The Pursuit of Happiness

( 77 )

Overview

Manhattan, Thanksgiving eve, 1945. The war is over, and Eric Smythe’s party was in full swing. All his clever Greenwich Village friends were there. So too was his sister Sara, an independent, outspoken young woman, starting to make her way in the big city. And then in walked Jack Malone, a U.S. Army journalist just back from a defeated Germany, a man whose world view was vastly different than that of Eric and his friends. This chance meeting between Sara and Jack and the choices they both made in the wake of it ...

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Overview

Manhattan, Thanksgiving eve, 1945. The war is over, and Eric Smythe’s party was in full swing. All his clever Greenwich Village friends were there. So too was his sister Sara, an independent, outspoken young woman, starting to make her way in the big city. And then in walked Jack Malone, a U.S. Army journalist just back from a defeated Germany, a man whose world view was vastly different than that of Eric and his friends. This chance meeting between Sara and Jack and the choices they both made in the wake of it would eventually have profound consequences, both for themselves and for those closest to them for decades afterwards. Set amidst the dynamic optimism of postwar New York and the subsequent nightmare of the McCarthy era, The Pursuit of Happiness is a great, tragic love story; a tale of divided loyalties, decisive moral choices and the random workings of destiny.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Kennedy's 10th novel, fledgling writer Sara Smythe has defied her parents' wishes, left Hartford, and begun a literary life in post-WWII New York. She lands a sought-after job at Life magazine and frequents parties in Greenwich Village hosted by her playwright brother, Eric. There, surrounded by Communists and artists, she meets Jack Malone, a Stars and Stripes journalist. The night they spend together upends Sara's plans and sends her, Jack, and Ericon a collision course with the repressive forces of the McCarthy era. The legacy of that night extends into the next generation, where Jack's daughter, Kate, is struggling to find her own identity in modern-day Manhattan, unaware of the forces that shaped her. Kennedy tells his epic tale with a keen eye and brisk pace, confidently sweeping through historic events and the lives of his somewhat thin characters, investing most of his energy on the winningly sincere love story. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“This weighty tome is as readable as the '50s bestsellers it channels. The prolific Kennedy, known mainly in the U.K. and France, deserves a wider readership in his native United States.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Kennedy tells his epic tale with a keen eye and brisk pace.... a winningly sincere love story.” —Publishers Weekly

“Kennedy vividly depicts the heady atmosphere of post–World War II New York City, the status of working women in the 1950s, the horrors of the McCarthy era, and the ways of the heart at any time. A romantic, sweeping read that will appeal to fans of women's and historical fiction.” —Library Journal

"An engrossing novel that transcends decades.... It's a spellbinding but tragic read that you should not miss." —The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK)

Library Journal
Kennedy continues his successful reentry into the U.S. market (after Leaving the World) with this European best seller, a love story set in Manhattan and spanning the years following World War II. Sara Smythe, a promising young writer, is cajoled into attending her older brother's bohemian party in Greenwich Village. From across a crowded room, she spots a handsome man in uniform. What ensues is a dance of witty and flirtatious dialog (? la classic Spencer Tracy?Katharine Hepburn movies) between the patrician and wary Sara and the intelligent Brooklyn-born, Irish-Catholic U.S. Army journalist Jack Malone. Their attraction, instantaneous and electrifying, leads to a single night of passion, declarations of true love, and promises of daily letters before Jack ships out to Europe the next day. Although Sara faithfully writes to Jack, she never receives a response. Filled with grief, she finally gives up attempts to locate him and makes every effort to move on with her life. Verdict Kennedy vividly depicts the heady atmosphere of post?World War II New York City, the status of working women in the 1950s, the horrors of the McCarthy era, and the ways of the heart at any time. A romantic, sweeping read that will appeal to fans of women's and historical fiction.—Sheila Riley, Smithsonian Institution Libs., Washington, DC

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews

Ex-pat Kennedy's stateside calling card is a ponderous tale of doomed love set in McCarthy-era Manhattan.

