Heroic Measures

Heroic Measures

by Jill Ciment


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The basis for the major motion picture 5 Flights Up starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman.

New York City is on high alert—a gasoline truck is “stuck” in the Midtown tunnel and the driver has fled. Through panic and gridlock, Alex and Ruth must transport their beloved old dachshund—whose back legs are suddenly paralyzed—to the animal hospital, using a cutting board as a stretcher. But this is also the weekend when Alex and Ruth must sell the apartment in which they have lived for most of their adult lives. Over the course of forty-eight hours, as the mystery of the missing truck driver terrorizes the city and the dachshund’s life hangs in the balance, the bidding war over their apartment becomes a barometer for collective hope and despair. Told in shifting points of view—Alex’s, Ruth’s, and the little dog’s—Heroic Measures is a moving, deft novel about urban anxiety and the love that deepens over years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307386786
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/2010
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 601,124
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Jill Ciment was born in Montreal, Canada. She is the author of the novels Act of GodThe Tattoo Artist, Teeth of the Dog, and The Law of Falling Bodies; a collection of stories, Small Claims; and a memoir, Half a Life.  She has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts, a NEA Japan Fellowship Prize, two New York State Fellowships for the Arts, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Ciment is a professor at the University of Florida.  She lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Heroic Measures

A Novel
By Jill Ciment


Copyright © 2009 Jill Ciment
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780375425226

it is the hour when the light over the sink, a fluorescent meant for washing dishes, suddenly usurps the fire of the dying sun and the kitchen window becomes a mirror, the moment every evening when Ruth realizes that her resolves are made of straw and Alex senses his age as a transitory chill.

Their sun-flooded, eat-in kitchen is prominently featured in the open house listing their realtor, Lily, is running in The New York Times tomorrow. When Lily first appraised their co-op, a five-flight walk-up in the East Village and suggested the asking price of nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, Ruth felt the number bite her, like a needle, and enter her, like an intoxicating drug. As a child of the Depression, the word millionaire still held a magical spell, Fred Astaire dancing in top hat and tails. But the instant they signed Lily’s contract, the headiness vanished. What were they doing selling their home of forty-five years? She didn’t want to leave the city. They never cared about money before. Where would they go? She and Alex, never mind Dorothy, would be lost anywhere but New York.

Ruth looks across the kitchen table at Alex, seventy-eight years old, his white hair thick as a pelt, his white brows and beard stiff as wire, and envisions him mounting the five flights of stairs, the ample cavities of his eyes alive with determination, taking two steps at a time, his weekly test to prove to himself that he can still do it. But how long can he (or she for that matter) keep it up? With nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, surely they can afford an elevator apartment somewhere in Manhattan.

When Alex first heard the asking price, he, too, felt weakened by the pull of the number’s magnetism. His father, an immigrant shoe salesman, idolized millionaires as he had once revered rabbis in the old country, as men close to God. Ruth had initially called Lily just to see what their options were when the stairs became too much for them. But how could they turn down one million dollars? How could he? He had nothing to leave Ruth but his paintings, a legacy that often struck him as more of a burden than an asset. What will she do with all his artwork, fifty years of productivity, the fallout from his compulsion to keep painting no matter what? If she can’t sell the paintings? If she can’t sell the apartment when the time comes? She’ll end up entombed in his work.

As preoccupied as they are with tomorrow’s open house—Ruth has barely touched her chicken dinner, Alex has eaten most of his, but without pleasure or awareness—they still remember to set aside a few choice pieces for Dorothy.

From the doorway, Dorothy watches Ruth pick up Alex’s plate, scrape his contribution into a bowl, add some morsels of her own, and then set the bowl on the tiled floor between their chairs. At twelve, eating is Dorothy’s last great pleasure. Her dachshund face, mostly snout, is now completely white, whiter even than Alex’s. She is missing two canines and three back molars. At her withers she stands eight inches tall, weighs ten pounds, two ounces. She tries to get up, but nothing happens. Her hind legs have turned to ice, burning ice. Without even knowing that she’s doing it, she relieves herself on the tiles. She only knows that she has done so because of the odor; it smells sour and sick. She lets loose a shrill yelp.

