The Hungry Seasonby T. Greenwood
It's been five years since the Mason family vacationed at the lakeside cottage in northeastern Vermont, close to where prize-winning novelist Samuel Mason grew up. The summers that Sam, his wife, Mena, and their twins Franny and Finn spent at Lake Gormlaith were noisy, chaotic, and nearly perfect. But since Franny's death, the Masons have been flailing, one step
It's been five years since the Mason family vacationed at the lakeside cottage in northeastern Vermont, close to where prize-winning novelist Samuel Mason grew up. The summers that Sam, his wife, Mena, and their twins Franny and Finn spent at Lake Gormlaith were noisy, chaotic, and nearly perfect. But since Franny's death, the Masons have been flailing, one step away from falling apart. Lake Gormlaith is Sam's last, best hope of rescuing his son from a destructive path and salvaging what's left of his family.
As Sam struggles with grief, writer's block, and a looming deadline, Mena tries to repair the marital bond she once thought was unbreakable. But even in this secluded place, the unexpectedin the form of an over-zealous fan, a surprising friendship, and a second chancecan change everything.
From the acclaimed author of Two Rivers comes a compelling and beautifully told story of hope, family, and above all, hungerfor food, sex, love and successand for a way back to wholeness when a part of oneself has been lost forever.
Praise For T. Greenwood's Two Rivers
"A dark and lovely elegy, filled with heartbreak that turns itself into hope and forgiveness. I felt so moved by this luminous novel." Luanne Rice, New York Times bestselling author
"T. Greenwood's writing shimmers and sings. . ." Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling author of Belong to Me and Love Walked In
"A memorable, powerful work." Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
"Greenwood is a writer of subtle strength, evoking small-town life beautifully while spreading out the map of Harper's life, finding light in the darkest of stories." Publishers Weekly
"A sensitive and suspenseful portrayal of family and the ties that bind." Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and River of Heaven
"A haunting story. . .Ripe with surprising twists and heartbreakingly real characters. . .remarkable and complex." Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog and No One You Know
"A complex tale of guilt, remorse, revenge, and forgiveness. . . Convincing. . . Interesting. . ." Library Journal
"Two Rivers is the story that people want to read: the one they have never read before." Howard Frank Mosher, author of Walking to Gatlinburg
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The Hungry Season
By T. GREENWOOD
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 T. Greenwood
All right reserved.
Once. Not that long ago, Sam believed that they would always be happy. That they had found the secret, stumbled upon it by accident perhaps. Or maybe they had done something to earn it. Regardless, they had found what had managed to elude everyone else: all those miserable bickering families, the ones they saw and pitied (the couples who love each other but not their children, the ones who love their children but not each other). Happiness. They had this. He was full of it, smug with it, bloated and busting at the seams with it. He basked in it, in the cool softness of it, thanked his lucky stars for it. But what he didn't understand (or couldn't, not then) is that everything is precarious. That even the sweetest breezes can change directions, that not even the moon is constant.
Here they are before:
Early summer evening when everything was still possible, Mena was in the kitchen of the rented cottage, washing lettuce from their summer garden. Sam could see her from where he sat in a wooden chair in the yard. The light from the window made a frame around her. She was standing at the sink, running water over the green leaves, her hands working. She caught his eye, smiled. Held his gaze until he blew her a kiss. Through the open screen door, he could smell dinner.Something Greek; there would be olives in a chipped porcelain bowl from the cupboard. Soft cheese. Warm bread. Franny would save the olive pits on a wet paper towel, bury them in the garden with her small fingers, hoping to grow an olive tree by morning.
Finn was down at the water's edge, ankle deep in the lake, his naked chest white in the half-light. He had a red plastic bucket for the polliwogs. He was soundless in this task. Single-minded and intent. In the morning, Sam would go into town and get him a fishbowl. Most of them would die, but one or two might grow legs, eyes bulging. Franny was swinging in the tire swing that hung from the giant maple tree near the edge of the woods. She leaned backward, and her long curls spilled onto the ground. She had also abandoned her clothes in this rare June heat. They were six. It was twilight, and everything was possible.
