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The Rest of Her Life

The Rest of Her Life

3.6 39
by Laura Moriarty, Julia Gibson

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In The Rest of Her Life, Laura Moriarty delivers a luminous, compassionate, and provocative look at how mothers and daughters with the best intentions can be blind to the harm they do to one another.

Leigh is the mother of high-achieving, popular high school senior Kara. Their relationship is already strained for reasons Leigh does not fully understand


In The Rest of Her Life, Laura Moriarty delivers a luminous, compassionate, and provocative look at how mothers and daughters with the best intentions can be blind to the harm they do to one another.

Leigh is the mother of high-achieving, popular high school senior Kara. Their relationship is already strained for reasons Leigh does not fully understand when, in a moment of carelessness, Kara makes a mistake that ends in tragedy—the effects of which not only divide Leigh's family, but polarize the entire community. We see the story from Leigh's perspective, as she grapples with the hard reality of what her daughter has done and the devastating consequences her actions have on the family of another teenage girl in town, all while struggling to protect Kara in the face of rising public outcry.

Like the best works of Jane Hamilton, Jodi Picoult, and Alice Sebold, Laura Moriarty's The Rest of Her Life is a novel of complex moral dilemma, filled with nuanced characters and a page-turning plot that makes readers ask themselves, "What would I do?"

Editorial Reviews

Donna Rifkind
Like Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie and Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, Laura Moriarty's first novel, The Center of Everything, owed its success to the immense likability of a young female protagonist. Mixing just the right combination of solemnity and cheer, Moriarty turned a potentially sappy coming-of-age tale into a full-on charmer with the voice of her 10-year-old narrator, Evelyn Bucknow of Kerrville, Kan., who courageously traversed a hard-luck childhood without any false moves. In her second novel, the author has achieved an even more impressive goal, inspiring compassion for a character unblessed with Evelyn's immediate appeal…Moriarty's novel shows that it is not literature's job to be uplifting, or even to be beautiful. It is literature's job to say yes, to every corner of every life: yes to disaffected characters like Leigh as well as to winsome ones like Evelyn Bucknow; yes to grief as much as to solace; yes to wrongdoers as well as to the wronged; and yes most of all to "our weak attempts," as Leigh acknowledges, "to feel each other's burdens."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Moriarty's follow-up to book-group favorite The Center of Everything again explores a tense, fragile mother-daughter relationship, this time finding sharper edges where personal history and parenting meet. Now a junior high school English teacher married to a college professor, Leigh has spent much of her adult life trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional childhood. Raising their two children in a small, safe Kansas town not far from where Leigh and her troubled sister, Pam, were raised by their single mother, Leigh finds her good fortune still somewhat empty. Daughter Kara, 18 and a high school senior, is distant; sensitive younger son Justin is unpopular; Leigh can't seem to reach either-Kara in particular sees Leigh (rightly) as self-absorbed. When Kara accidentally hits and kills another high school girl with the family's car, Leigh is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her daughter, her resentment toward her husband (who understands Kara better) and her long-buried angst about her own neglectful mother. The intriguing supporting characters are limited by not-very-likable Leigh's POV, but Moriarty effectively conveys Leigh's longing for escape and wariness of reckoning. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

It's the dream of every woman who had a troubled relationship with her mother that her relationship with her own daughter will be different, and Leigh's mother, who left Leigh to fend for herself when she was 16 years old, was certainly no role model. Unfortunately, though raised with love, care, and the financial security of an upper-middle class lifestyle, 18-year-old Kara has never been close to her mom. So when Kara, driving inattentively, accidentally kills another high school girl, past and present begin to merge in Leigh's distraught mind. While the first half of the novel is excellent, the second half is studded with what seem like unavoidable cliches. Moriarty (The Center of Everything) can't seem to get out of her own way; it's almost as if she's repeating information straight out of self-help books. Then there's the larger problem of transferring a novel this slowly paced to audio. Julia Gibson's narration is spirited, but Moriarty's sense of language is not well crafted enough to be fully absorbing. Recommended for larger collections.
—Rochelle Ratner

