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One Heart: A Novel

One Heart: A Novel

3.7 9
by Jane McCafferty

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"You're given life, and certain people walk into it. Some make a small but deep impression, like a kid from your second grade class who shows up in your dream every three years. Others walk in and break your heart. You remember them every day. Very few people, maybe one, maybe none, stay with you for the long run. It's a kind of miracle if someone&


"You're given life, and certain people walk into it. Some make a small but deep impression, like a kid from your second grade class who shows up in your dream every three years. Others walk in and break your heart. You remember them every day. Very few people, maybe one, maybe none, stay with you for the long run. It's a kind of miracle if someone's with you for the long run. A kind of miracle..."

From the award-winning author of the acclaimed short story collection Director of the World comes this stunning debut novel--a charmingly poignant, razor sharp tale of two sisters and the depths and consequences of love that is reminiscent of the works of Anne Tyler, Louise Erdrich, and Barbara Kingsolver.

Gladys and Ivy are sisters, reluctant best friends who have depended upon each other through a shared lifetime marked by grief and loss, including the untimely deaths of Gladys's two children and the end of her passionate yet troubled marriage. While bonded by love and loneliness, the sisters remain divided by a wall of silence and pain that prevents Gladys from accepting the solace Ivy desperately needs to give.

Then one late April day, the pattern of their quiet lives is suddenly ruptured when a dark-eyes young woman with a mysterious past arrives on their doorstep. Quickly befriending Gladys, the intriguing Raelene convinces her to escape on a cross-country jaunt that will become a journey of discovery. Left to contend with the loss of her sister--and a surprise visit from Gladys's estranged husband--Ivy too will contemplate the frayed tapestry of her life and confront emotions long denied.

For Ivy and Gladys, however, personal transformation has just begun. Eventually reunited, the two must face searing truths about themselves, their past, and their relationship--soulful revelations that will ultimately bring them closer or hopelessly keep them apart.

Rich in character, language, and emotion, One Heart is a powerful, moving tale of family, friendship, forgiveness, and redemption--a remarkable achievement from an exquisitely talented new writer.

