The Vagabonds [NOOK Book]

Overview

It doesn't matter, really, if what we inherit is money or debt, a set of cats or cutlery or a portrait of grandfather Aaron. What matters is the way we deal with what's been left behind. THE Vagabonds From critically acclaimed author Nicholas Delbanco comes a novel about a family with a mysterious inheritance and a secret tie to history... Born and raised in Saratoga Springs, New York, the three Saperstone siblings have drifted apart and lead very separate lives. On Cape Cod, Joanna manages a B and B and a ...
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The Vagabonds

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Overview

It doesn't matter, really, if what we inherit is money or debt, a set of cats or cutlery or a portrait of grandfather Aaron. What matters is the way we deal with what's been left behind. THE Vagabonds From critically acclaimed author Nicholas Delbanco comes a novel about a family with a mysterious inheritance and a secret tie to history... Born and raised in Saratoga Springs, New York, the three Saperstone siblings have drifted apart and lead very separate lives. On Cape Cod, Joanna manages a B and B and a teenage daughter, feeling vulnerable and alone. In Ann Arbor, Claire flirts with becoming an interior decorator while coming to terms with a personal betrayal. And in Berkeley, David carves a niche as a Web designer-yet he yearns to be a painter. Suddenly, these middle-class and ordinary lives will come together again in an extraordinary way. The death of their proud, spirited mother draws the Saperstones home to the New York resort town of Saratoga Springs. Gathered again in the family's ramshackle cottage, they discover a stunning legacy from 1916. Almost a century ago, the legendary "Vagabonds"-captains of industry Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, inventor Thomas Edison, and naturalist John Burroughs-came to this town during one of their road trip adventures. Here they encountered a beautiful young woman, whom they would burden with a scandalous secret and a dazzling windfall. Now, when decades later this inheritance comes to the three Saperstones, it will utterly transform them-not so much for the riches it brings, but for how it will reconfigure the past they share...and a future they had thought beyond their grasp. Arresting in its poignancy and indelibly original, THE VAGABONDS is a brilliant marriage of a truth stranger than fiction and a fiction filled with transcendent truth.
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Editorial Reviews

