on his face, the terror, the same revulsion she was feeling. It was Brad Glidden. Krissy and their new baby were coming home from the hospital in the morning. This morning. Today-in that car, the car she had left the party in, the very same white Volvo station wagon that was squealing out of the parking lot now.
"Bastard, no-good bastard," she muttered as she turned on the lights, wincing in the glare. What had she been thinking, sleeping with Brad Glidden? But as usual, she hadn't been thinking, hadn't cared or been careful. And now this mess. "Nothing but messes, nothing but goddamn messes, messes, messes," she groaned as she kicked the scattered clothes into a heap. She staggered and had to catch herself on the table edge. She hated her life, hated her new apartment in this decrepit building. After six weeks she was still living out of boxes. It was too small and dark and more expensive than her old place where she'd still be if she hadn't taken pity on Todd Prescott last summer. Because of him, she'd been evicted and her family had washed their hands of her. And to top it all off she'd just slept with Krissy's husband. "Jesus Christ! What's wrong with me?" she moaned, pressing her fingers into her throbbing temples.
Too drained by the shower steam to even wash, she held on to the soap bar and let hot water run down her back. When she stepped out she barely had enough energy to towel herself off, much less dry her hair. She combed the dark waves straight and dripping wet against her neck, then put on her pink uniform, shuddering as the cool nylon clung to her damp skin. Her eyes stung so much she could barely keep them open as she tugged the sheets off the bed and threw them onto the pile of clothes, but she had to leave all the lights on and the radio playing and the window wide open to keep herself awake she thought as she curled up on the bare mattress for just a minute while the brisk September breeze rasped the crooked shade back and forth against the window frame.
She woke up at six forty-five. The coffee shop opened at six-thirty. Wincing, she lifted her head slowly from the pillow, then made her way to the door. She had been late often enough, but had never missed a day of work in any job.
Fiona Range's teeth had been filled without novocaine, her wounds stitched without anesthesia, her heart broken too many times to count. Once as a child she fell from a tree and broke her arm but didn't tell her aunt until hours later when her favorite show had ended. When she was fifteen her appendix burst before she realized the severity of her daylong belly pain. Hearing that the same thing had happened to her mother as a girl had pleased her, because it was another brushstroke in the hazy portrait of Natalie Range, the wild young woman who drove off weeping one rainy afternoon, never to return. In the ensuing thirty years her mother had not once called or written or cared. And Fiona was only the tougher for it.
She still bristled whenever anyone in the family referred to her high threshold for pain. It seemed to reduce her strength to a blankness, a numbness, a dead nerve, a deficit, one more congenital flaw bequeathed by an errant mother and rumored father, Patrick Grady, the town eccentric, who ignored her existence.
Two months ago when she'd been evicted, her cousins declared her an emotional burden, a bigger drain on their parents than any familial responsibility warranted. And so, like her mother, Fiona had also walked away without guilt or regret. They said they were tired of all her mishaps, tired of caring for someone who only cared about herself. But it had been precisely that, the caring, that always caused her so much trouble. The only reason she'd let Todd Prescott stay in her apartment over the Fourth of July weekend was because he had been so sick and depressed.
But didn't she know Todd was still using drugs? her uncle Charles had asked. What had she been thinking? My God, a drug raid in his own niece's apartment. Taken in and raised with his own children, she had been given every advantage, the same care and attention as her cousins, and yet there were always these messes, these fiascoes, these-
"Crimes!" her cousin Jack had sputtered, too incensed to notice or heed his father's cold stare. The judge was not used to being interrupted, certainly not in his own home, and never by his son. "Yes! Crimes!" Jack declared with the same disdain and relish with which he had always regarded her transgressions.
Well, call them what you will, her cousin Ginny had said; it was time to draw the line.
They could at least listen to her side of it, Fiona had demanded. Of course she'd known Todd was using drugs; that's why she'd finally broken up with him a year ago, but she had no idea he was selling coke. She had been out of the apartment working or partying most of that long, hot weekend. And when she was there it hadn't occurred to her that his visitors were all buying from him.
"Well with such classic judgment we can only thank God the undercover cop knew who you both were," Jack said.
"What he knew was that I didn't have a goddamn thing to do with any of it!"
"What he knew was that you were Judge Hollis's niece, and that this would probably destroy him if it got out," Jack had said through clenched teeth with both sisters nodding; even Elizabeth, who had always been her staunchest defender.
"You don't believe me, do you?"
"No!" cried Jack and Ginny, and Elizabeth had closed her eyes, sighing.
"Well then, I guess I'm out of here," she'd said, slamming the door behind her. She was tired of their disapproval, the silent censure, their eagerness always to assume the worst. If they wanted her back they knew where she was.
It must have been the same for her mother all those years ago when Patrick Grady came home from Vietnam, one side of his handsome face bunched up in rippling scars from napalm burns. He denied Fiona was his child and refused to marry Natalie, who had then just slammed the door and left her misery behind. In steely tribute to her mother, Fiona still passed Grady on the street without blinking an eye or slowing her pace.
Most people in town tolerated Grady, attributing his strangeness to a war no one would admit to having supported, but she had never felt any pity for the man and certainly no sense of obligation. He was an outsider because he wanted to be, and she was an outsider because he hadn't wanted the responsibility of fatherhood.