Kirkus Reviews
Another novel of troubled mothers and daughters from Moriarty (The Center of Everything, 2003), whose straightforward, unadorned prose speaks on some level to every woman. Leigh and her older sister Pam came up the hard way, always the new kids at school in one nameless town after another because their divorced mother kept changing jobs. Left to fend for herself when Mom moved alone to California, Leigh struggled to make it through college. In addition to a degree in education, she also picked up Shakespearean grad student Gary. As the book opens, the couple lives in a small Kansas town; Gary teaches at the local university, Leigh at the middle school. Their daughter Kara, just about to graduate from high school and leave for college, is a golden girl who doesn't find it easy to relate to her mother. Younger child Justin, engaging but friendless, longs for acceptance from his peers. The middle-class family's seemingly golden life hits a bump in the road when Kara, driving home from school, accidentally strikes a fellow student in a pedestrian crossing and kills her. The small town that had seemed like a protective blanket suddenly becomes a city of eyes, watching and prying-or at least that's how the family perceives it. As Kara struggles with her conscience, Leigh finds herself unable to connect with her own daughter. She remembers her hardscrabble childhood and the mother she swore never to emulate. In this compelling story of female relationships-mothers, sisters, daughters and best friends-Moriarty's characters grab readers the minute they enter the story, and recollections of their vivid personalities will linger long after the last page. Well-written, convincing and impossible toput down.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.28(w) x 5.86(h) x 1.58(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Laura Moriarty


Copyright © 2007 Laura Moriarty
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-0271-9

Chapter One

Several times that summer, Leigh further tormented herself by considering all the ways the accident might never have happened. She thought of the stray dog, and how its presence had, in a sense, decided everything. If there had been no dog, there would have been no accident. If the dog would have stayed home where it belonged, if it would have had a more responsible owner, if it wouldn't have dug under a fence or slipped through an open door, it would not have followed some scent this way and that until it ended up in the middle of Commerce Street at that particular time on that particular afternoon. Leigh's daughter would most likely have driven home without incident, and Bethany Cleese would still be alive.

But the dog was there, standing on the raised median of Commerce, and maybe enjoying its freedom, though Kara later said that it was panting hard when she saw it. It was warm out, the middle of the afternoon of the last day of school. Kara, being a senior, had already been out for a week, but she and Willow had gone back to the high school to pick up their graduation gowns. On the way home, they stopped at the Sonic drive-thru, and when they pulled back onto Commerce, they noticed the dog as it started to step off the median. They watched,cringing, as the dog moved past screeching tires until it reached the other side of the street. Kara, who volunteered Sundays at the animal shelter, who on her twelfth birthday asked her parents to take the money they were going to spend on her presents and instead buy food for the shelter's animals, couldn't just drive away. She pulled into the parking lot of Raymond's Liquor, where she and Willow got out of the car, crouched low, and held out their still-warm fries to lure the dog away from traffic, into their arms, and eventually, the Suburban that Gary, not Leigh, had allowed Kara to start driving around town as soon as she'd gotten her license.

So really, Leigh often thought, any small change in detail might have altered the horrible outcome. If the stray would have been a different breed of dog, not so friendly, more skittish, it wouldn't have come to the girls, and Kara would not have been so distracted when she pulled back out of the lot. Willow later told the police that they were both laughing, trying to keep the dog in the backseat when they heard the dull thud that turned out to be the sound of the car striking another girl hard enough to kill her. But Leigh knew there had been other distractions: Kara had been on the phone-she'd admitted that from the start. Leigh imagined the girls had the radio turned up as well, though she never asked if this were true. Leigh was a mother capable of tact and sympathy. She tried. She was always trying. Sometimes, however, despite her best efforts, she apparently said the wrong things.

