It can take a long time to build up a life, and only moments to destroy it. Gary and Molly met in the way couples do: after a long haul of being single, quickly becoming soulmates and rejoicing in that fact. Beautiful, red-haired Molly ignites a fire in Gary and he eases the pain she feels about her past. Starting a family is something they both want badly to do, and with great joy Molly finds herself pregnant.
When she leaves for the hospital that things start to go seriously wrong. Just a few weeks later Gary is alone with a newborn and a mountain of medical bills he has no means to pay for. Desperate for help, he calls on Molly's long estranged sister, Suzanne.
Many authors have tackled the challenges of love and marriage. Caroline Leavitt claims the turf in her own exciting way, twisting and turning a medical nightmare into an opportunity for redemption and hope, in Coming Back to Me.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.72(d)|
About the Author
Caroline Leavitt, a columnist for The Boston Globe, is the author of several previous novels, including Is This Tomorrow and Living Other Lives. Her essays, articles and short stories have appeared in Salon, Redbook, McCall's, The San Francisco Chronicle, and more. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey with her husband, author Jeff Tamarkin, and their young son.
Read an Excerpt
Coming Back to Me
By Caroline Leavitt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Caroline Leavitt
All rights reserved.
Gary Breyer had first fallen in love with Molly at the Tastee diner. He was not a man who fell in love easily, but he had always hoped he might. People had always told him that he was smart and funny, and although he didn't consider himself very good-looking, women, to his great astonishment, found him handsome. They touched his heavy lashes, his thick mop of black hair curling into the collars of his jackets. They found his sloppy way of dressing in flannel shirts and tees, in faded jeans and high-top sneakers, endearing and boyish.
He almost always had dates, photographers he worked with, a cellist he had met at a concert, a pharmacist who had filled his antibiotic prescription, and once even a hand model who had put a skin of cold cream on her hands before slipping them into her white cotton gloves every night. Sometimes the women fell in love with him and sometimes he fell in love back, but in the end, nothing ever took, his relationships slowly drifted apart, and he never quite understood why. His girlfriends told him he was too intense, or sometimes not intense enough. "The fit isn't right, that's all it is," Emily, his last girlfriend, had said two days before she left him to go back with her ex-boyfriend, a ski bum living in Utah who seemed to fit her just fine. Sometimes, though, he was the one who broke off the relationships. He fell out of love with a nurse because she hated to talk about her feelings. He stopped seeing a book editor after she came home from a two-week business trip and he suddenly realized he hadn't missed her.
Gary began to feel a great, deep sadness, a restless longing as if love were a season that had somehow never arrived for him. He tried to keep busy. He had a job he loved, designing book jackets at Treasures Press in Brooklyn, and he didn't mind working long hours or late at night. He lived in bookstores and at the movies, and he had a network of friends who opened their homes to him Thanksgivings and Christmases and New Years. But gradually, as he and his friends all started getting older, their twenties nudging into their thirties, his friends began marrying and having kids. He rented tuxes for their weddings, he gave fluid, funny toasts and flirted gallantly with all the bridesmaids, and gradually, he even began to attend the christenings and birthday parties, the pint-sized celebrations filled with small, buttery voices calling him Uncle Gary. Uncle. Family. He was and yet he wasn't. And as his friends moved farther and farther away from him, out of his Chelsea neighborhood and deeper into the suburbs or out of New York entirely, he saw them less and less, and when he did, his friends' conversations were peppered with names and places he didn't recognize; their kids sometimes couldn't remember who he was.
He couldn't help but envy his friends' lives. He stood in his married friend Bob's kitchen in Massachusetts, leaning along the adobe tile wall, watching Bob and his wife, Rayanna, cooking, the two of them teasing, every passed spoon so intimate an act, Gary felt like a voyeur. He walked to films in Ithaca with Allan, a copywriter he had worked with and befriended, and Allan's girlfriend, Peggy, but Gary walked alone with his hands deep in his pockets, while theirs were twined together. His friends saw how silent he sometimes got; they tried to keep including him in their lives, they handed him phone numbers of women they thought he might like, they tried to generate romance. "Maybe you want too much," Allan finally suggested. "Maybe you should be more realistic. Stop expecting miracles."