The story begins with Kate, a middle-aged ad woman and divorced single mom whose own mother has just died. At the funeral Kate notices a striking older woman, and begins to get urgent phone calls from a mysterious Sara Smythe. When she agrees to meet Sara she has no idea that this distinguished woman of letters has been following Kate's entire childhood since her father, Jack Malone, died when Kate was a toddler. The scene shifts to Sara's POV, beginning in the post–World War II years. Sara and her homosexual brother Eric have fled Hartford, Conn., and their stodgy WASP parents for Gotham, bent on artistic careers. After publishing a well-received short story, Sara nets a prime columnist spot on a weekly magazine. Eric flirts briefly with the Communist party, but after failing as a working-class dramatist, he becomes a lavishly paid writer on a primetime NBC variety show. Sara is almost over her one-night stand with Army sergeant Jack Malone—after they declared undying love, he abruptly cut off communication. When she runs into him in Central Park, the romance rekindles. Eric, however, makes no secret of his disgust for "Brooklyn mick" Jack. When Eric refuses to give up his former Party associates to HUAC, he's fired, blacklisted and shortly thereafter drinks himself to death. Devastated, Sara is still grateful for Jack's support until she learns that Jack, himself in fear of losing his PR job, ratted Eric out to the FBI. Back in the present, Kate learns that she has received an unexpected gift, not the least of which is an important lesson in forgiveness. Although an anodyne ending makes for a disappointing anticlimax, this weighty tome is as readable as the '50s bestsellers it channels.

The prolific Kennedy (Leaving the World, 2010, etc.), known mainly in the U.K. and France, deserves a wider readership in his native United States.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439199121
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 10/19/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 696,590
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Kennedy is the author of ten previous novels, including the international bestseller The Moment. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages, and in 2007 he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Find out more at DouglaslKennedyNovelist.com.

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Read an Excerpt

The Pursuit of Happiness

A Novel
By Douglas Kennedy

Atria

Copyright © 2010 Douglas Kennedy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781439199121

One

I FIRST SAW her standing near my mother's coffin. She was in her seventies ? a tall, angular woman, with fine grey hair gathered in a compact bun at the back of her neck. She looked the way I hope to look if I ever make it to her birthday. She stood very erect, her spine refusing to hunch over with age. Her bone structure was flawless. Her skin had stayed smooth. Whatever wrinkles she had didn't cleave her face. Rather, they lent it character, gravitas. She was still handsome ? in a subdued, patrician way. You could tell that, once upon a recent time, men probably found her beautiful.

But it was her eyes that really caught my attention. Blue-grey. Sharply focused, taking everything in. Critical, watchful eyes, with just the slightest hint of melancholy. But who isn't melancholic at a funeral? Who doesn't stare at a coffin and picture themselves laid out inside of it? They say funerals are for the living. Too damn true. Because we don't just weep for the departed. We also weep for ourselves. For the brutal brevity of life. For its ever-accumulating insignificance. For the way we stumble through it, like foreigners without a map, making mistakes at every curve of the road.

When I looked at the woman directly, she averted her gaze in embarrassment ? as if I had caught her in the act of studying me. Granted, the bereaved child at a funeral is always the subject of everybody's attention. As the person closest to the departed, they want you to set the emotional tone for the occasion. If you're hysterical, they won't be frightened of letting rip. If you're sobbing, they'll just sob too. If you're emotionally buttoned up, they'll also remain controlled, disciplined, correct.

I was being very controlled, very correct ? and so too were the twenty or so mourners who had accompanied my mother on ?her final journey' ? to borrow the words of the funeral director who dropped that phrase into the conversation when he was telling me the price of transporting her from his ?chapel of rest' on 75th and Amsterdam to this, ?her eternal resting place' ? right under the LaGuardia Airport flight path in Flushing Meadow, Queens.

After the woman turned away, I heard the reverse throttle of jet engines and glanced up into the cold blue winter sky. No doubt several members of the assembled graveside congregation thought that I was contemplating the heavens ? and wondering about my mother's place in its celestial vastness. But actually all I was doing was checking out the livery of the descending jet. US Air. One of those old 727s they still use for short hauls. Probably the Boston shuttle. Or maybe the Washington run ?

It is amazing the trivial junk that floats through your head at the most momentous moments of your life.

?Mommy, Mommy.'

My seven-year-old son, Ethan, was tugging at my coat. His voice cut across that of the Episcopalian minister, who was standing at the back of the coffin, solemnly intoning a passage from Revelations:

God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;

And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow

Nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain;

For the former things are passed away.

