When Madeline Was Young

When Madeline Was Young

by Jane Hamilton
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When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton, award-winning author of The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World brings us a rich and loving novel about a non-traditional family in the aftermath of a terrible accident.When Aaron Maciver’s beautiful young wife, Madeline, suffers a head injury in a bicycle crash, she is left with the mental capabilities of a six-year-old. In the years that follow, Aaron and his second wife care for Madeline with deep tenderness and devotion as they raise two children of their own. Inspired in part by Elizabeth Spencer’s Light in the Piazza, Hamilton offers an honest and exquisite portrait of how a family tragedy forever shapes the boundaries of love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780739326954
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: 11/26/2006
Edition description: Large Print
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

JANE HAMILTON is the author of The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, and A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been selections of Oprah's Book Club. Her following work, The Short History of a Prince, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998, and her novel Disobedience, was published by Doubleday in 2000. She lives in and writes in an orchard farmhouse in Wisconsin.Please visit her website: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/janehamilton/

Read an Excerpt

When Madeline Was Young

A Novel
By Jane Hamilton


Copyright © 2006 Jane Hamilton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-385-51671-1

Chapter One

Everyone when I was growing up had a dog or a brother or a cousin, someone close by, called Buddy. The Buddy in my life had been christened Samuel Schubert Eastman in 1946. Certainly he deserved a dignified name, and yet we boys knew that for everyday use "Samuel" was too grave for a person like Buddy. Our cousin, as heroes must be, was the specimen among us. He was graced with sandy hair, green eyes, a dusting of freckles on his sunburnt nose, and thick gold lashes that matted in triangles against his cheeks after swimming. My mother used to say that his delicate features and those starlet eyelashes in his athlete's body were what confused the girls, the poor things sure he was tender. When he was fourteen, he told me part of what he guessed was a family secret, drawing me in one night with that piece of overrated information, the cheap start, the chocolate with a boozy liquid center. Buddy didn't yet know that there are a limited number of secrets in the repertory, very few of them worth disclosing, most of them good only for the quick thrill of stopping the pulse: suddenly you are not who you think you are. Despite his revelation and his alarming suggestion, it was even then his use of the word "secret" that seemed most vulgar.

We weresitting on the end of the dock at Moose Lake in northern Wisconsin. The house far up on the hill was not an ordinary Moose Lake cottage, the usual clapboard structure with uneven floorboards and a screened-in porch. No, the Maciver family house was made of granite and oak, walnut, copper, and English brick, a fortress with seven fireplaces and fifteen bedrooms, each with a sink scrubbed clean in the corner. Five of the rooms had their own sleeping porches, with faded cotton hammocks from Barbados strung across, the place the girls napped on the hot afternoons. There was also an icehouse, a pump house, a summer kitchen, a boathouse, and a barn. We were all proud to have an estate, which, we were called to remember, was the fruit of our dead grandfather's labor. That he was related to us seemed implausible-a man who had grown rich manufacturing glue? He had shot a buffalo on the range, the rug in the parlor as proof, but also with that nimble trigger finger he'd mounted and labeled and framed his butterfly collection. We loved to look at the petticoat wings and the sad balding thoraxes, the part that embarrassed us. Our forebear, the captain of industry, the great hunter, the lover of beauty, had been clever enough not to lose all of his fortune in the Depression, had made it possible for us boys of the glue dynasty to spend our days under our grandmother's direction in the boot camp of summer idleness. On her schedule we swam, we played tennis, we fished, and we chopped wood.

Buddy mentioned the putative family scandal to me one night, after we'd finally been released from the evening game of charades, all of us slow to get my grandmother's Sapphira and the Slave Girl. He and I were sitting on the rough wood slats of the dock, as we often did, moving our feet through the water, Buddy reviewing what had just happened or telling me what we might accomplish next. As if the idea were just occurring to him he said, "Hey! You know Madeline, pretty Madeline!" He was singing her name. "You could feel her up and it's not like you'd be a pervert. And if you knocked her up-say you knocked her up-she'd have a drooling mongrel that looked like you, but there's no way it would be a real half-breed."

When I didn't answer, he nudged me with his elbow. "What's the matter? You mean you don't know about your"-here he drew out the word, hissing in my face-"sister? She's fair game, Brains, that's what I'm telling you. Everyone should be that lucky, to have the opportunity right here in the home."

