Twelve tense hours, three women, and the suicide standoff that turns one family's little piece of heaven into a scene from hell
Ronnie Farnham's husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.
The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie's fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family's lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what's best for her best for everyone?
Based on a real event from the author's life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling contemporary novel. Fans of Mary Kubica, Diane Chamberlin, and Rosalind Noonan will be on the edge of their seats during this story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change them all forever.
What reviewers are saying about The Far End of Happy
"This novel is the very definition of a page-turner as it follows a twelve hour stand-off between a man threatening suicide and the police."—Huffington Post
"This title is based on the author's experience with a standoff involving her husband, which adds real, raw, emotion to the plot. Framing the novel within a 12-hour period keeps the pages turning"—Library Journal
"…a heartbreaking story packed with tension and brimming with humanity."—Lori Nelson Spielman, #1 international bestselling author of The Life List
"A compelling read, an unflinching exploration of one of life's most inexplicable horrors."—New York Journal of Books
"Kathryn Craft keeps the tension edge-of-your-seat suspenseful in The Far End of Happy…"— Kate Moretti, author of the New York Times bestselling Thought I Knew You, and Binds That Tie
"A complex and gripping story of broken hearts, lives, and marriages that will tear you apart from beginning to end."—Steena Holmes, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Memory Child and Finding Emma
"An incredibly honest and courageous exploration of a marriage torn apart by neglect and threats of suicide."—Mary Kubica, author of The Good Girl
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About the Author
Kathryn Craft has been a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene for more than a decade and is the author of The Art of Falling. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania with her husband.
Read an Excerpt
The Far End of Happy
By Kathryn Craft
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Kathryn Craft
All rights reserved.
The pages felt thick with life as they flipped through her fingers. A long-suffering friend, this journal, taking everything she'd thrown at it. The questions. The tortured answers. The pros. The cons. Moments rich with beauty. The long slow death of a dream.
At the top of each page, she'd centered her name: Ronnie Farnham. On the lines below, she'd centered herself.
Ronnie sat on the guest room bed, propped a pillow against the wall behind her, and waited for the jostle as her shaggy little dog, Max, repositioned himself against her thigh. She pressed her pen to a cool, fresh page. Today, more than any other, in these last precious moments before her sons awoke, Ronnie needed the ink to offer up its ever-flowing possibilities.
Her pen stalled after one short sentence.
Today Jeff is moving out.
She would not have predicted this day in her marriage. Its impact was impossible to fathom. How could she write beyond such words? Ronnie shut her journal. Only one sentence, but it was a good one. Full of hope, but also one of the saddest she'd ever written. She'd have to sort her feelings tomorrow. Today was a day for moving forward. She capped the pen and placed the notebook onto the growing pile of journals beneath the bed.
At least she felt rested. If she'd tried these earplugs weeks ago, she could have avoided the inexorable pull of Jeff's late-night pot banging, she thought as she pulled them from her ears.
She heard voices from downstairs — loud voices — and she could swear one of them was George Stephanopoulos.
Max bolted through the door and raced down ahead of her as she went to investigate. Their kitchen was devoid of life, but beyond it, the living room was fully lit. The terse Good Morning America theme trumpeted another day's tragedies while no one watched. She turned off the set, shocking herself with the sudden silence. Her family had never turned the TV up so loud. The set was hot. Had she slept through another of Jeff's attempts to coax her into late-night conversation? Or was it the boys?
Ronnie headed up to their attic bedroom to check, Max on her heels. Will's covers still bound him mummy-like, the way she'd left him the night before. In Andrew's bed, limbs and sheets were tossed like a salad. Both faces were puffy with sleep, their breaths even.
Back on the second floor, Ronnie passed the guest room as she stole toward the bedroom she'd shared with Jeff for twelve years. He'd taken to sleeping with its door open, a standing invitation. She didn't really want to see him in their bed. It was too confusing, his face all boyish, lips relaxed and kissable.
But her desire for an explanation for the blaring TV made her risk a peek.
The bed was made, the room empty.
Maybe Jeff couldn't bear a scene with the boys and had moved out last night. He had trouble with good-byes.
