Charley Webb is a beautiful single mother who writes a successful and controversial column for the Palm Beach Post. She's spent years building an emotional wall against scathing critics, snooty neighbors, and her disapproving family. But when she receives a letter from Jill Rohmer, a young woman serving time on death row for the murders of three small children, her boundaries slowly begin to fade. Jill wants Charley to write her biography so that she can share the many hidden truths about the case that failed to surface during her trial. Seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Charley begins her jour-ney into the mind of this deeply troubled woman.
Her path takes a twisted turn, however, when the anonymous letters she's recently received from an angry reader evolve into threats, targeting her son and daughter. As Charley races against time to save her family, she begins to understand the value of her seemingly intru-sive neighbors, friends, and relatives. As she discovers, this network of flawed but loving people might just be her only hope of getting out alive.
Filled with complex characters and a plot rich with intrigue, Charley's Web is Joy Fielding at her heart-skipping, mesmerizing best.
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.70(d)|
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Charley's Web A Novel
By Joy Fielding Atria Copyright © 2008 Joy Fielding
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FROM: Irate Reader
SUBJECT: YOU ARE THE WORST COLUMNIST EVER!!!
Date: Mon. 22 Jan. 2007, 07:59:47-0500
Hey, Charley: Just a brief note to let you know that aside from being THE WORST COLUMNIST WHO EVER LIVED!!! you are quite possibly THE MOST SELF-ABSORBED WOMAN ON THE PLANET!!! It's obvious from your photograph -- the long, wavy, blond hair, the knowing glance from large, downcast eyes, the subtle smirk on those no doubt Restylane-enhanced lips -- that you think the sun rises and sets on your lovely shoulders. Your insipid columns about shopping for the perfect stilettos, searching for just the right shade of blush, and coping with the demands of a new personal trainer have only solidified my assessment. But what on earth would make you think there is anyone who is even moderately interested in learning about your latest foray into the world of the sublimely shallow -- a Brazilian wax?!!! Before your graphic and unnecessarily lurid description regarding the denuding of your nether region in Sunday's paper -- (WEBB SITE, Sunday, January 21) -- I actually had no idea there even was such a thing, let alone that any grown woman -- I know from a previous column thatyou celebrated your thirtieth birthday last March -- would willingly consent to such a barbaric procedure. I wonder how your poor father reacted when he read about his Harvard-educated daughter infantilizing her body in such a demeaning way. I wonder how your mother manages to hold her head up in front of her friends with the constant public airing of such private -- dare I say, pubic? -- matters. (At least they have two other daughters to keep their spirits buoyed!!! Kudos to Anne, incidentally, for the stunning success of her latest novel, Remember Love -- number 9 on the New York Times bestseller list, and climbing!!! And to Emily, who made such a lovely impression when she subbed for Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America last month!!!) Those are truly daughters to make any parent proud.
And speaking of daughters, what must your eight-year-old think when she sees you parading around the house in the nude, as I'm sure you do, judging from how much you obviously enjoy exposing yourself in print!!! Not to mention the teasing your five-year-old son will be subjected to in his kindergarten class from other children whose parents were no doubt similarly appalled by Sunday's column! Last week's article about sex toys was bad enough!!
Can you not look beyond the tip of your pert little nose -- courtesy of the best plastic surgery money can buy, no doubt -- and consider the effect of such indiscreet blathering on both these young innocents?! (Although what can one expect from a woman who prides herself on never having married either of her children's fathers?!!!)
I've had it up to here with your inane yapping about all things Charley. (Thank you for not using your given name of Charlotte. At least you spared us the desecration of that most wonderful of children's books!) After three years of reading -- and shaking my head in dismay!!! -- at your dimwitted musings, I have finally reached the end of my rope. I would rather hang myself by my own still intact pubic hairs than read one more word of your puerile prose, and I can no longer justify supporting any newspaper that chooses to publish it. I am therefore canceling my subscription to the Palm Beach Post as of today.
