A quirky charm takes the place of easy answers in this midlife tear-up, originally self-published by debut author McFadden. A neglected corporate wife for 25 years, Joanna Harrison rebels when husband Paul receives yet another move-necessitating promotion. Before they go, with her children grown, Joanna gets in her car and leaves their upscale Jersey digs. Ending up at Pawley's Island, S.C., Joanna meets Grace, an elderly artist who has a house on the ocean and needs a live-in companion. A floundering Paul heads to Pawley Island to try to woo Joanna back, but soon has further crises to face. Skillful plotting keeps pages turning, and McFadden quickly has readers rooting for intriguing Joanna, on the cusp of change. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Richest Seasonby Maryann McFadden, Cassandra Campbell
The Richest Season is a stunning debut about three very different people, each changing their lives when such transformations are usually long over. It will resonate with any woman who's ever fantasized about leaving home to find herself.See more details below
The Richest Season is a stunning debut about three very different people, each changing their lives when such transformations are usually long over. It will resonate with any woman who's ever fantasized about leaving home to find herself.
In Maryann McFadden's brave and carefully made novel, The Richest Season, two women set out on open-ended odysseys, one to find her life, one to find meaning in her death. Lonely Joanna gives up all she knows for a single chance at all she needs. When they meet, Grace relinquishes her aloof solitude to embrace life at its end, banking on the borrowed courage of a stranger. McFadden is out of the gate and on her way."Jacquelyn Mitchard, author, The Deep End of the Ocean and Still Summer"
The Richest Season is filled with so much honesty and searching and struggle involving three characters whom I grew to love, that I hated to come to the end."Paulette Bates Alden, author of Crossing the Moon and Feeding the Eagles
- Tantor Media, Inc.
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Read an ExcerptThe Richest Season
By Maryann McFadden
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One The sky was still dark, as it was every morning when Joanna Harrison began walking the two-mile route that serpentined through the development where she lived. The icy air hit her face, the only part of her uncovered, numbing her skin to a dull ache as she walked past massive houses majestically situated on two-acre lots. But unlike other mornings, she wasn't thinking about her day at work, errands afterward, or her children thousands of miles away. She was seeing the weeks unfolding before her in her mind, and she shuddered, not from the cold, but because she knew everything was about to change. And she simply couldn't do it again.
She'd never been a fighter. Years ago, Joanna had learned it was better to keep her feelings under control. And resentments? Well, growing up in her mother's house, she'd discovered how to keep them buried deep inside. The only problem she found was the occasional bout of breathlessness as something vague or long forgotten seemed to bubble to the surface, like a voice struggling to be heard. As it did on that bitter morning in March. Just before dawn, as her sneakers hit the ground again and again with a soft crunching of frozen, dead leaves, following a routine she'd clung to like a lifeline, that voice rose to the edge of Joanna Harrison's consciousness like the quiet crackling of lake ice about to thaw.
Pumping her arms, she picked up the pace, her sleep-stiff muscles finally warming up. She stopped briefly, bending her left leg a few times until the knee clicked into place. A little arthritis, the harbinger of middle age. She thought of Sharon and how they would have laughed over this. Sharon was the only real friend she'd made when they moved to New Jersey three years ago. They had jokingly referred to each other as their "surrogate spouses," going to soccer games and movies together while their husbands, more married to their careers, traveled the country. Months ago Sharon had relocated to Texas. She missed her terribly.
The sun was just peeking over the barren hills to the east as she left the sidewalk and headed into the wooded trail that looped behind the houses. Within moments, pale winter sunlight flickered, illuminating the bare trees and the snow-splotched fields in the distance. A glimmer of something ignited inside of Joanna. It had been days since she'd seen the sun, and she could not recall a winter as bitter or endless as this one.
The first snow had come before Halloween, a brief flash of white that was gone within hours as the warm earth soaked it up. By Christmas, life as she knew it had come to a virtual standstill under the weight of nearly thirty inches of powder. She'd stood at the picture window, the cordless phone in her hand, waiting to hear from her children, stranded at different airports. The holiday she'd waited for was cut to a frantic forty-eight-hour visit, as Sarah and Tim rushed back to their own busy lives. And the following day her husband, Paul, was gone on another business trip. Life as she knew it had fallen back into its old routine. Now as she walked through the woods and the world came quietly back to life, longing for her children filled her with an ache.
She was a corporate wife, though. She was used to being alone. Corporate wives were like another breed of single parent. Joanna was always busy, and once the kids were gone, she'd managed to fill the solitary hours with books and videos, or an occasional adult-ed class. In fact, it was the last course she took, in computers, just after moving to Sparta, that led to the job she now had at a local candy company. It was mindless work, punching data into a computer all day, surrounded by buckets of chocolates and the sickening aroma of cocoa beans roasting. Her career, really, had been her family. She didn't mind. As a motherless child, she wanted nothing more than to raise her children herself and give them the love and security she'd never had. They'd followed Paul on his transfers and promotions all over the country, moves that took him higher in the company, like a real-life game of Chutes and Ladders. In twenty-six years of marriage, they'd moved more than a dozen times. As Paul kept scaling that corporate ladder, Joanna's job was to keep the rest of the family from sliding down the chutes.
