Robin Hamilton, successful New York attorney and seventies' rock devotee, is poised to reveal a secret that will alter the course of three lives.
One glacial winter evening, Robin and her adult daughter Lark are watching a television documentary when Lark unexpectedly spots her mother in a concert crowd, twenty-one, luminous, and perched on the shoulders of a handsome young man. That man is Lark's father, Dean Falconer, though neither of them knows the truth. Robin decides it's time to come clean.
Flashback to 1977. Robin Hamilton meets Dean Falconer at a rock concert in Washington, D.C. The two fall in love over the course of a single transcendent weekend.
But now Robin hasn't spoken to Dean in thirty-five years. While Lark is enthusiastic about meeting her father, Robin must deal with what could have been after three decades of loneliness and broken dreams.
A spring full of revelations, and one extraordinary summer in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia will teach these three people the ultimate measure of honesty, passion and devotion.
In Robin's Nest is a richly detailed story of love and loss; secrecy and truth; and ultimately redemption, resplendent in charm and poignancy. It's about living with your choices, the ties that keep family together, and finding that it's never too late.
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Read an Excerpt
In Robin's Nest
By Elizabeth Sumner Wafler
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2016 Elizabeth Sumner Wafler
All rights reserved.
Despite a wind that threatened to freeze my lips to my teeth, I had to grin at the thought of my mother: beneath the sophisticated surface of Robin Hamilton, New York professional, simmered the soul of a seventies rocker. Swaddled from head to toe, I plodded the last block to her home on the Upper West Side to watch a documentary about her favorite band with her. As I mounted the steps of the brownstone my grandparents had bought for a song in 1961, Mom abruptly pulled open the great door. "Lark! Did you walk? Are you not frozen?"
"Hi, Mom. No cabs," I said, kissing her warm cheek and tugging at the layers of scarves around my neck.
"I made a fire for us. Go get warm! I'm just opening the wine and putting a snack together." Uncommonly pretty at fifty-four, my mother, wearing a white tunic blouse and jeans, disappeared into the kitchen.
Shrugging from my coat, I extricated the laptop from my bag and made a nest in the Indian-patterned pillows tossed about the sectional. I would catch up on work while keeping one supportive eye on the TV. My phone sounded from my pocket, a pissed-off wasp against my hip. A text from Ben: "Hey, beautiful. Can't wait to see you tomorrow."
Ben. I had met Ben Holland one sultry summer night at the West Village rooftop party of one of my yoga students, Kimberly Kist. Swathed in whispering raspberry silk and sporting an armful of gold bangles, Kimberly had handed me a glass of sauvignon blanc in the kitchen and whispered breathlessly, "Lark, I have the man for you. Kirk invited him."
"Kimberly. You know I don't ..."
"He's gorgeous, Lark," she purred confidentially. "His mother was a Brazilian model in the sixties!" To my skeptical expression she said, "At least meet the man ... and talk to him."
"What does he do?" I asked grudgingly. Kimberly had fixed me up before with a Wall Street broker who, although witty and attractive, had a regrettable penchant for cocaine.
"He's a coffee buyer!" Kim said over her shoulder, fairly pulling me by the hand. I followed her onto the roof fragrant with the potted gardenia trees her husband Kirk grew.
Kirk and Ben stood under a string of industrial twinkle lights holding bottles of beer. That night I wore my long blond hair in a loose ponytail over the shoulder of a short indigo sheath embroidered with silver thread. Kirk introduced me to Ben, whose eyes, as dark as the beans he bought, lingered on mine. His teeth were very white, and the lights glinted off shiny black hair that needed cutting.
"Lark?" He tasted my name for the first time. "Like the songbird."
"It's a nickname. My name is Laurel," I said, extending my hand. "Apparently, I was a very happy baby."
Two days later, the two of us met for coffee. Ben introduced me to the art of cupping through importer samples and his milieu of green buying in verdant Latin America for Coloma Cup Coffee. An inveterate teacher, I talked of trends in twenty-first century education. Later that night, we taught each other what we liked in bed.