I swallowed hard. No sorrow. No crying. No pain. That was not the story of my mother's life.

?Mommy, Mommy ?'

Ethan was still tugging on my sleeve, demanding attention. I put a finger to my lips and simultaneously stroked his mop of dirty blond hair.

?Not now, darling,' I whispered.

?I need to wee.'

I fought a smile.

?Daddy will take you,' I said, looking up and catching the eye of my ex-husband, Matt. He was standing on the opposite side of the coffin, keeping to the back of the small crowd. I had been just a tad surprised when he showed up at the funeral chapel this morning. Since he left Ethan and me five years ago, our dealings with each other had been, at best, businesslike ? whatever words spoken between us having been limited to our son, and the usual dreary financial matters that force even acrimoniously divorced couples to answer each other's phone calls. Even when he's attempted to be conciliatory, I've cut him off at the pass. For some strange reason, I've never really forgiven him for walking right out of our front door and into the arms of Her ? Ms Talking Head News-Channel-4-New-York media babe. And Ethan was just twenty-five months old at the time.

Still, one must take these little setbacks on the chin, right? Especially as Matt so conformed to male clich - . But there is one thing I can say in my ex-husband's favor: he has turned out to be an attentive, loving father. And Ethan adores him ? something that everyone at the graveside noticed, as he dashed in front of his grandmother's coffin and straight into his father's arms. Matt lifted him off the ground and I saw Ethan whisper his urination request. With a quick nod to me, Matt carried him off, draped across one shoulder, in search of the nearest toilet.

The minister now switched to that old funeral favorite, the 23rd Psalm.

Thou prepareth a table before me in the presence
of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

I heard my brother Charlie choke back a sob. He was standing in the back of this sparse congregation of mourners. Without question, he had won the award for the Best Surprise Funeral Appearance ? as he arrived at the chapel this morning off the red-eye from LA, looking ashen, spent, and deeply uncomfortable. It took me a moment to recognize him ? because I hadn't seen him in over seven years, and because time had worked its nasty magic, rendering him middle-aged. Okay, I'm middle-aged too ?just!? but Charlie (at fifty-five, nearly nine years my senior) really looked? well, I guess mature would be the right word, though world-weary might be a little more accurate. He'd lost most of his hair, and all of his physique. His face had become fleshy and loose. His waist bulged heavily at both sides ? a spare tire that made his ill-fitting black suit appear even more of a sartorial misjudgment. His white shirt was open at the collar. His black tie was dappled with food stains. His entire countenance spoke of bad diet and a certain disappointment with life. I was certainly on cordial terms with the last of these concepts ? but I was still stunned at just how badly he had aged, and that he had actually crossed the continent to say goodbye to a woman with whom he had only maintained nominal contact for the past thirty years.

?Kate,' he said, approaching me in the lobby of the funeral chapel.

He saw my face register shock.

?Charlie?'

There was an awkward moment when he reached to hug me, then thought better of it and simply took my two hands in his. For a moment we didn't know what to say to each other. Finally I managed a sentence.

?This is a surprise ?'

?I know, I know,' he said, cutting me off.

?You got my messages?'

He nodded. ?Katie ? I'm so sorry.'

I suddenly let go of his hands.

?Don't offer me condolences,' I said, my voice curiously calm. ?She was your mother too. Remember?'

He blanched. Finally he managed to mumble, ?That's not fair.'

My voice remained very calm, very controlled.

?Every day for the last month ? when she knew she was going ? she kept asking me if you had called. Towards the end, I actually lied, and said you were phoning me daily to see how she was doing. So don't talk to me about fair.'

My brother stared down at the funeral home linoleum. Two of my mother's friends then approached me. As they made the requisite sympathetic noises, it gave Charlie the opportunity to back away. When the service began, he sat in the last row of the funeral chapel. I craned my neck to check out the assembled congregation ? and briefly caught his eye. He turned away in acute discomfort. After the service, I looked around for him, as I wanted to offer him the chance to ride with me in the so-called ?family car' to the cemetery. But he was nowhere to be found. So I traveled out to Queens with Ethan and my Aunt Meg. She was my father's sister ? a seventy-four-year-old professional spinster who has been devoted to the destruction of her liver for the past forty years. I was pleased to see that she had remained sober for the occasion of her sister-in-law's send-off. Because on those rare occasions when she was practising temperance, Meg was the best ally you could have. Especially as she had a tongue on her like a pissed-off wasp. Shortly after the limo pulled away from the funeral home, the subject turned to Charlie.