And now she and Paul would be moving again.
She thought about Paul's big surprise last night. He had told her it was just a business dinner. She'd stood in the atrium of V.I.C.'s northeast headquarters, just forty minutes from their home, in front of the large crowd of coworkers and even some of Paul's clients. Ted, Paul's boss and friend, saluted him for his hard work and sacrifice. And then with great fanfare, Ted announced that Paul was the new vice president of national sales. Cheers erupted and her husband headed for the podium.
Tiny white lights twinkled in the trees, a fountain roared, and then her husband's voice began to fill the atrium with thanks and praise for his company. It was as if his words, echoing off the rising the walls, had lifted her up, high above the room. She'd watched it all, like a spectator floating above the crowd, and saw the other Joanna far below, smiling, clapping, operating on automatic pilot. After the applause, as Paul walked toward her, she'd plummeted back to earth, breathless. I can't do this again, she'd thought. Because she knew what would come next: another house, another town; Paul would be away even more. And she would know no one.
And then she'd begun to hyperventilate. The breath left her lungs as quickly as if it had been sucked out by a vacuum. And she couldn't seem to pull another breath in. She was going to cause a scene. Turning to escape to the ladies' room, she was suddenly stopped by a hand gripping her arm. She turned back and there was Paul, beaming. He must have seen the panic in her eyes because suddenly he pulled her to him and kissed her hard. As the crowd cheered, he whispered in her ear, "I need you here right now, Joanna."
And then they were off, working the room, her husband accepting handshakes and backslaps of congratulations, as she was pulled along beside him.
Now she looked up as a low-flying plane droned through the quiet morning. Through the leafless treetops she saw a jet heading west across the brightening sky and wondered if it was her husband's plane. She remembered Paul telling her he could see their neighborhood on this flight path. She imagined him up there, sitting in business class, his laptop opened, his mind already geared for the meeting he'd be having in California, in spite of their late night. He would be gone for a week or more, again. Did he even glance down or wonder about her, thousands of feet below? Was she anything to him or those he worked with, other than Paul's wife?
As she left the woods, crossing the cul-de-sac behind her house, the newly risen sun flashed off the windows of the houses facing east. Cars sat warming in a few driveways, their exhausts billowing great puffs of steam on this frigid morning. In an hour and fifteen minutes she would be at work, sitting in her cubicle, a poster of Monet's water lilies staring at her from one carpeted wall, pictures of her children at various ages smiling on her from another. After eight hours, she would come home to an empty house, hit the answering machine, and pour a glass of wine as she listened to the endless beeps from endless telemarketers or Gabrielle, their errant cleaning lady, with another excuse. She would turn on the television for company as she ate dinner alone. And tomorrow it would all begin again.
Or would it?
As Joanna walked up her driveway, her own voice suddenly broke the quiet morning. "I'll leave," she said out loud, as she opened the front door.
SHE DROVE LIKE AN AUTOMATON, her mind frozen to thought. Before she knew it, a hundred, then two hundred miles went by. By noon she was on Route 95 South, somewhere in Virginia, and the wall of brown woods that lined the roadside began to soften with new leaf buds. Soon it stretched solid and green. Then there was the first purple splash of wisteria, just before the North Carolina border. At the Welcome Center, where she stopped briefly to pick up a map, yellow daffodils smiled up at her. As she walked back to the car, a silky wind brushed her face, softer and sweeter than she'd felt in a long time.
A short while later, her mood began to sink with the sun. As she followed a detour on a flat, winding back road, dusk settled and lights clicked on in the little houses she passed like beacons in the gray gauze of early night, as families came together for dinner. She felt so utterly alone. A lump of grief swelled in her throat, cutting off her breath, and she veered into a diner parking lot. Frantically, she dumped the remains of her lunch from a McDonald's bag and pulled it to her lips, breathing into it slowly, again and again.
Twelve hours after driving away from her home in New Jersey, Joanna pulled into a motel off Route 95, just before the South Carolina border. Her entire body trembled with exhaustion. Never in her life had she driven alone so long or so far. Hunching her shoulders, she stretched her aching arms high overhead, loosening the muscles in her stiff back. Then she squatted a few times, bending her legs until her knee clicked into place.
She'd never stayed in a motel alone before, and was a little nervous. She took a room near the lobby with an inside corridor. It was stale and airless, and she immediately turned on the vent until cool air gushed in. Dropping her bag on the floor, she collapsed on the bed and closed her eyes. The room began to spin and she felt slightly nauseous. Oh God, what had she done? This was insane. She had no real plan. She was simply driving to Pawleys Island. She'd told herself that morning, as she got in the car and a moment of panic seized her, that she'd figure the rest out when she got there.