Lee Martin
In controlled, sensual prose, Delbanco expertly weaves this story of inheritance, responsibility and longing for the security of home. The Vagabonds is a highly enjoyable and provocative story, told with the sure hand and clear eye of an expert novelist.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"[M]oney changes things," Delbanco's saga allows, as it slips across generations to examine the bonds of inheritance, fiscal and otherwise, linking three siblings. When the scattered Saperstones-coddled Claire, drifting David and down-on-her-luck Joanna-return to their childhood home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., upon their mother's death, they discover they've been left a sizable sum of money. The inheritance began with a batch of General Electric stock, bequeathed by a cadre of adventure-smitten, self-styled "vagabonds": no less towering figures than Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. After a cad in Firestone's employ impregnates a young girl in 1916, the three give the shares to provide for her illegitimate progeny. Over two generations, the shares and their intangible presence increase; Alice, the Saperstones' mother, cognizant of her own demons, leaves the trust untouched so that it might fulfill her children's lives in ways she could not. Each child ponders how to channel the windfall into something meaningful: courage, security, a new life. As their futures reconfigure, they draw together in their new history, especially when tragedy undermines Claire's charmed existence. While the vagabonds relished the country's open roads and boundless opportunity-a colorful bit of history animated here-generations later, the Saperstones yearn for a more rooted certainty. Delbanco (What Remains) creates a lyrical narrative showing a palpably American faith in reinvention as he weaves nostalgia-tinged memories into a grittier reality. Agent, Gail Hochman. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Siblings Joanna, Claire, and David Saperstone, now adults, return to their childhood home of Saratoga Springs, NY, to bury their widowed mother. There, they are astonished to learn that they've inherited a sizable fortune-a legacy bequeathed to their grandmother in 1916 by three camping buddies who call themselves "The Vagabonds," otherwise known as Henry Ford, Harry Firestone, and Thomas Edison. This legacy has proved unlucky to two generations of Saperstones. Will it be boon or bane to the third? The Saperstone siblings certainly need the money. Joanna is, at 44, a twice-divorced single mom with an attitude. The middle child, Claire, is in denial over her soon-to-implode marriage, while commitment-phobic David, now 35, has yet to find his place in the world. Delbanco (What Remains) has deep empathy for his characters and their all-too-human foibles, suggesting that it's not only genes that get passed down from one generation to the next but also habits of the human heart. Recommended for all collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/04.]-Janet Evans, Pennsylvania Horticultural Soc. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The prolific author (What Remains, 2000, etc.) traces a hidden legacy through three generations. In 2003, Joanne, David, and Claire learn that their mother, Alice, has died and left them valuable GE stock they knew nothing about. For Joanne, a struggling single mother on Cape Cod, her $500,000 share is a lifesaver. Claire, married to a successful businessman in Ann Arbor, is more concerned with what she perceives as her mother's preference for David. And David, who has always avoided commitment, doesn't know how to respond to his mother's stated hope that he will live in the family home in Saratoga. Flash back to Saratoga in 1916, when Alice's mother, Elizabeth, attends a dinner hosted by her parents for Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone, who, along with Henry Ford, call themselves "The Vagabonds" and take traveling vacations together. Elizabeth is seduced and gotten pregnant by Firestone's valet. To make restitution, The Vagabonds set up a trust fund in GE stock for Elizabeth's heir. Two years later, Elizabeth's baby dies of influenza. She marries, bears Alice, then succumbs young to cancer. Raised by her father, Alice marries a charming womanizer who dies with a mistress in a car wreck. Back in the present, Claire, Joanne, and David, who know little of this history, bicker about the house and divide their mother's ashes. Claire goes home to discover her husband is leaving her for another man, though he then has a fatal heart attack-on the road. In her grief, Claire reaches out to the others. Joanna uses her new wealth to kick out her loser boyfriend, renovate her house, and buy a new car. David, as if there were any suspense about it, decides to move into the Saratoga house where thelegacy began. Too busy a story makes for a tepid read: Delbanco's latest skims the surface without grabbing hold. Agent: Gail Hochman/Brandt & Hochman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446534826
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 10/15/2007
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 402 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Vagabonds


By Nicholas Delbanco

Warner Books

Copyright © 2004 Nicholas Delbanco
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-53002-6


Chapter One

2003

A gull above her circles, pauses in its rising flight and releases what it carries and lets the thing plummet and crack. It is, she knows, a razor clam, or maybe a mussel or oyster; the parking lot has been littered with shells, a white glaze of shattered dropped shellfish, and there are only two cars. Joanna drives past. A brand-new Volvo station wagon, complete with baby seat and snowshoes, waits at the edge of the path to the beach; a fisherman's truck stands idling there also, and the man inside raises his hand. She waves back-it's the thing to do-but parks at the end of the lot. There, smoking, she stares at the bay.

This day it's green and wintry, wind-roiled, with ice in its foam. She rolls her window open and hears the crackling tide. The sound, Joanna tells herself, is like a cocktail shaker's, the salt and sand and wave spume all freezing and mixed in together. No ships are on the water, no line at the horizon's edge beneath a glaucous sky. This is her lunch break and time to be private; holding the smoke, she inhales.

The winter has been long. It is February 10. Ice and snow have settled in, and she feels the way that clam would feel if it knew itself caught in the gull's outstretched beak and ready to be dropped. Last night had been a good one, or as good as she expects to have, with Harry the lodger appreciative and the spaghetti in her homemade garlic and pesto sauce cooked just the way she liked it and both of them, as he put it, lubricated by wine.

"I'm feeling lubricated," he said. "I'm just about feeling no pain."

Joanna had lit candles and the lanterns in the dining room. She was wearing her blue toreador pants and the white Mexican peasant's blouse with the red embroidery, and Harry called her his flag.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Red, white and blue," he told her, and they clicked glasses and kissed.

