When a tragic car accident ends the life of Richard Glass, it also upends the lives of Evie and Nicole, and their children. There's no love lost between the widow and the ex. In fact, Evie sees a silver lining in all this heartache—the chance to rid herself of Nicole once and for all. But Evie wasn't counting on her children's bond with their baby half-brother, and she wasn't counting on Nicole's desperate need to hang on to the threads of family, no matter how frayed. Strapped for cash, Evie cautiously agrees to share living expenses—and her home—with Nicole and the baby. But when Evie suspects that Nicole is determined to rearrange more than her kitchen, Evie must decide who she can trust. More than that, she must ask: what makes a family?
The Glass Wives is Amy Sue Nathan's heartfelt debut novel.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.78(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.79(d)|
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The Glass Wives
By Amy Sue Nathan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Amy Nathan Gropper
All rights reserved.
Evie picked up a small, silver-framed photo and wiped away invisible dust. The groom towered over the groomsmen, his hair windblown without any wind, his smile slightly askew, big blue eyes staring and pensive. She knew it all too well, but the tug of familiarity was not déjà vu. Evie had been there before, decades earlier, with the same groom. But in this picture she was not the bride.
No one noticed Evie put back the photo or swish her hand on her pant leg, pretending now to wipe off the nonexistent dust. She walked through the crowd toward the floor-to-ceiling window. No one noticed her do that, either. Burgundy velour curtains tied back with thick, black tassels framed a six-foot, imitation pine tree. Hallmark ornaments masquerading as heirlooms dangled from its branches. Gold tinsel fringe and shiny red balls sparkled. It all seemed out of place, yet Evie knew it belonged. Probably more than she did.
Evie shook her head to clear an internal fog. It didn't work, but certain thoughts were clear no matter how few hours she'd slept, and no matter how her head throbbed a low, steady beat. Her ex-husband had died. Her children had no father. And if she were still married, she would be a widow.
Evie had accepted that she and Richard no longer shared the same happily-ever-after, but she'd assumed that they would move forward with grace and goodwill. So what if the grace was all her doing. She and Richard would share their children's bar and bat mitzvah, proms, graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. They'd have different partners, of course — different homes. They'd be positioned at opposite ends of the same long holiday tables, but they would continue to share Sam's and Sophie's milestones. After their divorce three years ago, it took Evie a full year to find her footing, twelve long months, to believe deep down she had a strong enough foundation to create a new, full life. And then, she created it.
Now the building blocks were scattered again.
She looked across the room at Nicole, who, within four years, had been Richard's mistress, his wife, and now his widow. It wasn't hard to imagine how she felt. The blood would have left her extremities. Her stomach would be in her throat. Her heart would ache for touch as her head searched for answers. No doubt she'd be nursing a cocktail of anger, sadness, and shock. Evie knew all this because she had mourned the same loss, but she had done it when Richard was alive.
Nicole sat barefoot on a low, wooden bench customary for sitting shiva. She slumped, arms at her sides, hair in disarray. Her daze extended beyond her personal space and touched everyone else in the room. Nicole was thirty, fifteen years younger than Evie, but the circles under Nicole's eyes stretched to midcheek. She wore no makeup and her skin was sallow without the benefit of foundation or blush. Every mirror in the house was covered with a white sheet. Shiva was for mourning, and prayer, and, yes, food, but vanity was forbidden. And while Nicole wasn't Jewish, she was respecting Jewish customs in the home she'd shared with Richard. Evie hated to admit it, but she admired the effort, despite the plastic cranberry-and-popcorn garland hanging above a stack of yarmulkes.
Evie sat on the couch, a black leather casualty of divorce, and stroked the worn cushion with her thumb until it burned. During the young married years, the couch was the only furniture in Evie and Richard's living room. During the young parenting years, she and Richard sat on the couch, legs intertwined, each holding one of their twins. During the recent turbulent years, Richard sat at one end of the couch, Evie at the other, each leaning toward the farthest wall, two arms' lengths and vacant miles between them. Why had she let Richard take the couch? The couch was a timeline, a testament, a tribute.
Or maybe it was just a couch.