Sam was thinking, of course, about the words that might capture this. Words were the way that he tethered the world, kept it close. Mena didn't understand this need to articulate a moment, all moments. To convey moonlight, water, hair kissing the ground. She didn't understand this inclination, this necessity, to render everything in prose. Just eat, she said. But Sam could not just eat. First, he needed to classify: casseri, calamata, ouso.
They sat at the rickety picnic table Mena had covered with a batik cloth that smelled of mothballs, of cedar. She lit the tea lights with a pack of matches she pulled from her back pocket. When she bent over to light them, he could see the soft swell of her breasts pushing against the edges of her tank top.
No peeking. She smiled.
Aidani, he thought, skin like wine, contained but threatening to spill.
Olives! she said, and Franny came running. Sam intercepted, picking her up and swinging her around until they were both dizzy.
Daddy, she said. The best word of all.
Finn joined them reluctantly, holding the bucket with both hands, plastic handle and skinny arms straining with the weight of lake water and tadpoles. The water sloshed onto the grass at his feet, and it took all his strength to set the bucket down on the table next to the moussaka.
Mena: tsk, tsk, and she lifted the bucket, examining its contents before lowering it gently to the ground. Inside, the tadpoles swam blindly in dark water, bumping into the edges.
They ate. Red tomatoes, purple eggplant, black pepper and lamb. They drank wine; Franny and Finn had their own small glasses, jelly jars, which they clanked together so hard you'd think everything would shatter.
Their voices, tinkling like glass, were the only ones here. It was the beginning of the summer, dusk, and the lake was theirs. They had been coming here, to Gormlaith, every summer since even before the twins were born. This is where Sam grew up. Home. Nestled in the northeastern corner of Vermont, on the opposite side of the earth from where they spent the rest of the year, it was a secret summer place. Undiscovered, for now. Theirs.
After dinner, the wine was gone. Finn had abandoned the polliwogs in favor of fireflies that flickered intermittently, teasing, in the hedges surrounding the house. Mena brought him a glass jar, the lid riddled with nail holes. He caught them easily with his clumsy little hands; they were more sluggish than you would think. Sam remembered this from his own childhood: the easy capture, the thickness of wings and the flickers of light. Finn was like Sam; he understood the need to contain things.
Franny twirled on tippy-toes, her bare feet barely touching the grass, her arms outstretched. Her ribs made a small protective cage around her heart, which Sam imagined he could see beating through her translucent skin, that miraculously transparent flesh of childhood that reveals every pulse and the very movement of blood. She spun and spun and spun and then collapsed on the grass, laughing, examining the twirling sky above her.
Mena sat down next to Sam in the other Adirondack chair, facing the water. Franny came to her, still naked, but cold now that the sun had set. Mena offered Franny a sip of her hot Greek coffee-vari glykos, very sweet-before placing the cup where it wouldn't spill. She pulled Franny into her lap, enclosed her with her arms. Sam watched as Mena's fingers wound in and out of Franny's curls, listened as Mena hummed along with the music that wound its fingers through the night. Chet Baker crooned. Bullfrogs croaked and groaned. Crickets complained.
There must be a word for this, he thought. It was on the tip of his tongue. He struggled, but it wouldn't come. A sort of panic buzzed as he reached for it. Without the word, he was almost certain he would lose this. The lid would open, the fireflies escape. The bucket would spill, and the polliwogs would swim through the grass.
Finally, it came. Storge, he remembered. Mena once gave him the Greek words for love. Whispered them each, her breath hot in his ear: agape, eros, philia, storge. A gift. Storge. And so, for now, everything was safe.
