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The End of an Error

5.0 3
by Mameve Medwed

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Lee Emery is an empty nester, contentedly married to a man she has known forever and hunkering down in the house where she grew up. She believes she is happy occupying such a familiar emotional and physical space. But questions of the path not taken start to haunt her after she publishes a memoir of her deliciously eccentric grandmother with whom she traipsed


Lee Emery is an empty nester, contentedly married to a man she has known forever and hunkering down in the house where she grew up. She believes she is happy occupying such a familiar emotional and physical space. But questions of the path not taken start to haunt her after she publishes a memoir of her deliciously eccentric grandmother with whom she traipsed through Europe at eighteen. It was then that Lee fell in love for the first time. Twenty-five years later, "what if" obsessions shake up her settled life. Should she have made a different choice-Simon-instead of the man now next to her? Struck once more by the lingering power of first love, she sets off a chain of events that catapults her back to Europe and to a second chance that she may or may not want to risk.

Editorial Reviews

Anita Shreve
Outrageously funny with warmth and humanity Medwed at her best.
Arthur Golden
In these engrossing characters...Medwed has achieved her finest work yet...a pure delight to read.
author of Memoirs of a Geisha
Elinor Lipman
...Mameve Medwed's best...an addictive story told with precision, wit and grace...the best-ever dance down the road not taken.
author of The Dearly Departed and The Inn at Lake Devine
Stephen McCauley
...warm and vivid, and as full of delightful surprises as Marguerite herself.
author of True Enough and The Object of My Affection
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cambridge and the outskirts of Harvard life are again the settings of Medwed's (Mail) new novel, a cuttingly funny yet heartwarming tale full of hilarious twists and practical wisdom. Henry and Daisy Lewis, who have been serving as host family to international Harvard students for the past 20 years, find themselves at a crisis in their marriage. It seems that the series of visitors from the Third World has exhausted Henry's patience. In reaction, he becomes a voracious Francophile and falls for their latest exchange student, a French beauty named Giselle. The breakup of the Lewis's marriage coincides with the departure of the couple's cherished son, Sammy, to college (Harvard, of course), but 42-year-old Daisy, a community relations manager for a grocery chain, learns that change can be a good thing when she fatefully meets Truman Wolff, a parasitologist whose studies of "virus-host relationships" seem particularly apt. In this novel of comic connections, Daisy's son and Truman's teenage daughter, Phoebe, fall in love. For a couple of years, the two pairs sustain their respective relationships, though marriage-wary Daisy remains unwilling to spoil a good thing by accepting Truman's proposals. The introduction of another foreign body--this time a handsome young Italian man--threatens this stability when the studly student and Phoebe fall in love, causing Daisy to reject Truman in a fit of allegiance over Sammy's broken heart. But tables continue to turn; characters forgive, forget and move on; and Daisy finally realizes that it's time to go after a love "every bit as identifiable and tenacious as one of Truman's parasites." Medwed balances broadly drawn characters, such as the ludicrously pompous Henry, who sports a beret and calls himself "Henr ," with Daisy's perspicuous insights on the nature and possibility of lasting romantic commitment, expertly combining here the larger-than-life and the true-to-life. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. 4-city author tour. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
The author is a practiced hand at warmhearted women's fiction (Host Family; Mail), and her punning title suggests she has struck a more than usually giddy note here. In fact, the humor in this tale of Lee Emery, a happily married woman of a certain age who unaccountably finds herself hankering after her first love, a wry young Englishman she met in her student days, is sometimes a little forced, and it is the moments of genuine emotion that come across more strongly. Lee has written a memoir of her glamorous grandmother Marguerite, who encouraged her fleeting London affair with Simon so long ago, and when she lets steadfast but rather boring husband Ben read it (once it's been published) and impulsively sends a copy to Simon, it churns up her whole life. The denouement is quietly touching if not entirely believable, and the portrait of Marguerite, clinging to her