Home-care nurse Emily Klein can’t get out of her new assignment – weekly prenatal visits to Pippa Glenning, a young Isis cult member under house arrest for the death of her daughter during a Solstice ceremony. But she takes her work seriously and plays by the rules, so Emily is determined to take good care of her high-profile and unconventional patient.
With two other cult members in prison, Pippa Glenning struggles to keep the household intact. If she follows the rules of her house arrest, she may be allowed to keep her baby; but as the pregnant woman in the family it’s her duty to dance for Isis at the upcoming winter Solstice ceremony. To escape the house arrest without being caught, Pippa needs Emily’s help.
Despite their differences, Emily and Pippa’s friendship grows. Returning to Maine for her grandfather’s funeral, Emily begins to grapple with her parents’ activism a generation earlier and her father’s death in prison. Back home, as the Solstice and the trial approach, anti-cult and racist sentiment in the city escalates. Emily and Pippa must each make decisions about their conflicting responsibilities to their families and to each other – decisions that put their lives, and Pippa’s unborn baby – in jeopardy.
|Publisher:||Red Hen Press|
|Edition description:||2nd Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
A literary late bloomer, Ellen Meeropol began writing fiction in her fifties when she was working as a nurse practitioner in a pediatric hospital. Since leaving her nursing practice in 2005, Ellen has worked as the publicist and book group coordinator for an independent bookstore and taught fiction workshops. She is a founding member of the Rosenberg Fund for Children and author of the script for their dramatic program “Celebrate,” which has been produced in four cities, most recently in 2007 starring Eve Ensler, David Strathairn and Angela Davis. Drawing material from her twin passions of medical ethics and political activism, her fiction explores characters at the intersection of political turmoil and family life.
Ellen holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories have appeared in Bridges, Portland Magazine, Pedestal, Patchwork Journal, and The Women’s Times. House Arrest is her first novel. She lives in Western Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
House Arresta novel
By Ellen Meeropol
Red Hen PressCopyright © 2011 Ellen Meeropol
All right reserved.
I tried to get out of the assignment. Prenatal visits to a prisoner? Okay, house arrest, same difference. I couldn't believe that I was supposed to take care of a woman whose child died in a cult ritual. What kind of mother could get so involved in an oddball religion that she'd let her baby freeze to death? And what kind of name was Pippa?
Don't get me wrong. Every patient deserves expert and compassionate care. Even the most despicable criminal. I learned that in nursing school and I believe it, really. Still, this assignment gave me the creeps.
Driving to her house that mid-November morning, I knew precious little about Pippa Glenning or her cult. Just that she was under house arrest, which is why I had to visit her every week for routine prenatal monitoring. I knew that her daughter and another kid had died during a religious ceremony in Forest Park last December, their bodies discovered months later. I hadn't paid much attention to the hype of the newspaper articles, but I remembered the headlines: the Frozen Babies Case.
From the assignment sheet, I knew she was twenty-one. Not awfully young to have a baby. A second baby, I reminded myself. No medical records. That did not bode well. Neither did the scrawled sentence in the space for primary care provider: We don't believe in your medicine. Under Religion was written Family of Isis. Ditto for Household Composition: Family of Isis.
Okay, so Ms. Glenning lived in a cult. Nurses meet lots of oddballs. How different could a cult be from a commune? I'd had patients in communal households before. It always gave me a twinge, because my parents lived in a commune in Ann Arbor before I was born, and that ended badly. And some people thought my own living situation was weird; I shared the bottom half of a duplex a few blocks away with my cousin Anna and her disabled daughter, and Anna's ex-husband Sam lived upstairs.
I am good at this work, I reminded myself as I turned onto the block where the Family of Isis lived. Pioneer Street was new to me. Crowded with triple-decker houses, it sat on the boundary line of the historic Forest Park neighborhood, far removed from the elegant homes along the park and from the duplexes like Anna's, neatly painted to emulate the park-side style. Pioneer Street didn't even try. Pippa Glenning's house was an anomaly, set back from the cracked sidewalk with a single front door. No rusty bikes chained to the downspout at the corner of the house. No broken flowerpots on the stoop or piled scrap lumber from an unfinished porch repair. No tire swing dangling from the low branch of the single oak in the front yard. How many people lived inside and why didn't their lives spill out into the yard the way their neighbors' did? Didn't their children have bikes or red wagons? I parked, took my supplies from the trunk, and rang the doorbell.
