Sailing Lessons: A Novel

Sailing Lessons: A Novel

by Hannah McKinnon

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501162824
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Publication date: 06/05/2018
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 105,603
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Hannah McKinnon is the author of The Lake Season, Mystic Summer, The Summer House, and Sailing Lessons. She graduated from Connecticut College and the University of South Australia. She lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with her family, a flock of chickens, and two rescue dogs.

Read an Excerpt

Sailing Lessons


  • There would be no sixty-fifth birthday party after all. To be fair it was not the dog’s fault. Bowser, oversized in limb as he was overzealous in tongue, could not entirely be blamed.

    “He needs hip surgery!” Lindy announced as she fluttered into the kitchen, wringing her hands so that all her silver bracelets jangled nervously up and down her elegant arms. “Oh, and we took your car, honey. I’m afraid there’s a rip across the backseat, but that hardly matters now.”

    Hardly? They (being Lindy and the dog) had just returned from the vet, and Hank could feel the back of his neck prickle. He was so distracted by the news of their chosen mode of transport and the subsequent backseat damage, that he had not fully processed what his wife was saying about the dog. He knew this would happen. To his consternation, he’d discovered his new car was not in the driveway when he’d gone out to retrieve the morning paper from the stoop. Only Lindy’s car remained—the dog car—aptly named for its age, its wear, and its accompanying odor. It was parked beside the rose bushes, its dented green fender reflecting the morning sun coming up over the house. He groaned.

    Lindy had sworn not to let Bowser in the new car. Hank’s new car: a sensible and pristinely kept Volvo wagon, his only splurge being the buttery leather interior he had no intention of marring with Great Dane toenails, and whose windows he would prefer not be shellacked in dog drool. He pictured Lindy zipping through town, Bowser’s head thrust out the back-left window, his tail sticking out the right. “How big is the rip?”

    Lindy waved her hand in the air, her new focus on to the hulking espresso maker, which she jiggled and rattled impatiently. “How does this thing . . . ?”

    “The lever on the right,” Hank began. “You have to pull the lever.” Unlike his car the coffee maker was not new, and yet they went through this every morning. But never mind—he was still picturing the backseat of his car.

    Lindy tugged the lever twice, and Hank let out his breath as the steaming concoction coursed into her cup. She dumped in a heap of sugar, shaking her head as she spoke. “He was just neutered last month. And now he needs hip surgery. My poor baby.”

    My poor wallet, is what Hank was thinking but did not dare say. First the Volvo seat and now the dog. Though he should’ve been used to it by now.

    His wife was gifted, no—cursed—with an attraction for wayward animals. Stray cats who appeared at the back screen door. Baby birds fallen from nests. Just yesterday the slow-moving disc of a snapping turtle that needed to be ferried across a busy road, a move he later learned Lindy did all by herself as the two men, who had also pulled their cars over, stood warily aside verbally noting the dangerous size of its jagged mouth. Animals in distress always found Lindy Bailey. If anyone had bothered to ask Hank, he would’ve declared himself an animal lover as devout as the next. He’d had plenty of pets as a kid: a handful of hamsters, several cats; he couldn’t recall a dogless school year if pressed. But it paled against what Lindy had going on.

    • • •

    The fact of her boundless canine love was the second thing she’d told him on the night they met at the Squire. “I have three headstrong daughters. And we love dogs.” Whether it had been a confession or a warning, he had not been sure. Were the headstrong daughters the reason for the dog-loving requirement? Was it a condition they’d set forth for their single mother: the measuring stick against which all prospective suitors of their mother would be judged? Or were the dogs and daughters independent of one another—two equally imperative pieces of information that Hank needed to be made aware of? It didn’t matter. Lindy’s unblinking blue eyes had been so earnest it had gone to his heart. The second those words were uttered, she’d swept a lock of blonde hair girlishly behind her ear and tipped back the glass of bourbon that had shown up during her telling. In that moment, had she asked him to join the circus, he would have.

    Now, fifteen years later in their Cape Cod kitchen, Hank’s adoration for Lindy Bailey had not thinned in its concentration. Her youthful frame still barely filled the kitchen doorway when she entered each morning, blinking, lured from bed by the scent of the espresso he brewed for her. These days there were creases that had etched their paths around her eyes, but they were still eyes that crinkled with easy laughter. What made him happiest was that Lindy now possessed an air of contentedness in her posture that had replaced the too-slow-to-empty recesses of worry she’d carried in her limbs when they’d first met. Back then she was an overwhelmed single mother to three preteen girls who not only needed but also demanded her attention like ravenous eaglets in a nest. Her devotion to them was something that had pulled Hank to her, a surprise since he had no children of his own and could not recall ever wanting any.

    In that vein he’d had to learn how to navigate around Lindy, and later, her girls. Like everyone else who crossed their paths, he was helpless in the wake of their glossy hair, their urgent chatter, the beguiling flood of laughter that erupted as easily as their tempers. The Bailey women had that effect on people, and despite his thinking otherwise, his years of worldly travel and education during his quiet bachelor life had been no match for them.