Ben and I had been happy in our love for more than two years. But lately, a gaggle of unsettling thoughts about our relationship had been springing up like mushrooms after days of rain. It was time to talk to him. I would do it tomorrow.
A metallic clang from the kitchen intruded on my reverie; I knew Mom was pulling out a pretty tray. Presentation was a big thing with Robin.
I noticed the program had started and called, "Mom, it's on!" I glanced from my laptop to the television screen and did an incredulous double take. I stared at the face of a girl in the swaying throng perched on the shoulders of a very happy-looking young man. Is that my mother? Riveted, I called, "Mom, are you coming? There's a girl who looks an awful lot like you."
"Be right there, darling!" Her voice was light, amused.
Since she was sixteen years old, Mom had been crazy about the Eagles, who had rocked the country and chronicled the high-flying seventies. I'd cut my teeth on that music. And now that vinyl was back, it was pretty cool that Mom still had her old records. I liked the scritch-whish of the needle as it rippled over the grooves. I would swear Mom would want me to toss her original copy of Hotel California into her coffin before I closed its mahogany lid for the last time.
My mother rounded the corner with the tray of appetizers: quinoa crackers, our favorite truffle cheese, fresh berries, and two glasses of wine. She peered through her distinctive tortoiseshell frames at the screen and lowered the tray to the cocktail table. The Eagles strummed their guitars and tossed their rock-star tresses — young, tight-jeaned, newly minted gods. "Oh, there's concert footage too ... and from the Hotel California Tour! Lord, Lark," she breathed, fingering the chunky strands of turquoise beads at her throat, "look how sexy!"
"Mom. Watch the audience." I located the pause button just as the camera panned toward the girl again. "Look. There! The girl on the blond dude's shoulders. It is you, isn't it?"
Mom sank to the sofa as we stared at the close-up of the impossibly young and luminous Robin Hamilton, size six, chestnut hair falling in Farrah Fawcett waves around her face.
She nodded almost imperceptibly. "I'm fine, Lark. Just ... surprised."
"Where was this? Did you know you were being filmed? This is so cool!"
My mother clutched the stem of her glass and took a liberal gulp. "That was the DC performance," she added as if it made everything clear. I unmuted the TV.
"So who's the cute guy? Did you know him?" I asked. A prickle of concern began along the edge of my scalp, and I slipped my hand around hers. She was trembling. "Mom, what is it?" I asked softly.
Her lined eyes closed. The song "Victim of Love" spun up and out of the television. As the drummer sang, "Tell me your secrets; I'll tell you mine. This ain't no time to be cool," pain and something else, something inscrutable, settled over her face like a cloud shadow on a mountain. Beyond my grandpa Hank's andirons, the fire snickered and blazed.
After a long moment, my mother opened her eyes. She turned to me, her smile open, loving. "An old friend," she said evenly. "Someone it's time you met."CHAPTER 2
From the moment I registered at NYU, I insisted on an authentic dorm experience, with benefits: I would bump my laundry bag home once a week to Mom's squeaky-clean washing machine and enjoy some home cooking and a little pampering.
"Mom, I'm home!" I dropped my things in the foyer of the brownstone to which my parents had brought me home from the hospital as a baby and stooped to pet our capricious cairn terrier, Atticus. The little dog loved people but could be vicious with other dogs, as if to disaffiliate himself from the canine camp.
A lilting voice greeted me from the kitchen. "C'mon back, darling! I left the shop early today." Since I was ten, my mother, Olivia Hamilton (née Courtwright), from whom I'd inherited my green eyes, had managed the bookstore Speak Volumes on Fifty-Third Street for an eccentric gentleman who lived in red-velvet seclusion in a penthouse on Central Park West. With a degree in library science from Hunter College and a passion for American literature, Mom dreamed of owning the bookstore herself one day.