cherished luxuries, even as she sinks into desuetude, is skillfully composed of equal parts amusement and compassion. It's only in scenes like Lee's unhappy bookstore reading or the bestsellerdom envisaged for Ben's obsessive academic history of an obscure Maine patriarch that Medwed veers dangerously close to farce and seems in less than perfect control. A woman as bright as Lee would never settle for so threadbare a publisher for her memoir or be as excited as Medwed makes her out to be on publication day. But these are minor caveats in an enjoyable read that could provoke both smiles and tears. (June 10) Forecast: Although booksellers may grimace at the representation of a typical store reading, they can happily sell this to reading clubs, whose members will find it strikes many appropriate notes. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
What woman, even the most happily married, has not fantasized about reconnecting with her first love? In her third novel, Medwed (Mail; Host Family) explores such a meeting. Magnolia (Lee) Emery was introduced to Simon when she was 13 and traveling through Europe with Marguerite, her charismatic grandmother. Although Lee returned home to Maine shortly after falling in love with Simon, they vowed to stay together. But the death of Lee's parents and a long-delayed letter from Simon led Lee into marriage with a stable but unexciting man. Several years later, when her husband's research took the family back to England, Lee and Simon finally consummated their love in one glorious night. Now 15 years later, Lee uses the excuse of the memoir she's written about Marguerite (which includes a chapter on falling in love with Simon) to get back in touch with him. An offer of a trip to England and the chance to see Simon again seals Lee's fate. Do marriage vows trump true love? This lightweight but enjoyable tale offers one possible answer. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A glum tale of love lost and then haphazardly regained in middle age. Lee is happy enough with her lot in life as the proud wife of a small-town history professor, mother of three grown children, contentedly rooted in the house she was raised in. But with the small-press publication of her memoir about traveling with her extraordinary grandmother, Lee begins to fret over the past, especially that London summer she met Simon and experienced first love--maybe, she realizes unsettlingly all these years later, her only true love. This is a sticky situation for a happily married woman, but how happy is she really? Lee begins to consider her safe choices: staying put in Maine, marrying stolid Ben very shortly after her parents’ accidental death, becoming the ever-helpful cheerleader to her husband’s never-finished study of a dull Maine lumberjack, and of course suppressing the reckless passion she felt for Simon. Much of the story travels back to Lee and Simon’s meeting, their parting and pledging of eternal love, and the one-night stand they had in their 30s, when Lee and Ben spent an academic summer abroad in London. To the novel’s detriment, Lee’s tale makes a pale footnote to her memories of Grandmother Marguerite, a memorable beauty and a real grande dame, bejeweled, adulterous, and spoiled, feasting on the banquet of life. Part of Lee’s problem, we quickly see, is that she feels small under Marguerite’s consuming shadow, but that insight doesn’t help the plot much. Now 50 and increasingly obsessed with Simon, Lee manages a trip to England to see whether the real man can live up to the exalted memory. And if he does, then what? The talented Medwed, author of two endearingly witty previousnovels (Host Family, 2000, etc.), has lost her timing this go-round, with a sad heaviness and some not particularly funny jokes replacing her former comic charm. Occasionally funny and touching but, overall, a disappointment. Agent: Lisa Bankoff

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
A+ Series
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



For the third time tonight, Daisy Lewis steers her car along Church Street. The crowd lined up for the Harvard Square Movie Theater snakes into her lane. A shredded-blue-jeaned couple stops in the middle of the street, gesturing wildly. They both sport ponytails. Silver hoops thread through at least three of their ears. Daisy sighs. It's so hard to tell anything these days, to sort people, sexes, even beliefs. She feels like plowing them down, this pair who are now hugging on the yellow line like some permanently inserted traffic cone. She honks her horn; they don't move. Pedestrians seem to be reproducing at the same rate as Mildred and Stanley, the guppies Sammy had when he was five. Taking over the Square like the infestation of lice that once ran rampant through the first grade. Her Square, she thinks. "My life," she says.

