Shadow Ranchby Jo-Ann Mapson
The impact of four-year-old Spencer's death has rocked the Carpenter family. For Lainie, the loss of her son is unbearable, and now both her marriage and her very sanity are threatened. Her guitar-obsessed, slacker brother Russell isn't doing very well either, and his own love relationship is rapidly coming undone. Then there's Bop, her fierce and crusty… See more details below
The impact of four-year-old Spencer's death has rocked the Carpenter family. For Lainie, the loss of her son is unbearable, and now both her marriage and her very sanity are threatened. Her guitar-obsessed, slacker brother Russell isn't doing very well either, and his own love relationship is rapidly coming undone. Then there's Bop, her fierce and crusty 80-year-old grandfather. When he falls in love with a retired stripper, their earthy romance touches each of the Carpenters' lives in unexpected ways.
The Carpenter clan of southern California has been rich ever since the family-owned Shadow Ranch started shipping its citrus fruit all over the country, but its members have carried a curse through the generations as well. The curse takes the form of a defective hearta genetic time bomb that has already taken the lives of 80-year-old Bop's grown son and his only great-grandson, four-year-old Spencer. It's hard for Bop's surviving grandchildren, Lainie and Russell, to understand why their gentle father had to die while irascible old Bop is still kicking in his landmark Frank Lloyd Wright house back on the bayrunning through a series of gold-digging wives, riding his bad-tempered horse, and trying to run his grandkids' lives even though they stubbornly refuse to take his money. Lainie has enough problems as it istrying to maintain her marriage and hold onto her part-time job in the wake of her son's death. Russell, whose casual love affairs and career as a used-record salesman have proved most galling to his grandfather, looks on the old man with greater equanimityalthough when Bop takes up with Earlynn, an ex-stripper he spots on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, Russell worries that Bop's worst faults may turn out to be his own. In the end, time heals all wounds, with help from good-hearted Earlynn, and the Carpenters find themselves happy at last, contrary to all expectations.
Less eccentric and arresting than Hank & Chloe, with a way of rambling for long stretches, though Mapson's empathy for the modern western psyche still elucidates and entertains.
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Read an Excerpt
TheEggshell Crustof Earth
"Last night as I was sleeping,a dream--the image remembering us!--of a beehive, real and aliveinside my heart. And here,where I had hidden my bitterness,a swarm of golden, stinging beesbuilding combs of snow-white wax,filling them with sweet, sweet honey."
-- Antonio Machado, untitled poem,tr. M. R. Chapman
The tiger lily bouquet on Spencer's grave could have been left by any one of a number of people. During his brief hospital stay, Lainie Clarke's four-year-old son had charmed every nurse, orderly, and janitor on the pediatric cardiac unit. Three years later, a few of them still sent Christmas cards, and from time to time Lainie received those little computerized notifications in the mail indicating that someone had made a donation in his name. But there was only one kind of individual on earth who would purposely abandon his 100X Resistol beaver-felt cowboy hat on her little boy's marker because he despised the brass angel.
That two-hundred-dollar hat, with its frayed brim and braided horsehair hat band, rested upside down next to her on the passenger seat of her 1982 Volvo sedan. At every stop light, Lainie flipped her wind-knotted long brown hair out of her face, nudged her sunglasses back up the bridge of her narrow Carpenter nose, and stared at the hat, getting madder.
Without examination, she knew it was a size eight, the satin lining worn dull and thin where her grandfather's forehead perspired against it, from years of riding horses in full sun and barking out orders. On his more benevolent days, Bop Carpenter was a manwho sported a kindly, Robert Duvall smile. People--no, women--would do just about anything he asked when he smiled that way. On his mean days, a chilly grimace told the real story. He was wealthy. He was about as powerful and as wealthy as a man could be in this Southern California beachside county. He could well afford to replace a hat. But eventually, because of its history, the memories connected with it, he'd miss this particular one. Maybe not today, but in a day or so, when he automatically grabbed for it from the moose antler coat rack near his custom-made redwood front doors and found it missing. She knew how it would go: Not finding it, he'd walk outside on his deck, gaze out over the sun-dappled harbor water he'd paid a fortune for, his old blue eyes squinting against the almost unbearable brightness. In his mind, he'd slowly retrace his steps from Whistler's stables to his great-grandson's grave, and start to cry.
They all grieved. In grief they were partners, equals, a cohesive tribal unit. In every other way they were a distant, estranged family, full of blame for each other. She wanted to stamp her foot and holler, but just now her foot rested on the accelerator and stamping didn't seem like a good idea. She was thirty-five years old, once again up to 120 pounds, six months out of the psychiatric ward, and determined not to go back. It was probably as wrong not to return the hat as it was for Bop to leave it at Spencer's grave. Any halfway decent great-grandfather wouldn't make a stink about what marked his great-grandson's grave. Any halfway-sane granddaughter could find ten minutes in her schedule to drive over, drop off said hat, and tell him--politely, without an undue emotional display--to mind his own damn business when it came to angels and headstones.