"What smells so divine?" I asked, my stomach grumbling.
"Pineapple chicken." She hugged me. Her familiar lemon-sugar smell settled around me. "It's a new recipe from McCall's magazine. Your dad's on his way."
"I have some news that will make his day." I grinned and opened the refrigerator to inspect its contents. Snaring a block of cheddar in a baggie, I pinched off a hunk and popped it into my mouth. My first word, rather than Da or Ma like most kids, had been cheese or a close approximation: I'd toddled to grasp the handle of the fridge demanding, "Deese!"
The solid slip-thunk of the front door announced my father's arrival. "Robin!" I could hear his broad grin. "Didn't expect you until tomorrow night. What a treat!" Chestnut hair the color of my own tumbling over his forehead, tie askew from the day, Henry Anderson Hamilton strode into the kitchen with the laundry bag I'd dropped. As he bussed my cheek I winced at the six o'clock whisker rasp against my skin. "I've missed you, sweet pea!" My dad was the happiest person I knew; his initials, HAH, fit him to a tee.
"Robin, why don't you go ahead and put your wash in while we have a drink?" Mom said, covering the rolls on top of the stove with foil. "Then we won't have to listen to the machine while we eat." She turned to my father. "Robin has news." She gave my father a big smooch. I averted my eyes as his hand cupped her backside. I loathed the thought that my parents might still be having sex.
Dad went to the wet bar in the living room and poured three glasses of Lancers. "I declared a major today ... a double major," I said, tipping a wink to my mother and settling into my chair. I paused a beat. "English and philosophy."
With those words, I revealed my intention to follow my father down the road paved by the great minds of his heroes Thomas Jefferson, Thurgood Marshall, and Gloria Allred (whom he admired for her savvy, chutzpah, and shapely legs). He collapsed into his chair and the throes of ecstasy. "You little minx!"
Hank Dad had eschewed the practice of litigation with its often chaotic, long hours and latent deadlines that could interfere with the positive work-life balance he craved. His residential real estate practice afforded him a comfortable living with a home-for-dinner practice. He and Mom enjoyed cooking dinner together and bantering over the evening news from the little black-and-white set in the kitchen.
"What field are you thinking?" My father was beaming so brightly you could have read by him.
"I have plenty of time to decide that, Dad," I said laughing.
As the washing machine ground through its old gears in the kitchen, Dad said, "There are two kinds of lawyers, Robin: those who make love and those who make war. If you're not the warring type, you won't enjoy litigation. Now real estate law, on the other hand, is a family practice of sorts ... with real rewards." Atticus crouched in front of Dad, his preferred human, poised to spring into his lap. Dad patted his chest with both hands, Atticus's green light, and continued, "You're dealing with mostly happy people, usually taking a step up in life." I had heard it all before but indulged my father his passion that night.
At the table Mom passed a platter of chicken, golden robed in pineapple syrup, my way. She had loosened her dark hair from the french twist she wore for work, and it moved softly about her shoulders. She asked about my most recent problem. "How goes it with Darlene?"
Being the only one from my circle of private-girls'-school friends to choose NYU, I'd applied for dorm life hoping to be assigned a compatible roommate. I'd received a letter informing me I would be rooming with Darlene Blount from Queens. On move-in day we'd met for the first time. Darlene's kohl-rimmed eyes, jet-black hair, and Ramones T-shirt were anomalies in the days when most girls resembled the silky-tressed, squeaky-clean models of the Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific ads in Seventeen Magazine. I'd never met anyone like her. But it wasn't Darlene's appearance that had quelled the possibility of friendship. I found her interesting, faintly mysterious. And I knew she was smart. But as soon as our parents had left us to get settled, Darlene had been inexplicably hostile. "Keep this preppie crap on your side," she'd snarled, raising her lip like Elvis. After two weeks, I'd had my fill of her darkness and music that could inspire suicide.
