Following Pollyby Karen Bergreen
Would you call Alice Teakle a stalker? Or just someone with an, um, healthy obsession with golden girl Polly Linley Dawson? No one much notices Alice: not her boss, not the neighbors, not even her mother. Besides, everyone follows Polly: her business selling high-end lingerie you can only imagine her wearing, her all-over-the-social-pages marriage to/i>
Would you call Alice Teakle a stalker? Or just someone with an, um, healthy obsession with golden girl Polly Linley Dawson? No one much notices Alice: not her boss, not the neighbors, not even her mother. Besides, everyone follows Polly: her business selling high-end lingerie you can only imagine her wearing, her all-over-the-social-pages marriage to movie director Humphrey Dawson, her chic looks, her wardrobe. Alice just follows her a little more….closely.
Yet one Manhattan autumn afternoon, when Alice loses her job and starts to follow Polly, she stumbles on the object of her attention sprawled dead on the floor of a boutique and is forced to become truly invisible. Because she's accused of murder. But can another obsession help save Alice? Charlie is Alice's longtime unattainable crush. He might be able to help her out of the mess she's in…in return for a favor or two, that is. But how will Alice find out if Charlie is really the man she thinks he is?
“Karen Bergreen's Following Polly sparkles. It's got wit and energy, along with fabulous characters to love (and loathe). A fine first novel: polished, acutely observed, and delightfully mean. What fun!” Susan Isaacs, author of Close Relations
“I LOVE this book. It's funny, original, satisfying and a real page turner. Karen Bergreen has created a lovable heroine who is a bundle of totally unique neuroses. I couldn't put it down and I can't wait for the sequel!” Susie Essman, author of What Would Susie Say?
“Funny, intelligent, accessible. Following Polly captures what makes Karen one of my favorite comediennes.” Jim Gaffigan, actor/comedian/writer
“Stalking, dysfunctional family, murder and unrequited love--what could be more delightful? It's a great read!” Joan Rivers, author of Men Are Stupid...And They Like Big Boobs
“Following Polly is a delicious debut novel. Murder most foul is most fun, and Alice Teakle is so clever and quirky a protagonist--or is she a perp?--that you won't be able to stop reading. Bergreen is a wonderful new voice in the mystery world.” Linda Fairstein, author of Hell Gate
“It's like Comedy Central picked up Law & Order for an episode...combines edgy thrills with a wicked sense of humor and an endearing heart of gold.” Publishers Weekly
“A laugh-out-loud page turner.” Huffington Post
“Part cozy mystery, part romance, and all parts outrageously funny.” Las Vegas Review
“Following Polly is a murderous romp featuring a clever and gently unhinged protagonist. Author Karen Bergreen, a professional comedian, exercises her comedic skill in creating New Yorker Alice Teakle, a perpetually underemployed (now unemployed), Harvard grad. Alice harbors unresolved resentment toward her former dorm-mate, Polly Linley Dawson, who has developed a wildly lucrative career as an entrepreneur in the fashion industry. With time on her hands, Alice takes on the bizarre task of stalking Polly and discovers the usual sexual indiscretions; however, nothing too dramatic occursuntil Polly is murdered, and Alice is named the prime suspect. Alice goes on the lam and seeks to identify the actual murderer. Along the way, she develops an unusual relationship with Charlie, the object of her college fantasies. Despite the screwball nature of this mystery, it works, and memorably so.
Moreover, one of Bergreen’s major strengths as a writer is her ability to create witty repartee. The quick, ever-sarcastic Alice is highly entertaining. Also, Alice has an uncanny ability to navigate various strata of society, from the extraordinarily wealthy to the homeless. Her incredible resourcefulness and ready wit are guaranteed to entertain.” Mystery Scene magazine
- St. Martin's Press
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- First Edition
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Read an Excerpt
By Karen Bergreen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Karen Bergreen
All rights reserved.
I started following Polly Dawson two hours after I was fired from Mona Hawkins Casting, Inc. I know that this isn't a good thing to do. Phrases like "compulsive voyeur" and "invasion of privacy" come to mind. It's not the first time I've done this, but it is the first time in almost twenty years, and I wasn't that proud of it then.
The fact that I don't want to stop seems to be yet another signal that I should.
But I can't. Besides, Polly Dawson is a loathsome human being.
Why did Mona fire me? It wasn't incompetence. Even she admitted that I showed incredible promise in casting. Though even my growth called for fear tactics. "Don't even think of going to work for Farron Moore." (Her only real competition in the New York City casting world.) "I'll ruin you."
