Stone Garden: A Novelby Molly Moynahan
A smart young woman making her way through the privileged terrain of northeastern prep-school land, Alice McGuire is certain of her world and her future until the summer her best friend and soul mate, Matthew Swan, vanishes on a trip to Mexico. Stunned, Alice and the rest of the close-knit town that adored Matthew search for answers. For Alice, the journey
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A smart young woman making her way through the privileged terrain of northeastern prep-school land, Alice McGuire is certain of her world and her future until the summer her best friend and soul mate, Matthew Swan, vanishes on a trip to Mexico. Stunned, Alice and the rest of the close-knit town that adored Matthew search for answers. For Alice, the journey of heartbreak leads from everything that is familiar to forbidden places and forgotten people who will teach her about kindness and forgiveness: lessons that will open her to new possibilities and unexpected hope.
Vividly wrought, deeply resonant, and told in a remarkable voice that sparkles with wit and wisdom, Stone Garden is a splendid triumph from an accomplished new writer.
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Stone GardenA Novel
By Molly Moynahan
Harper Collins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Molly Moynahan All right reserved. ISBN: 0060544260
The poets had come before. We listened to their poems politely, wondering how it must seem to them, being bused out of prison to visit a bunch of high school students to tell them about poetry. Except it wasn't like that. You never heard any of these guys discussing nuance or meter or any of those terms our English teachers try to make us remember even though they're boring and useless.
The prisoners never talked about poetry at all. They talked about prison. They talked about how it felt once you heard all the doors locking behind you, how it no longer mattered who you were or what you'd done or whether your lawyer was some big shot. They said fuck. They said shit and asshole and butt-fucked. It was like all the rules were suspended when the poets came. Our headmaster, Duncan Farley, stood at the side of the stage and smiled. Smiled and smiled in his white duck pants, brown deck shoes, and paisley bow ties. His face was the same face he had when the little boys from the American Boys Choir came at Christmas and sang "Ave Maria," their voices so high and sweet they made your teeth hurt. He scanned the auditorium searching for kids who weren't paying attention. As soon as he caught their eyes he'd gesture towardthe poets and wink. Duncan Farley was a major winker.
The poets said stuff like "Listen, you spoiled motherfuckers - don't do anything stupid. You'll end up like us - locked up, fucked up, somebody's bitch with nothin'to look forward to but your momma comin' to visit and you sittin' there crying till you can't take it anymore and you cut your throat." They paced back and forth like the fake wrestlers on the WWF, trying to convince us we were about to lose everything.
But kids like us didn't end up in jail. There was rehab, loony bins, and special schools for anyone who might get violent. We were tutored, braced, immunized, counseled, and medicated. Our counselors would write notes for us describing our symptoms in the most glowing terms, convincing everyone that our lack of direction and respect for authority and our general laziness were the result of adolescent angst and unrecognized brilliance. If we performed poorly on standardized tests, special academic support was just a phone call away. Many of my friends had personal trainers and their own private therapists. We took SAT prep classes, we consulted nutritionists, we gave ourselves Myers-Briggs personality quizzes and told our teachers the reason we couldn't meet deadlines was that we were wired in a unique way. The stuff the prisoners told us didn't register. We were spoiled rotten and didn't have a clue.
And then they read their poems. Poems about sunsets, rainy days, and kittens. Bad poems our teachers would have marked up with "cliché," "mixed metaphor," "stale image," "???."
Really corny rhymes about their mothers. But mainly it was food. Endless stanzas about food: mangoes, grapes, fatback, steak, peas, corn, cucumbers, lemons, spaghetti, ham, apple pie, turkey. There weren't even metaphors in these poems, just point-blank descriptions of favorite meals. They could have published a cookbook.
Some of the poets seemed proud of how they ended up in jail. One guy read a poem about cutting someone's throat, and then he looked up at us and said: "I did that."
Since I'd started high school, I had seen these poets five times. Christmas vacation was over and the poets were back. Some of the parents decided the poets were a bad thing. A petition to stop their program was circulated that had the following statement attached:
Prison poets would be a wonderful asset to a nonprivate, less selective institution than Millstone Country Day. The life experiences these individuals describe, while inspiring, are irrelevant to the experiences of MCD's population. The school would be far better served by a series of lectures given by CEOs, successful entrepreneurs, and famous artists, all of whom exist in the current alumni pool.
My mother found the petition hilarious. "What about Leopold and Loeb?" she asked my father. "What about Graham Steadforth's son being arrested for running a gambling and prostitution club? And Lizzie Macklin's daughter who sold drugs?"
My father looked over his bifocals and frowned. "You can't argue that students from Millstone frequently end up in the slammer."
