Multiple Choiceby Claire Cook
A new laugh-out-loud novel from the national bestselling author of Must Love Dogs.
There was a time when March Monroe thought she and her daughter Olivia would never really cut the cord. Now Olivia is off to college and March is secretly doing the same thing. It's a high-voltage shock when they run into each other as student interns at the local radio/i>
A new laugh-out-loud novel from the national bestselling author of Must Love Dogs.
There was a time when March Monroe thought she and her daughter Olivia would never really cut the cord. Now Olivia is off to college and March is secretly doing the same thing. It's a high-voltage shock when they run into each other as student interns at the local radio station. From the author of Must Love Dogs, this effervescent story will strike a chord with women of all ages-whether they have kids in college or are just now choosing their majors. Required reading for absolute enjoyment!
- Penguin Group (USA)
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.42(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.58(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
During your child's senior year in high school, it is most important for parents to try to a. remain positive b. set firm, consistent limits c. save money d. live through the experience
My daughter, Olivia, and I were going to college. Not together at the same school, thank goodness, just at the same time. And I knew she was going, naturally, since we'd just made our first exorbitant tuition payment to Boston University, but she didn't exactly know about me yet. There were a few things that needed work in this arrangement. I knew that.
Any mother who has an eighteen-year-old daughter would completely understand why I didn't mention my decision to go back to college to Olivia. What? I can't believe it. Are you actually copying me? Don't you think you should consider getting your own life? I could clearly hear her saying some or all of these things every time I thought about bringing it up. It wasn't that I planned never to tell her. I just figured I'd wait a bit maybe Columbus Day weekend, maybe over Thanksgivinguntil we'd had a little time to miss each other.
I sat in an ugly square chair outside my academic counselor's office and tried to justify my omission. I mean, what kind of mother doesn't tell her own daughter that she's going back to school? When Olivia was eight, or even ten or twelve, I pictured years of open communication between us. We'd never really cut the cord, just upgrade to a wireless connection. Yeah, right. The thing is, until your daughter has grown into a college freshman, you can't possibly know the depths to which your whole family will sink.
I chose Olde Colony Community College because its brochure promised “an acceleratedprogram for adults interested in completing their bachelor's degrees expeditiously and affordably without sacrificing quality.” I called my old college, the one I'd dropped out of well over twenty years ago, to ask them to send my transcript. I was tremendously relieved that both the college and the transcript were still in existence. I asked two of my former clients to write letters of recommendation for me. And, finally, after stalling almost as long as Olivia had before she wrote hers for BU, I sat down to write my admissions essay.
In 100 words or less, what lightin the form of personal qualities, rich life experiences, and untapped potentialwill you add to our already glowing, close-knit adult baccalaureate program?:
As I review my life to this point and contemplate my future, I am convinced that I am at the perfect juncture for continuing my education. I have juggled work and pregnancy, toddlerhood and another pregnancy, soccer and skating practices scheduled at the same time in different towns, warring teenagers, homework and family crises, sickness and health, better and worse. Nothing can throw me. I am organized and motivated, and look to the completion of my bachelor's degree as just the first step in an integrated experience of personal growth and academic challenge.
If a more down-to-earth answer is what you are looking for, please allow me to add that I have considerable experience in teaching aerobics and exercise for all populations, as well as in planning what might broadly be called “parties,” but in fact includes a wide array of functions from showers to memorial services. I bring these experiences, as well as my current work as a directionality coach, sometimes called a life coach or a career coach, with me to your program, all of which I would be happy to share with my cohorts. (I'm not sure what your policy is, but perhaps we could discuss bartering tuition for some or all of these?)
I realized that I'd gone well over the one hundred words, but didn't know what to cut, so I sent it in anyway. I received an acceptance letter a few weeks later, which seemed awfully quick to me. And here I was, practically before I knew it, sitting at Olde Colony watching the door to my individualized academic counselor's office open.