Ruth looks in her direction, blinks for a moment or two, as if Dorothy had roused her from a trance. “Dorothy, have you wet yourself?” she asks, crossing the kitchen and bending over her.

Dorothy searches Ruth’s eyes—mapped in wrinkles, putty-gray and magnified to omnipotence by thick glasses—for instructions. Should she stay put, or try to stand up again? What does Ruth think? If something truly bad had happened to her back half, wouldn’t she see it in Ruth’s stare, smell it on Ruth’s skin? Ruth reeks of fear.

“It’s okay, Dottie, we know you didn’t mean to,” Ruth murmurs. “Alex, something’s terribly wrong with Dorothy.”

Alex joins them on the floor, slips his hand under her belly, another under her chest. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he says, gently lifting her out of her mess. When he sets her down on all fours, she sinks backward again, as if her ice legs had already melted in the fire. She shrieks.

“You’re hurting her,” Ruth says.

“I’m trying to find out what’s wrong. She may have something stuck in her paw.” Leaning closer, Alex examines her back feet. All she can feel, though, is smoldering numbness. “Walk away, Ruth. Pretend you’re leaving. Open the door and call her.”

“You think it’s something in her paw? Dot can be such a little Sarah Bernhardt when she wants to be.” Ruth unlocks the front door, holds up Dorothy’s leash and collar, and waves them enthusiastically. “You want to go for a walk? Come on, Dottie, we’ll go to the falafel stand.”

Dorothy hears her tags rattling for her, but all she can manage is to scoot herself forward, an inch at a time.

“I’m calling the vet,” Ruth says. Still holding the leash and collar, she hurries back into the kitchen. Dorothy fears she’s coming back to yoke her to that lead, but Ruth steps over her and reaches for the phone.

“It’s past six, no one will be there,” Alex says. “Let’s just go straight to the animal hospital.”

Ruth puts down the phone.

“It may be nothing. Remember last year? Dot acted as if she was dying. Seven hundred dollars later we found out she had gas.”

“Should we wait to see if she’s better in the morning?” Ruth asks.

“I don’t think we should wait.”

“Is it safe to move her? Should I get her pillow?”

“It’s too soft. She’ll need more support.”

“It’s her back, isn’t it?”

Alex looks around the kitchen and picks up the cutting board, while Ruth disappears into the bedroom and returns with Dorothy’s tartan blanket and a couple of overcoats. Ruth swaddles Dorothy in the warm wool, while Alex helps her onto the board. Suddenly, whiffs of cheese, cow blood, chicken blood, bacon grease, parsley, peanut butter, and garlic permeate Dorothy’s nostrils, but for once the smells bring her no pleasure.

Slipping their fingers under the board, Alex and Ruth lift her into the air and ferry her out the front door down the hallway. At the precipice of the staircase, Dorothy begins to shake. Even under the best of circumstances, riding safely in Ruth’s big purse or securely buttoned in Alex’s overcoat, she fears the yawning, spiraling stairwell.

“How are we ever going to do this? I hate these stairs,” Ruth says.

“You hold her, I’ll hold the board under her,” Alex says.

Ruth squeezes her with choking compassion, and the three of them start down the steps, Alex first, backward. Dorothy feels her blood swaying within her as Alex struggles to keep the board level. On the first landing, Ruth tightens her grip ever so slightly around Dorothy’s middle, and the pain rages to life again. Dorothy first becomes aware of it as a color: orange. And a shape: sphere. Then the orange sphere explodes and the fire is no longer under her: Dorothy is inside the fire. She now resides in a conflagration so whole and absolute that it is a world unto itself. Nothing from her former existence matters. Her fear of stairs? Flashes away. Her insatiable appetite? Asphyxiates. Even her being caged in a burning body no longer concerns her. All that concerns Dorothy is the little sac of consciousness at the core of the blaze and what she keeps inside that sac: a carbon-hard nugget of trust that Alex and Ruth will know how to help her.