My mother looked disgusted. "Of course they don't," she said. "Their parents hire famous criminal lawyers to dispute speeding tickets and pay off judges. It's black and Hispanic children that end up doing time."
This was their normal routine. Mom was "down with the people" and Dad pretended to be a snob.
"Nevertheless," my father said, removing his glasses slowly. "While Leopold and Loeb introduced the concept of Ivy League psychopaths, most senseless murders are committed by southern drifters. Mainly men in their twenties who hail from Texas."
Sometimes I wonder whether people realize how stupid their habits are. Take the glasses thing. My father had twenty different ways to take them off.
"And live in trailer parks," I added.
"And have three names," my father said, winking at me. "Joe Bob Billy."
"Danny Lou Ray," I shouted.
"Bobby Will Paul."
"Tammy Sue Louise," Mom said. "They can be girls, too."
She leaned over to push my bangs off my forehead, staring at that part of me as if it contained the answer to world peace.
"What?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said, sighing. "You have such a wonderful forehead."
This was her habit. Forehead worshiping.
The petition didn't work and the poets kept coming.
Matthew Swan was still missing. The police at the Texas border were no longer searching for him, and the private detective told the Swans to give up ...
Excerpted from Stone Garden by Molly Moynahan
Copyright © 2003 by Molly Moynahan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Molly Moynahan is a high school English teacher and has taught creative writing at various colleges. She lives in Chicago.
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Seventeen-year-old Alice is entering her senior year of high school and is desperately missing her best friend and soulmate, Matthew. Alice attends a small New Jersey prep school, where everybody knows everybody yet she has only a handful of kids she calls her friends, in "Stone Garden." Matthew accompanied another classmate to Mexico earlier that summer, and he has been missing ever since. No one knows what could have happened to them, but Alice feels deep down that he must be dead, otherwise he would have moved heaven and earth to contact her. Matthew was the type of person that everyone loved, yet he only had eyes for Alice. They had been best friends since kindergarten, but had never gotten it right until the end of their junior year. Their whole lives, either Alice had a crush on Matthew who didn't feel the same, or Matthew had a crush on Alice, who was with someone else. They finally synched up at the end of junior year; all Matthew had to do was take this trip to Mexico with his then-girlfriend and break up with her when they got back. But they never came back. The whole school knew of Alice and Matthew's relationship, and they knew about Matthew's disappearance. When school began that fall, they all treated Alice like she was a widow in mourning, which she very nearly was. Half-way into the school year, Matthew's remains were identified in a mass grave in Mexico, confirming what Alice had always believed. This confirmation of death propelled Alice's final senior project to be what no one else in school could fathom­-going to the local prison and tutoring the inmates on their writing and poetry skills. Alice decides this project will be cathartic and may possibly provide answers to why someone could kill another human being. She doesn't anticipate one of her students to be the murderer of one of her closest friend's beloved nanny. Not only does she keep this fact a secret from her friend, who is clearly still shaken years after witnessing the murder, but Alice somewhat befriends the murderer and the others in her class. They say she is the only person on the outside who values what they have to say and doesn't judge them. Alice has trouble keeping thing together in her life outside her senior project. Promiscuity becomes a problem, as well as other destructive behavior. She acts aggressively towards Matthew's mother and her own father, when she finds out they had an affair. She lashes out at both of them, yet no matter how mad she is, she can't help but love them because they are still there, forcing her to recognize that Matthew will never come back. Ultimately, a very mature Alice has to come to terms with Matthew's death and she dreams of the day they will meet again. However she doesn't seem to care if that day is tomorrow, or in 50 years, making her life choices a little reckless. Alice's narrative is heart breaking in that she has lost the love of her life and it has drained her will to live. However, keeping perspective, she is only 17 years old, and has her entire life ahead of her. This gripping story captures less than a year in her life; a life that hopefully will never have as much pain and anguish again.
I WANTED to like this book, and there were several sections that I enjoyed, but Alice the main character, is really vague. I had a hard time following where this was going. I understood the idea around it, but the characters were really hard to identify with.
i read this book in my independent reading class last year and when i read a section to the class nearly everyone had tears in their eyes...this book is amazing and i would recommend it to anyone.
Ms. Moynahan was my 12th grade english teacher last year, and I am so proud of her for this book. It is a great story filled with grief and hope and reverance as the main character Alice searches for answers in her world full of questions. I have learned so much from Ms. Moynahan, and wish her all the best in the future. This book is truly a testiment to her talent!!!
This was my absolute favorite book. You can't help but be sympathetic with Alice, the main character, after all that has happened to her. I read this book four times and each time I get something more out of it. A must-read!