The Sunshine When She's Gone: A Novel

The Sunshine When She's Gone: A Novel

by Thea Goodman


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When Veronica Reed wakes one frigid January morning, two things seem amiss. First, her Manhattan apartment is luxuriously quiet—her husband, John, and the baby, Clara, are out. Secondly, she is rested, having slept through the night for the first time in months. As Veronica goes about her first free morning in what feels like a lifetime, John, racked by sleep deprivation, is fleeing lower Manhattan with Clara for a weekend in the Caribbean. This isn't a kidnapping. It's just that the cozy local diner happened to be closed, and John, wanting to give his wife a break and spend a little time with the baby, took a taxi to the airport and hopped on a plane.

Told through alternating points of view, Thea Goodman's The Sunshine When She's Gone explores one unusual weekend's life-changing impact on a couple, as individuals and as partners. As Veronica revisits the carefree lifestyle she knew before John and the baby, she grapples with the sacrifices of parenthood. Meanwhile, John faces the full responsibilities—and joys—of being father to an infant with whom he has almost never been left alone. John and Veronica nearly lose hold not only of themselves but of each other as they struggle to find their way in this hilarious, eloquent novel about passion, ambivalence, and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250052698
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Thea Goodman has received the Columbia Fiction Award, a Pushcart Prize Special Mention and fellowships at Yaddo and Ragdale; her short stories have appeared in several journals, notably New England Review, Other Voices and Columbia. Born in New York City, she studied at Sarah Lawrence and earned her MFA from Brooklyn College, CUNY. She has taught writing at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

Read an Excerpt

The Sunshine When She's Gone

A Novel

By Thea Goodman

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2013 Thea Goodman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9663-7


Thursday Night


Kidnap was not the right word. John had simply meant to take Clara to breakfast at the corner diner, where they had good poached eggs and were especially kind to babies. But in the end he couldn't explain the inexorable pull, the electric thrum that made him rise from the bed, strangely untethered, and begin to shave with scalding water, or the innocence of his motive — he just wanted to be with her. He couldn't describe the indefinite urgency that had propelled him. Yes, he took the baby with him, but she was his daughter.

Veronica had started it. She'd sat up in bed, waving a finger in protest. "She's fine," she'd hissed when John left to check on Clara, as he did every night. Clara slept down the hall, in a nursery with walls the color of pollen. They'd rejected bicycle yellow and lemon yellow in favor of pollen, the potent reproductive center of a flower. As he walked toward the nursery, a small vibration filled the air, the joyful tension that had tinged the atmosphere since Clara was born. The yolky color summoned, spilling warmth onto the stunned concrete floors and his cold bare feet: The baby was warm and breathing. He was sure of it. When he arrived in her room, it was pitch dark. He felt around the baseboards, searching in vain for the delinquent night-light, then stood staring down at the vague shape of the crib but saw only blackness, like the deep velvet center of a pansy. Had she been stolen?

He waited anxiously for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Slowly the shape of her bald head emerged, and he saw a fantastic, tuber-like arm draped over her eyes as she lay on her back. He watched, waiting to see her chest move up and down with breath. Abruptly, she flipped over. In her pink velour suit, her bottom was high in the air, her tiny knees tucked beneath her. In the crook of her arm she had crushed the lamb she loved. The velvety white toy had opaque black eyes and eyebrows embroidered in perpetual consternation, as if forever on the verge of bleating. But the baby was content tonight. Neither Clara nor the lamb made a sound.

Satisfied, he returned to their pale blue bedroom. What was the name of this paint color? They had once been fervent and focused decorators. He had once agreed to the color, but it was a drained blue, gray and institutional, the bored whistle in the stairwell of his old elementary school. Veronica was speaking, staring across the top of her book into the open distance, barely aware of his presence. "There's an epidemic under way. People are getting fatter and fatter," she said.

