It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The Longings of Wayward Girls
September 22, 2002
SADIE FIRST SEES HIM ON a wet September evening, not long after she lost her baby—a stillborn girl. She has a cold, and the damp and the falling leaves all compound her sorrow. He is a boy she knows from childhood, now a man filling his truck at the local gas station. The few streets of their old neighborhood that wound together were built on his family’s farmland. He lived in a midcentury modern house at the top of Sadie’s road. It was fieldstone and glass, built by a famous Harvard architect and reached by a long curving drive with iron gates at its entrance. On the gatepost was a plaque that announced the place, ceremoniously, as Wappaquassett. Sadie finds the adopted Algonquian place names in town ironic—Mashamoquet, Susquetonscut, Quinnatisset; “big fish place,” “place of red ledges,” “little long river.” The early settlers of the 1670s may have well understood their meaning, but they now signify parks and country clubs and shopping plazas. Despite this, the name on the Filleys’ gatepost has always seemed authentic to her—“place covered with rush matting”—as if the land was named and rightfully given over to Filley ancestors by the original inhabitants. The grounds of Wappaquassett included a barn and an in-ground swimming pool, the only one in the neighborhood of 1960s Colonials and split ranches.
Sadie watches the man at the pump in front of her, gassing up an old truck, and remembers him as a swaggering boy, rakish, tall, dressed in wrinkled khakis, his private-school tie always askew. She tries to convince herself he was just an older boy who smoked cigarettes, who kept himself at a remove that only made him seem alluring. But she cannot deny the way her heartbeat steps up when she recognizes him, the romantic hero of all her childhood games. He is taller, broader, yet as he reaches back to replace the nozzle she notices his old fluid way of moving, the shake of his head to clear his eyes of his hair, still the same shaggy brown and long over his collar. As she watches he looks up and sees her, his face registering shock, and then a confusion that he struggles to hide. She waves, and he seems to collect himself and calls her by her old name: “Well hello there, little Sadie Watkins.” He tips his head back and laughs, something she senses with disappointment is forced. They stand under the awning in the bright fluorescence, and nod and smile.
“You thought I was Laura Loomis,” she says.
Through the years Sadie has lived with this misapprehension. As a child with her mother people would spot her and call the town police, and Officer Crombie would appear in the Youth Centre children’s store, rolling his eyes. It incensed Sadie’s mother to have her daughter confused with a missing girl, but Sadie had read the newspaper articles and imagined being the object of the steady, enduring love the Loomises revealed for their lost daughter. Lately, new age-progression images have appeared in the paper, and Sadie is once again scrutinized, accosted by strangers. Saying “I’m not Laura Loomis” has become second nature.
But Ray seems more confused by her admission. “Who?”
Sadie laughs. “I thought you may have mistaken me for someone else.”
Ray’s smile seems pasted on. “Actually, Sadie Watkins, you look a lot like your mother.”
She is flooded with memory—a bright rush of images that occur beyond her control: Ray Filley and her mother at the Filleys’ pool that last summer, her mother laughing, and Ray dipping his head to speak to her, a gesture so intimate Sadie, as a child, felt compelled to look away.
“It’s Stahl now,” she says, hoping her voice won’t betray her.
She never moved out of Wintonbury. She stayed and married and he left, and occasionally she’d hear from other people about things he’d done, or places he’d been, his life a blur of activity at a distance from her. Until she saw him just now she had nearly forgotten him.
His recent return makes him a stranger to the town, an outsider who would have no way of knowing about the baby she just lost. For the first time in weeks she doesn’t have to endure looks of sympathy. Instead, they laugh about the town and its history of assorted characters: the drunk, Waldo, who can still be spotted pedaling his ancient bike through the center; the teenagers who race their cars along the stretch of road between the tobacco fields; the priest, a volunteer fireman who took young boys for rides in his car with the light flashing, who was finally accused of molesting them. She leans back against the door of her car. He says her name, “Sadie Watkins,” for no particular reason, and she says his, “Ray Filley,” as if he’s been conjured up by the words on her tongue. He jokes about how he feels he’s caught in a time warp. “Even the old Tunxis Players troupe is still together,” he says.
