The Myth of You and Me

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Myth of You and Me is an intricately constructed, heartfelt story about the death of an intense friendship.” —The Boston Globe

“A smart, exceedingly well-written story about the mysteries at the heart of even the most intimate friendships between women. You’ll be reading into the wee hours.” —People

“Full of genuine feeling—and gripping, too—this book about a friendship between two women announces that Leah Stewart is a marvelous writer.” —Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400098071
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 959,904
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Leah Stewart
Leah Stewart
Leah Stewart is the author of Body of a Girl. She has taught at Vanderbilt University and Sewanee, the University of the South. She lives outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her husband, writer Matt O’Keefe, and their daughter. Visit her at leahstewart.com.
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Read an Excerpt

The Myth of You and Me


By Leah Stewart

Random House

Leah Stewart
All right reserved.

ISBN: 073932327X


Chapter One

Chapter 1


What if you had never met me?" Sonia says. "What would your life be like?"

Sonia has been my best friend for only a few months, but already life without her is difficult to imagine. All I can muster is an image of myself alone in a room. "Boring," I say, and Sonia laughs.

We are lying on her four-poster bed, staring up at the pink canopy, our feet propped on the wall above her headboard. We are fourteen. When I turn my head to look at Sonia, her hair brushes against the side of my face.

"If you hadn't been standing in the right place in the parking lot," she says, "we might never have spoken."

"We have three classes together," I say.

"If you hadn't come into the gym that day, we might never have become friends."

"Maybe we were destined to be friends," I say. "Maybe we would've been assigned a group project."

She waves her hand in the air above us, dismissing this. "Every decision we make," she says, "affects the rest of our lives."

"Yeah, yeah," I say, because I've heard this from her a million times.

"For example," she says, "what if you had to choose between being my best friend forever and having the boy of your dreams?"

"I can't have both?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"That's the game."

"Maybe you'd marry his brother and live next door."

She shakes her head, and the movement shakes the mattress. "You have to choose," she says.

Eight years from now I will abandon Sonia. I'll drive away from a gas station in West Texas, my eyes on the rearview mirror, where I'll see her running after my car, a shocked, desperate expression on her face. Here in Sonia's bedroom it's all still there before us, every decision between that moment and this.

Sonia rolls over onto her elbows so she can look me in the face. "Choose," she demands. "Choose."

Chapter 2


In February of my thirtieth year, a letter came to the house where I was living, addressed to me in my own handwriting. I didn't notice it when it arrived. Though I was the one who went to the mailbox every morning at ten-thirty-five, five minutes after the mailman came, I'd stopped flipping through the mail a long time ago, as there was never anything in it for me. That morning I just dropped the stack on the kitchen table as usual and went to the counter to make bologna-and-American cheese sandwiches on white bread, favorite lunch of my employer, the historian Oliver Doucet.

Oliver liked to declare that all times exist simultaneously, and when he did I'd say, teasing, that he thought that only because all our days were exactly the same. I'd been living with him in this house, just outside the town square in Oxford, Mississippi, for nearly three years, and I'd long since adapted to his schedule--we ate lunch between ten-forty-five and eleven, dinner between four-thirty and five. Then we watched a black-and-white movie, and Oliver went to bed before nine. Most nights I stayed up with the television or a book, even though he exhorted me to go out. What he didn't know was that every so often I crept into his bedroom to make sure he was still breathing. When I went out I worried that his heart had stopped, as though by my presence alone I kept it going. In the mornings I was always relieved to find him sitting at the kitchen table, wearing the ridiculous velvet robe his daughter, Ruth, had given him, and drinking cup after cup of coffee, each with three dollops--he always called them dollops--of heavy whipping cream. Oliver was ninety-two to my twenty-nine. He was the one who liked to say, sometimes teasing, more often with solemn portent, that this was my thirtieth year.

