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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 ...
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.
"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
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."
"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.
"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.
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Posted October 31, 2005
In a 1934 article for Esquire, Ernest Hemingway wrote: 'All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all belongs to you the good and the bad, the ectasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.' Judged by Hemingway's criteria, Kate Benson is already every bit a real writer. In her debut novel Two Harbors, Benson enacts all of the qualities of great narrative fiction listed above. For example, while developing the complex character of her lead, nineteen-year-old Casey Maywood, and her quest to locate the mother who abandoned her for Hollywood, Benson creates epic characters out of both the North Shore and West Coast. Her descriptions of these places and the men and women who populate them are often piercingly lyrical, powerful, and stirring. Even more satisfying are the many scenes and conversations that become meaningful on both surface and subsurface levels. Page after page, there always seems to be much more going on thematically than at first seems evident. Again, like any great writer, Benson's prose rewards close, ambitious reading. Ultimately, this missing person mystery becomes the kind of story that starts conversations rather than making thoughtful discussion irrelevant due to superficial or formulaic resolution. In the end, because of Benson's stunning skill as a writer, we understand and appreciate with genuine depth 'the people and the places and how the weather was.' I have no doubt that this book marks the beginning of a brilliant career. Let us rejoice.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 21, 2005
Two Harbors, a first novel by a talented young author, impressively opens the genre of literary fiction to a mainstream audience. With the perfect blend of multi-layered imagery and page-turning suspense, Kate Benson¿s elegant style of writing feels like poetry yet flows like prose. I found myself wrapped up in the experience of her words, unable to put Benson's book down. Earning high praise from the likes of Judith Guest and Joyce Carol Oates, Two Harbors is a must read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 20, 2005
Posted September 20, 2005
I am always excited to read dynamic first novels from young novelists. Two Harbors is touching, creative, original, and highly emotionally charged. The mother-daughter and father-daughter relationships that it portrays are immediate in their crushing realism. I am now scrambling to try to fit this novel into my syllabus for the high school American Literature course that I teach I found it fascinating, modern, and thoughtful, and I think that my students will enjoy it as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.