Daisy checks the doorway of the Unitarian church for witnesses. Nobody's there except a street person mounded under a pile of what must have once been quilts of many colors but have all aged into an indeterminate gray. Age and change, the two enemies she's sleeping with. And Henry, she adds, though lately there hasn't been a whole lot of that. She pulls into the spot marked for clergy only and tries to tamp down her guilt. Will God get her for taking the place of a man of the cloth? She is, after all, the half-Jewish daughter of a bacon-addicted mother and an atheist father whose last visit to a house of God was at his own christening in the one-room schoolhouse-cum-church in Benkelman, Nebraska. Besides, she believes in theseparation of Church and State. How can you have a parking space designated For Clergy Only and not for a forty-two-year-old North Cambridge ex-food bank organizer now community relations manager slash ombudsman for the Star Market chain?

She looks at her watch. What's more, no clergy would want her to be late for the awards ceremony. For the public acknowledgment of her good works. Sort of good works. She hurries toward Brattle Street, hobbled by the unaccustomed high heels and her new tapered skirt. These days, since she sometimes freelances from home and since her office next to the meat freezer requires her to dress less for success than to pad herself for warmth, she is not the fashion plate she might choose to be. She will, of course, be late. Henry is coming from French class, five minutes across the Yard, five minutes more to the Loeb. She hopes he's not wearing that ridiculous beret he affects on Extension School nights. But that's not her worry, she reminds herself. What Henry wears, says, or looks like does not reflect on her. She wishes she believed that.

She passes the Yin and Yang Restaurant and breathes in the smells of soy and sesame oil. As usual, the dining room, except for a clueless tourist, is empty. Twenty-five years ago, she had eaten chop suey in one of these tattered booths during freshman week. The next day she and her roommate had ended up in the infirmary. There, their fluids were replenished by Cokes laced with sugar to get out the bubbles, their underarms packed in ice to bring down the fevers of food poisoning.

By now, Henry will have started on the white wine and food-from-many-nations, each platter crested with a paper-flagged toothpick denoting country of origin. She pictures him talking up a sultry beauty in Kente cloth or a vision of health in dirndl and clogs. He will have already leapfrogged over the group of Japanese business students, a navy-suited mass of male solidarity. He will skirt the Latin American Kennedy students, men, older than the others, sent to Cambridge by their governments. She should have walked. "Why didn't you walk?" Henry would ask with a nod at her hips. "Beautiful night. We all can use the exercise."

Daisy pulls in her stomach. It's not that she's fat. But something happened when she turned forty. Along with the cake and champagne and silly hats and the subscription—from Henry, he thought it was funny—to Modern Maturity, she also found herself the recipient of pounds that frosted themselves onto her hips, her knees, unnipped her once nipped-in waist, cushioned her once chiseled chin. She'd always been pretty: Miss Latin Club in seventh grade, Miss Stonehouse Road Junior High first semester in eighth. She still was, in a forty-two-year-old way.

Daisy pats her hips, the mounds that haven't seemed to dislodge despite the five free aerobics classes she'd been enticed into from a flyer tucked under her windshield wiper. "I'm not sure this is for me," she told Heidi, whose purple spandex circled a thigh the width of Daisy's wrist. Heidi lowered her eyes to Daisy's problem area. "You'll live to regret this," she warned.

Now Daisy pushes open the heavy glass doors of the Loeb Theater and thinks that there are many things she has probably lived to regret: that she has only one child, that that child is now in a dormitory room sleeping on one of the three pairs of extra-long sheets that will probably never be washed and changed, let alone washed and changed by a mother's loving hands. She remembers her great-uncle Herbert, whose parents emigrated to Cambridge for the four years he was at Harvard and re-created in their rental an exact replica of Herbert's childhood room down to the green-shaded desk lamp and the doily snowflaked across the maple bureau top. She can identify. She pictures Sammy one mile away in Pennypacker Hall. They moved him in two weeks ago. Since then, they've heard very little. She's taken to hanging out in the Square—at the Coop where at some point he has to line up to buy four syllabi's worth of books, at the sandwich shops and pizza joints where she's run into scores of his old high school chums. "Oh, Mrs. Lewis," they'll say, "I've just bumped into Sammy at the Kiosk." Or, "Hi, Mrs. Lewis, Sammy was in front of me at the ATM a minute ago." And Daisy would wander to the bank or the magazine stand, where sightings of Elvis seemed more likely occurrences than sightings of her here-on-earth and geographically proximate son. He might as well be at Stanford, where he would have been if he'd gotten in. "So count Harvard as your safety," Henry had said.