While I didn't dump Mona for one of her competitors, I was — in Mona's eyes — disloyal. She had been casting Only at Sunrise, next year's sure-to-be mega-blockbuster. The director extraordinaire, Humphrey Dawson, had been on her to cast the sultry Jenna McNair as Kate, the leading lady. But Jenna didn't do movies, only films. Her agent insisted that she was allergic to blockbusters — even if they were directed by Humphrey Dawson. Humphrey offered her really big money.
"Not gonna work, Humpy." Mona had a nickname for all of the men in her life. "Jenna McNair isn't about money. Let me handle this one."
So, Mona held general "auditions" for the female lead at our hip town-house offices on Twenty-first and Sixth. We had four or five rounds of callbacks, narrowing the list for female lead each time. Mona was very hard on each of the actresses. As usual, she disregarded Screen Actors Guild rules restricting waiting time and made them sit in the cramped, airless anteroom for hours. No one dared report her.
"You do know that the role of Kate is meant to be played by a pretty, thin actress?" she asked several insecure auditioners.
They all read extremely well under the circumstances, though most left in tears. After six read-throughs and a staged screen test, Mona finally told the waify, lavender-clad Lissa Purcell that she would be calling her agent at LTA to offer her the part.
But Mona didn't call anybody at LTA. She never intended to. She'd been reporting to the press about the emergence of an "unknown," knowing that the faux casting of Lissa would be the perfect remedy for Jenna McNair's "reluctance." Jenna and her agent had an eighteen-minute conference call with Humphrey and Mona. They sealed the deal. Jenna would be playing Kate.
No one called Lissa. She found out that the part was no longer hers from an item in Tell Me magazine. Furious and hurt, she showed up at Mona's town house and asked what had happened.
"I just don't get it," she sobbed. Her butterfly choker was bobbing up and down. It looked as if it were flying.
"You were really close," I reminded Lissa.
"I don't have the stomach for this. I thought they liked me." She cried even harder, her lips pursing in a way that would have done the role of Kate proud.
In retrospect, I should have given her a hug. Instead, it all came pouring out so fast I can't even remember exactly what I said. I might have disclosed that she was used, manipulated, taken advantage of, and that her being offered the role and then Jenna's being offered the role was premeditated and no reflection on her acting ability.
"Keep going," I advised her. "It'll happen for you."
Lissa was heartened by our little discussion.
Mona wasn't. She had hung on my every word as she listened with her ear pressed against the wall. She stormed out of her office. Lissa saw Mona and ran away. I was terminated immediately.
I loved my job and I didn't want to leave. At least not yet. I was content moving up Mona's casting ladder. When I started there, my responsibilities were limited to ordering lunch. Three years later, I was placing all of the day players in NBC's hottest sitcom, Slip 'n' Fall, featuring the professional and romantic hijinks of an accessibly handsome personal injury lawyer.
But no more. Tears welled in my eyes, but I willed them to stay there as I held on to a semblance of dignity. I wish I could say the same for my ex-boss. As Mona was criticizing my ethics, fashion sense, and desk design, she kicked a garbage can and stubbed her toe. She blamed me for that, too.
Now I'm left with a lot of time. On the one hand, this holds a certain appeal. I can pursue all of those things I've really wanted to do all of these years.
On the other hand, there isn't anything I've really wanted to do. I've never even had a real hobby, unless you count watching television. I love, love, love television. My best friend, Jean, a partner at Lowry, White & Marcus, says I watch it to escape. Maybe she's right. But what's wrong with that? A well-scripted drama-filled life is much more fun and fascinating than my own real one.
Jean is always amazed at how accurately I can predict the plot of any TV show. The truth is, I have a weird memory. Once I see something, it never leaves. Show me the first two minutes of any episode of Law & Order, and I can spout off the identity of the killer. Jean always tells me I'd be a good detective if the casting thing doesn't work out. I think I could have been the Internet, if only someone hadn't invented the computer.
Right after Mona fired me, I ran out of her plush Chelsea office town house for the last time. I felt empty. I had no love life. And now I had no career. Mona, the most powerful name in East Coast casting, would make certain that no one would hire me.
I really would have to find something to do. I took a few deep breaths — something I learned from the entire Women-Changing-the-Course-of-Their-Lives Lifetime movie genre — and decided I would change the course of mine.
I went to Mother's.
I don't know if going to Mother's was the perfect response to my crisis. She has been so relieved that I am in a job that I finally like.
