The Rockwell women are nothing if not . . . Well, it’s complicated. When the sisters—Esme, Liv, and Ru—were young, their eccentric mother, Augusta, silenced all talk of their absent father with the wild story that he was an international spy, always away on top-secret missions. But the consequences of such an unconventional upbringing are neither small nor subtle: Esme is navigating a failing marriage while trying to keep her precocious fifteen-year-old daughter from live-tweeting every detail. Liv finds herself in between relationships and rehabs, and Ru has run away from enough people and problems to earn her frequent flier miles. So when a hurricane hits the family home on the Jersey Shore, the Rockwells reunite to assess the damage—only to discover that the storm has unearthed a long-buried box. In a candid moment, Augusta reveals a startling secret that will blow the sisters’ concept of family to smithereens—and send them on an adventure to reconnect with a lost past . . . and one another.
Praise for All of Us and Everything
“Engaging . . . [a] lively comic novel about stormy women and the spy (and other sexy types) who loved them.”—People (“The Best New Books”)
“Similar to Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, [All of Us and Everything] rewards readers with an engrossing plot rich in witty and frank dark humor. . . . Readers will linger on the story’s web of connections. . . . Thoughtful and provoking.”—Booklist
“[Bridget] Asher’s newest title spotlights her unique voice plus an affinity for quirky, wounded characters that are both realistic and likable. . . . The subtle theme [is] how changing our stories can change us. An entertaining yet astute look at family, self, story, and connections.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Charming, original, and impeccably written, All of Us and Everything is a spirited romp through the lives of an unusual family of women—three adult sisters, their mother, one teenage daughter, and their longtime housekeeper—and the men who love them, amuse them, pursue them, and lose them. When I wasn’t laughing out loud or eagerly turning pages to see what happened next, I was marveling at Bridget Asher’s ability to tell a highly entertaining, fully engaging, and deeply insightful story.”—Cathi Hanauer, New York Times bestselling author of Gone
“While many writers strive to create a single memorable character, Bridget Asher, seemingly with the flick of her wrist, brings forth four amazing, unique, altogether brilliant characters in All of Us and Everything. The Rockwell siblings, Esme, Liv, and Ru, as well as their fascinating mother, Augusta, won me over completely, and their story twists and turns in such fascinating, hilarious, and heartfelt ways that it left me in awe of Asher’s abilities.”—Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang
“Bridget Asher’s fascinating, eccentric characters are such good company that I finished All of Us and Everything in one sitting. This is a compelling, funny, moving story about an irresistible family.”—Leah Stewart, author of The New Neighbor
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.16(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.74(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“I didn’t know you were supposed to shave collies,” the headmaster said while he patted the dog’s long thin snout and took a seat in Esme’s living room. “I mean, I’ve just never seen it.”
“I don’t think it’s recommended but imagine living with him! It’s like having a Russian in your living room who refuses to take off his fur coat and hat in the middle of the summer. Like Dostoevsky himself, brooding away.” Littering a conversation with literary and pop-culture references had become an anxious habit for Esme, maybe the result of the stiflingly crowded overeducated population that made up faculty housing at a boarding school. On campus, all of the dogs and cats—and many of the faculty children themselves—were named with some clever allusion in mind. Atty, Esme’s daughter now fifteen and sitting beside her on the sofa, was named after Atticus Finch, a man’s name, yes, but Esme didn’t want to saddle Atty with the name Scout and she was set on which book she wanted to allude to. Ingmar, the collie, was often mistaken for a Bergman reference but actually it was a more obscure reference to the lead character in a Swedish film that Esme and her husband, Doug, saw when they were dating.
“But it’s October,” the headmaster said. “Shouldn’t he be bulking up his winter coat?”