I stood up and extended my right hand. I'd planned to start off by asking why they didn't have dorm rooms for women in their forties, especially the ones who have kids at home and are still married, but one look told me she'd be way too young to get it. “Hi,” I said with a smile. “I'm March Monroe.”
“Right,” she said. She gave my hand a rubbery little squeeze. She had baby-fine red hair and tiny square teeth that made her look about twelve years old.
It wasn't a great start, but I was sure I could bring her around. I sat down in another ugly chair across from my baby counselor's desk, and pulled out a neatly printed purple index card from my oversized black bag. “Okay, I've already registered for three classes on- line.” I reached back into my bag and pulled out a new pair of reading glasses. “I've signed up for The English Novel Before 1800, The Dawn of Greek Civilization, and Quantum Physics and You.”
I took off my glasses and folded them up. “So,” I said, “what do I have to do to get the internship requirement waived so I can add a fourth class?”
“Sorry,” my counselor said around the hot-pink bubblegum she was chewing, “but a three-credit internship is one of the unique features of our program, and an essential requirement of the degree we offer.” She took a quick breath, then continued, “The purpose of which is to build the confidence of our returning students and, ultimately, to enhance their value in the postacademic workplace.”
“But you don't understand,” I said, wondering if I should ask her for a stick of gum so we could bond, and if maybe then she might even tell me her name. “I have plenty of work experience. Did you get a chance to read my essay? It's all in there. I've done consulting work. I've owned my own businesses. Couldn't I petition out of the requirement?”
“Sorry, that's not possible. But you sound like an excellent candidate for our Business Administration major. Initiating the New Business Venture is one of our most popular courses.”
I rolled my shoulders back a few times. “Let me try to explain this. I don't want to finish my degree to get a better job. I want to take classes that are brainy and ethereal and totally impractical. I want to major in something that won't get me anywhere in the real world. Something exotic and multisyllabic.”
“Uh, okay, I think that would be under Language Arts. Give me a minute while I check.” My child counselor worked her tongue through the bright center of her wad of gum as she flipped through an instruction manual of some sort. She stopped and shook her head. “Sorry. I just started here and I haven't had one of those yet. I'll have to ask somebody and get back to you. But, anyway, you have to do the internship for all of our majors. Check the bulletin board on the way outand just, you know, pick one.”
I managed to shake my head and check the bulletin board at the same time, while I tried to decide whether this was a battle I wanted to take on. Probably not. I'd just get the damned B.A. any way I had to, and then maybe I could go someplace a little more flexible for graduate school. I scanned a glossy, full-color internship brochure from Seaside Aquarium. A couple of cute college kids in shorts stood at either end of a large tank. Special opportunity to get deeply involved in the hands-on care of marine animals, the description read. I was old enough to know that this probably meant feeding the fish. And their invitation to Hatch sailfish sculpin and/or nautichthys oculofasciatus eggs and rear the fry sounded way too much like mothering to me.
I moved quickly past possibilities at an insurance agency, a bank, a market research firm, and a construction company, looking for a little glamour. wqbm radio a simple, computer-made flyer said in black ink. interns always welcome. I knew WQBM. It had lots of local news and sports and weather and traffic reports, so my husband, Jeff, usually kept it on in his car.
I had a sudden picture, crystal clear, of the whole family taking a drive together out to the Berkshires a month or so ago while we listened to an oldies show on WQBM. I remembered cranking up the music from the front seat, and all of us singing along with the Beach Boys. Olivia reached her arm around her younger brother Jackson's shoulders, and they tilted their heads together when they sang the high parts. It was probably our last day trip as a family who lived together year-round. I felt a sharp jolt of missing Olivia. WQBM was on the outskirts of Boston, so at least it would take me almost out of the suburbs and into the city. I even knew where it was: you could see it from the Southeast Expressway, so I could probably get there without getting lost. And, not that I'd ever really stopped to consider it before but, come to think about it, I liked radio.
