More than This

More than This

by Margo Candela

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416572145
Publisher: Touchstone
Publication date: 08/05/2008
Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 419 KB

About the Author

Margo Candela has made a name for herself with her debut novel, Underneath It All, followed by Life Over Easy. Margo was born and raised in East LA and studied journalism in San Francisco. She lives in Culver City, California. Visit her at www.margocandela.com.

Read an Excerpt


chapter one
Reasons for Leaving

Evelyn
I adjust the mirror to the side of the easel so I can see my naked back reflected in the one behind me. When I get the angles just right, I try to see myself objectively and fail do so, as usual. I can't ignore the roll of pudge around my middle. At the same time, I admire the muscle definition in my shoulders -- a testament to being able to do fifty straight-leg push-ups before my arms start to shake. I can't help but smile.

I pick up my Gauloises Blonde cigarette and take a puff, smoking being one of the few nasty habits I've picked up after almost a year living and re-creating myself in Paris. I tap the ashes into the chipped teacup I found on my first excursion to the Porte de Clignancourt flea market so many months ago. When I'm ready, I shift a little so my spine curves to the right and the subtle shadows of my rib cage press against my skin. I can see the back of my head with my long dark hair in a messy bun held in place with a pair of small ivory knitting needles I found in Prague, my naked back, shoulders, and a healthy portion of rump, but not my face.

With the lit cigarette between the fingers of my right hand, I pick up the brush with my left and start painting.

Alexander
My mouth feels dry. I'm having a little trouble swallowing, but my heart rate is steady. I could be at home watching TV and thirsty, but too lazy to get up and grab a beer, not about to make one of the most important purchases of my life. I try to work some spit into my mouth. The only thing that'll help is getting this over with. It's moments like these when I realize nothing in life has taught me one useful thing about being a man -- not my parents, all the women and girls I've dated, not my law degree or a year in Manhattan. I'm still as clueless about what I should do with my life as I ever was.

I take the ring between my fingers, hold it up to the light, pretending to admire it for what it means, not for what it costs. It's a princess cut on a platinum band. Important to get it right because that's what she wants. The saleslady, with her heavy perfume, assures me it is a near-flawless two-carat diamond. Also important, because the whole point is to get her the best, for people to be able to see how much she's worth from across the room.

All I have to do is reach into my wallet, pull out my credit card, and it's mine. I mean hers.

Evelyn
I hear the yelling in the courtyard before I actually register it has anything to do with me. I pull on my silk robe and walk to the window, massaging the cramp out of my lower back. I've been working in front of the canvas for a couple hours straight, putting the final touches on my version of a self-portrait.

I stick my head out the window to see the old woman who lives in the lower flat physically barring a chic, middle-aged Parisian wearing a structured black suit, towering high-heeled boots, and a red bag on her arm, from storming the doorway that leads up to my apartment.

"Madam Moreau? Va-tout très bien? " I call down to the old lady, hoping everything is okay, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

The two women (and all the neighbors watching from their windows) look up. The woman in the black suit points at me.

"There she is! Evelyn Morgan, the whore who is fucking my husband," she says by way of a how do you do. "I am the wife of Laurent Baschet, you American alley cat!"

Except she screams in it French so all my neighbors can hear and understand, because she, of course, is French and, it seems, married to the man I've been involved with, who is also French and evidently very married.

"Evelyn. Perhaps it would be best to invite your guest inside," Madam Moreau calmly suggests, as if a deliveryperson has knocked on the wrong door.

I slam the window shutters closed and for a moment want nothing more than to give in to the urge to melt into a puddle on the floor with a plate of dark chocolate-dipped madeleine cookies washed down with a glass of whole milk from the toothless dairy farmer who comes in once a week from the country to sell his wares at the market down the street. But even if I wanted to, there's no way I could indulge. My body just won't let me eat like I used to.

"Open up this door, slut!" She pounds on the door. For a moment I wonder how she could have sprinted up the stairs in those heels. "Husband thief ! Show your face!"

I push myself away from the wall, cinch the sash on my robe a little tighter, and scamper barefoot to the door, desperate for her to just stop yelling. I rip it open, momentarily stunning her into blessed silence. She looks me up and down, then pushes past me and plants herself in the middle of my studio, daring me to do something other than stand there meekly. She's already won, she knows it, but she's not satisfied yet.

"I'm sorry." It's all I can think to say in my clipped, prep school French.