I'm sure I speak for many disgusted and disgruntled readers when I say, WHY CAN'T YOU JUST SHUT UP AND GO AWAY?!!!!
Charley Webb sat staring at the angry letter on her computer screen, not sure whether to laugh or cry. It wasn't just that the letter was so nasty that had her feeling so unsettled -- she'd received many that were worse over the years, including several this very morning. Nor was it the almost hysterical tone of today's letter. Again, she was used to reader outrage. And it wasn't the wildly overused punctuation either. Writers of angry e-mails tended to view their every sentence as important and therefore worthy of capital letters, italics, and multiple exclamation points. It wasn't even the personal nature of the attack. Any woman who devoted a thousand words to her recent Brazilian wax had to expect attacks of a personal nature. Some -- including a few of her colleagues -- might even say she invited them, that she prided herself on being provocative. She got what she deserved, they might say.
They might even be right.
Charley shrugged. She was used to controversy and criticism. She was used to being called incompetent and lightweight, as well as a host of other more unflattering epithets. She'd grown used to having her motives questioned, her integrity impugned, and her looks dissected and disparaged. She was also used to being told it was those same looks that had gotten her a byline in the first place. Or that one of her more famous sisters must have pulled some strings. Or that her father, a highly esteemed professor of English literature at Yale, had used his influence to get her the job.
She was used to being called a bad daughter, a worse mother, a terrible role model. Such slurs usually rolled off her "lovely shoulders." So what was it about this particular e-mail that had her trapped between laughter and tears? What about it made her feel so damn vulnerable?
Maybe she was still smarting from the fallout from last week's column. Her neighbor, Lynn Moore, who lived several doors away from Charley on a once-decrepit, now verging-on-fashionable, small street in downtown West Palm, had invited her to a so-called Passion Party, just before Christmas. It turned out to be a variation of the old neighborhood Tupperware party, except that instead of a variety of heavy-duty plastic containers on display, there were vibrators and dildos. Charley had had a wonderful time handling all the assorted objets, and listening to the hyperbolic sales pitch of Passion's perky representative -- "And this seemingly innocuous string of beads, well, ladies, let me tell you, it's nothing short of miraculous. Talk about multiple orgasms! This is truly the Christmas gift that keeps on giving all year round!" -- then performed a neat evisceration of the evening in her column the following month.
"How could you do this?" Lynn had confronted Charley in person the day the column ran. She was standing on the single step outside the front door of Charley's tiny, two-bedroom bungalow. Charley's column was scrunched into a tight ball in her clenched fist, her fingers curled around Charley's paper throat. "I thought we were friends."
"We are friends," Charley had protested, although, in truth, they were more acquaintances than actual friends. Charley didn't have any actual friends."Then how could you do this?"
"I don't understand. What have I done?"
"You don't understand?" Lynn had repeated incredulously.
"You don't know what you've done? You humiliated me, that's what you did. You made me look like a sex-crazed fool. My husband is furious. My mother-in-law's in tears. My daughter is beside herself with embarrassment. The phone's been ringing off the hook all morning."
"But I didn't say it was you."
"You didn't have to. My hostess," Lynn recited from memory, "a fortyish brunette sporting tight capri pants, two-inch crystal-studded nails, and three-inch heels, lives in a charming white clapboard house filled with fresh-cut flowers from her magnificent garden. A large American flag waves proudly from the tiny, manicured front lawn. Gee, I wonder who that could be."
"It could be anybody. I think you're being overly sensitive."
"Oh, really? I'm being overly sensitive? I invite you to a party, introduce you to my friends, pour you not one, but several glasses of champagne..."
"For God's sake, Lynn. What did you expect?" Charley interrupted, annoyed at having to defend herself. "I'm a reporter. You know that. This sort of story is right up my alley. Of course I'm going to write about it. You knew that when you invited me over."
"I didn't invite you over as a reporter."
"It's what I do," Charley reminded her. "It's who I am."
"My mistake," Lynn said simply. "I thought you were more."