When she imagined the interior of the Suburban in those final moments, she pictured the dog as a terrier mix, tan, for some reason, like Benji. Leigh never actually saw the dog. She didn't even know about the dog and its involvement in the accident until much later, even though when the accident happened, she was just seven blocks away, teaching eighth grade English at the junior high, as she had been almost every school day for more than a decade. She was seven blocks away, and she had no idea it had happened. Just after the ambulance arrived, Kara used her cell phone to call her father's office on campus. Gary wasn't there, but the call had gone back to the English Department, and the secretary, hearing the distress in the caller's voice, had tracked him down in a faculty meeting on a different floor. Gary told Leigh later that when he got on the phone, he didn't recognize their daughter's voice. She was crying hard, and it sounded as if she were shivering, which, he remembered thinking, made no sense on such a warm day. When he finally understood, he gave the phone to the secretary and ran across the neatly trimmed lawns of campus to the parking lot in his tie and jacket. He had not run so far and so quickly for many years, and when he finally got to his car, he had to stand still for a moment to catch his breath, his hand pressed hard against his heart.

All this happened around three in the afternoon. Leigh remembered hearing the sirens, and she felt the worry she always did, but it was the vague worry she associated with other people's losses, other people's children. She didn't know the sirens had anything to do with her life until she arrived home hours later, her students' final exams rolled under one arm. She had been slightly irritated. Someone had overturned the recycling bin in the mudroom, and she almost slipped on a stray aluminum can. Catching herself, she looked up and saw her husband and her daughter in the living room. They were on the couch, sitting very close to each other in a way that made her think of couples she sometimes saw in trucks, the man driving, the woman in the middle where an armrest should be. She'd made a clicking sound with her tongue, loud enough for them to hear. They had just left the cans sitting there for her to pick up. But then she walked closer, and she knew something was wrong. Gary had his arm around Kara's shoulders, and his other arm held her hands down against her knees. She couldn't see Kara's face, just a tangled mass of dark blond hair. She could see Gary's face, strained with effort, his eyeglasses crooked on his nose. And Justin, Justin was there too. He sat on the floor, his lunch bag and backpack by his feet, looking up at Leigh as if the three of them had been stranded there together for days, and she was the long awaited help that had finally arrived.

"What's going on?"

No one answered, and she felt the first tick of dread. But they were all there, her husband, her son, and her daughter. So nothing so terrible could have happened. She glanced through the picture window. The Suburban wasn't in the driveway.

"What happened? The car?" There may have been a hint of righteousness in her tone. She had been against letting Kara drive the Suburban to school. It was Gary's old car, seven years old with a dented fender, but when Leigh was in high school, she'd taken the bus. There was nothing wrong with the bus.

Kara said nothing, squinting up at her mother as if she were a too bright light. Maybe it was only later that she decided this, but the way Leigh remembered it, the very moment their eyes met, even before she knew what had happened, she had the impression that something about her daughter's face had changed in a permanent way. Kara's posture was usually so good, but she sat hunched forward on the couch, and she looked young and small next to Gary. Her eyes had that luminous, silvery glaze they took on when she'd been crying, and they moved from the floor to the ceiling to the wall in quick, jerky movements. She looked like a dying bird, Leigh thought, a fledgling kicked out of the nest.

Leigh ducked to meet her gaze, but couldn't catch it.

"What?" she said again, the t sound coming out hard. She looked at Gary, but he, too, said nothing. Leigh felt herself getting angry. They had already formed their alliance, Leigh thought. They would not admit she had been right about the car.

"There was an accident," Gary said, and Leigh understood by the tone of his voice that the Suburban was not the concern. She let herself fall into an armchair, her keys jingling in her hand. Her key chain had a large, pink heart attached to the rings-it was sentimental and cheap looking, nothing she would have purchased for herself. But it had been a gift from Justin last Christmas, so she had dutifully clipped it to her keys. As Gary talked, Leigh saw that Kara had scratch marks on each cheek. Gary was holding her hands down, she realized. She looked at Kara's polished, pink nails, and turned the metal heart in her hand.

"Kara was driving. She hit someone in a crosswalk. A girl."

Kara's eyes moved in his direction, then back to the floor. Leigh held her breath. Gary's eyes were shiny behind his glasses, and just by that, perhaps, Leigh should have known. They'd been married for twenty years, and she'd seen him cry exactly twice-when he first learned his mother had cancer, and again on the night she died.

