Hearts: A Novel

Hearts: A Novel

by Hilma Wolitzer

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Hearts: A Novel by Hilma Wolitzer

Linda and Robin Reismann barely know each other. The only thing that connects them is Linda’s six-week-old marriage to Robin’s father, who has suddenly died.

Widowed at twenty-six, Linda is heading to California to start over, uncertain what the future holds. In the trunk of her car, she carries her husband’s amateur paintings, along with his ashes. Robin, her silent, angry teenage stepdaughter, about to be left with relatives she’s never met, carries a private stash of pot and some closely guarded secrets. But these two women, journeying on a road alongside drifters and dreamers, lovers and liars, will discover something they never expected to find–between them and inside their hearts.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307806888
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/19/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 586,638
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Hilma Wolitzer is the author of several novels, including An Available Man, Summer Reading, The Doctor’s Daughter, Hearts, Ending, and Tunnel of Love, as well as a nonfiction book, The Company of Writers. She is a recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award.  She has taught writing at the University of Iowa, New York University, and Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

In the idealized vision of mapmakers, New Jersey is tinted a delicate pink that has nothing to do with the industrial darkness of its larger cities. Linda Reismann, nee Camisko, drove her husband’s green Maverick from the hospital parking lot in downtown Newark into the gloomy evening landscape. She was a new driver; Wright had taught her with touching patience on the six Sunday afternoons of their marriage, while she sat rigidly upright and held the wheel in an uncompromising grasp, as if it were an enemy who might make a sudden hostile move.
Wright had just died of a massive coronary seizure on the fourth floor of that hospital, shortly after the doctor left the room. “Well, he’s stabilized now,” the doctor said, bouncing a little on his heels. The stethoscope hanging from his pocket danced like a rubber snake. “And I’m really happy with our findings so far. It looks good—all systems go!” He gave a thumbs-up sign and went whistling down the corridor. Wright, who had been nodding and even smiling during the doctor’s pronouncement, nodded again, at Linda, released his weak grip on her hand, and shut his eyes forever.
She was only twenty-six and there had already been three important deaths, with Linda the only one watching: her father’s, her mother’s, and now Wright’s. Maybe it was a kind of divine test, with the miraculous reward of personal immunity. To never have to die or be old! And with a couple of bonuses thrown in: to be as famous in the world as one is to oneself, to be thrillingly in love, and loved back, always.
Wright died in the quiet modest way he’d lived. He collapsed at the surgical-instruments plant where he was an assistant foreman, and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Between fainting spells, he protested about the fuss, saying it was only gas, only some junk he must have eaten, maybe that chicken hash, until they pressed an oxygen mask over his face and he was still.
It was Linda’s day off from the Fred Astaire Dance Studios in Bayonne, and she was at home trying to feel at home when the telephone rang. Wright’s supervisor cautiously played down the seriousness of his call. “Listen,” he said. “It could be anything, right? Or it could be nothing.” A range too wide for her to contemplate. “So don’t worry,” he added, but his voice was as grave as a newscaster’s about to deliver an important bulletin.
The trip to the hospital was the first one she’d ever made alone in heavy traffic. She went very slowly, braking every few hundred yards whether she had to or not, and honking warnings at cars and trucks that approached in the adjacent lanes. The Maverick’s horn made a silly, high-pitched squeal, like the sound of a whoopee cushion. Other drivers honked back, their horns deep and aggressive, and they made profane gestures from behind their rolled-up windows. Was she supposed to return them as part of some unwritten code of the road? But she was afraid that if she removed one hand from the wheel, even for an instant, the car would careen out of control and charge like a guard dog over the divider.
By the time she reached the hospital she was exhausted, and the parking lot was filled. It was right in the middle of visiting hours. Linda finally found one stingy space, recently vacated by a motorcyclist, a space that required parallel parking, her major shortcoming as a driver.