Evie's stomach growled. The shiva food remained untouched. Soon the pickles would lose their sheen, slices of lox would curl at the edges, and the tuna salad would sour. So people hovered, waiting for some official signal that it was Time To Eat. Only then would they soothe their psyches with the time-honored Jewish death fare.
"Everyone, please have something to eat," Nicole said through a sniffle, and the crowd began grazing. She lifted six-month-old Luca from his bouncy seat and drew him to her chest. Nicole's words and motions were fluid, as if rehearsed.
Sam and Sophie stood shoulder to shoulder, or shoulder to arm. At ten, Sophie was still taller than her twin brother, although Evie suspected that that wouldn't last the year, since every week Sam's pants and sleeves were getting shorter. She scooted to the middle of the cushion and the kids sat on either side, their thighs touching hers. The kids hated getting dressed up, yet here they were, in starched and pressed clothes usually reserved for Yom Kippur. Tomorrow Evie would let them wear sweats. After all, when the rabbi explained the ancient custom of kriah, tearing of clothing — or a black satin ribbon — and wearing it as a symbol of grief for an immediate family member, he never said they couldn't wear it on a hoodie. Evie had clenched her jaw and swallowed baseball-size sobs when she'd first heard the satin ribbon rip. Then she held her breath as the pins poked through her babies-who-were-no-longer-babies' shirts, making holes that would never truly be mended. Richard had once been Evie's immediate family as well, but the space over her heart remained empty.
As people passed on their way to the buffet, some glanced at Evie. Most never looked at or spoke to Sam or Sophie, but some closed their eyes and nodded as if it made her fatherless children invisible.
Was that the point?
A brave few extended their hands and said or mouthed, "I'm sorry." Others patted one twin's head or the other's. Richard's Uncle Abe pulled a quarter out from behind Sam's ear, and then Sophie's. They were too old to be dazzled, but they smiled and so did Evie.
Sidestepping the hungry mob, Nicole inched her way to Evie. With Luca in one arm, Nicole rustled Sam's already-messy blond hair, touched Sophie's chin with her fingers, held the baby's back, and bounced. Nicole stood six inches from Evie's knees, abrasive electricity between them.
"Can we go watch TV?" Sam asked. He cocked his head to the side and smiled, wrevealing his overbite, inherited from Richard.
"Please?" Sophie said, wringing her hands as if she wanted to download more songs onto her iPod or have extra minutes on the computer.
"Are you sure?" Evie said. Her instinct was to tighten her grip on their arms.
"Yes," the twins said, nodding.
"Oh, okay, go!" Evie said. She squeaked in an effort to match their enthusiasm but her voice quavered.
Sam and Sophie stomped down the stairs to the rec room Richard had built for his second family, unlike Evie's unfinished laundry-room closet and the half-built shed in her backyard. She felt light without them touching her. It was a welcome reprieve, but laced with yearning.
Evie looked up at Nicole and patted the warm, indented cushion. "Do you want to sit?"
Nicole shook her head. "I just wanted to say ... I'm glad you and the kids are here. I wish it were different, but we should be together at a time like this."
Just two more days of shiva and Evie's time like this was over. She ached to escape the sights, sounds, and smells of death by rinsing them away with lavender bath soap in her oversize tub, holding her breath, dipping below the surface, bubbles dissipating around her, each pop-pop-pop taking away a little of the day, the weekend, the sadness. The scene wouldn't play out that way if she were home, but the daydream seemed harmless. Sam and Sophie had sobbed when Evie mentioned going home early. Richard's house may have been their every-other-weekend house, but the beige-brick Georgian held the most recent dad-memories under its vaulted ceilings. They needed to be inside this house and inside this life for a little bit longer — two days longer. Evie needed those days to figure out what was next for all three of them.
"I wanted to thank you for coming," Nicole said. "And for organizing everything. There's so much food, and I heard more is coming tomorrow. I hope you'll take leftovers."
Evie wouldn't take anything, but nodded to be polite. Nicole twisted at the waist over and over again, as if stretching to exercise. It made Evie dizzy.
"You don't have to worry about the food, everyone chipped in," she said, in case that was causing the twisting. She diverted her eyes to the half-empty lox tray on her limited horizon. A lot of food was left, but Jews fed people. That's what we do. It's written somewhere in an ancient scroll: "Thou shalt not let anyone leave thy house hungry." "Everyone chipped in." Evie knew it was a mitzvah — a commandment — to console the bereaved. And nothing was more consoling than nova.