"It's impossible," I said around a bite of salad. "I'm just hanging in there, trying to stay out of her way."
"I admire you for sticking it out, sweet pea," Dad said, anointing a second roll with butter. "These things build character."
Sated by the delicious meal, I gathered my clean laundry (tenderly folded by my mother). Dad walked me out into the twilight. "See you next week, counselor," he said, tipping me a two-fingered salute.
Three days later, I met Theresa Cleary at a reception the English honors college held for those who had earned the distinction of National Merit Scholar their senior year of high school. (Theresa always maintained that her test performance was a mere fluke, though a practical and self-promoting one, while I was authentically brilliant, deserving of the feather in my cap.)
A few minutes past fashionably late, I shook the soft academic hands of the honors college faculty and found the name tag table, spotting my preprinted one. Only two other tags remained, Catherine Cabot and Theresa Cleary. Nearby, a shambling bear of a professor in a flapping navy blazer clapped a bug-eyed runt of a boy in my English class heartily on the back. I feared the little dude would take a header into the punch bowl.
I stood alone sipping from a Styrofoam cup of tea and wondering what I should do with the tea bag when a slight girl slipped through the doorway. She was as boyish of figure as I was curvy with masses of Titian hair tumbling down her narrow back. I watched her move through the reception line, her manner as vibrant as her hair. This girl had what my dad called moxie. Mouth tugging into a grin, I reached for the name tag as she approached the table. "You are Theresa Cleary from Chicago, Illinois."
"I am." There was music in the two syllables as her eyes searched mine. Theresa's eyes weren't the light hue of most redheads but a rich, deep brown that made for an arresting contrast with her pale skin.
I handed her the tag and indicated my own with a forefinger. "I'm Robin Hamilton, New York, New York."
She wrapped my hand in both of hers. "Congratulations on your scholarship, my dear," she said, mimicking the faculty members.
We laughed together for the first time and soon decided to go to lunch together. In our first hour we discovered that we both liked chef salads with blue cheese dressing and cold Tab from the bottle; found sororities pretentious, catty, and exclusive; loved the band the Eagles; were terrible at math; had a taste for marijuana; were Francophiles, dreaming of living in Paris; and were miserable with our current roommate situations.
I told Theresa about Darlene, and she told me about her roommate, Donna, who sneaked guys into their room (with Theresa right across the partition dividing the small space). "Talk about awkward! She actually tried to introduce one of them to me when I walked in on them. The dude wanted to shake my hand!" she shrieked in disgust. I hooted with laughter.
The poster child for darkness was reassigned and moved out of my room three weeks later, and Theresa moved in, though she had moved into my heart much sooner. We became the sisters we had wished for as two only children, trusted confidantes. The fall of our sophomore year our parents helped us rent a down-at-the-heels but surprisingly spacious one-bedroom unit in a student apartment building. Theresa's mom cleaned out her Chicago basement and drove a U-Haul trailer filled with an assortment of odds and ends all the way to New York. The prize was a pocked but pretty antique armoire (though it never quite lost the peculiar fusty smell of Theresa's aunt Pauline) in which we installed our little TV, turntable, and speakers. My parents invited Mrs. Cleary to stay at the brownstone while in the city, and she accepted. My father made spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread for us all that Saturday night. Theresa was a near replica of her mother: Colleen Cleary was a gung ho middle-aged cheerleader, her own mop of riotous red hair threaded with gray.
In our first pad Tee, as I quickly began to call her, and I hung Eagles posters, made Chef Boyardee pizzas from the bright-yellow boxes, and watched The Love Boat and Saturday Night Live in its heyday with John Belushi and Gilda Radnor. We exercised and danced to Fleetwood Mac and Supertramp and cried with Dan Fogelberg, but the Eagles were our perennial favorite. We studied and talked late into the nights from twin beds with matching, braille-like chenille spreads.
