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There Will Never Be Another You

There Will Never Be Another You

4.5 2
by Carolyn See

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“Carolyn See has written a novel alive with wit and love and energy–a book about things falling apart that turns out to be a day at the beach. . . . Pure joy.”–Joan Didion

Accomplished author Carolyn See triumphantly returns to fiction–seven years after her last novel was published–with this provocative, vibrantly written new


“Carolyn See has written a novel alive with wit and love and energy–a book about things falling apart that turns out to be a day at the beach. . . . Pure joy.”–Joan Didion

Accomplished author Carolyn See triumphantly returns to fiction–seven years after her last novel was published–with this provocative, vibrantly written new novel. Set in a security-obsessed world that eerily mirrors our own, There Will Never Be Another You captures the paranoia and propaganda of a volatile time and place in which humanity’s divisions run deep and society sits on edge–and one Southern California family faces profound crises from within and without.

It is a moment in the near future when the global threat of terror has cultivated rage, apathy, and panic across the country. People fear that “anybody could be armed, or have a bomb. Or a disease. Or all three.” For Phil, a dermatologist at the UCLA hospital, it is a time of unease and uncertainty, in stark contrast to the days when he coasted through life on his good looks, a modicum of charm, and only haphazard effort. Now Phil must deal with his mother, Edith, who’s been grieving over the death of her husband for several years and only recently has thought to reconnect with a family that seems to have other priorities. Phil’s energies are already divvied up among his belligerent children, his wayward wife, and his unreliable mistress.

Then Phil’s life takes a dramatic turn: He is recruited for a top-secret team whose task is to act quickly in the event of a biological or chemical attack. The assignment just may provide him with a renewed sense of purpose. Yet dire circumstances force Phil to make profound decisions that will affect not just himself and his loved ones but the entire country. It is a chance for an ordinary man to rise from mediocrity to heroism–and at which failure would prove to be catastrophic.

