Quickening: A Novel

Overview

“Get ready to meet a quirky and poignant heroine who will grab you from the first page and won’t let you go. Love, grief, loss, confusion, the search for identity–it’s all here, and it all feels fresh and new. Laura Catherine Brown is a terrific new writer who shoots straight from the heart.”
–DANI SHAPIRO
Author of Slow Motion

All lives contain growth spurts–physical ones, ...
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Quickening: A Novel

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Overview

“Get ready to meet a quirky and poignant heroine who will grab you from the first page and won’t let you go. Love, grief, loss, confusion, the search for identity–it’s all here, and it all feels fresh and new. Laura Catherine Brown is a terrific new writer who shoots straight from the heart.”
–DANI SHAPIRO
Author of Slow Motion

All lives contain growth spurts–physical ones, most obviously, but emotional ones as well. Laura Catherine Brown’s powerful fiction debut focuses on just such a crucial time in the life of a determined young woman. For nineteen-year-old Mandy Boyle, moving away to college means a chance to sever ties with her impoverished blue-collar family and strike out on her own. But Mandy is soon transformed in ways she had never imagined. Her father’s sudden death sets in motion a wrenching chain of events that forces Mandy to grow up fast. The stage when a fetus first shows signs of life is known as the “quickening.” This is the story of Mandy’s adult quickening–an engrossing read about the search for identity, reckoning with the past, weathering unexpected twists of fate, and at last choosing a life of one’s own. . . .
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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For most young women, watching their mother faint as they leave home for college would make for a dramatic exit. Unfortunately, for Mandy Boyle, this kind of drama is an all-too-common occurrence. Desperate to escape her small hometown in upstate New York and her narcissistic mother, Mandy yearns to find a place where she can carve out her own identity and forge her own path to a hopeful future.

Arriving at college, Mandy loses herself in the more sophisticated lifestyle of her roommate Barb-smoking pot, hitting the college bar scene, and losing her virginity-all in short order. But when Mandy's father is felled by a heart attack just a few days before Christmas, her newly created world is threatened by the demands of her mother.

Against her mother's wishes, Mandy returns to school and promptly sinks into a paralyzing depression, eschewing class for the pleasures of sleep, and rousing herself only to head to a bar and another one night stand. But when an equally lost and lonely young man named Booner declares his love and need for her, Mandy leaves college, and without considering her options, sets up house with him in Astoria, Queens.

Quickening is the stage in a fetus's life when it begins moving of its own accord-and the mother of the child can feel it. And Quickening is an especially apt title for this riveting first novel of a young woman's sputtering attempts to figure out who she is apart from her suffocating, painful childhood. But like childbirth itself, after agonizing pain, Mandy Boyle rises triumphant, ready to claim a world and a life of which she can be proud.

From the Publisher
"In Quickening , get ready to meet a quirky and poignant heroine who will grab you from the first page and won't let you go. Love, grief, loss, confusion, the search for identity--it's all here, and it all feels fresh and new. Laura Brown is a terrific new writer who shoots straight from the heart."        
                                            
---Dani Shapiro, author of Slow Motion

"The heroine of this remarkable novel may have to wait for her quickening, but for the reader, happily, it begins on the opening page. Laura Catherine Brown writes with remarkable authenticity about the struggles and setbacks of crossing into adult life. This is a terrific debut."        
                              
---Margot Livesey, author of The Missing World and Criminals

"Laura Brown eschews the trendy, the glitzy, and the experimental and goes straight for the heart with her tender portrayal of an impoverished           upstate New York teenager fumbling over the first steps of adulthood. She has a gift for writing scenes that are sharp, poignant, and suspenseful. And she excels in creating characters who are weak and even cruel and yet achingly sweet. Mandy Boyle's determination, her unwillingness to abandon hope, and her generosity of spirit make Quickening a grace-ful and uplifting read."