“Still, the metaphor stands even if it’s cold out. I mean, hey, take off your coat, fella, and stay awhile! Am I right?” Esme said, trying to lighten the mood. She’d actually shaved the dog specifically for this meeting. Ingmar’s coat had become matted from muddy romps out by the pond, and dogs weren’t supposed to be off their leashes. She looked at her daughter for a little help.
Atty—a budding social media guru—looked up from her iPhone, leaned forward, and said, “This dog’s no Dostoevsky. Don’t you worry.” As if the burden of being in the same room with a dog capable of literary genius would be too much for the headmaster to bear. “A corgi on human growth hormones, maybe, but that’s about it. He couldn’t get a kid out of a well if his doggy life depended on it.” She then tweeted both sentences with the hashtag #lifewithcollie.
“There are no wells on campus,” the headmaster said, defensively.
Atty looked at Esme in a challenging way. Neither of them was a great fan of the headmaster. Behind his back, they both referred to him as Big-Head Todd. He had a very big head and the history teacher, also a Todd, had a very little head so they called him Little-Head Todd. Atty’s look was meant as a reminder to her mother that she’d promised to call the headmaster Big-Head Todd to his face, one fine day, before she graduated.
Esme understood the look immediately and shot her a look that meant, Not now. Then she smiled at Todd. “Listen. What do you need to tell us? You’re here, making a house call on a Sunday with a huge storm moving up the coast.”
“A Frankenstorm,” Atty added. She’d been following video clips on weather.com, the growing buzz of online hysteria, mandatory evacuations on the coast—even in Ocean City, New Jersey, where her grandmother lived. Did her mother really care about this storm? Was she too busy bracing for this meeting, which was clearly going to be about Atty’s shit midterm grades and her diminishing prospects for a good college education? Atty could almost hear the headmaster saying, We’re talking fourth tier at best, now. Fourth tier.
“And you didn’t cancel because of the storm, which would have been fine.” Esme knew this visit might have something to do with Doug. He had led a group of sophomores on a study abroad program in Europe. Atty was a sophomore but her grades had been too low to make the cut, which meant that Esme had to stay behind with her. Esme had asked if Doug was dead as soon as Mrs. Prinknell had called to make the appointment. “No, no,” Mrs. Prinknell had assured her, “for deaths, he calls people in pronto.”
But that was Friday evening and this was Sunday morning, and Doug had missed their Skype session, which had made Esme anxious. He was the type to prioritize one of the student’s emergency issues over his own life and so she’d decided this was an issue with one of the kids on the trip.
The headmaster was still balking. “It’s just, maybe Atty has some studying to do and we can talk privately.”
“I believe in honesty,” Esme said. “Not just, you know, expressing one’s feelings, and listing your grievances and airing out emotions, but the truth, the facts. I have nothing to hide from Atty.” The dog looked at her sharply with his very small eyes. It was a genetic problem; his eyes were literally too small for his head, but these looks—little admonishments—always reminded Esme of her mother. The collie looked like pictures of her mother from the late 1950s—skinny arms and legs and a boxy middle, wearing woolen skirts with formfitting pleats tight through her ample hips. Why had she gotten a dog who reminded her of her mother? Maybe she’d done it subconsciously.
“Okay, okay.” Todd pulled back his suit jacket and looked at a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. “If the squawk box goes off, I’ll have to take it. Sorry about that.”
“That’s okay. I’ve got a call in to my mother, who’s being evacuated on the Jersey shore.” Her mother was the stubborn type who refused to leave during storms. Esme was prepared to try to talk her into leaving, knowing she’d fail.
“Yep, yep. Hurricane Sandy has us on a twenty-four-seven alert. All-in, you know.”
“All-in,” Esme said, “of course.” She had no idea what all-in meant, and she hadn’t been paying attention to the storm. If storms defined people—those who love storms, those who fear them, and those who love them because they fear them—Esme was the type to try to ignore them because you can’t control them. She preferred limiting her life to things she could more easily control. It’s why she’d fallen for Doug. He was so practical, so tractable and reliable. And Esme had thought motherhood would be an experience of ultimate control—shaping a child, molding and nurturing them into adulthood. Raising Atty had proven her wrong.