Foreboding and all too plausible, There Will Never Be Another You is a cautionary novel of family and society, where a naïve past is replaced by a menacing future in which distinguishing between reality and imagination proves to be more challenging than ever.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Chris Bohjalian
Among the most potent and poignant new novels to address post-9/11 America is Carolyn See's There Will Never Be Another You . It is potent because the sense of dread and unease that mark almost every moment in the book is palpable; it is poignant because See, who in previous books has proven eminently capable of skewering her characters when they misbehave, has such compassion for the largely villain-less ensemble that populates this tale. Moreover, for readers who savored the last novel she wrote before 9/11, The Handyman , it is particularly affecting to see the way anxiety has replaced anticipation for one writer.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Set in Los Angeles of the immediate future and infused with the anxieties of the present, See's potent new novel articulates the instinctive, human impulse toward connection in the face of mortality. The story centers on the UCLA medical center, where cosmopolitan, twice-widowed Edith volunteers, and where her bewildered dermatologist son, Phil, has his practice. Phil is unhappily married to the disgruntled Felicia and clueless about how to help their troubled prepubescent son or relate to their imperious teenage daughter. Edith tries repeatedly to begin her life again, but despairs of new relationships with "death all around." See also follows the love story of UCLA students Andrea Barclay, whose father's kidney is failing (and whose mother is Edith's confidant), and Danny Lee, whose large Chinese-American family gathers to support a dying uncle. Andrea and Danny's headlong romance contrasts with Phil and Felicia's unraveling marriage; the former's cultural differences become part of the point. And Phil becomes part of a bioterrorism response team; the fracturing and coalescing relationships mirror the drama of a possible epidemic as See's utterly believable characters fumble for love and meaning. (May 16) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In her first novel since The Handyman (1999), acclaimed writer See returns to a theme first explored in Golden Days (1986): how we live, love, and carry on in an unstable world. Set in the UCLA Medical Center of the near future, There Will Never Be Another You follows three generations of Californians as they struggle to live in a post-9/11 world amid the threat of bioterrorism. As the Los Angeles area weathers one medical crisis after another, the four protagonists of this very real novel-a heartbroken widow, a poetry-loving gangbanger, an innocent coed, and a dermatologist recruited to a highly classified emergency response team-strive to define themselves within and outside the most significant relationships of their lives. The instability of the country pushes each of them to focus on what is important, providing the courage needed to make the decisions that will change their lives. See's true-to-life characters and insight into the human condition power this life-affirming novel. Readers will have no trouble identifying with the resilient protagonists, and they will find comfort in See's nonapocalyptic vision of the future. Recommended for all large fiction collections.-Karen Walton Morse, Univ. at Buffalo Libs., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Death jostles a diverse group of Californians but it's the life force that prevails here. Los Angeles, 2001. Edith is a well-heeled white Angeleno. Her beloved second husband Charlie dies in her arms after a long illness. The next morning, she watches on television the collapse of the Twin Towers, but the catastrophe doesn't amount to a hill of beans next to her own loss. Her reaction sets the tone for a novel that elevates personal pain and joy above collective anxiety and jingoism. On to 2007. The war in Iraq drags on; everybody is edgy. Edith, a lonely widow, is a volunteer receptionist at UCLA Medical Center, where her son, Phil Fuchs, is a dermatologist. Phil has problems at home. His whiny wife Felicia is worried about aging. Daughter Eloise is an obnoxious brat. Vernon, 11, for whom Phil feels a "terrible, soft, embarrassing love," is acting up like crazy. At the hospital, he's chosen to join a top-secret team organized by the military to treat future bioterrorism victims; he is refused permission to leave the program when he becomes disaffected. In the reception room, two families are on tenterhooks. The Barclays and their daughter Andrea are hoping for a kidney for her father, a university lecturer, who is fading fast. The other family are recent Chinese immigrants; an uncle is on a respirator. Danny has seen Andrea in undergraduate poetry class. Almost before they know what's happening, they're making love in the campus Botanical Garden; mutual desire is that strong, and it keeps death at bay. Phil's world comes crashing down when he finds Felicia flaunting her lover Larry ("in security") at her 40th birthday bash. Divorce looms, and prospective stepfather Larry is threateningVern with military school. Disregarding a hospital emergency summons, Phil acts fast to save Vern and himself; it's a gloriously improbable plan, but it works. Uneven but never dull, See's seventh (after The Handyman, 1999, etc.) throws an idiosyncratic light on our contemporary age of anxiety.

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I woke up on the couch, where I’d been sleeping for the last two months. I was alone. I looked at the ceiling for quite a long time and then said, out loud, “Let me just keep my eyes open.”

I got up, put on some coffee, pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, got out maybe a dozen plastic trash bags, and went into the bedroom where he’d died. I started with the piles of Depends, cartons and cartons of them.

I filled one plastic trash bag with Chux and another with Depends and went out the front door of the apartment to throw the goddamned things down the trash chute. One of my neighbors tottered toward me, snazzy in leopard-skin tights and pearls, even though it wasn’t yet six in the morning.

“Well, I made it, Estelle,” I said, because Estelle had been telling me for a year now that it was the wives, the caretakers, the relatives, the innocent bystanders, who died first, taking care of their sick husbands. Or whoever. And the husbands went on forever. Of course, Estelle’s did. He would never die. Just too mean.

“It’s not over yet,” Estelle said, looking me over, and clicked past, in high heels and rhinestone-spattered socks, using her walker as a weapon.

Inside the apartment, the phone rang. People were savages, really. It was barely six! I took another bag and loaded it up with creams and lotions and antiseptics and catheters of every de- scription, and dozens of those gelled cotton things on sticks that you use to swab the mouths of dying people when water is too much for them. And here was baby powder. And moisturized towelettes.