"That's so generous." Nicole stopped swiveling but now shifted from one foot to the other as if she needed to use the bathroom. The fidgeting made Evie want to find Nicole's off-switch. "This is sort of like a wake in reverse," Nicole said. "Wakes come before funerals and there's usually an open casket, you know?" Nicole's cheeks appeared sucked in and hollow; her eyes drifted to a spot on the wall.
Evie squinted and searched for a smudge, a spot, a spider. Nothing. She had nothing else to say.
Baby Luca popped his head from Nicole's shoulder. He blinked and turned his face toward Evie with one creased, pink cheek and watery eyes. With the palm of her hand, Nicole traced a zigzag on his back. She kissed his sweaty head. "Can we talk more another time?"
"Okay." Evie said. If we must.
In the kitchen, the Shiva Brigade rallied. Evie watched with awe as they took the reins. Her next-door neighbor and best friend, Laney, played traffic cop — arms flying, fingers pointing. Laney turned away from the food and gathered her long, auburn curls into a ponytail. She preferred her hair down around her shoulders because it balanced her hips. Laney with a ponytail meant serious business.
Beth shimmied through the crowd. She lived on the other side of Evie and boasted a short, brown bob and petite frame. Her penchant for Lilly Pulitzer and Miss Manners anchored the best-friend trio in suburban sensibilities, which was annoying and endearing. Beth hung winter coats in the closet but arranged the furs by color and length over the oak banister. She primed the non-Jewish guests on shiva, officially the seven-day mourning period, although they'd condensed it to three. A martinet for protocol, Beth put her hands on her knees and whispered in the ears of anyone who sat on the wooden benches, and they moved to softer ground. She had positioned Laney's teenage daughters inside the front door to ensure that guests, upon approaching the house, washed their hands outside, rinsing away death. The pitcher of warm water had already been refilled twice. While on the move, Beth whisked her smartphone out of her quilted purse and used the voice recorder to note the names of everyone who entered with food, whether homemade or store-bought, and the few names of those who brought nothing, unless their names were included on the list for the lox tray. She did all this while combining cream-cheese containers and arranging a plate of kugel.
Evie read Laney's lips from across the room.
"You never go to a shiva house empty-handed," Laney said to Beth as she stacked bakery boxes on Nicole's kitchen counter.
Laney saw the world in black and white. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Evie's life was shades of gray. Like her hair.
Evie's almost-black, wavy hair with its questionable roots hung past her shoulders in an attempt-to-be-trendy array of scattered layers. Her sweeping bangs weren't doing any sweeping, they were just hanging.
The kids were smart to hightail it out of there. Evie didn't want to talk to anyone either, but she was content to people-watch. Richard's cousins from Cleveland huddled in the corner; the older aunts and uncles who migrated to Florida sat in a semicircle talking louder than they should. Neighbors Evie last saw on Halloween and their mutual grad-school friends who were strangers outside e-mail mingled with Pinehurst College faculty and Richard's Ohio State fraternity brothers he had not seen since graduation. Why did they come? For themselves? Richard? The kids? Nicole? For memories? It didn't matter. They were equal when gathered for sadness. But their presence was also akin to a gapers' delay on the tollway, where everyone slowed to see the pileup and then floored it to get away.
* * *
"Not exactly the scenario she planned when she snagged herself a married man and had a baby," Laney said behind a sesame bagel. She eyed her husband. Herb furrowed his brow and sucked in his lips, trapping his words. Laney winked at him and a smile broke through Herb's full lips and mustache. He put his arm around Laney's waist. Evie squelched a gasp. This was normally where Laney would feign an itch on her ankle and step away, but she didn't move, except closer to Herb. Evie watched her friends and counted. One, two, three. She gave it more time. Four, five, six. Flabbergasted, Evie continued. Seven, eight, nine. And with a deep breath — the finale ... ten. Laney did not move away. Richard's death had initiated a truce.