"Sorry! You're sorry," she spits, her face as red as her fingernails. "I'm disappointed in Laurent. The stupid chiennes he fucks usually have a little more spirit."

"I didn't know he was married," I gasp. "He never..."

He. Laurent Baschet. My painting teacher, my mentor, my everything for most of the past year. We met at a reception given to introduce the new crop of students at the Parsons Paris art school to one another and the esteemed faculty who would be molding us into the artists of tomorrow, even if we were just expats with time and money to spare.

He kissed me on each cheek, held my hand, looked into my eyes, and said, "Evelyn Morgan. A beautiful name for such a beautiful girl, who has the hands of a true artist."

Up until Laurent, I hadn't considered myself anything but an overeducated, directionless former fat girl with a multidisciplinary degree from Brown, which I then supplemented with another B.A. in design and technology from Art Academy in San Francisco after I realized there wasn't much I was qualified to do besides read eighteenth-century novels in French.

The plan was to develop my doodles into something that could be considered art while living in my much divorced aunt's Left Bank apartment and posing as a struggling art student. It seemed romantic and, at times, even real to me.

At least it did up to just about now.

"Are you simpleminded, as well as a slut?" she rasps out in her husky smoker's voice. I bet her brand is also Gauloises Blonde, the cigarette Laurent introduced me to.

"I swear to you, madam, he never told me he was married," I say truthfully.

Of course, there were clues, but I chose not to see them. And I chose not to ask him. Why would I? I was in love with him, and the idea of the new reinvented me. Why ruin it with reality?

"What did he tell you? That he loved you? He's never met anyone like you." She laughs. "That's what he tells all of them. You're just another piece of ass to him, you stupid girl. Like all the others. But he always comes back to my bed. I'm his wife and the mother of his children!"

"I didn't know! I swear...I didn't. I never would have...I'm not that kind of person..." I trail off, unable to form the words through my sobs.

"My God. Laurent is getting complacent in his old age," she says calmly with almost a tinge of pity in her voice. "I would have thought this husband of mine would like more of a challenge and a girl with spirit."

"It's over," I cry, and wish she'd do the same or go back to screaming at me. I could stand either, but not her contempt. "It's over."

"Of course it is, my dear. When you see my husband, tell him his wife and children will be in the country for the rest of the week." With one last withering look, she turns on her heel and walks out.

I let myself feel pathetic and betrayed for a minute, and then I make a dash for my phone, tripping over the rug and sprawling onto the floor. My robe is wrapped around my head, leaving me naked as the day I was born. Instead of getting up or even covering myself, I curl into a little ball and cry.

Alexander
I walk up and down the sidewalk in front of her favorite brunch place, ignoring the couples who look so in love or are hiding behind their early Sunday editions of The New York Times. I keep moving and try to work up the nerve to walk in, drop to one knee, and offer her the proposal she's expecting.

Sigrid has a girls' get-together every other Saturday because, as she says, "I hate women who get a boyfriend and then drop their friends just to hang on his every word. Don't you hate women like that? Don't you, Alexander? You don't think I'm one of those women who plan their lives around their man? Do you, Alexander?"

I've learned to neither agree nor disagree with what Sigrid says. It makes life easier for the both of us. To make sure she doesn't notice my lack of commitment, I distract her with gifts. Spur-ofthe-moment trips to fancy spas and expensive bottles of rare wine to eat with Ritz crackers and peanut butter (her favorite snack). Money flows through my fingers like the imported vodka she likes mixed in novelty martini drinks that are ten dollars a pop.

With Sigrid, it's one endless party, being seen in the right places with the right people, being the couple all our friends say they wish they could be. In private, we fight about something stupid and then make up just as loudly within a day or so.

I rub my hands over my head, feeling the short hair under my palms. Nowadays my haircuts set me back $160. I used to get the same short buzz at my neighborhood barbershop in San Francisco for $20, including tip. Aside from the nice head massage with a quarter cup of fancy shampoo and free glass of wine, I can't tell much of a difference between the two buzz cuts except the price. But it makes Sigrid happy for me to go to the same person who cuts her hair. She likes to joke to her friends that we share everything, including a hairstylist.

With Sigrid, I can pretend to be a whole different person, one who doesn't have to care that the busboy clearing tables or the guy washing the martini glasses in the kitchen is an undocumented Guatemalan living in a two-room apartment with ten other people who have to sleep in shifts. I've spent the past year pissing away whatever I've earned as an associate lawyer at the firm of Crook, Asshole, and Jerk on clothes I can't afford (for the both of us), weekend trips to the Hamptons to get drunk with people I'd never call friends while sober, and loving every minute of it.

