Ten masterworks of short fiction—by turns tender, comic, powerful, and devastating—from the highly praised author of The Madonnas of Leningrad
A surprised Southern matriarch is confronted by her family at an intervention. . . . A life-altering break-in triggers insomniac introspection in a desperate actor. . . . Streetwise New York City neighbors let down their guard for a naïve puppeteer and must suffer the consequences. . . .
In this stunning collection of short stories—five of which are being published for the very first time—bestselling, award-winning author Debra Dean displays the depth and magnitude of her extraordinary literary talent. Replete with the seamless storytelling and captivating lyrical voice that made her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, a national bestseller, Dean’s Confessions of a Falling Woman is a haunting, satisfying, and unforgettable reading experience.
Praise for Debra Dean’s critically acclaimed bestseller The Madonnas of Leningrad
“[A] heartfelt debut. . . . Admirably humane.” —New York Times Book Review
“An unforgettable story of love, survival, and the power of imagination in the most tragic circumstances. Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.”—Isabel Allende
“[Dean’s] descriptive passages and dialogue are painteresque and exquisitely drawn.” —USA Today
“This sumptuously elegant and emotionally moving first novel . . . will linger with you long after you’ve finished it. . . . Exhilarating fiction . . . luminous and lovely throughout.”—Providence Journal
“Rare is the novel that creates that blissful forgot-you-were-reading experience. This sort of transcendence is rarer still when the novel in question is an author’s debut, but that is precisely what Debra Dean has achieved.”—Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Dean writes with passion and compelling drama.”—People
About the Author
Debra Dean worked as an actor in New York theater for nearly a decade before opting for the life of a writer and teacher. She and her husband now live in Miami, where she teaches at the University at Miami. She is at work on her second novel.
Read an Excerpt
Confessions of a Falling Woman
And Other Stories
What the Left Hand Is Saying
Only a mesh of ivy holds this old building upright, ropy veins lashing the fire escape precariously to its side. Wind rattles through the rotting window frames and the tub is in the kitchen, but the building is rent-controlled, so years can go by without a name changing on the buzzers downstairs. Still, before Tim the Puppet Boy arrived, I knew my neighbors in the way New Yorkers do, faces passed on the stairs, voices heard through the walls late at night. In fact, I didn't know a soul in the city. But I'm an only child and the child of only children, and was accustomed to being alone. I wouldn't have called myself lonely.
He arrived in the summer, on a morning already wilting with the heat. I remember I had given up a halfhearted plan to go to a cattle call and instead was soaking in a tub of cold water. He might have been knocking for some time, but I didn't hear him until I surfaced and reached for another tray of ice cubes out of the freezer. Peering in at the open window was a gangly apparition wearing only striped bikini briefs and ridiculous pink plastic sunglasses. He was sorry to bother me, he said, but could he use my phone?
Oh, for Pete's sake. That was my reaction, can't a person even take a bath in her own kitchen? And then mild astonishment that the fire escape could actually hold the weight of an adult, albeit a pretty scrawny one. A full minute elapsed before it occurred to me to throw a towel over myself. I stood up and tried to shoo him away from the window as though he were a pigeon. He smiled and shrugged but didn'tleave. "I was sunbathing up on the roof, and Juan must have locked the window before he left. Philip's asleep, and it's like trying to wake the dead. You know, you should repot that dracaena—it needs more room for its roots." He was pointing to a dead plant on the sill. "So I've been pounding out there for ten minutes, but no luck." He waited, his smile hopeful.
"Listen, I don't know any Philip or Juan."
"Really?" He seemed disbelieving. "You share a fire escape. I'm staying with them for a few days." He crouched over to extend his hand through the window. "My name's Tim."
I'd never heard of a burglar in a swimsuit, but more to the point, he was the only person I'd ever seen in New York who looked utterly guileless and sexless. I shook his hand and pushed up the sash, cautioning him to watch his step.
Tim stayed for a year. I found out some time later that Philip and Juan had met him only a few weeks before I did. "I thought he was trying to pick me up," Philip said. "Well, my God, he just walked up to me in the park and started talking to me. So I brought him home. Next thing, the little weenie was asleep on the couch."
If I can't remember when Tim moved across the hall into my apartment, it is because he had a disarming lack of boundaries. He'd drop over three times a day—to borrow my iron, to tell me the mail had come, to show me something wonderful he'd found in a Dumpster. In the evenings, he might tap on the door and announce that everyone was watching Dynasty on Philip's new TV. Gradually our two doors were simply left ajar. Our two apartments fused, with silverware, shampoo, and condiments migrating freely back and forth. I began to find Tim asleep on my couch when I came home late, and chatting with one of our neighbors in the kitchen when I got up the next morning.
Through Tim, I discovered that our building was populated entirely by aspiring fill-in-the-blanks. I was going to be a star on Broadway or, barring that, sell out and make a lot of money doing television. Juan was a dancer with a company that disbanded and renamed itself every few months, and he hoped to choreograph someday. Philip's aspirations were more vague but nonetheless brilliant: he was going to be famous, for what was left open. Meanwhile, he devoted his energy to being in the right place—whatever club was currently in vogue—and sleeping with the right people. Darla, a would-be model, lived on the second floor. She had once met the photographer Scavullo at a party. He told her she had great bones, and she'd been starving them into prominence ever since, endlessly refining her appearance in hopes of finding the look that would propel her onto the cover of Vogue. Her boyfriend, Zak, hung out at the comedy clubs, convinced that he was funny enough to get paid for it. Even Morty the super was taking night classes in real estate. He had big plans to cash in on the co-op boom.
Tim was the only one among us who didn't appear to have any ambitions. He occasionally got work from a company that did rich kids' birthday parties, but there wasn't much demand for puppeteers. He lived more or less hand-to-mouth. The puppets themselves were his own creations, whimsically detailed creatures that he might have sold for a lot of money. More than once I tried to forward this idea, but Tim couldn't sustain any interest in profit. He might spend whole days painting over the same eyes or searching for just the right shade of wool yarn. More often, I heard him playing with an unfinished puppet, cackling laughter and different voices interspersed with his own.
He idolized Jim Henson. Once you knew this about him, it was hard to shake his resemblance to a Muppet. His thin legs and arms moved with floppy abandon, and he tended to dress in childish combinations of color and pattern. But stronger than the physical resemblance, it was the way he moved through the world, as though everyone were his friend. I don't know that he ever actually said so, but I assumed he was from a small town somewhere in the Midwest, a place where people still knew their neighbors and gossiped with them over pie and coffee in each other's kitchens. When he moved in here, the tenants in our building gradually began to mingle and kibitz like a large and affectionate family.Confessions of a Falling Woman
And Other Stories. Copyright © by Debra Dean. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
What People are Saying About This
“Dean is a marvelous chameleon of a writer, adapting, reflecting, revealing multiple, generous worlds with perceptiveness, humor and light.”