Evie watched Laney as Laney watched Herb. He kissed Laney's head and walked away. Laney then moved to the couch close to Evie, even though Laney could have claimed a whole cushion for herself. She was protective; almost possessive. Beth sat on the other side of Laney, bagel-less, a more suitable space between them. Beth put her arm around Laney and extended it, patting Evie's back.
"This is so sad," Beth said.
Laney sat taller, even though she was already the tallest. She flared her nostrils in disapproval. "Don't you dare feel bad for her. What goes around comes around," Laney said with a bagel bite in her mouth. Laney's shoulders relaxed and she glanced from Beth to Evie. "At least you don't have to deal with her anymore. Or the baby."
Evie hadn't been thinking about Nicole. She'd been thinking about her kids without a father. Herself without an ex-husband. How dare Richard leave her to raise the twins alone — not just sometimes alone — and to juggle a half brother and a stepmother and a Christmas tree! But was Laney right? Was that the silver lining? Would Sam and Sophie even have a stepmother? It would make things easier if they did not. But only easier for Evie. Damn conscience.
"Your kids will be okay no matter," Beth said, as if reading Evie's mind. That possibility was comforting as well as disconcerting because Evie craved more than okay. Evie craved normal.
Laney turned ninety degrees, faced her friends, and pointed at Evie, which startled her out of her daze. "Ms. Evie Glass," she said as if taking attendance, "you are now a divorced mom with a dead ex-husband. JDate will never be the same."
Beth hung her head and, without looking up, smacked Laney's finger. Evie didn't need JDate and Laney knew it. Evie had been dating Scott Miller every other weekend for the past six months, and when the kids were with Evie and she couldn't see Scott, they e-mailed, texted, and talked on the phone late at night. They'd just come back from a weekend in Michigan. That meant something. Evie just wasn't sure what.
* * *
After the rabbi led the evening minyan and finished the service with the traditional Kaddish prayer, Beth and Laney wrapped their arms around Evie in the tightest group hug three people could give. The rocking motion enveloped her in safety, staving off death and Christmas folderol. Then, a shadow blocked the overhead light. The jumbled group separated. There stood Scott with a plate of rugelach.
From that angle, he looked tall to Evie, but he was Jewish five-nine, which meant five-seven — something Evie learned quickly when she started online dating. He held a Christmas paper plate filled with Evie's favorite — the two-bite, flaky, rolled cookies filled with chocolate bits or raspberry jam or nuts or apricot preserves. They had been her grandmother's, Bubbe's, specialty.
Though sweets seemed counterintuitive for mourning, everyone reached into the plate. Evie reached instead for Scott's other hand and noticed his nails, clean, trimmed and buffed as always. He was her man of the moment and foreseeable future. The boyfriend label seemed childish, and the significant other moniker seemed, well, too significant.
"This is Beth and Laney," Evie said, pointing with her chin so she didn't have to let go of the rugelach, or of Scott. For three years — The Divorced Years — Evie had kept her random dating escapades distant from her kids, her friends, and her pristine Chicago suburb of Lakewood. But the best-friend trio had agreed — it was time for Beth and Laney to meet Scott. He was a gentleman, a banker's banker with a receding hairline, an ex-wife in California, but no kids. He made Evie laugh and think and he was great in bed. Evie pointed to the last rugelach, but he shook his head. Such a mensch. Any man who gave up the last rugelach must be a keeper.
Excerpted from The Glass Wives by Amy Sue Nathan. Copyright © 2013 Amy Nathan Gropper. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Reading Group Guide
An Original Essay by the Author
"What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger (and Will Certainly Make Its Way Into Your Novel)"
I have always been a reader and a writer. I love to sit with a book from beginning to end, or—second best—carry it around with me throughout a busy day, stealing moments to read a page or even just a paragraph. I love to write, to jot down a random sentence or idea, an usual name, or a bit of dialogue so I don't forget what I thought, or heard. When I write, I lose track of time. Finding just the right word, or words, is my Sudoku, my crossword puzzle, where everything must fit together perfectly. But even though reading and writing are my passions, there have been times in my life when I just couldn't read, times when I believed it was self-indulgent to allow my thoughts to drift away, when I couldn't concentrate on anything other than real life, in real time.