The kitchen had been remodeled several times since the house was built--the last time in the eighties--but each time, Oliver had insisted that certain aspects of the previous versions be allowed to remain. With its dinette set, inoperable dumbwaiter, early-model microwave, and stone fireplace with a spit, the kitchen lent credence to Oliver's notion about the simultaneity of time. I was singing "They Can't Take That Away from Me"--we had watched Shall We Dance the night before--as I spread mayonnaise on slices of white bread. Standing at the counter, I had a view out the window of Oliver's lush flower garden. I felt pleased about the brightness in the room, as if my own happiness were the source of the light. There was no particular reason for me to be so happy. I was just grateful for my ordinary life. Lined up on the windowsill were figurines of chickens, awkward bodies and spindly feet rendered in wood, glass, cloisonne. Even the beautiful ones were ugly. But now I stopped what I was doing to study them, and felt a surge of awe at how intricate they were--the ruffled feathers, the grooves in the feet, the devotion that must have gone into the task of their making.

"Cameron, my dear," Oliver said, and I jumped. I turned to see him standing in the doorway of the kitchen, one hand on his cane, one braced against the doorframe. He looked as though he'd been watching me for some time. Today seemed to be a dress-up day. He wore a crisp white shirt tucked into black pants. Unlike most old men, he wore his pants low, cinched tight with a belt that had a rodeo buckle.

"Happy Valentine's Day." I smiled at him. Minutes before, I'd noted the date on the kitchen calendar. In Oliver's house we tended to lose track of the days.

"Is it?" he said. "I had forgotten." He pushed off the doorframe and came into the room. He started to ease into his usual chair, then checked himself and withdrew a small hand mirror from the back of his waistband before he sat. He pulled a comb from his shirt pocket and held it out for me to take. His damp hair was tufted to one side of his head. Oliver was vain about these wisps of white hair, which he insisted be slicked back in an approximation of the pompadour he had worn in his youth. He could have combed it himself, but he liked for me to do it. Every morning after he showered and dressed he came into the kitchen for his styling.

While I worked, smoothing hair with the comb and my fingers, Oliver studied his features in the hand mirror. He liked to say that he had the face of a bird of prey, and though this made him sound more menacing than he really was, it was true--he had an eagle nose and bright, watchful eyes. As a young man he had been very handsome. Though his nose was aristocratic, almost haughty, his lips were full and soft. In old pictures he seemed to be thinking of a private joke.

Oliver inspected his hair with approval as I held the mirror. He grabbed my free hand and pressed it to his cheek. "Ah, youth," he said. "Am I not handsome?"

"You're terribly handsome," I said.

"The most handsome of all your beaux?"

"Of course." I kissed him on the forehead, his skin soft as well-worn cotton.

"In that case," he said, and slipped a ring onto the third finger of my left hand, "Happy Valentine's Day." He laughed at my surprise.

The ring was beautiful--gold, obviously antique, set with five small opals. He'd given me books before, some of them rare, but never a gift like this one. "Oliver--" I started, but he cut me off.

"It belonged to my aunt," he said. "Now we're engaged. Call off your other beaux."

"I love it," I said. "Thank you."

"You've been good to me." He held my gaze, his expression serious. He was rarely this earnest, and I felt a flush of gratitude mingled with embarrassment. Before I could speak again, he waved me away. "Don't get spoiled," he said. "Finish that lunch."

I went back to the counter, but instead of picking up the knife I stood there looking down at my hand, admiring the way the sunlight caught the opals in the ring.

Behind me Oliver was opening the mail. I heard the usual sounds of paper tearing, the skidding of envelopes across the table as he tossed them aside, and then a silence as he read. I assumed he'd gotten one of the many letters praising him or asking for a blurb or recommendation, letters he enjoyed but never answered. Sometimes I took pity on the senders and wrote them back, saying that Oliver was grateful for their kind words, that he'd be happy to comply with their request, if only he weren't so busy writing his memoirs. Oliver rolled his eyes at these carefully worded replies. "Lies, lies, all lies," he said.

Now he said, "This is interesting."

"What?" I turned to see him holding an envelope up toward the light, squinting in an attempt to make out what was inside.

"This is addressed to you," he said. "In your handwriting." He raised his eyebrows. "You seem to have written yourself a letter."

"That's odd." I crossed to the table and reached for the envelope, which he handed over with some reluctance. He was right--there were my name and his address, on the front in my own script. I thought I must have misaddressed a reply to one of his acolytes, switching the to and the from. But the return address had no name, just a street and an apartment number in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Why would you write yourself a letter?" Oliver asked.

"I don't think I did."

"This is delightful," he said. "You have a secret identity. Hidden even from yourself. Maybe you're another person."

