“An emotional journey of love, loss, healing, and redemption. I rooted for every character.” Lisa See, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Snow Flower and The Secret Fan
“I Liked My Life is a treasure of a novel. Warm-hearted and clever, the story will keep you reading until the final delicious revelation.” Diane Chamberlain, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“Warm and hopeful, this marvelous debut stands next to novels from Catherine McKenzie and Carolyn Parkhurst.” Booklist (starred)
"A heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming read about life, death, and family." PopSugar, A Best Winter 2017 Book
“An absolutely stunning book...remarkable.” RT Book Reviews, 4 1/2 stars, Top Pick
A story from debut author Abby Fabiaschi that is "as absorbing as it is illuminating, and as witty as it is heartbreaking."
Maddy is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother, host of excellent parties, giver of thoughtful gifts, and bestower of a searingly perceptive piece of advice or two. She is the cornerstone of her family, a true matriarch...until she commits suicide, leaving her husband Brady and teenage daughter Eve heartbroken and reeling, wondering what happened. How could the exuberant, exacting woman they loved disappear so abruptly, seemingly without reason, from their lives? How they can possibly continue without her? As they sift through details of her last days, trying to understand the woman they thought they knew, Brady and Eve are forced to come to terms with unsettling truths.
Maddy, however, isn’t ready to leave her family forever. Watching from beyond, she tries to find the perfect replacement for herself. Along comes Rory: pretty, caring, and spontaneous, with just the right bit of edge...but who also harbors a tragedy of her own. Will the mystery of Maddy ever come to rest? And can her family make peace with their history and begin to heal?
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I Liked My Life
By Abby Fabiaschi
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Abagail Katherine Wittnebert
All rights reserved.
I found the perfect wife for my husband. She won't be as traditional as I was, which is good. She won't be as intelligent either, but Brady endured twenty years of my unending intelligence. Under my tutelage he learned that kale lowers cholesterol, a little girl wanting to marry her daddy is normal, and no matter how many times you look up at the road, emailing while driving is no safer than drinking and driving. These insights were valuable at the time, but useless given our present circumstance.
It's humbling, really. I spent my life hell-bent on not turning weak like my mother, who let jugs of Gallo wine make most of her decisions, and yet what Brady needs now is someone softer than me. Not fluffy, not gooey — he'd never fall for a ditzy or fickle woman — but not so damn right all the time either. Someone who won't be irritated by the intermittent pauses he takes in the middle of a sentence. A good listener, a sleeper-inner, a nonscorekeeping woman naturally inclined to nurture our daughter Eve.
Recruitment is the least I can do.
I focused on elementary teachers, knowing it takes the unique combination of enthusiasm and patience to choose a profession where you spend most of the day reasoning with six-year-olds. The demoralized state of my family won't be a turn-on to the easily deterred. I was at first disheartened to find almost every teacher accessorized with a wedding ring. It's as though men know how tiresome they are and set out to marry women proficient at putting up with baloney. The available pool was so picked over that the few remaining were bitter about it, but as I readied to move on to nurses, I spotted Rory. She was on bus duty, sporting large, circular sunglasses and rhinestone-studded flip-flops. She somehow managed to look cool at forty, hopefully by not having kids. Brady and Eve have no room for additional baggage; there can be no blending of families in their future. Rory's brown hair was pulled back in a loose braid, every inch of exposed skin covered in freckles. She remained all smiles, even when a shot of snot from a passing boy landed on her skirt.
She's in the grocery store now. I'm taking in particulars to make sure my instinct is correct. You'd think intuitive faculties heighten after death, a sort of cosmic prize for crossing the finish line, but so far they have not. The Last World sits unceremoniously like a movie screen below me. There's no spirit offering guidance. I'm not gracefully soaring above in white satin gleaning insight on the existential questions that once kept me awake at night. People think of ghosts as haunting, but it's the other way around. You all haunt me. My life is now a delicious dessert just out of reach.