Todd smiled sadly, and then he actually swept his hand over the wisps of hair on his big head and bent forward, leaning his elbows on his knees. It was the least robotic thing Esme had ever seen him do. In fact, it was so deeply human, she was worried. The news was bound to be very, very bad. “Doug’s left the study abroad program.”
“Left?” Esme said.
“It seems he’s run off with his dentist.”
“My dad’s gay?” Atty said. This wasn’t about her shit grades? She didn’t have to give her speech on the psychological effects of being a faculty brat? She immediately thought: My father has always kept a very tidy closet, but really gay?
Todd shook his head. “His female dentist.”
For a second, Atty felt guilty for assuming that the dentist was male. “Sorry,” she said, apologizing for her sexism.
“It’s not your fault!” Esme said quickly. She knew kids would blame themselves for marital issues. She herself had wondered if she’d been to blame for her absentee father. For years, she’d wondered if there’d been some good fatherly type that she’d driven away—so early in her life she couldn’t remember him.
Atty assumed her mother was taking blame for having raised Atty in a sexist culture, but didn’t dwell on it. She pulled out her iPhone and tweeted, I feel weirdly abandoned. Her tweets were usually so sarcastic that her followers weren’t sure what to make of the vague emotional baldness. If Atty’s grandmother were a follower—she didn’t have a Twitter account—she would have recognized it as a Statement of Personal Honesty, the factless variety, which she preferred.
It was a true Statement. Atty did feel unmoored—that disorienting moment in childhood when you realize that you’ve reached up and grabbed the wrong father’s hand and a stranger looks down at you and says, “Are you lost?” When this happened to Atty once at a Memorial Day parade, she’d gotten so embarrassed she turned it on the man. “I’m not lost! Let go of me, creeper!” And then she’d walked off and started crying. Doug found her in seconds.
Esme barely registered her daughter typing away with her thumbs. She irrationally assumed that Atty was going to look up the headmaster’s story on the Internet—as if she could find out if it was a hoax or an overseas scam—I’m stuck in Paris. A female dentist stole all of my credit cards and identification. Can you please wire money?
Part of Esme knew the story was possibly true. One of Doug’s molars had been killing him. She’d encouraged him to get it checked out. They were in Paris. Socialized medicine and all . . .
Esme stood up. Her arms hung at her sides. They felt loose, almost unattached from her body. She felt armless. She walked to the bay window. It was dark and rainy. The storm was coming.
“He’s no longer an employee of the school,” Todd went on.
“You fired him?” Esme asked.
This was a very bad sign. “He quit? But he doesn’t have another job . . .” She shook her head. “He’s not the kind to run off. He has a really strong TIAA-CREF account. He’s not like this.”
“He told me that he has a plan.”
“You talked to him?”
“Well, yes. It’s how I knew he quit.”
Somehow she thought it had been handled by rumors and hearsay, as so many things were handled on campus. But, no. Doug had called the headmaster. And with this small detail, she knew that her marriage was over. She quickly blamed her mother-in-law. That side of the family was so uppity and elitist that there had been marriages between first cousins that had resulted in poor teeth, which meant Doug had to go to a dentist in Paris in the first place.
And then she thought, irrationally, that maybe her marriage was ending to make room for Ru’s. Augusta had told Esme the news one week ago today. What if there was a kind of curse—the family of three daughters and one mother could only contain one real marriage at a time. Esme’s brain used the caveat real because Liv’s marriages—all three of them—had always felt fragile and dubious—mainly because Liv so loudly insisted that these loves were great, sweeping epic loves that none of the other women in the family could really grasp. What was there to grasp? Liv married for money and did it well.