Sadie smiles hesitantly. “Oh, sure. What play are they doing now?”
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Ray says. He waggles his eyebrows, and his smile widens.
“That’s an old one,” Sadie tells him. “Nineteen fifties old!” They have narrowly skirted the topic of her mother, but then she cannot help herself. “My mother was in that play.”
She watches his face closely but sees he will not acknowledge her, even though she’s always suspected he had a crush on her.
“So, a revival!” He does his laugh again, his teeth bright in the fluorescence.
No one is around. The gas station is on the corner of Jerome and Park, next to the library, the Masonic hall. Moths flit about the streetlights. There’s a smell of wood burning, and Sadie is transported back to teenage parties on nights like these—the passing of a bottle around the bonfire, some boy’s arm heavy on her shoulder. The road is quiet and empty, and their voices are too-sharp and high against the emptiness. Ray pulls out a pack of cigarettes and offers her one. “I quit,” she says. “A long time ago.” He must see her rings, notice the SUV with the elementary school magnet stuck to the side. She knows she should tell him about her children—Max, four, and Sylvia, seven; about her husband, Craig; the three of them waiting at home for the ice cream that sits, melting, on the passenger seat. But she is suddenly embarrassed by this evidence of who she’s turned out to be. She is thrown back to a time when she expected to be so much more.
“What have you been up to?” she asks him.
Ray shrugs. He gives her that lopsided grin. “Same old thing. Music.”
He joined a band she’d never heard of and went off to make records and tour after graduating from prep school. Her memories of Ray end then. She hated high school, was lost, a faceless person in the beige hallways. Every moment of her time there focused on clever schemes of escape—forged notes from the nurse to cover skipped classes; day trips with older boyfriends to Newport, Rhode Island, or driving around in their cars drinking; having sex in their boyhood bedrooms, all of them stuck, somehow, within the grid of the town—mechanics, shop workers, lightning rod installers. And then she got out and tried college to appease her father—three semesters of courses at a staid women’s college, in large lecture halls where she once again felt overwhelmed by namelessness, where the girls all knew each other, and where her ability to memorize the details of hundreds of slides of art, and construct and support an eloquent thesis, brought her excellent grades but no appreciation of her own achievement. She hated it too much to stay, eventually getting a job at Lord & Taylor, selling men’s accessories behind a counter—scarves and gloves and beautiful wallets. Across the shining aisle the women in cosmetics stood like mannequins with their garish faces. She had to carry her personal items into the store in a clear plastic tote and at the end of the day pass through the security exit like a thief. Once she met Craig the promise of a new life took over, with its babies to tend, its house—swatches of fabric, paint samples, like the dollhouse she’d decorated as a child, spending hours sewing miniature curtains cut from her mother’s discarded cocktail dresses.
“It’s been a long time,” Ray says then. “Twenty years?”
Sadie admits it might be longer. “What are you doing back?”
Ray stares at her. He says his father has died, and Sadie realizes she has been cocooned in her own grief, that she has not read a newspaper or left the house for anything but errands in weeks. Ray tells her he’s staying at Wappaquassett, where Beth still lives with their mother. He says that they want him to take over the farm and the store, and Sadie tries to remember the last time she stopped at Filley’s, Ray’s father always so kind to her—giving the children apples, tiny pumpkins, putting extra ears of corn in the bag, adding a Christmas wreath for free when they bought their tree.
“I’m so sorry,” she says. She puts her hand to her chest.
Ray stares at her again. She cannot fathom what he’s thinking. He reaches out his hand and brushes a piece of her hair from her face, gently, tenderly. She smells the cigarette, the gasoline. Later that evening, folding the children’s clothes, stacking them in small piles, loading the dishwasher, locking the doors of her house, the street outside shining and black from rain, the neighbor’s porch lights halos on the front walks, she thinks of his hand moving toward her face, the way he looked at her, and it’s as if something dormant has sprung from the ordered dignity of her married life.