I've told Sigrid I love her even though I can go hours, days, without thinking about her. Why ask her to marry me? Simple. I've royally fucked up my career as a sharp Manhattan lawyer by asking too many questions about doing some pro bono work for those exploited Guatemalan bus boys, and pretty much signed my walking papers by talking to the cleaning staff about unionizing. On Friday, I was escorted out of the office and told not to show my face until I got my priories straight. Sigrid is all I have left.

One of the waiters comes outside to smoke a cigarette. He gestures with his lighter. "The place is full of estrogen; I don't think you want to go in there without reinforcements."

"My girlfriend likes to eat here," I say stupidly, the small velvet box feeling like an anchor in my hip pocket.

"Everybody's girlfriend likes to eat here, dude." He flicks cigarette ashes onto the sidewalk. "What gets me is they order all this food and they don't eat any of it. Why go out to a restaurant if you aren't going to eat?"

"They eat it later, at home. Alone." I lean up against the wall next to him. "I caught my girl doing that more than once. She told me she can't eat in front of her friends because they spend most of their time talking."

"Whacked." He blows smoke rings and offers his pack of cigarettes at the same time. "I've said it once and I'll say it until I die -- chicks are whacked. Wickety whacked."

"Thanks. I don't smoke." My parents schooled me all too well in the evils of Big Tobacco for me to consider ever taking it up as a hobby.

"Smart," he says as he lights a new cigarette with the stub of the one he just finished. "So when's your girl showing up? Better be soon. The kitchen's running low on nonfat, no-cal pretend pancakes."

"She's already inside. The blonde."

"Which one?" he asks as he flicks the still-smoking butt onto the sidewalk.

I take a look through the window and realize most of the women in there are various shades of blond. "She's sitting under the painting with the circles in the bright colors."

"Table six. They've ordered a pot of coffee but are holding off on ordering brunch." He crushes the butt of his cigarette with the heel of his scuffed waiter shoes. "They have a bottle of champagne on ice but haven't touched it. I guess they're going to be celebrating something."

Everything goes wavy, and I feel myself sway on my feet. I reach up and yank down on the collar of my shirt so I can get some air into my lungs before I pass out.

"Hey? You okay?" He takes a step forward and puts a hand on my shoulder.

"I'm fine." I breathe in and out.

"I gotta get back in." He claps me on the shoulder, a worried look on his face. "If you want, I can talk to the hostess. She can squeeze you in if you're dying for low-fat whole-wheat pancakes."

"Thanks, but I think I'm already being squeezed." Evelyn

It's dark outside when I finally convince myself I have no choice but to open my eyes. I shift around on the floor, trying to ease the pain in my hip and shoulder from lying on my side. Funny, it's time likes these when I almost miss my old padding.

"Evelyn? Ouvre la porte, chérie." Laurent has made an appearance. I sit up, closing my robe, as the noise that woke me gets louder. "Evelyn?"

"Go away, you lying bastard," I mumble just loud enough for him to hear.

"Don't be that way, chérie. Open the door." He jiggles the knob. "This isn't dignified."

"Dignified!" That's all it takes to snap me out of my stupor. I get up and stalk to the door, practically ripping it off its hinges. "Your wife -- wife -- calling me a whore -- a whore -- in front of my neighbors? That's not dignified, Laurent."

"Chérie, you're overreacting." Laurent tries to take me into his arms, but I sidestep him. "I see you are going to make this difficult." He holds up his hands when he sees I'm about to launch myself at him. "As you should be! This unpleasantness could have been avoided, and I blame myself for it, Evelyn."

"How big of you, Laurent, to take responsibility for being an adulterer and making one of me, too." I turn my back to him, searching for my shoes.

"I will take care of this. It's how it is." Laurent wanders over to the window, leans a hip on the sill, and lights up a cigarette. He waves the smoke away like he does my concerns. "It is expected for the wife to make a stand, chérie. Nothing but theatrics."

"So I'm supposed to be okay with being your official mistress and get over being your clueless girlfriend?" I give up on the shoes and look for something heavy, settling on the flea market vase I purchased earlier this week.

"Well, yes." He blows a steady stream of smoke out of his nose and smiles at me.