Perhaps I'm in purgatory. If I had known I'd cross the finish line in my forties, I might have given formal religion more consideration. Brady's parents were big into it, and there were a couple years during adolescence when my mom dropped Meg and me off at catechism, leveraging the church as a sort of free babysitting. She got the idea at an AA meeting, which I assumed was where one went to learn new places to hide booze, since after she came home from AA she always relocated her stash.
What did that young nun tell us? I strain to recall the details. Evil souls go to hell, pure Catholics go to heaven, and souls destined for heaven but in time-out for reasons that are now a blur go to purgatory. I'm certain she said one couldn't go from purgatory to hell or stay in purgatory forever, because I remember finding it odd there were such defined, well-documented rules. Did someone have a direct line with God and, if so, could we kindly request more willpower for our mother?
I do sense there's more to the spiritual world than my current purview detects but see no path to get there. For me, there's nothing but space and time. That I put myself here makes it that much more agonizing. I won't find peace until I make things right for my family.
It pleases me when Rory selects a beautiful cut of veal. Brady would never fall for a vegetarian. Her choices suggest she's a good cook — pancetta, scallions, artichokes, capers — ingredients you'd avoid if you didn't know what you were doing. My replacement needs to know her way around a kitchen. Growing up, my mother leveraged the same ten ingredients for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our menu recycled like the school cafeteria's. Steak and potatoes from the night before became steak and hash browns for breakfast, steak sandwiches for lunch, and beef stew for dinner. Mayonnaise was duct tape in her kitchen; there was nothing it couldn't fix. Too dry? Spicy? Soupy? Thank God for Hellmann's. By the time I had my own kitchen I was desperate for variety, leaving Brady spoiled. With me gone he's lost weight, too much weight. I notice it especially in his face, where his skin suddenly hangs to his cheekbones for dear life.
Dinners were a big event in our house. We ate late to accommodate Brady's work schedule. I gave Eve a sizable after-school snack and she never complained. We all looked forward to the hour together. Every night, I set the table with clean linens and our gold-rimmed wedding china. The china was mostly to tease my sister, Meghan, who claimed registering for it was a waste. "You'll never use it, Maddy," she warned. "No one ever does." I'd call her sometimes as I set out the plates and we'd laugh.
"Who knew you'd become such a domestic diva?" she said one night. "I thought the ambition of a Wellesley College valedictorian would shatter glass ceilings." Right before I thought to be offended, she added, "Somehow you were blessed with perspective most intelligent people lack."
That's Meg for you.
When Brady got home he'd go straight for the stereo. Hellos and everything else commenced only after the music started. Harry Connick Jr. is Brady's favorite. I joked it was because people say they look alike, with their brown flowing hair and eyes set wide apart, but really, Brady loves anything that relies heavily on the piano. Music floated through the house as I put the finishing touches on dinner. We'd often sit at the table long after we finished eating, announcing our roses and thorns of the day, making plans for the upcoming weekend, laughing, occasionally debating. I'd advertise the book that had my attention, and Eve and Brady would rattle off all the reasons they were too busy to borrow it when I finished.
Eve came out with some doozies during these meals, often putting her raging hormonal perspective out there to digest with dinner. One night, when her usual vivacity didn't return with her from school, she said, "My thorn today was realizing that I have nothing to do with who I am. I'm whatever you've made me." I choked on my wine and stared at my Freudian thirteen-year-old, recognizing it was a deep thought. But on a Wednesday night with no context it was also a little over my head. A scary moment for any mother.
Brady recovered more gracefully, laughing off her drama. "Whoa there. Mom and I aren't signing up for that responsibility. You own who you are." It still sounded strange to hear Brady call me Mom. We swore we'd never be that couple, but when Eve's first word was Maddy we abandoned our adult identities without much discussion.
Eve looked down at her plate and let out a practiced sigh. "I knew you'd say something like that."
