Wavemaker II

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"The novel opens in the summer of 1964 at the seaside home of Kay Clemens, who is serving drinks to two federal marshals who have accompanied her husband, Will, on a brief visit from the penitentiary. With this charged opening we enter the splintering world of the Clemens family, poised for collapse when Will is sent to prison for refusing in court to rat on the notorious McCarthyera lawyer Roy Cohn. Since his arrest, Kay has lived in a state of heightened emotion, struggling to care for their two young children." Wavemaker II, which zigzags
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Wavemaker II: A Novel

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Overview

"The novel opens in the summer of 1964 at the seaside home of Kay Clemens, who is serving drinks to two federal marshals who have accompanied her husband, Will, on a brief visit from the penitentiary. With this charged opening we enter the splintering world of the Clemens family, poised for collapse when Will is sent to prison for refusing in court to rat on the notorious McCarthyera lawyer Roy Cohn. Since his arrest, Kay has lived in a state of heightened emotion, struggling to care for their two young children." Wavemaker II, which zigzags between a quiet, suburban beach community and the high-rise, glitzy frenzy of New York City, is brilliantly told through the points of view of each family member: lovely Kay, who moves elegantly through both worlds trying to keep a grip on her deteriorating family; heart-wrenching little Bo, who is battling cancer; burgeoning adolescent Lou-Lou, who aches for her mother's lost attention; and beguiling Will, who, with a tired strength, ushers us through electric prison scenes. Finally, there is Roy Cohn, who has become the family's shadowy protector in gratitude for Will's loyalty. Cohn is a surprisingly empathetic childlike innocent who, for all his notoriety, is generous to a fault with his friends, fiercely attached to his mother, and conflicted about his sexuality. He is the enigma around whom the Clemens family is forced to circle.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set in the summer of 1964, Hughes's lyrical, poignant debut chronicles the erosion of the tightly knit Clemens family after Will, dutiful husband and father of two, is imprisoned for withholding testimony in an investigation of the activities of controversial attorney Roy Cohn. As the narrative alternates points of view, Kay, Will's despondent wife, spends her time mulling over her husband's predicament, caring for young son Bo who's stricken with cancer in a New York hospital and juggling needy daughter Lou-Lou, who's growing up too fast at the family's home in lazy oceanfront Rumson, N.J. As Will is distanced further from Kay and is sentenced to a year in jail, the grateful Cohn comes to the Clemenses' aid by enlisting his personal friend Dr. Bronson to help with Bo's case. A seasoned medical professional, Bronson tries a new procedure, using Will's stem cells to successfully treat Bo's disease. In succinct, clipped sentences, Hughes relays the intricate, heart-wrenching details of Bo's sickness and gives an account of Will's jailhouse days, which are filled with distrust and danger. Cohn, historically painted as a monster, is portrayed here as compassionate and appreciative of Will's allegiance; once Will is acquitted of his charges, Roy becomes an instant part of the Clemens clan. Hughes's slice of mid-20th-century culture is fascinating, and her fictional recreation of the notorious Cohn, though many will find it implausible, is highly original. Indeed, Cohn's unique characterization adds some much-needed heft to a somewhat undernourished plot. But even when Cohn is not on stage, the story remains moving and vital. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It's the summer of 1964, and the once-privileged Clemens family is in tatters. Husband Will is serving time at Woeburne penitentiary for refusing to testify against Roy Cohn, who acted as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's counsel. Genteel wife Kay shuttles between their oceanfront home and son Bo's bedside at New York Hospital, where he is being treated for cancer. Stretched thin, Kay can only focus on one tragedy at a time, so the needs and confusion of preadolescent daughter Lou-Lou go unnoticed. Told in shifting points of view, this first novel offers rich, nuanced characterizations ripe for book club discussion. Dozens of memorable scenes showcase Hughes's eye for penetrating detail. In one, Will knowingly invites punishment by blowing the whistle on an underage prison prostitute. In another, Lou-Lou hides out in the family garage and is "rescued" by the handyman, who has questionable interests in little girls. The enigmatic Cohn comes across as strangely likable as he works to protect Will's family as thanks for his loyalty. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. Christine Perkins, Jackson Cty. Lib. Svcs., Medford, OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Ten years after the fall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, his legal counsel, Roy Cohn, is still unwillingly claiming victims-in this first novel of a family turned inside out by their loyalty to Cohn. Invited to give off-the-record testimony against his longtime friend in Cohn's conspiracy case, New Jersey toymaking executive Will Clemens politely declined. His loyalty won him a subpoena, and by 1964 the misdemeanor to which he confidently pled guilty has led to a one-year sentence in the federal pen at Woeburne, New York. No sooner has the door slammed shut on Will than he finds that Cohn can't deliver on his promises of special treatment: there'll be no segregation from the general prison population, no extra TV or visitation privileges. And when Will declines another invitation, this time to sex with a willing young thing who's been smuggled onto his work detail, he's beaten for his trouble. Meanwhile, the family he left outside is having problems of its own. His numbed wife Kay, unable to resist the matter-of-fact advances of their neighbor, keeps darting back into Cohn's orbit to disconcertingly little effect. His little boy Bo, ravaged by cancer, is living in a world bounded by hospital walls. His teenaged daughter Lou-Lou, largely sidelined to the care of her mother's ravisher and his wife, is the only family member who seems able to think about the Clemenses as a going concern. Unfortunately for both Will and the novel, the malaise of splintered relationships and missed connections is epidemic, as Hughes shows in a series of tableaux bringing Cohn and his circle to melancholy, sympathetic, but ineffectual life as their little cosmos seems to be holding its collective breath waitingfor the worst. A consistently accomplished debut that's still hard to take because the family's anguish seems too little distinguished from the general social funk to provide much narrative energy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871138354
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/10/2002
  • Pages: 202
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Memorial Day, 1964


