Ronnie'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 story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.
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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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide,
A Conversation with the Author,
An excerpt from The Art of Falling,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Honestly, the subject matter made me a little reluctant to start. However, once I did, the beginning just sucked me in so quickly. There were parts in the middle that slowed down quite a bit to the point that I put it down, but after talking to some friends who loved it I picked it up again. By the end, I realized why the slow parts (to me) were essential, but at the time I did struggle. If you are determined, it is well worth your time.
I just finished The Far End of Happy and am writing this while still in shell-shocked mode. Wow. This story gripped me from the very first sentence and held on, tighter and tighter with each page, compelling me to finish quickly so I could breathe again. I loved Kathryn Craft's writing before, and now I have deep respect and admiration for her personally as well. What fortitude it must have taken to spend a year with this story, which is based on true events, and to not once wallow in any sort of melodrama. I empathized with Ronnie, I even (I'll admit) cried with her, but I did not pity her because I never doubted that she would survive what was in store, that her sons would thrive because of her guidance and compassion.The cycle of pain would be broken, as I suspect it was in the author's own life. Despite the dark premise, this is ultimately a story of hope and healing. If I could give it ten stars, I would
So...I don't quite know where to start with this review: the brilliant, gorgeous writing, or the gut-punch of a story? I read this knowing it was based on a real life experience, and it's one that hits close to home for me. The relationship between Ronnie and Jeff is heartbreaking and true and hard to witness at times. As the flashbacks take you through their history, you get the sinking feeling that it won't all work out in the end. But even when it doesn't, Kathryn manages to plant a seed of hope for the fractured family's future. This is a sad, glorious book about facing loss and lack of control and inability to save someone else. Sometimes you just have to save yourself.
This book is a good portrayal of a difficult subject. I received an advance copy and participated in a skype session witht he author which enhanced the reading experience. I agree with some of the other reviewers that at times it was not immediately obvious the timing of various chapters or whose point of view it was. But, it explored this tragic event from multiple points of view, which was interesting. Also, it was fun to watch the characters grow and develop as they confronted painful truths about themselves and their families. I can not even begin to imagine living through a time such as this.
I was intrigued to read this book for two reasons. One reason was the subject matter and the short description I read regarding the book. The second was due to the fact that I had received an advanced copy and would be discussing the book with the author. The story did not disappoint. I was captivated from the beginning and Kathryn kept the element of suspense alive throughout the majority of the book. My only complaint was the flow of the story. It was confusing, at times, and lost momentum during some of the flashback stories. Overall, it was very good. Kathryn pulls you in to the emotional element of the story and makes the reader empathize with the characters. For the record, the cover of the book is very eye-catching.
The Far End of Happy is haunting and real. The circumstances simply unfold, happening to people who could be your neighbors, perhaps even you, the magnitude occurring to them as it occurs to the reader-that makes it all the more powerful. Real. You cannot help but stand right there with Ronnie. You cannot help but feel her pain, as well as the pain, confusion and dashed hopes of the rest of the family. As Ronnie sifts through the obstacles and suffering, the shipwreck of her marriage to Jeff, she sees all the signs were there, signs she hadn’t wanted to see. Caution: you may find yourself sifting through your own relationships. Jeff, sadly, shows us what can happen when mental instability and alcoholism are swept under the rug, even by loved ones who mean well. Don’t despair, at the end of the standoff, there is hope. Kathryn Craft has once again shown us (as she did in The Art of Falling) that she is masterful at enveloping us in the lives of characters who appear to have been abandoned by hope, then showing us that life can and will carry on.
I really enjoyed the book. I got an advanced copy for my book club. Even though you know what is going to happen in the end it was very interesting learning how they got to that point. Also the many different views from characters.
Heartbreaking and Emotional. This book really makes you stop and think about what if this happened to you. What would you do? How would you survive? Who would be there to help you? I knew the author had written this book based on her real life events and I knew the outcome but couldn't wait to get to the end to know for sure. I got confused at time with the past and present characters but that was because I kept starting and stopping the book while on a business trip. Once I sat down and read it, I really enjoyed it.
The Far End of Happy is a very compelling story about the courage of a woman at the most difficult crossroad in her marriage. Torn between the reason for her intention to get a divorce and the now potential suicide of her husband, the father of her children, Ronnie must make tough choices. Kathryn draws the reader in from the very beginning and keeps the suspense going. You get to see the impact on all of the members of their families during their 12 hour vigil, will he or won't he? Easy to read, hard to put down
Beautifully written story based on a true life event , a twelve hour suicide standoff. Craft tells her story from the viewpoint of three different women, the wife, the mother, and the mother-in-law. Each brings a backstory that is cleverly woven into the tale, each full of hopes and dreams and secrets. A difficult subject to tackle, the reader is left with perhaps a bit more understanding of such despair that would lead to suicide, as well of a sense of hope in those left behind.
This book is one of the most beautifully written stories of one of the most heartbreaking and horrific events a family could endure. I had read about this book on a magazine must read list somewhere, and the plot had only vaguely caught my attention, it was more the fact that it sounded like a unique twist on a suspense, and those are books I loved. So I hunted down a copy and dove right in. It should be the first thing for any reader to know that this is not an easy read - this is a desperate, painful, heartbreaking book that deals with a truly horrific life event. That being said, I could not recommend this enough. It should also be said, very upfront, that this book is 100% about suicide, and if that is a trigger for you, please, please proceed with caution. This book is done in the most tasteful, quiet and reserved way possible but it does not shy away from the reality of suicide. Synopsis - Ronnie's husband Jeff was supposed to move out of their house today, as they work towards a divorce that has been a long time coming. Instead, Jeff pulls into their driveway, wasted and with a shotgun in the front seat. The day spirals away as Jeff launches into a stand off with police and Ronnie reflects on how their lives landed them here. Kathyrn Craft wrote this book based on real events from her own life, in which her first husband ended up in a suicide standoff with police. The reality of her experience is reflected unflinchingly in these pages, in away that will absolutely break your heart one hundred different ways. Kathryn has done something truly amazing with this story, reflecting the views of Ronnie, her mother and her mother in law, as they spend the course of a day waiting for an inevitable outcome they can only pray to avoid. This story is raw, honest and true right to the core of the characters. As a person who has experienced losing a loved one to suicide, this story took hold of the core of my heart, as it resonated so truly with my own experience, which was far removed from Ronnie's story. In a way I did not know possible, Kathryn created a story of hope from within a story of despair. I sobbed my way through this book. And I look forward to the day I pick it up again.
I enjoyed how the story unfolded by the hour. My interest and curiosity built slowly and kept me engaged in the story.
This book was hard to get through. Very boring in my eyes. Perhaps the material in it would appeal to some. Not me.
Excellent read. Superbly written!
Hard time putting it down
I was very interested to read Far End of Happy especially when I realized it was based on real-life events. There were times I was a little confused through the book. It jumped from present to past and character to character without much clarity. I would have loved Chapter Headings that gave me a clue. My book club was excited to receive some advanced copies to read as a group and then we were given the opportunity to chat via Skype with the author, Kathryn Craft. Kathryn answered a lot of questions and we were humble with her openness. What a tough experience to have lived through.