Gary began to feel weary. He began to tell himself that peace and solitude were not such bad things, that a person could be happy in his own company. He began taking drives, exploring, and he began to eat more and more of his meals at a tiny New Jersey diner he discovered, a black-and-chrome shoe box called the Tastee.
The Tastee had chrome tables and soft leatherette booths. There was a rotating neon clock that took up a quarter of the far wall. The diner was fairly crowded, and there were four waitresses bustling around, white aprons snapped about their waists, name tags pinned to their breasts. One of them, a middle-aged blonde with a name tag that said Donna, nodded toward the back. "Spicy fries are good today," she urged.
"Okay. And coffee, too," Gary said. Glen Campbell was crooning on the jukebox about being a lineman for the county. It was one of those corny songs Gary was embarrassed to admit he liked. Gary made his way to the back and sat down in a booth and looked around. There were lots of families here, mothers daubing napkins at their kids' faces, fathers in business suits, leaning forward, talking earnestly to their teenaged daughters who were rolling their eyes or staring blankly off into space. There were some couples, a few groups of elderly women, and there in the back, sitting alone, eating soup, was the most beautiful woman Gary had ever seen.
Her hair was a fiery tangle of curls spiraling down her back. She had a constellation of freckles dotted across her nose, a small pointed chin, and eyes as clear and gray as slate. Her white overalls looked a size too big for her, her white sweater underneath was unraveling at the elbow, and her left high-top sneaker had a blue paint scribble on the toe. She was curved over, one hand cupping her chin, the other on her book, reading so avidly, she seemed to be eating her soup blindly, raising the spoon slowly to her mouth, not taking her eyes from her page. He liked it that she liked to read, that she seemed so at home by herself. He liked it, too, that she didn't act like it was a failing that she didn't have a guy with her or another girlfriend, but rather that she was enjoying herself completely. He watched her for a moment, waiting, seeing if there might be an opening for him, but when she didn't look up, when his fries arrived, he turned his attention to them.
He told himself she could be married. He didn't see a ring, but that didn't mean anything. She could be in love or on her way to France on the next flight out. He ate a fry, crackled with pepper, spiked with garlic, jolting his appetite, so that he was suddenly starving. He pronged a couple more fries on his fork. Beside him, two teenagers in identical blue turtlenecks and jeans got up and began to slow dance to an old Bruce Springsteen song. They crowded the aisle, slinging their arms about each other's shoulders. One of the waitresses was laughing, a high, roller-coaster peal. "I gotta get past you guys," she warned, edging around the dancers, pushing them closer. Gary watched the kids swaying, all that heat and energy and young love, all that promise and purpose, and then, because he couldn't help himself, he glanced over at the redheaded woman again. She turned a page, half smiling as she read, so deep in thought she didn't notice when her sleeve dipped in her bowl, making a wobbly soupy star on her elbow. Gary grinned to himself. He couldn't help watching her a second more, and then he suddenly wished for a book for himself, too, a sketch pad. Next time, he told himself.
He grabbed another fry. He didn't know what it was about this woman, why every time he looked at her, why every time she moved, he felt a change in the atmosphere, a charge. It was ridiculous. He didn't know anything about her, who she was, what she did, whether or not she was smart or funny or even remotely interesting. She could be moody or psychotic. She could be simple as a pane of glass. He couldn't see what she was reading, though he half hoped it was a classic, or something new and good, anything other than a celebrity bio or a lurid True Crime, that was engaging her so much that she didn't look up and see him, she didn't feel his interest.
Maybe he'd go over to the redheaded woman's table, ask to borrow the salt or the pepper, start a conversation and see what happened. People met people anywhere. In movie lines, at supermarkets. He had had one friend who had met his wife when he had stumbled on the street, reaching up to grab something to steady himself, and he had grabbed her, instead, ripping her skirt hem, tumbling her down with him. "I beg your pardon," she had said, and two months later, they were married. What did Gary have to lose?