There was a moment of awkward silence as Charley struggled to keep Lynn's words from sinking in too deep. "Sorry I disappointed you."
Lynn brushed off Charley's apology with a wave of her two-inch nails. "But not sorry you wrote the column. Right?" She began backing down the front walk.
"Oh, shut up."
WHY CAN'T YOU JUST SHUT UP AND GO AWAY?!!!!
Charley stared at her computer screen. Was it possible Lynn Moore was her Irate Reader? Wary eyes skipped across the words Irate Reader had written, searching for echoes of Lynn's subtle southern drawl, finding none. The truth was that Irate Reader could be anyone. In her thirty years on this planet, three at this desk, Charley Webb had managed to ruffle an awful lot of feathers. There were plenty of people who wished she would just shut up and go away. "I thought you were more," she repeated under her breath. How many others had made the samemistake?
FROM: Charley Webb
T0: Irate Reader
SUBJECT: A reasoned response
DATE: Mon. 22 Jan. 2007 10:17:24-0800
Wow!!!! That was some letter!!!! (As you can see, I, too, have an exclamation mark on my computer!!!!!) Thanks for writing. It's always interesting to find out how readers are responding to my columns, even when they aren't always positive. Call me crazy, but I sensed you haven't been too thrilled with my columns of late. I'm truly sorry about that, but what is it they say? You can't please everybody all the time? Well, I learned a long time ago that it's pointless to try. Reading is such a subjective endeavor, and one person's heaven is another person's hell. Clearly, as far as you're concerned, I'm Satan incarnate!!!!!
Now, while I rigorously defend your right to be wrong, I feel I must address some of your more egregious utterances. (I'll see your indiscreet blathering and raise you one egregious utterance!!!) First, I do not now, nor have I ever, used Restylane to enhance my lips. My lips are the lips I was born with, and while they're perfectly adequate as far as lips go, I've never considered them to be particularly noteworthy, or I probably would have written a column about them by now. Also, I broke my nose when I was seven, running into a brick wall to get away from my younger brother, who was chasing me with a garter snake he'd found in our backyard. The result has been a lifelong fear of reptiles and a nose that veers slightly -- some might say charmingly -- to the left. I've never felt the slightest need to have it fixed, although now that you've declared it "pert," I may have to reconsider.
I'm surprised you'd never heard of a Brazilian wax before you read about it in my column, because I can assure you they've been around for a long time. But once you realized what I was writing about, and that such a topic was an affront to your obviously delicate sensibilities -- a lot of that going around these days -- why on earth did you continue reading?!!! (Finally, I got to use the ?!!! It's fun!!!!)
As for what my father thinks about his Harvard-educated daughter infantilizing, (good word!) herself in this way, I suspect he doesn't know -- cocooned as he is in his ivory tower at Yale -- and if he does, he doesn't care, since we haven't spoken in years. (Regular readers of WEBB SITE should know this!!!) As for my mother, she doesn't have to worry about holding her head up in front of her friends, since, like me, she doesn't have any. (Possible fodder for an upcoming Mother's Day column that you will, unfortunately, miss.) My children, on the other hand, have lots of friends, all of them happily oblivious to the inane yapping of their mother, and since -- surprise! -- I actually don't make a habit of parading around the house in the nude, they haven't had to pass any unnecessary artistic judgments on the denuding of my nether region. Wow -- that's quite a mouthful, even in writing!!! As for my never having married either of my children's fathers -- nor lived with them, I might add -- well, at least I haven't subjected them to the unpleasantness of divorce, unlike both my more successful sisters, who have four-and-a-half divorces between them -- Emily, three, and Anne, one divorce, one recent separation. (Incidentally, I'll pass on your congratulations to both of them for their recent, much-deserved triumphs.)
As for my column, you should realize that I am doing exactly the job I was hired to do. When I came to work at the Palm Beach Post three years ago, the editor-in-chief, Michael Duff, told me he was interested in attracting a younger readership, and that he was especially interested in what people my age were thinking and doing. In short, unlike you, he was deeply interested in all things Charley. What he wasn't interested in was objective journalism. On the contrary, he wanted me to be totally subjective -- to be honest and forthcoming and, hopefully, controversial as well.