I light my own Gauloises, and flick my bangs out of my eyes so that he can see I'm serious. I recently let my hairdresser talk me into bangs. Yet, I have to admit, I like them. Since I can't wear sunglasses indoors, it's the next best thing to having something to hide behind.

"Well, yes?" I snap the fingers of my free hand. "Just like that?"

"Of course, things will have to change now that my wife is aware of our arrangement." Laurent shrugs his shoulders under his perfectly cut blazer. "We will have to make some concessions."

"What arrangement? What concessions? Do you mean we'll have to sneak around more? Less? Forget it, Laurent. We're over." I brandish the vase at him, spilling water and flowers onto the floor. "Beyond over! Finished! Done!"

"Evelyn. You're not one of those hopeless puritanical Americans with their empty moral crusades?" Laurent comes toward me, keeping his eyes on mine. "We can make this work. I want to make this work, chérie."

"You lied to me." I let him take the vase out of my hand as I crumple into him, hunching down, since at five ten I'm just as tall as he is.

"Not lied. I was, perhaps, less than forthcoming with some details about my life, chérie," he murmurs into my hair. "You can understand why."

I smile into his neck. If Laurent is guilty of editing details about himself, so am I. Maybe more so. He doesn't even know my real name.

"Haven't I always said I'd take care of you?" His hand wanders lower, down my spine to my hip, where it stays as he presses me closer to him.

"I don't need you to take care of me, Laurent."

"A feminist!" He laughs, pushing his pelvis into mine. "It's time you leave this dreary studio. I can help you find a real apartment, chérie."

"The thing is, Laurent, this isn't where I live." I gesture around me to the small room I've been using as my studio and supposed humble living quarters.

"I am not criticizing your choice in lodging, Evelyn." From his tone and past reluctance to stay longer than a few minutes, we both know this makes him a liar as well as an adulterer. He reaches for me, and I take a step back. I want to see his face when I tell him.

"You did well finding a room on the Left Bank, Evelyn, but there is no need to be a martyr. I can offer you some financial assistance now that our situation has changed."

"You're not listening to me, Laurent." I grab his hand and lead him downstairs, taking the key out of my robe pocket, and unlock the floor-to-ceiling double doors that lead into the apartment I've been sneaking into after he drops me off in front of the converted maid's room upstairs. "This is where I live."

Laurent steps into my aunt's three-bedroom apartment, pausing by the StairMaster that sits impudently on the gleaming parquet floors by one of the windows with its breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower. He makes his way into the American-style kitchen, weaving through the tastefully appointed furniture, all done in shades of ivory and chocolate.

"I don't understand." Laurent turns around and finally stops to face me. "You are watching this place for the owners?"

"No. It's mine. Well, my aunt's." I twist the sash of my robe into a knot, trying to see past Laurent's stunned expression to read what he really thinks. "She owns it, but she's in New York with her current husband and...so it's where I live....Where I've been living all this time."

Laurent is a moderately successful painter, augmenting his income with teaching and occasional art director work in movies. Though his family has a house in the country, so does every other Parisian. For all I know, it might be no more than a shabby cottage on a patch of land outside the city limits. I've never been invited, and now I know why.

"I don't understand, Evelyn." He sounds annoyed.

I walk into the kitchen and grab a box of tea sent to me by my mother in a care package every first day of the month. I hand it to Laurent and stand back.

"Tea?" He turns the box around in his hands, as if looking for some clue.

"You see the name there?" I point to the label. "Reed. I'm a Reed on my mother's side."

"Like the kiosks?" Laurent points toward the window, where we can see the glowing lights of one of the phone-booth-size contraptions.

Reed Coffees and Fine Teas have carefully populated three continents with more than ten thousand automatic coffee and tea kiosks. Choices are limited, quality assured, and the price is less than one would pay at, say, Starbucks. I've seen people wait in lines, in the rain, for their morning coffee or tea. Even here in Paris, where waiting in line is considered undignified.

"Do you see what's next to it?" I grab his hand, maneuver him to the front window, and point down to the ATM, known as un guichet automatique de banque or GAB, tucked into the same vestibule between doorways.

"The GAB?" Laurent asks.

"Sinclair Partners. I'm a Sinclair, too. On my father's side."

"I don't understand, Evelyn." Laurent shakes his head. "You're speaking in riddles."

