Twelve-year-old Toulouse “Tull” Trotter lives on his grandfather’s vast Bel-Air parkland estate with his mother, the beautiful, drug-addicted Katrina—a landscape artist who specializes in topiary labyrinths. He spends most of his time with young cousins Lucy, “the girl detective,” and Edward, a prodigy undaunted by the disfiguring effects of Apert Syndrome. One day, an impulsive revelation by Lucy sets in motion a chain of events that changes Tull—and the Trotter family—forever.
In this latter-day Thousand and One Nights, a boy seeks his lost father and a woman finds her long-lost love . . . while a family of unimaginable wealth learns that its fate is bound up with two fugitives: Amaryllis, a street orphan who aspires to be a saint, and her protector, a homeless schizophrenic, clad in Victorian rags, who is accused of a horrifying crime.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.16(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.21(d)|
About the Author
Bruce Wagner is the author of the novels Force Majeure and I’m Losing You. He recently wrote and directed Women in Film, adapted from his novel I'm Losing You. Women in Film was shown at the Sundance and Venice film festivals in 2001. He lives in Los Angeles.
Read an Excerpt
The boy took long walks in the countryfied Bel-Air hills with Pullman, the stately Dane—ears like membranous tepees, one eye blue, the other a forlorn and bottomless brown, jowls pinkening toward nose, arctic-white coat mottled by “torn” patches characteristic of the harlequin breed, the whole length of him an inkspot archipelago—even though the animal didn’t seem particularly fond of such locomotion. Great Danes were majestic that way. They could take their jaunt or leave it.
When people learned what each was named, they usually said the two had it wrong—better the noble, gigantine champion to bear the burden of whimsy (Best of Breed to Trotter’s T. Lautrec) while his master coupled to Pullman, steady, scholar’d, sleeping car Pullman, nostalgically trestle-trundling under bald hills and starstruck sky, velour shadow of midnight passengers murmuring within. Not that “Pullman” fit so well for the boy, though it might: twelve-year-old Toulouse was thin and dreamy, with the requisite bedroom eyes. His tousled red hair verged on blood-black, and his skin was so clear that the freckles seemed suddenly evicted, their remains the faintest of blurred constellations.
So: Toulouse—etymology unknown. He suspected it had something to do with his dad, as most things cryptic or unspoken usually did. They had christened him Louis, after Grandpa Lou (Mr. Trotter, to the world), and his grandfather was the only one ever to call him that. For all the rest he was Tull. His mother had started it. An abbreviation in his own life, she was a connoisseur of abridgments. Toulouse: the boy always used that name in his head, the way one thinks in a different language. A father tongue.
There are no sidewalks in Bel-Air to speak of, and though his mother, Trinnie, forbade it, the boy and his dog regularly ventured from Grandpa’s estate on Saint-Cloud Road to walk the musky, sinuous asphalt lanes—baked warm as loaves—against traffic, so as not to be run down by neighborhood denizens in careering, souped-up Bentleys and polished, high-end SUVs or by celebrity-hunting tourists, who traveled at less speed but were likelier to remain at the scene of an accident. If Pullman was struck, Tull suavely imagined, there’d be victims galore. Like plowing into a mule deer.
They always found themselves at the strange house down the hill, on Carcassone Way. Well, from the road there was no house at all, no sign of the living, not even a graveled drive; merely a filigreed gate with the obscure and rusted barely discernible motto La Colonne Détruite. The entry’s metal wings, fastened with a cartoonishly oversized padlock, were under siege by a dusty, haughtily promiscuous creeper, evoking melancholy in the boy—the crass finality of a dream foreclosed. They discovered another way in. He rode the dog’s back through a desiccated hedge, the scratchy privet andromeda of a once finely pruned wall, until Pullman reached a clearing—quiddity of lawn smooth as the brim of some kind of wonderland bowler hat.
