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The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman: A Novel
     

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman: A Novel

by Alice Mattison
 

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For years, following an early first marriage, Daisy Andalusia remained single and enjoyed the company of men on her own terms, making the most of her independent life. Now in her fifties, she has remarried and settled into a quieter life in New Haven, Connecticut. She's committed to a job she loves: organizing the clutter of other people's lives. Her business

Overview

For years, following an early first marriage, Daisy Andalusia remained single and enjoyed the company of men on her own terms, making the most of her independent life. Now in her fifties, she has remarried and settled into a quieter life in New Haven, Connecticut. She's committed to a job she loves: organizing the clutter of other people's lives. Her business soon leads her to a Yale project studying murders in small cities. While her husband, an inner-city landlord, objects to her new interest, Daisy finds herself being drawn more and more into the project and closer to its director, Gordon Skeetling.

When Daisy discovers an old tabloid article with the headline "Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men: Doc Says She's Twins," she offers it as the subject for her theater group's improvisational play. Over eight transformative months, this headline will take on an increasing significance as Daisy questions whether she can truly be a part of anything — a two-headed woman, a friendship, a marriage — while discovering more about herself than she wants to know.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Mattison’s writing gives the humdrum an edge we didn’t know it possessed.”
Susan Adams
Mattison's voice is intelligent, spare and without pretense. She lays out Daisy's story in a way that makes it seem as if not much is happening, while quietly weaving in four or five intriguing subplots, including a murder mystery, a rent strike and, toward the end, Sept. 11. All these stories press in on Daisy in some meaningful way, each playing a role in her quest to come to terms with herself.
The Washington Post
Anna Godbersen
Alice Mattison, whose previous novel was The Book Borrower, has an instinct for the nuance of small moments between people; she captures each subtle shift in Daisy's character with quirky insight.
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Fifty-something Daisy Andalusia sorts and organizes the clutter of her New Haven, Conn., neighbors for a living, a profession that perfectly complements her affinity for secrets. Married to a man she's not sure she loves, she becomes romantically involved with a client entirely unlike her husband. A tabloid headline she reads while at work, "Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men," accounts for the title of the book, inspires a community theater production that establishes new and unexpected bonds among its participants and illustrates Daisy's dual role as wife and lover, or, as she puts it, a "woman who's good half the time." When her affair loses its initial momentum, Daisy must struggle to find purpose and connection through her work and weigh the appeal of a lover with no secrets versus that of a husband with many. Mattison's fascination with relationships, the perennial subject of her critically acclaimed fiction (The Book Borrower; Men Giving Money, Women Yelling; etc.), lies in their complication; indeed, Daisy may thrive on the "unresolved." No friendship is clear-cut, no dalliance entirely fulfilling. As the title would suggest, there are two faces to everyone, and Mattison captures each of them beautifully. Agent, Zoe Pagnamenta. (Aug. 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
After decades of independent, freewheeling sexcapades, Daisy Andalusia has settled down in her fifties with sixtysomething Pekko, an inner-city landlord. For a while, Daisy's New Haven, CT, anticlutter business fills her days. But she gets a lot busier when she begins an increasingly obsessive affair with researcher Gordon Skettling, a client who encourages Daisy to organize a conference with him on crime in small towns. Daisy complicates her life further by using a headline (to which the title refers) that she sees in Skettling's papers as the basis for a community theater group's new play. As the conference and opening night of the play converge, Daisy's supremely self-centered focus compels her to betray a confidence of Pekko's for the sole purpose of building sexual cachet with Gordon. The unsurprising consequences hurt others and leave Daisy unscathed. Mattison wrote powerfully of friendship in her highly touted The Book Borrower. Here she turns up those same literary high beams, but while the results are equally absorbing (if unsettling), the cast of callow characters only disappoints. Of regional interest.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rigorous novel about a woman whose profession speaks volumes about her own inner life. Again, Mattison (The Book Borrower, 1999, etc.) explores difficult moral and emotional dilemmas without resorting to easy resolutions. Here, 50-ish Daisy makes her living organizing other people's clutter, but after years of independent and very sexually active singlehood, she's recently added some complications to her own existence by marrying Pikko, a 60-ish landlord and apartment complex manager in New Haven with a vaguely mysterious past. Daisy is a bundle of contradictions: judgmental about herself as well as others, she nonetheless gathers around her an odd assortment of misfits; although deeply private, she occasionally hosts radio shows and organizes public meetings. While cleaning up his files, she becomes professionally and sexually involved with a Yale researcher named Gordon, who shows her the funny newspaper headline that titles the novel and becomes the subject of a play put on by an eccentric community theater group with which Daisy has also become involved. Pikko and Gordon, previously acquainted, share a mutual dislike highlighting their different approaches to life. Gordon prides himself on his lack of imagination, while Pikko lives by a strict set of values based on seeing beyond the surface facts. Daisy, who has trouble differentiating among independence, privacy, and secrecy, begins her affair with Gordon assuming it will not affect her marriage, but his cut-and-dried, logical approach to life (and to her) undermines her confidence. As she falls more and more under Gordon's sway, Daisy shares a secret of Pikko's with her lover without considering the serious consequences. Hermoral certainty shaken, she finally gains emotional clarity. Prickly, complicated characters field a plot that includes an unsolved murder and sexual intrigue-but defies straightforward synopsis: it revolves around ways of viewing experience as much as the experience itself. Bracingly serious but without pretension, Mattison's voice is like that of no one else writing today: the demands she makes of her readers are difficult but exhilarating. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta/PFD

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060937881
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/16/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.68(d)

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Read an Excerpt

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
A Novel

Chapter One

Nothing distracts me for long from sex. A friendly, intelligent man makes a funny remark, almost for his private benefit. He thinks nobody hears, but I laugh. For a moment shared understanding exhilarates us both; then I go further. I feel a yen to place my hand on his bare thigh, to see what he's like with no clothes on. I was single for decades, after a brief early marriage, and there were many men like that.