I rolled my eyes at this, but it did give me a strange feeling, to see my own name in my own handwriting like that, as though somewhere out there was indeed another me. Oliver pushed out a chair. "Sit down," he said. "For God's sake, open it."

I sat down. I opened it. Of course I hadn't written the letter, but I felt no less strange when I saw who had. The letter was from Sonia Gray. In high school we practiced until our handwriting was so similar even we couldn't tell it apart. This made it easy for me to do her math homework for her, and for us to sometimes leave our names off our math tests, so that I could claim hers, and she mine, because my math grade could survive the occasional fifty, while hers could not. We called this "falling on the fifty," and every time I did it I felt flushed with an exhilarated beneficence. Because I couldn't imagine why Sonia was writing to me now, nearly eight years after we'd parted, it did seem to me that all times existed at once, that she'd mailed the letter from someplace years ago. That was why our handwriting was still identical, neither of us having altered at all the elaborate girlish loops in our Ls and Ys.

"Well?" Oliver asked.

I ignored him, holding the letter away from his curious gaze.


Dear Cameron,

I had a dream about you tonight, and now I can't sleep. I can't even remember exactly what the dream was about--there was something about snow cones, though you and I never ate snow cones together, that I can recall. We did eat a lot of those Oreo shakes from the Taco Box. And remember how we used to stir syrup into milk and make those vanilla wafer sandwiches with peanut butter? It all sounds ridiculously disgusting now.

I've been thinking about you ever since I got engaged. My first impulse afterward was to call you with the news. Isn't that odd? It was like I was a kid again, and we were planning our imaginary weddings, back when I was certain you'd be my maid of honor and I'd be yours. It took me a moment to remember we weren't friends anymore. Ever since, I keep having this feeling I'm forgetting to do something. I look at my list--I've called the caterer and talked to the florist--and it takes me a while to realize, because it's not on the list, that the only thing I haven't done is talk to you.

I have that middle-of-the-night strangeness, when it feels like you've fallen out of your normal life, and maybe that's why I'm writing to you now, as if we were friends like we used to be. Somewhere somebody's playing Madonna, her first album, I think it is. Why do they have that on at three in the morning? Isn't this traditionally a more melancholy time? Maybe they're trying to counteract melancholy. Maybe "Borderline" is the only thing between them and suicide.

You and I used to make up dance routines to Madonna songs. Remember the playroom at my house? All those boxes along the wall, full of childhood discards--an old dollhouse, the Ewok village, a box of stuffed animals loved into ruin. You and I dancing in the middle, doing what we thought were sexy moves. Don't you think that's symbolic? Loved into ruin. I just invented that phrase. I like it. On occasion I've felt like that's what's happened to me. Remember the sock monkey with no mouth? I hated that thing. The bottom half of its face was just a blank. I think my mother still has it in the house, probably to spite me. Remember when we were walking across campus to take a final exam and a bird fell dead at our feet? It wasn't some small brown finch, either, but a cardinal. A red splash. You poked it with a stick. It was truly dead. We were juniors in college but we held hands the rest of the way, we were that unnerved. Remember when we drove up to Sewanee to see that boy I was dating, I can't even remember his name now, and the three of us went skinny-dipping in the reservoir? It was so black, and the stars were everywhere, and the boy was stupid and kept splashing around, but you and I floated away on our backs, and you said that floating there and looking up at the sky was like not existing in the best possible way. I said we should make up a myth about two maidens and the water, but we never did. I guess it's a myth now anyway.

Maybe that's the point of this letter. Is it a myth? Is all of this a myth, what it was like when we were best friends? What I'm wondering now, in the middle of the night, is did those things actually happen? Sometimes without you to confirm these memories I feel like I've invented them. It's a little like being orphaned. That sounds really dramatic, I know, but since I'm a half-orphan I think it's okay for me to say it. There are things about my life that no one else has ever understood.

I wonder about your life now. Do you think about any of this, the myth of you and me? Do you wonder why we were friends, why we aren't anymore, why we made the choices we did? Do you wonder how things might be different if we hadn't? You were never as enamored of this kind of thinking as I was, but even you must admit that parting was a turning point in both our lives. For a while we were practically the same person, you and I.<<br>
Continues...


Excerpted from The Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart 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.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How would you describe the relationship between Oliver and Cameron? Is it purely a familial one, or are there romantic undertones? What creates such a tight bond between them?