The marshals looked like ordinary men. They were not in good shape, they did not have wary eyes. Their man was not handcuffed to either of them, and when the steak was served they ate with appetite. Both men took the beer that was offered. After dinner they drank Scotch. They drove a blue car, not a black one; an Impala. They bit corn off the cob in a yard full of old trees: holly, sycamore, oak, pine. A hill sloped down to a creek, more than that, a small channel, wide and deep enough for pleasure boats to come back and forth and dock in the slips. Each yard had a slip, and at this house a Boston Whaler was tied up.

    The hostess was young, about twenty-eight or twenty-nine, and pretty, with blond streaks in her hair and the top pulled back and pinned. She wore a Chinese jacket with silk frog closures. And when she bent down, one of the marshals, but not both, looked to the gap left between those closures for a glimpse of her lacy brassiere. The other marshal was thinking of his boy. His son was slow in school and might have to go to summer classes. The marshal and his wife fought about this. At every chance, each hit the other surely and swiftly with the evidence that the boy's poor progress could be traced back to the accused. The marshal believed his wife's slow brain cells had diluted his own good stock and produced a son who couldn't think his way out of the first grade.

    The second man watched the pretty hostess with some pleasure. When their ward got up from the plastic latticework of his recliner andwalked up the back steps to the porch, neither marshal blinked. The hostess refilled their glasses from a small bar set away from the heat of the grill. More Scotch. The evening was warm, and a velvet light settled on the lawn and the trees. At nightfall, they'd be leaving. Now the woman followed her husband up the steps and into the house. Their two children, William Junior and Ann Louise—Bo and Lou-Lou—stayed out on the lawn under the care of the next-door neighbors, the Maguires.

    The marshal with the slow son looked at the two children lying a short distance away on grass as smooth as a carpet. The children had their cheeks to the blades of grass, and when they pressed their faces, small hectic weaves imprinted there. They were listening to the worms. They could hear the rumble of earth moving. The boy's eyes were red with blood, more than bloodshot, almost filled where the whites should be. When his sister looked at him, confirming the loud worms, she looked beyond those terrible bruises and her brother laughed, then coughed. There are worse things than being stupid, the marshal thought. And he had the first kind thought for his wife in some time. He thought of her pregnant, visiting her folks on another Memorial Day when he'd been working, what else. He'd traveled down to the shore to be with them at the end of a long, tedious day with a felon who couldn't keep his mouth shut. A foul-tongued sick fuck. The marshal's mind was dead. He rode the local train down through about a hundred shore towns and arrived in Manasquan. His mother-in-law, stout as a bull, met him at the station in the green Chevrolet.