I am always excited on the first visit. I think I'm at my best with my patients. And I'm curious. Okay, nosy. I like seeing how regular people live. But I already knew that Pippa Glenning wasn't regular. I rang the doorbell again and listened to the silence.
The young woman who opened the heavy front door was short and round. Stocky, but not fat, not at all. Spiky yellow hair framed a circular face like the crayoned rays around a child's drawing of a sun. Her eyeglasses were shaped like a pair of wings, set with sparkles. Eyes such a dark blue they were almost black, with puffiness around them. Losing sleep?
"You from the nursing agency?" Her voice had a trace of a southern accent. Her mouth was round, just like her body. I might have called it generous, except that it didn't smile. She held her head to the side in the same graceful tilt as the orange cat at her feet. I felt tall and gawky.
"Yes," I said. "I'm Emily Klein."
"Well, I'm Pippa. Come on in." She turned away into the dim hallway.
My heart hammered. This is just another patient, part of the job, I reminded myself. I took a slow breath, bumped my rolling backpack over the threshold step, and entered Pippa Glenning's home. I followed her through the dining room, past the commune-sized table covered with a relief map of Massachusetts. Fresh green paint glistened on the Berkshires. My father helped me make a map like that in third grade. Would I ever have a child, to help make paper maché projects for school? Anyway, in a few years Zoe would have assignments like that, and I knew my cousin Anna would let me help.
So there must be kids living here. School-age kids. I hoped the Department of Social Services was keeping a close eye, given what happened to their little brother and sister, or whatever relation those poor babies were.
"How many children live here?" I asked Pippa.
"Two." She kept walking. "We can talk in the living room."
Our footsteps echoed on the wood floor. The kids must be in school. I thought about the other adults, tried to imagine cult members working nine-to-five jobs.
At the arched entrance to the living room, I forgot my musings about relief maps and cult employment. The painting stretched eight, ten feet long, covering the entire wall over the fireplace. The artist had applied thick pigment liberally so the intense color exploded from the canvas. The half-woman, half-bird creature watched me, an expression of suspicion on her exotic features. Her massive wings were outstretched. She nursed a baby against one breast and embraced a large black cat against the other.
"Isis," Pippa said.
I might have imagined the mockery in her tone.
Pippa sat on the sofa and pointed to an easy chair. "Have a seat."
I thought about asking if we could talk in the kitchen, away from this painting, but that would give voice to my discomfort. My job was to accept all my patients as they were, with respect. No matter what my personal feelings were about New Age Goddess-worship or oddball households. No matter how I felt about people who let their children freeze to death in the snow, and then got pregnant again when other people had no children at all, I would do my professional best to help Pippa Glenning have a healthy pregnancy and a strong baby. So I sat down on the edge of the chair, angled my back towards the painting, and took my laptop from the backpack.
Other than the painting, the living room was ordinary. The furniture was mismatched, like bargains from second-hand shops, except for the pair of button-back chairs upholstered in mustard yellow brocade and facing each other in front of the bay windows. On one chair, a sleek black cat slept curled up in bands of sunlight sliced by the Venetian blinds. The orange cat jumped onto the other one and began purring, harsh and sputtering like a tractor.
"Are those chairs Victorian?" I asked.
"They could be valuable, if there's a manufacturer's mark on the bottom. Somebody and Sons." My Aunt Ruth said that symbol made her button-back chair her nest egg for old age. But Aunt Ruth would never have allowed cats on her nest egg. "Check under the seat sometime." I let my voice trail off into silence. Why was I babbling about antique chairs?
Pippa poured from a round-bellied clay teapot. "It's red raspberry leaf tea."
I might have frowned, because Pippa put her cup down, sip untaken.
"Thank you," I said quickly.
"We make it ourselves. It's a favorite at the Tea Room," Pippa said. "It's good for pregnancy, to tone the womb and prevent miscarriage."
I bit my lip. Raspberry tea was fine in the last few weeks of pregnancy to prepare the uterus for labor, but this early it could trigger a miscarriage. Once Pippa trusted me, we would talk about herbal teas, but now she probably wouldn't listen.
"Tea Room?" I asked.
"Our family business, the House of Isis Tea Room at the X. Homegrown organic teas served in hand-thrown teapots and cups. Fresh baked cookies, too."
I had driven by that oddly painted storefront a dozen times, barely noticing. I'd have to pay more attention, but now there was a lot to cover. I took two paper towels from my pack and spread them on the coffee table. Put the laptop on one and supplies on the other. Stethoscope. Waterless hand wash. Blood pressure cuff. Urine test strips. Pamphlets on healthy pregnancy.
