Nora, Noraby Anne Rivers Siddons, (none)
It is summer, 1961, and Lila Lee Bayliss, motherless since birth and now 13, doesn't quite know what to make of Nora Findlay. Nora smokes, swears, wears short shorts, and when she listens, she looks at you as if she's never heard a human voice before. She also laughs a lot, something that's been missing for a long time in the Bayliss household, and she seems to have… See more details below
It is summer, 1961, and Lila Lee Bayliss, motherless since birth and now 13, doesn't quite know what to make of Nora Findlay. Nora smokes, swears, wears short shorts, and when she listens, she looks at you as if she's never heard a human voice before. She also laughs a lot, something that's been missing for a long time in the Bayliss household, and she seems to have done just about everything fun there is to do in the world. Soon, even Lila's somber father is humming while he shaves. When Nora takes a teaching job at the local high school, it seems like she might stay on in Lytton forever, despite her outlandish ways and the snide comments made about her by some of the neighbors. As time foes on, Lila begins to realize that underneath Nora's high-spirited, feisty façade, something is troubling her, something from her past. And though Nora has tried to run away from the life she had before, a secret follows her, on that is so shocking, it will stun the residents of this small, segregated town and forever change the life of young Lila. The mesmerizing story of an independent woman caught in a provincial place and time, Nora, Nora is destined to become Anne Rivers Siddons's biggest hit yet
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.20(d)
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Peyton McKenzie changed her name when she was six years old, on the first day of her first year in elementary school. For all her short life she had been called Prilla or sometimes Priscilla, her first name, the latter usually when she was In Trouble, but that stopped with rocklike finality when the first scabby classmate began to chant, "Prilla, Prilla, mother-killer." By the time the entire first grade in the Lytton Grammar School had taken up the refrain, Peyton McKenzie had been born, and there was no chance at all that she would return to the womb.
"It's a man's name, for heaven's sake, Priscilla," her Aunt Augusta said in exasperation for the fourth or fifth time, after Peyton's father had given up on her. "What's wrong with 'Priscilla'? It's a lovely name. Generations of your mama's family have named their daughters Priscilla. I believe the first was Priscilla Barnwell, who came over to Virginia well before the American Revolution. You should be proud."
"Peyton is my middle name," Peyton muttered. "It's as much mine as Priscilla." Both she and Augusta McKenzie knew there would be no changing of Peyton's mind, but Augusta saw it as her duty as the dominant woman in Peyton's life to do battle with the granite streak of willfulness in her niece. On the death of Peyton's mother at her birth, Frazier McKenzie had tacitly placed the day-to-day shaping and pruning of his daughter in his sister-in-law's hands. By the time of Peyton's first great rebellion, aunt and niece were old and experienced adversaries. Each knew the other's strengths and vulnerabilities. Augusta McKenzie knew full well she wasn't going to win this one. But she would never know why, because Peytonnever told anyone about the cold, whining little chant at school that morning, not until much later, and none of the other children would tell, either. Her beleaguered teacher soon forgot about the name change entirely. She was the first in a long procession of teachers to forget about Peyton McKenzie for long stretches of time.
Only Peyton remembered, each day of her life and deep in her smallest cell, that she had, indeed, killed her mother. If her father never so much as hinted to her that he held her undistinguished being responsible for the extinguishing of the radiant flame her mother had been, Peyton put it down to Frazier McKenzie's natural reticence. He had been, all her life, as politely remote as a benign godparent. He was so with everyone, except Peyton's older brother, Buddy. When Buddy died in an accident in his air-force trainer, when Peyton was five, Frazier McKenzie closed up shop on his laughter, anger, small foolishnesses, and large passions. Now, at twelve, Peyton could remember no other father than the cooled and static one she had. Her father seemed to remember her only intermittently.
She told the Losers Club about the name change on a February day when it seemed as if earth and air and sky were all made of the same sodden gray cloth. It happens sometimes in the Deep South when winter can no longer muster an honest cold but will not admit the warm tides of spring lapping at the gates. It is a climatic sulk, not a great tantrum, and like any proper sulk it can last for days and even weeks, exhausting spirits and fraying nerves and sucking open hearts with its sluggish tongue. Ernie had been so petulant that Boot had told him to shut up if he didn't have anything to add to the day's litanies of inanities and abasement. Even Boot seemed more dutiful than enthusiastic over his contribution to the club's itinerary, a lusterless account of wiping out the Canaday children's hopscotch grid with his orthotic boot.
"Well, if I couldn't do better than that, I just wouldn't say anything," Ernie sniffed, affronted. Ernie was plagued this day by demons. His small shed was so humid that the lone window was sweated over and the pages of his copy of The Inferno, laid casually with its title up on his bookcase, were glued together. His overalls stuck to him, and his thinning, spindrift hair frizzed with the damp, and he was starting a sinus infection. He had also forgotten to return his mother's library books.
"You ain't said anything," Boot pointed out. "And I jes' as soon you didn't. You as mean as an old settin' hen today. Peyton gon' have to come up with something really fine to make up for you."
Two pairs of cool eyes turned toward her. Peyton, who had planned to recount the deliberate serving to her of the last helping of tepid turnip greens in the school lunch line while a steaming pot of spaghetti and meat sauce awaited those behind her, swiftly changed her mind.
"I killed my mother," she said, her heart beating hard with the sheer daring of it, and the first opening of the pit of that old pain. The others were silent, looking at her. She looked back, feeling for an instant only the heedless joy of a great coup.
"You ain't, neither," Boot said finally.
"You flatter yourself," Ernie said.
But they knew they were bested by a long shot.
"I did, too," Peyton said. "She died not a day after I was born. She bled to death. Everybody knows that. I've always known it."
"Then why didn't you say?" Boot asked. He was having a hard time relinquishing his sultancy of humiliation.
"You'd have only said I was showing off. Ernie, you did say it. And not only did I kill her, but when I was in first grade I changed my name to Peyton because the kids were singing a song about 'Prilla, Prilla, mother-killer,' and I made it stick, too..."
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