Fiona Range had learned long ago to take what life dealt and make the best of it. She might be hurt, but no one would see her bleed. She would be in control, in complete control, and right now as she drove to work the trick was to think it all through. As long as she got everything straight in her own head, then it didn't matter what anyone else thought. Brad Glidden wasn't about to tell anyone, and neither was she. She had brought this on herself and she would plow through it. Pain was just another level of consciousness, and working against it now seemed as desirable an ache as grinding sore teeth. That's just the way things went in a place like Dearborn. You could find a ghost on every street corner if you looked hard enough. But she never had to look because the past was with her every day and everywhere. Even her job was a daily reminder now that Chester had recently married Maxine, who used to go out with Patrick Grady. Fiona might be able to change what she became, but nothing could change what she came from. And to tell the truth, most days she didn't give a damn. But then, most days didn't start off the way this one had.
She pulled down the narrow alley and parked behind Chester's Coffee Shop. In the kitchen Chester Adenio was frying eggs and turning bacon on the grill. The smell of sputtering grease turned her stomach. She had to open the back door again and take a deep breath of fresh air.
"Hurry up and get out front!" Chester called. Sandy Rudman, the other waitress, wasn't there yet. "Come on! Come on! Maxine's having a bird out there," Chester said.
By his own admission, Maxine had been the worst waitress he'd ever had. After two months of tearful breakdowns every time she dropped a tray or made a mistake on an order, Chester had put her on the register. The coffee shop certainly didn't need a full time cashier-hostess, but Chester had fallen in love. Counting back correct change and seating parties during rush hours soon proved as stressful as waitressing, but with Chester's encouragement and increasing devotion, Maxine persevered.
He and Maxine had been married only a few months. Chester would have preferred that she stay home, but the coffee shop had endowed Maxine with a status she'd never had living in the town housing project. This drab, worn little place had become her dream, her showcase.
Fiona tied her apron, then opened the door into the dimly lit dining room. Maxine's bright red suit and orangey hair darted like flames through the hunched shadows as she poured coffee and passed out menus. Fiona groaned. George Grimshaw was sitting right there in the booth by the door. He was the last person on earth she felt like talking to right now. Looking up from his open paper, he nodded politely at Maxine's mindless prattle. His dark blue van was parked out front. "Grimshaw and Son, plumbing co" said the gold-leafed letters on the door, though his father had died recently, leaving George alone in both the business and their little bungalow on Elm Street.
George had been only eight when his mother died. It was then that Fiona's cousin Elizabeth began to look out for him. He and Elizabeth had been a couple from third grade all the way through high school, before drifting apart in the last few years. He still asked about her, and last Christmas when Elizabeth was home they'd gone out for coffee a few times. Fiona had known George all her life, but little more than small talk ever passed between them. He had never been able to hide his disapproval of Elizabeth's wild cousin.
Chester's bell rang and Fiona wheeled gratefully around back into the kitchen. With the whoosh of the closing door the bright row of funnels, ladles, and spoons swayed over the workbench, and she felt dizzy. She watched Chester place a sprig of curly parsley between the shimmering yolks, then rip the completed order slip from the nail. Fresh parsley and lemon slices, like Maxine's growing wardrobe, proof that he and his wife ran a first-class operation here.
"For your funeral, I'm going to send a wreath of fresh parsley. I promise," she said as he dabbed grease from the plate rim with a towel. "Maybe even spell out Chester with lemon wedges." Her hoarse laughter exploded into a coughing spasm that made her sore eyes water and nose run. She leaned on the counter. Her chest ached. She only smoked when she drank. Last night must have been a two-packer.
"You look like shit warmed over," Chester said through a grin of sharp little teeth as he picked up the plate.
"Aren't you the sweet guy."
"Jesus, your hands're shaking." He peered out at her. "Don't tell me you're back with Prescott, that loser, again, that asshole."
"Chester, how many times do I have to tell you? I am footloose and fancy-free. I do what I want; go where I want." She tried to laugh, but the boozy rasp clotted in her throat. She turned quickly to cough it away.
"It's not so funny anymore," he called as she headed into the dining room with the plate of eggs. "You'll see. One of these mornings you're going to wake up and wonder what the hell happened. Where did it all go? Your good looks, your friends, your whole life!"
She stopped dead, then turned around and kicked open the door so hard it banged back on the wall. "Look, Adenio," she growled, advancing on him. "I don't go around giving my unwanted opinion about you watering down the milk and the soup and the juice and even the goddamn ketchup bottles every night, do I?"
"Well I hate seeing such a beautiful woman as you just giving it away to every-"
"What? What'd you just say?" She dropped the plate wobbling onto the counter.
He stared back. "You heard what I said."
"Look, just keep it to yourself, okay?"
The door flew open. "Shh, shh, shh!" Maxine pleaded, finger at her mouth as she wiggled into the kitchen on spiked heels, her snug skirt binding her knees in a geisha-like gait. "There's customers out there!" She pointed back at the still swinging doors. "Customers!" she gasped.
"Well maybe you don't want to hear it," Chester continued, his whiskery chin out over the shelf, "but you work for me so I'm gonna say it. You're no cute little party girl anymore. It's way past that now, so who the hell do you think you are, dragging in here like that? You look like crap, you stink like booze and whatever the hell else you do!" He threw down his greasy towel.
"Chester!" Maxine ran around the bench and grabbed his arm. "Please, please stop! The customers!"
"So? What? Am I fired? You want me to quit?" Fiona demanded, her raw voice confirming every accusation. Her head trembled as she reached back and untied her apron. "Fine! I've got no problem with that!"
"No!" Maxine gasped from behind as she tried to retie the apron strings. "He just wants you to settle down a little bit. Tell her!" she implored her husband.
He reached into the large tin egg bowl, taking two eggs in one hand which he cracked neatly on the stove edge then opened onto the sizzling grill.
"Tell her!" Maxine demanded.
"She knows," Chester said. He scraped the unserved cold eggs from the plate into the trash, but saved the bacon.