I copied down the phone number from the flyer onto the back of my purple index card, and walked out to my car. I put my keys in the ignition of my Dodge Caravan and checked my watch. Since I didn't seem to be late for anything, I decided to call the station from my cell phone.
“WQBM,” a female voice said. “Cutting-edge news and the best in local programming.” “Hi, my name is March Monroe, and I'm wondering if you still have any openings for interns this semester. I know it's late but I just found out”
“Three-thirty in the kitchen.”
“Excuse me?” I had this horrible feeling that I'd somehow identified myself as someone who'd be willing to make sandwiches.
“There's an intern meeting at three-thirty. In the kitchen.”
“You mean I can just show up? I haven't even filled out an application.” On the way to the car I'd been thinking how I'd answer the inevitable question: What skills and experiences will you bring to your WQBM internship? I figured I could take my Olde Colony essay and add to it, distilling the last two decades of my life into a concise and witty exposition, with the thought that, if it was good enough, they might want me to develop it into an on-air slice-of-life commentary. People were always telling me I had a nice voice.
The woman on the other end of the phone laughed. “I don't think we even have any applications. Just bring whatever you need signed for your school. Are you in high school or college?”
It was a simple question, but it made me feel about a hundred years old. “College,” I said. “The second time around.”
“I've been thinking about doing that myself. Anything to get me out of this zoo.”
Well, I thought, what the hell. Worst case scenario: If all the other interns were in high school, at least I could hang out with the receptionist.
I wished I'd had time to go home and change my clothes, but it was all I could manage to track down Jeff at work by phone and ask him to pick up Jackson from soccer practice. I was wearing a black skirt and a sweater I'd borrowed from Olivia's closet this morning, and was balancing the guilt about not asking her permission with the sad truth that even the clothes Olivia hadn't bothered to take to BU were much nicer than most of mine. This sweater was one I'd given her for Christmas, which was probably why she didn't like it, even though its deep rust color brought out the flecks of gold in her green eyes. Olivia's eyes were her best feature.
I found a parking space at the far end of the WQBM parking lot. I'd been feeling a bit conflicted lately about my ten-year-old Dodge Caravan. On one hand it was paid for. And there was always plenty of room for everybody and everything, the seats were removable, and it always started. On the other hand, it absolutely screamed suburban mother, which I had to admit was technically accurate. Still, I figured the walk would distance me just a little from both the minivan and the image.
After dragging a brush I found in the glove compartment through my hair, I put on some lipstick in the mirror on the back of the visor. Then I double-checked myself in the rearview mirror, which had better light, since it was getting harder and harder to tell if I'd stayed inside the lines of my lips. Of all the aggravations of aging, the one I minded most was my failing vision.
The receptionist was talking on the phone when I approached her glass cubicle. She covered the mouthpiece with one hand. She had red, talonlike fingernails and must have been at least ten years younger than me. “March Monroe,” I whispered. “I'm here for the intern meeting.” She nodded and pointed at a door midway down a long, narrow hallway, then removed her hand to laugh into the phone. I'd pictured her older and friendlier. I knocked softly on a door marked kitchen. “Sounds like another victim,” a man roared from within. “Entrez-vous, if ya catch my drift.” Against my better judgment, I turned the knob and pushed the door open.
The first person I saw was Olivia.
Meet the Author
Claire Cook is also the author of Ready to Fall and Must Love Dogs. She is a judge for the 2005 Thurber Prize for American Humor. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, and their dog.
