To Die For: A Novelby Joyce Maynard
“That’s the beauty of television. It’s like an eye that’s on you all the time. . . . Kind of like God, if you want to get heavy.”Local weather reporter Suzanne Maretto craves nothing more than to transcend life at her suburban cable television news station and follow in the footsteps of her idol: Barbara Walters./b>
“That’s the beauty of television. It’s like an eye that’s on you all the time. . . . Kind of like God, if you want to get heavy.”Local weather reporter Suzanne Maretto craves nothing more than to transcend life at her suburban cable television news station and follow in the footsteps of her idol: Barbara Walters. When she concludes that her unglamorous husband is getting in the way of her dream of stardom, the solution seems obvious: Get rid of him. She seduces a fifteen-year-old admirer, Jimmy, and persuades him to do her dirty work. Mission accomplished, Suzanne takes to the airwaves in her new role as grieving widow, in search of a TV deal. If that means selling Jimmy down the river, she’s ready.Maynard’s brilliant, funny, and groundbreaking novel—adapted by Gus Van Sant into the cult classic movie of the same name, starring Nicole Kidman—was first published in 1992 before the era of manufactured stardom and the phenomenon of televised murder trials as entertainment. The book still stands as a razor-sharp satire of celebrity-fixated culture and the American obsession with TV—a novel that imagined the phenomenon of reality television before its creation, with alternately bone-chilling and hilarious accuracy.
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To Die For
By Joyce Maynard
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Joyce Maynard
All rights reserved.
Just to give you an idea of Susie. What a go-getter she was, right from the start. I can remember back when we lived on Sunrise Lane, her standing in front of the mirror, giving weather reports. She couldn't have been more than three years old at the time. I mean, this girl had a goal in life, and the determination to pursue it. You know how some little girls say they want to be fairy princesses or ballerinas when they grow up? That wasn't Susie. Right from the start, she had her feet on the ground and she knew what she wanted. I remember one time, we were watching the "Today" show. This was way back, when they still had Barbara Walters, for goodness sake, and my Susie's pointing to her on the screen telling me, "That's what I want to be someday, Mommy. I'm going to be on TV."
And now of course, she is. Every night. It's just not the way we pictured it. God, look at me. They said this mascara was waterproof. I'm writing a letter to the company.
And she was good at it too. Earl and I can show you her tapes. We got one of the first home video cameras they made—back when you still had to carry around a battery pack—just so we could tape Susie's broadcasts. She had this news show—"Suzanne's World." You've never seen anything so cute. She'd report on what was going on in the neighborhood—so-and-so got a puppy, so-and-so's grandparents came to visit. But the way she did it, it was just like a real TV newscaster. "Now back to you, Faye," she'd say, at the end of her report. Faye was the anchorwoman. Earl ran the camera. But Susie was the star.
Back in those days, she was always self-conscious about her nose. Which I always thought was fine just the way it was. But it was typical of Suzanne that she started planning for the plastic surgery from—what?—fifth grade? Sixth at the most. We finally got it taken care of when she was twelve, but in the meantime, she worked out all these little tricks for deemphasizing her nose with contour brushes and so forth. Every time we'd take her picture, she had this certain angle she liked to tilt her head. I'd show you, but after the operation she up and threw away every one of those old portraits, if you can believe it.
If you want to know the truth—and we never told Suzanne this, naturally—Earl and I were sort of upset after the swelling came down from her surgery. Maybe her nose was a tad bigger than average in the first place, but the new one was awfully small, and kind of tilted up. Earl said we should sue, but how would that have made Suzanne feel? The main thing was, she was happy.
And popular? I'm telling you, by the time that girl was thirteen, Earl had to have another phone line put in for Susie's calls. We had boys knocking on the door just to get a look at her. Older boys, too—seventeen, eighteen—asking her out when she was still in junior high. Of course Earl and I said no. We always ran a tight ship. Not that Susie would have done anything, anyway. This was a young lady with a head on her shoulders. "You know, Mom," she used to tell me, "I just don't have time for a lot of dating. I've got to think about my future."
Not that she was antisocial. We're not talking about some sort of hermit. I'm telling you, this girl had activities every day of the week. Monday, cheering practice. Tuesday, yearbook. Modeling class, Wednesday nights. Church youth group—if you want to know how ridiculous all this is, let me tell you: she was real active in that. Susie even started a chapter of Students Who Just Say No at the high school. Got right up there in assembly in front of the whole school and made a speech. Cool as a cucumber, like she'd been doing it all her life. Well, of course, she had.
