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Rattled: A Novel

Rattled: A Novel

4.2 7
by Debra Galant

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Set in the fictional subdivision of Galapagoes Estates," Rattled is a very funny look at what happens when soccer moms, animal rights activists, dishonest real estate developers and, of course, rattlesnakes get together and fight for ascendancy in the rapidly developing New Jersey suburbs.

Heather Peters is anxious to move to the newly minted


Set in the fictional subdivision of Galapagoes Estates," Rattled is a very funny look at what happens when soccer moms, animal rights activists, dishonest real estate developers and, of course, rattlesnakes get together and fight for ascendancy in the rapidly developing New Jersey suburbs.

Heather Peters is anxious to move to the newly minted development. All she wants there is a nice house. Well, a nice house and a nice piece of land. And of course a basement gym, a master bath with radiant heat, Jacuzzi and his-and-her toilets. She could make do without a media room if she had to. After all, the pioneers hadn't had plasma TV, and they'd survived. Heather is not your average suburban housewife—or maybe she is. Her fortuitous meeting with a endangered species of rattlesnake sets this first novel in motion. You may find yourself feeling sorry for the snake.

Editorial Reviews

Susan Adams
Galant skewers everything that's awful about exurbia: striving yuppies blinded by acquisitive mania, greedy developers who bulldoze pristine terrain, strident enviros toiling to protect venomous snakes at all costs. A gumshoe journalist is the only player who doesn't come out smelling rotten. By the time her satisfyingly serpentine story ends, Galant figures out how to give all her characters a measure of what they deserve.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Galant skewers the shallow, striving, McMansion-dwelling suburbanites in this engaging satire. Heather Peters is staring 35 in the face-though "depending on the light, [she could] still pass for a high school cheerleader"; her husband, Kevin, can barely stand her half the time, and her son, Conner, is a complete misfit-but at least they've just landed their dream home in Galapagos Estates, a new development in New Jersey. Galant follows their comic trials and those of two longtime area residents: Agnes, an animal lover and PETA sympathizer, and egg farmer Harlan White, who freelances as a handyman and makes a "fortune off those suckers." Which is how Harlan finds himself smashing the head of an endangered rattlesnake on Heather's back porch... and how Heather gets arrested after Agnes fingers her as the murderer of an endangered species... and how Galapagos Estates becomes the center of a media firestorm. Heather's rise to fame as a "rattlesnake killer" makes a handy metaphor about urban sprawl and the battle of new residents versus old ones, and pokes fun at the oversize egos of slimy developers and yuppies alike. Galant shows a keen knowledge of the real estate turf war and its soldiers in this wincingly funny book-but craft sympathetic characters she does not. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Burlington County, NJ, beware! Hell-on-wheels Heather Peters has arrived, cell phone and Gucci handbag at the ready, to decorate her new McMansion to the hilt, become the ultimate class mom, and propel her lawyer husband toward making partner. Then, face to face with a timber rattler in her backyard, she commands Harlan White, the local handyman, to kill it, a felony in a state where the snakes are considered an endangered species. Taking the blame, she gets hauled off from back-to-school night to spend an evening in jail, then basks in the national media circus that follows. It's only when an animal rights group unleashes 1500 lab rats "liberated" from a nearby testing facility that things really get ugly, and Heather swings into high gear. Add a greedy, libidinous developer, squeamish neighbors, and a cutthroat Halloween costume party for a zany poke at suburbia. Galant, whose witty and topical social commentary has graced the pages of the New York Times, nails it with her first novel. Fun for all popular fiction collections.-Christine Perkins, Burlington P.L., WA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Snakes, super-moms and nervous social climbers star in this broad satire of the nouveau riche suburbs of New Jersey. While there is little about Galant's critique that is subversive, her intimate knowledge of her subject-for five years she wrote a column about suburban living for the New York Times-allows for a few devastatingly telling details, and an undercurrent of disaffection and anxiety that gives her portrait a bit of bite. For the most part, though, she paints the semi-fictional Hebron Township in strokes broad enough to cover the side of a newly renovated multimillion-dollar barn/loft. Evolution and Eden figure heavily: Law student Kevin Peters and his wife Heather make their way up the class ladder into the Galapagos Estates, and the dream house, a lakefront McMansion called "Walden." But there are literal and figural snakes in their little piece of paradise: There's a den of legally protected rattlesnakes near the property, for one, and then there's the Peters's son Connor, the overweight, oversexed terror of the third grade. Though Heather's efforts to control and manipulate her world are nothing short of amazing, chaos, nature and eventually love, win out. Along the way we meet a witch-like environmentalist crone, a crusty old egg farmer, a sleazy developer and his mistresses (respectively serpentine and bovine) and a somewhat heroic local reporter. Heather is the wicked-Eve star of the show, a narcissist whose voracious ambition and hysterical efforts to keep up with the neighborhood's Stepford Wives drive the seemingly innocent Kevin to distraction. The cartoon-like characters and the mostly happy ending are the stuff of a Hollywood-ready screenplay. Entertaining comedicdebut with a mild sting.

