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|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||5.66(w) x 8.04(h) x 1.03(d)|
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Is This Tomorrow
By CAROLINE LEAVITT
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILLCopyright © 2013 Caroline Leavitt
All rights reserved.
She came home to find him in her kitchen. She was in no mood, having spent the whole morning arguing with a lawyer, but there he was, her son's best friend, Jimmy Rearson, a twelve-year-old kid home from school at three on a Wednesday afternoon with too-long hair and a crush on her, reading all the ingredients on the back of a Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix, tapping the box with a finger. "Adjust temperature for high altitudes," he said, as if it really mattered. She felt a pang for him, a boy so lonely he feigned interest in how many eggs and how much sugar a cake might need. He leaned over unabashedly and turned on her radio, and there was Elvis crooning "Heartbreak Hotel," the words splashing into the kitchen.
"How'd you get in here?" Ava asked, reaching over to turn down the music. No one, except for her, locked doors in the neighborhood. She had her kid wearing a key around his neck like an amulet. Other kids were allowed to run free to wander in and out of everyone else's houses, something Ava never could quite get used to. It wasn't that she had anything to steal—truthfully, she had so much less now—but still, there was Brian, miles away, breathing down her neck with a custody threat, telling her he got a lawyer and she'd better get one, too, because he was going to file to revisit their agreement. But, in fact, she had started locking her doors the moment the movers left, two years ago, and maybe that was what made the neighborhood suspicious. "Don't you like kids? What's the matter, do you think they're going to wreck your house?" a neighbor asked, but how could she explain what she was afraid of?
"Your lock is easy," Jimmy said. "All it took was a bit of wire."
"Don't break into my house again," she said. She didn't know if she was angry or not, but she didn't like the way it sounded. Easy to break into.
"Lewis is at the dentist," she said. She had given Lewis money to take a cab (it wouldn't cost much), and by the time Lewis was finished and safely home, Ava would be at work.
"I know. He told me at school. I'm meeting him at my house later."
She nodded at the box in his hands, and then glanced at her watch. No matter what kind she bought, the mixes never turned out right. Quick and easy, the labels always said, but the cakes were always dry and powdery, and what good was quick if it was also tasteless? Well, baking was something to do, and they had some time. She didn't have to be at the plumbing company until five today. It was her day off, but she took an emergency evening shift she couldn't afford to turn down, not if she didn't want to go back to retail, which paid less, gave her fewer hours, and had no chance of advancement. It was only for an hour tonight, too, typing letters about 14K gold toilets and colored tubs that Richard, her boss, said had to be ready to go first thing in the morning, but even the small extra pay would be something she could tuck in the bank. "Want to bake?" she said, and he looked at her. "Boys don't cook," he said, abandoning the box on the counter. "Can we play checkers instead?"
"Sure. Why not," she said.
She set up the board on her dining room table, giving him the red pieces. She didn't really like checkers all that much, but she always seemed to be playing it with the kids. She would make sure they beat her so they'd feel good. Today, though, she wanted to take her mind off her problems, so she concentrated and without really meaning to, she won the game.
"Well, what do you know!" she said. She looked over at Jimmy, and then, shocked, saw that he was blinking back tears.
"Why, what's this?" she asked. "It's just a game. And you beat me every other time." She handed him a handkerchief she kept in her pocket.
He rubbed fiercely at his eyes. "I always win," he said. "I've never, ever lost."
Ava leaned forward on her elbows. "You can't win all the time," she said. "I wish you could." She thought of Brian, saw him moving on a checkerboard toward her. "King me," he'd say.
"Don't tell anyone I cried."
"Who cried? Did someone cry here?" She got up, smoothing her dress. "I have to get to work," she told him. "And you have to scoot."