Tiptoeing into the room, as if the very walls would call her out for prying, Ronnie checked the floor on Jeff's side of the bed, where she would be sure to find yesterday's work uniform in a clump.
Since she was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, she scooted around the bed to pull on a fresh sweater and jeans from her dresser and finger-combed her hair. Last night she'd been too tired to tame her curls.
Returning to this room gave her the sense she was being watched. When she spun around, she tripped over the dog. She stopped just short of kicking him. "Damn it, Max, why are you always underfoot?"
The dog backed up a few feet and sat, looking up at her, whining.
"I didn't let you out yet, did I?" She patted the dog on the head and closed the bedroom door behind them.
Downstairs Ronnie let Max out the kitchen door, one of the perks of living on a farm set back off the road. In the windbreak on the other side of the berry field, a gusty October wind tugged at the branches of a stalwart maple. Despite the beauty of the leaves releasing in a splashy swirl, it hurt Ronnie to watch its branches swinging back and forth in violent indecision. She knew how it felt to be torn between standing firm and uprooting. She called Max, fed him kibble from a low cabinet, and started a pot of coffee.
A black plastic container sat beside the coffeemaker. Drying beef and gravy stuck to its sides. Odd. She and the boys had eaten stir-fry the night before, and she'd never seen Jeff resort to eating a frozen dinner.
On the kitchen table, stuck between the bananas in the fruit bowl, stood a short spine of folded twenties. The wad was thick between her fingers.
This was not the house she'd closed her eyes on the night before. Something had gone haywire. Shifted.
She pulled the pot away and let the coffee drip straight into her mug as she struggled to order her thoughts. On their own, each of the morning's oddities could be explained away. Max could have sat on the TV remote, inadvertently turning up the volume. Maybe Jeff, hungry after a bartending shift at two a.m., couldn't find a restaurant serving dinner. Or he'd stockpiled tips and accidentally left the money on the table. But together ...
Jeff was trying to tell her something, and, as usual, he wasn't using words. Her hand shook as coffee overflowed the edge of her mug.
She glanced at the clock. Ten minutes till the boys' alarm went off. She crossed to the basement door, shut it quietly behind her, and headed down to her office so she could make a call in private.
At her desk, Ronnie reached for the receiver — then froze when she saw the note with Jeff's handwriting stuck to it:
I see you called Kevin again last night. *69, remember?
Kevin. Really? Jeff was tracking her interview calls? Ronnie couldn't help but look around the room, even through the door and windows that overlooked the hill and farm store down below, to see if Jeff was watching her now. She crumpled the note and dialed the phone.
"Jeez, Ronnie, the birds aren't even up yet." Her brother Teddy's voice croaked from interrupted sleep. Back when she was twenty-six, she too would have still been in bed, although she already would have nursed and changed Andrew and settled him back to sleep between her and Jeff. Back when a snuggle solved all problems.
Ronnie added up all the odd details for Teddy. Before, her brother had provided a comforting echo of the denial Ronnie had clung to over the past year. You two were meant for each other. Marriage takes work; you're just in the work part. He's so scared of losing you he's lost his composure. But such notions were getting harder and harder to cling to. Especially today.
"Do you think Jeff would really do it?" she said.
"No. He's just trying to rattle you."
Just rattling her, yes. Jeff was used to calling all the emotional shots — and was damned good at it.
"You're overreacting, Ronnie. Frozen food, unexplainable cash, a loud TV — those are first-world problems," Teddy said, intoning new perspective he'd earned that summer while providing dental treatments to children in Honduras. "Compared to the rest of the planet, we have it good here."
She hadn't called for a lecture from Teddy. Just this once, she'd needed him to hear her and affirm her sense of alarm. She couldn't simply ignore the crackle of tension that had stolen the calm from her old Pennsylvania farmhouse.
Ronnie heard footsteps overhead. "I hear the boys. Gotta go."
"I'm here if you need me. Hi to the boys."
Yes, if she needed him, he was there — in Baltimore, one hundred miles away. As she climbed back up to the kitchen, each stair pressed the yoke of worry heavier onto her shoulders.
