Landslide: A novel

Landslide: A novel

by Susan Conley

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Overview

A NEW YORK TIMES EDITOR’S PICK • A TODAY SUMMER READING LIST PICK

This beautiful portrait of a family in a fishing village in Maine is "a fresh look at marriage, motherhood, and the wondrous inner lives of teenagers. A truly beautiful and unforgettable love story of a family on the brink” (Lily King, author of Writers & Lovers). From the critically acclaimed author of Elsey Comes Home—an O. Magazine, Marie Claire, PopSugar, and Southern Living must-read.


“I loved Landslide. You are right there with them in a fishing village in Maine, feeling the wind, the sea, the danger. Smart, honest, and funny, this is a story you won't forget.”
—Judy Blume


After a fishing accident leaves her husband hospitalized across the border in Canada, Jill is left to look after her teenage boys—"the wolves"—alone. Nothing comes easy in their remote corner of Maine: money is tight; her son Sam is getting into more trouble by the day; her eldest, Charlie, is preoccupied with a new girlfriend; and Jill begins to suspect her marriage isn't as stable as she once believed. As one disaster gives way to the next, she begins to think that it's not enough to be a caring wife and mother anymore—not enough to show up when needed, to nudge her boys in the right direction, to believe everything will be okay. But how to protect this life she loves, this household, this family?

With remarkable poise and startling beauty, Landslide ushers us into a modern household where, for a family at odds, Instagram posts, sex-positivity talks, and old fishing tales mingle to become a kind of love language. It is a beautiful portrait of a family, as compelling as it is moving, and raises the question of how to remain devoted when the eye of the storm closes in.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525657132
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/02/2021
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 58,594
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

SUSAN CONLEY grew up in Maine. She is the author of four previous books including Elsey Come Home. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Harvard Review, New England Review, and Ploughshares. She has received multiple fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, as well as from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Maine Arts Commission, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She has won the Maine Literary Award and the Maine Award for Publishing Excellence. She is a founder of the Telling Room, a youth creative writing center in Portland, Maine, where she lives and teaches on the faculty of the Stonecoast Writing Program.

Read an Excerpt

I park the Subaru under the pine trees. Then fol­low the boys down to the dock, where we tie up the rowboat and The Duchess, our beat-up skiff with the 15-horsepower Evinrude, which we take back and forth to the island. I remind Charlie to go slow because the water has more chop than yesterday. I’d love not to get wet.
 
It takes four minutes to cross the channel to our island. It is not really our island. It’s Kit’s family’s island by way of eminent domain or maybe squatters’ rights, going back to his ancestors who got off the boat from Ireland with harpoons. And it’s possibly the most beautiful place in the world.
 
The northern end, closest to the house, is made of thick slabs of dark granite, which gradually narrow like the tip of a spear. At low tide you can jump from ledge to ledge here, and the ocean leaves a little pool inside the rocks where we swim. The house is a gray-shingled saltbox with a high pitched roof in the shape of an A. It sits on the ledge above the spear with the feathery grasses and blueberry bushes and patches of silver-green moss.
 
Inside there’s a galley kitchen and shelves crammed with bowls and plates and old crayon drawings of fish. The plywood counter is crowded with bright boxes of tea and jars of granola and beans. The woodstove sits to the right of the counter. We make sure to have enough wood, so it never goes out now. The couch sits between the woodstove and the ladder to the loft that Kit built after the boys were born. The couch is made of green velvet and is too fancy to be here.
 
The story goes that Kit’s mother liked living on the island so much she made Kit’s father, Jimmy, bring the couch out on his lobster boat. Martha had gotten the couch from her mother, who’d gotten the couch from her mother.
 
Martha died when Kit was ten. He does not ever talk about it, so it’s something we hardly speak of. But yesterday, when the wind slammed us from the north and it felt so raw out, Charlie and Sam and I sat on the couch with blankets and tea, and I thanked Martha for the couch again in my mind and wondered how long Sam will make us stay here.
 
The last five Novembers we’ve moved to Jimmy’s house on the mainland to wait out the winter, and Jimmy’s driven to a rental condo in Daytona Beach. But Sam says he won’t leave the island until Kit gets home from the hospital, and Jimmy announced that he’s not going anywhere until Kit comes back either.
 
 
 
Sam’s lying on the couch with his hands over his eyes now. Never a good sign.
 
He says he has an essay to write.
 
“Something descriptive, Mom. It also has to have purpose.
 
“Oh God. How long?” It’s important to try and act calm.
 
I know he’s waiting for any excuse to divert the blame to me. Then his story can be not that he didn’t plan ahead on the assign­ment but that I’ve caused him to feel so bad about procrastinating that he can’t possibly write the essay.
 