2. What do you think made Sonia write to Cameron? Can you imagine writing such a letter? What does Sonia mean when she says, “Sometimes without you to confirm these memories I feel like I’ve invented them”?

3. Oliver believes that “all times exist simultaneously,” a concept Cameron returns to several times over the course of the novel. What does Oliver mean by this? How is this notion at odds with Cameron’s statement, on page 215, that “once you know the end of the story, every part of the story contains that end, and is only a way of reaching it”? Which of these ideas strikes you as most true?

4. Why does Oliver force Cameron to seek out Sonia? What does he want for Cameron’s life?

5. On page 51, Cameron says, “To belong nowhere is a blessing and a curse, like any kind of freedom.” What do you make of this? How have her frequent moves shaped her? How have they affected her worldview? How might she be different if she’d lived her entire life in one place?

6. What connection does Cameron make between her personality and her height? How does she imagine her height causes others to see her?

7. What role does Sonia’s dyscalculia play in her life? How has it affected her idea of her herself? Her approach to the world? Why do you think she chooses to let Cameron in on this secret, and what’s the effect on Cameron when she tells her?

8. How are Cameron and Sonia shaped by their relationships with their parents?

9. Do you think that what Sonia did to end her friendship with Cameron is forgivable? Why or why not? Why do you think she did it? Why does Cameron find it so difficult to forgive? Is what Cameron did in response forgivable?

10. What draws Cameron to Will? Should Cameron be held responsible for her feelings for Will when he was Sonia’s boyfriend, even though she didn’t act on them? When she meets him again as an adult, why are her feelings so hard for her to express?

11. Sonia tells Cameron on page 205: “You’re a dreamer who doesn’t believe in the dream.” What does she mean by this? How do you see this play out in Cameron’s behavior?

12. Which of the two friends do you sympathize with more, Cameron or Sonia? At which points in the novel do you most sympathize with Sonia? With Cameron? At which points do you sympathize with them the least? Why?

13. In the prologue, Sonia tells Cameron that every decision we make affects the rest of our lives. Do you think this is true? What are the crucial decisions in Cameron’s life? Sonia’s? Oliver’s? Why did they make them?

14. Why are friendships between teenage girls so intense? What brings Cameron and Sonia together? What does each bring to the friendship? What does each get out of it?

15. On page 114, Cameron says that these intense teenage friendships can’t last. Is this true? Why or why not?

16. What kind of relationship do you imagine Sonia and Cameron having after the end of the novel? Have they begun a new phase of their friendship, or simply achieved closure?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 28 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    Not My Favorite

    I just finished this book, and didn't love it. The story rambles on and on and I kept waiting for the plot to begin. The apparent theme is finding Sonia --- but there is no ending to satisfy the reader's questions. I found this book listed in my local newspaper as new and promising -- it didn't keep its promise to me. I wouldn't recommend it.

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  • Posted July 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Relatable Read About Relationships

    This is a quintessential novel about relationships, whether between childhood best friends, parents & daughters, lovers, exes, colleagues or mentors. A quick & easy read, it follows the story of Cameron & her estranged best friend from high school & college, Sonia. When Cameron's boss & mentor passes away at the age of 92, he has left behind a package with instructions that she must visit and deliver the parcel to Sonia, whom Cameron hasn't seen in years. What exactly is it that has driven these former best friends apart? The story threads together theirs and many other relationships that contribute to the circumstances. This is a light, poignant and tender read for women of all ages.

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  • Posted November 3, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Loved it!

    It's a deeply touching story about the loss of that first true friend a girl ever has and the search to reconnect once they're all grown up. It's well-written, moves at a good pace, has a bit of suspense, and wraps up nicely. It made me think of my "Sonia" and how our friendship fell apart, and left me longing to search for her.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2007

    A Really Good Read

    An excellent story about friendship, love, forgiveness and betrayal -- all the components of life itself. Engaging the reader from the very start, this novel is hard to put down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2007

    loved it!

    This was a great book, I enjoyed it so much that I didn't want to put it down. Everytime I started to read it, i got so caught up in the book that I couldn't bare to put it down!! Excellent read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2007

    Excellent read

    An excellent fast paced book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2007

    Amazing!

