From the Publisher
Praise for Roland Merullo and his previous books
“A portrait of a time and place that has few equals.” —The Boston Globe
“A beautiful story told with the compelling voice of a writer who is willing to approach the enormous question of redemption, and does so with truthfulness and striking decency.”—Elizabeth Strout
“[This] novel is so true that it has the authenticity of a memoir. It will, I think, be compared to A Separate Peace . . . . It is an extraordinary achievement.” —Anita Shreve
“Emotionally complex, politically intelligent, beautifully written: Among the best from a novelist in the classic American tradition.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“A great novel—ambitious, heartfelt, generous, and oh-so-skilled.” —Richard Russo
“Merullo invents a world that mirrors our world in all of its mystery. And he does it in language so happily inventive and precise and musical, and plots it so masterfully, that you are reluctant to emerge from his literary dream.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Merullo is a writer of great talent.” —Robert Stone
“Merullo has a knack for rendering emotional complexities, paradoxes, or impasses in a mere turn of the phrase.” —Chicago Tribune
For all its sadness, his narrative is never maudlin; for all its familiarity, it's never trite. No tears are jerked in the delivery of this solidly satisfying little romance, whose author is something of a Houdini in the art of escaping banality
The Washington Post
To say Merullo's latest novel is true to its title is to diminish the impact of this thoughtful, restrained (yet very sexy) book.
The New York Times
Merullo, author of the Revere Beach series, starts out with a hoary cliche: Jake Entwhistle, on the one-year anniversary of his girlfriend's death, goes out for a doughnut, and his '49 Dodge truck gets smashed in the parking lot by cowboy-booted, 27-year-old Janet Rossi. Chemistry wins out over a series of first-date pratfalls, and Entwhistle, a handsome, successful painter, finds himself smitten. Rossi, however, has cystic fibrosis, and Merullo does his best work in the deceptively lighthearted chapters that follow the lovers trying to shed their romantic baggage on top of dealing with Rossi's illness. Entwhistle must overcome his jealousy over Rossi's affair with the governor of Massachusetts (she's still his aide), and he must also finally mourn the late Giselle (an attendant on the flight that went down in Pennsylvania on 9/11). Rossi's debilitating disease quickly sends her into a tailspin; Jake tries to pull together lung donors and a "psycho-genius" doctor for an operation that could save Rossi's life. Merullo counters the cardboard morbidity and overdetermined incidentals with considerable emotional depth, making this a solid romance. (On sale Aug. 9) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Right from the start, it's clear that Merullo's latest novel (after In Revere, in Those Days) is about loss and grief, with lighthearted moments: "My year of mourning was over, and I decided to mark the anniversary by treating myself to a doughnut." This bittersweet love story rises above its overwrought two-hankie potential with compassion for its characters. Jake Entwhistle, a 30-year-old carpenter, risks reentering the dating scene by asking out the woman who smashed his truck outside the doughnut shop. Janet Rossi is 27, beautiful, smart-an aide to the governor-and dying of cystic fibrosis. Despite their individual baggage and Jake's goofy nervousness, they feel an immediate connection. The novel chronicles the next three months, as Janet's health declines and every wet, choking breath is an exercise in courage. While it's improbable that Jake would suffer two tragedies like this, it's not distracting, and the overall impression is one of great love and intimacy. Recommended for most public libraries.-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Eros and Thanatos in Boston. Merullo (In Revere, In Those Days, 2002, etc.) risks the mawkish in this readable tale. Having just spent a celibate year mourning the death of his girlfriend Giselle, Jake Entwhistle emerges for a donut, only to meet and fall for Janet Rossi, a woman dying of cystic fibrosis. Jake is the new man incarnate-both carpenter and artist, given to goofy jokes and the occasional fistfight in defense of maidens in distress. Giselle, it turns out, died on 9/11, aboard Flight 93, when it crashed in Pennsylvania. Janet, who was having an affair with her boss, Charles Valvelsais, the shady but recently reelected governor of Massachusetts, may not survive the year it will take for her to find a lung transplant donor. The lovers do snatch some moments of happiness together, but Merullo spends more time charting Janet's illness than he does the happiness. A visit to Jake's brother, a Catholic monk, brings up the subject of belief. Jake speculates on an indifferent God, "a mean-hearted trickster" who permits the suffering endured by the diseased, the terrorized and their families. Some spleen is also directed at the medical establishment in the guise of various reptilian doctors whose treatment of Janet verges on the callous or self-interested. It falls to Jake to discover that she might be saved by a living lobar transplant. But his labors are far from over. He must twist the arm of the one local (retired, reluctant) surgeon who could perform the operation and then find two suitable tissue donors. Jake himself will be one and, at Janet's urging, Valvelsais-who turns the challenge into a p.r. opportunity-the other. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by Janet'sendurance. But it would take the hide of a rhino not to feel massaged into emotional compliance by the story's heavily stacked odds of circumstance and character. An intelligent tear-jerker.