Excerpted from Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment Copyright © 2009 by Jill Ciment. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Heroic Measures 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Would not recommend. Very boring story line. Can't believe I read the entire book! Don't waste your time. There are much better reads than this one.
KenCady More than 1 year ago
Heroic Measures is a cute story- until it isn't. Which is to say that maybe that last $10,000 could have been left out as it showed how tedious the story was becoming at the end. And it's not that long of a novel! Those who complain about e-book pricing might wonder why a slim paperback cost a list price of $14.00.
SiobhanMFallon More than 1 year ago
Jill Ciment manages to take a simple tale of an elderly couple and their beloved dog, pit it against a sensational news story of a terrorist hiding out in Manhattan, and somehow the reader cares as much (if not more) about the dachshund than the potential terrorist attack. With subtle statements about everything from the media to fidelity, this small novel reads like a thriller but stays in the mind like the Chekhov stories one of the protagonists reads each night before bed. Beautifully written, witty, scathing- I couldn't put Heroic Measures down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt this book was an excellent read. If you love dogs as I do, then this is the book for you.
donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
What a compelling little story of a family... an elderly husband, wife, and their little "wiener dog", Dorothy. I loved the angle at which it was written, from all of their points of view, including Dorothy! It is full of love, naturally, as Dorothy has to be rushed to the hospital, in the midst of a gasoline tanker left in the Midtown Tunnel. Another terrorist attack? It holds the city in its grip, while Alex and Ruth are worried about not only the sale of thier apartment, but getting to Dorothy, battling the gridlock. Moving!
Kay_Fair More than 1 year ago
Heroic Measures, by Jill Ciment is one of those novels that writers love. It reminds us what a true artist of the craft can do in taking a seemingly trivial and peripheral story and somehow make us care. The story centers around an elderly couple in New York City, attempting to sell their apartment amidst the personal crisis of their dachshund's pending surgery, as well as the city-wide crisis of a possible terrorist attack in the Midtown Tunnel. By all logic, this novel should have been dry and spiritless and left the reader feeling completely unsatisfied with its somewhat abrupt ending. However, Jill Ciment makes us care. She makes us involved and invested in this peak into the life of a couple which spans a mere weekend. (Complete review available at www.whatrefuge.blogspot.com)
NanaNN More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book! The story was so well done and beautifully written. I could feel the pain of Ruth and Alex as they coped with the illness of their beloved dog and with the stress of relocating their lives in their senior years. The underlying plot of possible terrorism added to the relevance of our modern day. This is a book I have already recommended as a GREAT READ!
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dorothy the Dachshund, aka Dottie, is the aging and beloved companion of Alex and Ruth.Life reaches a crisis on the day that they schedule an open house for their New York walk-up apartment, a terrorist wrecks a (bomb laden?) truck in a nearby tunnel, and Dorothy's back goes out.Ciment is a master of human (and canine) understanding; Alex, Ruth, and Dottie face adversity and triumph, much to this reader's delight.
ccayne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love Jill Ciment. She creates a picture right from start and gradually expands upon it. Here, septugenarians Alex and Ruth realize that the time has come to give up their East Village walk up and move to a building with an elevator. On the night before the open house, the beloved dachshund, Dorothy, collapses in the kitchen. At the same time, their is panic in the Midtown tunnel where a gas tanker has been abandoned. They rush the dog to the hospital, fighting the chaos in NYC and return to face the unknowns of selling their apartment and finding a new place to go. Ciment hones in details that bring characters to life, such as Ruth's glasses and dress. Alex' latest creations - illuminating their FBI file and the Dorothy's observations about being in the dog hospital. Another recurring character was the women in tall boots who appeared at all the open houses. The weakest part was the end - it just happened.