"What happened? What happened to the girl?"

He closed his eyes briefly. When he opened them, he looked away, as if he had answered her question.

"Gary. What?"

"She died," he said. He sounded annoyed, as if she were pestering him about something obvious.

Leigh glanced through the kitchen and the mudroom to the door she'd just come in. Two minutes earlier, she'd pulled into the garage on a sunny afternoon, another school year over, U2 playing on the radio. She'd been worried about Mr. Tork and the PTA. Before she got out of the car, she'd looked in the rearview mirror and considered that she had been skinny and fleshless her whole life and this was probably why her face was aging so quickly. These things-the PTA, wrinkles-had been her concerns.

"Who?" she asked.

"Another high school student."

She braced herself. "Who? What was the name?"

Gary frowned. He loosened his tie, unbuttoned two buttons, but his shirt was stained with sweat beneath his armpits.

"Bethany Cleese."

They both flinched. Kara had spoken, and her voice sounded unfamiliar, low and gravelly, like an old man's. Leigh made a quick, pushing movement with her hands, but an image of Bethany came to her at once, the way she had looked in Leigh's eighth grade class, her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, sitting at her desk in the front of the room. Leigh had had so many students over the years, and it was hard to remember the quiet ones. But last year, she'd bumped into Bethany and her mother at the grocery store. The mother had a different last name, something Leigh couldn't remember, and she'd had dyed blond hair, yellowy and flat under the grocery store's fluorescent lights. She'd apologized for never making it to parent-teacher conferences. She'd been working in the evenings then, she explained, but she'd very much wanted to meet the teacher her daughter had liked so much. Bethany had looked embarrassed, Leigh remembered, her large brown eyes cast downward. But the mother kept talking, pushing her shopping cart back and forth as if there were a sleeping child inside. She'd started her own cleaning business, she said, and now she could be at home with her daughter in the evenings. Business was going well.

Leigh had nodded enthusiastically, thinking she wished she could convey that it wasn't necessary to explain all this: Bethany had been out of her classroom for a year, and she realized many parents worked evenings. But then the mother reached into a compartment of her purse and handed Leigh a card. She had room for another client, she said. The rates were low, the service fantastic. Bethany made a quiet growling sound and turned away for a moment, but then they both smiled at Leigh, looking at her with their matching dark eyes. Later, when Leigh caught sight of them in the produce aisle, Bethany had her head close to her mother's shoulder, and the mother was laughing at something she'd said.

Leigh had thrown the phone number away. She and Gary might have been able to afford a cleaning, maybe once a month, but Bethany's mother, even with her bleached hair, had seemed like such a neat and tidy person, with her clipped coupons and her organized purse. Leigh would have been embarrassed, knowing how bad her house could get.

Now, sitting stunned in the armchair and holding the metal heart key chain, she could recall Bethany's mother perfectly, her snub nose, her high thin brows. Leigh wondered if she knew yet, and if so, how the news had been delivered. She pictured her doubling over, shaking her head. She would hate them. She would hate Kara. Leigh looked at her daughter. Gary had pulled her hands away from her knees, and Leigh could see the half-moon marks her nails had left in her skin. She'd started going to a tanning booth just before the prom, and the skin around the marks was golden.

"Oh honey," she said, and at that moment she was speaking for all of them, for Kara, for Bethany and her mother, for Justin, and for Gary, who looked so miserable and hot. He had pale skin that burned easily, and the afternoon light coming through the window was strong and bright. Leigh stood up and pulled the curtain shut, then sat on the armrest next to Kara, reaching behind her so her hand grazed Gary's side. Her knees touched Justin's small back, and for a moment, she felt stronger, knowing they were all four physically connected. It was as if she'd been activated, a lamp plugged into a socket. But then Kara stiffened, and Leigh was certain she seemed to pull away from her, leaning a little closer to her father.

"They just ... let her come home with you?" Leigh heard her own voice, so uncertain. She didn't know what to say. "What did the police ..."

Gary leaned forward. "She wasn't drunk. It was an accident."