"It's mine! Let go!" Andrew said, his hand in the cereal cupboard.
"I touched it first!" Eight-year-old Will punched his older brother in the arm.
"Boys, what's going on?"
"There's only a little bit of Honey Nut Cheerios left, and I touched it first," Will said. Andrew, ten, looked stony-faced.
"And what do you think I'm going to say about that?"
Will huffed, then poured the remainder of the cereal into two bowls so carefully he seemed to count each Cheerio. The boys sat in front of their ridiculously under filled bowls, too proud to admit they'd fought their way toward an unsatisfying breakfast, and added a splash of milk from the carton. Ronnie did the same with her equally small portion of Raisin Bran and, for the sake of her children, pretended she had the stomach to eat it.
Though she'd checked the whole house, Jeff felt very much here, his angst clinging to every word, dragging on every effort. She glanced toward the stairs, still thinking he might appear any moment. How many months had it been since she'd been able to relax in her own home?
"Mom, did you get me those markers and poster board?" Andrew said. "The game I made up is due tomorrow."
Another dropped ball. Another emergency. Yet she couldn't berate Andrew for procrastinating; she had an Organic Gardening PA article due today that she hadn't yet written.
"Remind me after school."
Ronnie gulped her cooling coffee, awaiting its jolt. After today, she'd drink caffeine-free tea and return to the simple pleasures of raising her boys.
Will slurped the sweet milk from his cereal bowl.
"Don't forget your instrument," Ronnie told him. "I put it by the door." Will hadn't known what a viola was when he signed up to take lessons, but he did so because his older brother took violin. The show of brotherly one-upmanship Will displayed every time he laid that big viola across his narrow shoulder always brought a smile to Ronnie's face.
"Did you finish marking my form for the reading contest?" Will said.
"Sorry, ran out of energy. I'll do it tonight."
"It's due today!" Will's chair skidded back as he stood. "I could win a day tubing up at Bear Mountain this winter, and you don't even care how hard I worked!"
"That's not true —"
"And now Dad's going to leave, and who's going to be left to think about me?"
The silence was abrupt. She was still assembling a careful path of words when Andrew, her peacekeeper, jumped in.
"Let's go brush our teeth," he said.
"Hey." Ronnie grabbed Will's wrist. "You're right, I've been busy. And distracted. Big changes are going on around here, and it's hard for all of us. But I've seen how much you've been reading. Bring the contest form down, and I'll drive it over to the school later."
"Promise. Now scoot."
The pounding of sneakers receded on the wooden stairs. Trying to set right what she could, Ronnie tossed the mysterious frozen food container in the trash, slipped the wad of money into her purse, and reached into the fridge for the boys' lunches.
Max hopped from the stairwell onto the deep kitchen windowsill to bark at something. What, at this time of the morning? The boys' sneakers pounded back down the stairs as they raced to the window to investigate. Ronnie rested her hands on their shoulders as she peered out.
Jeff was pulling his Nissan sedan around at the top of the driveway.
"I thought Dad was upstairs," Will said.
"Guess he went out this morning," Ronnie said, infusing her voice with false cheer. No need to share that it looked like their father hadn't slept in the house last night and might just be getting home.
"But his car didn't come up the drive. It came from behind the barn."
Clearly Will had that detail wrong. Jeff must have regretted his decision to slip out without saying good-bye to his sons and returned to do so.
"Brush your teeth and you can go out and give him a hug." She'd send them out alone. She couldn't bear to witness this five-hanky farewell. The boys would miss the bus, of course. Maybe they'd want to miss school too, and Ronnie couldn't blame them. Unexpected as this early good-bye was, the entire day would be better once it was behind them.
Her sons, their summer blond all but gone with the last cut, now stood at the door, looking through its twin panes of glass. "Boys. I said to go brush your teeth."
They didn't move.
"Will, Andrew," she said, joining them. "Why are you just standing here?"
Ronnie looked out. Jeff's car faced downhill, and he was staggering around the trunk to the near side of the car.
"He's drunk," said Will.
Ronnie saw no point in arguing. Jeff had been drinking more in recent months and not hiding it as well. Even though Will had never seen his father drunk, he had just finished drug and alcohol resistance training in school and knew the signs.