    Lindy sipped her espresso and stared absently out the window overlooking the green stretch of backyard and the salt pond beyond it. “I’m afraid we’ll have to cancel our trip.”

    Hank blinked. “Tuscany?”

    “I’m sorry, dear. But don’t worry, we’ll still have a party.”

    Hank was not an extravagant man. The idea of the birthday party thrown in his honor was not something he relished. That he’d agreed to a party at all had been cause for celebration. Lindy and Shannon had seized upon it, and since then the party had taken on a life of its own, morphing from an intimate backyard gathering into an event. His September birthday was still three months away! And yet a caterer had been sought. A tent had been mentioned. Hank cringed at every turn; he hated being the focus of attention. He hated getting older. He hated, most of all, a fuss.

    But the real cause for celebration—the sole saving grace of this party—was the trip! He and Lindy would finally be going to Tuscany. The planning for which was as long and winding as the years he’d spent acclimating to family life with the Bailey girls.

    The seed for the trip had also been planted that first fabled night they met at the Squire, just after mention of the daughters and the dogs. The third thing she’d told him that night was that she’d never been to Italy. He’d lifted one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug; many people had not been to Italy. But she’d turned to him then, leaning in close and lowering her voice, as in confession. He’d mirrored her, their noses almost touching. He was so engrossed by the lingering smell of bourbon on her lips—fuller lips he’d not seen—that he almost missed what she said next. That she longed to eat wild boar pappardelle and sip Vin Santo in a trattoria. That she could not imagine her life without biking along a village road and finding a field of sunflowers beside which to set up her art easel. The images that took root in Hank’s mind had caused him to steady himself on his barstool. This woman, who so far had spoken only of wild boar and even wilder children, was unlike any person he had ever met. He’d decided right then they would go together.

    No matter that that decision had taken a backseat to fifteen years of ballet lessons and soccer carpools and, later, college tuitions. To leaving Boston and getting married and moving in together in the sleepy seaside hamlet of Chatham. To walking the ever-quivering wire that was stepparenting three children who on some days clung to him like lovestruck monkeys and on others could wither his insides with their passing glares. On occasions of particular struggle, like the time Piper ran away from Girl Scout camp in upstate Maine to find a boy she’d met at the camp across the lake, or when Shannon and five classmates handcuffed themselves to the band teacher’s desk to protest the board of education’s defunding of the district arts program, Hank had wondered what on earth he’d gotten himself into by marrying into a full-fledged family. By what stroke of madness had he given up his quiet Brookline apartment with its leather wingback chair overlooking the cityscape? In those moments of doubt he’d drawn strength from the gauzy memory of that first meeting with his wife at the pub: the burn of bourbon on her lips, the fearless glint in her gaze, and the promise of a Tuscan voyage, just the two of them. And so with that sole reason to steel himself by, Hank had weathered it all, eventually finding himself so bewitched by each of the three Bailey girls that he committed to seeing them through their complicated adolescences into adulthood year after year. Until this year, with all three finally sprung from the family house, when he and Lindy had booked their tickets for his birthday trip to Italy. They had made it. They would, after all, embrace in slumber in some faraway hotel under a Tuscan moon.

    Hank stared back at his wife. “We’re canceling Tuscany?”

    Lindy set her empty mug in the sink and ran the tap. “You poor thing.”

    But she was not referring to Hank. “I knew hip dysplasia was common in large breeds, but Bowser’s so young. The vet quoted the surgery at five thousand dollars. And then there’s the physical therapy afterward: at least eight weeks. But I think we can do some of that here at home.” She turned to look at Hank, a soapy dish in her hand. “We can’t not do it, honey.”

    As if on cue, Bowser ambled into the kitchen and collapsed on the antique pine floor to nap. Lindy beamed. “Look. Look at that face.”

    Hank did as he was told, but Bowser did not return the gaze. He was too busy staring back at Lindy with the singular and abiding love a dog holds for its person. Hank was not that person.

    Hank sighed and looked instead at his feet that were tucked into worn sheepskin slippers. He needed new slippers. The dog needed a new hip.

    Behind him Lindy clattered a pan in the farmhouse sink. “Don’t worry, darling. Tuscany will still be there.”

  • Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for Sailing Lessons includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
    .
    Introduction

    Wrenn Bailey has lived all her life on Cape Cod with her mother, Lindy, older sister, Shannon, and younger sister, Piper. Growing up, life was dictated by the seasons with sleepy gray winters where only the locals stayed on, followed by the sharp influx and colorful bustle of summer tourists who swept up the elbow of the Cape and infiltrated their small paradise.

    But it wasn’t just the tourists who interrupted Wrenn’s formative years; her father—brilliant but troubled photographer Caleb—has long made a habit of drifting in and out of his girls’ lives. Until the one summer he left the Cape and did not return again.