?So,' Meg said, ?the prodigal schmuck returns.'

?And then promptly disappears,' I added.

?He'll be at the cemetery,' she said.

?How do you know that?'

?He told me. While you were pressing the flesh with everyone after the service, I caught him on the way out the door. “Hang on for a sec,” I told him, “and we'll give you a ride out to Queens.” But he went all mealy-mouthed, saying how he'd rather take the subway. I tell you, Charlie's still the same old sad asshole.'

?Meg,' I said, nodding toward Ethan. He was sitting next to me in the limo, deeply engrossed in a Power Rangers book.

?He's not listening to the crap I'm talking, are you, Ethan?'

He looked up from his book. ?I know what asshole means,' he said.

?Attaboy,' Meg said, ruffling his hair.

?Read your book, darling,' I said.

?He's one smart kid,' Meg said. ?You've done a great job with him, Kate.'

?You mean, because he knows bad language?'

?I love a girl who thinks so highly of herself.'

?That's me: Ms Self-Esteem.'

?At least you've always done the right thing. Especially when it comes to family.'

?Yeah ? and look where it's gotten me.'

?Your mother adored you.'

?On alternate Sundays.'

?I know she was difficult?'

?Try genteelly impossible.'

?Trust me, sweetie ? you and this guy here were everything to her. And I mean everything.'

I bit my lip, and held back a sob. Meg took my hand.

?Take it from me: parents and children both end up feeling that they're the ones who landed the thankless job. Nobody comes out happy. But at least you won't suffer the guilt that your idiot brother is now feeling.'

?Do you know I left him three messages last week, telling him she only had days left, and he had to come back and see her.'

?He never called you back?'

?No ? but his spokesperson did.'

?Princess?'

?The one and only.'

?Princess' was our nickname for Holly ? the deeply resistible, deeply suburban woman who married Charlie in 1975, and gradually convinced him (for a long list of spurious, self-serving reasons) to detach himself from his family. Not that Charlie needed much encouragement. From the moment I had been aware of such things, I always knew that, for a mother and son, Mom and Charlie had a curiously cool relationship ? and that the root cause of their antipathy was my dad.

?Twenty bucks says Charlie-boy breaks down at the graveside,' Meg said.

?No way,' I said.

?I mightn't have seen him in? when the hell did he last pay us a visit?'

?Seven years ago.'

?Right, it may have been seven years ago, but I know that kid of old. Believe me, he's always felt sorry for himself. The moment I laid eyes on him today I thought: poor old Charlie is still playing the self-pity card. Not only that, he's also got hot-and-cold running guilt. Can't bring himself to talk to his dying mom, but then tries to make up for it by putting in a last-minute appearance at her planting. What a sad act.'

?He still won't cry. He's too wound tight for that.'

Meg waved the bill in front of me.

?Then let's see the color of your cash.'

I fiddled around in my jacket pocket until I found two tens. I brandished them in front of Meg's eyes. ?I'm going to enjoy taking your twenty off you,' I said.

?Not as much as I'm going to enjoy watching that pitiful shithead weep.'

I cast a glance at Ethan (still buried in his Power Rangers book), then threw my eyes heavenward.

?Sorry,' Meg said, ?it just kind of slipped out.'

Without looking up from his book, Ethan said, ?I know what shithead means.'

Meg won the bet. After a final prayer over the coffin, the minister touched my shoulder and offered his condolences. Then, one by one, the other mourners approached me. As I went through this receiving-line ritual of handshakes and embraces, I caught sight of that woman, staring down at the headstone adjoining my mother's plot, studying the inscription with care. I knew it off by heart:

John Joseph Malone
August 22, 1922-April 14, 1956

John Joseph Malone. Also known as Jack Malone. Also known as my dad. Who suddenly left this world just eighteen months into my life ? yet whose presence has always shadowed me. That's the thing about parents: they may physically vanish from your life ? you may not have even known them ? but you're never free of them. That's their ultimate legacy to you ? the fact that, like it or not, they're always there. And no matter how hard you try to shake them, they never let go.