He grabbed up one last fry, studded with pepper, intensely salted. He got up, taking the fries with him, and walked toward her table. Outside, it had begun to snow, damp, heavy flakes that clung to the glass window. He could see bits of gold glinting in all that red hair. He could see her paperback, the title like a beacon. Truman Capote. She read Truman Capote. Something tightened and pulsed, zipping up his spine. She was smart. He was about to introduce himself, to ask if she'd like to join him, when she looked up. Her eyes were flickering with light. "Hey, I know you," she said.
"Don't I?" Her voice was low and rich. She leaned forward, nearly toppling her glass, water sloshing from its lip. They both reached for the glass at the same time, and his fingers touched hers. A jolt of heat moved up through his fingers. She looked up at him, waiting. "Don't you want to sit down?"
Her name was Molly Goldman and as soon as he sat down, he couldn't stop talking to her. He told her about growing up without his parents, about growing up with Pearl, and about his job. She told him she lived in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she taught third grade.
"A teacher!" he said. It tickled him. He could just see her in the classroom, paint on her clothes, chalk in her hair. Kids clamoring at her feet.
She looked at him curiously. "Is that a funny profession to have? You're smiling so hard."
"No, no, it's perfect. It's a great thing to be."
"I think so. I mean, I really love it. The only thing about it is that sometimes it's a little insulating." She looked happily around the diner. "That's why I come here. The noise. The commotion. Seeing different people. Especially adults. You come here enough times you start feeling like family. I know all the waitresses here. And they don't care if I read or work here half the night and order only grilled cheese." She told him she had thirty kids and while most of them were workingclass baloney-sandwich-and-milk type of kids, some of her students had more money in their bank accounts than she ever would, and they all knew it. She laughed. "Last Christmas two of my students came to my house in a caroling group and I invited all of them in. They kept opening the closet doors, sure there must be another room in there and not just my old moth-eaten coats."
"I admit it, I fall right in love with my kids. I worry about them and champion them and I start feeling like they're mine. And I always forget that they're just on loan. That they only love me for a year, then they move on and change and fall in love with their new teacher and bang — I'm history. It's sort of sad."
"But they must come back and visit, don't they?"
Molly shrugged. "Sometimes. Some of them do. But it's always just to reminisce. I'm not a part of their lives anymore. Which, I guess, is the way it should be." She looked over at his fries. "Can I have some of those?" she said, and he pushed the plate over and she picked one up with her fingers. "Anyway," she said. "It's a weird universe, teaching. The other teachers I work with are mostly married women and they drive me crazy always trying to fix me up." She reached for another one of Gary's fries. "They're always trying to push me together with this guy Jack, who teaches kindergarten. They keep saying, 'Oh, you make such a cute couple! You look so good together!' One of the teachers even bought me this joke T-shirt she said I ought to wear so Jack might get the hint. TEACHERS DO IT WITH CLASS. When I finally took Jack aside and told him, he laughed. 'Gee, should I tell my Andrew?' he said."
Gary laughed and took another spicy fry from the plate, his fingers brushing hers.
By the time Molly and Gary were on their fourth cup of coffee, the snow was so heavy you couldn't see out the windows, the radio was predicting a state of potential emergency, and Gary was so enraptured by Molly he didn't care if it snowed forever. The lights flickered and went out. "Oh, hell," said the waitress.
"Is this okay, staying here in all this snow?" he asked her.
"I like dramatic weather."
The waitresses lit candles. Customers got up, putting money down on the bill, bundling into their coats, their hats, pulling the brims down low. The waitresses glanced at the clock.
Gary looked at Molly. "Could I call you some time?"
Gary told himself to take it slow. He hadn't been lucky in love before. The best thing to do would be to give them both room and not rush into anything. He had her home and school phone numbers tacked up on the bulletin board in his office in his apartment. Today was Monday. He didn't want her to think he was crazy or desperate. He'd wait until Wednesday, maybe even Thursday to call her.
