Two Harbors

Two Harbors

by Kate Benson

Those who live in the isolated port town of Two Harbors, Minnesota, still remember the strange downfall of Lila Maywood-a striking beauty who abandoned her family for Hollywood with dreams of becoming a movie star. Lila's disappearance has defined the life of her daughter, Casey, left with only an autographed, heart-shaped headshot of her mother. When a big-city

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Those who live in the isolated port town of Two Harbors, Minnesota, still remember the strange downfall of Lila Maywood-a striking beauty who abandoned her family for Hollywood with dreams of becoming a movie star. Lila's disappearance has defined the life of her daughter, Casey, left with only an autographed, heart-shaped headshot of her mother. When a big-city stranger shows up in town, Casey reluctantly falls for him, only to have him desert her, too. This new abandonment brings Casey face-to-face with the legacy of her mother's past, and the possibility that her own future could follow the same course. Against her father's counsel, Casey journeys from Two Harbors to Hollywood, where she discovers a world of secret lives and shifting roles that holds revealing truths about those who left her behind.

Cinematic and suspenseful, this is the electrifying story of a daughter learning the one act her mother never mastered: letting go.

Editorial Reviews

"Benson writes with a poetic voice as passionate as it is precise."
From the Publisher

"This is the deepest, purest first novel of the year."—Edmund White

"Kate Benson's risky, compelling, and bold missing person story deserves the widest of audiences."—Stephen Schwandt, author of Siren Song

Publishers Weekly
Benson's fluent debut novel follows the bittersweet coming-of-age of Casey Maywood, whose mother, Lila, abandons her with her father in the titular Minnesota town for a chance at stardom in Hollywood. Before she vanishes in pursuit of her dream, gorgeous but unbalanced Lila shapes young Casey in her own image: a beautiful blonde dissimulator and heartbreaker. Casey always hopes Lila will return, although her father doesn't reveal that his troubled wife has sought a divorce and is likely remarried. Years later, working at a movie theater, Casey meets Dex Stone, a handsome older man from L.A. Their relationship (her first real love affair) ignites, but his abrupt death in a plane crash leaves her reeling with previously buried feelings of abandonment. At the urging of Dex's brother, Kevin, Casey flies to Hollywood to attend the funeral-and search for her lost mother. Benson's first-person narrative switches back and forth from Casey's life in Two Harbors to her dizzying reinvention in Hollywood as she cavorts with Kevin and learns the truth of Dex's privileged past. Benson demonstrates capable craft, though she skirts the resolution of the mother-daughter relationship with unsubtle plotting. Agent, Alex Glass. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Casey Maywood is a beautiful but deeply scarred young woman who has never come to terms with her mother's abandonment. Lila Maywood, with her obsessive fantasies of becoming an actress and being adored by men, left her husband and daughter to pursue her dreams in Hollywood. But the daughter she left behind never forgot her, nor the lessons she learned from her: how to play the right part and how to make men love you without letting yourself love too deeply in return. Then she met Dex, and he made Casey question all the things she thought she knew. When Dex dies in a plane crash, Casey flies to Hollywood to attend his memorial service. There the puzzle pieces of his life slowly fall into place, allowing her to determine the truth about their relationship even as she unravels the painful reality about her mother. This richly textured tale shifts between Casey's search for answers in Hollywood and snapshots of her life in small-town Minnesota, the events that ultimately led her to where she is. It is an intricate, deftly woven plot that is taut with emotion in a beautifully descriptive novel that lingers with readers in spite of-or perhaps because of-the lack of concrete resolution. The author creates a sensuous atmosphere, ripe with tension, secrets, and things not said, drawing readers into Casey's quest for meaning and truth. It will be appreciated by older teens who will savor its florid prose. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2005, Harcourt, 304p., $14 Trade pb. Ages 15 to Adult.
—Lisa Doucet
Library Journal
Benson's first novel is a remarkable coming-of-age story enhanced by strong dialog and poetic verse. Her cinematic descriptions move the action along as though a camera were logging each scene. Twentysomething Casey Maywood lives in the small, isolated Minnesotan town that gives the novel its title. Her mother, Lila, known for her astonishingly good looks, leaves Two Harbors to seek movie stardom in Hollywood, and Casey endures this loss in her own way, recklessly pursuing short-term relationships and one-night stands. Then she falls in love with Dex, a handsome young man she meets while working at the local movie theater. Before Casey is able to come to terms with her feelings, he is killed in a plane crash. The story moves west to Los Angeles when Casey decides to attend Dex's funeral and locate her mother. Casey's determination to find answers does not yield a stereotypical Hollywood ending, but it's unfortunate that the conclusion fails to resolve all the issues that the complex plot creates. Recommended for large fiction collections.-Faye A. Chadwell, Univ. of Oregon Libs., Eugene Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A contrived debut about an emotionally confounded young woman trying to find her mother. Casey Maywood's mother, a former Winter Queen, always wanted to be a movie star-more than she wanted to be a mom, apparently, because in 1995 she abandoned her young daughter and husband in Two Harbors, Minn., and ran off to Hollywood, leaving barely a trace. The scandal surrounding mom's abandonment damaged Casey's relationship with her passive father. By the time Casey is 19, a film student and fledgling actress, it's time to find some answers about her mysterious, mentally unstable mother, who taught her daughter to act the part of the lover without ever allowing herself to fall in love. Too late for Casey, who has just met the new guy in town, Dex Stone, from L.A., at the screening of an indie film called Two Harbors. The lovers only have a few months together before Dex is killed on a return flight to Duluth from L.A.; and when Dex's younger brother, Kevin, asks Casey to come out to the funeral in Hollywood, she accepts, thinking this a perfect opportunity to hunt for her lost mother. The plotting grows increasingly far-fetched as the novel melds into the Two Harbors film, involving the brothers' Gatsby-esque father and his actress girlfriend, whom both sons seemed to have shared. Casey comes up with some clues to her mother's disappearance at a strip club, plausible enough until Benson forcefully ties the whole charade up in an incredible knot. The rich, entitled brothers have few distinguishing characteristics, while Casey is a vulnerable, dreamy, sad character whose mother seems to have robbed her of a true identity: "Aren't we all just actors looking for the same break?" one character asks ofCasey. Moments of fine observation amid bewildering disequilibrium.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Harvest Original Series
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