---Douglas Glover, author of Dog Attempts to Drown Man in Saskatoon

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Going away to college usually brings a mix of hope and fear. For Miranda (Mandy) Boyle, the emotions are more complicated. First, she is confronted with last-minute guilt brought on by the real and imagined illnesses of her mother. Then, when her father stops off at his favorite bar on their way to the college, she feels the anxieties of being a scholarship student who is out of place on a campus of worldly students. Despite this uneasy beginning, Mandy begins to define a new place for herself--until her father's death shatters her world. Numbed by her grief and her anger at her mother, Mandy tumbles into a love affair that can only provide a temporary cushion. Reminiscent of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone (LJ 5/1/92), Brown's novel realistically captures the tension between family myths and realities and sympathetically renders the coming-of-age experience of learning what to let go of and what to keep. Recommended for fiction collections.--Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this coming-of-age novel, 19-year-old Mandy takes charge of her life. Her father is an unsuccessful man and a poor provider, but he is supportive and devoted to his only daughter. Her mother's ill health is real, but she resists all attempts to improve it. The woman is a nag and a constant drain on her daughter. Arriving at college with her father, Mandy perceives anew his awkward peculiarities and how different he is from the other parents. However, her roommate proves to be just what Mandy needs, offering her congenial encouragement. Her father's sudden death and her mother's demands precipitate a departure from school, and the deadliness of her home situation propels her into a romance with an amiably appreciative loser. She departs with him for New York City, where she becomes aware of the possibility of a better life and a career in photography, and recognizes the limitations of both the young man she is living with and her mother. Thus, she begins to assume self-responsibility. This realization that she can control her future should strike a chord in many young people.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Nguyen
In this impressive dbutnovel, Brown explores a young woman's emotional upheavals with sincerity and grace...a strong first effort.
People Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
A slow-moving character study of a 19-year-old girl whose plans for her life gradually fall apart. Honor student Mandy Boyle has just won a college scholarship, and she happily envisions the endless possibilities of life away from her stifling parents and small New York State hometown. Though she has a tender (and touching) relationship with her father, she can hardly blind herself to the fact that he's a drunk and a loaf-about, horribly henpecked by Mandy's mother. Mrs. Boyle is a rare piece of work: chronically ill with lupus, anxiety disorders, and asthma, she's also terminally disillusioned, which leads her to sexually abuse Mandy. Daughter and father retreat to the basement, where they work on projects and discuss philosophy, or they shuffle to the local bar, where Mandy studies and Dad gets drunk. Finally able to leave this behind, Mandy thrives at college until her father suddenly dies. Although she defies her mother, who wants her to quit school and get a job at the local department store, Mandy flounders when she returns to college after the funeral. She begins skipping classes, alienating friends, and spending most of her days in bed getting high. She wants someone to save her, but unfortunately the only candidate who presents himself is Booner, a drainage-cleaner living in Queens. Mandy drops out of school, moves in with him, smokes more pot, and gets a secretarial job. Her downward spiral is quick and all too plausible, as her once-bright future is reduced to waiting for Booner to come home from work. When it seems things couldn't get worse, they do: Mandy gets pregnant, and Booner becomes frighteningly possessive. Although first-timer Brown thoughtfullyillustrateshow a smart girl can make bad decisions, the heroine pales in comparison to those around her. Her parents' elegantly dismal relationship, and even Booner's life, ultimately prove more interesting than Mandy's bleak story. An uneven, poorly paced debut that nonetheless shows considerable promise.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345437730
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Catherine Brown has been awarded residency fellowships at the Ragdale Foundation, the Norcroft Writing Retreat, the Hambridge Center, and the Ucross Foundation. Quickening is her first novel. She lives in Manhattan.
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Read an Excerpt

IMPULSE

The morning I was leaving for college, Mom fainted. She had been playing solitaire at the kitchen table and had stood up too fast.

I was washing the car with Dad, who'd gone inside for matches, then came back out and said, "She's down."

I dropped the hose. Water pooled in the crevices where weeds grew, ran down the driveway and out into the street. "Did you call Dr. Wykoff ?" I followed Dad into the kitchen.

"Now, how'm I going to do that, Mandy?"

Of course. The phone had been cut off. We hadn't paid the bill.

The cards were scattered over the table. Mom lay on the kitchen floor, her pilly pink robe half buttoned and wrinkled around her fleshy splayed legs, slippers still on her feet. Her blue eyes bulged and blinked. "It took you long enough," she said as we bent over to help.

She twisted my forearms in a vise grip while Dad, wheezing, cigarette hanging from between his clenched lips, hoisted her up from behind. "Be careful, for God's sake," she said. "You know how easily I bruise."

"Can you make it to the car?" he asked. "We'll drive you to Ransomville General."

"I'm not going to the hospital looking like this! It's just a meegrain. The dizziness will pass. Help me to bed."

"They're called migraines, Mom." I took one side and Dad took the other.

"Would you listen to smarty-pants!" Mom was short but wide, and solid, still a dead weight after her faint. Her robe smelled of trapped sweat.

"Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital?" I asked.

"Didn't I just say no? Don't treat me like I'm stupid, Miranda. I had the brains for college, too, you know--"

I should have guessed it was about college.