He tried to bury himself in his work. He came in early to find Ada, his secretary, setting something up on a tray. Ada was young and pretty and anorexic-looking, with a blaze of blond curls, and nine times out of ten she was dressed in blue because she claimed it was a calming color for her. She grinned at him and held up the tray. Brownies were arranged on it. "Carob brownies today," she announced. "Fruit juice sweetened." She waited, expectant.
Ada was macrobiotic and was always trying to gain converts to her cause. A week didn't pass when she didn't bring something in, and even at the end of the day, when all her goodies lay untouched, she didn't get angry or depressed. She took them home, whistling. She came back the next week with more.
"Try one," Ada pressed. Maybe it was thinking about Molly, feeling as if something were sparkling inside of him. Maybe it was feeling so good. But Gary took a carob brownie from Ada. She looked at him, shocked and delighted. "Why, Gary!" she said, "good for you!" and he took a bite.
The brownie broke apart in his mouth in dry little pebbles. He couldn't swallow. Ada's smile grew. "What did I tell you?" she said happily.
"Mmm," he said, and excused himself, shutting the door to his office. He grabbed a Kleenex, spat out the rest, and tossed it, along with the rest of the brownie, into the trash, burying it under a shelf of paper. He searched his desk for the cough drops he kept around and tucked two into the side of his cheek to kill the papery taste.
All that day, he couldn't stop thinking about Molly. He ran out for a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, but as soon as he sat down, he saw a flash of red hair from the corner of his eye. He looked around for Molly, confused. A woman with glasses was walking past, balancing a tray. A deeply tanned woman was waving to a friend. The red hair — and Molly — were nowhere to be found. He suddenly wasn't hungry anymore. He got up and went back to work and stared at his layout for the cover of a boating book called Ships Ahoy! The information he had on the book itself was sketchy, but he knew editorial wanted something streamlined, something technical-looking, despite the dopey title. He bet the marketing V.P., a recent MBA graduate fond of catch phrases, wouldn't like the bold typeface he wanted against a bold design. "All bold is no bold," she'd admonish. He crumpled the layout up and threw it in the trash. He clicked the computer on again and made a pale gray screen. Molly's eyes are gray, he thought, and then, despite himself, he picked up the phone and called Molly at school. "Is this an emergency?" the school secretary asked him.
"Why, yes, I believe it is."
As soon as he heard Molly's voice, he was grinning again. The words seemed to spill out of him. "I know we just met yesterday. But what about dinner tomorrow night?"
She laughed. "I thought you'd never ask."
He wanted to talk more with her. He could have stayed on the line all afternoon, but she interrupted him. "Gary, listen," she said hurriedly. "We're not supposed to get personal calls. They really frown on it." Her voice lowered. "But listen, too, I know this great place we can try for our dinner. The waitresses sing opera. They're absolutely terrible, but that's what makes it so much fun."
He promised he wouldn't call her at work, that he'd see her for dinner, six o'clock so they could catch a movie afterward. "Or two," Molly said. "Two's okay with you?"
Excerpted from Coming Back to Me by Caroline Leavitt. Copyright © 2001 Caroline Leavitt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Human nature can run from Caroline Leavitt, but cannot hide. She knows people, their fear, their blunders and their reformation, and she tells them plain.
(Jacqueline Mitchard, Author of (The Deep End of the Ocean)
Caroline Leavitt has written a warm and immensely appealing novel, with vivid, unforgettable characters.
(Jane Bernstein, Author of Bereft: A Sister's Story )
Readers who wait impatiently for the next Jane Hamilton or Sue Miller will find another favorite in Caroline Leavitt.
A rich and personal novel. What excellent writing, and what subtlety and intelligence inform this book. Readers who wait impatiently for the next Jane Hamilton or Sue Miller novel will find another favorite in Caroline Leavitt.
(Katherine Weber, Author of The Music Lesson)
Human nature can run from Caroline Leavitt but cannot hide. She knows people, their fears, their blunders, and their reformation, and she tells them plain.
Caroline Leavitt is a marvelous writer.