I take a deep breath. "My real name is Evelyn Morgan Reed-Sinclair. Morgan is my middle name, not my last. I'm not a struggling art student, I don't work as a nanny and English tutor. I left home a year ago because...I needed time for the inside me to catch up with the outside me. Or maybe it's been the other way around. Either way...The new me."

"The new you?" Laurent asks, taking an abrupt seat on the couch behind him. He has that familiar sardonic look he gets when he finds my attitudes of the l'Américain typique variety.

"This" -- I sweep my hand down my body -- "is only half of what I used to be."

"You are not making sense, Evelyn." Laurent pats his pocket for cigarettes, ready to dismiss my confession. "Frankly, you sound insane."

I walk over to my purse and reach inside. "You know those fat tourists you make fun of ? I used to be one of those fat American dairy cows, as you call them." I hand him a fresh pack of Gauloises and a laminated picture I always keep with me.

Laurent looks from me to the snapshot taken just eighteen months ago, right after the surgery in which I had a lap band put in to shrink my stomach and, therefore, how much I could eat. Somewhere buried in all that flesh, 250 pounds of it when the picture was taken, is me. Still me, despite the fact that I weigh 100 pounds less and moved thousands of miles away from home to try to escape myself. In some ways, I'm still the fat girl willing to make do with what life offers her because fat girls can't be picky.

"This is not funny, Evelyn." He shoves the cigarettes and picture at me. "And that? That is disgusting."

Or maybe not.

"Out." I point to the door. "You need to leave now."

"I was indiscreet with my choice of words, Evelyn." He's trying to apologize but looks annoyed with me for having to do it. He moves toward the door. "I am willing to overlook your revelations. I should now go to my wife. She's very upset. I will call you when you are more rational, Evelyn."

"Don't bother, Laurent. I never want to see you again."

"Chérie," he begins, sensing he's pushed me a tad too far.

I pick up an ashtray and hurl it against the door so it disintegrates with a satisfying crash just behind him. "I swear, Laurent, if you say one more word, I'll smash your fucking face in."

After a few moments, I realize he's walked out with my cigarettes. It doesn't matter -- I've just quit.

Alexander
From the velocity with which Sigrid tosses her purse (a tan leather sixteen-hundred-dollar Chloé I gave her to make amends after my stupid but truthful admission that I prefer brunettes) onto the table by the door, I can tell she's annoyed. And when Sigrid is annoyed, the whole world can do no right by her.

"Hey, baby!" I wave the remote at her, taking my eyes off the program I'm halfway watching about the frozen tundra and the people who manage to scratch out a pretty happy living there. "What's shaking?"

Sigrid stomps past me and slams the door to the bathroom without looking in my direction.

I grab hold of one of the stiff cushions she likes to keep on the couch and toss it up into the air, letting it spin, catch it, and then toss it up again. I listen as Sigrid runs the water in the sink, opens and closes the squeaky medicine cabinet door, and I wait for her to come out, not moving from the safety of the couch.

A little more than three months ago, I agreed with Sigrid's suggestion that it would be best to move out of my West Harlem studio apartment into her more spacious Upper West Side one-bedroom for the sake of our relationship. Since then we've had less sex than we did when we lived apart, but shared a significant moment when we agreed that zebra-striped towels from Pottery Barn were a wise joint purchase.

I crack the tension in my neck by snapping my head a couple of times to each side, a habit I developed from years of swimming. My parents figured out it was the only sport that would shut me up, because I couldn't talk without drowning myself. I swam through high school, into college, and came as close as anyone can to almost making the Olympic team. I had the speed, the build, and just enough height at six three to be a real contender, but in the end I came up just short, like I always have. Like I just have with my girlfriend.

Sigrid stomps out of the bathroom and turns off the TV. She turns around to face me, her arms crossed over her chest and a scowl on her face that would freeze an Eskimo -- sorry, Inuit -- in his tracks.

"Hi, honey!" I pat the space next to me, making sure to set the pillow back in the precise spot where she likes to see it. "How was brunch? You bring back anything good?"

"No, Alexander" -- she holds out her empty hands and bare fingers for me to inspect -- "I didn't come back with anything from brunch."

An opening as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel, but I choose to take a side street down Bonehead Way. "You want to order something from the Chinese place down the street?"

"I'm not hungry," Sigrid snaps. She's still standing in front of the TV, so even if I was stupid enough to try to turn it back on, I couldn't. "We need to talk."

No guy likes to hear a woman say these words, even when he knows he deserves them.

"Okay. Let's talk."