Mother's an actress, not a big star or anything, but someone you might recognize if you see her. She works mostly in the theater but has also been on a lot of the soap operas and every other show that films in New York. She usually plays the vulnerable but stalwart matriarch who is faced with overcoming tragedy.
She had been so pleased with my progress at Mona's. She had gotten me the job. Before that, I had worked as a paralegal and at a nonprofit. I was disgruntled as a paralegal and my nonprofit was nonfun.
I got off the elevator at the sixth floor of their sumptuous Fifth Avenue apartment building and let myself in.
"Hello, Alice." Barnes was there as usual, his moccasined feet resting on the claw foot of his precious rolltop desk. "Your mother is rehearsing in the next room."
"Hi there, Barnes." I gave him a perfunctory kiss on his alarmingly smooth cheek. I could tell he was pleased to inform me that Mother wasn't available. He delights in limiting my access to her.
Barnes is my stepfather.
"I'll wait," I told him.
I took off my coat and plunked myself on Mother's bumpy old crimson and gold silk sofa in their study. Mother is in an off-Broadway play, written, directed, and produced by a playwright friend of hers. They were using Mother's spacious velvet dining room for rehearsal space. Barnes was reviewing the Wine Enthusiast at the desk and was happy to continue with his reading while I stared up at myself in their scalloped, mirrored ceiling medallion.
After forty minutes, Mother finally walked in. Her blond hair, in a ponytail, looked as if she had it in rollers all morning. She was wearing drawstring ivory pants and a brown cashmere cardigan. She had no makeup on, and her face was glowing. She looked fourteen.
"Mona fired me." I forgot to plan a speech.
"What did you do?" Barnes asked, demonstrating his confidence in me.
"What will you do?" Mother came in quickly.
"I don't know. I never really thought about this possibility," I said to her truthfully. "On the bright side, I've saved some money, so I can support myself financially for at least six months or so. But I just don't understand. I was doing so well."
"Obviously, not that well," Barnes interjected.
I watched Mother, hoping she, for once, would chastise her husband, but she ignored his comment and looked at me.
"Do you have a plan?" Barnes looked at me, as if he were waiting for the PowerPoint presentation detailing my five-year career forecast.
"I thought I'd lie in bed with my television remote in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other."
Barnes's eyebrows were moving at warp speed, so desperate was he to add his two cents.
Finally, he asked, "How do you see yourself at thirty-three?"
"A year older than I am now," I answered.
"Alice, did you have to be so flip?" Mother asked.
"You're right." Truth is, I didn't know what to do, and flip usually helps me out in those kinds of situations. "I felt attacked."
"Barnes is just concerned, sweetheart. He wants to help you." Mother so longed to believe what she was saying.
"I guess his help isn't the kind I can use right now."
"Maybe it's not." Mother finally hugged me. "You know Barnes. He sees a problem, he wants to fix it."
And Barnes likes to keep me working so that he can have Mother all to himself. I let it go.
"I know, but it's more complicated than that," I said.
"Maybe Barnes and I are too close to you. Maybe it is too complicated. Why don't you see someone professional? This may be a good time to assess where you are in your life."
Here's where I am: I'm alone and jobless.
"You mean, like a shrink?" I asked.
"Whatever you want to call it."
"Shrinks are for people who have employers who will pay for their health insurance," I reminded her.
"I'll pay for it," Mother told me.
"Thanks. I'll think about it. I have to go now." I gave Mother a quick kiss, pretended to wave down her long hall in Barnes's general direction, and ran out the door.
Before there was Barnes, there was my father. He was a very nice man. Mother and Dad met at Northwestern University. Mother was a theater major. As a pretty, blond freshman, she was cast in two experimental theater productions. The first was an account of the sinking of the Lusitania done in mime, and the second was a science-fiction piece about mind control, where she was cast as Woman Number Two.
When she was a senior, Mother was accepted into Company, a seminar offered by Northwestern's most popular professor. That professor was none other than my father, the athletic, dark-haired, hazel-eyed, albeit disheveled Austin Teakle. All of the students were assigned a position in the fictional Company and each week Austin would present the team with a goal or a problem it had to solve. Mother, having selected this course for its popularity and having no interest in running a business, was chosen to be the team's chief operating officer. Terrified by the prospect of such responsibility, she sought Dad's advice.
She said something like this: "I'm not cut out to be the COO. I'm really an actress. Maybe you should demote me."
To which he responded something like this:
He knew her name. She was stunning. She had blond hair, light brown eyes, and fantastic legs. I'm sure he tried not to notice.