What People are Saying About This
"The Longings of Wayward Girls is haunting and delicate and beautiful, with the spark and charge of a psychological thriller. Karen Brown writes like an angel, but the shadows of past ghosts linger on every page. I could not put this compelling novel down.
“The Longings of Wayward Girls is an enthralling account of how a daughter follows in her mother's footsteps...but not too closely. Brown tells a wonderfully suspenseful and eerie story as she goes back and forth between Sadie's childhood and her adult life, and the result is a novel full of mysteries, surprises, and the best kinds of psychological revelations. Once you've discovered this haunted world, you won't want to leave it.
“A heart-stopping novel of suspense that’s as intelligent as it is compelling, as beautiful as it is disturbing. Brown’s skill, empathy and sensitivity make this debut stand apart, and stand out. The astute observations, evocative atmosphere and bone-chilling scenes make for a moving, provocative read. A star is born.”
“Nothing is as it seems in this psychologically complex story of girls gone missing and mothers who stray. Karen Brown deftly alternates between two generations of parallel drama in a neighborhood of facades and gentle menace. I stayed awake far too late with the rich tension of wondering whether she’d bring her characters in for a safe landing.”
“Brown intricately weaves together past and present, demonstrating how casual acts of childhood cruelty can linger well into a seemingly stable adult life. But Brown is also a uniquely talented writer, capable of teasing out poignant commonalities between her protagonist’s teen and middle-aged selves. A beautifully written, unbearably tense debut novel.
"Haunting, sexy, and evocative, The Longings of Wayward Girls features motherhood and daughterhood, marriage and adultery, and the simultaneous coziness and creepiness of New England suburban life, all wrapped up in a page-turning tale of suspense. A gripping debut novel.
"Through pitch-perfect details and an eloquent voice, Karen Brown delivers a suspenseful and memorable debut. Moving effortlessly between the late 1970s and the present-day, Brown explores what harm may come should we choose to follow the path laid down by those who came before us.
"In the time between playing with Barbies and puffing on stolen cigarettes, girl’s games can turn dangerous—and sometimes fall far over the line. In The Longings of Wayward Girls, the past returns to plague the present with a vengeance that can cost a woman her husband and children. Brown’s haunting prose sets the mood for the heartbreaking choices made by mothers and daughters.
"The Longings of Wayward Girls caught me by the throat from the first page. The dangling mystery and tale of girlhood friendships reeled me in, and I loved Brown's ability to move the reader fluidly back and forth through time. By the book's end, as the final truths are exhumed, I felt like I'd grown up with these characters. Brown has deftly crafted a first novel that will touch a chord inside anyone who has harbored a haunting secret, or been buffeted by the conflicting crosswinds of coming of age.
"An absorbing novel about the misgivings and shortcomings of domestic life, about the confusing intersection of glamour, lust, and self-destruction, and about a woman haunted by a long-ago act of girlhood cruelty.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Longings of Wayward Girls includes 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.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Read the epigraph of the novel aloud. How does it serve to frame the narrative that follows it?
2. Consider the mother-daughter dynamics that are depicted within the novel. How do you think Sadie’s experience of being mothered by Clare impacts how she mothers Sylvia?
3. What do you make of Sadie and Craig’s relationship? Why do you think Sadie is drawn to Ray to begin with, and why does she ultimately return to Craig? Do you believe Ray when he writes to Sadie, “I knew who I had. I knew who you were” (p. 308)?
4. The weight of history—and the sense that it can repeat itself—is felt throughout the novel. As a group, can you brainstorm moments within the novel in which it appears (as Faulkner once famously said) that “the past isn’t dead—it isn’t even past”?
5. Consider the theme of female companionship in the novel. In what ways is it shown to be sustaining—and in what ways can it turn sinister?
6. Both Sadie and Clare are involved with the local theater troupe. What is the difference between this kind of formalized acting and other forms of role-playing that are depicted throughout the novel? Using examples of each, compare and contrast.