John's waist had thickened for the first time in his life, and he supposed this was why she avoided contact. "Obesity is a scourge," he said too emphatically. His provocation didn't faze her. Veronica arranged her maple hair over the pillow — the same glossy banner she'd always had, so shiny it looked adolescent — and continued to read about the horror of fast food. She held a tissue coned into one nostril and worked on arranging it for optimal absorption. He'd never seen her so engaged.

She was in shape again, six months after Clara's birth, but complained of the continual numbness of her incision and the lack of tone around her belly. He'd find her alone sometimes, her side to the mirror, lifting the small packet of flesh above the ridge of the scar until taut, then dropping it as it jiggled back into place and froze into a small, immovable pillow. She'd be embarrassed when he found her doing this and rush to cover herself. He liked seeing her in that moment when she didn't know she was being seen. She'd never been vain before. Maybe it wasn't vanity; she still had little sense of the power of her beauty, an innocence that had always been one of her charms.

"Hi," he said, trying to take her book away and kiss her. Art, his closest friend, had always said hi was a good opener. No one could say no to hi.

"Don't," she said. She looked at his hand briefly, as if disoriented, her watery violet eyes narrowing. "What are you doing?" "Kissing you." He leaned in, waiting for her to remove the tissue.

She stared at the page before her. "The thing is" — she coughed vigorously, then recovered — "I'm really sick." A plane of red chafed skin seared above her chapped lips, but he didn't care.

"Where's your puritan stoicism these days?" John grabbed the tissue box and stuffed his hand inside it. He lifted up his cubed fist as if admiring it. Before, Veronica was someone who ignored colds, too busy to slow down and nurse one.

Clara had divided all experience into before and after. Before, his wife was stalwart, even hearty; after, she was withholding and often sick. On occasion, she had been perhaps oversensitive; now she was brittle. Before, she had been pleasure-loving and absentminded, one time stowing her purse in the refrigerator — as if enthralled by the present, the current consuming thing, which had often been him! After, she continued to work at the Commission for School Lunches, and she talked about murals and community gardens and smoking bans yet spoke with a new, almost officious fervor. After, her work and her interests surrounded her like a fence. He couldn't get in.

"Give me that," she said, reaching for the box as he moved his hand away.

"You need to do something about it," he said.

"About my cold? I'm trying to blow my nose," she said, with her new, caustic bite.

"It's not your nose I'm worried about," he said, pausing to admire the almost aquiline line of it, the terse, receptive pink tip jammed with tissues. Veronica almost smiled, until something made him keep going and ruin it. "It's your mood. You're so moody."

She snatched the box off his hand, revealing his red clenched fist. "Don't tell me what I am. You don't know!" she said. "You have no idea, none at all, how tired I am."

"Of course I know." He spoke quietly, a patient robot, tired to the point of malfunction.

Sleep — for both of them — had become a precious commodity, worthy of fetish. They discussed sleep. They were always counting the consecutive hours of sleep they'd had or calculating the few they could hope for. He, too, was wrecked. As she glared at him, the accumulated exhaustion of months seemed to calcify within him, then crack. He was buzzing; he was blanched. How could she suppose he didn't know fatigue?

At six months, Clara had not once slept through the night. He told himself this circumstance was temporary — if Veronica would let Clara into their room, out of the inky dark of the nursery (draped in three-ply blackout shades), then the baby might sleep. For now he dwelled in a bright flip book of days and a tunnel of nights that kept returning like an endless boomerang to pull him in, thread him through to the next impossible morning. They'd entered into a syndrome of tiredness that seemed as if it would never end. "I do know," he repeated in as measured and human a tone as he could muster.

Her eyes grew large with pity, like a school psychologist with a hopeless case.

"Don't look at me like that," he said, "that condescending smile."

"I'm not even looking at you." It was true. She was already back to her book and spoke in her new monotone. They were both robots. A pair of imposters. "Why don't you take care of your mood and I'll take care of mine?"