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By Debra Galant

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Debra Galant
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-1923-4


All Heather wanted was a nice house. Well, a nice house and a nice lot. A few bushes out front would be nice too. And, of course, good schools. That was important.

There were a few other things that were important as well. The house had to be new, of course. At least five thousand square feet. It had to have a great room. That went without saying. It had to have a two car garage, minimum. Three would be nice, but she wasn't greedy. And it really had to back up to some scenery, woods or something. Who wanted to pay more than half a million dollars for a house and have to look out at their neighbor's swing set?

None of the other things on Heather's checklist were absolute deal breakers. A basement gym; a master bath with radiant heat, a Jacuzzi, and his-and-her toilets; a marble powder room; a kitchen shiny with stainless steel; a media room with built-in plasma screen and real movie-theater seats; and a vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom — she wanted these things, sure. Actually, it wasn't just a matter of wanting them. It was a matter of dollars and cents. Whatever house they bought, they would — eventually — have to sell. So if only for the sake of resale value, Heather needed these things. Well, most of them. She could make do without a media room if she absolutely had to. After all, the pioneers didn't have plasma TV, and they survived.

And certainly growing up in that pathetic little Cape in Nutley, New Jersey, sharing an attic bedroom with her sister, Heather had managed without any of life's luxuries. A radiator that produced more noise than heat, a bathroom that wasn't even on the same floor as her bedroom. She'd endured that. It had, as her mother was always saying, "built character." And then there were all those years that she and Kevin had been squeezed into their two-bedroom condo in Woodbridge, with the overwhelming smell of curry seeping in from the Patels' apartment across the hall and the pitter-patter of the not-so-little feet of all six Cosentini children thumping about upstairs.

No, Heather could compromise a little on the new house. They could always add movie seats later.

She and Kevin had fallen in love with this part of Burlington County, and they'd been looking here every weekend for months. The area was perfect: country but not too country. Barns, horses, things like that — but there was also a new mall anchored by a Bloomingdale's and a Saks, and its parking lot was filled with Jaguars and BMWs, so you could tell that successful people lived here. It was a great area, despite the little cracks her mother sometimes made about moving to the sticks. What did her mother know? This was where Heather belonged and the kind of people she belonged with: men like Kevin who were doing quite well in the world, and women like herself with good-enough taste to spend that income.

Most important, though, was that living out here would give Connor a leg up in the world. That was the prize she had to keep her eye on: a successful future for their one and only son, who would be starting third grade in just a month. All she asked was a fair advantage.

So far, though, she and Kevin hadn't found exactly the right house. And Heather liked things exactly right. She prided herself on being an informed shopper, in checking out every possible choice. If you weren't careful, if you didn't do all the research, you could (her stomach clenched at the very thought) make a mistake. But it was August, and if they didn't move pronto, Connor would have to change schools partway through the year. And, well, Connor wasn't exactly good with transitions. She had to think of Connor, didn't she? That was the whole point.

Today they were checking out Galapagos Estates. Maryanne, the sales manager, had told Heather there were a few houses left, prebuilt, on spec. One even had a view of a pond — and they might snatch it up if they were quick. Well, Heather thought, who was quicker than she was? So why was Kevin slowing down?