Mena watches Sam as he considers the winding expanse of road in front of them. He has been driving since New York. He doesn't say so, but he doesn't like it when she drives. When she drove, she could see his jaw muscles flexing, the way they worked and worked, even if he was feigning sleep. And so she stopped offering to take over the wheel. She'd rather look out the window anyway, read or nap. It was Sam's idea to come here.
It's been nearly three hundred miles, and no one has said a word. Finn is in the backseat with headphones on, the music so loud she can hear it, like jingling bells. It can't be good for his ears, but she bites her tongue. She doesn't want to take his music from him; it's one of the few things they haven't confiscated in the last couple of months. She watches him in the rearview mirror; his eyes are vacant. Not even sad anymore, just empty. Next to her, Sam is concentrating on the road. He's been stiff like this, focused, since they left Manhattan. But they're far, far from all that gridlock now. He could relax a little. Theirs is the only car on the road.
They could have gotten here more quickly if they hadn't had to stop in New York, but as soon as Monty found out that they were coming back east (driving back no less), he'd insisted they take this more circuitous route. Mena knew it wasn't a good idea to stop, for a lot of reasons. She worried about New York, about all the places Finn might run. But Monty was persistent, and Sam felt guilty, and so they drove the long way. Luckily the stay was uneventful, in terms of Finn, and Monty put them up at the Four Seasons (which, Mena had to admit, was a welcome change after the series of Motel 6's they'd occupied each night since they left San Diego). That night he took them all out for dinner at the Union Square Café (also a welcome change from the Burger Kings and Wendys along the way). All of this just an effort to coax Sam into spilling his plans for the next book.
"Don't want to jinx it?" Monty asked when Sam quietly pushed his duck confit around his plate. "Mum's the word, huh?"
Only Mena knew that Sam was not being evasive or elusive, but that he simply had no plans to reveal. He was under contract for the next book, and the deadline was just six months away, but as far as she could tell, Sam hadn't started it. He still disappeared into his office every day, but Mena knew that while he might be typing in there, he certainly wasn't writing.
Not that long ago, Sam and Monty would spend hours over multicourse dinners talking about his fictional characters as if they were real people. Gossiping like schoolgirls about people who existed only in Sam's mind. Mena used to love to listen to them chattering on and on. For twenty years Monty had been Sam's agent. Twenty years of friendship. You'd think he'd realize something wasn't right.
"Vermont will be good for you," Monty said, spearing a bloody chunk of meat with his knife and popping it into his mouth. "You renting that same place?"
"I bought it," Sam said.
"How much a place up there cost you? Two, three hundred bucks?" Monty chuckled.
"Something like that," Sam said. In fact, Sam had spent his entire advance for this novel on the little cottage, financed the rest.
Monty smiled his big warm smile. "What're you gonna do stuck in the woods up there, Finny?"
"Probably lose my fucking mind," Finn said.
"Mouth," Sam said, grimacing.
Finn's arms were crossed over his chest; he hadn't eaten a bite. He was peering across the restaurant, but when Mena followed his gaze, she saw only the empty bar. The doors to the kitchen. She couldn't help but imagine him casing the place, looking for the glowing EXIT signs, plotting his escape. Sam seemed oblivious, his thoughts elsewhere. Mena noticed a vein throbbing at his temple, noticed the gray hairs sprouting there too. She looked down at her salad, the heirloom tomatoes arranged like a painting on her plate.
"You got any neighbors up there?" Monty asked. "Some moose maybe? A few cows?"
Sam poked at his duck.
"Didn't you hear?" Mena asked, laughing just a little too loudly. "McNally finally put it on the map. Since then it's been swarming with tourists. A real hot spot."
"It really is beautiful," Mena said, and smiled, suddenly feeling bad for Monty, who was trying so hard. She reached for his hand across the table. "You and Lauren should come up and visit. You should. Get out of the city, breathe some fresh air." She tried to imagine Lauren Harrison in her Chanel suits and pointy shoes navigating her way up the winding driveway to the cottage. Mena has always liked Monty (with his boyish enthusiasm and boyish looks and boyish manners), but Lauren has a way of making her feel uncomfortable. She is so polished, she almost shines. The thought of her in that musty cottage was ridiculous.