It would seem from all the e-mail I've received this morning that I've succeeded. I'm sorry you consider my prose puerile and that you're canceling your subscription to our wonderful paper, but that is certainly your prerogative. I will continue to do my job, commenting on today's social scene, reporting on the morals and habits of America's youth, and tackling important issues such as wife-abuse and the proliferation of porn, alongside my continuing forays into the world of the sublimely shallow. Sorry you won't be along for the ride.
Sincerely, Charlotte Webb.
(Sorry. Couldn't resist.)
Charley's fingers hovered over the SEND button for several seconds before moving to the DELETE button and pressing it instead. She watched the words instantly vanish from her screen as all around her, the busy sounds of Monday morning began encroaching: phones ringing, keyboards clicking, rain pounding against the floor-to-ceiling, third-floor windows of the airy, four-storey building. She heard her colleagues talking outside her tiny cubicle, inquiring pleasantly about one another's weekend. She listened to their friendly banter, full of laughter and harmless gossip, and wondered briefly why no one had stopped by her desk to ask about her weekend or congratulate her on her latest column. But no one ever did.
It would have been easy to dismiss their attitude as stemming from professional jealousy -- she knew most of them considered her columns, and, by extension, her, to be silly and inconsequential, and resented her high profile -- but the truth was that her colleagues' ever-increasing coldness was largely her own fault. Charley had purposefully shunned their overtures when she first came to work at the Palm Beach Post, thinking it was better, safer, to keep relationships on a strictly professional level. (Just as she'd never believed it was a good idea to get too chummy with the neighbors. And boy, had she been right about that.) It wasn't that she was unfriendly exactly, just a little aloof. It hadn't taken her colleagues very long to get the message. Nobody liked rejection, especially writers, who were already too used to being rejected. Soon the casual invitations to dinner stopped, along with the offers to tag along for a drink after work. Even a polite "Hi. How's it going?" had stopped coming her way.
Until this morning, she thought with a shudder, recalling the obscene leer that senior editor Mitchell Johnson had given her when she'd walked by his glassed-in office. Never subtle to begin with, Mitch had stared directly at the crotch of her Rock & Republic jeans and asked, "How's it growing? Going. I meant going, not growing," he corrected, as if his slip had been unintentional.
He thinks he knows me, Charley thought now, leaning back in her brown leather chair and staring past the dividing wall that separated her tiny space from the dozens of other such cubicles occupying the editorial department's large center core. The big room was divided into three main areas, although the divisions were more imaginary than concrete. The largest section was comprised of journalists who covered current events and filed daily reports; a second section was reserved for weekly and special-interest columnists such as herself; a third area was for fact- checkers and secretarial staff. People worked at their computers for hours on end, barking into headphones, or balancing old-fashioned black receivers between their shoulders and ears. There were stories to uncover and follow, deadlines to be met, angles to be determined, statements to be corroborated. Someone was always rushing in or out, asking for advice, opinions, or help.
No one ever asked Charley for anything.
They think they know me, Charley thought. They think because I write about Passion parties and Brazilian waxes, that I'm a shallow twit, and they know everything about me.
They know nothing.
WHY CAN'T YOU JUST SHUT UP AND GO AWAY?!!!!
FROM: Charley Webb
TO: Irate Reader
SUBJECT : A reasoned response
DATE: Mon. 22 Jan. 2007 10:37:06-0800
Dear Irate: You're mean. Sincerely, Charley Webb.
This time Charley did press the SEND button, then waited while her computer confirmed the note had indeed been forwarded. "Probably shouldn't have done that," she muttered seconds later. It was never a good idea to deliberately antagonize a reader. There were lots of powder kegs out there just waiting for an excuse to explode. Should have just ignored her, Charley thought, as her phone began ringing. She reached over, picked it up. "Charley Webb," she announced instead of hello.