"It's true; I'm predictable," Brady said. "But my parents didn't make me that way. It's who I am." Eve gave a half smile at his cleverness and I beamed at the impressive level of communication from my highly functional family. There was always plenty to talk about then. Now our house, which used to be inviting with its oversized wooden door and broken-in welcome mat, is so dark and silent that passersby assume it's empty.
"Miss Murray," a girl shrieks, approaching Rory and ending my reverie.
"Well hello, Annie." Rory abandons a sweet pepper mid-inspection to crouch down and squarely meet the girl's eager eyes.
"Mom's taking me to Boston tomorrow."
"That's wonderful. You'll have to tell the class about it Monday."
"Okay," Annie agrees, the trip now more exciting. "See ya."
She runs away but Rory remains caught in the moment. Her expression saddens. I need to know why. There must be a way to intuit underpinnings and have impact on the world I left behind. Why else would I be stuck here watching? I keep perfectly still, focusing all my energy on Rory. She clearly craves something, or maybe someone, but I can't discern what.
I'm impatient as she walks to the parking lot. Without the ability to intervene, I can't repair the damage done. My attention drifts as I recall Brady dutifully leaning in for a kiss good night. Sometimes a peck, but sometimes so much more. I linger there until my mind catches the impossibility and substitutes me with Rory. It's a wrenching thought. During those nutty hypothetical conversations married people have I always claimed I'd want Brady to remarry if I died first. I pictured him in his late sixties, needing a partner to tackle aging with. I hadn't realized how cruel afterlife would be, that I'd have to personally select my replacement because Brady would be disoriented and Eve would need support, that I'd have to watch the whole thing from this front-row seat.
I stay with Rory as she loads the trunk of her light-blue Volkswagen Bug. Everything about her is adorable. I struggle to think of the single adjective that would have described me. I come up with reliable, maybe charismatic on a good day. Certainly not adorable. My face was too angular and my opinions too sharp for a word like that. Rory shuffles around for the bag with eggs in it, moving the delicate goods to the floor. A planner.
Her cell phone rings as the engine starts. The noises compete, so Rory doesn't hear the call until the second ring. The car is in drive as she rakes through her bag. She grabs the phone, looks over her shoulder, and releases the brake in one motion, not realizing the car is moving forward until she hears the crunch of metal. The collision is with a pristine Audi A7.
"Augh," she says, tapping a palm to her forehead in an exaggerated gesture I've never seen anyone do without an audience. That was it — Augh — before answering the call on the fifth ring. "Hello?" She stretches her neck to assess the damage.
"Glad I caught you, honey. Your mother is having a tough go of it. Any chance you can get home early? She could use your magic touch."
"I'm about to drop off groceries, but then I'm supposed to tutor. Did Brian show? He promised he'd grace you with his presence at lunch." She laughs uncomfortably at the spite in her words.
"No, but he called. Said work was crazy. I'm sorry." The woman sighs. "I hate to add to your plate, but I can't fork over more meds without something in her stomach."
Tears well in Rory's eyes but don't spill over. "It's no problem, Greta."
"Thanks, sweetheart. I wish everyone I cared for was as lucky as your mother."
Rory cringes at the inaccuracy of that statement. "I'll be home in a bit."
It's borderline superhuman to me that Rory didn't share the news of her fender bender with Greta. Her self-control reminds me of an old deodorant ad from the nineties that featured a woman maintaining total confidence in any situation. The ad ended with a jingle that went, "She stays cool, soft, and dry." I never related to that ad. I would've retold every detail of THE ACCIDENT. It may have even made the Christmas letter. For Rory, it wasn't worth a mention. This quiet calm is exactly what Brady needs to counter the resurgence of his temper.
I know from often-exaggerated tales at Fourth of July barbecues that Brady was a hothead growing up. His college nickname was The Fireman from some drunken night when he yanked the fire alarm to evacuate a fraternity pledge who'd made a move on his girlfriend, then punched the guy as he exited the building. For as many times as I heard the story, I could never picture Brady in it. Sure, he could be a jackass, but he was my jackass and his temper was never a source of concern. Until now.