I fix my face into an attentively blank but sincere look. One I perfected in the office of my high school guidance counselor when discussing my talent for fucking up. I'm sure he, Mr. Figgis, would have taken me out back and beaten the crap out of me if he could have. The only thing that kept him from doing it was the threat to his pension. We both knew I'd end up doing okay. I was a golden-brown boy, like my friends used to say. I got the grades, the girls, and the get-out-of-juvie-free card, and he hated me for it. Like Mr. Figgis always said, "You were born lucky, Mr. Velazquez. And the sad thing is your kind of luck will get you as far as you want to go. Now get the hell out of my office, and if I catch you under the bleachers again, I'm suspending your ass."

I'm getting the feeling Sigrid is about to complete Mr. Figgis's unfinished business.

"I can't fucking believe you, Alexander."

"Baby, what is it? Tell me what's wrong and I'll fix it." I'm an asshole. There's no way Sigrid can tell me I was supposed to propose to her without looking like the most needy and pathetic woman in Manhattan.

The phone rings. I look at it but don't make a move until I'm confident my irate girlfriend won't lob the TV at my head.

"Velazquez Bern residence. Alexander speaking." I smile at Sigrid. She doesn't smile back. The next moment a high-pitched squeak pierces my eardrum and I almost drop the phone. I hold it out to Sigrid, but I'm able to make out "Ecstatic! Part of the family! Summer wedding!"

"Siggy, I think it's your mom."

She snatches the phone out of my hand. "Not now, Mother."

She tosses it, hard, and I have to duck out of the way so it doesn't bean me. "You're upset; I can see that, Sigrid. And all I can say is I'm sorry."

"Sorry doesn't make it okay, Alexander." She perches on the armchair, suddenly calm. "It doesn't even begin to make it okay."

I clear my throat, the primitive part of my brain kicking into high gear. She's backing me into a corner, forcing me to make a decision we both thought was a foregone conclusion. I'm the one who dropped the ball. Didn't come through for the team. Choked. With no other avenue of escape, I go on the offensive.

"The firm let me go on Friday."

"What does that mean?" Even with the distance between us, I can see her pupils dilate with shock. "You got fired?"

"Yeah." If she wants me to be her husband, there's really no reason for me to sugarcoat the reality of it all. "They weren't too happy with me doing that pro bono work on the side with the janitors."

"The fucking janitors again? Why do you do this to me? To us?" She gets up, wringing her hands as she paces back and forth. "Never mind, I don't want to hear it. We can fix this. I'll call Patrick. He can get you an interview with his firm. Monday. I'll have to call in a favor, but I'm sure he can find you a place there."

"I don't want your ex-boyfriend to get me a job, Siggy." I stand up and take her by the shoulders. "Your ex-boyfriend isn't much different than the assholes who fired me."

"Who the fuck cares, Alexander? They're janitors for a fucking reason. You have other responsibilities to me. To us. Not to some fucking no-English-speaking illegal immigrants."

I blink a couple of times and then reach into my pocket and pull out the velvet box. She sucks in her breath at the sight of it.

She looks at it but doesn't take it. She steps away, crossing her arms again. "I can't marry you, Alexander. Not until you get your shit together."

I smile at her, looking straight into her narrowed green eyes. "I don't recall asking you to marry me, Sigrid." Copyright © 2008 by Margo Candela

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A thoroughly captivating novel filled with warmth, wit, and style. I kept turning the pages until there were none left." —Karen Quinn, author of Wife in the Fast Lane and The Ivy Chronicles

Life is full of opportunities. Don't miss yours to read More Than This. It will make you believe in destiny!" —Lara Rios, author of Becoming Americana

"Margo Candela's writing is smart, engaging and laugh-out-loud funny. In More Than This she has created a vibrant and colorful cast of characters you won't soon forget." —Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, author of Midori By Moonlight

"More Than This should come with a warning label: Careful, contents will keep you up all night and will stay with you weeks on after." —Mary Castillo, author of Switchcraft

Reading Group Guide


After living in Paris for a year, Evelyn Reed-Sinclair returns home to San Francisco nursing a broken heart. An heiress to a coffee and tea empire, she has no desire to participate in the highsociety, party-hopping lifestyle in which her younger sister revels. And when a mix-up leads to a job at a struggling dot com company, Evelyn keeps mum about her true identity and joins the nine-to-five workforce.