Inside, the sudden magical oddness of a centuries-old park. The empty, vaulted space, so queerly “public”-feeling, was serenely at odds with the neighborhood’s proprietary nature. Intersecting rings of a sundial armillary sphere sat atop a pedestal of English portland stone, and though Pullman drew near, it was not to relieve himself. Rather, he became instantly mindful and mannered; each time they broke in, the animal invariably yawned, downplaying his bold, jungly efforts. Tull Trotter’s heart sped, as it did with any adventure to this meadowy place, dipped as it were in trespasser’s spice. Mother being a landscape architect of world renown, his catchall mind knew its flora—there, in the green all-aloneness, he communed again with the elegantly attenuated pyramid of the Cryptomerias and pines; the billiardist whimsy of great clipped myrtle balls so carefully, carelessly scattered; a cutting shed made of morning glory; the junipers and wisteria that flanked the still, square ponds; then began his saunter toward the ominous allée of flat-topped Irish yews.
He knew where those ancient columned soldiers led.
As he entered, the air chilled and darkened. Pullman had vanished as surely as a magician’s offering. Tull walked through a phalanx of sentries until far enough in to see the wild, weird thing, two hundred yards off, set apart on a hillock . . . a stout, ruined column, fluted as Doric columns should be, rent with fissures, at least fifty feet in diameter, proportions suggesting it was all that remained of a temple forty stories tall. Whatever peculiar god had made this base had provided it with crazily bejeweled windows too, oval, square and pentagonal, then snapped the tower off five floors up, where tufted weeds sprang from its serrations like hair from an old man’s ear. What could he make of it? The boy had never even gotten close enough to peer in. Now he moved inexorably nearer, at once cool and febrile, the capricious breath of open fields rushing at him like a breezy compress on the forehead during a sickbed hallucination.
Now he could see white, tented forms—furniture?—in the rooms within, but was interrupted when a daymare shape came from nowhere shouting, “Little fucker!” Tull was startled enough that he couldn’t read any features, though it was wearing bib overalls, the perfect parody of a ghoulish Mr. Greenjeans. In a blink, the figure rudely tumbled, care of a certain Dane; the terrified man, having met a fair match for the Olympian pedestal’s remains, retreated to the severed column while Tull made a sprinting Hardy Boy getaway. Regal and unruffled, Pullman strutted a beat in his master’s direction, then paused, slyly turning with calm eye and tarry muzzle to fire a last warning shot toward the groundskeeper—the astonished head of whom already appeared in an upper portal of the cylindrical mirage. Then, like a Saturday-morning-television creation, the aristocratic beast leapt toward his charge, through the chilly gantlet of yews, past the huge myrtle balls leading to the brambled entry that would carry them back to Carcassone Way and the homely, reassuring traffic of the world.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
1. Toulouse (“Tull”) Trotter’s glamorous mother, Trinnie, more or less abandons him to the (luxurious) care of her wealthy parents. I’ll Let You Go suggests that she became unhinged when her husband, a schizophrenic, vanished on their wedding night. Do you think Trinnie would have led a life of drugs and dissolution if that hadn’t happened? Or did his act simply “allow” for the selfish behavior she was prone to?
2. Why is Tull’s grandfather Louis obsessed with having the proper monument designed for his own burial? Discuss the ironies of Louis Aherne Trotter’s gravesite remaining forever “unbuilt.”
3. In I’ll Let You Go, two worlds — those of the rich and dispossessed — are sharply delineated. The children from both societies first converge on a movie set. Why is that significant?
4. Why do you think the orphan, Amaryllis Kornfeld, is so obsessed with becoming a saint? Discuss the brutalization she endured under her mother, and the late revelation that her father was in jail but did not wish to see her.
5. Will’m (AKA Topsy AKA Marcus) is first revealed as a homeless man and protector of the orphan Amaryllis. He represents the broken bridge between the mansions of Beverly Hills and the homeless encampments of downtown L.A. Discuss schizophrenia and the commingling of identities: William Morris, the legendary show business agent vs. William Morris, the legendary Victorian designer.
