Tallulahlandby Lynn Messina
Welcome to Tallulahland. Population: Growing.
Tallulah West thinks she's got everything figured out, from her interrupted career path to the men in her life. (Career path = anything to displease Dad. Nick = trusty best friend. Dad = see career path.) But when her world is turned upside down (again), not everyone acts accordingly and nothing goes as/p>/b>
Welcome to Tallulahland. Population: Growing.
Tallulah West thinks she's got everything figured out, from her interrupted career path to the men in her life. (Career path = anything to displease Dad. Nick = trusty best friend. Dad = see career path.) But when her world is turned upside down (again), not everyone acts accordingly and nothing goes as planned.
Once upon a time Tallulah was happy to follow in her father's footsteps. But then her mom died. Now she'd rather toil away for a hack designer than work on her own designs and lay claim to all that comes with being the only daughter of furniture-designing royalty. Which is a shame because Tallulah has so much talent.
Nick knows the truth that she's a little too good at making bad decisions and has no qualms about interfering in her life. But only after she finds the deed to a plot of land in North Carolina, an unexpected final gift from her mother, is she propelled into action. Accompanied by Nick and an excitement she hasn't felt in years, Tallulah heads south. She's following her mother's dream, but somewhere in the underbrush of an undeveloped plot of land, she finds her own.
Lynn Messina lives in New York City and works in magazines.
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- 5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)
Read an Excerpt
Nick tells me to stop being ridiculous as he hands me a gin and tonic. He says it sharply, with impatience and a fair amount of disgust, but he's wearing the bland smile he usually saves for bank-managers and car rental agents. Then he turns to my father, who is now only a few feet away, and offers his hand. "Congratulations. It's a lovely party, sir. So kind of you to invite me."
My father shakes Nick's hand enthusiastically. He likes this treatment. He enjoys fielding compliments and being called sir. "I'm glad you could join us, Nicholas. Tallulah never brings friends home," he says. There's a touch of fondness in his voice that you could mistake for affection, but I know better. Dad isn't affectionate and he isn't fond. He's dutiful. Like Cordelia, he loves no more and no less than his bond. "Carol and I wish she would do it more often."
"I'm sure it's just an oversight," says Nick, lying out-right in his smooth way that throws you off and lulls you into trusting him. Nick knows how much I don't want him to be here. He also knows how much I don't want me to be here. My ungracious presence is the result of a knock-down, drag-out, kicking-and-screaming, pull-your-hair-out-at-the-roots fight that left me wounded and bruised. Nick doesn't pull punches when he thinks something important's at stake -- in this case, my future -- and he relentlessly pursues his end until you yell uncle and plead for mercy and throw up your hands in surrender. It doesn't help that he gets you drunk first before taking the offense.
I laugh politely. There's only a thin thread of mockery in the sound -- a considerable accomplishment given the circumstances -- but Nick picks up on it and disapproves with a look. I ignore him. "Yessir, an oversight. That's exactly what it is."
Nick narrows his eyes at me angrily. He doesn't want me undoing all his good work with my sourpuss expressions and my unchecked scorn. "Lou was just saying that she thought she might go out to the Hamptons for Labor Day weekend."
Dad looks taken aback by this. He knows very well -- or at least he thinks he does -- that this isn't the sort of thing his daughter says and for a moment I think that Nick has overplayed his hand. I think he's revealed too much and given Dad enough clues to piece together the truth: I'm a weak country being bullied by the large nation I border. But he hasn't. Dad rushes in to do the fatherly thing and within seconds I'm invited to a barbecue with Carol and her daughters. "And please bring Nicholas. That is, of course, if he doesn't already have plans."
Dad says this with a sly look in Nick's direction. He thinks Nick and I are dating. He's convinced my claims to the contrary are subtle pleas for space and privacy, but they are not. Nick and I aren't an item. We're just a pair of single hopefuls who waste weeks and sometimes months in relationships with the wrong people. We make bad choices and do stupid things, and when it all ends in a bout of tears or disgust, we run to the other for comfort. We find shelter in the other's apartment and spend hours dissecting seemingly insignificant moments. And we are good at this. We know each other so well that we can always pinpoint the exact second when things turned sour. We can always outline the other's mistakes and draw up "do" and "don't" lists for the next time around, but this doesn't matter. We make the same mistakes over and over. Sometimes it feels as if we should pledge our dysfunctional selves to each other, but it's not that simple. Despite our compatibility, we aren't each other's solution. The strange and complex formula that makes up a romance doesn't equal Tallulah and Nick.
