Real Mother: A Novel

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Overview

Sara Elliott has been forced to give up the life she's dreamed of, to return to Chicago and take charge of her sisters and brother. She finds a job and settles into the house she grew up in, building a life for ten-year-old Doug and teenagers Carrie and Abby.

But Sara has another brother, Mack, now twenty, who left home three years earlier. Suddenly he reappears, cheerful and unconcerned, as if he had never broken his promise to stay and help Sara with the children and the ...

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The Real Mother

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Overview

Sara Elliott has been forced to give up the life she's dreamed of, to return to Chicago and take charge of her sisters and brother. She finds a job and settles into the house she grew up in, building a life for ten-year-old Doug and teenagers Carrie and Abby.

But Sara has another brother, Mack, now twenty, who left home three years earlier. Suddenly he reappears, cheerful and unconcerned, as if he had never broken his promise to stay and help Sara with the children and the house. With bewildering volatility, Mack swings from kindness to cruelty, affection to hostility, keeping the family always on edge, his past and present a mystery.

Mack challenges all Sara has achieved. And just when she thinks her life has room only for work and family, she meets Reuben Lister, a client from New York. Together, Sara and Reuben find answers to the questions: What is a mother? What is a parent? What is a family?

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Enough conflict, glamour, and intrigue to keep...fans happy.”
Publishers Weekly
The bestselling pseudonymous husband-wife duo Judith Barnard and Michael Fain return (after 1999's A Certain Smile) with a formulaic novel set in their hometown of Chicago. Saintly 27-year-old Sara Elliott works as City Greeter (aka "Everybody's Schlepper")-a job that swiftly, conveniently introduces her to both arch-villain Lew Corcoran and romantic hero Reuben Lister. Sara meant to be a doctor, but her paycheck provides for three adolescent half-siblings, ever since their mom, Tess, had a disabling stroke that landed her in a nursing home. All the other grownups have checked out-Sara's father died; Tess's second husband ran off; and Mack, eldest child of Tess's second marriage, has also vanished. Now Mack comes back, playing havoc with the kids' emotions and assaulting Sara's primacy. The novel is generally short on shades of gray, but Mack is coal black. When he isn't saying "shit" or "fuck" to his appalled, delighted sibs, he talks in odd litanies of three: "A fine robe finely made that feels fine." Ages before Sara catches on, the reader is certainly certain of the certainty that he's working with Lew to squelch Reuben's low-income housing project. Curiously, Chicago itself never comes to life, although Greenwich Village is finely drawn when Sara visits Reuben on his home turf. Alas, Mack burns down the house while she's trysting, but that's the kind of middle-America melodrama that Michael's readers seem to love. Agents, Jane Rotrosen and Meg Ruley. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers will be disappointed with Michael's (A Certain Smile) first book after a six-year absence. Weak characters along with sappy dialog won't entertain for long. After her father and brother disappear, and with her mother recovering from a stroke in a nursing home, Sara makes the decision to leave medical school to care for her younger siblings in Chicago, where she takes a job as a greeter who helps the rich find homes. Things seem to be going along reasonably well when her missing brother returns home. Meanwhile, Sara has a budding romance with an attractive and mysterious client that starts to complicate her life. A subplot involving some of her unsavory past clients doesn't do much to enhance the overall story. Sara's suffering becomes tedious as the plot struggles to strike a balance among romance, suspense, and an examination of family relationships. Still, Michael is a brand name in women's fiction, and public libraries should purchase accordingly. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/04.]-Margaret Hanes, Sterling Heights P.L., MI Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Troubled family, endless complications. Sara Elliot was always the perfect one: first-born, straight-A student, bound for medical school, etc. But she gave up her dream three years ago, at 24, when a stroke left her mother infirm and speechless and Sara devoted her life to caring for her adolescent sisters, Carrie and Abby, and ten-year-old brother Doug, meanwhile sticking with her own thankless job of finding luxury housing for loudmouthed rich people who dress badly and condescend to her. Yet, selfless to a fault, Sara never complains, says anything rude or funny, or even asks the burning question that every put-upon soap-opera heroine must ask: When will it be my turn? Maybe never. Mack, her manic, self-absorbed, younger brother is back in town. Perhaps Sara will be forced to confront the flaws in his volatile character-once she gets a nutritious dinner on the table, coaxes her sibs to eat their vegetables and do their homework, and offers moral guidance, fresh bread, and words of wisdom to all. Yet a romantic heart still beats faintly in the steel bosom of this annoying female robot: Reuben, a handsome, rich, also perfect client, seems to be single. But, wait! Is that a vengeful, money-hungry wife in his closet, claiming that Reuben's bestial sexual demands forced her to have abortions? Sara would cry, if she weren't a robot. The march of the subplots begins (cue the mighty Wurlitzer). Mack throws a tantrum in the nursing home where his addled mother languishes and explains why he's so messed up before his dreams of glory make him easy prey for a cigar-chomping, casino-building monster, another of Sara's clients. Reuben's wife decides to accept a few zillion dollars, thus freeingReuben to buy a cool, minimalist loft in New York. But it's not a real home, Sara frets . . . . Happy ending, rife with platitudes, and it's a wrap. Podgy prose, bland characters, dated story from this ever-popular husband-and-wife team (A Certain Smile, 1999, etc.). Agent: Jane Berkey/Jane Rotrosen Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060759391
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 720
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Michael is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife writing team Judith Barnard and Michael Fain. They live in Chicago, Illinois, and Aspen, Colorado.