BookBully on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended for folks who enjoy Anne Tyler and books along the line of "Rules for Old Men Waiting." Ciment takes a single weekend in the lives of her long-married couple and turns it into a small feast. She is especially adept at writing about the patterns of life within a decades long marriage and the often times nonsensical way we care for our ancient but much-loved pets.This book can be read in a single day but will take much longer than that to forget.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful short novel about an elderly couple and the old dachshund they love. Other reviewers have described the storyline, so I'll just say the story drew me in within a page, and I felt I knew all the characters (including Dorothy, the dog) immediately. Even the secondary characters, such as the neighborhood falafel stand owner, were familiar from just a few words and thoughts. This is a writer to watch, and I'm off to see if I can find a copy of her Tattoo Artist.
lynndp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a short book but the 8 reviews written earlier suggest that it packs a lot into these few pages. And that there are many themes to reflect upon: the challenging but rewarding life in New York city for all and for the elderly, the impact of 9-11, aging, the life long romance of a couple, the love between humans and dogs from both points of view, and the impact of money upon personal ethics.I picked this book up thinking that it might be a dog-centric novel that I could give to my dog-loving friends. The reviews on the back cover quickly disabused me of this notion: "A highly original suspense novel...a heart-seizing narrative...Breathtaking - not a word is out of place." - San Francisco Chronicle; "Elegant, powerful, and, ultimately, tragic...Stunning." - Newsday. This last note, "tragic", left me expecting death of the dog or the couple or their failure to sell their fifth story walk up apartment which would soon be too much for them to handle at their age. I don't want to spoil the story but I will say that neither the dog Dorothy nor the couple die. And that I am still thinking over the word "tragic" in the Newsday review. Not a light-hearted, this book is thought-provoking, filled with love and with at least a dozen well-drawn characterizations. I will be looking at Jill Ciment's other books.
Donura1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this compassionate read about life in New York for seniors and the animals they love. Ms. Ciment's technique of alternate chapters from the point of view of the couple Ruth and Alex, and their dog, Dorothy which creates the connection between owner and pet. I also appreciate her realistic portrayal of seniors and their needs and desires. Not all seniors are bumbling or senile, and it is important to remind the rest of world of that point as often as necessary so that seniors can be given the respect they deserve. I read this book in a PDF format as it was offered for a brief time on Oprah.com. It was extremely easy to read. I am not sure if it was font or size of font but it made for a quick, fast read.
BeckyJG on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On the eve of the open house to sell the five floor walk up in the East Village in which they've lived for 45 years, elderly couple Alex and Ruth Cohen discover that their beloved, and equally elderly, dachshund Dorothy's back legs are paralyzed. As they begin the trip 50 blocks uptown to the emergency veterinary hospital they learn that the city is also paralyzed, by a possible terrorist threat: a truck driver has intentionally jack-knifed his tractor trailer full of gasoline in the Midtown Tunnel and is nowhere to be found.Alex and Ruth consider and reject bids, they bid on a new apartment themselves, they worry desperately about their baby, they remember their beginnings and the life they built together, they follow the breaking news, which stretches out over an entire weekend. In under 200 crystalline pages Jill Ciment gives us a lifetime.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very sweet novel about an elderly couple having to seel and move from their apartment and find a new one, all while dealing with their sick old dog. The best parts of the book are when the dog's point of view suddenly appears on the page (a friend of mine who hates dogs said this was her favorite part - that the dog seemed so wise).
kimreadthis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short, well-written tale that takes place over only a few days. When the story is briefly told from the dog's perspective, it is very moving and perceptive (not the usual cutesy animal perspective). An enjoyable read.
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walkingrock More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story. Being a huge dog-lover and having a dachshund that is thoroughly spoiled and attached to me, I could relate with the emotions and actions of the characters.
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