They put the pieces back in the box, and then he waited at the table for her to get ready. He was in his red jersey and green plaid shorts, his Keds scribbled over with Magic Marker. He watched as she rustled around the living room, looking for her purse and the little veiled hat she sometimes wore because she thought it made her look more professional. Sweat beaded along her back. She'd wasted her whole morning and some of her afternoon running to a lawyer to talk about Brian's custody threat. It was five years since Brian had left them, barely sending money, barely calling, and even though the divorce had been his idea, all of a sudden he was telling her that she now posed a psychological and physical danger to their son. She had had to scramble to find a lawyer she could afford, a man whose name was actually, ridiculously, John Smith. He worked out of a tiny overheated office, without even a secretary, and he seemed so indifferent she wanted to shake him. "This is just nonsense, isn't it?" she said to the lawyer.
"The law is never nonsense," John Smith said.
She told the lawyer how Brian used to have a drinking problem, one that started after he left her, and that he had called her drunk a few times. She talked about how he'd abandoned his son—and her—after things at his job went bad. He hadn't even seen Lewis in nearly five years, so how could he possibly think about wanting custody now? She spilled all the details of her life, and the whole time, John Smith didn't say a thing. He just leaned back in his chair, making a tent of his fingers, waiting until she was finished, and then he shrugged.
"Circumstances change," he said. "And so do people. You said he has a full-time job, but you only work part-time, which puts him in a more stable financial situation than you. It could look like a better environment for a kid."
"You're joking. My environment is just fine."
"Is it?" He rolled his pen between his fingers. "You said he thinks you have a lot of men coming over. Can you prove you don't? Can you show that your bills are paid right on time?"
Ava thought of all the bills she kept in a shoebox, the careful way she went through them every month. She had a whole separate bank account of money she was saving so she could buy her house instead of rent it, and she made sure to put something in it every week, even if it was only ten dollars. "I have savings. I have a house."
"Correction: you rent the house. You don't own it. And banks don't like giving mortgages to women."
"But I will own it," Ava said stiffly. She thought of how hard it had been to convince the realtor to rent her the house, how he kept asking her if there was a man who could cosign the lease. She might have to fight to get a bank to give her a mortgage, but fight she would.
"But you don't own it now. And if you can't prove your finances are sound, we may have a problem. How's your son doing? Does he have friends? Is he doing all right in school?" He shuffled papers on his desk, waiting for her response, but she knew, suddenly, that he wasn't going to be able to help her, and she knew she was still going to have to pay him for his time. "You want to think about all this, Mrs. Lark," he said.
She came home, feeling sick, her head splitting like a seam. Jimmy had distracted her, but now she had to get to work, and worry hung on her like a too-heavy winter coat.
"Ava," Jimmy said, and she snapped back toward him. She felt his eyes on her, trailing her as she grabbed up her purse.
"Call me Mrs. Lark, Jimmy."
"Mrs. Lark," he said, even though they both knew there wasn't a husband around, that she was no more a Mrs. than he was. She waved her hand. "I have to get to work," she repeated.
She knew what she had to do. She had to make that company think she was good enough to hire her full-time at regular hours, with benefits, instead of just three days a week or whenever they needed her. She had to pay the bills, including the useless lawyer's bill, and the rent on this little house. It was the only one in the neighborhood that was a rental, smaller and older looking than the other homes, an anomaly that hadn't been razed when the new development had sprung up (Brookstone Family Homes!) because the owner refused to move, and by the time he died, the other houses were all built and occupied and the Brookstone company was long gone. If it hadn't been a rental and in bad shape, she'd never have been able to afford it, but because it was, she could never feel quite secure.
Ava passed by Jimmy to get to the card table, where she opened the top drawer and retrieved some of the extra pin money she kept for gas. She pocketed the money and rubbed at a smear of dirt on the wall with her thumb. Until she could afford paint, soap and water would have to do.
"Mrs. Lark." She looked over and Jimmy was shifting his weight from foot to foot, staring at her again. She was a grown woman with grown-up problems and suddenly she was in no mood for Jimmy's quiet devotion, for the way his eyes followed her around the room.
"Lewis will be home soon from the dentist," she said. "You can wait for him at your house."