Once Esme had flitted through all the blame she could muster, she wanted to feel something. A deep splitting ache in her chest. But she wasn’t sure she loved Doug. Countless times, she’d imagined him leaving her, her leaving him, his sudden death. Awful things, but in truth she was not sure she’d ever loved him. She knew she’d never loved him the way she did her first love, Darwin Webber, who disappeared from college, not even leaving her a note. (And he was still nowhere to be found. She’d Googled him a bunch of times and he had no Internet footprint—not even a death notice.) She’d met Doug a year later, and having given up on the idea that she could love anyone again, she opted instead for what felt like a good partnership. (Was she just in the earliest stage of grief?)
“Do the kids on the trip know?” Atty asked.
Esme turned and looked at her.
“I mean, Maeve Brown is on that trip, and Piper Weir and George and Kate and Stew,” Atty rattled off. “What about the other chaperones? Jesus!” She rotated the small stud earring on one of her earlobes the way she’d been taught to do in the months that followed getting her ears pierced—when she was eight years old. Esme wondered if she was regressing before her eyes. “Do you know how big this is?” she said to her mother, wide-eyed, cradling her iPhone.
Reading Group Guide
A Conversation with Bridget Asher
Random House Reader’s Circle: At the risk of asking what Ru would consider a “stupid question,” would you shed some light on where you got the inspiration for this novel? Do you agree with Ru that we should stop asking this question as a society?
Bridget Asher: Ru and I have a lot in common. We both have two older sisters, both write, both brood in similar ways. But, no, I don’t think we should stop asking this question. Honestly, some writers are struck by moments of brilliant illumination—-their skulls suddenly lit up with story. Each of my novels contains a million tiny flares, many of which happen while I’m living my life and scribbling notes and many of which happen while writing. But, also, it’s worth noting that some of the flares that made this novel have been around for a while. I once wrote a love letter for a stranger on a plane, a kind of win--back. (The essay appeared in Real Simple.) Liv, the cherry picker, has been a character I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I could never find the right place for her to land. And I’ve also written a little about the snowstorm that hit DC the night before Kennedy’s inauguration, using my father’s memories of that night, but I finally found the larger love story within it.
Society should keep asking, but, from me, one can expect a longer, more intricate answer.
RHRC: How is your authorial approach and perspective similar to or different from Ru’s? Was it surreal to bring another writer to life in this character?
Bridget Asher: It’s a relief to write about a writer. So much of our lives we can’t quite shove into the lives of characters with other professions, so there’s a feeling of ease in writing about a writer and a lot of opportunity to be comedic. Ru’s disastrous reading at the public library, well, let’s just say I didn’t have to rely wholly on imagination.
RHRC: You’ve written more than twenty books, but said All of Us and Everything is your favorite one to date. Why is that? How is this book different from your others and what was the experience of writing it like?
Bridget Asher: I’ve written as Asher, but also under Julianna Baggott and N.E. Bode, and people ask me all the time which of my own books is my favorite. The intent is often to find out which of my books they should pick up. I usually ask them what they like to read, rearranging the question so I’m not forced to answer. But All of Us and Everything is the novel that I want my really good friends and family to read, the people who know me very well and who’ve known me for a long time. In writing this novel, I had the opportunity to write out a kind of spirited take on sisterhood and motherhood that I’ve never allowed myself to do before.
RHRC: You paint Nick’s background as a spy with such finely rendered detail. How did you go about investigating that aspect of the novel?
Bridget Asher: I had the opportunity to interview someone who worked in intelligence for his entire career. Twenty years retired, he was able to answer questions; what I really wanted to know wasn’t about his assignments, but rather about the culture of the work, how love, marriages, and families operated within that culture. I asked him if he was nervous about divulging things. He said that he lived his life assuming that anything he said might be on the record. That was very telling.