"Chester!" Maxine warned in a rising teary whisper. "Don't you do this to me, Chester! Don't!"
"It's okay," Fiona said, watching him reheat the bacon. If he said one more word Maxine would storm out again in tears and she'd be all alone out front. "Chester means well. He's just not used to a woman having as good a time as a guy, that's all."
"It's not the same thing, and it never will be!" Chester growled as he garnished the new plate with parsley before passing it to her. "A man doesn't get a reputation like a woman does!"
"Chester, I was born with a reputation. You know that!" she called back.
"No, not a reputation! With that big, fat chip on your shoulder! That's your trouble!" he shouted after her.
Heads turned when she entered the dining room. Her regulars smiled, relieved she was back. Maxine's fussing could jangle early-morning nerves.
"Fiona!" George Grimshaw said as she served him. It was obvious he had heard the raised voices, as had her party of grinning landscapers in the next booth. His earnest face mirrored every emotion, and right now it was red. "You're looking good. As usual," he added with a stiff smile.
"Thanks, and the same to you too, George."
Muscular in his dark blue shirt and work pants, he looked better than good with his buzz cut and his clear bright eyes, his square solid body and flat healthy stomach this Saturday morning. Probably lifted weights at night when everyone else was out having a good time. Probably hadn't had a good- She caught herself with a bawdy chuckle that seemed to make him squirm. She glanced back at the landscapers and flipped the page on her order pad. One man was drumming his fingers on the table. "We've been waiting for you, beautiful," he said with a wink.
"Guess who I just ran into," George said as she started toward them. "Brad Glidden!" He grinned.
"Yah. So?" Her heart began to race.
"He told me about the baby. That's so great. I know they've been trying a long time."
"Yah, they have." Her mouth was dry.
"He looked terrible. Course I didn't tell him that. I think he was probably on his way home from the hospital or something."
"Probably." She stepped back.
"Oh, and I saw your uncle the other day at the courthouse," he said before she could leave.
"The courthouse! Don't tell me you're in trouble, George!" She tapped the pad on his shoulder and turned.
"No!" he said with an urgency that made her look back. "Actually, I was working near there so I thought I'd stop in and say hello." He stared up intently at her. "I think your uncle Charles was surprised to see me."
"Well, no more than me, George. But, hey, you better start eating. I'll catch you later."
"But wait!" he said as she turned away again. "What do you think about Elizabeth's big news?" he asked with a faltering smile.
"I don't know, George, what do you think?" She tried to laugh. She hadn't heard a word from anyone in the family since their July banishment of her. But he probably knew that too.
"I was really surprised."
"Yah, me too."
"But you must be glad to finally have her back now, huh?" He tugged at his open collar.
"Of course." She took a deep breath.
"So I guess she's home for good now," he said almost as if it were a question, and, not knowing what else to do, she nodded. There was an odd pleading cast to his eyes as he continued to stare.
"Hey, you better eat your eggs while they're still hot." The thought of having her cousin back made her smile even though she'd had to hear it from George Grimshaw. Elizabeth taught in a boarding school in New York. In these last few years she'd seldom come home for any length of time.
"Well, will you give her my best then when you see her?" George said as she headed toward the next booth.
"Yah, sure," she said, surprised he wouldn't just call himself. Through the years Elizabeth wouldn't be home an hour before the phone would start to ring with George's dogged invitations for coffee, a drink, a movie, a ride, a walk, whatever Elizabeth wanted, though she had seemed uneasy with his company her last few times home. In the park there was a huge copper beech tree and into the bark of its elephantine trunk had years ago been carved "Geo + Liz 4ever." Pathetic, she thought, as she took the men's orders. Elizabeth had gone away and made a new life and here sat poor George hunched over greasy coffee shop eggs, still hoping, still yearning for his childhood love.
"And don't forget, beautiful, extra homefries for Eddie, tell Chester," called the oldest man in the crew as she started for the kitchen with their order.
"Yah, yah, yah," she muttered, wondering suddenly if Elizabeth's eating problem had returned, though last summer she'd looked great. She'd even put on enough weight so that they were almost the same size again, an observation that had sent Ginny into a paroxysm of raised eyebrows and mimed warnings; as if Elizabeth had gotten so fragile over the years she couldn't take a little kidding. But then Ginny had always been jealous of the bond between her younger sister and her cousin. Inseparable as children, Fiona and Elizabeth were only four months apart in age, though poles apart in temperament. They'd grown up sharing secrets, the same bedroom, and a deep affection for one another. Their paths diverged eleven years ago when they went off to college; Elizabeth to Smith and Fiona, with Uncle Charles's pull, to Dearborn Community. As expected Elizabeth had graduated with honors, gone on for her master's, and had been teaching ever since. To no one's surprise Fiona had flunked out freshman year.
She pushed open the kitchen door to find Chester slumped over the counter, brow in hand.
"Jesus, not again," she groaned. Maxine had stormed out.
"Don't." His heavy eyes lifted. "Don't even start."
"Even if I wanted to, I couldn't." She sighed, passing the order slip. "Eddie said extra homefries." She leaned her brow against the cool metal shelf. Her head hurt.
"Eddie! Who the hell's Eddie?" He flung the slip at her. "Eddie who?"
"I don't know. Eddie. What's it matter?" She threw it back.
"The way you said it, like, Eddie: like it's some friend, Eddie, I'm supposed to know from God knows where. Jesus Christ! They're all the same, these people; they come in here, they think they're entitled, like I'm just some bum, some scag. Like I got nothing better to do than this!"
"Huh?" She shook her head in dull exasperation. "Look, it's just some guy named Eddie. One of the landscapers. From Greenbow, alright?"
"Yah, and what the fuck does he want from me?" he bellowed, pounding the counter with a force that sent all the funnels, ladles, and spoons clanging into one another.
"A few fucking extra homefries!" She glared at him.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