Read an Excerpt
My year of mourning was over, and I decided to mark the anniversary by treating myself to a doughnut.
By my own choice, I had not had sex with anyone during those twelve months. I'm not sure why I did that. Maybe it was out of respect for the woman I had lost, though she wouldn't have wanted anything like that from me. My older brother is a monk, so maybe I was trying to prove I could keep up with him in the abstinence department. Or maybe I was just afraid I would meet someone I liked and sleep with her, then start to think about her all the time, then start to want to have children with her, and then she would be torn away from me and spirited off to some better world—if there is a better world—and that is not the kind of thing you want to go through twice in one year.
So on that wet September night my year of abstinence was finished, and I went out looking for a doughnut as a sort of offbeat celebration. That's all, really. A doughnut says: Listen, for your eighty-five cents I'm going to give you a quick burst of feel-good. No soul connection. No quiet walks. No long foreplay sessions in a warm one-bedroom. No extinction of aloneness. No jealousy. No fights. No troubles. No risk.
On that night, the risk I thought I was willing to take extended only as far as chocolate-glazed. Steaming cup of decaf next to it, little bit of cream, the shabby comfort of my favorite doughnut shop. It seemed a small enough thing to ask, after the year I'd seen.
The steady rain that had been falling during the afternoon and early part of the night had quieted to a light drizzle. The streets were black and wet, streaked with color from storefront neon and traffic lights. I worked my old pickup out of its parking space—foolish move, giving up a parking space in that neighborhood at that late hour—and drove to Betty's.
There is no Betty. Once there might have been, but at that point Betty's was owned by Carmine Asalapolous, a rough-edged, middle-aged man who had told me once that he wished he'd done something heroic in his life so he'd have a piece of high ground to fall back on when the devils of self-doubt were after him. Carmine, I said, just being a decent person, good father, excellent doughnut-maker—that's enough heroism for one life. But he shook his big head sadly and said no, it wasn't, not for him.
Carmine went to a two-hour Orthodox service on Sunday mornings. During the week he liked to make off-color jokes with his regular customers. He had some kind of mindless prejudice against college professors, a scar between his eyebrows that looked like a percent sign, and two young daughters whom he adored and whose pictures and drawings were taped up on every vertical surface in Betty's. He took his work seriously. If you got him going on the subject of doughnut-making, he'd tell you the chain doughnut shops used only the cheapest flour, which is why you left those places with a pasty aftertaste on your tongue.
I parked in front. The roof of Betty's was dripping and one cold droplet caught me on the left ear as I walked in. I remember that odd detail. In line at the counter I held a little debate with myself—how wild a night should it be?—then asked for two chocolate-glazed instead of one, a medium instead of a small decaf. Carmine was counting money in the floury kitchen. I could see him there through a sort of glassless window. He looked up at me from his stack of bills, pointed with his chin at the waitress's back, and made a John Belushi face, pushing his lips to the side and lifting one eyebrow, the expression of a man who had not a millionth of a chance of ever touching the waitress in a way she liked, and knew it.
I carried my paper cup of coffee and paper plate with two doughnuts on it to a stool at a counter that looked out on Betty's wet parking lot. In a minute a trim, balding man sat beside me, with a black coffee and the Sports section of the New York Times. "Nice truck," he said.
"I saw you get out of it," he said.
I could not think of any response to this.
He kept trying. He said: "You don't see many of them still around. Fifty-one Dodge?"
"Gorgeous," he said. "Like you."
I looked away. I was waiting for my coffee to cool, and was not really in the mood to talk, and though I understand sexual loneliness as well as the next person, there was not much I could do about this man's loneliness. Just at that exact moment—it was after midnight—a woman walked out of Betty's carrying a small bag and got into her car and she must have had a slippery shoe or been distracted by something because she put her new Honda in reverse and drove it across about fifteen open feet of parking lot and straight into the back of my truck.
"Whoa!" the man beside me yelled.
I took a good hot sip of coffee. I watched the woman get out, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand and looking as if she wished she had never been born. And then, very calmly, I went outside to talk to her.