He could be sweet when he wanted, and last night he'd wanted to, so after the salad and ice cream they went upstairs to his room. The whole house is hers, of course, and in the middle of a February cold snap there are no other paying guests, but it excited Joanna to be in his room and not on her own sleigh bed with the cat and bills and unwashed sheets; she took better care of his space, since, after all, Harry rented it and expected fresh laundry each week. So they were getting down to business, his mouth a mix of pesto sauce and cigar smoke and that Pinot Noir she'd ordered two cases of for Christmas, and still had three bottles of, his arms about her, leg on leg, when the telephone rang in the hallway and, after two rings, ceased ringing and then began again. This was her signal from Leah and she knew she had to answer because her daughter only called that way on the private number when she needed help, and meant it.

"Oh, lover," breathed Joanna, "wait, I'll be right back."

He could be a bastard when he wanted, and last night he'd wanted to while she got on the phone. It was Leah in trouble, big surprise-who has taken, lately, to calling herself Artemisia, because Artemisia was an artist, a painter in the old days when young women weren't supposed to paint, and who'd been raped for her presumption, or so the story went. And since fifteen-year- old Leah is into nose rings and tattoos this year she likes to think her name is Artemisia, Art for short...

"Mom, the car is out of gas," she said. "And I'm up here in Truro and there's no gas stations open and I need you to come up and get us."

"Us?"

"Me and Stacey and a couple guys."

"I'm busy," said Joanna. Because Harry was behind her now, his hand on her ass and his pants off already, and when Leah-Artemisia said, "But Mom, it's cold...," he reached over and pulled out the cord from the plug and the phone went dead. And so she was caught in the middle again, the rock that is Harry her lodger and the hard place that's her daughter; by the time she'd wriggled out of it and finished staking out her claim-telling him don't you ever do that, don't you ever touch this telephone, telling Leah who called a second time that no, she wasn't coming because this is a mess you've made for yourself and the other kids have parents too; whose car were you driving and what were you doing anyhow in Truro?-by the time the argument was over she had been cold sober, the small sweet flare of pleasure gone. Harry lay back with his nose in a book, his stinking feet on the afghan she'd made and had been so proud of, and that was the end of that.

Another gull, rising, drops lunch. In summertime the lot is full, with a line of cars waiting to enter, but now the hard paved surface is a plate for gulls to feast off; no competition on the ground-just her and the truck and the Volvo and none of them looking for shells. She hates self-pity, guards against it, but sometimes-this is one of them-the gray sky and the empty beach and big house near the harbor she tries to make the payments on all seem to be working together and working against her, bringing her down. This morning in the living room there had been birds, a pair of them, terrified and battering at windows and shitting all over the furniture and window wells. Their wings and tails were black with soot, so they must have come through the chimney, and by the time she got them out-removing the screens and opening the windows and ducking under their frenzied rush-by the time she'd finished cleaning up and replacing the screens in the half-frozen frames and shutting the flue in the fireplace chimney she'd been late for work. It made no difference, of course; there were no customers at nine o'clock, and when she told Maisie about the birds-grackles, maybe, or starlings, not crows-Maisie nodded, unsurprised. "It happens."

"Shit happens," said Joanna. "That's what we used to say."

"They gather by the chimney," Maisie explained. "They warm themselves at the furnace updraft and get a little dopey and fall in."

"At your house too?"

"Not since Tom installed a chimney cap. It's good for keeping bats away. And squirrels and raccoons; you ought to get a chimney cap."

"I ought to do a lot of things," she told her boss-friend bitterly. "I ought to sell the goddam house is what I ought to do."

"Who'd buy it?" Maisie asked, and turned to the stock on the shelves.