But she did it, with the contemptuous encouragement of two male kitchen workers who came from a side door of the hospital wearing white hats and carrying knives and spatulas. One of them stood directly behind the car, with the daring of a toreador, waving his knife like a sword. One false move on her part and he would probably slash her tires.
“Come on, lady,” he said. “Turn her to the right. To the right, I said! Come on, come on, you have plenty of room, now cut it, cut it! Jesus H. Christ. Now straighten her out …”
She was in perfectly, although she had no memory of the series of motions that put her there. And God only knew how she’d ever get out; the car in front and the one in back were only inches away. But she was manic with success for the moment, and then with terror because she had been summoned to this place.
Upstairs, she found Wright asleep, the only occupant, except for a nurse, of the six-bed unit. The nurse looked at her watch. “Ten minutes only,” she said sternly, as if she had recognized Linda at once as a waster of valuable time.
Wright was hooked up to leave for the moon. She stood in the doorway and stared. What would she say to him when he woke? She kept thinking the word “husband” as if that would give her a clue. But its private meaning eluded her, and was as mysterious and alien as it had been on the day they’d married. Husband? He was someone she barely knew, a dancing partner, an older man with a leftover child from another marriage, and with a sad, submissive heart. She closed her eyes briefly and tried to remember precisely how he looked, and could not.
His illness frightened and embarrassed her. But she hardly ever knew what to say to people, even in ordinary circumstances. This was one of the reasons she had married so impulsively, as if the state of wifehood could mystically bestow instant experience and social ease. Other wives she’d seen, in supermarkets and movie theaters, had it, a smug radiance that demanded the best cuts of meat, that brought butchers and husbands alike to their knees.
Her lack of confidence was also one of the reasons Linda envied actors and actresses. No matter what anyone said about how hard their profession was, all the words were written out plainly for them to say, and how to say them, and where to stand. She’d read recently in a movie magazine that even the kissing, which appears so convincingly spontaneous on the screen, doesn’t just happen. The actors are told exactly where their lips have to meet, so the light will be perfect, and the camera angle. They have to do it over and over, and when their lips become dry and chapped from the effort and the frustration, a makeup artist comes by with a little plant atomizer and sprays them back to moist sensuality.
She tiptoed in and put her purse and sweater on a chair near one of the other beds. Wright’s eyes had opened and they explored the room for her like those tower search beams in movies about prison breaks. He spoke in a disguised voice, hushed and sedated. “Linda?”
If this were a movie instead of her real life, there would have been a director across the room, slouched in one of those canvas chairs they use, who would say, “Go to him now, Linda. Slowly. Sit by his side, with your head tilted this way a little. Ahhh, that’s good, that’s fine. Now take his hand and say, ‘I’m here, sweetheart. It’s all right.’ ” Or something like that. At least she would know what to do. But she was definitely on her own. The nurse, with another significant glance at her watch, had turned her back.
When Wright said Linda’s name again, she dream-walked to imagined instructions. She sat carefully at the edge of the bed so as not to jar him or the fantastic machinery to which he was secured. Without thinking, she looked directly into his face, and it was a known face, despite its astonishing pallor. Comically rugged, like a fist, but kindly. She couldn’t deny knowledge of its sometimes greedy, sometimes apologetic mouth, of the reddish chin bristles that had sprouted since his early-morning shave, and of the brown eyes as gentle and undemanding as a domestic animal’s. And she heard him sigh and breathe deeply, the way he often did in troubled sleep. Husband. She looked across the room again and only her red sweater was there, neatly folded on the molded plastic visitor’s chair. Even the nurse had disappeared into a closet, where she could be heard rustling among supplies.
Lights. Camera. Linda thought of taking Wright’s hand, but before she could he took hers, which looked unnaturally ruddy and durable, and tried to squeeze it. She squeezed back, willing the transfer of some of her own unfair portion of health. Before she could speak, the door swung open and, powered by the excitement of his own optimism, the doctor came into the room.

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