"What's he doing?" Andrew said.
Oh god. Jeff bent over, pulling a length of tubing from the exhaust pipe of the car.
Ronnie flipped the dead bolt shut. "You two stay right here, you hear me?" She squeezed their shoulders to be sure they'd paid attention. "I'm going to call Grandma Bev."
Waiting for the bus wouldn't do. Ronnie needed to get her sons away from this farm. Now.CHAPTER 2
Beverly Saylor scrolled through the new rental listings as both a real estate agent with a commission at stake and a mother whose heart was breaking. Her laptop perched on a wobbly TV table, she dutifully checked for a place big enough to accommodate a woman with two growing boys and a dog, in their current school district, within Ronnie's budget. But she couldn't envision her daughter anywhere but in the house she and Jeff had so beautifully tailored to their needs (where else would she find a butcher block counter at perfect kneading height, with an overhang that would allow a pasta roller to be clamped?) and on the farm they'd revived, where they had planned to raise their family.
An adorable two-bedroom, one-bath, over-the-garage apartment popped up. The wood floors would be a plus with the boys' allergies. Beverly could almost pretend it would be fun to help Ronnie decorate it. But no dogs. No point mentioning this one. Leaving the dog with Jeff was not negotiable, Ronnie had said. When she adopted Max, she had committed to caring for him for his entire life; she would not leave him behind.
The listings proved what Beverly feared: her thirty-five-year-old daughter simply wanted too much.
The knot between Beverly's shoulders loosened. One more day without a workable solution was one more that kept Ronnie and Jeff in the same house, where they might find a way to address their differences. That may be the biggest help she could offer.
Lately it seemed Ronnie was more dedicated to her dog than she was to the husband she'd vowed to love for the rest of her life. And she'd done so before God and a church full of witnesses, a snag Beverly had cleverly circumvented with her own marriages, one officiated at sea and the other two in front of a judge. Still. Beverly looked down at the ring with the tiny diamond she'd never removed from her hand. A promise should mean something.
Beverly had been emotionally invested in Ronnie and Jeff's relationship from the start. The summer after her college graduation, Ronnie had been so depressed that Beverly splurged for a nice dinner out for the two of them. Ronnie's degree from Fordham had her ready to "take the world of journalism by storm" — whatever that meant — but left her unprepared to find a job that would pay for the smallest of New York apartments. How could any of them have known that in four short years, the college major offering an on-ramp to a career highway would dwindle to a narrow path as articles that once garnered income were now posted on blogs for free? Ronnie's return to Beverly's apartment, and full-time work at the Valley View restaurant, was a one-way street heading the wrong way.
When surf and turf failed to cheer her daughter, Beverly thought it would be a kick to take her over to have a drink at the hotel bar Jeff tended. Back when Ronnie was a child and Jeff was in college she had adored him, and she hadn't seen him in ages.
The hotel was busy that Friday, and she and Ronnie had taken the last two stools at the big U-shaped bar, watching Jeff locate every bottle by muscle memory. He opened coolers, poured drinks, tapped beer, slid napkins, and pocketed tips without one wasted movement, all while looking debonair in a tux shirt and vest. He was only five years younger than Beverly, she'd once realized, although since he was her best friend Janet's son, she had always thought of him as a generation removed. He was lonely, she knew, since his first wife had left him. Not that Jeff ever mentioned it. It was something in his eyes. She'd seen that same look once before in a rescue shelter, and Beverly had taken the little dog home with her.
"Hello, Bev." When Beverly had showings in the area she often stopped in; Jeff set a Manhattan in front of her before she even ordered. He then slipped a napkin in front of Ronnie. "And what would you like, ma'am?"
"I'd like you to recognize me, for one thing," Ronnie said.
Jeff had cocked his head, thought a moment, then flashed her his broad, gap-toothed smile. "No — Little Ronnie?"
"Well, no one calls me that anymore."
He allowed his gaze to dip. "I can see why not."
Excerpted from The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft. Copyright © 2015 Kathryn Craft. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide,
A Conversation with the Author,
An excerpt from The Art of Falling,
About the Author,