Sara Elliott has been forced to give up the life she's dreamed of, to return to Chicago and take charge of her sisters and brother. She finds a job and settles into the house she grew up in, building a life for ten-year-old Doug and teenagers Carrie and Abby.
But Sara has another brother, Mack, now twenty, who left home three years earlier. Suddenly he reappears, cheerful and unconcerned, as if he had never broken his promise to stay and help Sara with the children and the house. With bewildering volatility, Mack swings from kindness to cruelty, affection to hostility, keeping the family always on edge, his past and present a mystery.
Mack challenges all Sara has achieved. And just when she thinks her life has room only for work and family, she meets Reuben Lister, a client from New York. Together, Sara and Reuben find answers to the questions: What is a mother? What is a parent? What is a family?
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About the Author
Judith Michael is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife writing team Judith Barnard and Michael Fain. They live in Chicago, Illinois, and Aspen, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
The Real Mother LP
Sara arrived at the airline terminal as the Corcorans walked out, trailed by a young man pushing a cart piled with luggage. She wedged her car between taxis and stepped out to open the trunk and the two passenger doors before extending her hand to Lew Corcoran. "Sara Elliott," she said. "Welcome to Chicago."
"Right." His handshake was perfunctory. Squinting in the bright sun, he pulled a five-dollar bill from his wallet, considered it, replaced it with two singles, and shoved them into the young man's hand. He slid into the front seat, turning to Sara.
"I don't have a lot of time, I'm a busy man."
"We'll move quickly, then," Sara said with a smile, and when Pussy Corcoran, fur-clad and rosy-cheeked, had anchored herself in the center of the backseat, she drove toward the city.
"Never used one of you people before," Corcoran said, staring moodily through the window. "Taking a chance. Could be a waste of time."
"We'll try to make sure it isn't," Sara said pleasantly.
Everyone asked her how she managed to deal with her clients, spending her days with strangers who did nothing but make demands on her. "It's like a grab bag, your job," they said. "You never know who'll pop out when you answer your phone. It could be anybody. Anybody. The oddest people."
Her office telephone number was posted at airports, train stations, and rest stops on highways leading into the city. "Welcome to Chicago," the signs said above the mayor's signature. "For an official Welcome, and assistance with your visit or becoming a Chicago resident, our City Greeter is ready to serve you." Beneath, in bold type, were Sara's name and City Hall telephone number and e-mail.
Officially, her title was City Greeter; unofficially, she was General Factotum, Global Secretary, Walking Encyclopedia, Personal Telephone Directory, Everybody's Schlepper. Officially and unofficially, she was always supposed to be smiling.
"We'll be looking at three apartments," she said when they were on the highway. "And I have the names -- "
"You a broker?" Corcoran asked. "Otherwise, why bother, if we have to find a real estate broker when we're done with you?"
"I'm a real estate broker," Sara said, smiling. "I've lined up three apartments for you to look at. And, as Mrs. Corcoran requested, I have the names of four personal shoppers for her to interview."
"You're the one supposed to do the interviews," Corcoran said. "Weed them out."
Sara smiled. "You telephoned yesterday; that gave me very little time."
He rubbed the large ring on the fourth finger of his right hand as if ordering a genie to spring forth. The ring looked vaguely military, Sara thought. He filled his seat, a large man, ruddy-skinned, jowly, with a spreading nose and strangely small eyes, his sleek suit tailored to minimize his bulk. In back, Pussy Corcoran was small and round, perspiring gently inside her furs, her sprayed hair shining metallically in the April sunlight.
"All the apartments are available immediately," Sara said, "so if you decide on one, you would be in a hotel only until your furniture arrives."
"Don't bother with anything that doesn't have a view," Corcoran said. "I require a view."
"And a garage?" said Pussy. "So I don't go out in the rain?"
"Attended," said Corcoran. "Twenty-four hours. Same for the door-man. Twenty-four hours. Numero uno on my list, top-notch service twenty-four/seven."