RHRC: This book features a predominantly female cast. Did you find it different/exciting/challenging to focus pointedly on this singular matriarchal family while the men are so behind--the--scenes? Did you arrive at any new revelations about the relationships between mothers/daughters and sisters by zeroing in on the Rockwell women? Which aspects of their family dynamic do you think makes them universal?
Bridget Asher: I come from matriarchal family lines. My father was raised with his two sisters by a single mother and her sister. My mother’s mother was the clear matriarch of our family for most of my life. I would say that my own mother has taken her place in that role. I have a brother and two older sisters, and I have two daughters and two sons. This novel allowed me to really dig into the ways I’ve seen sisters operate: old scores, unwanted nicknames, family jokes and secrets, petty turf battles—-that don’t feel petty at all, some thievery, long memories, as well as incredible tenderness and love, the ties that bind sisters. This goes for friendships as well, people who’ve known you for what seems like forever. There is something about being known by others for an entire lifetime. When it comes down to it, these sisters are truly there for one another. Just the way in which these sisters—-and Atty too—-orchestrate a guy showing up for dinner is, I hope, familiar to a lot of people. I think that these kinds of politics, as well as clumsily expressed love, exist in many families.
RHRC: Did you relate to, sympathize with, or want to spend time with any of the Rockwells in particular? Which of them was the most fun to write?
Bridget Asher: I relate to Ru, absolutely, as the precocious youngest of three daughters, and as a writer. But Liv was the most fun to write. I love her edginess, her self--delusions, her strange acts of kindness and generosity. I miss her the most, though Atty is a very, very close second. She would always surprise me, offering up my favorite lines.
RHRC: Channeling the spirit of Augusta and Atty, if you could lead a personal movement of your own, what would it be?
Bridget Asher: Tolerance. If we could allow others to live as they choose, to be who they are, to honor and celebrate our rich diversity, and not perceive others as a threat, I believe the world would be a safer place.
RHRC: Atty’s observations on life and her family lend such comic relief to the narrative. Did she spring from a conscious effort to explore the ways we interact with social media today, or is she just a product of her time?
Bridget Asher: One of my husband’s first jobs was at a boarding school in Delaware, and that school and certainly the spirit of being a faculty brat living on campus is something I’ve always wanted to write. I didn’t set out to make a statement on social media. Atty arrived pretty whole, live-tweeting from the get-go.
RHRC: You’ve written some epic win-backs in this novel. Have you ever had to script one in real life?
Bridget Asher: Well, in addition to the win-back that I wrote for the stranger on the plane, I do write win-backs in various ways. I still believe that words are powerful and change someone’s way of thinking, change their mind, as well as possibly win their heart. When my mother hands you a letter, you know that she has something to tell you that she can’t tell you without crying. The tradition began there, perhaps. The truth is win-backs don’t always work. My oldest sister, actually, is the one who’s tried to tell me that I always think I can fix things with words. Sometimes words fail. But when they win, it’s a beautiful thing.
RHRC: What is the most important message you’d like readers to take away from this story?
Bridget Asher: I want people to see pieces of themselves, their sisters, their mothers, their best friends, the loves of their lives. I want people to find lines that nail some emotion or thought or family dynamic so hard that they have to share them with someone else. After my father read the book—-he was one of the first—-we had an immediate set of catchphrases, a secret language of inside jokes. I want this book to do that for people.
RHRC: Are you a Nancy Drew fan yourself? What shaped your own reading tastes as a child? What sorts of books do you gravitate toward now?
Bridget Asher: I liked stranger, more magical stories. My love of Roald Dahl quickly turned into a love of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, then Lee Smith and, for family dynamics, Anne Tyler and John Irving. I also saw a lot of theater as a kid and that may have been even more influential than what I was reading in terms of developing my ear.
RHRC: What’s in the works next for you?
Bridget Asher: I want to write a Paris novel. I loved writing The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted and, of course, doing the research it required. I’d love to find an excuse to go to Paris for a little while. Who wouldn’t?
