One for Sorrow, Two for Joyby Elise Juska
For two quietly unhappy years, linguist Claire Gallagher has been living deep in the New Hampshire woods, enduring a polite but strained marriage to a highly respected scientist. Once a determined overachiever and academic star in her own right, she now spends her days avoiding her stalled dissertation and creating EZ crossword puzzles. But for all Claire's knowledge… See more details below
For two quietly unhappy years, linguist Claire Gallagher has been living deep in the New Hampshire woods, enduring a polite but strained marriage to a highly respected scientist. Once a determined overachiever and academic star in her own right, she now spends her days avoiding her stalled dissertation and creating EZ crossword puzzles. But for all Claire's knowledge of words and their meanings, the meaning in her own life eludes her. One bleak morning in winter, she announces that she's leaving.
By nightfall, at the urging of her younger sister Noelle, Claire finds herself heading to the last place she thought she would ever go: Ireland -- the birthplace of her abrasive, chronically ill mother and the country Noelle, a college dropout, now calls home. In a small town on the Irish coast, Claire's struggle to move ahead with her life takes her deep into the puzzles of her past -- in a world in which there are no simple answers, and the only questions that matter are those of the heart.
Curtis Sittenfeld, bestselling author of Prep
"With pen-not-pencil confidence and skill, Elise Juska has deftly crafted the puzzle of a crossword creator's struggle to understand the mysteries of family, love, and self worth."
Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of Becoming Finola
"Elise Juska has written a wry, wise, and heartfelt novel about the ways in which we grieve. Her characters are rich with the kind of complications that make a novel sing. Juska's passion for language, and for the ways in which it tries, and sometimes fails, to represent who we are, give this lovely book a resonance that crosses not only family lines, but geographical borders, too."
Marisa Silver, author of No Direction Home
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Read an Excerpt
The fascinating thing about bugs -- all living creatures, really -- is that they are designed to save themselves. Nothing is extraneous, nothing decorative; every feature is part of an intricate mechanism of survival. Some disguise themselves as thorns or sand, others as dead leaves or tropical flowers. The damselfly poses as a blade of grass; the golden wheel spider rolls into a ball and tumbles away. The walking stick can assume different forms. Sometimes it looks like a twig: thin, mottled brown, a cinnamon stick with feet. Other times it's gold or green, splayed open like a ragged leaf. When the bug is sitting on a tree branch, it's impossible to know it's there.
As Claire looks at her hand resting on the kitchen counter, a walking stick appears in her mind's eye. Her pale skin is the same shade as her Formica. The freckles sprinkled across the back of her hand merge with a smattering of dots the color of sand. Claire raises a finger, slightly, then lowers it. She has become indistinguishable from her kitchen.
She crosses the kitchen and pushes open the back door. It's been raining all morning, a steady rain, the temperature hovering just above freezing. She steps into the backyard -- half-mown, half-ragged -- and shuffles across the long side, wet fronds darkening her slippers like paintbrush tips. She is wearing her bug slippers, a gift she received from Bob shortly after they moved to New Hampshire. They are difficult to walk in, like shuffling inside two couch pillows. A year ago, the beetles' heads were bright yellow; now they are faded, their antennae limp, chins angled toward the ground in defeat.
She grips the handle of Bob's garage-turned-office and heaves the door open to the screech of rusty metal. Bob looks surprised to see her there; rarely does she interrupt his work. Claire is equally surprised by this vision of her husband. Whenever she pictures Bob in his office, it's with head bent studiously over research. Instead, he is just sitting there, slack-jawed, eyes trained not on a slide or book or specimen but gazing into the dull vortex of his office, a nest of computer wires clustered at his feet.
"Claire?" Bob says, sitting up straight. "What's -- "
"Nothing's wrong," Claire says. She pauses a beat. "I need to go."
"Okay," he says.
"No. I mean, I need to -- leave."
Bob's lips, at rest, are always slightly parted. Claire drops her eyes from his face. She focuses on the long, low cabinet behind him: a card catalog of insects, a hundred tiny coffins, glass-flattened, toe-tagged, angel-winged. The wall above it is covered with important papers in brown frames -- diplomas, citations, their wedding photo, a merit certificate from YES, the Young Entomologists' Society.
"Maybe just for a while," Claire says. "I just have to. I need to get away."
Bob has taken off his glasses and is rubbing them with a satiny red square, plucked from his pocket like a magician's scarf. It's one of his signature habits, reverted to in moments of disorientation: as if by cleaning the lenses the problem on the other side will become clear.
"But," he says, pushing his glasses back on. "But, ah, where would you go?"
Bob is a rational man; it is a large part of why Claire married him. He is steady with his emotions, realistic in his expectations, quick to unclog a sink. He is the kind of man who would never do a crossword puzzle in anything but pencil, who will always cut bagels in half before he freezes them. But when it comes to life's more complicated moments, situations that demand emotion -- in which another husband might ask why or how or what had he done or, my God, what could he do to change her mind -- Bob's first priority, always, would be logistics.
Claire tightens her arms across her chest. She feels disengaged from herself, her mind from her mouth, hearing her own words as if spoken by someone else. She must hold herself in place carefully -- too much talk, too much motion, and she might splinter apart. Then Bob stands up and takes a step toward her.
"I'm sorry," Claire says. Her voice is trembling. She unclasps her arms, slides her wedding ring off, and drops it in an empty kill jar on the end of Bob's desk.
Copyright © 2007 by Elise Juska
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