"My mood?" he said. "I can't even say anything — I can't even come near you —"

"So that's what this is about. I'm at least trying to do something about it," she said, gesturing to the prescription bottles on the bedside table — the cluster of antidepressants and the hormones for her waning sex drive. "I know you'd like to think it's entirely chemical, but there's more to it than that," she added. "Show me one new mother who actually wants to have sex."

"Last time you were just servicing me? Is that it?" Over and over he had recalled that last uncommon encounter, three weeks ago, when he'd managed to capture her as she stacked some clean towels in the linen closet.

"I wanted to." She reached out and squeezed his biceps. The gesture softened him. His muscle twitched happily beneath her long fingers. "I just don't want to all the time. Why are you yelling at me?" Her hand rose, left him.

"I'm not. I'm sorry."

"You think it's all me, but it's you too," she said, as if in a trance. She turned a page and stifled a sneeze. He looked up. Even the ceiling was blue — what had the idea been? The painted ceiling was meant to feel limitless, like the sky, but it was laughably hard and unyielding.

"Me? You're blaming me?" he said, sure that her hormones were dividing them, turning her into a person she had not been before, someone alternately aloof, despondent, and cutting. He waited, stewing. Indignation prickled up through his scalp. It felt purifying, a bubbly thing, like peroxide poured onto a wound. She had changed since the birth; he had not.

* * *

That enormous night when before turned into after, a nurse had addressed John and said, "Say goodbye, Dad," escorting him out of the operating room where Veronica had given birth by C-section. He'd pressed his lips to Veronica's damp forehead. Despite her waxy pallor, she'd smiled at him bravely, as if nothing and no one would ever hurt or disappoint her; to that hopeful essence of his wife — whether real or imaginary — he said goodbye. The heavy door clicked behind him.

A baby, placid and trusting, had been placed in his arms. She felt too light at first, a hollow doll wrapped in flannel, but when he adjusted his wrist, her warm head fell back heavily. He gathered her together, her delicate, watery, animated weight. He couldn't tell if she looked like Veronica. He searched the baby's face for traces of his own, but there were none. Her face was a mobile rosebud, like any baby's. "There's a theory," he told the nurse who was restocking the cabinet beside him, "that newborns look like their fathers so their fathers won't eat them."

"The cafeteria is on three. I can take baby to the nursery while you eat," she said, continuing her work. He watched her uniformed back as she reached a high shelf on tiptoe. Take baby? If Veronica was going to be all right, she would have looked him in the eye.

"No," he said, unaccountably angry. "It's a theory ... of evolutionary biology." He stared down at Clara as if she might get it. She opened her eyes briefly, then raised one eyebrow in exactly the way he did. With Clara's raised brow, time raced forward and fell back in an instant, a vacuumed second in which he understood the Universe. He understood, in a threadbare yet distinct way, like a sighted person reading lips, that she was his daughter. A second later he saw no resemblance. The moment of recognition was not that clear: What he saw was not a small John but a resonance. He looked into Clara's no-color eyes and she melted warmly into his arms. He smiled at her within their unified haze, amid a deep yet sure abstraction that he recognized, quite suddenly, was love.

* * *

In the bedroom six months later, Veronica turned her back to him and flicked off her lamp. He lay beside her, listening while her jagged breath deepened into sleep. He couldn't rest. Light from unknown city sources shimmied on the walls. Exhaustion coated him, threatening to pull him under its sway several times, until a shimmering commenced, like pepper in his brain, shaking him awake. He stared at Veronica's shoulder, so smooth it looked oiled, at her elegant long fingers and that girlish hair, wishing she'd wake up and return to him. The hours of sleep he'd anticipated diminished one by one as he listened for the baby's cry; for once she was content.

When the sanitation trucks groaned over the cobblestone, he knew it was too late to sleep. Naked, he perched on the windowsill. The sun had not risen, but the sky was getting lighter. The apartment was silent. Clara had done it, had slept through the night. It was the end of an era. Chilly air outlined his body, sharpening his contours. Accidentally, his hand brushed a cactus.

