The Zielinskis, the dysfunctional family of Riggle's delightful debut, have some problems, even if things at Mirabelle and Max's 35th anniversary party-thrown by their three adult children-at first seem peachy. Soon, though, the cracks appear: daughter Katya's stuck in a loveless marriage and saddled with three bratty kids. Son Ivan's a struggling songwriter who falls for all the wrong girls, and the youngest daughter, Irina, is a free-spirited 21-year-old, knocked up by a man twice her age. There's just no more room in their lives for another problem, but Mirabelle has a secret-she's dying of breast cancer. With ease and grace, Riggle walks the fine line between sentimentality and comedy, and she has a sure hand in creating fun, quirky characters. Humorous and humane storytelling makes this much better than the standard cancer tear-jerker. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Real Life and Liarsby Kristina Riggle
Sometimes you find happiness where, and when, you least expect it.
For Mirabelle Zielinski's children, happiness always seems to be just out of reach. Her polished oldest daughter, Katya, clings to a stale marriage with a workaholic husband and three spoiled children. Her son, Ivan, so creative, is a down-in-the-dumps songwriter with the worst taste in women.… See more details below
Sometimes you find happiness where, and when, you least expect it.
For Mirabelle Zielinski's children, happiness always seems to be just out of reach. Her polished oldest daughter, Katya, clings to a stale marriage with a workaholic husband and three spoiled children. Her son, Ivan, so creative, is a down-in-the-dumps songwriter with the worst taste in women. And the "baby," impulsive Irina, who lives life on a whim, is now reluctantly pregnant and hitched to a man who is twice her age. On the weekend of their parents' anniversary party, lies will be revealed, hearts will be broken...but love will also be found. And the biggest shock may come from Mirabelle herself, because she has a secret that will change everything.
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Real Life & Liars
My tea tastes so fresh, and this joint is so fine, I might meltright into the red-velvet cushion and run down the walls into a silvery pool on the floor.
Sure, I'm a little old to be toking up. Five years north of sixty. So sue me. It's been a rough couple weeks around here.
The kids-actually, just my oldest, the other two are dragged along under the wheels of her train-are throwing us an anniversary party. By tomorrow night they will all be here, with spouse, children, suitcases, plus the usual petty arguments and festering resentments.
And I thought my being a hippie would free them of all that crap. The joke's on me.
"Mira!" calls my husband from the kitchen. "Mira?" he says a second time, maybe realizing how frantic he sounded.
"In here!" I know he will follow my voiceand check on me, and ask me some ludicrous question like where the spatula is when he knows darn well. Lately, he can't let me out of his sight for very long. It's like living with a toddler again. I'm surprised he doesn't come into the bathroom while I'm taking a dump.
But then, didn't I long for this, his fervent attention? As they say, be careful what you wish for. It's like some sort of medieval fable, where a wish has been granted with a horrible catch in the bargain.
In the echo of all this deference rings that horrible fight, when he turned into someone else, something alien possessing him such that I've never seen in forty years. I take a deep drag from the joint and shake my head a little, shaking away the memory.
Max pokes his head into the study, and Iplace my joint carefully in the ashtray on the seat next to me. He's got Einstein hair this morning. His sandy-colored curly mop sticks up on each side, but he's bald in the middle. His spectacles are on top of his head, and his ratty red bathrobe hangs open over his boxers and T-shirt. He doesn't mention the marijuana smell or the joint smoldering next to me.
"Honey, are you all right? Where's the egg beater?" he asks.
I turn my head to the side and blow out a stream of smoke, slowly. "We don't have one. Use the whisk."
Max comes over and plants an urgent kiss on my cheek, and another on my lips, before heading back out to the kitchen.
The phone rings, and I unfold myself to answer it. Max is likely so involved in beating eggs or on a whisk reconnaissance that he doesn't even hear it. Ah, the absentminded artiste.
"Mom! Good, I caught you. It's not too early, is it? Great, listen I wanted to ask you about the flower arrangements, he said he doesn't have enough lilies if you can believe that nonsense so I wondered . . ."
And so on. I couldn't give a goddamn. I pick up the joint and breathe in again, smooth and deep. I preferred daisies for the party, but Katya said they were too common, practically weeds.
Heaven forbid I love a weed. I should make myself a bouquet of dandelions. No, a crown of dandelions, better yet.
"Mom? Are you listening? I asked you about the freesia."
Exhale. "Sure, sweetie. That sounds nice. So, are you sure you want to stay in a hotel? We can put sleeping bags on the floor, and the kids would be just fine."
"No, I don't want to trouble you," she says, which I translate to mean, No, my kids hate staying at your house because you don't have cable.
"If you insist. Love you, see you tonight."
How did my eldest daughter get so wrapped up in material things? Freesia, lilies, twinkle lights wrapped around fake trees, and crystal goblets. Why does she give a damn?
Myself, I shopped at thrift stores, wore clothes my best friend Patty sewed for me. The same for the kids, though Katya never let me forget the great torment she suffered as a result of wearing something that wasn't-oh, the humanity-brand-new. Katya never saw me obsess about looks. She didn't see glossy fashion magazines with starved models languishing on sun-bleached beaches. I never competed with the neighbors for bigger, newer, best.
We all have the best-laid plans for our children, and they go and ruin it all by growing up any way they want to. What the hell was it all for, then?
At least she's healthy. They all are, thank goodness for that. My sweet, misunderstood Ivan, and Irina, my butterfly, flitting through life.
The morning sun slips over the houses across the street and pours into my study, setting my maple rolltop desk in a halo, glinting off the brass nameplate that Max bought me when I landed my teaching job at the college. I had it in my office at first, but it looked so grand and pretentious in my tiny cubbyhole that I brought it home to my rolltop, where it's been ever since.
MIRABELLE ZIELINSKI, it says. I would have preferred to use my full, legal, hyphenated name, but I'm sure Mirabelle Delouvois-Zielinski would never have fit.
When I started that job, full of vigor and bright-eyed with promise, I could not have reckoned that more than thirty years later they'd be trying to hustle me out the door like a drunken party guest who stayed too late.
The soft morning light illuminates my filing system of piles all over the place. Each pile has a specific purpose, mind you. Maybe I should start real files. Someone else, someday, maybe soon, will have to sort through all this. I should do it myself. Throw everything away that's unnecessary, which is to say, everything.Real Life & Liars. Copyright (c) by Kristina Riggle . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
A freelance journalist, published short-story writer, and fiction coeditor at the e-zine Literary Mama, Kristina Riggle lives and writes in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, two kids, and dog.
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