I knew about mating, my father's word, and I had the vaguest sense from dreams that my tallywhacker, as my mother fondly called the part-although it was unruly and had unreasonable hopes-might even so be a source of pride to me someday. In my waking hours it scared me to think of that someday, and I couldn't in much detail imagine how another person could participate in my privacy. The mechanics, then, the logistics of feeling a girl up, were impossible: not only how and of course where, exactly, but why?

"Madeline's not related to any of us!" Buddy cried, cuffing my shoulder. "The big secret, pal."

"I know it," I lied.

She'd probably really appreciate the, uh, attention." He laughed into his chest, my worldly cousin enjoying his own joke.

I suspect that my parents had told me about Madeline in some fashion when I was little, so that I'd always held the knowledge that strictly speaking she was not a blood relative. But she behaved as sisters do, and my parents treated her as one of us, and because she was perennially young I never thought of her as anything but sister. My parents were raising Louise and me, and always Madeline, educating us according to our abilities to be thoughtful, useful, and loving, keepers of the New Deal.

Later that night, in the boathouse, where all the boys slept, I lay awake brooding over what Buddy had told me. There was no electricity in the building, nor were there lights around the lake. The rough pine walls were dirty from decades of kerosene smoke, and the sheets that had once been white were dull from our heat and sweat. The darkness was complete. I had a hazy understanding that Madeline was some kind of relation-exactly how eluded me-who had been injured as a young woman. I was horrified even starting to think about her, against my will, in the way Buddy had directed. Everyone else in the room was asleep, and although I would have liked to go outside I felt that I shouldn't get up or move around. My stomach began to ache, as it often did when I was with Buddy for long. I could never repeat what he'd said, not to anyone, and most of all not to my parents. For the first time I wondered if they had to worry about Madeline, if she was ever in danger from the neighborhood teenagers, some of them nearly as adult as Buddy. My cousin surely wouldn't have hurt Madeline, and by "hurt" I meant kissing. But the way he had laughed into his shirt made me consider and reject and wonder again if he might have done something to my sister.

Madeline was in fact my father's age, forty-one that year. If Buddy had told me right off that Madeline had once been my father's wife, what would I have said or done, sitting on the pier, my legs in the water? Would I have laughed out loud? Would I have given a few kicks, splashing my cousin, making sure to get him all wet? Maybe I'd have argued, saying that a person who wasn't capable of doing logic puzzles past a second-grade level could hardly have been a wife. Or, as Buddy spoke, would my heart have abruptly begun to beat in my chest, hard, loud thumps-that overburdened muscle always the organ that registers the truth?

I suppose it's odd that for the length of my childhood Madeline never looked any different to me. I'd heard it said by the women on our block that she was a beauty-"a real Princess Grace," one of them called her. Despite Madeline's height and her regal charms, I always thought of her as a girl, first someone who was my older sister and then, forever after, when I'd bypassed her intellectually, as my youngest sister. She was long-legged and slim, with a silky blond ponytail, each day a fresh ribbon, a new color around the rubber band. Every other night, after her bath, she sat on my mother's bed under the Lady Vanity hair dryer, imperial in the shower-cap device, the diadem that was puffy from the hot air blowing through a fat cord. She did have a high forehead and notable cheekbones, and, by rights as a princess, a rosy mouth that puckered so prettily into a pout, what could be the precursor to a squall. She was a firm believer in outfits, so that if she was dressed in an ensemble as simple as a pair of turquoise-and-yellow-checked pedal pushers and a sleeveless yellow shirt, her socks were bound to be just that yellow, and her tennis shoes, somehow, miraculously, were exactly the turquoise of her slacks. Twice a year my mother took her to a charity resale store, where Madeline, in a fever of excitement, updated her wardrobe. She was a girl who laid tops and bottoms on the rug before she went to sleep, and who insisted that Russia, the cleaning lady, iron her play clothes.