What interests me about sex is nothing dangerous, nothing life-changing. It's like the impulse that sends some women into stores that sell colored floss and kits for making stained-glass pendants -- and of course I know that sometimes those women can't refrain, even when pendants hang in every window, twisting together on their dirty strings, falling and breaking into the shards they once were, maybe killing the cat. Sex has mostly, for me, been less threatening than that, a reasonably healthy pastime, a form of arts and crafts that uses people instead of glass or thread.

At length, though, even so delightful a practice as sex begins to feel airlessly limited, a means of expression made clumsy by the need to include bodies as well as talk. At such times, I can be diverted by a different kind of activity: I like to put on conferences. Like patches of plain fabric in a quilt, unremarkable people look better in contact with others, and I look for chances to arrange them. In the seventies I ran something called Women's Weekend. Later I persuaded the community college where I taught to host a colloquium, What Do We Really Think About Race? Most recently, along with my mother, Roz Garber, I ran a conference on mothers and adult daughters. Along comes an idea -- ideas come while I'm driving -- that requires multitudes (at least groups) arguing and laughing. I start making calls in the car, on my cell phone, then continue at home, buoyant over subject matter, forgetting that by the time my conference takes place, I'll have to think of bodies after all, bodies with their stodgy requirements for food, bathrooms, directions, and unlocked, lighted rooms, bodies that may miss the afternoon session because they're in bed with other bodies, even mine.

I am in my mid-fifties, and I have long, blond hair, possibly too long or too blond for my age. I bear the last name, Andalusia, of a man I no longer know and scarcely remember, with whom I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, thirty years ago so he could go to Yale Medical School while I supported him. When Dr. Andalusia left, I stayed. I'm not the only Yale divorcée who has liked New Haven, to the puzzlement of a departing ex. I liked East Rock and West Rock -- red, striated traprock cliffs that bracket this city -- and I liked the dirty harbor full of oyster boats and oil tankers, and the Quinnipiac River emptying rather grandly if messily under Interstate 95 and into Long Island Sound. I liked the decorous, wellproportioned New Haven green with its three old-fashioned churches -- two brick, one reddish stone -- its bag ladies and black teenagers; and I was amused by the way each man I slept with connected to someone else I knew: he'd gone to school with the last man I slept with, or his sister cleaned my teeth. The story I'm going to write down had to happen in a small city. Here, you're never quite sure you're done with a person; you never know how many ways the two of you will touch.

Someone I stopped knowing many times was the man I eventually married, Pekko Roberts. Pekko is a New Haven native, a noticeable man in his sixties: sturdy, white-haired, with a big, white beard he brushes daily and a tidy but prominent belly. More often than not, I broke up with him when we had dated for a few months and were talking about living together. I don't know why I kept leaving him, since I claimed to be tired of being single, and pointed out to myself that a variety of partners isn't inherent to the pleasures of sex. Pekko was in love with me, which made me a little restless, but he wasn't so in love that he couldn't see my faults, about which he was frank. "Daisy, you're not making sense," he'd say when I wasn't; I'd get angry. He wasn't imaginative in bed, but sex with Pekko made me happy; with him, I didn't experience what often took place after sex with other men: a half hour of dismay, even loathing, about my middle-aged body, my habits, my friends, the way I lived my life. I could talk myself out of that unexplained despair, but with Pekko it didn't come. He was moody and often silent, gruff but not unkind; he knew himself well enough not to blame others for his bad days. His caring -- about me, about others -- might be expressed in grunts, but I never doubted it. He was a lake I could swim in, in which the drop-offs and rocks were what they were, but the water was clean and not too cold, and there was intense pleasure to be found by swimming out to the center, turning on my back, and closing my eyes in the sun, whatever that means in terms of a guy.

Four years ago, in 1998, Pekko and I bought a house together in Goatville, a nineteenth-century New Haven neighborhood of small houses with steep roofs and long, skinny backyards, where dogs bark through chain-link fences. (We also bought a dog, a standard poodle called Arthur: a dog should be able to pronounce his own name.) The narrow two- and three-story houses on our block look like kindergarten drawings. It's a cityscape best seen in winter twilight, when the peaked roofs of different heights are scribbled over by the bare branches of maples, oaks, and sycamores.

The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman
A Novel
. Copyright © by Alice Mattison. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Alice Mattison is the award-winning author of four story collections and five novels, including Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn. She teaches fiction in the graduate writing program at Bennington College in Vermont and lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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