Meanwhile, Alexander Velasquez, an ambitious lawyer from a working-class San Francisco neighborhood, signs on with a posh law firm. His defense of a rich, conniving widow (who has designs on more than his legal skills) brings him into conflict with his labor activist father and ultimately leads him to question his professional path.

As Evelyn and Alexander endeavor to sort out their lives, they become attracted to each other...from a distance. A series of near meetings and missed connections -- and occasionally peeping into each other's offices with binoculars -- brings them ever closer, but neither one is willing to take the next step.

Told in alternating narratives from Evelyn and Alexander's points of view, More Than This is a wise and witty story that asks: Can two people who have never exchanged even a single word fall in love?

For Discusson

1. More Than This opens with Evelyn and Alexander each ending a romantic relationship. What is your initial impression of both characters? Why is each one compelled to return home to San Francisco after their breakups?

2. What are your thoughts on the novel's structure -- the alternating narratives told from Evelyn and Alexander's perspectives -- as well as the fact that the two main characters are romantically linked and yet never meet?

3. Discuss the overall theme of secrecy in the novel. Evelyn kept her identity a secret in Paris, posing as a struggling art student, and she keeps quiet about who she really is while working at UGotIt.com. Why does Evelyn hide behind different personas? What did she achieve by moving to Paris, which she described as an attempt "to try to escape" (page 16) herself?

4. "It makes me wonder what [women] see in me," Alexander muses. "I'm no poet or philosopher or even that considerate" (page 132). What makes Alexander so attractive to the opposite sex? Is it merely his looks? In contrast to Alexander, who is described as looking like a Mexican JFK, Jr., Evelyn has struggled with her appearance. Discuss Evelyn's self-image. In what ways did her life change after she lost a significant amount of weight?

5. What motivates Evelyn to work at UGotIt.com? If, as she told James, she wants to "make it on my own" (page 153), why is she working for no pay?

6. Alexander and Evelyn have each built up an image of the other based on chance encounters, fleeting looks, press accounts, and a few instances of spying through office windows. How accurate are their assessments of each other? Is it possible to fall in love with someone with whom you've never exchanged a word? Could a relationship between the two of them work? Why or why not? Why do both Evelyn and Alexander refer to their preoccupation with each other as a "healthy relationship"? Why is neither one willing to make the first move and orchestrate a meeting?

7. Evelyn and Tannin are opposites in looks and personality. How does each one view their upbringing and lifestyle? Why does Evelyn struggle with what Tannin accepts?

8. Discuss Alexander's relationship with his family and in particular with his father. "Even when it's in my best interest, the more he says I can't or shouldn't, the more I want to do whatever it is he's taken a stand against," Alexander says (page 187). Is he really as different from his father as he thinks he is? How so?

9. Alexander knows that by leaving the courtroom in the middle of Candace's hearing he'll likely be forfeiting his job at Williams, Heller, Lincoln. Why does he decide to walk out anyway?

10. How does the book's title apply to the characters in the story? What "more than this" is each one searching for, and do they find it?

11. Discuss the novel's ending. What do you imagine the future holds for Evelyn and Alexander -- personally, professionally, and romantically?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In a nod to Alexander's heritage, dine at a Mexican restaurant for your book club discussion of More Than This or serve a meal similar to the one his family enjoys in the novel -- chili con carne, homemade flour tortillas, rice and beans. Recipes for Mexican cuisine are available at allrecipes.com and recipezaar.com.

2. Brew up some tea, Evelyn's drink of choice, and serve it in style in a china teapot and cups. One hundred and fifty varieties of loose tea can be found at theteatable.com.

3. Have each member bring a gift-wrapped copy of a novel by Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters, Evelyn's favorite writers. Take turns picking from the wrapped copies, and everyone will leave with a surprise classic to read.

Introduction

After living in Paris for a year, Evelyn Reed-Sinclair returns home to San Francisco nursing a broken heart. An heiress to a coffee and tea empire, she has no desire to participate in the highsociety, party-hopping lifestyle in which her younger sister revels. And when a mix-up leads to a job at a struggling dot com company, Evelyn keeps mum about her true identity and joins the nine-to-five workforce.

Meanwhile, Alexander Velasquez, an ambitious lawyer from a working-class San Francisco neighborhood, signs on with a posh law firm. His defense of a rich, conniving widow (who has designs on more than his legal skills) brings him into conflict with his labor activist father and ultimately leads him to question his professional path.