"Maid service?"Pussy said. "And big bathrooms? Room to move around in, and one for each of us...that keeps a marriage together? Stays together?"H er chirping laughter trickled down the back of Sara's neck.
"Stupid." Corcoran snorted. He lit a cigarette.
"Smoking is not allowed in our cars," Sara said. She smiled. "If you'd like, I can stop at a hotel; you can smoke in the lobby, and I'll wait for you."
"Fucking son of a bitch," he exploded. "I'm a client, you don't tell a client what to do; you make clients happy, for Christ's sake. I'm paying you; it's my money, and if it's my fucking money I can fucking smoke in your fucking car."
Sara pulled into a turnout on the highway, and turned off the car engine. "I'm sorry, but I did not invent the policy."
"Lew," said Pussy, "it's only a few more minutes. Is that right?" she asked Sara.
"About fifteen minutes," Sara said.
"Lew, it's only fifteen minutes," said Pussy. "Couldn't you -- "
"Shut up." He scowled at the cars speeding past, then opened the window and flung the cigarette away. "Satisfied?" he asked Sara. "Never been treated like this," he muttered. "Been all over the world -- "
Pussy interrupted. "They wouldn't let you smoke in that limousine in -- "
"Goddamn it, I said shut up!" There was a silence. "Well, what the fuck," he said to Sara. "We going or not?"
"Of course." She started the car and rejoined the flow of traffic.
"And closets?" Pussy said brightly. "Big ones? And a cedar one for our furs? Big enough for the coats to breathe? You know how they need to breathe. Well... " In the rearview mirror, her appraising eyes met Sara's. "Well, probably you don't; but they do, you know. Breathe? They need more room than a bunch of fatties at a convention!" Her laughter chirped again.
"Shut up," Corcoran said absently. They turned onto Lake Shore Drive, and he gazed heavily at Lake Michigan, its choppy steel blue waves and tossing whitecaps stretching to a horizon that cut across their view like a knife edge between dark lake and pale blue sky. "Not like the ocean," he muttered.
Sara hated both of them. But her hands were steady as she drove, and there was a smile on her face.
"And maids?" Pussy said. "These apartments come with maids?"
Sara shook her head. "I'm afraid not. I could show you condominiums in hotels that do provide -- "
"No hotels!" barked Corcoran ...The Real Mother LP. Copyright © by Judith Michael. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Writing under the name of Judith Michael, the husband/wife team of Judith Barnard and Michael Fain have won a host of fans (A Certain Smile). They know just how much romance to blend with suspense to make readers happy. They've done it again with 'The Real Mother.' Daytime Emmy nominee Melissa Leo gives a virtuoso performance of this story of a giving young woman faced with difficult choices. She beautifully segues between the almost saintly Sara Elliott and the often foul-mouthed 20-year-old Mack. When Sara's mother suffers a disabling stroke, Sara returns to Chicago to take on the care of her step brothers and sisters. There is no one else. Her father is dead, her mother's second husband took off, and Mack, the eldest from her mother's second marriage, also took to the road - but not for long. Mack returns, rather nonchalantly just as if he had never deserted his responsibility for his younger siblings. He's a complex character, swinging between volatile and thoughtful. It's not long before the young ones align themselves with him against Sara. However, there's light on the horizon in the form of Reuben, a steadfast man from New York who wants to build a low-income housing project. As we best know, the best laid plans can go awry or made to go awry. An engrossing listen.
I have been a fan of Judith Michael books for years. After many months of anticipation, I was truly disappointed. I found the dialogue very stilted and adult-like for children who are supposed to be 10 and 13 years of age. There are many scenes not fully explained or followed through. After I finished reading this book, I could only think, 'What was the point?'
I absolutely loved this book. My own family is going through some hard times, and I felt supported and hopeful because The Real Mother showed that even 'not normal' families are good and supportive and strong. I am a big Judith Michael fan and like all her books, this one is well written, thoughtful, sensitive--and a great read.
Way to go thanks for giving away the whole story. Why dont spoilers just SHUT UP