Excerpted from In Robin's Nest by Elizabeth Sumner Wafler. Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Sumner Wafler. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If You’ve Ever Wondered About Getting Together With an Old Flame… The description of the novel is what drew my attention along with the beautiful jacket cover. Actually, it’s usually the covers of books that first draw my attention and this one caught my eye. Once I got into the story the idea of love lost, mistakes made that seem impossible to recover from, and then ultimate redemption hooked me. To be honest elements of In Robin’s Nest mirrored my own story and I was curios to see how Robin and Dean’s story turned out. My story has turned out beautifully as I am now married to my first love, the man that I met when I was but a 15 year old girl starting her first year of high school. We had it right the very first time, but were too young and stupid to realize that, but after 34 years of no contact or even knowing if the other was alive we are blissfully happy. If you love stories like that you’ll love Elizabeth Wafler’s In Robin’s Nest.
With a demanding schedule, it took me awhile to find the time to start reading In Robin's Nest but once I did, it only took a few days to read from cover to cover. The story took me on a sweet and loving literary journey. Being transported through several decades was delightful, it felt as though I was there as well. Elizabeth Sumner Wafler gave such detailed descriptions of the characters and places that it didn't take much for the mind to envision everything clearly. I can't wait until her next novel!
Ms. Wafler’s first novel opens with a mother and daughter enjoying a familiar TV moment on the sofa as it happens in most American homes each evening. This kind familiarity draws the reader into a comfortable and personal space, but in the next moment Ms Wafler reveals Robin’s dilemma. The video they’re watching exposes her deceitful lie to the most important person in her life, her daughter, Lark. Lark’s disturbed by the look in Robin’s eyes. Why does the girl that looks like Robin at the Eagles concert on the TV cast a mendacious shadow over the entire room. In a flash their lives are changed forever. As a reader, I’m now hooked and can’t put down “In Robin’s Nest.” In just a few pages Ms. Wafler has drawn me in and set my mind racing for answers. How will this unspeakable secret play out. Elizabeth’s felicitous use of flashbacks to historical people, places, and events further engaged me and my memories of that time and transported me into her story in a close and personal way. Her intricate and detailed descriptions of each scene allows the reader to smell the sweet peas, taste the wine, and feel the pain of her tears. Robin’s charming and true to life sensibility draws you into her family circle, warms you with a ring of truth, and comforts you with a depth of emotion. I am anxiously waiting for Elizabeth Wafler’s next book. Don’t miss this one. Share it with your friends in your reading club to see if anyone can predict the ending.
If you love the Eagles music, you'll enjoy reading In Robin's Nest. I knew all the songs that were referenced in the book and could hear them playing while I was reading. Having watched the History Of The Eagles documentary I found myself wondering which girl in the audience was Robin -- then I'd remind myself that Robin was a fictional character. A fun, enjoyable book that didn't disappoint!!
This novel took me back to my college experiences in the late seventies. Loved all the music and cultural references. Enjoyed the enduring love story of course, but also the razor sharp tension. I love a happy ending. This one was so satisfying I wanted a cigarette. And I'm not a smoker!
A charmingly-written debut novel. The characters are likeable and engaging and their relationships believable. Elizabeth does a fine job of keeping the story moving and the reader guessing. More than a love story, the book explores the lasting impact of life choices and the sustaining power of family and friends. Surely a sequel is in the works.
This book is beautifully written and has engaging, well-developed characters. A page turner from the start! The language simply flows off the page!
In Robin's Nest was a joy to read. It's a sweet story in which the characters, settings, and story lines are all so real. Elizabeth Wafler does a great job weaving the past with the present. Once you begin this book, it is hard to put down.
Such a good read with well developed characters that bring the past into the present. A timeless story told in vivid word pictures. I felt I was part of the scene!
What a page turner! Loved the imagery and the main character. A very satisfying ending.
Hard to believe this is Ms. Wafler's debut novel. Devoured it in one night. Relatable characters. Great story of friends and lovers, mother-daughters. Beautifully written. Awaiting her next book!