As my upstairs neighbor, Christine, embraced me, I glanced over her shoulder. Charlie was now walking towards our father's grave. The woman was still standing there. But once she saw him coming (and evidently knowing who he was), she immediately backed away, giving him clear access to Dad's plain granite monument. Charlie's head was lowered, his gait shaky. When he reached the gravestone, he leaned against it for support ? and suddenly began to sob. At first he tried to stifle his distress, but within a moment he lost that battle and was sobbing uncontrollably. I gently removed myself from Christine's embrace. Instinctively, I wanted to run right over to him ? but I stopped myself from such an outward show of sibling sympathy (especially as I couldn't instantly forgive the pain that my mother silently suffered about his absence over all those years). Instead, I slowly walked towards him, and lightly touched his arm with my hand.

?You okay, Charlie?' I asked quietly.

He lifted up his head. His face was tomato red, his eyes awash in tears. Suddenly he lurched towards me, his head collapsing against my shoulder, his arms clutching me as if I was a life preserver in high seas. His sobbing was now fierce, uninhibited. For a moment I stood there, arms at my side, not knowing what to do. But his grief was so profound, so total, so loud that, eventually, I simply had to put my arms around him.

It took him a good minute before his cries subsided. I stared ahead into the distance, watching Ethan (having just returned from the toilet) being gently restrained by Matt from running towards me. I winked at my son, and he repaid me with one of those hundred-watt smiles that instantly compensates for all the exhausting, endless stress that is an essential component of parenthood. Then I looked to the left of Ethan, and saw that woman again. She was standing discreetly in an adjoining plot, watching me comfort Charlie. Before she turned away (again!), I momentarily saw the intensity of her gaze. An intensity which made me wonder: how the hell does she know us?

I turned back to look at Ethan. He pulled open his mouth with two fingers and stuck out his tongue ? one of the repertoire of funny faces he pulls whenever he senses I am getting far too serious for his liking. I had to stifle a laugh. Then I glanced back to where the woman was standing. But she was no longer there ? and was instead walking alone down the empty graveled path that led to the front gates of the cemetery.

Charlie gulped hard as he tried to control his sobbing. I decided it was time to end the embrace, so I gently disentangled myself from his grip.

?Are you okay now?' I asked.

He kept his head bowed.

?No,' he whispered, then added: ?I should've, I should've?'

The crying started again. I should've. The most agonizing, self-punitive expression in the English language. And one we all utter constantly throughout this farce called life. But Charlie was right. He should've. Now there was nothing he could do about it.

?Come back to the city,' I said. ?We're having some drinks and food at Mom's apartment. You remember where it is, don't you?'

I immediately regretted that comment, as Charlie began to sob again.

?That was dumb,' I said quietly. ?I'm sorry.'

?Not as sorry as me,' he said between sobs. ?Not as ?'

He lost control again, his crying now ballistic. This time, I didn't offer him solace. Instead, I turned away and saw that Meg was now hovering nearby, looking dispassionate, yet waiting to be of assistance. When I turned towards her, she nodded in the direction of Charlie and arched her eyebrows, as if to ask, ?Want me to take over here?' You bet. She approached her nephew, and said, ?Come on, Charlie-boy,' linking her arm through his, ?let's you and I take a little walk.'

Matt now relaxed his grip on Ethan, who ran towards me. I crouched down to scoop him up in my arms.

?You feeling better?' I asked.

?The toilet was yucky,' he said.

I turned towards my mother's grave. The minister was still standing by the coffin. Behind him were the cemetery's grounds-keepers. They were keeping a discreet distance from the proceedings, but I could still tell they were waiting for us to leave so they could lower her into subterranean Queens, bring out the earth movers, plug the hole, then head off to lunch ? or maybe the nearest bowling alley. Life really does go on ? whether you're here or not.

The minister gave me a small telling nod, the subtext of which was: it's time to say goodbye. Okay, Rev., have it your way. Let's all join hands and sing.

Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company ?

M-I-C ? See you real soon ?

K-E-Y? Why? Because we like you ?

M-O-U-S-E?