"You're a worthless slut," the male voice snarled. "Someone should gut you like a fish."
"Mother, is that you?" Charley asked, then bit down on her tongue. Why hadn't she checked her caller ID? And what had she just decided about not deliberately trying to antagonize anyone? She should have just hung up, she admonished herself as the phone went dead in her hand. Immediately the phone rang again. Again she picked it up without checking. "Mother?" she asked, unable to resist.
"How'd you know?" her mother replied.
Charley chuckled as she pictured the puzzled expression on her mother's long, angular face. Elizabeth Webb was fifty-five years old, with shoulder-length blue-black hair that underlined the almost otherworldly whiteness of her skin. She stood six feet one in her bare feet, and dressed in long, flowing skirts that minimized the length of her legs and low-cut blouses that maximized the size of her bosom. She was beautiful by anyone's definition, as beautiful now as she'd been when she was Charley's age and already the mother of four young children. But Charley had few memories of this time, and fewer photographs, her mother having disappeared from her life when she was barely eight years old.
Elizabeth Webb had reappeared suddenly two years ago, eager to renew contact with the offspring she'd abandoned some twenty years earlier. Charley's sisters had chosen to remain loyal to their father and refused to forgive the woman who'd run off to Australia with, not another man, which might have been forgivable, but another woman, which most assuredly was not. Only Charley had been sufficiently curious -- spiteful, her father would undoubtedly insist -- to agree to see her again. Her brother, of course, continued to shun contact with either of his parents.
"I just wanted you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed your column yesterday," her mother was saying in the quasi-Australian lilt that clung to the periphery of each word. "I've always been very curious about that sort of thing."
Charley nodded. Like mother, like daughter, she couldn't help but think. "Thank you."
"I called you several times yesterday, but you were out."
"You didn't leave a message."
"You know I hate those things," her mother said.
Charley smiled. Having only recently settled in Palm Beach after two decades of living in the outback, her mother was terrified of all things remotely technical, and she owned neither a computer nor a cell phone. Voice mail continued to be a source of both wonder and frustration, while the Internet was simply beyond her comprehension. "I drove into Miami to see Bram," Charley told her.
Silence. Then, "How is your brother?"
"I don't know. He wasn't at his apartment. I waited for hours."
"Did he know you were coming?"
Another silence, this one longer than the first. Then, "You think he's...?" Her mother's voice trailed off.
"...Drinking and doing drugs?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
"I worry so much about him."
"A little late for that, don't you think?" The words were out of Charley's mouth before she could stop them. "Sorry," she apologized immediately.
"That's all right," her mother conceded. "I guess I deserved that."
"I didn't mean to be cruel."
"Of course you did," her mother said without rancor. "It's what makes you such a good writer. And your sister such a mediocre one," she couldn't help but add.
"Sorry, dear. I didn't mean to be cruel," she said, borrowing Charley's words.
"Of course you did." Charley smiled, felt her mother do the same. "Look, I better go."
"I thought maybe I could come over later, see the children ..."
"Sounds fine." Absently, Charley clicked open another e-mail.
FROM: A person of taste
Date: Mon. 22 Jan. 2007 10:40:05-0400
While I'm normally the kind of person who believes in LIVE AND LET LIVE, your most recent column has forced me to reconsider. Your previous column on sex toys was bad enough, but this latest one is an affront to good Christians everywhere. What a vile and disgusting pervert you are. You deserve to BURN IN HELL. So DIE, BITCH, DIE, and take your bastard children with you!
P.S.: I'd keep a very close eye on them if I were you. You'd be horrified at what some people are capable of.
Charley felt her breath freeze in her lungs. "Mother, I have to go." She hung up the phone and jumped to her feet, upending her chair as she raced from her cubicle.Copyright © 2008 by Joy Fielding, Inc.
Excerpted from Charley's Web by Joy Fielding Copyright © 2008 by Joy Fielding. Excerpted by permission.
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