She got up and tore the wrapper off a plastic bathroom cup and poured herself a brandy from the small bottle she'd stuffed into her suitcase. Pulling that first sip to her mouth, hands shaking so that the golden liquid trembled in the cup, she thought of her mother for an instant and stopped, picturing the coffee cup that had never left her side. Her mother had fooled no one. Joanna swallowed a big sip, nearly choking as the brandy scorched a fiery trail in her chest that burned even after it was gone. Within moments, the trembling began to ease.
Then she took a hot bath, settling into the shallow tub with a moan of pleasure. After the bath, she poured another brandy, and lay on the bed and turned on the TV looking for the Weather Channel. She had just a few hours driving left in the morning. The weather map for the west lit up the screen instead, forecasting snow up and down the Rockies. She imagined Sarah, up early to clean off her car, wearing some stylish, impractical shoes and no hat, and then driving to her job at the art gallery in Denver. Timmy would probably cram in a few hours of snowboarding between classes, one of the perks of going to college in Montana. She took another swallow of brandy. God, how she missed them. What would they think when they found out she'd left? She wondered if Paul knew yet.
When she was closing the door for the last time that morning, she'd stopped, realizing she'd left no note. And then the absurdity of it hit her. Paul wouldn't be home for days. The note would sit on the counter untouched. So she went in and picked up the phone and left him a voice mail at work, as she'd done earlier with her boss when she quit her job. I'm leaving, she'd told her husband. I've been lonely and unhappy for a long time. Shame crawled up her skin like a slow heat as she imagined him hearing those words, sounding so banal and ridiculous now.
Joanna got up from the bed and made her way unsteadily to the door and slid the chain across. Then she turned on the bathroom light, leaving the door cracked, and turned off the rest of the lights as she made her way back to the bed. The motel room flickered with the blue light of the mute TV and she reached for a pillow, burying her face, catching the clean scent of bleach just before she muffled the first sob. She was leaving everything she'd ever wanted.
Chapter Two From the moment she left the mainland, driving over the small causeway that separated Pawleys Island from the rest of the world, hope washed over Joanna. She saw splashes of snowy white in the wide carpet of green marsh, where egrets nudged in the mudflats for food. A heron lifted suddenly and her eyes followed it up to blue sky, vast bright stretches of it into the flat distance, across the island and to the sea. On the bridge, crabbers dropped their cages over the sides, and she felt as if she were entering another world. A slower place where life is simpler and days revolve around the tides and weather. A three-mile spit of sand, just a half mile at its widest, Pawleys Island was home to nothing but dunes, houses, and beach. Old-timers had wisely kept the hands of developers off the island so it was not marred by hotels or high-rises. Midway up the island sat a cluster of historic homes with low cedar roofs, dense shrubs, and old plantation-style porches that overlooked the sea.
Joanna parked her Jeep beside one of the historic markers and got out of the car. Surrounded by green marsh glittering in the sunshine, she took a deep breath of salty air and relief flooded through her. This was how it looked and this was how she'd felt years ago when she'd first seen it. She was right to come here.
It had been ten years ago, maybe more, when Paul had taken her and the kids to Myrtle Beach for the Easter break. The kids, teenagers then, were bored, and each day was a struggle to find some common ground. Finally on the last day, Paul announced he was going golfing. The kids wanted to go to the Pavilion for the rides and games, alone. Joanna took the car and went exploring, heading for Brookgreen Gardens, but passing it somehow and then seeing the sign for Pawleys Island. She'd turned off Route 17, and minutes later, the world opened up before her-marsh, sea, and sky. The same feeling of peace. And the same wistful longing. Here was a simple place to live.
Getting back in the car now, she followed the single road on the island south to its end and pulled into a sandy parking area. It was late morning, just two hours since she'd left the motel in North Carolina. She got out of the car, followed a boardwalk around a dune, and suddenly the ocean was rolling and shimmering in front of her. A channel that separated Pawleys from the next tiny island washed beside and behind her in a gush of green water as it carried the tide into the marsh. She was nearly surrounded with water. For the first time in a long, long time, real joy bubbled up inside Joanna. Perhaps, she thought, it would all be okay.
JOANNA CHECKED INTO the small Holiday Inn Express out on Route 17, and early the next morning, and each thereafter, she was back on the beach, walking and planning her day. And before she knew it, a week had gone by and she'd established a new routine, although she was no closer to a new life. After her walk, she'd go back to the motel, heat something in the microwave, shower, and dress. Then she would go to the library.
It was nearly impossible for Joanna to enter a library and not think about her childhood. The library had been a sanctuary for her, surrounded by stillness and calm in the after-school hours when her mother had already spent too many hours battling the bottle. Away from her mother's sharp tongue, she would lose herself in books that would take her away to other places, other lives, and for a while she lived vicariously, imagining she was Nancy Drew, pretty and popular, with a dead mother, a fabulous father, and a housekeeper who doted on her. The summer between fifth and sixth grades she'd read the entire series, a book a day, practically living at the library. Or occasionally taking her book to the Sand Bar, the local beach on a stretch of river that meandered through their small Pennsylvania town, reading under a tree far from the laughing families.
Excerpted from The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden
Copyright © 2008 by Maryann McFadden. 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.
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