"The point of this seminar is to teach so-called nonexecutive types to have the confidence to make major financial decisions."
"I understand, Professor —"
Forgive me if I don't have the dialogue right. It has been thirty-five years since they had this conversation, and I wasn't there.
"I'm really at Northwestern to act, and I feel that it would be unfair of me to take this job from an aspiring mogul."
I know for sure that this is the part when Dad gave Mother a huge smile. I know because he always smiled at her that way.
He smiled at me that way, too.
"Maybe we can make a mogul of you yet. Why don't I take you to lunch and we can work on your business future."
Dad's rugged good looks were not lost on her, either.
They went to lunch at the faculty dining room, and even though Mother and Dad were obviously attracted to each other, they were perfectly appropriate. He was her teacher, after all. In a climate where many of his colleagues were enjoying the perks of their institutional allure, Dad preferred to keep things professional. The two went to lunch every two weeks or so, always with the intention of discussing competing business methodologies, but instead talking about this and that.
Mother graduated in May but stayed in Chicago to star in the original play Taken. Two weeks after graduation, Dad "accidentally" ran into her in the Drama bookstore. This time, he asked her to dinner. I don't know all the details of their date but I'm pretty positive that the evening ended up in somebody's bed.
The timing could not have been more perfect. Dad was leaving the university that spring. He had a business idea, a design for a series of cleaning brushes. He was moving to New York City. Mother would go with him, of course. They were completely and totally in love.
They got married, and soon Dad's brush business was making millions of dollars. Then, as if their life wasn't perfect enough, Mother gave birth to a fantastic little boy, my brother, Paul, and two years later, they had a cute, charming baby girl: Alice. Me.
Paul was the serious one. With his thick, unruly coffee-colored hair and inset eyes he was the spitting image of Dad. With the same personality to match. He ran a lemonade stand on Eighty-third and Madison Avenue that actually made a lot of money.
"If I charge a lot, the people will think they're getting a superior product," Paul informed Mother, as he stirred the A&P-brand lemonade mix into the tap water.
While there was a vague family resemblance, I didn't really look like either of my parents. As far as my hair was concerned, I didn't have the shiny blond of my mother or the rich brown of my father. It was decidedly mousy. Mother called it chestnut. And, whereas Paul had the physique of a young swimmer, I looked like an overcooked noodle.
I was a mix of my parents. Personality wise, like Dad, I loved school. Like Mother, I was something of a performer, but I didn't have Mother's flair for drama. Instead I chose to be a ham. When I was three, my teachers told my parents that I had a gift for humor. I played elaborate pranks on all of the authority figures, often informing teachers beforehand to try to enlist their participation in a joke. One Sunday night in first grade, after viewing Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap, I called Mrs. Schoettle to inform her that I would be attending school as my long-lost twin from France. I borrowed one of Mother's wigs, a curly shorthaired number, and fooled the whole class. Mrs. Schoettle, irritated as she was, went along with the gag.
Our lives were perfect. That is, until December 31, 1985. Dad and Paul, then ten years old, went for a "men's" snowshoe trip in Canada. Their plane took off from Killarney, Ontario, and crashed into Lake Huron in Michigan. All seven passengers and the pilot were killed.
Mother's reaction to the plane crash was simple: She took to her bed. Gorgeous and near death herself, she was a real-life sleeping beauty. The plane crash was her prick from the spinning wheel. From then on, she cared for me in a somnambulant haze, and did — under the circumstances — a decent job. I wasn't undernourished. I never missed school or doctors' appointments. I just missed Mother.
It wasn't that Mother didn't love me. I know that now and I knew it then. But my presence only reminded her of her dead son and her dead husband.
As Mother retreated from me, I retreated from home, choosing instead to reside, for the most part, with my close friends, Stephanie, Pauline, and Daphne. Their parents were especially welcoming after learning of my bad fortune. They all had plenty of room and were happy to add an extra plate at the dinner table and carve out some space for me to sleep, study, and store my clothes.
Although Stephanie had the nicest home, a town house near school with an entire floor all to herself, I was partial to staying at Daphne's house, as she had a television in her room and a consistently impressive supply of baked goods in the pantry. Pauline's mom was the closest I had to a parental surrogate. She showed an interest in my academic progress and often picked up a thoughtful gift for me when she was running errands.
Excerpted from Following Polly by Karen Bergreen. Copyright © 2010 Karen Bergreen. 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.
