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by Lucy Jackson

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Even life in the greatest city in the world can sometimes feel like a little too much. For this New Yorker, running away to the Heartland may be just the antidote.

When New York City native Desirée Christian-Cohen flees her sometime-boyfriend, unhappy mother, Nina (who's recently learned her soon-to-be ex-husband Patrick is gay), and failing grandfather


Even life in the greatest city in the world can sometimes feel like a little too much. For this New Yorker, running away to the Heartland may be just the antidote.

When New York City native Desirée Christian-Cohen flees her sometime-boyfriend, unhappy mother, Nina (who's recently learned her soon-to-be ex-husband Patrick is gay), and failing grandfather, she picks the flight plan by randomly dropping her finger on a map and hitting: Honey Creek, Kansas, population 1,623. And if being a "tourist" in Honey Creek weren't noticeable enough, try hanging out in the Sweet Tooth luncheonette, where you're referred to as "half a Jew." Wary of , but wanting to, fit in with the local populace, Desirée is forced to defend herself and define herself in a world that feels vastly different from her own. Her Yale boyfriends were never like Bobby McVicar, the son of two ageing hippies, who finds all he needs in his pinprick of a hometown. And never—even as an only child of typically doting Manhattan parents—has anyone paid so much attention to Desirée.

Over one surprising, transformative and sometimes very funny summer, Desirée Christian-Cohen, member-in-good-standing of the Self Esteem Generation, discovers how an impulsive escape from home and family turns out to be much more than that.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pampered Manhattan girl Desirée runs away from her privileged life to Kansas, only to find it meaner and more mixed up than the urban jungle she abandoned in the pseudonymous Jackson's light romp through the land of corn, cows, and "small-minded, Bible-thumping, selfrighteous, Jew-hating John Birchers." Or so Desirée sees it when confronted by a gun-toting thief, the hilarious highlight of this oddball tale of young and middleaged love. "Mostly everyone here's good people," the outraged thief replies. "Or good enough, anyway." Jackson (Posh) puts a sunny spin on Desirée's foray into waves of grain, where she discovers love worth leaving New York City for, and forgiveness for a dad who clumsily burst out of the closet. The companion story of mom Nina, ailing granddad Marvin, and caretaker Porsha tells the quieter but more compelling tale of trust and acceptance back in New York. A crew of country bumpkins and cagey city slickers reinforce all the clichés, but they're still charming enough to merit spending a few hours with. (Aug.)

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By Lucy Jackson

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Lazybones Ink, LLC.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5121-0


Desirée Christian-Cohen, born and bred on Manhattan's Upper East Side, will, in the near future, be forced to admit the disappointing truth — that she is far from the worldly, whip-smart person everyone seems to thinks she is. This epiphany will come to her at the tail end of the summer, just before she returns from Honey Creek, Kansas, a place seemingly so dusty and provincial, its inhabitants had never had even a peek at a New Yorker of any stripe at all before she came to town.

Though she's home in New York now for her summer break, in the fall she expects to return to New Haven, where, in her just-completed sophomore year at Yale, she somehow managed to take all the wrong courses and lose her virginity to the wrong boy, who murmured during sex that he really did like her "veeery, veeery much." A declaration that fell far short of what she'd been prepared to hear. What she'd been listening for was a sentence or so that included the word "love," announced breathlessly in the heat of the moment or shyly whispered immediately thereafter as the two of them lay, still smoldering, their limbs still entangled, on her cheap and uncomfortable secondhand bed.

Well, at twenty, you can't have everything, can you?

Frankly, Desirée doesn't see why not. She understands, though, that love, or at least newly discovered love, is always a miracle. It takes you by surprise, fills the emptiness in you with something sweet and airy, and leaves you buoyant. Of course, if the object of your affection isn't feeling quite as buoyant, there's nothing much you can do about it. Except perhaps hope that sometime soon he'll wise up and see what you see — that clearly the two of you are made for one another. Or if hope is in short supply, you can always take an overdose of Xanax. Or throw yourself in front of the Eighty-sixth Street crosstown bus, which Desirée happens to be boarding this particular Thursday night, finally heading to the Upper West Side to visit her father, someone she'd refused any contact with these past six months, distressing both of her parents with her stubbornness. Neither her mother nor her father know that, to Desirée's sorrow, Nick Davenport likes her veeery much but has failed to love her.