The three of us stumbled through the kitchen door, down the little hall, into the bedroom. The bed springs squeaked and squealed as Mom settled in. "Oh dear," she muttered. "I won't be able to drive with you to your college."

"Gee, what a surprise. But I'm still going." All through high school, I had worked toward college. I had been in the honor society, had gotten a partial scholarship, a federal grant, a student loan, and a work-study grant. This moment of leaving had been the point whenever I thought, What's the point?

"And you can't stop me." I walked out as Dad was turning on the electric space heater and the humidifier, pulling the curtains shut.

"Did I say anything? What's the matter with her!" Mom shouted. "Bring me my pills, Miranda Jane!"

She hadn't left the county in years. It was predictable. Why did it upset me? I didn't even want her to go. My heart banged out of control against my rib cage, in panic and hope that Mom would just disappear, even if it meant her dying. I took the flat plastic box out of the refrigerator and brought it to her. It was separated into compartments designating times of the day and days of the week, the measure of Mom's life.

For her migraines, she took Fiorinal or Naprosyn, depending on the nature of her pain. For the lupus, she took Prednisone twice a day. For her postpartum depression, she had been on Elavil for eighteen years. Halcion to fall asleep. Dexamethasone for her asthma. Premarin since the hysterectomy. And Xanax for the panic attacks.

When I was little, we did drills where she pretended some health crisis and I rushed to the refrigerator to give her a pill. "No!" she would scream. "I'm a dead woman. You've just given me the wrong medication!"

I had since resolved never to take pills, not even aspirin.

"Do me a favor. Tell your father to shave before he goes. He looks like a bum." Her round face was as pale as her worn pillowcase.

I handed her a Naprosyn and a small glass of water.

"Be a daughter to me, please." She pointed to the chair by her bedside table. The humidifier blew steam on the wallpaper, which bubbled and buckled in the damp corner. The room stank of camphor, menthol, and bad breath. I wanted a cigarette. How had Dad slipped out of the room so quick? "I have to finish washing the car," I said.

"Your father said he would finish."

"No, really, I. . ." I edged toward the door.

"Frank!" Mom bellowed. "Tell Miranda you'll finish the car."

I heard the back door slam.

"He said he would finish," she insisted.

I sat down. Her bedside table smelled charred and musty. She had bought it years ago at a fire sale. Cluttered on its surface were a bell, a box of tissues, a thermometer, Vaseline, and a battery-powered blood pressure machine. The place of honor was held by a framed picture of Mom's mother, sitting on the porch, squinting and mean. Dad had taken it. Every night before she went to sleep, Mom kissed this picture. Or so she claimed.

"You're all packed," she said. "You've got your clothes."

How long was she going to keep me here? "Yes. I've got my clothes."

We had gone over them last week, and all the dresses Mom had sewn for herself years ago were mine now, for college. All the little replicas of those dresses, also sewn by her but worn by me until I was twelve or so, were packed in cardboard boxes and piled in the basement. In my bag was the floral-patterned skirt with the ruffle at the bottom and buttons running all the way up. I managed to button it only by holding my breath. It had a blouse with bell sleeves that matched. There was a green dress with a princess collar that choked and a too-tight skirt with a houndstooth-check pattern.

Mom and I just weren't shaped the same. I was taller, rounder, bigger. Mom called me chunky. She had said, "We can let out the waist in that one."

But she hadn't sewn in ages, and I didn't want to be the reason for her starting again. I wasn't going to wear her dresses anyway. I had jeans, T-shirts, normal things. "It's okay, Mom. I like it this way." I had minced after her in a skirt so tight that I couldn't take a normal step.

"I'm sure that sewing machine is somewhere around here." She had opened closets, peeked along shelves, pulled open dresser drawers, wandered out to the kitchen, a wake of hanging doors behind her. But she didn't think of the basement, and I was careful not to suggest it.

"Yes," I repeated. "I've got my clothes." I folded my hands in my lap. My fingertips were raw, chapped, my nails bitten to the quick. Big hands. Ugly hands.

"I remember you as a little girl, picking daisies out in the backyard in your sunsuit. You made a daisy chain for me. You were such a precious thing. Now you're going to college!" Mom inhaled sharply, exhaling a sob.

"Don't cry, Mom. Please." Her sobs always forced me open. I fought it. No. I didn't remember any daisy chains. No, I wasn't going to cry. But the tears welled up and I bent my head to wipe them away, imagining a child in a sundress picking daisies for a healthy, vibrant mother who laughed a musical laugh. It was only a fantasy.