(Anne Lamott, Author of Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year)
Reading Group Guide
1. Gary and Molly are drawn together because they both feel orphaned. When they move into New Jersey, they find a tightly-knit community that perceives them as outsiders, which makes Gary and Molly so uncomfortable that they draw even closer together. What is Leavitt saying about the notion of community? How and why does this notion change throughout the book?
2. Gary thinks: "Events didn't turn out the way you always hoped they would. But the thing was that sometimes people came through. The most unexpected people in the most unexpected ways." Who were the unexpected people for Gary, and how did they help?
3. A cornerstone of the book is two memories of the same event: Molly's version and Suzanne's version of the time when Suzanne ran away from home with her boyfriend Ivan and how it affected the family, especially the relationship between the sisters. Why do you think the author gave us two versions of the same incident?
4. The theme of memory crops up again when Molly is in the hospital and has been given memory blockers and can't remember seeing her family at all. What is Leavitt saying about how and why we remember what we do? Are there ever things people need to forget?
5. Some reviewers noted a surprisingly dark world view while others focused in on the healing element of hope. Molly, after all, survives her ordeal, but when she asks a doctor if she's cured, the answer is "we don't know." The last sentence of the book says that Molly lives, but it's prefaced with "Right now." What do you think this says about destiny and fate and our ability to plan for the future, and why is this hopeful?
6. Why do you think the characters in this book are so accessible to the reader? How do you think the author made sure you would care about the characters, even the ones like Suzanne who are behaving badly?
7. Coming Back to Me is told from the perspectives of three different people. How would the book be different if it was told by just Gary? Or by just Suzanne?
8. Molly and Suzanne both had a missing-in-action mother, a woman who was there, but who was more intent on finding a husband then attending to her daughter's needs. Why do you think the author made Molly a missing-in-action mother, too? What is the significance of the way Molly finally bonds with baby Otis?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Gary's wife Molly suffers a medical complication after the birth of their first child, he finds himself a virtual single father with mounting bills, adrift in a community that never quite accepted him or his wife. But as the book says, 'sometimes the most unexpected people help in the most unexpected ways'--. Written in lyrical, clear prose, this is a book I cherished.
Caroline Leavitt has a way of breathing life and high drama into family relationships. There are interesting plot twists and turns in addition to Leavitt's dependably rich characterization.
Loved Girls in Trouble so I bought this book. I forced myself to finish it and hated it all the way through.
Bittersweet and warm and wonderful, a story of the perils of a marriage teetering under the extraordinary stress of medical trauma, of human failings and forgiveness, and of the enduring power of love.
A wise and touching story of people coming together to realize their dreams of creating an ordinary, normal family. But this family is suddenly shattered, and the the emotional and financial fallout make for a compelling and uniquely moving novel.
Caroline Leavitt has written a generous, deeply human, tale about love and family, loss and reawakening. Her characters will live in my memory long after I slide the book back onto the shelf.
This beautifully written book explores love, family, and community through a compelling story. Part of what made this book so gripping for me is knowing that the author, Caroline Leavitt, had a life threatening experience very much like Molly, one of the main characters. It is wonderful how Ms. Leavitt develops each of her characters so that you care for them despite, or maybe because of, their flaws.
I really enjoyed this book, couldn't put it down.The characters were so real,it was very easy to identify with them.It showed how the faith and hope of a family came through when times are tough.
I happened to be in the bookstore when Ms. Leavitt was reading and became instantly enthralled. What drama, what passion, what heartfelt emotion in the story of Molly, struggling through a medical emergency, her husband Gary who finds himself a single father, and Suzanne, the outcast sister who is summoned back to help. Brilliant. Just a dazzling writer.