Nick says something noncommittal and vague about the barbecue just as my father's being called away by his new wife to greet another guest. The wedding reception is in full swing, but Dad is still making the rounds. He's still shaking hands and accepting compliments and working his way through the crowd of well-wishers. There are so many people here that the party has spilled out onto the gardens. It has overrun the small patio and commandeered the rosebushes and the lily pond. Most of the people trampling the hydrangea -- congressmen, museum directors, publishers -- don't belong here, but the bride has turned her wedding into a coming-out party. This is Carol. She's ostentatious throngs and velvet ropes and social registers.
"I'm not being ridiculous," I say, watching Dad shake hands with a Broadway producer. There it is again: the I'm-happy-to-see-you smile. I turn away abruptly and glare at Carol's two daughters. "They do look like evil alien bunnies from hell."
But Nick isn't paying attention to me. He's still focused on my father. He's still looking at a problem and trying to solve it. My future is a Rubik's Cube to Nick -- there are a million combinations but only one that's right.
"Look at them," I say, pointing rudely at Carol's buck-toothed twin daughters, who are oblivious to my attentions. "When was the last time you saw smiles that wide outside of a Miss America pageant?"
"Lou, you agreed to be on your best behavior," he says, as he replays the scene in his head: Was he too obsequious? Should he have accepted the Labor Day invitation? This is the problem with Nick. He has tunnel vision and an awful stubbornness to follow it up. He never abandons a project midstream. And that's what we Wests are to him right now -- a project that must come in on time and under budget.
But I'm stubborn, too. I'm impervious to reason and set in my own ways and on the side of the angels. This time I have the advantage of the high moral ground. "Come on, Nick, just look at them," I insist. "Cammie and Sammie are not human. Their glued-on beauty pageant smiles haven't wavered once all day. That's" -- I look at my watch and do some fast calculating -- "seven hours. Even a game-show host can't smile for seven hours straight. And have you seen their eyes? They're completely devoid of expression, and notice how huge their pupils are." I lower my voice and lean in. "I think they're taking commands from the mother ship. No," I say, when Nick finally submits to his weaker impulses to take a look, "act natural. We don't want them to get suspicious. For all we know, they could be watching us on their holo-scanners right now."
Nick forgets that he's annoyed with me and laughs. It's a nice sound, cheerful and strong, and several people turn around to get a glimpse of its source. Then Nick remembers why we're here. He recalls my waywardness and my refusal to be led where he leads and starts coughing to disguise his amusement. "Lou, when you agreed to come, you promised to be polite."
The promises I made that night are fuzzy. They're tattered photos with faded images. "I was being polite," I say defensively.
Nick stares at me unblinkingly. "No, you weren't."
"I congratulated him, didn't I?"
"Actually, no, you didn't. I did."
This is Nick. He likes to split hairs and be right all the time. "Yeah, but I brought you along. So it was like I congratulated him. What else do you want from me?" I say, my voice dropping to a pitiful whine. I've had several drinks and very little of my dinner, and my victimhood is starting to leak out of me. It's starting to seep out of the holes in my facade. This wasn't supposed to happen. I had every intention of getting through this evening with my dignity intact. "I'm not like you, Mr. Diplomat's Son. I haven't spent my whole life perfecting mild good humor."
I see anger in his eyes and for a moment I think this has worked. But Nick isn't easy to pick fights with and he isn't easy to distract. That mask of mild good humor is hard to pierce. Most of the time it's like galvanized steel and I never have a blowtorch on hand.
"Lou, we've already had this discussion," he says calmly. "You have to talk to him. How else are you going to get seed money?"
This is a very good point. I don't have many options left. The banks refuse to give me a small-business loan, winning the lottery isn't as easy as it sounds, and I don't have anything of monetary value that I can bring to an antiques dealer and hock. Despite the number of dead relatives who surround me, including a mother, nobody has ever left me something of value. I have costume jewelry and stacks of letters and a heart-shaped locket that my great-great-grandmother wore, but nothing you can start a business with.
"By selling my body," I say now, because it's the only solution I haven't explored.
"Lou," he says dangerously.
"What? I'll use condoms. It'll be perfectly safe and tax-free."
But he's not in the mood for prostitute humor. He's trying too hard to broker peace. "You will march right over there, you will congratulate your father on his nuptials, you will kiss your new stepmama on the cheek and then you will talk to your father about a business loan."
This course of action sounds reasonable and anyone else would have little trouble falling in line. But not me. I know the subtext. Despite the jump-to-it practicality of Nick's order, this isn't a straightforward venture. It's riddled with land mines and quicksand. "But he'll find out."
"He'll find out what I need the money for," I explain. "He's bound to ask."
Nick's doesn't grasp the significance of this. He doesn't understand why divulging the money's purpose should have any bearing on his West loan scheme. "So?"