At Beach and Adams she pulled over, got out of the car, opened the Volvo's trunk, and threw the hat inside. There was space for it between the toys she'd meant to take to Children's Hospital and the box of baby clothes she had--for a year now--intended to give to Goodwill. In fact, that hat looked like it had joined a little in-between club of Spencer's things. They might make it secretary or, given its original cost, treasurer.
Lainie tucked a gold sweatshirt with the Santa Fe train logo back into one of the boxes, bit her lip, and slammed the trunk shut. Then, determinedly, she got back in her car and drove on home to her husband and dogs, to all that was left of her life.
The beige Sony cordless on the patio table was ringing like a hive of angry bees. Charles Russell Carpenter II, Bop to his friends--and enemies--studied the instrument, weighing his options. More than likely, it was one of those nineteen-year-old telemarketing sales children, hoping to talk him into buying two million bargain trash sacks. But then again, this was the 1990s, the age of miracles, and a day didn't pass that he didn't hold out the hope one of his grandkids might call and invite him to Sunday supper. Roast chicken, creamy mashed potatoes, new baby peas, a slice of lemon pie--that was the menu from the old days, when everybody was friendly and forgiving.
The intelligent choice was to let the answering machine pick up, but lately the gizmo had a mind of its own. It cut off his attorney, silenced his stockbroker's tips, yet every idiot caller it fed generous tape. In his opinion, ever since they relaxed the fair trade laws, and electronics started getting too affordable, things had taken a hefty downslide.
Curiosity won out. He lifted the receiver, pressed Talk and held it to his ear. Across Huntington Harbour, a sliver of early morning sun struck the water through a haze that wouldn't lift before noon. He was an old man. He could say anything he wanted. "This better be worthwhile. You're interrupting my morning swim."
"We're conducting a survey, sir, and require only a few moments of your precious time. Today's question is: If you could bring a famous person back from the dead, ask him one question, who might that person be?"
The voice on the phone was tauntingly familiar, and Bop did not hesitate with his answer. "Alexander Graham Ding Dong Bell."
A muffled snicker preceded the next question. "And your question for the man?"
"'What's the big idea, inventing machines to make it easier for a hack reporter to invade the privacy of a law-abiding taxpayer?'"
Now the voice broke into creaky seasoned laughter. "Howdy, Bop."
Bop joined in. "MacLellan Henry! The prince of yellow journalism. Ain't you pushing sod?"
"Oh, I'm a young colt compared to you, Carpenter. If I'm not mistaken, you've got a birthday coming up next month. The big eight-O, isn't it? That's a herd of candles. Hope you've got smoke detectors in that claptrap barn of yours."
Bop set his beach towel down on the table. "Mac, I'd hardly refer to Casa de Carpenter as a barn. Speaking of barns, how's your wife?"
There was a small silence before Mac responded. "Gloria is a fine woman."
"Oh, sure, if you enjoy daily hysteria and maximum credit card debt, she's about as good as they come and she's all yours. 'Course, after I got done with her she wasn't good for much, was she?"
Mac cleared his throat. "What do you want this year--big feature story on the house, complete with tawdry family history and rattling skeletons, or will this be the year I rate a personal invitation to your birthday bash?"
Bop waited for a cabin cruiser rumbling down the harbor channel to motor out of sight before he answered. "Neither option sounds all that attractive. Hadn't planned on a party, Mr. Henry, but if I did, I'm afraid you'd only make the B list. It's not just me you've been offending all these years. There's family to consider."
"And like it or not, you and your family are news, old man. You going to give my photographer a break, let him shoot some new stills, or do we have to raid the morgue?"
"What part of no don't you understand? Every year I tell you I'm not interested in pictures old or new, and I don't want a story. You must be as hard of hearing as you are hard up for news. Let me give you the number of the audiologist fitted me with my Belltones. Remember to ask for the senior discount."
"You take them out when you do your little morning doggy-paddle, Charles Russell? Doesn't that make it difficult to hear the barracudas?"
"It's the prehistoric land sharks I have to worry about. Say, why haven't they revoked your press pass, Mac? You're almost as old as that fish wrapper you work for. They running low on gold watches?"
"Old man, those are fighting words to a professional journalist."
"Professional pencil chewer is more like it."
"I'd watch my mouth, Carpenter. Some of us can't depend on money gleaned from the sweat off our parents' backs. We do it the old-fashioned way. Earn our paychecks." Shadow Ranch. Copyright © by Jo-Ann Mapson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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