I say she seemed a girl to me, but I also knew she was of her own kind-Madeline, the only one of us outside of time. I was old enough to understand the strange, mournful noise that came from her lonely bedroom, the sound of adult pleasure a person was supposed to stifle. I didn't want to think about any of it as I lay awake at Moose Lake. Somewhere in the middle of the night I realized that what was disturbing me most had nothing to do with my own family. I sat up suddenly, fumbled around on my windowsill, and struck a match. Madeline, my father, my mother, and even Louise and I-our lives were not to be made into stories for Buddy to tell. I lit the candle in order to look at him, unafraid then of waking anyone. His full, smooth lips were open against his pillow, his freckled back rising and falling. Before me was the boy who had the rest of his unending life to be the Maciver bard, to alter our history to suit himself. It surprised me, standing so close, that his breath was as sour as any of the other boys' familiar stink. Of course I had smelled him every summer, smelled his particular sweat mixed with the faint tang of Old Spice, but I hadn't realized that I didn't like it. I was unaccustomed to feeling insubordination with Buddy, and yet I was sure that in a minute I would effortlessly tip the flame to his soft, worn sheet and set him on fire.

Chapter Two

Buddy and I didn't discuss Madeline after that night at the lake-not because he'd expired in a plume of flames before my eyes, but because the topic didn't present itself again. We went on during the vacation as if the conversation hadn't taken place, or as if I had gladly soaked up the scant communication and had no further questions. He used to jump me from behind, always a big joke, and we'd tumble down the hill wrestling. As I remember, right after the revelation I did resist him with more force than usual and also almost pinned him, something I rarely was able to do. Still, it would never have crossed his mind that because of our talk it was he I might think of in a different light, rather than Madeline. She was not after all a girl you could consider for very long, weighing this part of her personality against that part. You spent your time with her fighting boredom, the way you would if you were told to watch little children. Even though in Buddy's character there was more range, although he was not simple, surely he would have had no idea that anyone might lose admiration for him.

That summer he introduced me to alcohol, and under the influence of the small amount of beer he was able to pilfer, we gambled with nickels instead of pennies. Our bad behavior is quaint now, adorable even, but at the time I thought we were in the most serious danger; I was certain that the discovery and our punishment would be so shaming, our characters so besmirched, that we would never really recover ourselves. We drank up in the woods in the dark, the one bottle going straight to my head, and afterward we'd stumble into the boathouse for cards with the younger boys. It stood to reason, then, that Buddy should have retained his luster. He instructed us as a group about "women," he called them, always pursing his lips as if he were whistling right before the "wo," and smiling hard on the "n," humming the final sound, in case the importance of the word should escape our notice. Our goal, he told us, was to get the goods from women with the least amount of trouble. His advice by and large ran toward pacification as the means to maintaining the upper hand, a general principle beyond our reach.

"Say you've snagged yourself a woman," he'd say, taking his time to arrange his cards. "Once you've got her, you want to make sure you tell her she's foxy, a doll face, a biscuit, but don't go overboard, you understand? You flirt with other women just enough to keep her on edge. You act like you're listening to the whining, you keep your peepers on her, you wrinkle your eyebrows." He demonstrated, head cocked, skin creased, the paragon of attention. "Why do you do this, boys?"

He couldn't really expect us to know the answer, could he? We all looked at the floor.

"Why?" he asked again. Cousin Nick coughed, and Petie accidentally dropped the rock he'd been holding. "Because," Buddy finally said, "you are concerned."

We nodded solemnly, hopeful that when our moment with a female came we could do exactly as he said. Although he had the sense that beer was too adult for the others, he had us all smoking cigarettes.

"Let me tell you something"-he'd take a drag no-handed as he slapped his cards down, the cigarette lifting when he drew in, the thing somehow staying firm on the ledge of his lower lip as he exhaled. "Getting pussy, it's like buying a car. You make your offer, right? The salesman counters, you make another offer, the salesman comes back with a bum deal." He surveyed the circle. "What do you do?" Again, that quiet. "Do you take it?"

"What's pussy?" said Cousin Petie, who had only recently been allowed to sleep with the big boys.

We laughed, most of us with the heartiness of discomfort, unsure ourselves of the details.

"You do not take the deal, you hear me? You hit the trail. Nine times out of ten, the hustler is at your heels, begging for your business."

Not long ago, I remembered that simile of Buddy's with my cousin Nick. We both recalled being confused enough to wonder which a person should do first, buy a car in order to get a girl, or get the girl so that purchasing the Chevy would be second nature. We marveled at Buddy's ease, the confidence in his delivery. "What you've got to realize, gentlemen," Buddy would say, "is that every single cupcake-unless she's a twatless freak of nature-has a pussy. Don't forget that. You fall for a certain broad, you start thinking she's the only one to get you all dick-brained. That happens, you might as well kiss yourself goodbye." He'd had real experience and he'd taken the time to consider his encounters. We knew his wisdom was hard-earned.