As Evelyn and Alexander endeavor to sort out their lives, they become attracted to each other...from a distance. A series of near meetings and missed connections — and occasionally peeping into each other's offices with binoculars — brings them ever closer, but neither one is willing to take the next step.

Told in alternating narratives from Evelyn and Alexander's points of view, More Than This is a wise and witty story that asks: Can two people who have never exchanged even a single word fall in love?

For Discusson

1. More Than This opens with Evelyn and Alexander each ending a romantic relationship. What is your initial impression of both characters? Why is each one compelled to return home to San Francisco after their breakups?

2. What are your thoughts on the novel's structure — the alternating narratives told from Evelyn and Alexander's perspectives — as well as the fact that the two main charactersare romantically linked and yet never meet?

3. Discuss the overall theme of secrecy in the novel. Evelyn kept her identity a secret in Paris, posing as a struggling art student, and she keeps quiet about who she really is while working at UGotIt.com. Why does Evelyn hide behind different personas? What did she achieve by moving to Paris, which she described as an attempt "to try to escape" (page 16) herself?

4. "It makes me wonder what [women] see in me," Alexander muses. "I'm no poet or philosopher or even that considerate" (page 132). What makes Alexander so attractive to the opposite sex? Is it merely his looks? In contrast to Alexander, who is described as looking like a Mexican JFK, Jr., Evelyn has struggled with her appearance. Discuss Evelyn's self-image. In what ways did her life change after she lost a significant amount of weight?

5. What motivates Evelyn to work at UGotIt.com? If, as she told James, she wants to "make it on my own" (page 153), why is she working for no pay?

6. Alexander and Evelyn have each built up an image of the other based on chance encounters, fleeting looks, press accounts, and a few instances of spying through office windows. How accurate are their assessments of each other? Is it possible to fall in love with someone with whom you've never exchanged a word? Could a relationship between the two of them work? Why or why not? Why do both Evelyn and Alexander refer to their preoccupation with each other as a "healthy relationship"? Why is neither one willing to make the first move and orchestrate a meeting?

7. Evelyn and Tannin are opposites in looks and personality. How does each one view their upbringing and lifestyle? Why does Evelyn struggle with what Tannin accepts?

8. Discuss Alexander's relationship with his family and in particular with his father. "Even when it's in my best interest, the more he says I can't or shouldn't, the more I want to do whatever it is he's taken a stand against," Alexander says (page 187). Is he really as different from his father as he thinks he is? How so?

9. Alexander knows that by leaving the courtroom in the middle of Candace's hearing he'll likely be forfeiting his job at Williams, Heller, Lincoln. Why does he decide to walk out anyway?

10. How does the book's title apply to the characters in the story? What "more than this" is each one searching for, and do they find it?

11. Discuss the novel's ending. What do you imagine the future holds for Evelyn and Alexander — personally, professionally, and romantically?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. In a nod to Alexander's heritage, dine at a Mexican restaurant for your book club discussion of More Than This or serve a meal similar to the one his family enjoys in the novel — chili con carne, homemade flour tortillas, rice and beans. Recipes for Mexican cuisine are available at www.allrecipes.com and www.recipezaar.com.

2. Brew up some tea, Evelyn's drink of choice, and serve it in style in a china teapot and cups. One hundred and fifty varieties of loose tea can be found at www.theteatable.com.

3. Have each member bring a gift-wrapped copy of a novel by Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters, Evelyn's favorite writers. Take turns picking from the wrapped copies, and everyone will leave with a surprise classic to read.

Margo Candela has made a name for herself with her debut novel, Underneath It All, followed by Life Over Easy. Margo was born and raised in East LA and studied journalism in San Francisco. She lives in Culver City, California. Visit her at www.margocandela.com.

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More than This 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
heike6 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll give it a better rating if the author writes a sequel. The whole book was a build-up to these two people meeting each other, and then the book ends. I don't like open endings!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Margo Candela has created a poor little rich girl in Evelyn that you can't help but cheer on as she battles her weight, her partygirl sister, her perfect parents and even her best friend in order to try to find herself. While we are watching Evelyn run away from her painting study in Paris and take on a new job, without even being hired, we are also thrown into Alexander's life. And his life is in as much upheaval as Evelyn's life is. More Than This explores those random thought we all have looking across a crowded room and wondering, is he/she the one? Ms. Candela also plays with the misconceptions and ease we feel as we fall into comfortable patterns, unwilling to step out of our handmade shells.