He pricked his finger and squeezed it, waiting to see a drop of blood. Sucking the wound, he stared out the bedroom window. Lavender snow dusted the jumbled rooftops of Lafayette Street and in the distance, uptown, the gem-like facets of the Chrysler Building gleamed. New York was still impossibly beautiful. He wandered to the kitchen searching for some unknown object he'd misplaced, then without finding or even remembering it, moved to the living room's western exposure. It was a true loft, without corner windows, and he faced the one-time factory across the street, where a dark shape, perhaps a cat, rested against a pane. Opening the window, he leaned out and looked south until he could see the blank space where the towers, almost four years later, were still gone.

It had turned into another futuristic year: 2005. An apocalyptic wind surrounded him. The cold and adrenaline made his chest a net of lit veins. The city was vigorously rebounding and he was part of it. At thirty-five, John could do as he pleased. A former journalist, he was now a well-paid researcher for a successful hedge fund. He was their anonymous know-it-all, gathering information about companies and CEOs and delivering it to the principals. He was a good student, writing research papers for jocks. At best he felt like a private detective. Yes, he had achieved a certain ease, more than he'd ever known as a writer, but almost missed — what was it? The ego, the meager reward of a byline? These days he had money and, by extension, unprecedented freedom. Pinballs zoomed and bounced within him. He was rich. The baby slept through the night. There was no such thing as fatigue. The world was starting anew. His muscles were wound tight as a spring, ready for release. In this glorious state, his body was persuasive; he was not falling asleep, he was waking up, he was soaring. Up, up, and away he'd fly.

He went to the bathroom — as tightly decked with veined gray marble as a small Italian bank — and turned on the faucet, letting the water steam in the basin. Although he hadn't slept, he moved with slow precision. Each stroke of the razor scraped away a layer of skin cells until he was peeled and pristine, a shaved man in a cartoon dream. He was sure of one thing: He would not go in to Miller Equities today. He arrived there every day and did his research in situ, providing the information when the principals needed it — scenarios, they called them — reported from the virtual ether of the Web. Yes, Lloyd Miller routinely nodded at him at the morning meeting or in the hall, but John's physical presence seemed irrelevant, and he'd often wondered why he couldn't work at home. The idea took hold and bloomed; he would play hooky. He thought of coffee steaming in a thick china mug. First he'd take Clara for a walk to celebrate her success. Quickly, he got dressed.

It was still dark in the nursery. The air purifier stood sentinel in its corner, emitting small clouds of steam. He picked up Clara's floppy lamb — in sleep she had released it — and tucked its legs into his pants pocket. He put on the baby carrier, making sure the X was in the center of his back for proper weight distribution, then scooped up the baby and slipped her warm body into the pouch on his chest, where she remained asleep. He was embarrassed by the novelty of her weight, how solid and round she now felt. He wondered how long it had been since he'd carried her this way, as he put on his down jacket and zipped it around them both so he was huge.

He filled a backpack with a few bottles of the special homemade goat-milk formula Veronica had learned to make from an expensive herbalist on lower Fifth Avenue. He took diapers and wipes and a few extra onesies. In the hallway he put a hat on Clara and took some cash from a drawer in the console; Veronica said it reminded her of The Godfather, keeping cash in a drawer. But he liked the drawer and took much more than he needed, a little stack of crisp twenties and even a few fifties. He grabbed a long-neglected pile of mail and put it in the bag to peruse at breakfast. Then he dashed off a note — a small good thing they still did for each other — leaving it on the kitchen island.