Earl and I never missed watching her cheer. Lancaster High didn't have that good of a team, but I'm telling you, you never saw better cheerleading. Suzanne was the captain. They had these little maroon skirts—maroon and yellow, those were the colors. Suzanne hated them, but what can you do?—and yellow sweaters with a big L on the front. I remember the day they got the uniforms. Suzanne didn't think the hem on hers was quite right, so she redid the whole thing. That was Suzanne for you. Always a perfectionist. Always the highest standards. You couldn't say gymnastics was her specialty, but you've never seen a person work so hard on the splits. Every night, when she was on the phone, she'd be sitting there, on the floor, working on that full split of hers. I don't need to tell you she got it, now do I?
It was always hard for Faye. We knew that. Here's Susie with that cute little figure of hers, a natural blonde, boys coming round at all hours of the day and night. And there's Faye starving to death on some new liquid diet. Life isn't always fair, what can you say? There was our Suzanne getting straight As, and Faye struggling to keep a C average. Suzanne making the ski team. Faye breaking her leg on day one. And then there was Faye's skin problem. The money we spent on dermatologists.
But Faye was always proud of Susie. I can still see the two of them, Faye pushing Susie down the street in that little stroller of hers down Sunrise Lane, barely out of diapers herself. Telling everyone, "That's my baby sister." She just adored Suzanne. Well, who wouldn't?
So it was no surprise when Larry Maretto started calling her up. I can't tell you he seemed any more determined than some of the others. But maybe because he wasn't in school—he was working at his folks' restaurant—and Suzanne had graduated from college with a degree in media communications and landed a part-time job modeling at the Simpson's over at the mall while she pursued a position in the media field. They were both ready to start thinking about settling down, I guess you could say. Not that she fell all over him or anything. But she didn't turn him down, point-blank, like she always used to before.
You couldn't say she was head over heels. Suzanne never got that way. She was always practical. But she let him keep calling and coming around. And things just slowly developed. I can't even say when it happened, but before you know it, Larry's coming by the house every night after work, to take her out, sending flowers, the whole bit. Next thing we know, she's telling me, "Mom, we need to go shopping for a wedding dress."
Earl and I had always pictured Suzanne settling down with more of a college type. So I have to admit that at first we had our doubts about Larry, and we told Suzanne as much. But for the first time in her life, it didn't seem to bother her, making a choice that didn't exactly please us. It was almost like she was finally having her own little adolescent rebellion or whatever, with this long-haired rock-and-roll drummer of hers. "All my life I've been doing what you and Dad wanted, Mom," Susie said to me. "This time I'm making my own choice."
And in the end of course, Larry won us over too. Anyone could see he was nuts about her—sending her flowers, writing her poems, songs even, that he played for her on his guitar. Delivering this pizza to the house one night, with her name spelled out in olives. Then giving her that puppy of course. A Lhasa apso. You could tell he was a hard worker. He'd been working in the family business since he was twelve or thirteen, and Earl and I both felt confident that he was done sowing his wild oats and now he was ready to make something of himself.
It was a beautiful wedding. Susie wore this cream-colored silk gown with little seed pearls down the back. She copied her veil from this picture we had of Maria Shriver. Suzanne kept a scrapbook of all the big network newswomen. She could tell you anything you wanted to know about those women—where they got their first news anchor job, what their shoe size was, I'm telling you. So anyway, she had a Maria Shriver wedding veil.
When Larry first started coming around, he had this long hair. Don't get the wrong idea—he was always clean, but they were just kids, you know. They liked listening to rock music and going dancing at clubs and so forth. Larry had a motorcycle. Although I have to say he always wore a helmet, and he made sure Susie did too.
But by the wedding, they had all that behind them. Larry had sold his motorcycle and cut his hair. His dad made him weekend manager down at the restaurant. I mean, you've never seen such a change in a person in such a short time. Suzanne was sending out job applications to TV stations, and finally, right after the honeymoon, the cable station here in town took her on, which was a real breakthrough. She wasn't in front of a camera yet on a regular basis, but it was a beginning, something for her resume. And you knew it was only a matter of time before she'd move on to something bigger. Larry was behind her a thousand percent.
By the time they got engaged, Suzanne and Larry had saved enough to put a down payment on a cute little condominium. They picked out furniture, carpeting, dishes, you name it. If you want to know how much Larry loved Suzanne, let me tell you: His wedding present to her was a Datsun 280 ZX. Suzanne said that was the same kind of car this reporter drives that's on Channel 4 all the time. I forget her name.
They went to the Bahamas on their honeymoon. We all got postcards, how beautiful it was, how happy they were. That was June. July 1, Suzanne started her new job and I guess she was a little let down. Her boss had promised her that she'd get a crack at some on-camera work, but it turned out what she did was more in the secretarial line. But Suzanne's not the kind to give up easily, as you might guess. So when it turned out what they had in mind was not in the reporting line, exactly, Suzanne just took it upon herself to make something of her position. She asked the station manager if she could produce a documentary, on her own time, about the lives of a group of local teenagers—the kind of problems and pressures young people confront these days. Follow them around for a couple months, get to know them, and get to where they trusted her enough to bare their souls, if you will. It was going to be an expose of teen lifestyles, sex, drugs, the whole shooting match. And that's how it all started. This giant mess.