Editorial Reviews

Kim Edwards
Jane McCafferty writes beautifully, with a poet's eye, a wise and passionate heart . . . . Ordinary characters reveal their extraordinary hidden lives, rich with humor, determination and an ability to marvel at the mysterious and sometimes painful workings of the world.
Elizabeth Strout
A lovely book, full of surprises, with characters that stay in your heart long after the book has been put down.
Chicago Tribune
Fans of Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler will take to this book and find it compelling.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like her debut collection, Director of the World & Other Stories, which won the 1992 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, McCafferty's first novel focuses on the life-altering effects of love, loss and abandonment. Sisters Gladys and Ivy, both in their late 40s, live and work as cooks at a school and summer camp in upstate New York. Ivy is fat and cheerful; Gladys is fat and dour (but as Ivy says, "I been fat since birth. Gladys only blew up after she had troubles"). Ever since they were children, Gladys's life has been stormier than Ivy's. Their father focused all his attention on Gladys, alternately praising and beating her. Gladys married James ("the two of them were so in love it made me nearly sick to be around," Ivy says), but the couple's three-year-old daughter drowned, Gladys's stepson was killed in Vietnam and the marriage failed. When the novel begins, Gladys has been living and working with Ivy for 10 years, but the sisters remain a mystery to each other. Ivy is determined to crack Gladys's hard exterior, and Gladys is suspicious of Ivy's even temper. Then Raelene, a lonely teenager from Philadelphia, wheedles her way into Gladys's affections and serves as a catalyst for Gladys's healing. While the two of them are away on a cross-country odyssey, James visits Ivy, and Ivy and her sister's ex-husband become lovers. Ivy, Gladys, James and Raelene take turns narrating chapters as their stories unfold, and McCafferty gives readers a split-screen view of the nature of personal transformation. Gradually, the overriding sense of despair that hangs over the novel is replaced by hope, as Gladys and Ivy accept change and welcome renewal. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Old tragedy overlays this lovely story of Gladys and Ivy, two middle-aged sisters who love (and misunderstand) the mystery that each is to the other. Gladys, having survived the unimaginable deaths of not one but two children (Ann drowned at three, Wendell was killed years later in Vietnam), is hardened and numb to much that goes on around her. Ivy, steadfastly cheerful and outgoing, carries Gladys along as they work side by side at a summer camp/winter school for children. The ghost of Gladys's passionate early marriage, which disintegrated after Ann's death, dogs the sisters when ex-husband James reappears decades later. And then there is Raelene, a waif who wore Wendell's MIA bracelet during the Vietnam war and later tracked Gladys to the camp. Raelene captures the older woman's attention and takes her on a cross-country adventure, unwittingly precipitating an aching loneliness in Ivy that abates in the arms of James. The wry humor and a supporting cast of endearing eccentrics draw the reader even further into the lives of these brave, wounded people. One Heart has a big heart; highly recommended.--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Loneliness is the dominant emotion in this sad, sensitive first novel by the author of a previous story collection (Director of the World, 1992). It's not that McCafferty's characters are isolated, alienated individuals; they live in an intricate web of family relations revolving around the tension-riddled bond of Ivy and Gladys, who, when the story opens in 1978, are middle-aged sisters working as cooks in an upstate New York camp/school for troubled rich kids. The author deftly moves her narrative backward to their childhood and forward to the present in chapters related (in nicely distinct voices) by each of the sisters; Gladys's ex-husband, James; and her much younger friend, Raelene. It seems that James's arrival shattered the sisters' youthful intimacy, which appeared to have withstood their father's blatant favoring of Gladys, and that the accidental drowning of Ann, James and Gladys's preschool daughter, broke her mother's spirit in a way that would never be put right. Gladys, always disinclined to communicate, becomes even more resistant to Ivy's attempt to get close, displaying something like contempt for her sister's efforts to put a good face on a world Gladys sees as cruel and meaningless. Yet Gladys can't entirely resist the neediness of Raelene, daughter of a clinically depressed mother and drug-addicted father who arrives at Camp Timber as a teenaged counselor after years of correspondence initiated when Raelene began wearing a bracelet with the name of James's POW son (later revealed to be dead). This is a story about loss and the pain of love that never seems to reach the right person at the right time, but a strain of dark humor and appreciation for natural beautykeeps it from unrelieved grimness. McCafferty makes us care for her troubled characters, each a fully rounded, complex individual. Her themes are evident, yet always grounded particulars. Strong work from a writer to watch.

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Read an Excerpt


When Your Mind Drifts

I been cook at Camp Timber outside of Lake Cataman here in New York State for almost twenty years, and the rest of the year I cook for the Timber winter school. I live on the premises in a small blue house on top of a hill that's covered with a carpet of dark maple leaves every autumn.

The winter school's a red brick building set down in the valley with spruce and ash circling all around it, and the camp's up on the other hill, all spread out on the flat land. They got cabins and what you call lean-tos for sleeping, and in the middle an outhouse someone painted purple. The children are sent up here just as soon as they spell cat. They're wealthy children, but brokenhearted. You can see that initially.

My sister, Gladys, cooked with me the last ten years or so. She's forty-eight now. Let's face it; she's a rather heavy woman, like me, so the children get their laughs. For children "fat" is the joke they hear over and over and still it's funny. Gladys thinks the children are mean-spirited (a few are) and can't understand it's like we're the fat ladies in the circus, no harm intended. But then again I been fat since birth. Gladys only blew up after she had troubles.

And neither me or Gladys are huge and unsightly. We're just big, full-figured, nice-looking quality women. We have always attracted the men. We couldn't really work in the circus. No possible way would the circus hire us.