Their Land Rover stopped in a gravel lot in front of an old general store. It was a small plain white building with lots of signs. An old metal Coca-Cola sign that looked like it was from the 1940s, a big plastic sign for Vineland Farms ice cream, and smaller signs advertising sandwiches, beer and wine, coffee, copies ten cents. In front was a large ice chest and next to that a bench, which was occupied by a man in a feed cap who looked like he'd just stepped down from a tractor. Fairly pathetic as a retail establishment, Heather thought, but not without a certain rustic charm. Maybe they had some apple butter, or jam, something else countryish she could bring back to Kevin's parents, who were babysitting Connor. She prided herself on her thoughtfulness.

"Let me see the map," Kevin said.

"I told you, it's just down there. Maryanne gave me explicit directions."

He ignored her, grabbing the map off her lap. She sighed loudly. Just to let him know. Men. There was no use arguing.

Heather pulled down the visor and puckered her lips, the way she always did when she looked in a mirror. She undid the elastic holding her hair, shook her head, and redid her ponytail. She looked exactly the same as she had before. She assessed herself critically, and — except for the fact that her nose formed a little red triangle, something that happened no matter how conscientious she was about sunscreen — she was not displeased. At almost thirty-five, Heather could, depending on the light, still pass for a high school cheerleader. A good hair colorist: that was her secret. And discipline. You couldn't slack off. If you slacked off, you could gain weight. If you stopped wearing makeup, you'd become plain. They were everywhere, the fat, plain women — behind her in the supermarket, in restroom lines at the movie theater. Powerless, pathetic women whose husbands left them. She checked the mirror often, but it wasn't out of vanity. It was more like a breast self-exam.

"I'm going to get a Diet Coke," she announced.

The general store was a disappointment. No apple butter or jam, although there was Diet Coke. It was just a 7-Eleven with sawdust on the floor, Heather decided. On her way out, she glanced at the man sitting on the bench. He was wearing a feed cap and a plaid, short-sleeved shirt — probably synthetic — and he was chomping away on something that made his cheek bulge in a funny way. The man reminded her of a cow, sitting in a field chewing its cud. "Excuse me," Heather said, with the perky voice she used whenever she needed faster service from store clerks and the people who checked your tickets at the airport. Like her mother said, you got more flies with honey than you did with vinegar.

The man was looking straight ahead, as motionless as a cigar-store Indian.

"Excuse me," Heather repeated. "My husband and I are looking for Galapagos Estates. I told him it was right down there, but he doesn't believe me."

The man just continued to look straight ahead, chewing, as if Heather hadn't just asked him a question. As if, she thought, she didn't even exist. Strange. Well, maybe he was deaf. She'd had a bad bout of tinnitus back when she was in college, after going to a particularly loud Pearl Jam concert, and couldn't hear anything but a hum in her ears for weeks afterward. She still had trouble hearing sometimes. Maybe this guy had that too. She would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Heather was about to turn away when the man slowly leaned over and — still without looking at her — spat out a wad of chewing tobacco. It splashed onto the gravel, only a few inches from Heather's sneakers.

The man on the bench was Harlan White.

He had seen the little blonde get out of the big SUV and walk into the store. He hadn't noticed her here before, but that didn't mean anything. Clearly, she was one of the new people. City slickers with their noses in the air. They liked the way the country looked, but God forbid they should smell manure. People like her were ruining everything with their great big ugly houses, and all those new strip malls with tanning salons and sushi places. The thought of eating raw fish made him want to puke.

Harlan had been warming this bench for half a century. In the old days, there'd been plenty like him, men who'd grown up here, who'd carved their initials into trees as boys, hunted deer, fished trout. Back then, men had time to sit and shoot the breeze. But most of the old farmers had died, and the rest had sold out. And the tradesmen — carpenters, plumbers, roofers, and the like — well, with all the building going on these days, they didn't have time to eat, let alone sit around. Harlan saw them scarfing down sandwiches in their vans, talking on their cell phones at the same time.

Cell phones, Harlan thought with disgust. Plumbers going around like they were the president of the United States waiting on a call from Russia. That was the problem with people these days. They took themselves too goddamn serious.

Harlan was one of the few men left in Hebron Township with property big enough to run a horse on. Not that he had a horse. He had hens. He was an egg man, just like his daddy had been. Only a couple of years ago, Harlan had gone organic. That's what the people in the fancy houses wanted: "organic," "natural," "free-range." Fine. It was like stealing. He could get $3.50 a dozen.