It took a lot of junk to see someone off to the next world. The den already held two wheelchairs, three sponge-rubber wedges, a trapeze (which had nearly knocked out a nurse when she’d bashed into it one night), two oxygen tanks, a big no smoking sign (even though he’d never used the oxygen and nobody in the house smoked), and an extra commode. I took the other commode and hauled it into the den too, then unhooked the slabs of metal on either side of our bed that had made it into a hospital bed, in theory, when you pulled them up, but none of us had ever been able to keep him in anyway. He’d wanted too hard to get out. I’d seen him, when he thought no one was in the room, hoisting himself up against those rails, then failing, sinking back onto the mattress. But sometimes he succeeded. There he’d be again, down on the floor, and I’d have to call the firemen, who’d pick him up and toss him back in bed.

I hauled the metal sides into the den, and the phone rang again. Fuck you, I thought, poured myself some coffee, and sat for ten minutes to read the newspaper. I was putting off the next step, although I knew I had to do it. When the phone rang the third time I went into the bedroom, pulled back the blankets, and stripped the sheets. I knew—I’d read—that when people died they voided everything that was still in them. I had, somewhere in the back of my head, my own suicide plan: pills, vodka, a plastic bag—and for God’s sake remember a laxative a day ahead of time—and maybe a Fleet enema. (Although I couldn’t imagine, no matter how considerate I might want to be, putting myself through a Fleet when I was going to die anyway.)

But there was nothing here, just a nickel’s worth, a modest little stain. I had looked up his behind once, his sphincter helpless, relaxed and open. How much I’ll know of you! But it was such a mystery, like a postcard of a subway, pink and clean, curving off into the middle of his body.

As the phone began ringing, I pulled off the sheets, bundled them up with the last set of towels, and walked down to the laundry room. Estelle passed me again, taking her own exercise, keeping herself alive. See! her look said, but I ignored her, filled every machine in the place—extra hot water, plenty of bleach.

In the kitchen I threw out the applesauce and the Ensure, the ice cream, in the same way the undertakers had casually taken him out the door the night before. In the bathroom I pitched out the pills to keep his sick heart strong, his blood thin, his pres- sure down, his flow up. I threw out the laxatives and the powder that slows your bowels to a standstill. I kept the painkillers and the tranquilizers. The hospice people had come yesterday, just minutes after he’d died, to pour what morphine was left in the toilet.

The phone rang. This time I answered. “Yes, what is it,” I said resentfully into the receiver, because it wasn’t even seven in the morning and I was a widow now and any condolences would have to be pretty good.

“Turn on the television.” For a minute, I couldn’t even place his voice. The doctor? A neighbor? That infernal minister the hospice people kept sending out, and I couldn’t say no because he was part of the package, along with the wheelchairs and the wedges? But no, it was my son. He hadn’t even said hello. He sounded more cracked than usual, poor guy. “You’ll see history being made, I think.” And he hung up.

I poured more coffee, set out some change on the sink to remind me to put the sheets in the dryer when the time came, went into the living room, and turned on the set.

Buildings on fire. In New York. Then one, incredibly, went down.

I admit, for a minute, I was impressed. That was the word. Then I thought, Fuck that! The only human being in the world who ever loved me—except for my goofy son, maybe—died last night. Died in my arms. Breathed his last. Excuse me, God, but you’re going to have to do better than that if you want to impress me! Damn fucking easterners.

Of course, we all do that now, tell where we were on that date, and what we were doing. I was talking to Melinda Barclay, in the Med Center where I volunteer, to pass the time. We were both still doing it now.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Carolyn See is the author of many novels, including The Handyman and Golden Days, as well as such acclaimed works of nonfiction as Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers and Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America. She is also a book critic for The Washington Post and has been on the boards of the National Book Critics Circle and PEN/West International. She has won both Guggenheim and Getty fellowships and currently teaches English at UCLA. She lives in Pacific Palisades, California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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There Will Never Be Another You 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find the most fascinating books challenge your thinking and your comfort zone. This story does exactly that. Initially you think it will be another family saga that ends the same way as some others you have read...not so. Each character has a point of view and then a bit of a tweaking is revealed. None of them is really 'normal' as we know it to be. However, following them is quite a ride. Not for everyone, but worth the effort to see what lies beneath the surface.