In the summertime the children are more scared to death of Gladys than the winter boarder kids are. Winter kids get used to her ways. In the summer when they file into the eating hall behind their counselors, Gladys standsnear the wall in her white uniform, watching them with her big green eyes and her wire-rim reading glasses low on her nose and her hair sweaty and dark from the kitchen. Stands stone still like a fat lady statue. If a bold one ever waves to her, maybe she nods her head, maybe she don't.

But this past spring everything changed up here. It happened there was a counselor come up here, a young girl of seventeen called Raelene. Raelene was a pretty little thing even with her crooked teeth, but she was all alone in that camp, since the counselors are mostly kids who used to be campers here, rich cliquey kids from the Ivy Leagues. There's a lot of ideas some of these people learn to carry, the main one being they're better than others. You can see the nicer ones trying not to think this way; it's not even their fault really. It's been ground in, and they're limited by what they've seen.

Now Raelene, take a quick look at that girl and you'd know she was from elsewhere, other circumstances, like you could imagine her in a wintry town where the industry died and the windows of the stores are boarded up. You could see Raelene with her long hair and pale face walking through the closed-up town on a bitter evening in her Salvation Army black coat with a fur collar smelling like a dead woman's perfume. And no gloves. Her hands bare and chapped with bit-down polished nails. She would be the sort to just stand in the circle of streetlight and tap her foot. Or maybe that's just in my head she does that.

Not that I'd even let her in my head much if Gladys hadn't known her. I make my little friends up here at camp and school, but I'm drawn to the cheerful. Life is short and I'm not here for the gloom. I been a good sister to Gladys, and that's enough gloom for any one soul, and I don't say that to blame her, and it's not like we haven't had some laughs even in the darkest of dark years. But Gladys had a hard life. I say had not because she's dead. I say had because I think it's changed now.

The reason Raelene even ended up at camp in the first place has to do with about seven or so years ago, back when the war was going on in Vietnam, and Gladys's boy, Wendell, bless his soul, was over there captured. Raelene, who back then lived in Philadelphia, ended up wearing one of them bracelets they gave out to the young people. A prisoner of war bracelet, which Gladys didn't like the idea of. A few winter school kids wore those bracelets, and Gladys could see the names didn't mean much. The kids couldn't know what any of it meant, no matter how many times they sung "Where Have All the Flowers Gone." She didn't like thinking her son's name, Wendell J. Pittman, would be on some ignorant child's wrist, some child who wore the name like a piece of jewelry from a gum machine.And sure enough there was a child out there in the world wearing Wendell J. Pittman on her wrist, and this child was Raelene Francis. One day in November, I believe 1969, Gladys got a letter in the mail.

It was a child writing to her saying she was praying for Wendell to come home every day and every night, and lighting candles in two churches every morning. The bracelet company had sent his picture, the one where he's almost smiling in his army uniform that Gladys kept by her bed, and the child said she thought Wendell looked cute. Then the child goes on to tell Gladys that she had no parents, that she was a real live orphan down there in Philadelphia, and if Gladys wanted she would come and be her little girl.

Gladys read that letter out loud to me at the supper table late that night. I can see it clearly We're having wedding soup. Gladys has her Jack Daniel's in a short glass. She's wearing her old cat-eyed drugstore glasses with the thick lenses so her eyes are magnified.

Meet the Author

Jane McCafferty is the author of the novel One Heart and two collections of stories, Thank You for the Music and Director of the World and Other Stories, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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One Heart 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
McCafferty is brilliant. The characters so real you can't believe they aren't. Ivy, Gladys, James, Raelene, Nicoletta ~ there are none other like you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nothing about this book was expected. Everything about it seduced my imagination. An extraordinary, original novel and a helluva good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel follows the lives of two sisters, their families and friends, told in the words of one sister and then the other, with the voices of several other characters sharing their perspectives in the later chapters. Besides an engaging story, this novel illustrates several deep psychological insights, and is written in a lyrical style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only 175 pages - did not enjoy book at all!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Moans and gro.pes ur bo.obs as i kiss hooded figure
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really? A good read? Are we talking about the same book?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ima go.... this is boring bye