"If he knows what I need the money for, it'll make him happy," I explain calmly. "I can see the headline: Daughter Goes into Family Business -- Father Swoons with Joy."
Nick wrinkles his nose. He's still in the dark. "Is that so bad?"
"Swoon with joy, Nick," I say, speaking slowly so he'll understand. "Swooning is happier than thrilled or ecstatic."
"And your point is?"
I sigh heavily. Sometimes the people who know you best are the ones who understand you the least. "Nick, he's my father. I can't bear to make him happy."
Nick finishes his drink and asks the passing waiter to bring him another. While we're waiting for the man to return, Nick doesn't speak. He gathers his thoughts, examines the crowd and wonders what he's gotten himself into. The waiter returns quickly with a fresh scotch and soda. "Let me see if I understand the situation," he says, reinforcements in hand. "You're willing to make yourself miserable so that your father won't be happy. Is that what's going on?"
"Well, duh, Nick. Where have you been for the last four years?" I finish my drink and look around for the waiter but he has disappeared. I hold my empty glass in one hand and ball up the napkin in the other.
Nick stares consideringly into his drink. "I thought you liked your job."
"I work as a personal assistant for a man who designs second-rate, mass-produced garbage cans with names like the Desdemona and the Picasso. I have a master's degree in industrial design from Parson's. How can I like being someone's girl Friday?"
Nick is startled and he stares at me for several moments without saying a word. This isn't what he signed on for. When he stumbled across the pile of sketches among the clutter on my kitchen counter, he thought he'd discovered the perfect excuse. He thought he'd found an excellent pretext for putting me in touch with my father. Nick assumed that a loan would bind us together. He figured a common goal would provide us with opportunities to talk and to mend fences that had long been left in disrepair. This is what Nick does. He sees a gulf, measures the distance across and starts building a bridge. The need to tinker with chasms is innate and compulsory -- he comes from a long line of social engineers. But the diplomatic corps doesn't teach you how to deal with self-destruction on my level.
He's appalled and shocked and a little bit dazed by the wounds I've inflicted on myself. I can see it in his eyes. I've managed to pierce his mask of mild good humor but that wasn't my intention. This confession wasn't supposed to be a blowtorch. I was just stating a fact, but somehow there's something harsher about words spoken than words thought. Suddenly I'm appalled, too. Although I know that the last four years haven't been completely wasted, suddenly I'm shocked by bad decisions impulsively made.
"May I have another drink?" I ask, holding out my glass with the crumpled napkin inside. I want Nick to leave. I want him to go away and stop looking at me with that horrified expression. Something has changed. Something has altered dramatically but I can't put my finger on it. Uttering the words has somehow expunged me from the garden and now I feel naked and exposed and painfully self-conscious.
Nick hesitates. He's not sure what I need right now. He's not convinced that gin and tonic is the best cure for masochism, but he takes my glass and wanders off.
Copyright © 2004 Lynn Messina
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As a follow up to Fashionistas, Tallulahland offers the same sarcastic, sensible vibe. It's nice to see a character develop! It's a great read. :)
This book has the same quirky, laugh-out-loud humor as Messina's debut Fashionistas. What surprised me about this book is how much raw emotion there is in it. Tallulah is dealing with her mother's death and the fact that her father has already moved on and married again, and she is punishing both herself and him for what she perceives as his betrayal. The characters are very funny and real and their story is engaging and entertaining. Read it!
Lynn Messina has once again created a very likable heroine in her character Tallulah. It's refreshing to read a story about a smart, single woman interested in more than where and when she'll meet her next boyfriend. This is also true of Vig in Messina's first novel Fashionistas; another great read. In both cases, I laughed out loud more times than I could count.
I read Messina's first book, Fashionistas, and her new novel, Tallulahland, is even better. I couldn't put it down. The characters are so endearing, the plot is engrossing, and Messina nails the home design world. This book transcends the chick-lit genre. TALLULAHLAND has heart.
I wonder if Lynn Messina is anyting like her characters, because if she is, she'd be one of the few females that I'd love to hang out with. Tallulah can't find her backbone but she's become best friends with her sarcasm, indecisiveness, and regard for friendship. Nick was the annoying know-it-all who sounded cute and made me want to read about him on every page because I enjoyed his presence. He WAS literally Tallulah's backbone and the camp scene was so fun, I wish I was back in my girl scouting days. Hannah was Tallulah's extravagant, vindictive side and Tallulah's father, Lou, is her cool, even-tempered side. Altogether they make a very entertaining person. And apart? They frustrate me. Just like Fashionistas (her first book), I didn't want the book to end and would've thoroughly enjoyed the article on Marcos.