That's what happened when I divorced. I'd try to write a paragraph or two, but would find that I just didn't have the energy or the drive to write more. It seemed silly, somehow, to spend precious time caring about fictional people when real people—my children, mostly—needed my attention. Then, just as I grew comfortable watching my children go off with their dad every other weekend, just as I found my footing in the world of online dating, my ex-husband died suddenly. It was a plot worthy of a Movie of the Week. And it was mine. My husband and I may have been divorced for two years, but he was still my children's father. They were devastated. Which meant that I couldn't be. I felt irresponsible doing anything that wasn't directly related to the emotional or physical health of my children. While before I'd simply set reading and writing aside, now I packed them away.
But when the dust started to settle in our lives, or at least when that's how it seemed, I began to think about writing again. Others had the same thought, apparently, as friends and acquaintances were now suggesting that I write a book. This unsettled me, and not just because I hadn't written or even read anything longer than a magazine article in years. What was it about my life that people thought so interesting? Was this some sort of literary rubbernecking? Were people so thirsty for the intricate details I didn't share about our tragedies that they wanted me to tease them out in print?
No, thank you.
I wanted—needed—to move forward. I did not want to relive or re-create my family's pain on the page. I experienced firsthand how divorce is still big news in a small town, so once single, I coveted privacy. When my ex passed away and my life was once again ballpark chatter, I looked forward to the day when people would ask "What's new?" and I could respond with "Nothing much." When my kids were in school or in the Little League lineup, I felt a reprieve—for me as well as them. Things were far from okay, but "okay" was my goal and I didn't see how I could get there by writing a book about what had happened.
But that idea of writing something—anything— nagged at me. I started reading again and I dabbled in writing essays, blog posts, and short stories. I wrote about my daughter's long-ago preschool penchant for coordinating her own outfits, my son going off to high school, and new family traditions, such as my kids making their dad's favorite foods on Father's Day. But I did not want to write about what had happened. Not in any detail. Why would I? Things had been awful. Things were sometimes still awful.
And that's when it hit me. There was a story that was bigger than one family in one house in one town. I didn't have to write about what happened to us. I could make up things. I could imagine how our misfortune might have been worse. Understanding that prompted an honest-to-goodness breakthrough. It could have been worse.
Unlike Evie, my protagonist, I was never in jeopardy of losing the home I lived in with my children. I didn't have to worry about how my sister would react to my decisions because I don't have a sister, and I didn't have to resort to taking in a boarder to make ends meet—especially not one who would rearrange my kitchen cabinets. That's when my novel began to take shape. What if Evie needed help from the least likely, least desirable person to give it: her ex-husband's young widow? Wouldn't that be something. Though my ex-husband did leave behind a widow, she was my age, and we'd become unlikely friends. She wasn't moving into my basement or babysitting for my children, and she certainly wasn't alphabetizing my spices. But in my novel? Well, that was different.
While I could reimagine the emotion and drama of that dark tunnel, there were some things that I couldn't—wouldn't—rework on the page. Circumstances, mainly. Like this one.
I had traveled to Philadelphia to visit friends and family because my kids were headed for a winter break with their dad, stepmom, and teenage step sister. I had learned the hard way not to putter around the house when my kids were on vacation without me. Going away without my kids was healthy. Expected. Necessary. I convinced myself that this time, we'd all have fun. But that's not how our story unfolded. Just hours after I'd left my home near Chicago my ex-husband died from a heart attack. Of course, I flew home right away, but those nine hours when I was not there for my son and daughter—hours when they needed me most—are hours that I still regret more than eight years later. It's a part of our history. Nothing can change that.
But in my novel, Evie goes to the hospital and waits for news. She is the one who tells her kids about their dad's car accident. She is there.
As I had inklings about how things could be different, a story unfolded around me, and within me. I realized the story I needed to write wasn't about me, or my kids, or the third dog we adopted to fill tiny spaces in their hearts. It wasn't about the neighbors who stopped calling because losing a forty-year-old friend to a sudden heart attack filled them with fear that made them retreat. In this fictional world I was creating, Evie's best friends and their husbands do not retreat, they step up. And while most of my friends were steadfast, as life changes, so do friendships.