Rory walks around to gauge the damage. Her fender is dented but the A7 is unscathed, exposing the fifty-thousand-dollar price difference between the two cars. Still, she leaves a note: Guilty of an accidental tap ... Don't see any marks, but here is my name and number in case. It's the perfect response. The Fireman is no match for this level of serenity.
Rory hops back in the car and again digs through her bag. She grabs a red leather book with a Buddha imprint on the cover. It takes me a moment to realize it's a genuine, tab-for-each-letter, impossible-to- change-when-someone-moves, pages-falling-out-of-the-binding address book. A lost art. I can hear Brady ribbing her already: 1984 called and wants its address book back. Perhaps Rory will come up with a good retort. Over the years I came to think of Brady's iPhone as physically attached to his hand.
Rory finds the number she needs and musters up a good mood voice while it rings. "Hi, Nancy, it's Rory. I'm terribly sorry to cancel last minute, but can we reschedule tutoring for tomorrow?"
With her calendar now out, a separate leather-bound book, she scrawls an arrow toward the following day, gets off the phone, and immediately dials another number. This one she knows without consulting the Buddha. Before the voice on the other end has an opportunity to greet her, Rory starts in.
"Where the hell were you?" Her teacher's voice has turned aggressive and hollow, almost daring.
"I know. I'm sorry."
"If you were sorry we wouldn't be having this conversation. Again."
"I'm expected to all but sleep here."
Rory holds the phone away from her ear and talks loudly into the receiver. "She is your mother. This cancer will kill her. Soon. Did they skip the definition of hospice in law school?"
"Don't talk to me like I'm a child," he says, though he sounds like a child.
Rory slams her hand against the steering wheel of her still-parked car. "Damn it, Brian, THIS ISN'T ABOUT YOU. We're talking about forty-five minutes, once a week."
"That I don't have. I wish you'd stop treating me like a pile of shit for it."
"God. This is my fault, now?"
He clears his throat, which seems to strengthen his resolve. "We can't all be Rory Murray, Salt of the Fucking Earth."
"Fine," Rory says, defeated. "Focus on you. That's what you're good at."
This is my chance to get deeper into her thoughts. I zero in with willful concentration, intense to the point of exhaustion, and suddenly I feel it. A sensation. A flash. An understanding. Rory is alone and scared. She does not know what to do.
Brady and Eve can relate. And if I can read people's minds then certainly I can influence their actions. This woman is my chance to make things right. My family deserves more than I left behind.
Today is Mother's Day.
My first thought is stupid: my mom isn't here, so the holiday doesn't exist. But the rest of the world doesn't celebrate my mom, they celebrate their moms, and their moms didn't recently jump off a building.
My father claims he'll be stuck in a hotel conference room negotiating a deal of "strategic importance" with a bunch of people I'll never know. I guess it's possible. He says when it gets to the end of a merger you work straight through till it's done, but the timing is suspect. Today is going to suck. A meeting that goes from freaking eight in the morning to eight at night on a Sunday is something even Mom would've considered a little too convenient.
I'm swirling cereal around the bowl when Dad walks in, suited up for his big meeting. If he's lying to get out of the tennis tournament he at least feels bad enough to wear a costume that matches his cover story. I wonder how he'll handle this moment. Baby me? Ignore the significance of the day altogether? Without Mom telling him what to do, he's a dud at parenting.
"Say you're sick," he offers. His eyes shift around the room, working hard not to land on me.
"Skip the tournament. Everyone will understand."
He did not just say that. I give him an icy glare. "Pretty sure Mom wouldn't tell me to bail on a commitment just because it was gonna be rough." He doesn't have a comeback, so he grabs a water bottle from the fridge and leaves for work.
Excerpted from I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi. Copyright © 2017 Abagail Katherine Wittnebert. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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