Excerpted from The Sunshine When She's Gone by Thea Goodman. Copyright © 2013 Thea Goodman. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
I. Part 1: Flight,
1. Thursday Night, John,
2. Friday Morning, Veronica,
3. Friday, John,
4. Friday, Veronica,
5. Saturday, John,
II. Part 2: Memory,
6. Saturday, Veronica,
7. Saturday, John,
8. Saturday, Veronica,
9. Saturday, John,
10. Saturday, Veronica,
11. Saturday, John,
12. Saturday, Veronica,
13. Saturday, John,
III. Part 3: Nest,
14. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Veronica,
15. Sunday, John,
16. Sunday, Veronica,
17. Sunday, John,
18. Sunday, Veronica,
19. Sunday, John,
20. Sunday, Veronica,
21. Six Days Later, John,
22. The Same Night, Veronica,
23. Three Months Later, John and Veronica,
About the Author,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"I'm writing this blurb on very little sleep, because I stayed up far too late finishing The Sunshine When She's Gone. Thea Goodman’s novel could deprive you of sleep too. It's suspenseful, funny, realistic, melancholy. She has captured the secret thoughts of new parents so flawlessly, I wonder if she's installed a listening device into my brain." —A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy

"Thea Goodman has made something I would've thought impossible: an edge-of-your-seat narrative about parenting a small child. Her emotional investment in her characters is complete as they confront each other, themselves, and the heavy weight of new love." —Nell Freudenberger, author of The Newlyweds "Thea Goodman's astute debut novel poses the question, What if you were to step out of your imbedded life? And her discerning mind answers it with a tale of Manhattanites more inextricably bound together than they might imagine." —Susan Minot, author of Evening

 "From its first alarming domestic scene to its far-from-inevitable, unbearably true conclusion, The Sunshine When She's Gone is a faultless portrait of a marriage in crisis and the precarious paths we all must take to keep our lives in balance. Ever been in love? This book will shake you, jolt you, jar you, and wake you up to life."  —Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle and This Bright River

Reading Group Guide

1. The story alternates between John and Veronica's perspectives and phases in and out from flashbacks to the present. How does this narration affect your understanding of the relationship between the couple and of the characters individually? Does it help you to empathize with either John or Veronica, or both?

2. John and Veronica view their marriage in the context of ‘before and after.' Explain this concept and how their lives are changed with Clara's arrival. Is the baby solely responsible for the switch in their dynamic, or is it the parents themselves who bring about this change?

3. What roles do Ines and Art play in the couple's lives? Compare them to John and Veronica. Do you think there will be a ‘before and after' for them once they have their baby?

4. Veronica is obsessed with raising Clara her way. She has everything planned out, from the goat milk and Bjorn carriers to instituting the latest parenting methods. Despite her good intentions, is she really doing what is best for the baby? Do you always need to stick to a plan in order to have a perfect life, or is it sometimes better when it goes astray?

5. After Veronica fi nds out that John took Clara to Barbados, she is infuriated and asserts that Clara is her baby. Whose child is she? Is the mother entitled to have more say in what happens to the baby?

6. John's impromptu trip with Clara was meant to be a considerate gesture, yet it spirals out of control with his unintentional lies. What constitutes a lie? What are other instances in the book where lies (even of omission) are used to protect the other person? Are you ever justifi ed in lying to your partner?

7. The story shifts between a wintry New York City and the sun-fi lled getaway of Barbados. Why do you think the story is set in these two locations, and how do the distinct identities of these places contribute to the plot and the development of the characters in the story?

8. John says he is almost jealous of the relationship between Veronica and Ines. Describe the relationship between the two friends. Why is John jealous of them? Is there something in their relationship that is missing from his marriage?

9. John and Veronica both lose a sense of themselves and of one another throughout their relationship. Do you think that people sometimes have to hit rock bottom in order to realize their mistakes and find themselves again?

10. John and Veronica envy other couples for their seemingly perfect relationships (Muriel and Evan; Lena and her husband). What do they recognize in others' relationships that they don't see in theirs? Is a relationship ever naturally "perfect," or is it a result of effort and commitment?

11. Art attends happiness studies seminars as a part of his research, but it seems that John and Veronica are the ones in actual need of happiness. What does happiness mean in the frame of the book? How does one become happy? Do John and Veronica find true happiness in the end?

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