“Five pages.”
 
“Due when?” I smile. Just please don’t make it be due tomorrow.
 
“Tomorrow, like I said.”
 
He didn’t say.
 
He keeps his hands over his eyes so he doesn’t have to look at me.
 
“Oh, Sam.”
 
I can’t understand why he didn’t mention the essay in the car or the boat or while we just ate the enchiladas. I cannot.
 
“It’s fine, Mom. Chill, please. Really. It’s okay.”
 
“What is it even meant to be about?” I don’t try to explain how angry I am. We have been through this many times. He knows.
 
He was born two months premature and lived in the neona­tal intensive care at Maine Medical Center in Portland for several weeks while his little lungs grew, and Charlie says I baby him. He’s probably right and that my instinct for this started at the hospital. But two years ago Sam’s best friend, Liam, drowned.
 
It happened at the beginning of basketball season, when Liam and Sam were in eighth grade and spacy and goofy and just start­ing what they called their first rock band.
 
Each day after basketball practice they walked across the bridge that connects Sewall to Avery to get a ride home from Kit at Dairy Queen. I thought they walked on the sidewalk on top of the bridge that’s protected from the cars by a high green metal rail­ing. You can look down from there and see the brick part of Avery, where the high school is.
 
But what the boys did was climb underneath the bridge and walk on the railroad tracks, suspended over the water in all this metal caging. There was a gap between two of the wooden ties. A break where a boy could fall through. This is what happened to Liam. He fell.
 
There is no other way to say this. I have gone over it and over it, scouring it for more information, and there is none. He fell.
 
It took almost everyone we know who owns a boat searching for two days in the high seas before they found his body. May he rest in peace.
 
He was a beautiful boy, with almond skin like his father’s and a photographic memory for song lyrics. Name a song. Once, after he’d started playing Kit’s album collection in the house, he told me that the band he and Sam had started was going to sing com­plicated harmonies like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Sam on guitar, their friend Robbie on piano, and Liam on drums and vocals.
 
Liam and Sam had the same longish dark blond hair and the same way of leaning their heads slightly to the left when they laughed. People confused them from the back. Liam’s mother, Sally, told me last month that her young girls still see Sam at school and think he’s Liam.
 
Sally and her husband, Jorge, own a vegetable farm on the peninsula, with gardens that go all the way down to the ocean. It’s become a destination, this farm. We all stood in their biggest field and said goodbye to Liam in the most moving ceremony. Sally asked people to share stories of him and what he meant to them, and Sam was silent the whole time. He told me afterward that he’d wanted to say many things about his friend but he couldn’t speak.
 
Sam became afraid of falling after that. You could see it in his body. Tense in his shoulders, like he was going to fall off the boat or the float or the house. He’d lived through something so big on the bridge and couldn’t explain it to us. I did not know what he was thinking. I wondered constantly what he’d told himself about what he’d seen.
 
There was an anxiety that crept into almost everything he did, and I saw how much he needed me and didn’t want to need me. When he finally went back to school, he met with the school social worker in her office with the brown corduroy couch and told her that he should have drowned, not Liam. He said he didn’t feel like he had a self anymore now that Liam had died.
 
Sam had many sessions with Nettie. She was a twenty-six-year-old recent graduate of the University of Maine’s School of Social Work, with a deceptively casual way of speaking to teenagers that got them to confide in her. She told me once that Sam said he felt so alone after the drowning he was almost suffocating in the aloneness.
 
It was Kit’s and my job, Nettie said, to validate him. This meant we had to tell him things like he was not alone and he did not have to be strong.
 
Nettie said many of the kids she saw at school needed this kind of attention and were not good at asking for it. Lots of the boys had distorted ideas of what being strong and being masculine meant, and they suffered when they didn’t need to.
 
I told Sam, I am here. And, This is real, this sadness you’re going through. I’m going to help you however I can.
 
Nettie said even if he pretended not to hear us, some of it would get through. I think this has been true, though it hasn’t been easy to get Kit to understand how to do it, and I know Sam hasn’t always felt understood. Maybe that’s the job of teenagers, to feel misunderstood by their parents.
 
Sam never cried in front of us after Liam died. When I asked him about this, he said Jimmy told him that real men don’t cry. Only weak ones.
 
Jimmy is a short, bearded gnome of a man with piercing eyes who hauls six hundred lobster traps a day and appraises people based on physical strength. It has been my job to help Sam unlearn many of the ideas about manhood that Jimmy has taught him.
 
During the first weeks, Sam slept on a blow-up mattress on the floor next to our bed on the island. Twice he woke us up yelling for Liam in his sleep. Then he moved back up to the loft and refused to talk about it anymore. So the sadness became something he keeps to himself.

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