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Once upon a Day
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Once upon a Day

4.3 17
by Lisa Tucker

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Dorothea's father, like all good parents, wanted to keep his children safe. But unlike other parents, Charles O'Brien believed the only way to do so was to leave everything behind, including his very successful life. In a rocky, desolate corner of New Mexico, on a thirty-five acre estate he called the "Sanctuary," Charles raised the children in complete isolation,


Dorothea's father, like all good parents, wanted to keep his children safe. But unlike other parents, Charles O'Brien believed the only way to do so was to leave everything behind, including his very successful life. In a rocky, desolate corner of New Mexico, on a thirty-five acre estate he called the "Sanctuary," Charles raised the children in complete isolation, with books and encyclopedias, records and a grand piano, but no television, computer, radio, or even a newspaper. Now, Dorothea, at twenty-three, is leaving this place for the first time, in search of her missing brother - and venturing into the world.

Dorothea's search will turn into an odyssey of discovery, leading to the truth of her family's past and the terrifying day that changed her father forever. But Dorothea's journey will also introduce her to an unusual cast of characters, including a homeless girl from Missouri who becomes a jazz singer and a doctor turned cabdriver who has suffered his own losses. Together, they have a chance to make a discovery of a different kind: that though a heart can be broken by the tragic events of a day, a day can also bring a new chance at love and a deeper understanding of life's infinite possibilities.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tucker's complexly structured novel could be a tight wire act for a reader because the story has multiple narrators and follows two compelling story lines separated by almost two decades. Fortunately, Bean is a dexterous performer who is more than up to the challenge. She does an admirable job, not only reading chapters in alternating character voices but also enlivening dialogue within those chapters with subtle, compelling and entertaining voices for each character. She adapts a higher, airy lightness to portray Dorothea, who is thrust out into the modern world to discover family secrets after having been sheltered from the outside world for decades by her overprotective father. Bean portrays Dorothea's emotionally damaged brother, Jimmy, with a scratchy, raw rasp and her cab-driving protector, Stephen, with the laid-back ease of a lower register. (The only voice that seems off is Dorothea's father, who sounds like a robotic Hannibal Lechter.) Tucker's tale is a twisty one filled with surprising revelations and multiple emotional payoffs, and Bean maneuvers the terrain with ease. Simultaneous release with the Atria hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 28). (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A sheltered, innocent young woman, a kind cab driver, and a former film star are the narrators of Tucker's (The Song Reader) ambitious third novel. The plot involves one Charles O'Brien, a single parent who has raised his children in the "Sanctuary," a desolate New Mexico location devoid of television, computer, radio, or newspapers. When Charles becomes seriously ill, his 23-year-old daughter, Dorothea, must travel to St. Louis to locate her missing older brother and, she hopes, convince him to return home. Her brother, meanwhile, plagued by lifelong violent nightmares, feels compelled to locate their mother's family. Dorothea's odyssey is at the heart of this challenging, compelling, and poignant novel, which is grounded by popular culture details from the Seventies and present day. Readers will find this captivating, fish-out-of-water fairy tale and mystery-suspense-romance difficult to put down. Intriguing themes, including fate and coincidence, love and loss, and tragedy and forgiveness, combine with an unusual, compassionate cast of characters to make this is a good choice for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 1.20(h) x 9.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Once Upon a Day

A Novel
By Lisa Tucker


Copyright © 2006 Lisa Tucker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743492773

Chapter One

Stephen Spaulding was very happy, and you can't say that about most people. He hadn't sought happiness, but he recognized it. This was his gift: to know what he had.

When it was gone, of course he knew that too. He changed from a man who could smile at strangers first thing in the morning to a man who wouldn't look anybody in the eye. He'd lost his family in a freak accident, and the rest he let go of as easily as opening his hand and releasing a string of balloons. Good-bye to the family practice he had just started with two friends from his residency. Good-bye to the Victorian house he and Ellen had gone deeply into debt to buy when she got pregnant during his internship. Good-bye to the cradle and the tricycle and the pink and purple birthday party dress Lizzie never had a chance to wear.

More than a year later, he still hadn't adjusted to the way time itself had been altered. Before there was never enough time, and the list of things he and Ellen had not gotten around to doing was one of many things that still tortured him. The untaken trip to Paris bothered him less than the movies they'd talked about renting. Why hadn't they watched them? Ellen'sentire list could be watched in a weekend. He knew this because he had done it, several times. He watched the movies his wife had wanted him to, and thought about what she would say if she were there. This was back in the early months, when he was trying to give her gifts, as though she could come back if only he worked harder to make her want this life.

After the accident, there was too much time. Each day stretched before him like a flat Kansas highway, the only landmarks the meals he forced himself to choke down, the few chores he performed, and the occasional walks he took, rarely noticing anything or anyone on his path. He finally bought the old green and white Checker cab not because he needed the income -- his compensation from the city would support him forever, especially since he had no desires, nothing he wanted now -- but because he could drive it as little or as much as he liked, sixteen hours a day, more if his insomnia was bad.

He wouldn't have sued, but the city gave him an enormous sum anyway. The newspaper headline called it a "regrettable tragedy." It was a Sunday in late July; the police were chasing a teenager who had stolen a rusted-out '84 Toyota from a neighbor's driveway. The car was worth less than five hundred dollars, but the patrol car that slammed into his family at the intersection had been going over eighty miles an hour. He was driving; Lizzie was in her booster seat in the back, behind Ellen. The teenage thief turned himself in when he heard what had happened. The policeman who was driving took early retirement.