A mother takes her daughter's hand and leads her underwater.

Blue. Cold, and shimmering through the dark. In reality, just the high school gym-but with the lights dimmed to a wintry sparkle, poster-board seaweed reaching up the walls, it's easy to pretend you've fallen into something magical. Today is the end of Winter Frolic, the annual Two Harbors fair. The theme this year, "Beneath the Ice," has sunk the town past the solid surface of Lake Superior to an arctic, exotic underworld, and the daughter looks around with a ten-year-old's appreciative awe: silver balloons in bubbly bursts, wispy blue streamers across the windows. The icy facade of those watery lights. Hand-cut paper snowflakes defy the laws of physics and shed their twinkling glitter across the hardwood bed of the lake. And in the middle of the basketball court, rising up like the Atlantis of the north shore, a gigantic white float waits for the coronation of the Winter Royalty, its red thrones like sunken hearts all in a row.

It's the last and most important event before the all-town chili dinner; the daughter savors every breath and detail of this, her first and last year as a member of the court. They move through the crowds, past bleachers packed with students, parents, grandparents, neighbors, the whole town awaiting the selection of those girls who will become, briefly yet brightly, minor celebrities in their respective schools.

"When I was crowned," the mother whispers in her ear, "they put my picture in the paper. Front page. There were boys from all over calling the editors for my number-Silver Bay, Beaver Bay. These twin brothers in Duluth."

"Dad, too?"

"Relentlessly. Endlessly." She sighs. "Endlessly. That's when they were saying I should take my chances in Hollywood."

The mother was the Winter Queen in her senior year of high school. She still has the crown; some of the fake diamonds are missing now. The daughter is not allowed to wear it, though she sneaks into her mother's closet sometimes and becomes, in secret, a captive princess, waiting for someone to find her and rescue her and fall tragically in love.

"Just remember not to cry if they crown someone else princess," the mother whispers. "The odds are against you, so don't get your hopes up."

Pretend you are a princess inside, secretly. I'm the only one who knows.

The daughter nods, heart swollen with love or fear or the familiar knot of both. She squeezes her mother's hand, adjusts her shimmering dress nervously as they approach the rest of the "10 and under" court waiting near the float.

"Blue as your eyes," observes Mrs. Simmons from nearby, pulling a little too hard on the sleeve of her dress. The daughter looks down modestly. "Just look at you. Seems like yesterday your mama was up there and her mama was watching. What do they call it-succession?"

"The royal family," someone says.

The mother pulls her hand away from an ever-tightening grip. "Let's not count our chickens."

"Boy, does she look like you, Lila. Just the spitting image." Mrs. Simmons shows her teeth, gapped and grayish and sharp if you're looking up at them. There are murmurs of agreement from the crowd.

"Really," the mother says, "she takes after her father's side."

The women slip away while the daughter eyes her competition: Missy Norris, plump and shy, but with the advantages of dimples and naturally curly hair; Anna Krumm, those long dark tangles and pink glasses, no chance in hell; Ellie, to whom she sidles up, although today there is a strain here, a competitiveness they've never felt before as best friends. And looking down upon them all, the tallest girl in the fourth-grade class: Stacie Simmons, the undisputed favorite for the crown.