- Scituate, Massachusetts
- Date of Birth:
- February 14, 1955
- Place of Birth:
- Alexandria, Virginia
- B.A., Film and Creative Writing, Syracuse University
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I love Claire Cook's writing. She is humerous, intelligent and touches on emotions we all share in by the time we reach our 40's. I have read all of her books and will continue to do so. However! Her books get shorter and shorter. This one didn't even break 200 pages. My primary complaints are: Getting too predictable. Either no children, yearns for children, gave up having children because of selfish ex. Has children and one is unrealistically perfect and one -the daughter- is over-indulged and flippant to the point of caricature. The cast of characters is pretty predictable and repetive - only the occupation of the protagonist has been changed (usually). The dilemmas they each face is also predictable - usually a cheating boyfriend/husband and abandonment issues or happy but staid marriage and meets an interesting guy but finally realizes husband is for keeps and life is good. This particular story had me cringing about the amount of money wasted by suburban middle aged yuppy-types on cars, food, clothes and other non-essentials. The family prepares to fork over$40,000 for said annoying daughter's first college year and never has a thought about less fortunate kids who are finding higher education to be an unattainable dream. So Claire, climb down off your cloud and write the thoughtful, meaty book we know you are capable of. Think The Shell Seekers with attitude.
I admire anyone who is willing to go back to college. In this case, March just wants to get her degree to prove that she can finish something. Olivia (the daughter) is a spoiled, little brat, who doesn’t like to share. So what if your mom is at the same internship. And March, like any other mother that’s lost connection with her kids, wonders and overanalyzes the descent and fall of the family ties. Somewhat witty and full of family drama--lots and LOTS of drama--it’s really not that funny. This is really a story for those bored, suburban house moms; not for me.
This is a lovely book. I read it right after Christmas when my brain was fried from all the holiday stress! It was just what I needed. The mother constantly did things that I could relate to my life. It also made me feel good to relate and know that I'm probably not the only person out there always running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
When I saw that the overall review was four stars from other readers I figured I would give this book a try. I feel like it didn't really go anywhere, I didn't connect with any of the characters on a deep level and I felt that if I would write about my day to day life the book might not have been much different. I really did not like the part where there was this other guy that she would fantasize about all the time and then in the end everything was fine with her and her husband, I mean wouldn't you feel guilty, wouldn't there be some things you could work on to strengthen your marriage if there was another man you were fantasizing about? I really did not like it and would not recommend it.
This book has a great start but as the story goes on it's getting way too boring for me.
Couldn't connect with any of the characters. Slow moving....skipped to the end, read the last couple pages and felt like I hadn't missed anything.
Multiple Choice was a no stress easy read. Something to take your mind of work at the office. I liked it for the simple fact that it was good for a laugh or two and lacked any heavy subjects. Sometimes a book without affairs, murder and revenge, can be a nice break. It was well written. I'd recommend it for your summer beach bag.
Pretty formulaic TV sitcom stuff but the author does try, so for that here's two stars. Put more thought into it the next time, Claire.
Don't plan to sleep tonight if you start this novel after dinner. You'll have a very hard time putting down this charming yet truth-ringing story of family reallignment when Olivia, daughter of March and Jeff and brother of Jackson, leaves for college. For anyone who has left home or has had to deal with a child leaving home, this witty book is a must. Cook's great talent lies in writing a wonderfully easy read about a not-so-easy subject. This book wil flt by, but its themes -- a family in flux, mother/daughter tensions -- will be with you long after you close Multiple Choice. Read it with your mother, your father, your sister or brother.
I'm so glad this book caught my eye. Maybe it's because I have an 18 year old, but this book had me smiling and nodding my head the whole way through. I can only hope the rest of my summer reading is this much fun.
This novel is a delight from start to finish. No one knows mother daughter angst better than Claire Cook. No one can write about messy family life with such wamrth and heart. All readers are in for a treat.
I loved Claire Cook's Must Love Dogs, which I just read is going to be a movie starring Diane Lane, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on her new one. I was hoping I'd like it just as much, but I think this one is even better, and I could see this one on the big screen, too. This book made me laugh out loud so many times -- no dogs but a very funny kitty litter scene. And the multiple choice questions at the start of each chapter are hysterical. Definitely my favorite beach read so far this summer.