Jimmy's nails were bitten and raw and she wanted to brush his hair back with her hands, wash his face with a cloth. She wanted to bend down and tie his sneaker laces tight, and wash the Magic Marker from them, bleaching the shoes until they were white again. She could see some of what he had written on his shoe: Hep cat. Cool. He was too young to be either. She pointed at his laces and watched while he did the job himself, making tight little double loops like rabbit ears.
The lawyer had asked her if Lewis had friends. Most of the other kids kept their distance, but maybe that was because Lewis was so smart. He could have been skipped ahead two grades if he didn't keep bringing home bad marks in school. The teachers kept telling her how he wasn't living up to his potential, that he kept disrupting the class with his questions. "Aren't you supposed to ask questions?" Ava had asked, and Lewis's teacher had sighed. "His job is to listen," she had told Ava.
From the time he was little, Ava had tried to make sure Lewis would be successful in life, buying him books, reading to him, teaching him to read when he was three. Education could prepare you for anything, she thought. But when she sent him off to kindergarten, it wasn't long before she got a call from his teacher. "He knows how to read," the teacher accused. She told Ava to cut it out, that Lewis being so far ahead of the other kids was bad for both him and the other students. "Everyone should be on the same page," the teacher insisted. Ava disagreed. The more you knew, the better things would be for you. She kept taking him to the library and encouraging him, and Brian even bought him a set of Collier's Encyclopedia. Every night, Lewis looked at the pictures in a volume, and read what he could. She still remembered the look on his face when, shortly before Brian had left them, and Lewis was just in first grade, Brian gave him one of his old briefcases so Lewis could carry a volume to school with him. Lewis was so proud, so excited, about learning! But she was no match for that school, or for his new school when they moved to Waltham. "The teacher told me to just do the work she gives me," Lewis said miserably. Lewis entered second grade and then third, and the teachers were calling her not because Lewis was so far ahead, but because he was behind. She had to sign his failed science paper on the solar system. "But you knew all this," she said astonished. "You told me last night what all the planets were made of," and Lewis stayed silent. She began to find half-done homework crumpled on his desk in his room, which she would carefully smooth out and put in a folder. How could he be reading The Odyssey from the library and get a D on a multiple choice test about Huck Finn? How could he read the encyclopedia every night, marking off the sections when he was done with them, regaling Ava with facts at breakfast about how there were three different kinds of volcanic eruptions and you could tell which was which just by the lava, and still fail science? It made her feel panicked, because what would become of him if he couldn't get to college? There was no family business for Lewis to go into, no money to cushion him. The thought of him having to nickel-and-dime it the way she did made her want to weep and she'd be damned if she let him join the army. With college, he could have a profession. He could be someone.
At least Jimmy and Rose seemed smart, too, and she hoped they might influence him in a good way. Lewis and Jimmy did homework together all the time, the two of them sprawling on the floor of his room. She heard him excitedly talking to Rose about The Wizard of Oz, a book they both loved. But still, Lewis brought home report cards peppered with Cs.
He had good friends, Jimmy and Rose. That was something, wasn't it? The Three Mouseketeers, they called themselves, the moniker from that Mickey Mouse Club program they all watched some days at five on her temperamental little black and white Zenith, banging on the top of the set to stop the vertical hold from swimming. Rose was the odd girl out, in more ways than one, pale as paper while the boys tanned like peanuts, her hair a pour of ink down her back, while the boys' shaggy cuts were sandy brown. Jimmy and Lewis were now in Miss Calisi's sixth-grade class at Northeast Elementary. Rose, at thirteen, went to MacArthur Junior High on Lexington Street, but different schools didn't stop them from playing together. They were always riding their bikes around the neighborhood, vinyl strips streaming out from the handlebars, a few of Ava's old playing cards snapping along the spokes. They walked to the Star Market to check out the magazines and toys. They wasted time at Brigham's, sugaring up on raspberry lime rickeys. It was a relief because she had worried so much about Lewis finding friends. "You know this isn't a Jewish neighborhood," the realtor had told Ava when he first showed her the rental house. He had tried to show her all these crummy little apartments, but she had moved twice already from apartments in Watertown. She wanted something that felt like home, something that felt like hers. She wanted a house.