A light snow falls. Joanna finishes her cigarette and drops it out the door and starts up Trusty-Rusty and, once the engine catches, eases it into reverse. Her lunch break is ending; she needs to get back into town. She helps Maisie out three days a week, and though there've been only two sales this morning-a cardigan, a pair of gloves-it matters to them both that they pretend she's useful and there's a reason to get dressed and drive herself to the store and check the order pads and rearrange the inventory they both know won't sell. In summertime the place is full, young mothers and couples or women alone-on rainy days so many of them you'd think scarves are a necessity, or harem pants, or wide-brimmed hats, which is why the place is called The Bare Necessities. From Memorial through Labor Day, Main Street is busy, hopping, and it's worth your life to find a parking place and what jogs or drives or bicycles past the store is tourists all day long.

But by October the town is half-empty and by February dead. They keep the place open for something to do and to pay the heating bills; they drink coffee and decorate the windows over Christmas and, gossiping together, watch the empty street. It's feast or famine here on the Cape, and lately it's been famine: the plague and seven lean years in which she somehow managed to get fat. Just how, Joanna asks herself, how did I get into this and how do I get out of it and where do I go next?

Leah will leave Wellfleet soon enough; she's been practicing departure and trying on identities for size. Last year she was a cheerleader and then a poetry-slam-wannabe and now she's a girl on the dark backseat of a souped-up broke-down car. Her daughter's father Mr. Ex-Right Ex-Husband #1 lives in Chicago now, and every birthday and for holidays he gets in touch and sends Leah fifty dollars and says, Whenever you're ready, there's more. Mr. Ex-Right Ex-Husband #2 preferred Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's and Johnny Walker and George Dickel and even Ezra Brooks to her, Joanna, and by the time he was in detox in Hyannis the preference was mutual; they haven't seen each other since-when was it?-1994. Her mother is dying, her father is dead, her brother David has been doing whatever he does these days in California and paying no attention, and she'd rather not deal with the kind of attention her little sister pays. The house, the lovely ancient house, is an albino elephant, a picturesque wreck like its owner and beyond her to maintain. And Harry is no help at all; her dirty Harry lies there, feet on the afghan and pants on the floor, and expects her to serve him his dinner in bed but won't even take out the trash.

It has been, Joanna thinks, a long slow slide since college and the degree she didn't finish in 1979. It has been a downhill slope and steeper all the way. She is forty-four years old, a woman with an attitude, or so Harry claimed last night while they were fighting; there's only so far you can travel, he said, on a pair of what used to be excellent tits. That's not fair, she said to him, that isn't fair, and he said what does fairness have to do with it, who's talking equity here? You're such a smug son of a bitch, she had said, why don't you try checking the mirror yourself, and he said because it doesn't matter, not to me. She has tried to teach her daughter, do as I say not as I do, don't do the things I did when young, you're worth much more than that.

She closes her eyes an instant while the birds in the living room fly through her head. Those grackles or starlings have nothing on her; there's air outside they're hungry for and once they find the open window there's a slipstream and escape. They're up in the trees now, away. But Joanna herself can't imagine escape; she will remain in her mortgage-strapped house, the staircase off kilter and rooms needing paint, the shingles half-rotten and roof like a sieve-will remain here with her little sign, "B&B, the Bay View Inn," while in the summer couples come to fuck, and off-season fish or sketch, and in the winter no one stays-remain here till there's nothing left and she's the old lady she never imagined she in her turn would become. My mother is dying-she says this out loud-and maybe that's why birds appeared and battered at the windows, just the way the old song says they do when a soul escapes this vale of tears: a bird of passage fluttering and gone from dark to dark.

And sure enough, when she returns, walking through the stockroom door and hanging up her parka, feeling the heat of the shop and smelling the sandalwood incense and telling Maisie, Hey, I'm back, she knows on the instant that something has changed and not for the better. Her friend has that solemn look on her face that means there's news, and the news is bad, that Maisie is misery's company now and ready and willing to cry...

"What's wrong?" she asks, and Maisie holds her hands up, spreading them, her fingernails bright crimson, chipped, and says that Harry called.

"About?"

"Not Leah," she says. "It isn't her."

"When?"

"Fifteen minutes ago, maybe ten. He says they've been calling and calling your line, until finally he picked it up, and it was a lawyer. Oh sweetie I hate to be telling you this. Except your mother's passed."