For a nanosecond, I was back in the old family apartment on 84th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Six years old, home from first grade at Brearley, watching Annette, Frankie and all the Mouseketeers on our crappy Zenith black-and-white set, with the round picture tube and rabbit-ears antenna, and the imitation mahogany cabinet, and my mom staggering towards me with two Welch's grape jelly glasses in her hand: Strawberry Kool-Aid for me, a Canadian Club highball for her.

?How's Mickey and his pals?' she asked, the words slurring.

?They're my friends,' I said.

She sank down next to me on the couch.

?Are you my friend, Katie?'

I ignored the question. ?Where's Charlie?'

She suddenly looked hurt.

?Mr Barclay's,' she said, mentioning a dancing school to which adolescent prep school boys like Charlie were dispatched, once a week, screaming.

?Charlie hates dancing,' I said.

?You don't know that,' Mom said, throwing back half of her drink.

?I heard him tell you,' I said. ?I hate dancing school. I hate you.'

?He didn't say he hated me.'

?He did,' I said, and turned my attention back to the Mouseketeers.

Mom threw back the rest of her drink.

?He didn't say that.'

I think it's a game.

?Oh yes he did.'

?You never heard him ?'

I cut her off. ?Why is my daddy in heaven?'

She went ashen. Though we'd been down this road before, I hadn't asked about my dead father for nearly a year. But this afternoon, I had arrived home with an invitation to a Father/Daughter evening at my school.

?Why did he have to go to heaven?' I demanded.

?Darling, as I told you before, he didn't want to go to heaven. But he got sick ?'

?When can I meet him?'

Her face now betrayed despair.

?Katie ? you are my friend, aren't you?'

?You let me meet my daddy.'

I heard her stifle a sob. ?I wish I could ?'

?I want him to come to school with me ?'

?Tell me, Katie, that you're my friend.'

?You get my daddy back from heaven.'

Her voice was weak, tiny, diminished.

?I can't, Katie. I?'

Then she began to cry. Pulling me close to her. Burying her head in my small shoulder. Scaring the hell out of me. And making me run out of the room, terrified.

It was the only time I ever saw her drunk. It was the only time she ever cried in front of me. It was the last time I asked her to get my father back from the celestial beyond.

?Are you my friend, Katie?'

I never answered her question. Because, truth be told, I never really knew the answer.

?Mommy!'

Ethan was squeezing my hand. ?Mommy! I want to go home!'

I snapped back to Queens. And the sight of my mother's coffin. I said, ?Let's first say goodbye to Grandma.'

I led Ethan forward, sensing that all eyes were on us. We approached the shiny teak coffin. Ethan knocked on it with his small fist.

?Hello, Grandma. Goodbye, Grandma.'

I bit hard on my lip. My eyes filled up. I glanced at my father's grave. This is it. This is it. An orphan at last.

I felt a steadying hand on my shoulder. I turned around. It was Matt. I shrugged him off. And suddenly knew: it's me and Ethan, and no one else.

The minister gave me another of his telling glances. All right, all right, I'll move it along.

I put my hand on the coffin. It felt cold, like a refrigerator. I pulled my hand away. So much for grand final gestures. I bit my lip yet again, and forced myself to stay controlled. I reached for my son. I led him towards the waiting car.

Matt was waiting by the door. He spoke quietly.

?Katie, I just wanted to ?'

?I don't want to know.'

?All I was going to say ?'

?Do you speak English?'

?Would you please listen ?'

I started grabbing the car door. ?No, I will not listen to you ?'

Ethan tugged my sleeve. ?Daddy said he'd take me to the IMAX movie. Can I go, Mommy?'

It was then that I realized just how shipwrecked I was.

?We have a party ?' I heard myself saying.

?Ethan will have a better time at the movies, don't you think?' Matt said.

Yeah, he would. I put my face in my hands. And felt more tired than I had ever felt in my life.

?Please can I go, Mommy?'

I looked up at Matt. ?What time will you have him home?'

?I was thinking he might like to spend the night with us.'

I could see that he instantly regretted the use of that last pronoun. Matt continued talking.

?I'll get him to school in the morning. And he can stay the next couple of nights if you need ?'

?Fine,' I said, cutting him off. Then I crouched down and hugged my son. And heard myself saying, ?Are you my friend, Ethan?'

He looked at me shyly, then gave me a fast kiss on the cheek. I wanted to take that as an affirmative answer, but knew I'd be brooding about his lack of a definite response for the rest of the day? and night. And simultaneously wondering why the hell I'd asked that dumb question in the first place.

