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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 ...
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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!
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 Thanksgiving—until 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 light—in the form of personal qualities, rich life experiences, and untapped potential—will 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 out—and 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.
You admit in your acknowledgments that you're "having a blast" as a novelist, but is it also a great deal of work? What are the pleasures and frustrations of your writing process? Can you describe a typical working day?
Having a blast as a novelist does not necessarily mean having a blast with the actual writing. The people part-meeting readers and booksellers and librarians and the media-is very social, and I'm having lots of fun with that. The writing part is great, too, once you get past the procrastination, the self-doubt, the feelings of utter despair. It's all of the stuff surrounding the writing that's hard; once you find your zone, your place of flow, or whatever it is we're currently calling it, and lose yourself in the writing, it really is quite wonderful. I've heard writers say it's better than sex, though I'm not sure I'd go that far.
As for a typical working day, I've found that every day of my life presents me with dozens of perfectly valid reasons not to write: my kids, my house, my hair . . . and occasionally even more glamorous things like interviews and movie deals. So for me, the only way to actually write a novel is to get really disciplined with myself. I write two pages a day, every day, or I'm not allowed to go to sleep. It gets ugly sometimes, but it works.
Readers tend to assume that the narrator of a novel is a stand-in for the author. Do you relate to anyone in particular in Multiple Choice? When writing, how much do you draw from your own life?
I relate to all of the characters, both two- and four-legged, in my novels. I think you have to, at least to some degree, in order to write the characters. It's all about being a good eavesdropper and it's all grist for the mill. I've always been that person at the restaurant listening to the conversation at the next table. It's nice to finally have found a career in which that becomes nondeviant behavior. I'm also pleased to have a job where making things up is encouraged, since I've always had a tendency to rewrite events to make them more interesting even as they're happening.
Do you feel that your characters' journeys are complete at the novel's end, or do they live on? Would you return to previous characters in future work?
I love books that don't wrap up everything too neatly at the end, and I think it's a big compliment to hear that a reader is left wanting more. After each novel, I hear from many readers asking for a sequel-they say they just have to find out what will happen to these people next. I think it's wonderful that the characters have come to life for them. But, for now, I think I'll grow more as a writer by trying to create another group of quirky characters. Maybe a few books down the road, I'll feel ready to return to some of them-who knows?
Jeff and March spend a good deal of their time miscommunicating and missing each other. However, you end the novel with a very intimate scene between the two of them. Can you discuss your reasons for doing so? As an author and wife, how difficult is it to maintain a realistic yet affecting sense of romance, both in life and on the page?
Hmm… it's quite possible that I might have imagined the part about couples spending that much time miscommunicating. Certainly, my husband and I never do.
I think the dance of a long-term relationship is pretty complicated. Again, not from any personal experience, but I hear it's quite possible to love someone very much one minute and be driven completely crazy by that same person the next. We ask a lot from our married partners-romance/security, lover/best friend. You sweep the floors with the same person who's supposed to sweep you off your feet. I've often thought it would make more sense for couples to live next door to each other, just to keep some of the mystery alive.
"It just wasn't the life I expected. I supposed every woman my age has moments of longing for the things she imagines she missed," March confesses. Are there any opportunities in your own life that you feel you sacrificed in order to be a good parent or wife? If so, do you intend to return to any of those plans as your characters did?
I already have returned to those plans. Being a novelist is the thing I almost missed. Although, in hindsight, I think I used my kids as an excuse for not writing that first book until I was in my forties. But, all's well that ends well, and I'm thrilled I finally got up the nerve to do it. So many women have written to say that my story has been an inspiration to them, and I hope that's true.
Etta says to March, "We simply didn't have as many choices. Your world is more complicated, I'm afraid." Is this multiplicity of choice both the benefit and drawback of the feminist movement? What do you think that means for women of Olivia's generation?
Well, some of it is that our world is just so much more complicated for everybody. I think we're all a little bit overwhelmed right now by all the choices. Just trying to figure out what cell phone plan to pick is a full-time job.
Yes, it is true that Etta didn't have as many choices back then, but look at all the choices she has now. I spoke to an eighty-year-old woman recently who'd finally sold her big family home and moved into a smaller place, and she was trying to decide how she could best challenge herself during the next phase of her life. She was eighty! Isn't that great?
She'd led a very traditional mom-stays-at-home kind of life until her kids were grown up, but in the last thirty or so years she'd earned a couple of degrees, written a book, traveled all over the world. In my teens, I thought women just stopped existing after their kids moved out. I now can see how much fun there is down the road.
I worry sometimes that the women of Olivia's generation will go down in history as the entitled generation. Their grandmothers couldn't have it all, their mothers struggled to try to have it all, and now they're just absolutely convinced that they deserve it all. Great self-esteem, though, I'll give them that.
The heroines of your novels share some common traits-for example, a vague dissatisfaction with their lives but also the nerve to do something about it. What is it about the female experience that produces the bravery and humor displayed in your characters? Do you think women are more prone than men to sacrifice for their relationships and family?
I'm fascinated by people in transition, and if you're not dissatisfied with some aspect of your life, vaguely or otherwise, you wouldn't bother to change anything. It's just too much work.
I think the male experience is pretty funny, too. I just feel better equipped to write about things from a woman's point of view.
Certainly, there are exceptions, and men and women give in different ways, and I like men a lot, really I do, but, yes, I think women are more prone than men to put their own lives on the back burner while they nurture others. Partly, it's because they're so good at multitasking. Either that or it's because men are so good at pretending they're not good at multitasking.