"And be tainted as a legacy?" Sammy was indignant, vowing until the last moment to seek the egalitarianism of UMass. Daisy looks around her. The lobby of the Loeb is thronged with a United Nations worth of costumes and multicultural faces. There are saris from India and sweaters from Vogue, pleats from Talbots and plaids from the Highlands, ripped jeans from Camden Lock and pressed jeans from Place de la Concorde. Daisy lingers at the edge of the crowd, searching for Henry, but before she can find him, Elizabeth Malcolm, the head of the Harvard International Office, spots her and hurries over with the businesslike tat-a-tat of her sensible pumps. "Oh, Daisy," she says, shaking her hand with such energy that if Daisy had had rotator cuff problems she'd be scheduled for surgery. "I've been waiting for you. I thought we'd have the ceremony before everybody gets too tipsy hanging out at the bar."

Daisy looks toward the bar, where three young men in elbow-patched tweed and mufflers with stripes of three different universities she can't identify are talking quietly. What seems like a stingy supply of half-gallons of generic reds and whites lines a folding table covered by a paper cloth. Two trays carry plastic cups the size of shot glasses. Cocktail napkins with Veritases on them are shaped to form an H and a U. It would probably take a trayful of glasses even to begin to get tipsy, Daisy decides. She wonders if UMass with its lack of endowments might have a less Puritan, less miserly approach to celebration.

"Have you seen Henry?" Daisy asks Elizabeth, who is writing Daisy Lewis Host Family Honoree on a Hello, I'm . . . sticker.

"Over there." Elizabeth nods in the direction of another folding table laden with foil lasagna pans, each boasting, as she'd predicted, a flag signifying country of casserole. "He found the French contingent immediately. He's doing so well, has made such strides with the language"—she giggles—"that I couldn't resist putting Henri on his name tag." "I'm sure he's thrilled," Daisy says.

"Not that I'd really know," Elizabeth goes on, "even though I had three years at Winsor. My ear." She points to her lobe, on which is clipped a pearl the size of a ladybug. "Besides, in college, Spanish was considered more important for social work."

Daisy is about to ask whether heading up the office for international students at Harvard can be even loosely interpreted as social work, but thinks better of it. She notices a Chinese woman sitting in a corner looking both bewildered and sad. Elizabeth notices too. "Let me rescue Wang Ling, and then we'll get this show on the road."

Elizabeth puts her hand on the Chinese woman's shoulder and nods energetically. Daisy looks back over to Henry—or, rather, Henri. The French contingent must consist only of women, since the ring-a-rosy around Henry is entire female. She is relieved to see he is not wearing the beret, though she detects an inch of blue wool peeking out from his breast pocket. Even at this distance she recognizes the smug turn of his mouth and his index finger raised to its most pontifical. She waves in his direction, but Henry, so intent on conversation, doesn't notice her. She's sure he's speaking French from the way his lips are pursed in the exact position high school teachers instruct you to use when making the French u. He looks like he's sucking lemons. But though his face is vastly disapproving, his hands loop through the air as if he's spinning worlds of sugar plums in front of the uplifted faces of his adoring audience. A waterfall of charm, she's all too aware, which he can turn off and on like a garden hose.

Daisy is about to make her way toward him when Elizabeth Malcolm, one hand pulling the Chinese girl, grabs her elbow and leads her over to the microphone. "Will Henry Lewis come over here," she announces in a burst of static that accelerates into a high-pitched hum.