Excerpted from When Madeline Was Young by Jane Hamilton Copyright © 2006 by Jane Hamilton. Excerpted by permission.
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

“Mesmerizing. . . . Bittersweet, funny. . . . Hamilton affirms her status as one of our most magnetic and provocative novelists.”
Chicago Tribune

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Jane Hamilton’s When Madeline Was Young, a rich and loving novel about a nontraditional family in the aftermath of a terrible accident.

1. What aspects of youth are expressed in the novel’s title? Was it wrong, as Figgy believes, to give Madeline the trappings of a little girl?

2. How did Figgy and Julia each define the ideal mother, the ideal wife, and the ideal life in general?

3. How would you describe the narrator’s tone as he guides us through his unusual family history? How does Mac (Timothy) resolve the knowledge that Madeline’s accident made it possible for him to be born?

4. Mac shares many nostalgic memories of his neighborhood, alongside wry observations about contemporary youth who spout pop psychology. How does Mac’s life as a husband and father compare to the family in which he was raised? What has been gained and lost in his family through these three generations?

5. What accounts for Julia’s tireless patience with Madeline? Would Madeline have done the same for Julia if the circumstances had been reversed? What drew Timothy’s father to two such seemingly different women?

6. We know from the beginning that the Macivers are wealthy (“We were all proud to have an estate . . . the fruit of our dead grandfather’s labor,” Mac says on p. 2). How does Mac feel about money? What does When Madeline Was Young illustrate about the concept of charity?

7. What does Mac tell us, particularly during his tour of Russia’s world after her husband’s murder, about his opinions regarding poverty, race, and class? Is his sister correct in viewing Russia as a slave? Was his mother unrealistic? What did he learn from the summer with Cleveland and his sister?

8. Near the end of chapter six, Mac repeats lines from William Wordsworth while watching Madeline at the poolside. “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” ends with these lines: “She lived unknown, and few could know / When Lucy ceased to be; / But she is in her grave, and, oh / The difference to me!” Does this poem capture the essence of Madeline’s interactions with men, or is it an ironic choice?

9. Should Mikey and Madeline have been allowed to marry? Which are the most and least genuine relationships described in the novel?

10. The Civil Rights Movement and the war in Vietnam form the historical backdrop for much of the novel. What tone is set as Mac weaves Madeline’s story with his recollections of this turbulent period? What was different about the undercurrent of war when the family gathered for the funeral of Buddy’s son, Kyle?

11. Mac shares his father’s enthusiasm for natural history. How does Mac’s fascination with the natural world and anatomy shape his understanding of Madeline’s injuries? Is his approach to life clinical?

12. How did your impressions of Buddy shift throughout the novel? Did Buddy “rescue” Madeline from Jerry in chapter ten? Why does Mac not see him as heroic, contrary to Russia’s point of view?

13. In chapter fifteen, why does Mac so badly want Madeline to remember the boy she encountered when she was in Italy years ago?

14. What did Buddy and Mac resolve during their brawl in the novel’s final chapter?

15. Jane Hamilton credits Elizabeth Spencer’s novella The Light in the Piazza for partially inspiring When Madeline Was Young. If you have read the novella, or seen its 1962 film version (starring Olivia de Havilland), or been in the audience for the award-winning musical, share your experience with the other members of your book group. What might Madeline and Clara have thought of each other? What extreme differences exist between the matriarchs? In what way do the authors portray opposite forms of love?

16. The epigraph emphasizes physical beauty as they key to being captivating. Is Madeline empowered by looks that match conventional definitions of beauty, or does her beauty make her a victim? What might her fate have been had she looked more like Julia (without the girdle)?

17. What unusual tales distinguish your family history? Do you have a relative who, as Madeline did for Mac, played an unconventional role in your development?

18. Each of Jane Hamilton’s novels is unique; this originality is her hallmark. Discuss her previous works in the context of When Madeline Was Young. What are the conflicts and intensities that drive her diverse cast of characters?