7. Turn to the scene on p. 137 in which Kate shows the neighborhood women the Christmas village she has created in her basement. Why do you think Kate has chosen this hobby? What do you make of Sadie imagining Kate returning the next day to her basement, only to discover that “the mothers and fathers and children in her village will have shifted position, moved into other rooms, other houses, stepped out into their snowy yards to stand together without her intervention” (p. 284)?
8. Think about how fate and free will are juxtaposed in the novel. How could the suitcase that Sadie discovers in the old Filley homestead be seen as emblematic of both— or, put differently, as the perfect melding of destiny and agency?
9. What do you make of Beth as a girl—and later, as a grown woman? In what ways can she and Francie be seen as reflections of each other?
10. Consider the domestic spaces that feature prominently in this novel (basements, perhaps) and those that are rarely shown (for example, kitchens). What kinds of activities are the characters engaged in, in each setting? In terms of tone or atmosphere, how are the scenes that take place indoors different than those that transpire outdoors?
11. As a group, reread the in which where Clare and Patsy run lines from the Tennessee Williams play, The Night of the Iguana. Given what lies ahead for these characters, how do you interpret these lines?
12. While many of the novel’s characters are guilty of various wrongdoings, do you feel that true malice is at the root of any of their crimes? Are there moments when certain individuals could have acted differently to prevent others from getting hurt? Discuss using specific examples from the text.
13. The Longings of Wayward Girls ends with Sadie describing a recurring dream she has about entering her childhood home and wandering the rooms, looking for her mother: “What did she want to tell her? she’d wonder. Now she knows, and finds she has stopped looking” (p. 311). What answers has Sadie come to by the novel’s conclusion? To what extent do you believe she has made peace with her mother’s memory?
14. Though not a ghost story in the classic sense, The Longings of Wayward Girls is filled with ghosts. Who are they, and how does their presence shape the narrative’s development?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The summer of 1979 is a transitional summer for Sadie, and though her thirteenth birthday is still a few months off, in her personality and demeanor she arguably “becomes” a teenager during July and August. Did you have a summer that was similarly monumental to your personal development?
2. As a group, watch the 1964 film version of The Night of the Iguana. Imagine Clare (and later, Sadie) playing the role of Hannah Jelkes, here depicted by Deborah Kerr. Does the movie make you think differently about any aspects of The Longings of Wayward Girls?
3. Speaking of movies, pretend that you are casting the film version of The Longings of Wayward Girls. Brainstorm whom you might cast as Sadie, Ray, and Beth. What about Clare, Ray, or Kate?
4. As twelve-year-olds, Sadie and Betty play a seemingly harmless prank on another girl—one that sets off a chain of events with disastrous consequences. Looking back on your childhood, did any of your own transgressions initially seem innocuous but ultimately lead to harmful or damaging outcomes?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Did you ever wonder what happened to the kids you went to school with? Were you part of the “in crowd,” a leader, a follower, or maybe you were the outcast, the one that others saw as fodder for cruelty for any number of reasons. No matter where you stood in the social pecking order, our youth and our actions, reactions or lack of action, affects our adulthood, if we try to bury it. Sadie is now a troubled adult, rightfully depressed by a recent miscarriage, but her problems go much deeper, and as her past resurfaces, memories and guilt of a long ago summer come back to haunt her as she continues to make self-destructive choices. The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown is a dark, psychological mystery that spans three time periods, each involving Sadie, each leaving a mark on her emotionally and mentally. Current Sadie’s “perfect” façade is crumbling. Like a raw onion, the layers of her life and the events of her past are painfully peeled back. Karen Brown has re-created the 70s with vivid detail, like climbing into a time capsule and going back. Her characters are not always likeable, but as the timelines converge, they do become understandable, making this an intriguingly thought-provoking, often disturbing read! An ARC edition was provided by NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for my honest review.