Hurtling through the Central Park transverse now, its air-conditioning working only intermittently, the bus seems a cramped holding pen for a load of stony, world-weary passengers. Desirée finds a window seat next to a young mother with a collapsed umbrella stroller tucked awkwardly under her arm and a toddler in her lap. A large diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring adorns her left hand. Desirée is gazing out the window as the little boy says winsomely, "Do you love me, Mommy?"

Desirée and the woman both smile. "Of course I do, baby," the woman says.

"Mommy, do you love me?"

"Yes, Maxie, you know I do."

Maxie fools with his mother's ring; he raises it to his mouth and licks the sapphire at the center and the diamonds that surround it. "Do you love me, Mommy?" he asks.

"Sure do."

"Do you really love me, Mommy?"

"Jesus Christ, just STOP IT ALREADY!" the woman says, and rolls her eyes for Desirée's benefit. "Do you believe this?" she says.

The truth is, Desirée doesn't know what to believe anymore. She could have sworn, right up until the very moment they'd broken the news to her, that her parents' marriage was rock-solid. They, who rarely raised their voices to one another, who slept side by side in the same king-sized bed night after night for twenty-three years, who shared their dinner hour, moviegoing, annual concert subscriptions to Lincoln Center. Often enough, she'd seen her father sneak up behind her mother and fling his arms around her waist; she'd seen them settled in the love seat watching television, her father's fingers playing idly with her mother's hair. So what had she missed? What had her mother missed? And what's so remarkable about her father's boyfriend, Jordan, that he somehow managed to throw a wrench into the works, bringing their whole family to a sudden, shocking halt?

Desirée hasn't a clue. She, who has always regarded herself as someone sensitive to nuance, ever able to recognize the flicker of doubt that crosses someone else's face, that instant of hesitation before this friend says yes or that friend says no, the momentary, icy silence that a careless word of her own may have caused. She's not the oblivious sort; she sees things, things other people routinely miss. If her father had been so unhappy with her mother, wouldn't Desirée have noticed? Not that, ultimately, it would have made a scintilla of difference. Because when it comes to falling in or out of love, who's going to listen to the impartial voice of reason? Probably no one and certainly not Desirée herself. If anyone were to point out to her that she and Nick have virtually nothing in common and are temperamentally unsuited to one another, she would, like Maxie's mother, roll her eyes, knowing that she'd fallen for Nick precisely because he is nothing like her at all. The youngest of three boys, he'd grown up in suburban Wisconsin, in a family where church on Sunday was mandatory, along with a baked ham that, like some sort of crudely conceived and executed homemade cake, was ornamented with canned pineapple rings. A talented student and tennis player (gifts that secured him a place at Yale), Nick has an outlook that is serenely, unrelentingly sunny. It never occurs to him that things might not go his way, because, in fact, they always have. He understood long ago that medicine was his calling, that he would become one of those family practitioners who actually makes house calls and distributes small bouquets of colorful lollipops to weepy kids with ear infections. Cynic-in-training though she is, Desirée continues to find him irresistible. If only she could, like an alchemist, transform his affection for her into the pure gold of love.

"Dream on," she says aloud, and makes her way off the bus.

The doorman in Jordan's building high up on Riverside Drive is busy on his cell phone when Desirée arrives, and she waits impatiently as he says, "I refuse to see anything with subtitles, Sienna. Why should I have to read when I go to the movies?"

"Excuse me?" Desirée says. "Apartment eleven A?"

"The thing that really gets me is the way she refers to movies as 'films,'" the doorman says after he hangs up. "It's so —"


"There you go!" the doorman says. "And you have a nice night now."

Desirée's father, Patrick, lanky and handsome, opens the door to the apartment he shares with Jordan on the eleventh floor, casting his arms around her the moment she steps into the foyer. "Enfin! Finalement!" he says.

She allows his embrace but keeps her arms rigidly at her sides. She and her father haven't seen one another since her Christmas break from school, only days before he officially came out to her mother and announced that there was a man named Jordan he couldn't live without. For half a year, Desirée would not pick up the phone when her father called her, or answer even a single one of his e-mails. She simply couldn't. Today, her stubbornness eroded by both of her parents' strenuous urging, she has, at last, given in and permitted herself to visit.