He also hired out as a handyman, doing odd jobs for people in the big new houses. Hell, any man with a ladder and a hammer could make a fortune off those suckers. For all their fancy four-wheel-drives, not one of them could dig himself out of a little snowy driveway. They were as helpless as newborn kittens.

Take the man over there in that SUV, the one the tarty little blonde had hopped out of. Handsome-enough fellow — looked a bit like a young JFK — and just as full of himself too, probably. By the looks of things, he could buy and sell Harlan ten times over. But when a flake of snow fell, this guy would be on the phone to someone like him, someone with a real truck and a snowplow. He wouldn't rake his own leaves either, or even blow them. He'd have people for that too. People to clean his gutters, clean his pool, change his lightbulbs.

Harlan sat on the bench by himself these days. He wished that one of the few old-timers left would come by and talk about where the fish were biting. He wouldn't even mind seeing one of those fat old wives, girls he'd gone to school with, coming in for Crisco. Any old face. Anybody who knew his name. But lately there'd been nobody. In fact, the little blonde was the only person who'd walked into the store in the past hour.

He'd heard her ask for directions, all right. But it was a free country, and he was free to ignore her if he pleased. He felt better after he'd spit. He'd aimed just right. He hadn't hit her shoes, but he'd gotten close enough to send her a little message. Welcome to Hebron Township. Now get out.

A sliver of a smile broke across Harlan's face, like a hairline fissure in a great outcropping of solid rock.

"Did you see that?" Heather said when she got back into the car.

"See what?" Kevin asked.

"That man. I asked him for some simple directions, and h e ... he ..." Heather started to sputter. "He spat."

"What man?"

"That farmer," she said, pointing at the bench. "Are you blind?" She bent down and began to inspect her white Keds. "I think it was tobacco juice. Yuck."

"Doesn't sound too friendly," Kevin said.

"You think?" said Heather. "Good thing, like Maryanne says, most of the old-timers are leaving."

Kevin didn't say anything. He hated the way Heather quoted people like Maryanne. Maryanne this, Maryanne that. He'd heard it all the way down. What did she think Maryanne was, a fucking oracle?

Heather stopped inspecting her sneakers. Apparently, they weren't stained. Thank God. They wouldn't have to sue the general store. "Maryanne says they all have gas fireplaces," she said. "And guess what? They come with a remote control."

"What comes with a remote control?" asked Kevin. It was hard to keep up sometimes. Weren't they just talking about tobacco juice?

"The fireplaces!"


"Come on, Kev." Heather snapped her fingers. "Get with the program."

He sighed. He hated when she snapped. Some of the same things that had made Heather so attractive as a girlfriend — an undeniable vitality, an unexpectedly sharp tongue — were a lot harder to deal with in a wife. It had been one thing to chase after Heather when she was a cute little ponytailed coed at Rutgers. Quite another to spend his thirties always hustling to keep up.

He slammed on the brakes. There was the sign: GALAPAGOS ESTATES. It was made of logs and featured carvings of animals: a tortoise, a bird, a rabbit, deer. Two pine trees guarded the sign like wooden soldiers. Kevin steered the Land Rover down the curving drive, which was covered with a soft pine-needle carpet. It looked like the entrance to a state park, but for the fact that it ended, abruptly, in a small parking area filled with expensive cars. Just beyond the lot stood a white sales trailer.

There was mud. There was always mud. It came with the territory, because of the bulldozers and the trucks. But Kevin frowned, knowing he'd just have to pay fifteen bucks for another car wash. He wasn't going to let mud cake up on the side of a fifty-thousand-dollar car. Heather rushed into the trailer, but Kevin stopped to survey the neighborhood. A black ribbon of road unfurled into the distance. The trees planted alongside it were tiny, but the houses were huge.

Inside the trailer, which was air-conditioned to the point of refrigeration, was a rack of booklets printed on heavy, flecked, recycled stock. A large map dominated one wall, and a young Asian couple was inspecting it as if looking for hidden treasure. They were being assisted by a vivacious woman in her forties, who pointed to the map with a pencil.

"Maryanne!" Heather called.

The saleswoman nodded politely to the couple and turned toward Heather. "You must be ..."

"Heather," Heather said. "Heather Peters."

"Just give me a moment," Maryanne said, holding up a finger, "while I help the Lees. Why don't you go check out the model house? It's right there."