    This book was great! About friendship and betrayal. Sort of, but not really, along the lines of beaches. I will be surprised if this doesnt become a movie. I cried! I actually cried! I have never cried reading a book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2006

    Good book for girlfriends to read.

    I really like the dynamic of good friends. To me the relationship between two friends is on the most precious of all. And this book was a real glimpse into that kind of friendship. I found it sad though that they could let so many years go by without trying to reach one another. Forgiveness is so important.Without it we waste too much time ...There were some really powerful lines and I found myself seraching for a high lighter. Overall a good book ...With familiar characters. Didnt give it five stars because it seemed to drag in some spots

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2006

    Mixed views for a good book

    The book started off quite well.It immediately drew me in, after so many months of no book holding my attention. I was ecstatic! It was refreshing and different. The subject matter was close to my heart, the vulnerability of girlfriends, especially in the teen years. The characters were not sterotypes.Sonia was well outlined including her family. We saw Cameron, her father but Cameron's mother was invisable. Still, we were able to see the family dynamics that influenced their choosing each other to be friends. The relationship between Oliver and Cameron was refreshingly different. Also, Cameron's relationship with Ruth, Oliver's daughter, was clearly defined. It helped illustrate that although the book was written from Cameron's viewpoint, it might not be the true perspective. When the story noted something, the reader still had to question whether that was what the author wanted us to think or was that just her version of Cameron's interruptation of what was happening. This gave more depth to the novel. Unfortunately,however, as the story progressed, it became more cliche. The boyfriends were boring,superfluous. The search lasted too long and the present was anticlimatic,who cares. Overall, I would say it was entertaining, insightful but not a classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2006

    A VERY GOOD READ!

    Wow, this book was extrememly interesting and poetic in a way. The author explores the intimacy of friendship, the very real and honest feelings we share rather it be happy or sad. Like all friendships, there are good and bad times, and this story digs deep into our soul, reminding us of our own friendships past and present. It was written beautifully. I read this book in a matter of hours and walked away with incredible feelings. I recommend to everyone!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2006

    great book

    this book was a great one. It was a page turner and I didn't want it to end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2006

    Wow

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love the way the author writes - realistically! The book flows along --- new plot --- not like every other book. I recommend this highly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2005

    An excellent novel!

    I was hooked on this book from the moment I started reading. The story is intruiging and masterful, and there are sentences that took my breath away. It's a very real look at intimate friendship and the things that can come between two people. If you're just going to pick up one book at the bookstore today, get this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2005

    A must read for bookclubs!

    I read this book because of Leah Stewart's appearance at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. I will be encouraging friends around the country who are in bookclubs to place this book on the 'must read' list for the coming year. As wonderful as it is to read the Myth of You and Me, it is a gift to women everywhere to open up an honest dialogue with others. Many copies of this book will undoubtedly be packaged and mailed across country renewing old friendships in much the same way Oliver, in the Myth of You & Me, hoped his package would be a catalyist for renewing old bonds.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    insightful fantastic look at friendship

    The letter contained a handwriting that looked familiar to that of the recipient twenty-nine years old Cameron Wilson. It came from her former best friend Sonia Gray they have not talked to each other in eight years. Now Sonia wants her to come to her wedding in Cambridge. Her employer and companion, nonagenarian Oliver Doucett pleads with her to go see her former friend but Cameron refuses still feeling that Sonia betrayed her. --- Oliver dies, but leaves one last request of Cameron. He wants her to deliver a wedding gift from him to Sonia. Stunned Cameron realizes her two best friends were communicating. Cameron honors Oliver¿s last wish of her, driving from Oxford, Mississippi to Sonia¿s house, but she is not there. She thinks back on when they first met in Clovis, New Mexico and became best buddies and later when Sonia was seeing Will Barrett who Camazon as she was called for her height hid her love of him. As Cameron tracks down her missing friend, she finds Will who she still loved and others from her past, but wonders what will happen when she runs into the girl she loved as her sister until she committed the ultimate betrayal. --- THE MYTH OF YOU AND ME is a fantastic look at friendship from the perspective of a person who felt her best friend betrayed her so she deserted her former pal. The story line follows Cameron as she tracks Sonia, but also looks back on her relationship with her beloved ¿sister¿. Readers will want to know what Oliver tried to give Sonia and Cameron, what was the betrayal and root for a happy ending with this insightful look at friendship. --- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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