"I'm thrilled you're here, Desi," her father says. "You can't imagine how happy this makes me."

"Super," Desirée says, perhaps sounding cooler than she means to. And as much as she loves him, she wants the chilliness she still feels toward the very notion of him and his "partner" (this new word in their vocabulary) to come across loud and clear. She notes that except for his jaw, now frosted with a graying beard, her father resembles his old self — a middle-aged husband and father, a professor of chemical engineering at Columbia whose life had followed one of those utterly straightforward, ordinary paths, one that had raised not a single eyebrow. Desirée has only an instant to contemplate the tidal wave that has so recently hit their cozy little family of three, before a balding man wearing his hair gathered into a tiny, ludicrous ponytail appears without warning. There are gloomy, blackish half moons under his dark eyes; Desirée would prefer to think otherwise, but she just doesn't like the looks of him.

"Jordan Sinclair, this is my Desirée," her father says delightedly.

"Hey," Desirée says. She takes the hand Jordan offers her, gives him another appraising look. He is slightly younger than her father, somewhere in his early forties, she guesses, and like her father, is a professor at Columbia, where he teaches French lit, and is an authority on Flaubert, about whom he's written a couple of books. Oddly, he's wearing a jean jacket, though it is midsummer and none too cool here in the apartment. There is a single gold hoop about the circumference of a dime pierced through the cartilage at the tip of his right ear. He is smiling at her warmly, expectantly.

So here it is staring her in the face, the pure and bitter truth. And the truth, spelled out in its simplest terms, cannot be mistaken for anything other than what it is.

Her father isn't coming home to her mother anytime soon, of that Desirée is certain. She thinks of Emma Bovary's arsenic-induced suicide, and allows herself to imagine an equally wretched death for Jordan. And then is immediately ashamed of herself.

Jordan is cradling her moist hand between both of his. Is he ever going to let go? He's so, so pleased to meet her after such a very long wait, he says.

Desirée thanks him. Her heart is thumping quickly, her breathing rapid and shallow; it's as if she's suffering a small anxiety attack. She reminds herself, as her mother often has, that she is descended from a long line of strong women who successfully weathered pogroms in czarist Russia, the Great Depression of the thirties, and early widowhood.

At last Jordan drops her hand. "Your father and I are hoping to see a lot more of you this summer," he says.

Don't count on it.

"Please please PLEASE don't be a stranger," her father adds.

If only she were a young child, young enough not to comprehend the sea change their family has endured. If only she could say to her father, as she would like to, Whatever turns you on. Chacun à son goût. I'm down with it, dawg!

She has a handful of gay friends at school, both male and female. But this is her father, and he and his boyfriend have rent her poor mother's heart and sent her into a fucking tailspin.

She will not tell her father that she and her mother refer to Jordan as "Loverboy," that they can't even bring themselves to call him by his real name. For all she knows, all she suspects, Loverboy is a perfectly decent guy, someone she might, under vastly different circumstances, be more than happy to meet. But when her father says that of course she'll be staying for dinner, won't she, and wants to know which she prefers, Thai or Cambodian, Desirée says, "Maybe some other time, okay?"

Like the twelfth of never.

Sorry, but as open-minded as she is about nearly everything, on this particular subject of her father and Loverboy, that mind of hers remains firmly, insistently, shut.

Later, at home, she has dinner (two slices of pizza, one white, the other embellished with prosciutto) with her mother. Both of them stand at the kitchen counter in the comfortable but unexceptional apartment she grew up in on the Upper East Side, a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath apartment with a small terrace — where, in high school, Desirée and her friends sometimes smoked pot when her parents weren't home. Her mother sips at her Diet Coke straight from the can and asks what her father's new digs look like; Desirée answers, truthfully and apologetically, that she forgot to pay attention to the couches and window treatments and lighting fixtures and the rest of it. All she remembers is how hard her father and Loverboy had tried to make her feel comfortable, and how she would not give an inch.