It's a typical, post-party morning for Fiona Range. She's got an awful hangover, no memory of how she got home, and a snoring, unknown man in her bed. As Fiona extricates herself from the unconscious stranger's embrace, she berates herself for having—once again—partied too hard and gotten involved in yet another one-night stand. But Fiona's morning is about to go from bad to downright miserable when she realizes that the "stranger" fleeing her apartment is Brad Glidden—the husband of Fiona's friend Krissy, who spent the previous night in the hospital giving birth to their first child. As Fiona watches Brad burn rubber out of her driveway, she laments, "as usual, she hadn't been thinking, hadn't cared or been careful. And now this mess."

Mary McGarry Morris's bittersweet portrait of Fiona illustrates how expectations can shape a life. Fiona's mother, Natalie, was beautiful but wild—some said "trashy"—and Patrick Grady, Fiona's supposed father, was an equally wild young man who returned from Vietnam both physically and psychically scarred by his experiences. Abandoned by Natalie and rejected by Patrick, Fiona was taken in by her maternal Aunt Arlene and her husband, the Honorable Judge Charles Hollis.

Although the Hollises provided for Fiona's material needs and raised her alongside their own three children, there was always tension between them. The Hollises' reserve was unspoken but its presence was as palpable to Fiona as the ghastly scar that disfigured Patrick's once-handsome face.

