Lottie Gardner, her brother, Cameron, and their childhood friend Elizabeth have all come together in their hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, after years of separation. Lottie is barraged with memories of the past as she packs up her mother's house and witnesses the rekindling of an old romance between Cameron and Elizabeth. When a senseless tragedy intrudes upon them, Lottie is forced to examine the consequences of what she has done for love.
About the Author
Sue Miller is the bestselling author of While I Was Gone, The Distinguished Guest, For Love, Family Pictures, Inventing the Abbotts, and The Good Mother. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Date of Birth:November 29, 1943
Place of Birth:Chicago, Illinois
Education:B.A., Radcliffe College, 1964; M.A.T., Wesleyan U., 1965; Ed.M., Harvard U., 1975; M.A. Boston U., 1980
Read an Excerpt
Down the street, at the unfashionable end of the block, where the houses are suddenly smaller and clustered close together on their narrow rectangular plots, Lottie hears the honking; but she pays no real attention to it. She has opened some of the windows, earlier, when it started to rain again, in order to feed her mood on the steady disconsolate noise, and that's what she's busy listening to. That, and the radio. The jazz station is featuring Billie Holiday with one suicidally masochistic song after another, and Lottie is singing along. She's had too much to drink too, as it happens and she's taken up with one of those mindless tasks that leave you feeling empty-headed while you, are also utterly absorbed, in a kind of pseudo thought: she's hauled all the pieces of kitchen equipment out from her mother's nicked and battered cabinets, all the old dented, unmatched pots and pans and cookie tins and dishes, and she's sitting among them on the worn linoleum, trying to decide which is worth keeping-for herself other brother, Cameron, or the Salvation Army-and which should be thrown away.
She's an odd sight, though there's no one there to look at hera small, slender, middle-aged woman with a mass of curling dark hair just beginning to be peppered with white, sitting on the floor of the shabby kitchen in the. cold fluorescent light of the circular overhead fixture. Her legs and bare feet are sticking straight out from under the very expensive gray satin, night gown her husband gave her as a wedding present. One by one she lifts the worn and obsolete utensils, gazes at each with frowning, drunken concern, and then places it carefully in. what she has concluded is theappropriate pile.
This is part of her job for the summer, assigned to her by Cameron and willingly accepted. They're getting the mother's house ready to sell. Cameron had to put the old woman in a nursing home the winter before. She'd gotten more and more creepy and dotty as she moved into old age, and it was clear he had no choice when she was found for the second time meandering on Mass Ave. wearing only a slip and her frayed pink mules.
At first he and Lottie had agreed to try to hold on to the house for a while; the Mortgage had been paid off years earlier, and there were roomers living in it. Who provided a little income each month. But through the spring, Cameronthe one who lives in Boston, the one who has to do everythinghas found it more trouble than it's worth. Two of the roomers began to complain that the third had a woman living with him now but wasn't paying any more rent. This wasn't fair, and they wanted something done about it. Many urgent messages about this accumulated on Cameron's answering machine. Then the toilet in the second-floor, bathroom sprang a leak. By the time anyone noticed or called Cameron, the ceiling below was stained and, puckered and had to be fixed.
What's more, the nursing home he's found for their mother is expensive, too expensive, really. He called Lottie a few months earlier in Chicago and suggested maybe it was, time to, sell the, house. Prices in Cambridge, even for houses in the kind of shape their mother's is in, have skyrocketed over the past few years, and he told her he thought they, might, get enough for I it so. that, the interest would pay the nursing home fees. By phone Lottie agreed. And: she agreed to come and take charge of clearing their mother's things out over the summer. He could have; asked her to do almost, anything, and she, would have agreed. Lottie hasn't, had much to do with her mother since she was in her mid-twenties, and she's guiltily aware that it's Cameron's inexplicable loyalty to the old woman that has made this possible.
The fact is though, that Lottie could do this particular chore any time. Tomorrow, the next day; the rest of her life. "Love is just like a faucet," she sings with the radio. "It turns off and on." Oh, isn't it true. The reason she's doing it, tonight, sorting through utensils and dishes and drinking and singing is in order to avoid thinking about just that, about the rest of her life. Her, marriage, barely begun, is in trouble. Is over, is what she thinks. "It seems to me we have decided," she says aloud now. And then she sets the rusted eggbeater in the pile of things to be thrown out. She sips from a little jelly jar filled with White wine. She sets it back down on the floor and then listens a moment as the driven rain splashes and drips outside the rusted screensand in the distance, car honks and honks. "It seems to me I have decided," she corrects herself: her head nods in a schoolmarm's exaggerated insistence on precision, her hand rises and rests on her bosom.
She hadn't meant to get drunk. It was the I chance result of her long, odd day At a little after one o'clock, hours before Cameron made, his drive across the city through the rainy dark, she was sitting with her son, Ryan, at the kitchen table, eating the pasta salad she'd fixed them for lunch, when she felt a portion of one of her back teeth-an artificial portion it would turn outgently slide away from the rest of it. This has happened to her sometimes in nightmares, this and hair loss by the handful, and she had an instant sense of mortal foreboding. "Damn it!" she said out loud. She began to shift the food around in her mouth With her tongue selectively and carefully swallowing until she could extract the renegade piece.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You could say this is just another dysfunctional-family story, but the author, Sue Miller, with her extensive character development and seamless writing makes it seem so much more than that. Our narrarator is Lottie Gardener who is struggling in her second marriage and living in Chicago and jumps at the chance to go "home," Cambridge, MA, and help her brother fix up their mother's home and put it on the market. Going back to Cambridge, of course, brings up the past for Lottie and allows her to resolve some issues but also opens her eyes about her brother and her childhood friend Elizabeth. Very good and satisfying read.