"Maybe we will." Monty smiled, nodding his head. "See the sights."
In the hotel that night, Mena stayed awake, waiting for something bad to happen. But both Finn and Sam fell asleep as soon as their heads touched the downy pillows, and she watched them until the sun filtered through the butter-colored curtains.
"We're almost here," Mena says, gently touching Sam's leg. He turns to her, startled, his face slowly softening, as if he has been woken from a dream. "Isn't Hudson's just up the road?" she says. The last stop in civilization before the lake.
They pull into the dirt lot in front of the store. Sam turns off the ignition and rolls his head from side to side, stretching. Mena resists the urge to reach over and knead out the crick that she knew would come if he kept driving like that, sitting upright, not using the headrest.
"About time," Finn says, pulling the headphones from his ears and tossing his iPod onto the seat. "I need to take a piss."
Mena feels her chest tighten. "Okay, but come right back. I'm just going in to get some milk. Coffee. I'll come back into town tomorrow for real food."
Finn gets out of the car, stretching his long legs. He has grown four inches since last summer. He's already over six feet tall, and not even seventeen yet. At night, in his sleep, he moans as his bones expand. The sound makes Mena cringe. In Amarillo, he'd been moaning so loudly in the motel room that Sam had gotten up, delirious, convinced that a wounded animal had found its way in.
"Hurry back," Mena says again, this time more reprimand than plea, as Finn disappears around the side of the gas station with the restroom key attached to a large wooden paddle. He rolls his eyes at her, and she winces.
Sam has gotten out of the car too and is battling with the vending machine, hitting the side of it with his palm, muttering under his breath.
"Need more change?" Mena asks, reaching into her pocket. "Nah. Forget it," he says.
Mena touches him on the shoulder. She can't stop touching him, even though he barely responds anymore. "Sure?"
He nods and walks back to the car, stretching his arm over his head, cracking his back. She watches as his pants slip a few inches. All of his clothes are too big for him lately. She would have been smart to pick up a few pairs of his favorite khakis at Brooks Brothers before they left California. Once they get to Gormlaith she'll have to do all of their shopping online. She wonders if they can even get Internet access at the lake.
When she comes out of the convenience store with an overpriced gallon of milk, a block of cheddar cheese, a dozen eggs, and a six-pack of beer, Finn is rounding the corner. She adjusts the grocery bag on her hip like a baby, leans into him, and kisses his cheek. She can smell the smoke on his clothes, on his breath, but she doesn't say anything. She is simply grateful that he is still here.
"Ready?" She musters a smile.
"Do I have a choice?" he asks, and gets into the car, plugging up his ears again with music.
It's not the way Finn remembers it. He's even convinced for a minute that they're fucking with him, that this is some sort of joke. He looks to his father for the punch line, but he's already disappeared inside the cottage with some of their suitcases. It's not the same place; it can't be. True, they haven't come here since he and Franny were twelve or so, but he's not crazy. He knows this place like his own goddamn dick. For one thing, the tree in the front yard is way smaller than the one in his memory. He distinctly remembers his father having to use a ladder to hang the tire swing on the tree's one thick limb that jutted out over the front yard. But looking at it now, he's pretty sure he could just jump up and grab a hold of it if he wanted to. And the cottage itself seems like a doll's house, like a playhouse. Like something at fucking Disneyland.
He gets out of the car and starts walking down the hill toward the water. It must have rained earlier; the grass is slick. He almost loses his footing as he makes his way down the hill, glancing around quickly to make sure nobody saw him almost wipe out, and then realizes that there's nobody here to see him anyway.
Butt Fuck Nowhere. That's where he'd told Misty they were going when she asked. They were making out in the parking lot at the beach. Misty had gotten a hold of some X, and he could feel every single inch of his skin. He wanted to lick things. He wanted his tongue on everything: the leather seats of her father's car, her skin, the sand.