"Excuse me." Pippa pointed at the table. "But what's that for?"
"What's what for?"
"Paper towels. You think the table will contaminate your stuff? Our house is clean."
"No, no. It's to protect you. So I don't bring germs from another patient into your home." I felt myself flush and hoped it didn't show. Rules are fine, but I despise the paper towel policy. My boss Marge was fierce about it, though. Infection control regulations. Rumor had it that Marge fired a nurse once for not following protocol. I looked at Pippa's round face. "It's a dumb rule. Insulting. I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it," Pippa said with a gracious wave of her hand. "Let's get on with this. Don't you have questions or something?"
While I logged on the computer and opened the Intake file in the Glenning folder, I explained the health interview, blood pressure and weight checks, the urine tests for protein, sugar and bacteria. Then I started the questions. "Marital status?"
"Single." The orange cat deserted the button-back chair and jumped onto Pippa's lap, burrowing into her armpit.
"Your baby's father? How do you pronounce his name?"
"Tee-in." Pippa put the emphasis on the first syllable.
"Tian," I repeated slowly, postponing the next question. "Other children?"
"Abigail died last December. That's why you're here, isn't it?"
I nodded. "I'm sorry. Do you want to tell me about her?"
"No." Pippa stroked the cat's deep fur with both hands.
I looked back at the screen. "Who lives in the household?"
"Who's in your family?" The big house felt empty. If anyone else was home, they were staying out of sight.
Pippa bristled, her spiky hair quivering. "None of your beeswax."
Okay, I could understand her protecting her privacy. I certainly had my own secrets. But I was trying to help.
The black cat stretched, jumped down from his chair. He ignored the fingers I wiggled at him and strutted out of the room. His exit was a snub. Not that I was thrilled with this interview either. I was twelve years older than Pippa, but clearly she was in charge. I needed to draw her out.
"What are your cats' names?" I asked.
"That was Bast, who just left."
"I've never heard that name."
Pippa pointed at the black cat in the painting. "An ancient Egyptian cat-deity."
I smiled. "He's beautiful."
"She. And this is Newark." The orange cat arched as Pippa stroked the curve of his back.
Pippa threw me an odd look. "Like, New Jersey? Tian is from Newark." The orange cat settled again in Pippa's lap, the diesel purr loud.
I rummaged in the backpack, pretending to look for something. Usually I liked the intimacy of visiting patients in their homes. Especially the elderly, who were of-ten lonely and eager to talk. Sometimes Marge assigned me the kids, because once I mentioned I help my cousin Anna at home with her daughter's procedures and therapies. And often I got the women with high-risk pregnancies at home on bed rest, because I worked labor and delivery in Portland before I moved down to Massachusetts. Maybe that's why I got stuck with Pippa.
How could I rescue this interview? I rubbed my index finger along my nose. A nervous habit, Anna says. My nose changes directions halfway down, and there's a bump at the crooked part. I'm sure that's the first thing people notice about me. Sometimes when I feel people staring, I explain that birth forceps squished my nose and that I might go back to school and become a midwife. If I do, I'll never use forceps. I'll bet Pippa's cult doesn't believe in forceps deliveries either.
Any early swelling of pregnancy was hidden by her spring-green jumper, where lush wildflowers grew across the meadow of fabric hanging to her ankles. Something about the serene way she sat, hands resting lightly on the cat, suggested a southern lady. Then I remembered about house arrest and the monitoring device. I tried to sneak a peek at Pippa's feet among the fabric folds.
Pippa stuck her right foot out, lifting her skirt to display a black beeper-sized box strapped snugly to her ankle. "Is this what you're looking for?" Then she grinned and her mouth did look generous for a moment.
"Does it bother you?"
"Not if I wear a sock." Pippa slid her index finger between the rubber strap and the white cotton. "After my shower I get big red welts that itch like crazy. When I put a sock on, the blotches and itching fade away."
"How does it work?"
"The ankle thingy sends electronic signals to that box." Pippa pointed to a black plastic cube on the mantel between a vase of dried cattails and a telephone. It looked more like a video game console than part of a surveillance system. "The box transmits the signals through the telephone line to the police station. All done by computer. If I leave the house without permission, it has a conniption fit and they send in Sherman's army, or whatever you have up here."
"Up here? Where're you from?" Good. She was opening up a little.
"Georgia, a long time ago."