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When Madeline Was Young 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this book I was left wondering if Jane Hamilton hired a ghost writer to author Book of Ruth, Short History of a Prince, and Map of the the World. These are three of my all-time favorite books and was excited to read Hamilton's latest work assuming it would be of that caliber. Wow...what a disappointment. The ludicrous premise and slow pace of the book was so different than her other books (although I did think Disobedience was pretty bad too)that I was left wondering how such a fabulous author could write such an inane book.
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
Recently married, Madeline, is in a bike accident, suffers permanent brain damage, leaving her with the cognitive abilities of a six-year-old. Her husband, Aaron, remarries, and he and his second wife care for Madeline, along with their own two children. The story is told from their son's point of view, Mac . Through his changing perspective of Madeline, growing up with her as a kind of sister, and coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his cousin, Buddy, in childhood, during the Vietnam War years, and through the Gulf Wars, Mac paints a picture of family conflict, love, and bonding with family. I didn't think this book was great, but it was enjoyable "company," listening to the audiobook and getting to "know" Mac. Although the unusual relationship with Madeline is intrigue, this seemed to be just a backdrop to the plot of the story, and I kept hoping the author would get back to Madeline, make her more central, but this never happened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Profoundly moving, if not perfect. Some oddball clunker sentences, some strange shifts in points of view, but a deep look at some big and nicely complicated characters and relationships. Hamilton tries to do too much, covers too much time and cultutal history,and lets one of the main characters go on too long in her anti-war (Viet Nam...Iraq) arguments, still, that character is someone you'd like to count among your friends. The central story of the narrator (and Madeline's) family is weird and beautiful and poignant. Full of love and inspiring, really: how often can you say that about a book?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was prepared to LOVE Hamilton's latest novel, as I have all her others. (The Book of Ruth is, in fact, one of my all-time favorite books.) And this book, true to form, was well-written, insightful, and probably even more complex than her others. However, about one-third of the way through, I was actually bored with its slow pace and lack of engagement and found myself skimming ahead. I never did finish it. (It's probably MY failing more than hers.)
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Guest More than 1 year ago
When Madeline Was Young is an overall metaphor for when middle America was young. The wonderful but tragic, if unusual, events and people that happen in most families and give nod to my familial memories, are superbly executed in this superior first person male narration. Hamilton expertly turns memorable phrases, adds humor in both humdrum and serious situations, and mirrors real-life questions of polital morality. I'm amazed at her literary versatility! Map of the World took me to the darkest place of human unfairness and experience. When Madeline Was Young will endure internally as a profound look at characters dealing with tragedy in a not usual, but workable way. Characterization and overall genius of plot are evident. 'Loved it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I like this book--I really do. I like the historical context of it all(I was a history major), its interesting story line and concept, and the characters are endearing to say the least. But I think Hamilton jumps around far too much--going into present day then back to the past, then back to the present then back to the past to an event she covered before but talking about it in a different way. Plus I think its weird that the title of book centers all around Madeline when really this book isnt about her at all. Still an enjoyable although very complex read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was also excited to read another of Ms. Hamilton's books. I read Map of the World and Book of Ruth, which were wonderful. This one was not of that league. The premise didn't make sense. The relationship between the parents of the narrator and the brain damaged first wife, didnt make sense. The husband lived with his beautiful first wife and had a plain second wife, yet when they were all three in bed together, he felt no desire for his first wife? Even though the story was told by the young son, there could have been some hints of this in the book that the son would mention but not interrupt as the reader would The premise was not believable. There were other things also with regard to this husband's feelings or lack of sexuality toward his first wife, which I don't think would hold true. I would be more specific but I dont want to spoil it for those who want to read the book. Also, the second wife was so involved and in love with the first wife, maybe there was a lesbian factor there, but no hints of this were given. Otherwise, it doesnt make sense as she seemed to like Madeline more than her own children. Yes, it was slow, but there were some good moments. The family dynamics that did not involve the husband's feelings toward Madeline, such as the relationship between his cousins and their escapes, was well written and sincere. So this was not a 'bad' book, just not as good as one would expect from such a well versed author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I also was prepared to enjoy this book but found myself very bored and quit on page 122. I didn't care what happened to any of the characters. The pace was excruciatingly slow. ( I also found the premise so ridiculous)
Guest More than 1 year ago
It started out well enough, but fell a bit flat. Not as good as I expected, based on my previous experience with Jane Hamilton.