Heather flashed a bright smile at Maryanne and took Kevin's arm, walking him out toward the model. But once she got outside, her expression drooped. "Shit," she said. "The Lees are probably getting the lot we wanted."

She was always so dramatic, his wife. "Look, Heather," Kevin said. "I'm sure there are —"

"Weren't you listening? I told you. Maryanne said there were only three houses left."

"Well, now there'll be two," Kevin said. "We only need one."

"If they get the one by the pond, I'll just die. Damn, if we hadn't stopped at that stupid general store, we might have gotten here first."

Naturally. It was always his fault.

But it was a nice house. There was a home-entertainment center built right into the great room, and a nook in the bedroom for his treadmill. The mechanics were sound too. A brand-new, 95 percent efficiency gas-burning furnace presided over a basement clean enough to perform surgery in. No more dungeonlike cellars like his dad's, with boxes everywhere, and crumbling asbestos, and generations' worth of old tiles and linoleum and lawn furniture.

It was fine. Great. Really, they all looked pretty much alike to him. The only thing Kevin didn't like was its name: the Walden. Each house in Galapagos Estates was named for a naturalist or conservationist or something about where they'd lived. There was the Darwin, of course, the Cousteau, the Audubon, and the Walden, named for the pond where Henry David Thoreau had spent a year living simply. Wasn't the house that Thoreau lived in basically a shack? Maybe the name was supposed to suggest raw individualism, but to Kevin it suggested failure. Although the seven-hundred-thousand-dollar asking price was a stretch — now he'd have to make partner at the law firm — he didn't like the idea of living in the smallest, simplest anything.

Heather grabbed his hand and walked up the stately circular staircase, which was topped by a rotunda. The floors still smelled of polyurethane. The smaller of the two walk-in closets in the master bedroom was bigger than the room he'd slept in as a boy. Even the room Connor would get had its own walk-in closet and bathroom.

"Well, what do you think?" Heather asked. She hadn't looked this excited since he'd popped the question.


Excerpted from Rattled by Debra Galant. Copyright © 2006 Debra Galant. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Meet the Author

Debra Galant is the author of Fear and Yoga in New Jersey. She is also the creator of the popular blog Baristanet.com. She lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

Debra Galant is the author of Rattled and Fear and Yoga in New Jersey. She is also the creator of the popular blog Baristanet.com. She lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

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Rattled 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I spent my Spring Break vacation reading this book and laughed out loud! Todays setting to a tee and I could see myself in her shoes.I simply enjoyed it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a highly enjoyable and hilarious tale of mayhem, greed, and egomania in the wilds of New Jersey. Well, no longer so wild, now that several acres of pristine countryside have been leveled and replaced by one of those ugly huge-home subdivisions populated by the upwardly mobile. Problem is, the developer neglected (after buying off everyone who mattered) to tell prospective homeowners that they were sitting on top of the property of another group of homeowners - the deadly (and endangered) timber rattlers. When the overweeningly ambitious Heather Peters (think Reese Witherspoon in one of her more manic roles) tries to make her mark in the subdivision and the community she gets more than she asks for. Rattlers, animal-rights activists, the homeowners' association, non-stop media attention, a house full of lab rats run amok, and the most deadly species of all - competitive suburban soccer moms - all rear their heads. But Heather is willing to take them all on in one way or another. Few of the characters in this story are particularly likeable (a put-upon handyman neighbor and Heather's long-suffering husband are two who are), but I don't think they're supposed to be. Just go along for the ride - it's a bumpy one, but worth every delicious minute.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While no one can fault a young, upwardly mobile couple seeking the best for their family, it can often lead to the unexpected. All that glitters is not gold. The heroine here (I use this term loosely) is less than ameniable, but she does have her good points. The tale deals with how you can lose focus on what is really important while trying to 'live the good life' and have it all. Everything is equal in the end and this is a very amusing way to see that all the best intentions in the world do not make your dreams come true. Compromise, compromise.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a hater of McMansions, I was drawn to this book. It is a great, funny story filled with interesting characters. You don't have to be from Joisey to enjoy this story. It could happen anywhere you would find pretentious home buyers, greedy builders and kooky animal lovers. In other words, anywhere! As stories unfold, every nuance of modern culture is touched from nosy news people to doting parents. Read this book, you'll love it!
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