Matt was about to touch my arm, but then thought better of it.

?Take care,' he said, leading Ethan off.

Then I felt another hand on my shoulder. I brushed it off, as if it was a fly, saying to whoever was behind me, ?I really can't take any more sympathy.'

?Then don't take it.'

I covered my face with my hand. ?Sorry, Meg.'

?Say three Hail Marys, and get into the car.'

I did as ordered. Meg climbed in after me.

?Where's Ethan?' she asked.

?Spending the rest of the day with his dad.'

?Good,' she said. ?I can smoke.'

While reaching into her pocket book for her Merits, she knocked on the glass partition with one hand. The driver hit a button and it slowly lowered.

?We're outta here, fella,' Meg said, lighting up. She heaved a huge sigh of gratification as she inhaled.

?Must you?' I asked.

?Yeah, I must.'

?It'll kill you.'

?I never knew that.'

The limo pulled out on to the main cemetery drive. Meg took my hand, locking her thin, varicose fingers with mine.

?You hanging in there, sweetheart?' she asked.

?I have been better, Meg.'

?A couple more hours, this entire fucking business'll be over. And then ?'

?I can fall apart.'

Meg shrugged. And held my hand tighter.

?Where's Charlie?' I asked.

?Taking the subway back into town.'

?Why the hell is he doing that?'

?It's his idea of penance.'

?Watching him break down like that, I actually felt sorry for him. If he'd just picked up the phone towards the end, he could have straightened out so much with Mom.'

?No,' Meg said. ?He wouldn't have straightened anything out.'

As the limo approached the gates, I caught sight of that woman again. She was walking steadily towards the cemetery entrance, moving with fluent ease for someone her age. Meg saw her as well.

?Do you know her?' I asked.

Her answer was a couldn't-care-less shrug.

?She was at Mom's grave,' I said. ?And hung around during most of the prayers.'

Another shrug from Meg.

I said, ?Probably some kook who gets her giggles loitering in cemeteries.'

She looked up as we drove by, then lowered her eyes quickly.

The limo pulled out into the main road, and turned left in the direction of Manhattan. I fell back into the seat, spent. For a moment there was silence. Then Meg poked me with her elbow.

?So,' she said, ?where's my twenty bucks?'

© 2010 Douglas Kennedy



Continues...

Excerpted from The Pursuit of Happiness by Douglas Kennedy Copyright © 2010 by Douglas Kennedy. 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

Manhattan, Thanksgiving Eve, 1945. The war was over, and Eric Smythe's party was in full swing. All his clever Greenwich Village friends were there. So too was his sister Sara -- an independent, canny young woman, starting to make her way in the big city. And then in walked a gatecrasher, Jack Malone -- a U. S. Army journalist just back from a defeated Germany, and a man whose world-view did not tally with that of Eric and his friends. Set amidst the dynamic optimism of postwar New York and the subsequent nightmare of the McCarthy witch-hunts, The Pursuit of Happiness is a great tragic love story; a tale of divided loyalties, decisive moral choices, and the random workings of destiny.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 77 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(28)

4 Star

(20)

3 Star

(19)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2011

    Tedious at best....

    While there is a fairly interesting story to be told here, it could have been pared down by a couple hundred pages. Page after page explaining various bouts of "writer's block" and money/financial issues left me feeling bored and unsatisfied. While I did want to find out about the final outcome for the characters, I found the journey fairly painful and tedious. Unfortunately, the final outcome also seemed anemic and unemotional. It was a "nice" ending, but it was completely forgettable.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 7, 2011

    highly recommend

    Good book. Covers areas of late 1940s and early 1950s and what went on with the communist phobia and blacklisting.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2011

    wow!