It's not relief exactly, this shock that floods and fills her chest, but when Joanna, sitting, says, "I knew it, I knew something like this would happen today," she feels a kind of rising release, a sort of confirmation: the gull's maw and desperate grackles and everything bottoming out. "What else," she asks, "what else could go wrong?"

"They want you there," says Maisie. "In Saratoga Springs, I mean. Your sister's flying out from Michigan to deal with the remains."

When the call arrives Claire is making the bed, fluffing up the pillows and folding the duvet; she loves this domesticity, these acts of meticulous habit, and the room is decorated to her satisfaction. From the Léger print on the south wall where light pours in but cannot reach and therefore fade it to the Calder on the west wall and the pot of freesia blooming; from the wallpaper with its intricate pattern of interlocked grapevines and a trellis to the chandelier and kilim rug; from the yellow shot-silk curtains to the marble-topped oak bookshelf, she has positioned it all: the ottoman, the rocking chair, the cedar blanket chest. The effect she strove for and achieved is one of busy harmony, of clashing motifs that nonetheless match, and everybody admires her eye.

Oh Claire, they say, you should have been a decorator, you could have been one anyhow, you have such a feel for design. I do expect, she tells her friends, to live with things I value; it isn't too much to expect, and the world would be a better place if others thought so too.

The whole house is her nest. There are spaces for the girls, of course, and Jim's study on the second floor and his exercise room in the basement, but the master bedroom suite is hers and hers alone. She cherishes the way the color scheme and light and furnishings just work. It's hard to put your finger on, hard to explain precisely why, but when her friends say, Claire, you should have been a decorator, she believes they have a point; once the girls go off to music camp at Interlaken this summer she might just give it a try.

She has thought about this lately: branching out. It would be gratifying, wouldn't it, to put your own individual stamp on other people's houses and to unlock the energy and realize the potential of other people's space. She doesn't need the income and wouldn't want to charge her friends, but yesterday at tea, for example, when Julie Cantor said, what's wrong with this room-standing in what she insists on describing as her parlor and saying it doesn't feel friendly enough and just doesn't make people welcome-Claire understood in a heartbeat that the problem was the lighting fixtures and how they didn't work at all with that overstuffed couch set and the Queen Anne armoire. The Chinese call it, she knows, feng shui, the art of arrangement and setting, and she supposes she must have an instinct for feng shui. It's the way a room gives out on a hall, or the hallway on the porch beyond; it's a matter of proportion and precise location, really, of knowing where and how to situate your things.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Vagabonds by Nicholas Delbanco Copyright © 2004 by Nicholas Delbanco. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fine contemporary family drama

    In 2003, the three Saperstone siblings (Joanne, David, and Claire) return to their Saratoga Springs, New York hometown to bury their mom Alice. To their shock Alice left her children with a hefty inheritance actually from their deceased grandmother who gained her wealth in 1916 from the vacationing trio of ¿Vagabonds' Henry Ford, Harry Firestone, and Thomas Edison. Thus they have inherited valuable General Electric stock.--- Forty something single mother Joanne sees the money has a savior. Claire, who needs the inheritance the least as she is married to a successful businessman though that relationship seems ready to collapse, resents that mom wants David to live in the ancestral home; she always felt mom favored her little boy over her girls. David has his own problems like being unable to commit to a relationship. As each wonder what happened in 1916 (read the book if you wonder too) they squabble over the estate, but will it bring contentment or a curse as the previous two generations dealt with untimely death and unhappiness.--- Well written, Nicholas Delbanco provides a historical subplot inside a contemporary family drama however, the tale contains too many major threads to keep track of what is happening to the prime trio and others. Still the three siblings come across as genuine especially when they argue and grieve at the same time. The 1916 action furbishes insight into famous Americans bringing that era alive through their personas. Fans of relationship tales will appreciate this fine story, but would have enjoyed a deeper look at how the trio got to where they each seem unable to deeply relate to anyone.--- Harriet Klausner

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