Twenty-eight years ago, Desirée's mother, Nina Cohen, was voted "Best Looking" in her high school's senior poll. She and another girl received exactly the same number of votes and amiably shared the title. (A dubious honor, though, Nina thought; after all, she'd done nothing to earn it. "Most Likely to Succeed," on the other hand, would have been something to be proud of.) The other girl, Anna Spargo, became, in the decade after high school, a big-time coke dealer, and acquired a collection of homes for herself in Waikiki, Rio, and Paris, along with a pied-à-terre on Fifth Avenue. But eventually she was brought down by a pair of DEA agents in Manhattan and served nearly ten years in federal prison. There were articles about her trial and conviction in the New York Times, and Nina had read them in disbelief. She remembered the yearbook photographer snapping pictures of her and Anna posed against the curved wall outside the high school auditorium, and that afterward, she and Anna shared a cigarette in the bleachers surrounding the football field. This had been in 1979, in a town on Long Island's North Shore. Unlike Anna Spargo, Nina's life after high school went undocumented by the New York Times. She enrolled at Wellesley, met an MIT student named Patrick Christian at a mixer while she was still a freshman, and, unfortunately, as it turned out, fell happily in love. She found Patrick both exceptionally smart and uncommonly sweet, an unusual combination, in her experience, and she loved his baby-fine red hair, nearly invisible eyebrows, and the freckles that adorned his long limbs. Twice during college, for several months each time around, Patrick broke up with her, for reasons so vague, Nina can no longer remember them. Both times she believed he would come back, and both times she was right.

News of their wedding plans delighted neither the Christians nor the Cohens. Patrick's mother immediately tried to convince Nina that any children they might have should be baptized. An unbaptized child would, at its death, go straight to hell, she explained. Nina, someone for whom the concepts of both hell and heaven were absolutely untenable, smiled politely and kept her mouth shut. It was Patrick who told his mother to mind her own goddamn business. "Over my dead body will a grandchild of mine be baptized," Nina's father said when he heard of Patrick's mother's request. He threatened to be a no-show at the wedding — an extravagant affair, the payment for which necessitated a home equity loan from his bank. The ceremony was conducted by a priest and a rabbi, and though the two sets of parents were cordial enough to one another that evening, they kept out of each other's way in the years that followed, barely speaking to one another again, even when Desirée was born and they all had something to celebrate.

There was, as it turned out, no baptism, no baby-naming ceremony in a synagogue; there was only a Christmas tree and a sterling silver menorah that, year after year, was lit, as prescribed, eight nights in a row.

Patrick's parents eventually retired to Palm Beach, where Nina and Patrick always visited them for a week every winter. (Now, of course, Nina doubts whether she'll ever see them again.) Several years ago, Nina's own mother died — shockingly — of an aneurysm; shortly afterward, Marvin, her father, exhibited the hand tremors that proved to be the first sign of Parkinson's. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to live on his own, he's taken over the extra bedroom Nina and Patrick had long used as a den. Better to have her father here under her roof than in a "senior residence" or nursing home, Nina is convinced, though the cost to her mental health has been steep.


Excerpted from Slicker by Lucy Jackson. Copyright © 2010 Lazybones Ink, LLC.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.

Meet the Author

Lucy Jackson is the pseudonym for an acclaimed short story writer and novelist whose fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, and many other magazines and anthologies. She lives in New York City.

Lucy Jackson is the pseudonym for an acclaimed short story writer and novelist whose fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, and many other magazines and anthologies. She lives in New York City.

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Slicker 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Mollycoddled Manhattanite Desiree Christian-Cohen abruptly feels the asphalt jungle of Kansas where she expects to find a nicer lifestyle in Honey Creek. Her new revelation even enables her to forgive her father for his transgression of coming out of the closet. However, the amber wave proves nastier than the Big Apple in many ways as bigotry is an acceptable practice, especially towards the "half-Jew". She does meet Bobby McVicar, but even he makes her feel even more like a fish out of water on the Great Plains. Doubts build up as she misses her family and friends back home. Meanwhile in New York, her mom Nina, her ailing grandfather Marvin, and their caretaker forge a family together built on trust and acceptance. The prime story line in Kansas is interesting as the city slicker struggles with adapting to life on the Plains. Stereotyping of the local residents as bigots detracts from the impact of Desiree's efforts to belong. The supporting subplot in Manhattan (New York that is) is much deeper as the reader understands what disturbs Desiree's family. Character driven, Slicker is a fascinating look at a person seeking a fresh start but uses her sweet tooth to select the locale. Harriet Klausner