    Now, almost twenty years later, Caleb has come back one last time, suffering from pancreatic cancer and seeking absolution. Wrenn and her sisters each respond differently to their father’s return, determined to find closure. But that means returning to the past and revisiting old wounds—wounds that cause the tightknit Bailey women to confront their own wishes and wants, and admit to their own wrongdoings over the years. In a place that brings both great comfort and great pain, the Bailey sisters experience a summer on the Cape that promises not only hard endings, but, perhaps, hopeful new beginnings.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. The book opens with the story of the Baileys’ boat capsizing when the sisters were very young. What did you think about the Baileys in these opening pages? In what ways do their personalities and relationships stay the same as they grow up, and in what ways do they change?

    2. Sailing Lessons uses five different viewpoints to tell the story of the Bailey family. What do you think the novel would have been like if Hannah McKinnon had told it from the point of view of just one or two of the Baileys? Why do you think she chose not to use Lindy as a narrator? What is the effect of not hearing her narrative voice?

    3. While each of the Bailey daughters is very different, they all share elements of their parents, Lindy, Caleb, and Hank. What family traits do they share and what trait is unique to each daughter?

    4. Although there are characters with overt, diagnosed addictions in Sailing Lessons, there are also less obvious addictions that members of the Bailey family struggle with throughout the novel. What types of addictions do you see in the lives of these characters? Is there resolution and healing?

    5. Compare and contrast the four Bailey women's romantic relationships. In what ways are their relationships influenced by Caleb's absence from their lives?

    6. After Shannon's arrest, she remembers a nightmare she had as a child and her father's comforting words. How do you interpret this memory? What does it symbolize for Shannon?

    7. Before the family scatters Caleb's ashes, Wren says a few words: "I like to think that when he finally came home to us, he gave each of us a piece of ourselves back." Discuss what piece of each of the Bailey women was restored by Caleb's return.

    8. Which character's journey did you identify with the most? Did any of the characters frustrate you? Confuse you?

    9. Cape Cod plays an important role in the novel; it’s not just the setting, it’s also a major influence on the lives of the characters. How does Hannah emphasize the importance of Cape Cod in the book? Pick a favorite passage describing the Cape and analyze the different ways the various characters think of their home. What does the passage reveal about the character?

    10. Lindy, Wren, Shannon, and Piper all react to Caleb’s return in very different ways. Identify how each copes with their reunion, and the advantages and disadvantages of approaching it this way.

    11. Caleb thinks that Shannon “inherited both the best and the worst from her father.” Do you agree? Do you think that could be said of all his daughters, or is this statement unique to Shannon?

    12. What do you imagine or hope would happen for the Baileys after the book ends? What do you think their futures hold?

    13. As much as this is a story about fathers and daughters, Hannah also delves into the relationship between mothers and daughters. What insights into the mother-daughter bond did you gain from reading Sailing Lessons?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Take a relaxing group trip to your local beachy spot, whether it be ocean, lake, or poolside, and enjoy being outside together, like the Baileys do.

    2. In addition to its natural beauty, Cape Cod has a rich maritime history. Research one of the Cape’s many charming towns and present its highlights to your book group.

    3. All of Hannah’s novels feature families in beautiful waterfront locations. Read The Lake Season, Mystic Summer, and The Summer House and compare and contrast the families in each book.

    Customer Reviews

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    Sailing Lessons: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
    Anonymous 9 months ago
    Greatly enjoyed it
    SarahJoint More than 1 year ago
    Alright... this one got to me. There were quite a few parallels to my own life, which I won't get into here. I'll just say this one made me cry a few times. It's a very powerful book, about family and forgiveness, love and moving on. A very emotional read in a beautiful, striking setting with some light, cute, and funny moments interspersed with the drama. The three sisters are the main characters, and they all have their own demons and have made their own mistakes. They've dealt with their father's abandonment in different ways, and they each react in their own unique way when Caleb suddenly reappears. It's been over twenty years, and they aren't little girls anymore... and their father is no longer the strong, strapping young man with a sense of adventure he once was. I loved each character for very different reasons. Wren is the middle daughter, a single mother focused on opening her new business. Oldest Shannon is part of a power couple, always busy with work and giving her children the best life possible. Sadly, even her loving husband seems to be fooled by her brave face, as she struggles with her own problems. Piper is the baby of the family, highly educated but floating adrift without a job and in an inappropriate relationship. They all have their own worries this summer, but the letter that arrives one day can only add to them. Their father wants to come back to see them, after years and years of no contact. Their mother raised them very well with the help of their grandmother and stepfather, and they've formed a very strong family unit. Now everything is going to be thrown out of wack. Caleb returns with stories and secrets, determined to see his family again before it's too late... but not everyone wants to see him. The entire family will be together in Cape Cod for the first time in two decades, and they have a lot to learn about each other and themselves. Even though all of the sisters have made some really bad decisions in their lives, it's easy to feel for all of them. Lindy and Hank are bright spots in the story, and I felt for Caleb as well. The author describes the setting so vividly it's easy to imagine, and this is a great emotional beach read. Atria Books kindly sent me a copy of this book, and I chose to give an honest review. Thank you!