I have read every single one of Caroline Leavitt's novels -- some more than once -- and find her characters and plots extremely engaging. The writing, itself, is always lovely -- rich, yet not convoluted -- but what always stays with me after I've finished reading her books are the plots. Leavitt is a fabulous storyteller, the kind that makes you wish you were a kid and she was your mother, creating a new bedtime story every night. Leavitt's latest book, 'Coming Back to Me,' delivers once again. I was so engaged by the characters, who felt so real, and the plot intracasies -- that I had to stop reading it a few hours before bedtime, or I'd be too revved up to fall asleep. I'm telling my friends who appreciate a good read to check out 'Coming Back to Me.' I don't think they'll be disappointed.
'Coming Back To Me' is another masterful piece of literature from this fine author. Like her other recent novel 'Living Other Lives,' Leavitt's 'Coming Back To Me' draws the reader in with a heartfelt tale that leaves one teary eyed but still wanting more. I can hardly wait for her next work to be published.
Caroline Leavitt has a knack for writing about characters you care about and think about long after the book is closed. Gary, Molly, Suzanne and even Otis the baby are going to be in my head for some time. I don't know what magic authors use to make their characters come so alive, but Caroline Leavitt has got it in spades. Even Molly's nurses and the reticent neighbors become people that you feel you could recognize on the street. It's a wonderful book.
In New Jersey, Gary Breyer never expected to ever find love, but did with Molly Goldman at a Tastee restaurant. She quickly reciprocated his feelings and after a short courtship, they marry. Molly gives birth to their child Otis, but suffers a life threatening disease. Not long afterward, a distraught and worried Gary loses his job at a time he needs every penny to care for a newborn and pay stratospheric medical bills. He spends his daytime with his comatose beloved, his night as a security guard, and in between with Otis. He has no time for himself even to sleep. Desperate, he pleads with Molly¿s older sister Suzanne to come home to help care for Otis. Initially, she acts more like an aging groupie, but soon Otis and Gary hook her affections even as Molly awakens. COMING BACK TO ME is a well-written relationship drama that teeters on the brink of melodramatic soap opera, but never falls into that crack. The story line provides an intelligent look at the cast as they struggle with a tragedy at a time when elation should rule the roost. The characters feel genuine with some humorous secondary players keeping the plot from turning too dramatic. Anyone who enjoys a redemption tale filled with protagonists that the audience will care for should read Caroline Leavitt¿s classy portrayal of a family in deep trouble. Harriet Klausner
I picked this book up from my wife's night table and started reading about Gary, facing single fatherhood, grapping with the loss, trying to find his place in an unfriendly community -- I was hooked! Leavitt seems to understand the workings of the human heart so well. I would have loved to see a photo of her on the book cover.
I absolutely loved this book. At times a bit melodramatic, however, I found I couldn't put the book down until my eyes were bloodshot! I feel like I lived the drama and was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what was going to happen next. Excellent!
As a longtime reader of Caroline Leavitt's work, I was overjoyed to hear she had written a new novel. Not only was I thrilled to have the chance to read it, but I could not put it down. Leavitt, once again, was able to spin a highly realistic, emotional, and beautifully written story about what it would feel like to go from an extremely happy situation to a scary, unknown nightmare, not knowing if your spouse would survive a terrible tragedy and then dealing with a mountain of hospital bills. Images stand out in my mind, such as the feeling Gary had when he walked into Otis' room right after Molly got ill and saw the blanket she had special ordered and nearly fell apart. I felt horrible when Ivan left the car to get cigarettes and left Otis in the car. Any reader, whether or not they have been through a similiar situation, can relate to a situation of simply not knowing what is going to happen next, and feeling so out of control that you don't know how you are going to get through the day. It's rare when an author can make me forget about my own life and immerse me so deeply in a piece of writing, which is why I give this novel five stars. I wish I could give it more, but there aren't enough to show how much I loved this book.
If somebody tells you the plot of Coming Back to Me, the story line might sound sad, but it's so alive and full of humor, that it is a pleasure to read. It had all the elements of a great romance story, without being written like one. I recommend this book highly.
One of the things I loved about Coming Back To Me was that it gave a nice feeling of neighborhood. It was Hoboken, New Jersey, but it could have been any suburb. I also loved the plot. It was very unusual. One of the main characters didn't appear until almost half the book was over, but it all worked. Brava!!!!