In seconds, Henry is at Daisy's side, smiling like an ad for Colgate. She smells something suspiciously like Old Spice, though she assumes that whatever it is comes in a bottle reading made in France and costs three times as much. "You're late," he whispers through the pearly whites.

"Parking," Daisy says.

"You should have walked." His hand, which he's placed at the small of her back, moves a little lower, where he does the pincer test for fat.

Up close she notices that his beret is arranged with the kind of care waiters use to fan a napkin across a serving plate on the tables of the fancier restaurants. "I should have done a lot of things," she hisses under her breath. In spite of the beret and the Henri name tag stuck to his lapel, it delights her to realize that his straight and healthy teeth are a blatant giveaway of made-in-America orthodontia, a comforting world of retainers and rubber bands, of tumblers of milk and bowls of vitamin-enriched cornflakes. Not a nation of muddy coffee, filthy Gauloises, red wine rubbed on the gums of infants in their bassinets.

"Students and their host families, may I have your attention, please?" announces Elizabeth Malcolm. She is enunciating carefully with pauses between words for those for whom English is not a second language but maybe a third or sixth. The room quiets down. All multinationed faces are raised toward Daisy and Henry Lewis, who stand shoulder to shoulder, their big American smiles a testament to their even larger, more bountiful, more all-encompassing big American hearts.

"Darling," Henry says.

"Honey," Daisy says.

Elizabeth Malcolm claps her hands. "We're here to honor Daisy and Henry Lewis, dedicated host family for twenty years." There is a round of polite applause. "Here, here," say the British guys over at the bar in the voices of bored MPs during those sessions of Parliament you sometimes see screened on C-SPAN.

Elizabeth Malcolm clears her throat. She pulls the microphone out of its socket. She's the spitting image of a talk-show host about to wander out into the audience. "Twenty years ago," she begins, "as students themselves, they hosted their first international student. And every year, another one. And now their son is a freshman at the college, almost the age of many of you here." Elizabeth stops, an ear cocked for a chorus of Wows! Though none are forthcoming, she is not at all deflated but proceeds with even more enthusiasm. "They are an exemplary family," she says. "A Harvard family," she emphasizes. "An American family." She holds the microphone aloft in a Statue-of-Liberty pause-for-a-moment-of-silence salute. "And in a world of shifting relationships," Elizabeth goes on, "alternative lifestyles, they are the rock of stability, the very model of a model family." She reaches behind her and whips forward a folder of padded crimson leatherette embossed with a Harvard seal, a replica of Daisy's and Henry's old diplomas, now tucked away in an attic cabinet. "So without further ado . . ."

Next to Daisy, Henry shifts, fidgets with his sleeve. To his credit, he looks as uncomfortable as Daisy feels. Or maybe it's just disappointment that he's not singled out as the model of a model French family. Though the award is for the two of them, joint property for joint hosts, Henry takes it. Daisy stretches up on tiptoes to read over Henry's shoulder:

To Daisy and Henry Lewis, Host Family
In Grateful Appreciation for
Many Years of Welcoming
Harvard University International Students
With Generous Hospitality and Caring Friendship

"A few words." Elizabeth twirls the microphone up to Henry's mouth with an Oprah-like sweep of her arm. "Thank you very much," says Henry. "Quite an honor." His head bobbles over clusters of countries lined up like contiguous states until it alights on France. "Merci bien," he adds with a slight Gallic-looking salute. "Merci trés bien."

"Daisy?" Elizabeth asks.

Daisy shakes her head.

Undaunted, Elizabeth slides the microphone under Henry's chin. "You two, tell us about your first host-family experience," she gushes.

Henry turns to Daisy. "Dear," he says in his most unctuous, for-the-public-tone, "ladies first."

"Pilombaya," Daisy says. And it comes to her without any thought. As if it's been poised all these years on the springboard of her tongue, waiting only for the gun to go off. "Pilombaya," she says again.