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First Chapter

The Real Mother LP

Chapter One

Sara arrived at the airline terminal as the Corcorans walked out, trailed by a young man pushing a cart piled with luggage. She wedged her car between taxis and stepped out to open the trunk and the two passenger doors before extending her hand to Lew Corcoran. "Sara Elliott," she said. "Welcome to Chicago."

"Right." His handshake was perfunctory. Squinting in the bright sun, he pulled a five-dollar bill from his wallet, considered it, replaced it with two singles, and shoved them into the young man's hand. He slid into the front seat, turning to Sara.

"I don't have a lot of time, I'm a busy man."

"We'll move quickly, then," Sara said with a smile, and when Pussy Corcoran, fur-clad and rosy-cheeked, had anchored herself in the center of the backseat, she drove toward the city.

"Never used one of you people before," Corcoran said, staring moodily through the window. "Taking a chance. Could be a waste of time."

"We'll try to make sure it isn't," Sara said pleasantly.

Everyone asked her how she managed to deal with her clients, spending her days with strangers who did nothing but make demands on her. "It's like a grab bag, your job," they said. "You never know who'll pop out when you answer your phone. It could be anybody. Anybody. The oddest people."

Her office telephone number was posted at airports, train stations, and rest stops on highways leading into the city. "Welcome to Chicago," the signs said above the mayor's signature. "For an official Welcome, and assistance with your visit or becoming a Chicago resident, our City Greeter is ready to serve you." Beneath, in bold type, were Sara's name and City Hall telephone number and e-mail.

Officially, her title was City Greeter; unofficially, she was General Factotum, Global Secretary, Walking Encyclopedia, Personal Telephone Directory, Everybody's Schlepper. Officially and unofficially, she was always supposed to be smiling.

"We'll be looking at three apartments," she said when they were on the highway. "And I have the names -- "

"You a broker?" Corcoran asked. "Otherwise, why bother, if we have to find a real estate broker when we're done with you?"

"I'm a real estate broker," Sara said, smiling. "I've lined up three apartments for you to look at. And, as Mrs. Corcoran requested, I have the names of four personal shoppers for her to interview."

"You're the one supposed to do the interviews," Corcoran said. "Weed them out."

Sara smiled. "You telephoned yesterday; that gave me very little time."

He rubbed the large ring on the fourth finger of his right hand as if ordering a genie to spring forth. The ring looked vaguely military, Sara thought. He filled his seat, a large man, ruddy-skinned, jowly, with a spreading nose and strangely small eyes, his sleek suit tailored to minimize his bulk. In back, Pussy Corcoran was small and round, perspiring gently inside her furs, her sprayed hair shining metallically in the April sunlight.

"All the apartments are available immediately," Sara said, "so if you decide on one, you would be in a hotel only until your furniture arrives."

"Don't bother with anything that doesn't have a view," Corcoran said. "I require a view."

"And a garage?" said Pussy. "So I don't go out in the rain?"