Excerpted from House Arrest by Ellen Meeropol Copyright © 2011 by Ellen Meeropol. Excerpted by permission of Red Hen Press. 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an unusual and surprising read that slowly heats to a boil; by the last third, I was having trouble putting it down! Meeropol's characters are well-drawn and sympathetic; she creates psychological complexity and back-story in precise, elegant strokes, while never losing sight of her plot. Nicely paced and nuanced. A satisfying and thought-provoking story that allows us to examine the ways in which we judge each other and ourselves, and the circumstances under which true compassion can be possible
This truly original and compelling novel is full of courage and complexity. First-time author Ellen Meeropol gives us a diverse cast of sensitive characters with rich, storied lives that are unfurled slowly, almost delicately, as the novel progresses. Emily Klein, an agency nurse in Springfield, Massachusetts, provides care to home-bound patients, who help fill the painful void left by Emily's parents. When the novel opens, Emily has been assigned a new patient, Pippa Glenning, a young runaway from the South in her second pregnancy who is under house arrest, awaiting trial for the tragic and mysterious death of her first baby. Pippa is the youngest member of the House of Isis, a spiritual family group that worships the goddess Isis. Despite their differences, Pippa and Emily reluctantly become friends, and Pippa dares to ask Emily for help. Because she is pregnant, it is Pippa's responsibility to dance in an upcoming ritual - the same ritual during which, one year earlier, Pippa's first child accidentally died. But the house arrest monitor makes Pippa's participation in this midnight ritual impossible. While Pippa is beginning to question the ties of the House of Isis family group, which is breaking down under the strain of the recent tragedy, she is nonetheless dedicated to her goddess, Isis, and determined to dance. Will Emily help Pippa, risking her own job in the process? Meeropol is a skilled, subtle writer. Each of her characters, even minor ones like Gina, Emily's friend and co-worker, and Sam, the ex-husband of Emily's cousin and roommate, is so well-drawn, so human, they come to life vividly on the page. The home-care visits and Emily's interactions with her patients sing with authenticity. Meeropol describes the various settings of the story in a masterful way. From the snowy rhododendron grove where the Isis ritual is held to Emily's bleak childhood home in Maine, rich sensory detail conveys haunting emotions, in language that manages to be both elegant and economical. Political intrigue is woven in delicious bits throughout the story: the mystery of Emily's parents and her estrangement from her family in Maine, why Pippa left her family in Georgia, the prejudice and violence against the House of Isis. But the story is not so much a political thriller as a tale about loneliness, challenging notions of family and friendship and belief. The struggles of Emily and Pippa, and what they mean in the modern world, will stay with you long after the final page.
U mother f*cker ur lying to me
I was intrigued by the topic and I had high expectations for this book...I heard/read many book reviews online that this was a great first novel by Ellen Meeropol. Thus, I convinced my friends to choose this book for my book club. Although we tried, this book just didn't live up to the reviews for me or other book club members. There were so many themes to explore here - cult/religion, race, abandonment - that the author touched on, but just didn't go deep enough. Perhaps there was too much to explore. I would have preferred to delve into less than not do everything presented justice. Oh, and I haven't read a book with a more predictable ending in a while. I did like the way the book was written from the main characters' POV in each chapter but the writing itself wasn't the best, imo.
A very interesting book with great characters. The way the author is able to tie in everyone and make them relate to each other is phenomenal. The book was a easy read and always kept me interested on what was next. Great book and highly recommended.
The intense, complex characters in House Arrest come alive, especially Emily, a visiting nurse, who has loving relationships with her diverse patients and with her cousin's child, Zoe, an elementary school girl suffering from Spina Bifida, The story focuses on moral quandaries of young adults who have suffered from the political actions (left and right) of their parents. These young women attempt to find alternative family relationships when those of their origins have failed them. Especially effective are the alternating voices with which Meeropol frames the story, and the suspense created by the evolving bond between Emily and Pippa, a pregnant member of a religious cult who is under house arrest charged with the death of her daughter during a winter solstice ceremony. Despite their very different political backgrounds, we come to understand Emily's motivation in deciding to help Pippa with an illegal act. I appreciate Meeropol's nonjudgmental stance toward a cult, but I had a hard time emphasizing with Pippa and I couldn't understand why Emily and her friends found her so appealing. Still, this didn't stop me from getting caught up in the book, which I couldn't put down. Meeropol (married to the same man since her college days) describes a number of strong single women creating interdependent lives with friends and extended family rather than with a partner and nuclear family. No one couples in this novel of fulfilling alternative lives. Read House Arrest for pleasure and its personal politics.