6. Lucille Trotter, Tull’s first cousin, is someone who Tull is both attracted to and repelled by. It is significant that she is actually the one who sets in motion Tull’s search for his father. Discuss the cruel way in which she informs him that his father is still allive; and the guilt she feels over it, ultimately compelling her to become Tull’s advocate in the search.
7. The Trotter children — Lucille, Edward and Tull — don’t seem to have been damaged by the great privilege they were born into; nor does Amaryllis’s spirit appear vanquished by her enormous poverty and hardships. To what extent do you think a child can triumph over his circumstances?
8. Edward’s mother, Joyce, is contemptuous of Trinnie for having abandoned her son; yet herself feels tremendous guilt over a kind of abandonment of Edward because of his physical defects. Discuss why Joyce becomes involved with giving anonymous Dumpster babies names and proper burials — and yet cannot seem to overcome her feelings toward her own son, until it is too late.
9. Pullman, the Great Dane, plays an almost magical role in I’ll Let You Go. In fact, near the end of the book it is suggested that he, unlike most dogs of his breed, was ageless. Discuss why the author never reveals his death, instead suggesting he simply “moved on.”
10. Tull’s grandmother Bluey slowly succumbs to dementia. Was her “hobby” of collecting obituaries and pasting them in scrap albums a harbinger of her own death? Discuss how it was that Bluey came to envision her own obituary among those very pages.
11. Edward’s billionaire uncle Dodd took an amazing revenge upon his grade school alma mater. Discuss what it was that enraged Dodd so — and if the details of what happened to him (or what didn’t) is, perhaps, the worst kind of punishment a person can endure.
12. Lani Mott, the wife of the baker Gilles, gives lip service to helping children — until forced by circumstance to come to the aid of Amaryllis. There’s a triumphant scene where she acquires the orphan’s psychiatric records from an arrogant psychiatrist. Discuss Lani’s feelings of elation and empowerment, and how they lead her to the decision to adopt.
13. Gilles, the baker, has to overcome initial suspicions that his old friend, the vagrant Will’m AKA Topsy, has been involved in more than one heinous crime. Discuss his wife’s Lani’s absolute resolve that Topsy is innocent — her intuition — vs. Gilles’ seemingly unlikely reticence.
14. The deaf-mute martyr Jane Scull plays an important role in rescuing Amaryllis from a lurid foster home, where Jane worked and was raped. Jane gives birth to a child who winds up in the Trotter fold. Discuss Jane’s relationship with Will’m, and the manner in which she dies — having killed her assailant.
15. Was Will’m better off when he became Marcus Weiner again? And is Will’m’s ending a “happy one”? He does not undergo what might be considered a traditional recovery, yet seems quite content. Discuss his fate, and why Wagner was insistent on employing a narrator who spoke of I’ll Let You Go’s events with a wry, Victorian lilt.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this is the best novel i've read in a decade or more! it's a charming story about an eccentric group of kids and their families living (and dying) in los angeles. it wavers between gritty and heartbreaking, and magical with a touch of the sort of fantasy that great films are made of. it reads like a film (and was penned by a screenwriter). i savored every page and was sorry to see it come to an end. it's a gem!
Rich and dense, Wagner describes two worlds -- one, the street and the other, extraordinary luxury -- with an amazing level of intimacy, poignancy, and beauty. The stories and characters are fantastically interwoven, and do much to reward the reader in the end.
What is most astonishing about this more than astonishing novel is that Bruce Wagner has been able to find a niche somewhere between Dickens and 'Bonfire of the Vanities' and placed that-- wonder of wonders-- in the Los Angeles of today. After the blistering and sometimes hard to take I'M LOSING YOU, this is a more well rounded, clear eyed view of a town most of us only know through our daydreams and what we see on screen or in Entertainment Weekly. It is a wonderful book and it's time the world knew about this wonderful writer.
This is an incredibly dense, rewarding novel written with such linguistic beauty that it's hard to know where the author can go from here. No mincing of words: you'll be astounded and absorbed right from the get-go.