"Will you miss me?" she had asked, twirling her tongue around in his ear.
He'd nodded, touching each of her eyelids with the tip of his tongue, tasting the mascara and tears that were brimming in the corners of her eyes. This made him want to go taste the ocean. He wanted to go to the water and take the whole thing into his mouth, swallow it in big gulps. He wanted everything inside of him: Misty, the ocean, the night.
"I guess," he'd said, smirking. "A little bit."
The lake also looks smaller, a miniature version of what he remembers. Compared to the Pacific, still bodies of water like this are pathetic. He picks up a rock and chucks it into the lake, watches as it disturbs the ridiculous peace of the water's surface. He looks across the lake at the opposite shore. There are a handful of houses, all of them empty still. Beyond that are trees and still more trees. A small mountain jutting up into the hazy sky. What have they done to him? What has he done to deserve this?
Excerpted from The Hungry Season by T. GREENWOOD Copyright © 2010 by T. Greenwood. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
T. Greenwood is the author of Breathing Water, Nearer Than the Sky, and Undressing the Moon, the latter two both Booksense 76 picks. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and, most recently, the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches creative writing at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in the D.C. area, where she is also an aspiring fine arts photographer.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I knew Greenwood was coming out with a new book, but I was a slacker and did not know when it was to be released. So I was browsing at Barnes & Noble (a thing I love to do and am well-known for...when friends ask me what I'm doing most of the time the answer is...hanging out at B&N...sad to be so predictable...) and, again, happened upon Greenwood's latest book by accident. It was a sweet surprise. I barely even read, registered, thought about what the book was about because I knew I just had to read it. Greenwood writes beautifully. Her descriptions are vivid, her characters are realistically portrayed and each have identifiable flaws, and she actually uses symbolism and parallelism! All these things are must-haves for a good book. Symbolism is becoming a lost art in literature, but Greenwood proves that it can make a comeback and there is a place for it. Enough gushing about this awesome talent (of which I am jealous). The plot of the story, which I really read after I purchased the book (if you know me you know this is really strange for me to do) really hit home for me. It's about a family who take a summer trip to Lake Gormlaith in Vermont in the aftershock of losing their daughter and sister (respectively). The whole time we don't really know what happened to Franny. We just know she is no longer alive and the family is trying to pick up the pieces and stay together. One of the interesting things about this story is the idea of HUNGER. Greenwood says, in the back of the book, that she became fascinated with it because it is the basest of human needs and something we take for granted. Within the book, the writer father named Sam discovers how hunger plays in religions and cultures with fasting and such. And there were some fanatics who starved themselves on purpose to gain euphoria and something like nirvana. So there is the idea of literal hunger, right? But then here's where it gets interesting. Greenwood explores the idea of figurative hunger. Each of the characters hunger for something different. Mena, the mother, hungers for affection from her husband. Sam, the father, hungers for the return of his creative juices and the virility (through most of the book he battles impotence)of his youth. Finn, Franny's twin brother, hungers for peaceful sleep, normalcy with his parents, and trust. Throughout the story, each of them try to fulfill their hunger but they go about it the wrong way. The family is grieving the loss of Franny and, instead of exploring their grief as just plain grief, Greenwood uses HUNGER to explain what they are feeling. When I realized this I came to understand feelings I myself have felt over the last two years. There is another character, Dale, who also hungers. She is a psychotic fan of Sam's. The reader gets to see her gradual dive into the deep end as she goes from mere fan to stalker to lunatic. She hungers for completion through Sam. I tend to think she sees him as a father figure because her father was never there for her. It's hard to say, though, what is really driving Dale. She, too, goes about fulfilling her hunger in the wrong ways. I will not spoil the book by telling you how it resolves. Greenwood is a good enough writer that she doesn't really have to feed you the answers b
What a remarkable book. This book was very realistic. The author does a fantastic job depicting the aftermath of an unexpected death. She depicts grief from everybodies perspective. She even gets twin loss which is a whole seperate issue. A must read. You wont be sorry!