"We got my dress at the Mall of America," she is telling a gaggle of idolizing third-graders. "It's only been open a year, but I've been there thirteen times already."

"Thirteen times," murmurs an admirer.

"Maybe twelve."

"After this," Ellie whispers, oblivious to the other girls, "we can sneak to the sledding hill. My sister told me the middle school boys go there after Winter Frolic. Like, without their parents."

"My mom won't let me," the daughter whispers.

"So don't tell."

She shrugs, distracted, the buzz of the wait wearing her down. She is watching her mother flutter nervously to and from various groups of neighbors and parents; she is watching a change come over her, but not as it usually does. Usually the mother slips into a new role like a negligee: one smooth, easy motion over the head, arms stretched up and out and reaching as a calmness slides over her face, her body, all of her floating away into something soft. But today, she wanders, chatters loud and ungracefully, pats her hair and widens her eyes and laughs without meaning it. It's as if her role of the moment is one of the high school girls clustered across the gym, fawning over each other and looking anxiously beautiful. Sometimes the daughter sees her mother looking at those girls with a face like a damp sponge, wilted and old and sagging in the corners.

"What are you staring at?" Ellie whispers, annoyed. Ellie is thinking of a first kiss at the edge of the sledding hill, a boy's pink lips blooming out of the snow-frightening, thrilling. She wants company in the fantasy.

"Nothing," says the daughter quickly. "How do I look?" She turns for her friend, who turns for her, and both praise the other, selflessly but secretly crossing fingers, as the most deserving of the coveted crown.

Like a princess, says her mother's voice, a tickle in the ear-a smile. Like the most beautiful princess in the world, though she's still halfway across the gym with the high school girls; harder to pretend, now, that she's really saying the words.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention . . ."

They form lines like lacy soldiers, barricaded in tulle. The women observe, proud commanders, as each watches her ticket to PTA fame march past. Last one in the line, the daughter snags her mother's eye. But it skitters away like a wounded bird, and before she can catch it again they are clustered in a blinding blue spotlight, the high school girls gliding in behind them.

She can't see the crowds now. She can't see anything except the squinting brightness, like falling into a cavern of light. Lonely.

Just pretend, the daughter hears then, that you're a movie star. She closes her eyes. The Academy Awards. Red carpet, wide smile. Don't let your teeth stick. A fluttery feeling rising up in her chest as the lights and the eyes and the cameras soak in-a beautiful actress, just like your mom, and the change comes over her, finally. She is another person now, a person who knows what to do in a light this bright, there you go, you got it, the rhythm of applause quivering up through her feet, and with her eyes closed it's easy to imagine her mother nearby, whispering so quietly that only she can hear it:

Look at all the people who love you. . . .

And something else is changing. The world coming into focus, everyone's eyes swinging into hers; she looks back fearlessly but blankly, and it takes the handshake of the mayor, the icicle glint of the crown in her face, the astonished expression of Stacie Simmons twisting up beside her for the daughter to realize it's her own name they have called-that she has, for the first time in her life, become her mother.

And here's the crucial moment. A chance, a brief chance, that the dream will turn out differently this time. That they will place it on her head, a year's worth of popularity, and she will ascend the winding stairs of that float (the tallest, bragged the mayor, in Winter Frolic history), and when she takes the throne beside a newly crowned queen (king and prince as well, but who cares about the boys at this point), she will look down and find her mother in the crowd and see it in her smile and it will be the happy ending she's always wanted: I'm so proud of you.

Except that's not how it goes, not this time or ever. As she nears those stairs and the moment of ascension, her mother's voice rises above the applause-"Oh God, oh God, please, no!" And she feels the embrace from behind before she understands it, loving and wrenching all at once: "Not again, not you," yanking her back from the float, the collapse of her body as the crown flies off, away into the light and then-

Stillness. A sudden and painful calm as they lie there together on the gymnasium floor. The town stares, the mother cries. She reaches for her daughter, grabs her, pulls her close: "I knew," she sobs, the words like frenzied hiccups. "I'm sorry, baby, but I knew, could see it, I could see it-the float falling in and everything piling up on top of you and I knew it, baby, knew what was going to happen-" And she holds her tighter, both of them on their knees now, and all of the eyes, and the waiting.

The squeezing, the silence, runs pins and needles through the daughter, but she doesn't really mind. She hasn't felt this alive for as long as she can remember, this safe and unafraid.

Copyright © 2005 by Kate Benson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Meet the Author

KATE BENSON's fiction has appeared in the Hawaii Review, the Allegheny Review, and USA Weekend and has been honored by Seventeen magazine and the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars. She lives in Boston. Two Harbors is her first novel.

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