    In the driveway, his father-in-law had the saw out. The stogie in his mouth was soaked. He bobbed his head toward the side yard. Behind the honeysuckle, the marshal's wife sat on the low, thick branch of an oak tree, but still—he ran. What do you think you're doing? She yawned, in no danger. He could see the shape of her belly, a white pear that erased completely, for the time being, all the things the felon had said, and he was so grateful to her he held out his hand for her swinging leg and kissed her heel and ankle and her toes all around the rubber V of her flip-flop.


Inside the house, Kay Clemens saw the cake would take a while to thaw. When she first got the word that Will was coming home for a visit, she bought a cake, then froze it, because they might be late and the cake would dry out. But they were right on time and now everyone would be drunk before she could serve it. It might be good if her husband was drunk, good and bad. Eight weeks since he'd been home. He didn't even like cake. What was she thinking.

    She wandered through the house, a long ranch style, with a layout of airy, sunny, low-ceilinged rooms, interweaving one into the next: dining, living, study, guest, master, and here he was, sitting head in his hands at the edge of his side of their bed, just as he used to sit most mornings waiting for black coffee in a mug. She was up at six anyway, on her third cup by the time he stirred. Now she wondered, What did he do? How did his day begin?

    Will? she said. Dear heart. But her husband did not move. She sat beside him on the bed and smoothed down the silk jacket and tucked her hands beneath her thighs and waited. She stood up and listened in the doorway. She closed the door, flipped down the little hook lock. She sat beside her husband again and placed a hand against the curve of his neck. The smell of his clothing was so sharp, a desperate clean, and she thought about finding a shirt that was softer, a golf shirt maybe, from the drawerful he had, maybe something blue. She thought of his shirts but held still. She could smell the soap he used, which had no perfume, a kind of scent like shoe polish in a tin.

    Her husband didn't say anything. She withdrew her cheek and hands, and started with the frog closures on her jacket. Her husband released his head from his palms and, still looking down, watched the top of her instep sliding slightly in the black embroidered sandal. He watched her fingers push at the knots, then watched as she dropped the jacket back off her shoulders to the bed. She sat still, not doing anything, wearing the kind of brassiere she often wore, a full-coverage affair that clasped at the waist level in the back. Her belly rounded out just beneath the stiff ruff. She unzipped her black silk toreador trousers. Lifted her bottom off the bed just long enough to shimmy them off her hips. Dropped the trousers down to her sandaled feet. Started to lift her feet, then left them there, swaddled in black. She looked at the puddle of fabric. He looked at her ribbed, cinched waist. He looked to the cups, a bull's-eye effect in stitching, and her shoulders, rounded slightly, not interrupted by bone.

    Outside the door, there was a commotion coming toward them, like a beehive cracked open and the bees gaining volume and density, they could hear footsteps coming through the house. Hey, hey, came the voices, and Gert Maguire was knocking lightly on the door. Kay, she said. She kept the syllable tight, deliberately unemphatic. Kay heard Gert's footsteps move away from the door. And quickly, quickly, back into her clothes, God, now, not everything buttoned. A frantic back look to her husband, and she was pressing hard at the hook on the door. Gert stood in the front foyer beyond the small corridor that led to the master suite. Red Maguire was on the phone with the pediatrician, who'd meet them at the hospital; the ambulance was already on the way, and the men who drove it, men Kay Clemens routinely brought gifts to, New York strip steaks by the dozen.

    Past Gert, and followed by Gert, out through the living, dining, pantry, kitchen, porch to the yard to her son, Bo, held steady in the arms of a United States marshal. Down two steps, her frog clasps not quite done but who was watching now, and she knelt by her son and slowly took him from the man, brought her baby into her arms, her boy whose eyes were not quite closed. He was not conscious, How long, she said, how long? It would be the first thing anyone needed to know. The ambulance made its rude, loud way, backing up the gravel drive, backing onto the grass, and the emergency team, her friends, were beside her, oxygen first, then a stretcher. Kay kissed her daughter, Lou-Lou, who did not cry, and glanced at Gert to arrange all things in that glance: her daughter's homework, sleep, school the next day. And then she stepped into the back of the ambulance in time to see the heart monitor register a beat strong enough, strong enough at least for her son to make it in time, once again, to the hospital. They would go local then, the next day, move him to New York.