This book really makes you feel the pain of the characters grief. It allows you to get to know the characters on an individual basis and really opens your eyes to issues in the world that some of us may take for granted.
I loved this book, it kept my attention and I couldnt put it down. The author is one of my favorites too. You must read this book.
This was my first book by this author and I could not put it down. Interesting plot development. A sad but believable story about a loving contemporary family dealing with a great loss. I would highly recommend it. Doesnt play out in a predictable way.
Would have liked it if there would have been a thread of positivity through the story. Everything dark and hopeless then (spoiler alert) all of a sudden at the end everything works out.
A powerful novel which explored the dynamics of a shattered family following the tragic death of their daughter. The relationships are vividly described in a way that made it impossible to put the book down. I found myself rooting for their successes, crying for their pain, and by the beautiful end of the book, exhausted and content as if I myself had been through their journey. I read the last page and immediately began back at the first.
This is my fifth book by T. Greenwood and starting my sixth, (Two Rivers) today. As you can see, am not reading them in specific order. Once you have read one book by this talented author, you cannot stop until you read everything she has written-while anxiously awaiting her next masterpiece. I actually this one and finished it in same day. It is so hard to say which book is my favorite, as each and every one is a unique story. The author has a way of taking flawed characters and developing them into beautiful stories which will warm your heart and soul, and leave you pondering for hours after the book ends. T. Greenwood is in a class by herself and is hard to compare her to other writers; she gets to the heart of social issues, and not afraid to tackle them--put them out there in order for her characters to begin healing and starting over. “The Hungry Season” is no exception, as the readers guide and discussion questions are worth hours of book club and on line further discussions. Wow, what I would give to have her as a writing teacher – can you imagine? The Mason family is suffering after the loss of their daughter and heads from San Diego to Vermont (one of my favorite places), to their favorite summer lake house which they now buy, in order to escape the city and try and bring their life back to some sense of normal. Each one of them has issues to overcome: Sam, the father is suffering from writer’s block with a deadline hanging over him . His wife, Mena is trying to fix her family desperately, and her marriage to get back what they have lost. Lastly, Finn (the twin left behind) is acting out in all sorts of ways in order to feel something. Of course at the center of the novel is Franny. The book begins and ends with her presence and is about those she left behind. At the time of the novel she has died; however, the cause of death is not disclosed until towards the end, as this family tries desperately to forgive themselves, to begin nourishing one another. Love the way the author uses “hungry” throughout the novel as it relates eating disorders, strong needs, desire, or force. There are also secondary characters which experience hunger in different ways. As a note from the author, she so eloquently describes, “For some people deprived of necessary sustenance, hunger is suffering. Conversely, for some it can be a source of power and this love affair with hunger is irresistible to some, despite its often lethal consequences.” What a beautiful and compelling story, articulated with clarity and sensitivity.
I enjoyed this book...the first I've read by this author. It wasn't at all what I expected, but it really was a good book. It kept me wanting to read more, as there were many many interesting and unexpected plot twists. I have since read a few of her other books and enjoyed them all.
Huge disappointment. I did not get very far into the book. The language was vulgar and it lost my interest. Waste of money.
I beg to differ with the comment that "the whole time we don't really know what happened to Franny..." This book is ALL about what happened to Franny from the title of the book to the last sentence! This book held me captivated the entire time I was reading it. Not only did it deal with major grief and how different people handle it, but it also showed how the people involved grew from the grief. The twisted way this story ends was just that - twisted. But it was also very funny! I loved the wry sense of humor that threaded its way throughout the pages of this book - very impressive writing style!
Its a great story if you like a family falling a part. Its entertaining and well told.
Very very excellent book!!!!!
Nice, quick read