And Stephen, the barely thirty-year-old family practice doc, became a cabbie. What difference did it make? His knowledge of how to heal bodies had done nothing for him anyway. His wife and four-year-old daughter had still died right in front of his eyes.

Now he was learning the quickest way to the airport from any street in St. Louis. How to slide around a bus, and when to change lanes so his customer would feel they were making progress. What times the restaurants and bars closed, and which of his regulars would be likely to drink one too many and need a ride on a Saturday night.

People often mentioned what a safe driver he was. The safest cab driver they'd ever ridden with. He nodded, but he didn't respond. He never drove without the radio playing. Talk show, pop music, news channel, it didn't matter. The radio was his excuse not to talk.

The only time he would answer was when a customer asked about the amusement park tickets. They didn't ask often, even though he'd had the tickets laminated and kept them displayed above the visor, right next to his license. Stephen wasn't surprised. He knew most people aren't interested in their cab drivers.

He wasn't surprised; still, he longed for the question. He longed for another opportunity to tell the whole story of that perfect July day at the amusement park: riding the water slides and the Ferris wheel and the child's roller coaster; eating hot dogs and ice cream -- mint chocolate chip, Ellen's favorite; trying to win a giant stuffed panda bear, and when he couldn't make the ring toss (a setup, he was sure), buying the bear for his daughter anyway.

Every time he told the story, he added a few more details. As the months went by, the story often filled the entire drive; sometimes he would still be talking while his customer was trying to hand him money and get away.

He knew he was going too far, but he couldn't help himself. Back at his apartment whenever he tried to think of that day he drew a blank. It was only in the cab, talking to strangers, that he seemed to be able to bring it all to life: the feel of the sun on the back of his hands and the bright drips of green falling off their cones onto the hot pavement and how awkward and adorable Lizzie looked that night, lugging the giant panda to their car.

He didn't realize how he'd begun to live for these discussions until a rainy morning in April, when they suddenly came to an end.

He'd picked up a girl at the bus station downtown. One of the weirdos, though this one wasn't pierced or tattooed or obviously strung out, but even more bizarre, naturally pale as a made-up Goth, but dressed like a throwback to the fifties: long flared black skirt, fluffy pink sweater, even the white ankle socks and saddle oxford shoes. Her hair was in a thick braid, twisted like some kind of tight crown on top of her head, and she was sitting up so straight she looked uncomfortable, eyes unblinking, small white hands folded carefully in her lap. Stephen had already put her out of his mind when she mentioned the tickets about ten minutes into the ride. But before he could tell her about the slides or the food or even the perfect weather that day, she noticed what no one else had: that the tickets weren't stubs.

"What happened?" she said. "Why didn't you ever use those?"

He flushed with a confusion that quickly turned to anger. It had taken him nearly a year to perfect the story of the amusement park -- for chrissakes, couldn't he have even this? He wasn't asking for all the days and hours and minutes he would have had with Ellen and Lizzie, he was just asking for one more day.

Stephen had been taking his family to the park when their car was broadsided. Lizzie had wanted to go all summer, and that day they had the tickets: they were really, finally going. All he had done in his story was change "were going" to "had gone." A mere verb shift, and yet it changed everything.

And now this strange girl in his cab was forcing him to change it back.

Her voice was entirely innocent. She had no idea what she'd taken from him. But then again, he had no idea what she was about to give.

Copyright ©2006 by Lisa Tucker


Excerpted from Once Upon a Day by Lisa Tucker Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Tucker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Lisa Tucker is the author of The Song Reader and Shout Down the Moon; she has also published short work in Seventeen, Pages, and The Oxford American. She has advanced degrees in English and math, and has taught creative writing at the Taos Conference and UCLA. Lisa lives in Pennsylvania and New Mexico with her husband and son.

Brief Biography

Santa Fe, New Mexico
Place of Birth:
B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1984; M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1987; M.A., Villanova University, 1991

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Once upon a Day 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
mattsmomMS More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book!! Once I started I was so wrapped in the characters, I couldn't put the book down! It was beautifully written and an easy read. I actually felt the pain and joy of the characters. This is the first book by this author I have read, but I will definitely be trying her other novels! Great read!!
opie83 More than 1 year ago
I found this book enthralling and captivating. I just wanted to keep reading to find out what would happen. The characters are interesting and make you want to know them more and more. Overall I would suggest this book to any avid reader.
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Everything about this book delivers.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very engaging and enjoyable to read. There is one section that I have gone back to read several times because it is so romantic and touching. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance and finding love in the unexpected situation. This is one that I will probably read atleast once a year. I wish there was a sequel!
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LEA5284 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book through and through, from the unique writing style to the unique characters. I highly recommend you give it a try.
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I enjoyed it also. I read it quite awhile ago. A little bit deep, a little bit mysterious.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like the other reviewer, I was also surprised this book had no other reviews. I looked it up to find more of what this author has written; fully expecting a ton of five***** reviews on this book. I don't know what led me to pick it up - but boy am I so glad I did! The story is lovely, I could hardly put the book down. It's rather long but NEVER boring! The characters are likeable & believeable. Simply a story you must read, I recommend to all!