Leigh shook her head. That wasn't what she'd meant. She touched Kara's arm. Her fingers looked pale against her tanned skin. "Were you ... She was in the crosswalk? You're sure?"

Kara shrugged. "I didn't see her."

"Why not?"

She asked this as gently as she could. But she needed to know. Everyone else knew what had happened, but she was just learning. The information would all come to her secondhand. She would never know as much as she should.

"Did she ... Did she run out?"

"I don't know." Kara looked up at her mother, her gray eyes wide and bright. "I can't tell you. I don't know, okay? I don't know why I didn't see her. I just didn't."

Leigh drew back. They were both mad at her. It was this same old hurt, she thought, feeling selfish and stupid, that brought the first tears to her eyes. She should be crying for Bethany, or not at all. She swallowed, shook her head, and stood up.

"I'm going to make you a sandwich," she said. She didn't look back. She didn't want to hear yes or no. She would find out the details from Gary later. But when she got to the entryway of the kitchen, she turned around and looked at them once again. Gary's arm was still around Kara's shoulders, and it rested there in a natural, easy-looking way. Kara was turned toward him, her cheek pressed against his chest. Leigh stared for a moment, holding her breath. Her whole life, she'd blurred sadness with anger. She knew this about herself. She was aware. But it was still hard to tell when this blurring was a fault.

She walked back into the living room and coughed twice. Gary and Justin both looked up, and Leigh nodded her head toward the kitchen. When Justin started to rise, she raised her palm. At twelve years old, he could understand subtle gestures, but Gary, the one she actually wanted to stand, stared at her dumbly from the couch. She moved her head again and bulged her eyes. When Gary stood, she ducked back into the kitchen. She turned on the dishwasher. There was a bag of sliced bread on the counter, but she took a loaf out of the freezer, pulled out two slices, and put them in the microwave. She went to the sink and turned on the faucet.

"What are you doing?" Gary always had to duck a little as he passed into the kitchen, the white frame grazing the top of his head. He liked to joke that it was the frame that was taking his hair off, a little more every year. She took his arm and pulled him to her. "I'm making noise so she can't hear." She'd intended to whisper, but it came out as a hiss. "My God. Tell me what happened."

He nodded, readjusting his glasses, and she saw how exhausted he looked. She could smell the dried sweat on his shirt. It was then he told her about running across the campus lawn, how his heart had pounded, how it had seemed to take forever to drive across town. When he got there, he'd found Kara in the backseat of the sheriff's car, lying on her side, her arms covering her face. She'd called him "Daddy," he said. She hadn't done that in years.

"Why didn't you call me?"

He blinked. For a moment, he seemed not to know. "I tried. I tried right away, as soon as I got the call. It was after three thirty, so I called your cell. You didn't answer. I tried again from the car."

And then she remembered. Her phone had rung when she was talking with Jim Tork. The meeting had been tense-Jim Tork did not want his son reading The Great Gatsby in Leigh's eighth grade English class the following year because-Mr. Tork had counted off each reason on a long, thin finger-the story was inordinately depressing; it held up a decadent lifestyle as something to aspire to; it narrated adultery as if it were commonplace; and more than one character casually took the Lord's name in vain. He was also upset about the Flannery O'Connor story, and the memoir by Tobias Wolff. He'd looked at all the stories on Leigh's reading list, he said. The common thread, as far as he could tell, was that they were all depressing.


Excerpted from THE REST OF HER LIFE by Laura Moriarty Copyright © 2007 by Laura Moriarty. 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.

What People are saying about this

Jodi Picoult
Are the sins of the parents visited upon the children, or vice versa? Laura Moriarty's raw, honest novel about an ordinary family whose life changes in one extraordinary moment resonates like an emotional tuning fork. You'll be asking yourself what you would do in this situation, long after you've finished reading.

Meet the Author

Laura Moriarty received her master's degree from the University of Kansas, and was awarded the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. Her first novel was The Center of Everything. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 24, 1979
Place of Birth:
Honolulu, Hawaii
B.S.W., University of Kansas, 1993; M.A. in English, University of Kansas, 2000

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