Warmth and comedy are the highlights of Multiple Choice, as is true of all your novels. Are there any writers you admire for their wit or insight? If so, how has their writing influenced you?
Whenever I'm doing a book event, someone in the audience inevitably asks, "Who are your favorite writers?" and I always say, "The ones who've been nice to me."
I admire many, many writers for their wit and insight, but I think it's only fair to single out two who've been particularly generous as mentors and friends: Mameve Medwed and Jeanne Ray. Fortunately, they both happen to be very talented-and funny-so if you've somehow missed their books, you should read them immediately.
You keep an active Web diary available to your readers and you encourage them to contact you. Does the Web site help you better understand your audience? How do reader reactions affect your work?
My favorite comment from a reader, and one that I hear all the time, is, "Ohmigod, you're writing my life!" It's great to be reassured that I'm on the right track. I also love that the comment comes from such a wide variety of people-it cuts across lines of age, occupation, ethnicity, geographical location, and even gender. I like to think that I'm writing a slice of all of our lives, and I feel very connected to my readers and often feel that I'm writing this for all of us. And I never forget for a minute that without readers, I wouldn't have a job!
I've received, and answered, thousands of e-mails from readers, and what I love about my Web site, www.clairecook.com, is that it makes it so easy for readers to communicate with me. I'm also incredibly grateful to these same readers, who have forwarded my newsletter, attended my book events, and talked me up to their family and friends. There are a lot of books out there, and readers are a huge part of the reason that mine have done so well.
Returning to college in midlife requires
d. a screw loose
March Monroe definitely has all of the above. She's the kind of woman with a ready solution (no matter how surprising) to every problem (no matter how strange). But now March may have tackled more than even she can handle. After breezing through assorted careers, a couple of decades of marriage, and the raising of two children who have somehow become teenagers, she is returning to college. Multiple Choice, the latest novel from Claire Cook, is a riotous romp through March's hilarious and chaotic life as a mother, wife, and student. In March Monroe, Cook, author of I>Must Love Dogs and Ready to Fall, has created a character with whom we can all laugh and learn.
There's an old joke that the reason adults keep asking children what they want to be when they grow up is that they're looking for ideas. March, like many women her age, still isn't sure what she wants. She's juggled a lot of things for a lot of years and thinks if she juggles just a bit more, maybe college will be it. As if work and school and household chores and the friends she never has time for aren't enough, March finds herself sharing an internship at the local radio station with—gasp—her very own daughter, Olivia. Complicating matters further is a pesky midlife crush on David, the handsome radio producer. Whether March is trying to initiate a truce with Olivia or schedule some romance time with her husband, Jeff, she can't seem to please anyone, least of all herself. She's at the end of her rope: the cat litter is in the oven, the cockatiel is in the garage, March and Olivia are on a billboard in polka dots—and there's still that Quantum Physics and You test to pass.
But through it all, March learns that taking care of others sometimes means taking care of yourself, a lesson it's never too late to learn. In this witty and fun novel, Claire Cook provides an honest and funny account of the missed chances and golden opportunities—the multiple choices—that confront a woman in all aspects of her life.
About Claire Cook
Claire Cook is the author of the novels Must Love Dogs and Ready to Fall. A teacher of physical fitness and creative writing, she has had previous stints as a copywriter, radio continuity director, garden designer, and dance and aerobics choreographer.
1. March Monroe is returning to college to complete her degree many years after leaving school to marry Jeff and raise a family. What are her feelings toward the decisions she made as a young woman? What are her feelings about returning to school as an adult?
2. There are few events in life that we get a chance to do over again. If you could relive any aspect of your youth—knowing what you know now—would you do it? What would you do differently and why?
3. March says that "relationships, the ones that last anyway, are really an extended game of Let's Make a Deal. How do the various relationships in Multiple Choice prove that quote either true or false? Do you find it true in your own experience? Can you think of any other game title that March might have used? "Chutes and Ladders"? "Beat the Clock"?
4. Do tell: Are there any Ahndrayuhs in your neighborhood? How about David Callahans in your workplace? And, tell the truth, are there thongs in your underwear drawer? Is your husband a boxer or a brief man?
5. After March's first radio show, she stops to buy dinner on the way home and hopes the woman ringing up her purchases will recognize her voice. Have you ever had a moment of almost fame like that, when you thought the world might stand up and take notice, but it didn't quite turn out that way? Do we all still dream of our fifteen minutes of fame? Would we settle for five?
6. The phrase "karma is a boomerang" appears several times in the course of the book. Do you believe this is true? Does March? Give some examples of March's karma-related behavior.
7. When book groups met to discuss Must Love Dogs, they often served Sarah's Winey Macaroni and Cheese, made without butter and with white wine instead of milk, and served in wineglasses for best effect. What might your book group, real or imagined, serve when discussing Multiple Choice?
8. "I'd spent so many years doing things I didn't really want to do for people I didn't really like." Do you think this speaks to March's need to people-please or is it about time management? Or is it both? Is this quote true for most women? Do you think we all reach a point in our lives when we realize we don't want to be all things to all people?
9. Mothers and daughters share a complicated and profound union, built on years of mutual observation. How do March and Olivia demonstrate their intimate knowledge of each other's behaviors and needs during the course of the book? In what ways are they strangers?
10. What do you think Claire Cook should write about in her next novel?
Posted April 29, 2009
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2007
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2007
Posted June 26, 2007
Posted May 24, 2007
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 24, 2004
Posted June 24, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 25, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 24, 2004
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 30, 2008
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Posted February 25, 2010
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