"Attended," said Corcoran. "Twenty-four hours. Same for the door-man. Twenty-four hours. Numero uno on my list, top-notch service twenty-four/seven."

"Maid service?"Pussy said. "And big bathrooms? Room to move around in, and one for each of us...that keeps a marriage together? Stays together?"H er chirping laughter trickled down the back of Sara's neck.

"Stupid." Corcoran snorted. He lit a cigarette.

"Smoking is not allowed in our cars," Sara said. She smiled. "If you'd like, I can stop at a hotel; you can smoke in the lobby, and I'll wait for you."

"Fucking son of a bitch," he exploded. "I'm a client, you don't tell a client what to do; you make clients happy, for Christ's sake. I'm paying you; it's my money, and if it's my fucking money I can fucking smoke in your fucking car."

Sara pulled into a turnout on the highway, and turned off the car engine. "I'm sorry, but I did not invent the policy."

"Lew," said Pussy, "it's only a few more minutes. Is that right?" she asked Sara.

"About fifteen minutes," Sara said.

"Lew, it's only fifteen minutes," said Pussy. "Couldn't you -- "

"Shut up." He scowled at the cars speeding past, then opened the window and flung the cigarette away. "Satisfied?" he asked Sara. "Never been treated like this," he muttered. "Been all over the world -- "

Pussy interrupted. "They wouldn't let you smoke in that limousine in -- "

"Goddamn it, I said shut up!" There was a silence. "Well, what the fuck," he said to Sara. "We going or not?"

"Of course." She started the car and rejoined the flow of traffic.

"And closets?" Pussy said brightly. "Big ones? And a cedar one for our furs? Big enough for the coats to breathe? You know how they need to breathe. Well... " In the rearview mirror, her appraising eyes met Sara's. "Well, probably you don't; but they do, you know. Breathe? They need more room than a bunch of fatties at a convention!" Her laughter chirped again.

"Shut up," Corcoran said absently. They turned onto Lake Shore Drive, and he gazed heavily at Lake Michigan, its choppy steel blue waves and tossing whitecaps stretching to a horizon that cut across their view like a knife edge between dark lake and pale blue sky. "Not like the ocean," he muttered.

Sara hated both of them. But her hands were steady as she drove, and there was a smile on her face.

"And maids?" Pussy said. "These apartments come with maids?"

Sara shook her head. "I'm afraid not. I could show you condominiums in hotels that do provide -- "

"No hotels!" barked Corcoran ...

The Real Mother LP. Copyright © by Judith Michael. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2005

    FIRST-RATE VOICE PERFORMANCE BY MELISSA LEO

    Writing under the name of Judith Michael, the husband/wife team of Judith Barnard and Michael Fain have won a host of fans (A Certain Smile). They know just how much romance to blend with suspense to make readers happy. They've done it again with 'The Real Mother.' Daytime Emmy nominee Melissa Leo gives a virtuoso performance of this story of a giving young woman faced with difficult choices. She beautifully segues between the almost saintly Sara Elliott and the often foul-mouthed 20-year-old Mack. When Sara's mother suffers a disabling stroke, Sara returns to Chicago to take on the care of her step brothers and sisters. There is no one else. Her father is dead, her mother's second husband took off, and Mack, the eldest from her mother's second marriage, also took to the road - but not for long. Mack returns, rather nonchalantly just as if he had never deserted his responsibility for his younger siblings. He's a complex character, swinging between volatile and thoughtful. It's not long before the young ones align themselves with him against Sara. However, there's light on the horizon in the form of Reuben, a steadfast man from New York who wants to build a low-income housing project. As we best know, the best laid plans can go awry or made to go awry. An engrossing listen.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2005

    A disappointment

    I have been a fan of Judith Michael books for years. After many months of anticipation, I was truly disappointed. I found the dialogue very stilted and adult-like for children who are supposed to be 10 and 13 years of age. There are many scenes not fully explained or followed through. After I finished reading this book, I could only think, 'What was the point?'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2005

    I loved this book!!!

    I absolutely loved this book. My own family is going through some hard times, and I felt supported and hopeful because The Real Mother showed that even 'not normal' families are good and supportive and strong. I am a big Judith Michael fan and like all her books, this one is well written, thoughtful, sensitive--and a great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted July 22, 2010

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    Posted April 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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