What People are Saying About This

Suzanne Berne
A funny, buoyant, good—hearted novel about modern love and the complicated, sometimes exotic accommodations people make for it.
—(Suzanne Berne, author of A Crime in the Neighborhood)
Ann Hood
Medwed finds the joy and humor that exist beside our heartbreak and sorrow…HOST FAMILY is a testimony to that hodgepodge of emotion that makes up the human condition. I loved this book!
—(Ann Hood, author of Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine and Ruby)
Anita Shreve
A book that manages to be both savagely funny and enormously warm and charming. Readers everywhere will be nodding their heads and chuckling to themselves with recognition. A delicious read!
—(Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife and Fortune's Rocks)
Arthur Golden
Just as English clubs belong to P.G. Wodehouse, Cambridge belongs to Mameve Medwed. Find yourself an easy chair and settle in with the warm and witty HOST FAMILY for a complete delight.
—(Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha)
Lorna Landvik
You'll care about these people, you'll laugh—you're in for a real treat.
—(Lorna Landvik, author of Patty Jane's House of Curl and The Tall Pine Polka)
Jill McCorkle
An absolute delight from beginning to end. Hats off to Mameve Medwed! Her wicked wit and endearing charm grace each and every page. I don't know when I have laughed so loud and so long.
—(Jill McCorkle, author of Final Vinyl Days and Crash Diet)

Meet the Author

Mameve Medwed is also the author of Mail, Host Family, The End of an Error, and How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life (which received a 2007 Massachusetts Book Honor Award). Her stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications including the Missouri Review, Redbook, the Boston Globe, Yankee, the Washington Post, and Newsday. Born in Maine, she and her husband have two sons and live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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End of an Error 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Renda_Brooks More than 1 year ago
Mameve Medwed spins a compelling tale in "The End of an Error". This book isn't just about love and romance. It brings unique characters together with real life issues that we all find ourselves confronting. Lee Avery, a woman comfortable with her marriage and life, finds her world changed after the publication of her book. Her memoir causes her to reflect on the past, a time spent traveling with her eccentric grandmother. During her travels, she meets her first love, Simon. As the memories invade Lee's senses, she considers the "what if" scenario. Lee is confronted with mixed emotions and as the opportunity of a second chance presents itself, she has to choose between her current life and her true desires. Her emotions unfurl from each memory that she holds and her life today. This story drew me into Lee's world. I found myself contemplating what I would do if presented with such opportunity. I found myself laughing at Lee's grandmother's antics, feeling the sadness of loss, and sharing the struggles of making difficult choices.
harstan More than 1 year ago
A quarter of a century ago, when she was eighteen and doing Europe with her grandma, Lee Emery met and fell in love with Englishman Simon. Later Lee married Ben, a nice but somewhat boring professor, who still cherishes her as if they are newlyweds though they have had three children. Both seem contented together in a serene safe life.

However, Lee reads the book she helped bring to press, her grandmother¿s memoirs, Mainely Marguerite, which includes a passage describing Lee¿s first love. Suddenly, Lee acts out of character and questions her present lifestyle with a melancholy is that all there is? After sending a copy of the book to Simon, Lee scrambles to Europe trying to decide whether to take a second chance on a first teenage love or chicken out to return to the safety of her brood?

Title pun aside, this is an intriguing look at middle age with empty nest beckoning and the past feeling more like a positive nostalgia trip. Lee is a fabulous protagonist struggling between what she feels is an awakening that her lackluster sheltered life cannot be why she is breathing vs. the excitement of what she first felt as a teen. Will the reality equal the memory or will she conclude that you can never go home and the bird in hand is best?

Harriet Klausner

Guest More than 1 year ago
I first fell in love with Medwed's writing with her first book, MAIL, gobbled up HOST FAMILY and now with END OF AN ERROR, I'm totally committed. I was handed an arc and read nonstop. Who else could write such a funny, moving, and altogether wonderful novel that's so knowing about modern love--and past love? And who else could create such a fabulous jump-off-the-page character as grande dame Marguerite? Full of wonderful twists and delightful surprises. I just adored it.