1. Augusta says, “Storms are one way to define people. . . . There are those who love storms, those who fear them, and those who love them because they fear them.” Based on how this plays out in the narrative, how would you define the Rockwells and why? Which category do you fall into?
2. Discuss the characters’ relationships with control. In what ways are the Rockwells always striving for it in their personal lives, their romantic relationships, and their approaches to motherhood? Are these relationships healthy? Do the characters eventually relinquish control and if so, what is it that frees them?
3. Augusta has attempted to spearhead numerous movements, none of which have gotten off the ground. Why do you think she has such a need to organize these campaigns, and why do they all inevitably fail? What’s the significance of her causes—-Mothers United for Peace, Raise Your Voices, The Movement’s Movement, The Self--Actualization Cause, The Individuality Movement, and The Personal Honesty Movement, to name a few—in relation to the story? Is there a commonality between them that’s essential to understanding her?
4. Instead of writing fiction, Ru decides to study an actual matriarchal society in an attempt to “borrow authenticity.” Do you agree with her statement that all nonfiction is “borrowed authenticity”? How does this differ from her approach to writing novels, or does it? What do you think Ru is trying to get at in her writing?
5. Ru wonders if sisterhood and motherhood are “[ways] to find versions of yourself locked away in others.” Do you think that’s an accurate way to describe these relationships? Do you see any of your own sibling and/or parental relationships reflected in the story?
6. The girls have each adopted a different method of coping with their father’s absence. Liv looks for comfort in other people’s families and relationships rather than her own, Ru holds onto the belief that her father really is a spy and makes it her mission to find him, and Esme has outright accused Augusta of sleeping with multiple men to satisfy her own selfish desire to become a mother. How do these assumptions shape each of them, their sense of self and responsibility? How does the reality of their father’s existence affect the very essence of who they are? Do they each seem to be on a path to healing, acceptance, and self--actualization after all?
7. What is Liv’s impetus for cherry--picking husbands from the engagement pages? Do you think she’s capable of real love? Did you empathize with her by the end and, if so, what lessons do you think she needed to learn in order to become a sympathetic character?
8. What were the different qualities Ru appreciated about Cliff and Teddy? Which qualities made Teddy the right man for Ru and, conversely, Cliff the wrong one?
9. Esme admits to feeling the other life she could have lived with Darwin Webber, even while she was married to Doug, so strongly that it was like she was in touch with an alternate universe. Is it fair of her to blame her father for the current state of her life? Is it human nature to feel a connection to the path not taken? If you were in Esme’s shoes, would you have wanted to reconnect with Darwin and the life that could have been, or do you think that kind of wishful thinking is a recipe for disappointment?
10. Nick was involved in his daughters’ lives from a removed distance, but he certainly changed the course of events for them. Would you say he’s more parental or manipulative in that way? Could you pardon him, knowing his reasons for intervening when he felt he must, or do you think he should have stayed out of things? How is his relationship and involvement different with each of the sisters and why?
11. Do you think Nick is a good father? Is Augusta a good mother?
12. Did Augusta do the right thing by keeping so much about Nick from their daughters? Was there anything she could or should have done differently?
13. The sisters argue over whether they’re ultimately likeable versus loveable versus unlikeable. Would you agree with their conclusion that they’re unlikeable? Why or why not? Why do you think they see themselves that way?
14. The concept of truth is a muddled one for the Rockwells, who’ve lied to themselves and one another for various reasons. Why is it so hard for them to be honest? Is one lie more profound, even more destructive, than the others?
15. Why is it so important that Atty collect the complete set of Nancy Drew books by the end of the novel? What is the thematic significance of Nancy Drew in this story?
16. The weather is such a visceral piece of the narrative, almost like a character in and of itself. How did the storms affect the way you experienced the story? What did the Rockwells lose as a result of the hurricane and, ultimately, what did they gain? Why does it sometimes take a perfect storm to finally reconcile the past?