Throughout her life, "all [Fiona] wanted was someone who cared how she felt and what she thought about the simplest things, someone who would know when she left the room and keep glancing at the door until she returned." This longing for affection drove young Fiona to Todd Prescott, a local ne'er do well who promised her love but—even years after their breakup—continually dragged her into his own tangled affairs with drugs and the law.

No one was surprised when Fiona dropped out of college to wait on tables at the local coffee shop while her cousins pursued more respectable professions. And when Fiona—after having misspent her twenties in and out of unfamiliar beds and too-familiar bars—registers for community college and tries to turn her life around, she quickly discovers that Dearborn, Massachusetts, is small-town America at its best—and worst. Everyone knows everyone else's business and, while Fiona's beauty and open-heartedness have won her a slew of admirers, her reckless behavior and poor judgement have earned her a bad reputation.

Fiona attempts to overcome her notoriety but—disheartened by her family's lack of support—frequently backslides. Even her closest cousin, Elizabeth, a schoolteacher who recently returned to Dearborn with a doctor fiancé in tow, harshly judges Fiona's liaison with Brad without waiting to hear Fiona's side of the story. In her desperation for a blood connection with someone, Fiona pursues Patrick, ignoring rumors of mental instability and violence. Just as she imagines that her own wild streak is a legacy from her mother Natalie, Fiona romanticizes that her volatile temper and anti-social impulses are personality traits passed down to her from Patrick. This time, he does not shun her advances, but the relationship that he tries to establish is far from paternal.

The Hollises are alarmed by Fiona's increasing intimacy with Patrick but helpless to stop it. And through him, Fiona tries to unearth her complex family's secrets only to find herself being pulled into the bewildering love triangle between Elizabeth, her fiancé, and her childhood sweetheart. As the tension and danger mount, Fiona must confront difficult truths: about her parents, her family, and most of all about herself. Finally, she realizes that "no matter how long or far she ran, she would always be trying to outdistance one person and one person only—Fiona Range."

ABOUT MARY MCGARRY MORRIS

Mary McGarry Morris is the author of Vanished, nominated for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; A Dangerous Woman, chosen by Time magazine as one of the "Five Best Novels of the Year" and made into a major motion picture; Songs in Ordinary Time, an Oprah Book Club selection and a CBS television movie; and Fiona Range. She lives in Massachusetts.

A CONVERSATION WITH MARY MCGARRY MORRIS

Our initial introduction to Fiona is very risqué—she's hungover and can't even remember who the man in her bed is—why did you choose to open the novel this way?

Instead of merely stating that Fiona Range is a party girl who can't say no to a good time, I wanted to put the reader "inside" Fiona at her most vulnerable. It was a way of conveying the remorse and bravado that have been her hallmark. I don't consider that scene risqué but pathetic. It is typical of the many "mornings-after" in Fiona's life. She is a strong, intelligent woman, yet once again her life has spun out of control. Her best excuses have begun to wear so thin that even she is disgusted by them.

All of your novels are set in small New England towns. What draws you to that particular setting? Did you grow up in a similar environment? Is Dearborn based upon a real town?

Born in Connecticut, raised in Vermont, and for most of my years now a Massachusetts resident living close by the New Hampshire border, I am certainly a New Englander. Though Dearborn may be fictional, it is like any American community that values fairness, honesty, hard work, and being a good neighbor. And as in every big city or small town, Dearborn's people are sinners, saints, wise men, and fools, all of whom we know we are, or have been at one time or another.