At the time I wrote The Glass Wives it was the only story I could write. The things I needed to say were bigger than me or one friend or one family member and any one disappointment or conflict. I wasn't writing to teach anyone a lesson; I was writing to set an example for myself. I filled the first chapter's shiva scene with Evie's extended family because, in real life, while my parents attended my ex's funeral, sat shiva at my ex-husband's house, and stayed with me and my kids for two weeks, the rest of my family was burdened not just by distance, but by some strange divorce protocol they imagined existed. So I didn't do that to Evie or her twins, Sam and Sophie. I couldn't.
Most of all, as I started jotting down ideas and writing rough chapters and creating characters, I realized that writing this story was not self-indulgent. I just wanted to show how far a mother, any mother, would go to protect her kids' sense of home and family. I wanted to prove, through Evie's actions— and even through her misgivings and mistakes—that families come in all shapes and sizes. I wanted Evie's family to encourage others to be tolerant and forgiving. I wanted them to question Evie, bristle at her choices, and then to challenge themselves, especially if they thought of their families as normal—round pegs that fit neatly into round holes. I wanted Evie to shatter the illusion of normal. More than that, I wanted to show, albeit in a literary time lapse, that amidst the crushing blow of grief and change, a family can emerge, be whole and strong. Even, or especially, because while writing this novel my own family wasn't always quite at that point. Like most things in real life, we are a work in progress.
In writing The Glass Wives, I disassembled what and who I knew, the way someone might take apart an intricate Lego castle and rebuild it, using some of the same pieces, along with some new and different ones. A castle becomes a spaceship, or a dinosaur.
As my kids grew and then crossed into adulthood, all three of us have grown up. I've been published in magazines and newspapers, but to have my debut novel published at age forty-nine fulfills a lifelong dream. This milestone, much more than an item on a bucket list, reinforces for me, and imprints on my children, not only the power of perseverance, but that anything is possible. I also believe that sometimes things happen right when you need them to happen. My daughter heads to college this fall. In a year my son will graduate from college. Right now we are simultaneously embarking on the dreams we hold dear for ourselves, and for one another.
As I watched my children reclaim their joy and wonder, I'd like to think I've followed their lead. With love and fortitude, I revisited a terrible time in our lives and turned it all upside down in ways that make perfect sense—the way life so often does not. And because planning and hoping and dreaming are once again parts of all of our lives, I was able to write for The Glass Wives what we all wish for, but is not always possible.
A happy ending.
1. The Glass Wives begins at shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, and concludes at the Passover Seder, a combined meal and service commemorating the end of the Israelites' bondage in ancient Egypt. Why do you think the author framed the story between these two significant ceremonies?
2. Throughout the course of the novel, Evie is forced to reconstruct her definition of "family" for the second time after her ex-husband's death. Did this get easier for her as time passed? If so, was there a defining moment or epiphany for Evie?
3. In today's world do you really believe there is such a thing as a so-called normal, or typical, family like the one Evie wanted for her children?
4. Tolstoy famously said that "all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Evie does her best to cultivate a happy family, especially for her children. Do you think she succeeds? Why or why not?
5. Nicole was the other woman before she married Richard Glass. Do you think this makes her a less honest character? At what point in the book does she become a sympathetic character? (Assuming that she does.)
6. Why do you think the author gave the Glass family a dog? What role does Rex play in the book—and in the family?
7. In one scene, Evie reprimands children that are not her own. It's often cited as one of readers' favorite passages. Why do you think this episode is so powerful—and memorable? What does it suggest about Evie's character? Or do you find it's out of character for Evie?
8. In the book, Evie bakes when she's upset or anxious. Take a moment to list examples of her doing so. Why do you think Evie does this? Moreover, why do you think the author chose to assign this behavior, or quirk, to her protagonist?
9. Some of the characters in The Glass Wives are intolerant and impatient. Again: Why do you think the author created characters with negative personality traits in a story about family and friendships? How important—or necessary— is it to include characters who are not readily "likable" in any novel? You may wish to take this opportunity to talk about some of your favorite heroes, or anti-heroes, in literature as well.
10. If you could ask the author anything about The Glass Wives—clarification on a plot point, a detail about a particular character, scenes from the cutting-room floor—what would it be? (You may choose to contact the author and ask her yourselves!)