She was so thrilled when Lewis had found Jimmy and Rose. Of course, they would be together, the only kids on the block without fathers and with single mothers. Ava was grateful, too, that Dot Rearson was so open-minded, and they were actually good enough friends to talk over a cup of coffee every once in a while. Dot didn't share the same prejudices as some of the other parents. Oh, Ava had heard the remarks. Divorced and Jewish, what a combo platter. "You killed Christ," one neighborhood kid had told her matter-of-factly as he ran across her front lawn, and Ava had stood there, shaken. It was awful enough that Lewis had to say the Lord's Prayer in school every morning ("Just fold your hands and shut your eyes and think about what you want to do later," she advised him), but when Lewis was in third grade, he had come home with an F on a test, and she was about to yell at him when she saw all the questions were about Christmas—about Mary, Jesus, and Joseph. Who was Jesus's mother? She had gone up to talk to Mr. Powers, the principal, but all he said to her was, "I understand your peoples' sensitivity," like it was her fault.
Well, these kids were lucky to have one another. You didn't have to be a genius to see Rose was besotted with Lewis. Ava couldn't remember how she had felt about love at thirteen, if love had ever unspooled her the way it seemed to be doing with Rose. How could you possibly feel so much when so young? Rose followed Lewis around, her head cocked as if she were waiting for him to say something to her. She looked at him as if she were breathing him in, her shoulders rising and falling. Ava knew Rose went into her room and daubed her mouth with Ava's old DuBarry lipsticks, that Rose dotted Ava's Wind Song perfume on her wrists, but Rose didn't know that Ava set them out deliberately to make them easier for Rose to find. Once, Ava had seen Rose slide up behind Lewis while he was painting a model airplane. Rose lifted up her hand and held it just above his hair, as if she were blessing him, her eyes hidden beneath the palm frond of her bangs. He hadn't noticed a thing. Ava, though, had watched and all she could think was, You poor darling.
Excerpted from Is This Tomorrow by CAROLINE LEAVITT. Copyright © 2013 Caroline Leavitt. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
"With wit and a perfect eye into the human heart, Caroline Leavitt has given us a truly unique story of love, loyalty, loss, betrayal, secrets, healing -- and a resolution you'll never see coming."--Sue Monk Kidd, author ofThe Secret Life of Bees
From the lockstep '50s into the do-your-own-thing '60s, Caroline Leavitt follows her cast of lonely characters as they grapple with the sorrowful mystery of a missing child. 'Are any of our children safe?' one asks, and of course the answer is no, no one is. Like Mona Simpson's Off Keck Road, Is This Tomorrow is an intimate meditation on time, loss and destiny.—Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone and The Odds
In her dynamic follow-up to Pictures of You, Leavitt has given us that rare and irresistible combination of tenderly crafted, richly layered and utterly believable characters I found myself caring about by page ten--and a crackling suspense story that just about explodes off the page. Call it a literary thriller: Is This Tomorrow reveals a world you will want to linger in, and secrets you'll stay up late to untangle. Reading this story is a memorable and moving journey and one that (for those who don't already love her work) reveals Leavitt to be a brave and humane writer who also understands what keeps us turning the pages. —Joyce Maynard, author of The Good Daughters and Labor Day
"When someone disappears, what happens to the people who are left behind? This is the central, heartbreaking question in Caroline Leavitt's exquisite new book. With characters so real they feel technicolor, a plot that beats like a racing pulse, and prose so lovely that sometimes I found myself repeating the words out loud,Is This Tomorrowis the novel you need to read today." --Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and Lone Wolf
“A page-turner from first to last. I loved the way Levitt's Mad Men-like examination of shifting mid-century American values dovetails with her vivid tale of heartbreak and hope. An enthusiastic thumbs-up from this grateful reader.”