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Meet the Author
KAREN BERGREEN is a stand-up comedian and former lawyer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was a great summer read. I started it while on vacation and finished reading it in the car on the way home. Normally I can only read for a little while in the car, before I either get restless or a headache - but not with this book - I read it right through to the end of the book! Alice has lost her job and is just sort of floating, not really sure where she wants to land, when she sees Polly Dawson. Polly is sort of her long-time nemesis from college - the one who always had everything, perfect looks, perfect clothes, perfect life, etc, so she decides to follow her. Before she knows it, it has become an everyday obsession. She probably knows more about where Polly goes than even her husband! And Polly never notices her. Unfortunately, it seems someone else has and she becomes framed for Polly's murder. Alice goes into hiding, sort of. She camps outside of her college crush's apartment (he is/was a lawyer). He eventually confronts her, not remembering her from college, and for some reason believes her story and takes her in. He has his own ulterior motives for helping her. There are a couple of mysteries happening - first off is the obvious - who killed Polly and framed Alice - and the second is what's up with Charlie's father and will Alice be able to help Charlie find out the truth? There is alot of humor in this story. It is kind of a dry humor in face of the dire situation that Alice is facing. I especially liked this part - Alice has asked that Charlie get in touch with her best friend, Jean, to let her know that she is okay. "Hi, Jean. I don't know if you remember me. My name is Walter Redwin. We went to Harvard Law School together." Jean pauses for a second. I know that she's dying to get in touch with me to tell me that my Charlie called her. This is where Charlie's part gets tricky. "You may know me as Charlie." Now, I know you may be wondering how I managed to get Charlie to identify himself by his crush-name. "Just introduce yourself to her on the phone," I instructed him casually just minutes ago. "And then tell her that she may know you as Charlie." "Why Charlie?" "Oh, it's this thing with me and Jean." "What kind of thing?" A thing where I made up a name for you when I decided to become obsessed with you. "I promise I will tell you the second I get out of trouble." Curiosity is a great motivator. (p148-149, Following Polly) Now maybe you need to read more of the story to appreciate it, but Alice's character is definitely quirky. But it is a good quirky. During the story you get to see her grow and to embrace who she really is. There are a couple of twists at the end, but one I definitely did not see coming. The book wrapped up nicely. I will definitely be watching for another book by Karen Bergreen.
Karen Bergreen's first novel, Following Polly, is a fun, fun, fun read! The affable main character, Alice Teakle, is like an American Bridgette Jone's - stealthily stumbling from following to stalking to running and beyond - with the best friends a girl could have and her own unique look at life. A quirky chick lit novel with a mystery twist thrown in - highly recommended for passing time in an enjoyable way!
First let me give a shoutout to LibraryThing - this was my very first Early Reviewers win. The cover is...well I guess vibrant is the word that comes to mind. I really wanted to read it based on that alone. Honest, I didn't have a clue what it was about. The story starts with Alice just after she got fired as from her job working with a Casting director Mona Hawkins - who was a horrible human being. She stops to get some comfort food and runs into a woman she knew in college - Polly Dawson. Polly is now married to the Director of the movie Alice was helping Mona cast. Polly doesn't notice Alice, as if she were invisible. Alice starts following Polly, mostly nosy and something to do. Things take a turn when Polly turns up dead and Alice is the #1 suspect. She goes into hiding and starts stalking Charlie, another person she knew from college - this one she had a crush on. Charlie discovers her, invites her into his home and life. He will help her clear her name, and she will help clear his father. There are a couple of mysteries in this book, and they keep you guessing right until the end. The characters are lively and realistic. I love how Karen Begreen describes Charlie's house with the clutter...and that Alice finds it endearing. I also enjoyed Alice's tv habit...finally, not pretending that we don't all watch way too much tv. lol I couldn't put this down, so if you can get a copy to read for yourself. It's in hardcover and e-versions right now, but it will be released in paperback on August 16. Happy reading!
I absolutely loved this novel. It's written with such intelligence, wit and humor. If you walk away from this book without loving Alice Treakle, you probably have no heart. I was rooting for her through every page, even in her weird, stalky days. And Alice and Charlie have got to be one of the cutest couples in a book in a long time. Do yourself a favor and get this book, you won't be sorry.
it started a bit slowly, but i got really involved. it was a great rainy-day read, i really enjoyed the offbeat plot.
Alice is an endearing character, reminiscent of a noncynical Holden Caulfield. She feels much younger than her age, but then we get to see her grow up. I read this book in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. I am looking forward to the next novel by this author.
GREAT STORY! I liked the characters. I liked the way the story was told.
Got this book at dollar store - what a bargain! It is funny and original and a quick read. I highly recommend it!