    Will Clemens stood at the top of the brick step. He looked at the wracked gravel, the tire marks on the lawn, and his mouth twisted, he pressed the heel of a hand to his eye.

    Lou-Lou moved toward her father. One marshal put his hands in his pockets, took them out, then slipped past Will on the steps to make a phone call in the kitchen. When he came back, he said to the marshal with the interest in Kay's brassiere: Let's take a look at the water. The two walked down the gentle slope past the sycamore trees to watch the pleasure boats return at sundown to their slips.

    When the marshals climbed back up the hill after a protracted observation of a thirty-five-foot trimaran, Will and Lou-Lou were seated on the screened porch. The Maguires tidied up. They dismantled the grill, collapsed the bar, wrapped the leftovers, loaded the dishwasher. The marshals both needed to use the facilities, and Gert directed them to the children's bath through the den. One looked over the bookshelves while waiting for his partner: all leather-bound sets, no mysteries, no magazines, no newspapers. A big television, cabinet console. Three golf trophies, the type a club gives for no real reason. The marshals traded places. In the yellow bathroom, almost by rote, the second man slid open the mirrored medicine cabinet: a battalion of clear plastic, all made out to the boy in care of the mother, more than he'd ever seen in a home, this was extraordinary. He didn't touch any but bent closer to read the dates, dosages, then drew the mirror closed. The house was so quiet. The street too. A cul-de-sac without a lot of traffic. It was getting dark.

    The marshals made their way back to the porch. So, we'll give it a minute. They sat down at the glass-top table, both folding their hands as if in casual prayer. Will swatted at something buzzing around his head. In the twilight, the Maguires were walking through the pine trees, across the yards, already pretty far gone. Lou-Lou, between them, knocked into Gert's hip. Gert reached around, pulled her closer. Will didn't watch. The insect had his full attention. No one spoke. Ten, fifteen minutes passed this way.

    The phone rang. Will sat still. The marshal stood, looked at Will, then crossed to the door and into the house. He picked up on the seventh ring. Yes, sir. Got it. Okay. Okay. Yes, sir. Goodbye.

    He stood in the door frame, All right, we're going to the hospital, and he nodded several times. Will said, Oh God, and tried not to cry, and said, Two seconds, and went back through the kitchen, dining room, living room, den to the children's bath, opened the same mirrored cabinet and emptied one vial from an uppermost shelf into the stiff paraffin-scented pocket of his shirt.

    They closed the doors, snapped out the lights. Will sat in the backseat of the blue car without restraint. He thought he could still smell the charcoal fire in the air as they pulled out of the drive. The marshal on the passenger side fumbled with the spinning top, reached out to attach it to the roof. This took a moment or two. At the end of the road, the driver released the siren. They ran every light.


Excerpted from Wavemaker II by Mary-Beth Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Mary-Beth Hughes. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2002

    Poignant and gutsy

    WAVEMAKER II is a splendid debut--in fact, a splendid novel, period. The characters are lovely, sometimes wry; I especially admired the children, the glimpses of life in the early 60's, from hospitals to swim clubs to Broadway theaters. This is a novel with scope, ambition--and cumulative effect so that the voice of the ending is utterly heart-wrenching.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2002

    What book did the reviewers read??

    I don't mind praising a new writer for lovely writing, and Mary-Beth Hughes sure does display a talent for telling us what a sidewalk smells like, or what it feels like to be a pudgy little girl, but this novel, which aspires to capture Roy Cohn and 1964 Manhattan and New Jersey, and whip it all into one froth, so totally fails, I can't believe the reviewers quoted here actually read it. None of the period details are right--the young lady seems to believe that if she writes about NYC today, but calls it '1964', that's enough. But Manhattan smelled different then than it does now! Why? Coal was the primary fuel for electricity and heat, and gasoline with lead (no catalytic converters!) was what powered cars. So even her carefully rendered smells are irrelevant. The little girl scenes are touching. If Hughes ever comes out with a short-story collection, I'll eagerly read it, but this novel suffers from too much hype and not nearly enough solid editorial help.

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