“With wit and a perfect eye into the human heart, Caroline Leavitt has given us a truly unique story of love, loyalty, loss, betrayal, secrets, healing—and a resolution, you’ll never see coming. It’s everything you want in a novel.”—Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees
“Caroline Leavitt asks the big, equivocal questions: what does it mean to be a mother, a family? What is the nature of identity? The answers will provoke you, frustrate you, rearrange your heart.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and What We Saw at Night
“In her dynamite follow-up to Pictures of You, Caroline Leavitt has given us that rare and irresistible combination of tenderly crafted, richly layered and utterly believable characters—people I found myself caring about by page ten—and a crackling suspense story that just about explodes off the page.”—Joyce Maynard
“Caroline Leavitt's first historical novel, Is This Tomorrow, is a grand slam. Her attention to detail and dialogue are remarkable. The ratcheting tension as an Eisenhower era neighborhood searches for a missing boy--gripping. The resolution of the mystery years later . . . both heartbreaking and hopeful." —Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author of Good Graces
“Caroline Leavitt's Is This Tomorrow is an expertly rendered novel that poignantly chronicles the aftermath of a family's worst nightmare and its far-reaching devastation. At once haunting and elegant, Is This Tomorrow will leave the reader shattered and hopeful right up to the shocking end.” —Heather Gudenkauf, author ofthe New York Times Bestseller The Weight of Silence
In the spirit of Richard Yates' novel Revolutionary Road, Caroline Leavitt peels back the neat façade of suburban life in the 1950s to uncover the ways in which the demands of conformity leave a trail of loneliness and pain for those who lie outside its bounds. Ava Lark, the divorced Jewish mother of twelve-year-old Lewis, struggles against the judgment of neighbors as she and her son befriend the only other fatherless children around, Jimmy and Rose. Jimmy's sudden, unexplained disappearance taps into every parent's worst nightmare. Blending taut suspense with deeply moving portrayals of fierce parental love, childhood friendships and first crushes, Leavitt has created a novel with haunting characters and much to say about how we move through tragedy. —Libby Cowles, Maria's Bookshop
When a 12-year-old boy disappears from his suburban Boston neighborhood, ripples spread far and wide. It's the rigid 1950's and a tight knit community comes undone. The mystery is set up early in the novel, so there is plenty of time to get involved and invested in characters you care about, or are distrustful of, or ones whose motives you question. The overwhelming arc of the story is for these characters you come to feel protective of to get beyond the tragedy. How can you get to tomorrow when time is forever stuck on one tragic day? You want them to find their tomorrows. And thanks to great writing, I was pulling for them all the way. - Candace Purdom, Anderson's Bookshop
Leavitt asks the big, equivocal questions: What does it mean to be a mother, a family? What is the nature of identity? The answers will provoke you, frustrate you, rearrange your heart. —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and What We Saw At Night
Leavitt's first historical novel is a grand slam. Her attention to detail and dialogue are remarkable. The ratcheting tension as an Eisenhower era neighorhood searches for a missing boy-gripping. The resolution of the mystery years later, both heartbreaking and hopeful. I so admire Leavitt's ability to pull you into the story, tie you up, and leave you guessing, until she masterfully guides you through the twists and turns towards, home. —Lesley Kagan, author of Good Graces
An expertly rendered novel that poignantly chronicles the aftermath of a family's worst nightmare and its far-reaching devastation. At once haunting and elegant, Is This Tomorrow will leave the reader shattered and hopeful right up to the shocking end.—Heather Gudenkauf, author of The Weight of Silence
A beautiful free-spirited divorcee is shunned by her neighbors. A boy from that neighborhood goes missing. This is the engine that drives Leavitt's latest story, a page turner from first to last. I loved the way Leavitt's Mad Men-like examination of shifting American values dovetails with her vivid tale of heartbreak and hope. An enthusiastic thumbs-up from this grateful reader.—Wally Lamb, author of The Hour I First Believed, I Know This Much is True, She's Come Undone