I was surprised she had declined Dad's offer to drive her to the hospital, her second home. She seemed happier in a hospital bed, attached to intravenous devices, her face flushed and cheerful against a clean white pillow. "I got 'em stumped," she would say.

She had actually been written up in a textbook called Autoimmune Disease: Symptoms and Pathology. Her case appeared in a section on the difficulty of diagnoses and the flare-up remission pattern of symptoms. Her name wasn't mentioned. She was the thirty-seven-year-old female patient of Bernard Wykoff, M.D. It was back in 1975, ten years ago, and she still kept the book under her bed.

"You can bring me my jewelry box," she said.

I got up, sniffing down my tears, and walked around the bed to the dresser. There were weeping willows trailing sun-dappled leaves by a brook on the ceramic lid of Mom's jewelry box. She thought she was giving me a treat by going through her jewelry, but I was too old. I felt another sob coming. "I don't have time for this, Mom."

"Just open it. Pull out the top bit. Ow! This pain is like trolls throwing stones in my head. I should be used to it, God knows. The only meegrain-free period in my life was when I was pregnant with you." She was stroking her stomach, rustling the housedress she wore beneath her robe.

I pulled out the top container of the jewelry box, where she kept her earrings, and squashed inside was a roll of bills.

"That's for you." Mom said from her bed. "For college. For the niceties."

The bills were greasy, soft from handling.

"I've been saving it, and you're going to need some cash. And . ."  She shut her eyes. "Don't tell your father."

The scent of calamine lotion wafted from her skin as I leaned in to kiss her forehead, but she tilted her face back, her mouth pink with the Pepto-Bismol she took to counteract the nausea from the painkillers, and our lips mashed moistly, hers soft and open and mine clenched shut.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. QUICKENING by Laura Catherine Brown Reading Group Guide What role does money play in Mandy's personal development and in that of those in her world such as Tracy, Booner, Barb, her mother, her father, Priscilla, Doug?

2. How do you feel about Gert's cruelty toward and domination of her daughter? Is Gert a sympathetic character, given her own background? How are Mandy and Gert different? How are they alike? What does Gert's character reveal about motherhood, about what makes a good or bad mother?

3. How does Gert shape the person Mandy becomes? How does her father shape her? In what way does the loss of her father become an opportunity for Mandy to grow? What ideals must she surrender during her grief process? What beliefs form in their place?

4. What is the significance of the title Quickening? At what point in the book does Mandy's 'quickening' occur? Why do you believe it occurs there?

5. Compare Tracy and Mandy. Discuss their different childbearing choices, and the benefits and losses of each choice.

6. What is it about Booner that Mandy finds so compelling? What drives her to leave college and its opportunities to go and live with Booner? Why, ultimately, does the relationship between Mandy and Booner turn sour?

7. What role does alcohol play in Mandy's life and in the lives of the people in her world? What role do drugs play? How does Mandy's relationship with alcohol and drugs change in the course of the story? How do alcohol and drugs change her?

8. What is the significance of Gert's rediscovery of religion? How is Mandy's dedication to photography similar to or different from her mother's dedication to the Church of Assemblies?

9. Discuss the nature of the coming-of-age genre. How does this book adhere to the conventions of that genre? How does it differ? How is a female coming of age different than a male coming of age?

10. Do you see Mandy as a victim? Does your opinion of her change over the course of the book? What do you think will happen to Mandy after the novel's conclusion? Do you agree with the choice Mandy ultimately makes? If so, why? If not, why not?

11. Do you think of this novel as having a feminist point of view? Why or why not?

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2001

    Wonderful book!

    This was such an incredible book. I think that almost every woman could find something here that would be very real to her. I saw myself and my time in college and early adulthood as I read this book! It's a great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2001

    Read this book!

    If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would. From page one Laura Catherine Brown had me under her spell. The Quickening was a thought-provoking read. It is a book that will stay with you. I still find myself thinking about the characters in this beautiful, lovely work of art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2000

    Laura Cathrine Brown?

    Mrs. Brown and her wonderful book. It really doesn't seem like this is her first book. She knows the 'ropes' to well. The way she captures a young lady that happends to be in college is amazing. She has every aspect to a young person life that is needed. She gives the younger generation a guildline to help them though there new life. This book has a bit of every thing death, sex, trobles at home, and a boyfriend. Every college student can relate to this book in some way or another. For me it hit home, all but the father's untimely death. So with all that said I beleive that every college student and partent of that college student should read this book.

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