    I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it is a little long, but we can truly know the characters by the way they live, talk, react. Sara's story is really engaging. All in all, a great read that would have escaped me had it nit been free! Ihighly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 3, 2011

    maybe a little too tragic, but good

    I enjoyed this book, but modtly kept reading it thinking that things would have to turn around for Sara. The writing was a bit erratic-sometimes choppy, sometimes too wordy, and then the story would skip four years in two pages. And Kate's story wasn't nearly as engaging as Sara's. However, overall it was a good story that really makes you think about how McCarthyism tore people's lives apart. Great for a Free Friday read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2011

    Good story, too many pages

    The storyline itself is decent enough, but it's so bogged down with tiny, insignificant details that I wanted to quit reading a couple hundred pages in. I found it a bit ironic that the main character is constantly paring down her writing and eliminating excess words when the author of this book was clearly unable to do that. The book is dragged along with a million simple sentences. It felt like I was reading a student's essay on something historical and boring. There are entire chapters that read like,"I made coffee. I typed a sentence. I sipped the coffee. I hate my life. I finished the coffee. I ripped the page from the typewriter and banged my head on the hard keys of the typewriter. It hurt." I made it through the book and really liked the heart of the story, but it would have been so much better had it been a hundred pages shorter.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    Couldn't put it down!!!

    It's one of those stories that I keep thinking about days after I've finished it. I love stories set in post WWII. This one will keep you turning the pages. It has really made me rethink what defines happiness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2013

    APPRENTICE DEN

    A nice roomy den with a big open spot in the middle to practice your warrior skills d to play fight

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    You will love this one!

    Ever wondered your self, whether or not you could be such an intriguing writer as Mr. Kennedy? I loved this story very much. I never been to Manhattan, or Brooklyn or New York, but this story, is so real about what life throws your way.Certainly, back then America dealt with WW II and Europe, soldiers were sent over seas. Many families had to make sacrifices. It is a hard wrenching story. I truly admire the many women characters in this book, that did not let them brand mark them of the momentous married house wife, behind the herd, and herding a bunch of children and taking care of house, garden and husbands. They rather portrait a very, early stance on pre femmenine politics. Which probably back then in the early 40,s and 50' s were rather debuncled!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Love!

    This might be my most favorite book. These people just cannot get it together and its so tragic and captivating!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2011

    Waiting to see how it ends........

    I downloaded the sample to see if I would like the book. It seems to be an interesting read and I am anxious to see how the story unfolds. (Cannot give the full amount of stars yet)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    I loved this book. I would never have read it without it being a Free Friday book. Thanks so much!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2011

    Highly recommended!

    This book kept me reading way into the wee hours. I've not come across such a thought provoking book in a long time!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A good book club read!

    If you like period pieces, you will love this book. I love the setting of Manhattan back in the 40's and 50's. I also don't like many male authors especially when they try to write famale characters. Douglas Kennedy really pulls this off. He is an excellent writer and story teller. This is light reading and although it is around 500 pages, I was able to finish it in just a few days. There is a lot of background in this book and contrary to another review I read the financial dealings are a good example of how to and how to not handle your money.
    Give Douglas Kennedy a try. You probably will like his writing style.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very good read. Highly recommended.

    I absolutely loved this book. It did start a little slow and I wondered how I would make it through. But with page I became more and more involved withe the characters, with their story. The book is awesome and I am glad I read it. I'll be looking for more of his work in the very near future.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 18, 2011

    Great Read

    Loved all of these womens journeys. Too quick of a book.

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

    Posted December 14, 2010

    LOVED

    This book was amazing! I finished it in less then a week didn't want to put it down!

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  • Posted September 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a timely exhilarating post WWII epic drama

    In 1945, wannabe writer Sara Smythe decides to join her playwright brother Eric in New York. Her parents are horrified that their single daughter will live the bohemian lifestyle in the notorious Greenwich Village. However, heeding Eric's advice that their hometown of Hartford is known for Twain losing money and Stevens selling insurance between writing edgy poetry, she leaves home.

    Surprisingly she obtains a prestigious position at Life magazine. At one of her sibling's frequent bashes attended by Communists, artists and probably FBI agents, Sara and Stars and Stripes reporter Jack Malone meet. They share a night of passion. However, the McCarthy inquisition is just beginning tearing families and lovers apart. Years later at the funeral of Jack's wife, Sara meets his daughter divorced single mom Kate.

    This is a timely exhilarating post WWII epic drama in which the tragedy of McCarthyism is what it did to split families. None of the cast is fully developed as the insightful story line focuses on what happened and what might have happened if the optimism coming out just after war ended was allowed to blossom and not be killed by unchallenged phony patriotic pedagogues. Douglas Kennedy provides a powerful profound tale with applications to subsequent eras.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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