The Washington Post
There Will Never Be Another Youby Carolyn See
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.
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Read an Excerpt
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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.