I was supposed to have an abortion. Sixteen years old, Eddy off to Woodbury with no forwarding address two days after he got the news, my mother and dad on unemployment, calling me a whore. No way I was going to get to keep this baby. I had the appointment all set up. I even got a ride over to the clinic that morning. "Don't come home without blood in your underpants," my mom told me. A real softie, that one.
We got there early, so I told Patty, my friend that drove me, to drop me off a couple blocks away. I'd walk the rest. It was May. A real sunny day and the black flies hadn't come out yet. I stopped at a park—not even a park, just a playing field—where this Little League team was practicing. A bunch of little squirt boys and a coach that looked like he was somebody's dad. And over on this bench a little ways away, the moms sitting by a cooler, handing out Hi-C and calling out to their kid when it was his turn at bat. Some of them had littler kids too, playing in the dirt. This one mother was pregnant, only not like me. She was showing. Wearing this shirt with an arrow pointing down at her stomach that said FUTURE ALL-STAR. They were all laughing and talking. One had a baby in her lap and it looked like she was nursing him. I guess she was married to the coach, because he came over to her one time, when the kids were taking a break, and gave her a kiss. Not a french kiss or anything, like Eddy used to. This was the type kiss a husband and wife give each other. Just a peck on the cheek, but I saw that and I thought to myself: He doesn't just want sex out of her. He loves her. They're a family.
I knew it wasn't likely that this little amoeba or whatever that I had in my stomach was going to be some big baseball player, or some guy that discovers the cure for cancer. But one thing was for sure. He was my best shot at somebody that would always love me. And he'd be all mine.
There I am. A total fuckup at school. My parents hate me and you know Eddy wishes I'd jump off a bridge. I'm not smart and I'm not pretty, and I'll never get further than sponging ketchup off the tables at some fast-food restaurant. This baby I got is the most precious thing I ever had, and I'm going to let somebody stick a tube in that sucks it out of me and flush it down the toilet? I must be an even bigger idiot than my father tells me.
I tell myself there are people that have a million dollars, but they can't have a baby. They fly all over the country having operations, getting sperm donors, hiring women to have one for them, getting doctors to try and fertilize their eggs in a test tube. And here I am, I pulled it off without even trying. It's the most important thing I ever did or ever will do, most likely.
I sat down on the bench, behind the mothers. I guess I sat there a long time. Thinking about all the same stuff I'd been over a million times already: How am I supposed to pay for the diapers and stuff? How will I ever get another boyfriend if I have a baby? What happens if my dad kicks me out of the house? It's not like I'm going to be driving some station wagon and talking about trips to Disney World like these mothers. I don't even have the money to buy my kid a baseball glove. Who am I kidding, thinking I could be someone's mother?
This little guy with real thick glasses comes up to bat. He's a shrimp. The batting helmet keeps falling down over his face and he's all choked up on the bat. Then I see something's wrong with one of his arms. It's shriveled up and it looks like some of the fingers are missing. You can tell the kids on the team aren't that wild about him either. The mother that's keeping score or whatever mutters something about how his father was drunk when he dropped this kid off. One of the others says he's always sticking his hands down his pants and she wouldn't make any bets on him wearing underwear. Lucky her son wears a batting glove. "You'd think it was enough we had him for soccer," she says.
Frankie, his name was. A little guy that had less than nothing going for him.
OK, I say to myself. It's up to you, Frankie. Strike out, I'm heading straight over to that clinic to plunk down my two hundred dollars. Get on base and I'm having the baby.
First pitch they throw him, Frankie swings and misses. Second pitch, same thing. Then he lets maybe a dozen good pitches go by. Just stands there grinning, while you can see the dad that's pitching getting pretty fed up. "Come on now, Frankie," he says. "Other kids need to get a turn."
It's like he doesn't hear. He keeps waiting as one perfectly good ball after another sails across the plate. Nice easy balls. Ten, maybe fifteen more pitches.
The kids are yelling at him now. "Funky," they call him. Mothers shaking their heads, looking at their watches. Me, I'm barely breathing.
"OK, Frankie," says the coach. "This is your last shot." He releases the ball. Not even a good pitch like those others. It's way outside. No way is Funky connecting with this one. In my head I'm already climbing up on the table, putting my feet in the stirrups.
Excerpted from To Die For by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 1992 Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
Joyce Maynard is the author of twelve books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoir At Home in the World, translated into seventeen languages, and the New York Times–bestselling novel Labor Day. Maynard’s most recent novel, After Her, also tells a story of sex and murder. A former reporter with the New York Times and longtime performer with the Moth, Maynard teaches writing at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, and makes her home in Northern California.
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