Most of the big review publications love this book, using such terms as nervewracking, haunting, absorbing, tension, suspense. I’m sorry to say none of these words come to mind when I think about The Longings of Wayward Girls. It’s not that it’s a bad book—it really isn’t—but to say it’s full of suspense and tension is miles apart from what most mystery readers are looking for. We know from the jacket copy that two children have gone missing but getting to any real information about those disappearances is a chore. The second instance, which is the real focus, doesn’t actually happen until more than two thirds through the story and that is simply far too long for the mystery reader to wait. In essence, the only real tension is caused by wondering when on earth we’ll be told anything about this second disappearance beyond the fact that it happened. To make matters worse, there’s no real resolution to that second crime because we’re left wondering whether it really was a crime or rather jealousy gone out of control leading to unintended consequences. On the other hand, as a look at a woman’s life and how her adulthood is so heavily influenced by her childhood, this hits the mark. Speaking personally, I couldn’t like Sadie very much—she’s remarkably self-centered as a child and as an adult—but she has some reason to be that way. If I had thought this would be a personality study that happens to include a couple of mysteries, I might have enjoyed it very much because Ms. Brown is a fine writer, particularly when it comes to evoking a sense of setting. Unfortunately, the description makes it sound much more like suspense is the overriding theme and that just isn’t the case. The publisher should come up with a more accurate description for future editions to prevent disappointing readers looking for a solid crime drama.
The woods were a place of imaginative games and innocent wanderers. The swampy area was a harmless place until nine-year-old Laura Loomis went missing in 1974. The search continued for days with no clues found. A few years later, Sadie and her best friend are playing a harmless prank on a girl from the neighborhood. The result...the neighborhood girl disappears like Laura Loomis did. Fast forward to 2002 and Sadie Watkins is used to being mistaken for one of the missing girls. In fact, saying "I'm not Laura Loomis" has become second nature to her. A boy from her old neighborhood comes to town sparking all of Sadie's old memories. The unsolved mystery and summer prank resurfaces. The Longings of Wayward Girls had so much potential. The guilt of a grown woman over the disappearance of a girl, possibly her fault. The same grown woman grieving over a miscarriage while figuring out what really happened that summer. I really wanted to like this book. I realize I am in the minority with not caring for it. The premise sounded really good but it fell flat. There was no climax. My reaction to the ending was, "Oh." -___- Reiterating, this is just my opinion that does not mirror the majority. I longed for a better story line to The Longings of Wayward Girls but others may enjoy it. Literary Marie of Precision Reviews
What can I say about this book? It was brilliant in its subtleties, but a little clumsy in its presentation. I thoroughly appreciated the way Ms. Brown unwrapped the characters by unwrapping their relationships, but the back and forth between time periods, between characters, and between events made it difficult to follow at times. I found myself going back a few times to figure out which girl/woman/man I was reading about. Ms. Brown masterfully SHOWED us reasons for characters' behavior without TELLING us - she leaves it up to the intelligence of the reader to put the puzzle pieces together. Yes, I'd recommend this, but I would suggest setting aside time to sit and read this without too many distractions. This book was given to me for the purpose of this review.
I didnt finish this book i found that with only 50 pages left that i really did not care how it ended
Sadie grew up differently, her mother often "sick" or "too tired" to drag herself out of bed. in 1979 a young girl that looked startlingly like her disappeared. She had a fairly normal childhood otherwise, playing for long hours with her friends, until the day her mother left permanently. In present day, 2002, Sadie is a Mom herself. Her husband loves her, her children need her, but after the loss of her baby girl, perfect, but stillborn, she feels disconnected from her life. She meets up with a man from her past, a boy that featured in many of her girlish fantasies, now grown and just as enticing. The story bounces back and forth between the girl and woman as we learn more about the dark places in hidden corners of her mind. She finds some surprising and painful connections to her mother. The last person she ever wanted to be like. A darkly interesting tale.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A different take on small town life, by having the main character stay in town and tell the story both in the past and in the present and the changes and similarities in the town and its people. I loved the concept and the overall plot of the book. I love small town books and I loved the mystery and intrigue about girls going missing in this small town.
Great book from an amazing writer, one of the best books I have read in years!