At one point in the novel, Fiona tells Terry that the Hollises "do good deeds the way most people knock on wood. It's not so much to help the other person as it is to cover themselves, to make themselves feel better." Do you agree? Does Judge Hollis only help Larry when he breaks the CVS window to make himself look good? Or does he have some genuine philanthropic motives?

Sometimes, charity is far easier given to a stranger on a dark night than to a pauper at our own table. Fiona is very cynical about the Hollis family's good works because she cannot understand the invisible wall she has always felt between herself and them. Judge Hollis's philanthropy has always been complicated, as labyrinthine in motive as its ensuing network of relationships. In helping Larry the Judge's innate kindness can only be tainted by the need to protect his family at any cost.

When Fiona and Elizabeth get together outside the Hollis home, Fiona usually stays relatively sober while Elizabeth gets drunk. Fiona has a healthy appetite while Elizabeth suffers from an eating disorder. Of the two, who do you think is the most victimized by the Hollises' expectations?

While both women suffer from their family's expectations, Fiona's appetites seem almost healthy compared to those of her rigid cousin. Elizabeth's sensitivities are so acute that her own needs have come to seem like terrible weakness, failures. As her emotional strength ebbs, she struggles to control her life through self-denial, a twisted discipline that Fiona cannot fathom.

Chester seems to care about Fiona's welfare and offers her sound advice. Why does Fiona resent his solicitousness as intrusion?

Throughout her life, Fiona has been criticized, analyzed, and advised until a flip remark has become her automatic reaction. She knows Chester's interest and concerns are genuine, but she doesn't want to hear what he has to say when it is the truth about herself.

Patrick is a terrifying character. How did you conceive of him? And what do you think motivated Patrick—after years of ignoring Fiona—to give in to her attentions?

Like so many strong characters Patrick Grady came full-blown into early musings about the novel. For me he is the product of betrayal on every level. Whenever he tried to do what he thought was right it only seemed to turn on him. He has festered in frustration and bitterness until all he has left is hate. And then Fiona's caring persistence touches an old nerve, numbing his feral defenses. For someone so long deprived of love, he needs her as desperately as he once needed her mother.

Writing a novel is a lengthy process that requires a lot of discipline. What is a typical work day like for you?

I am usually at my desk every morning at nine. The length of a work day depends on what stage I'm at in the novel. The first draft is the most arduous. There is pen, paper, and me, with often only the vaguest sense of where I'm going. Four or five hours seem to be the most I can stay at it. With the first draft completed the work day gets longer and easier as I begin typing it all into the computer. Time passes quickly then. Hours can be spent on a phrase, a morning on a paragraph. There are days when suddenly it's dinnertime and the glow from the screen is the only light in the house. I seldom write at night, but the characters have freest reign then, often forcing me to see what they have been trying to tell me about themselves all along. Sometimes it's exhilarating to know I'm on the right track after all. And sometimes it means tossing out weeks of work and starting all over again the next morning. The new novel I'm working on is untitled. The main character is a man in his forties who wants little from life other than the freedom to be left alone.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Fiona is blamed as a seductress, while the men she has relations with are regarded as her victims. Is this an accurate assessment? Why do you think Elizabeth doesn't blame George for sleeping with Fiona?
     
  • Rudy is aware of Fiona's promiscuous reputation but does not condemn her for it the way George does. How much of Fiona's "reputation" is based upon small-town morality? Do you think Fiona would have grown up differently in an urban environment?
     
  • Are any of the Hollises genuinely happy? Why or why not? Were the Hollis children's feelings for Fiona affected more by their parents' attitude toward her or by Fiona's own actions? Do they love her?
     
  • Was Elizabeth ever really in love with Rudy? Did she realize how drastically she was misleading him or were her perceptions too skewed by her fragile mental state? Was Rudy ever really in love with Elizabeth?
     
  • More than anyone else in the novel, Chester is the paternal figure in Fiona's life. How significant is it that he is the victim of Patrick's violence?
     
  • How culpable is Aunt Arlene? What was her moral responsibility to her niece as well as to her own children?
     
  • What is your opinion about what happens to the Hollis family, particularly Judge Hollis, at the end of the novel? Do you think Aunt Arlene did the right thing in staying with him?
     
  • If you were Fiona, would you have remained in Dearborn after discovering the truth about your parentage?
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  • Posted September 9, 2009

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    Great read!

    Great vehicle for driving home the idea that life is messy, people are flawed and judgement should keep residence in the imaginary land of Black and White. Although midway through the story twists became more of predictable bends in the road, I still found the journey worth it.

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