An essay about depression, disappearance, and returning.Read More
A blue moon is a celestial rarity and occurs when there are two full moons in one calendar month--such as the one today. It refers not to the color of the moon, but to the wonder. The title of my fifth novel (first published in 1993) is a play on that, and refers to the rare, once-in-a-lifetime love between Sheila and Eddie, the matriarch and patriarch of the Keating family. The title also refers to a long-disappeared section of sailor's bars and nefarious doings in Newport, Rhode Island. The name "Sheila" was inspired by Sheila Dingley Mularski, one of my favorite little girls, who has grown up to be a Title One reading teacher, working with 10-12 year olds. Her school has a small library, but no librarian, so Sheila started volunteering her lunch hour to help kids check out books. Could we take a moment of appreciation for Sheila as well as your own favorite teachers and librarians, people who encourage and celebrate reading?
I have very happy memories about the publication of Blue Moon... The Happy Carrot had just opened in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It was a wonderful independent bookstore owned by Paulette Zander, and this was the first reading she'd hosted. She decorated the store windows in such a mystical way, full of blue moon-inspired art, and it was the first of many great book events we would have together.
My launch party was held at the Old Lyme Inn--then owned by my dear friend Diana Atwood Johnson, who ran it like an artists' retreat and literary salon (she's an artist herself, I was honored to introduce her at last summer's exhibition of her bird photographs at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts.) For the Blue Moon party she served blue cocktails and seafood delicacies. In the novel, Shore Dinners were served at the Keating family restaurant, and Diana outdid herself recreating the lobster-and-clam-bakes cooked by the Keatings. She decorated the inn so beautifully, and we invited old and new friends. I remember being totally surprised and delighted to look up and see the Reducers, a band I love, walk into this classic New England inn in all their black leather punk glory.
Blue Moon was later made into a CBS Movie-of-the-Week. It starred Sharon Lawrence, Jeffrey Nordling, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, and Hallie Kate Eisenberg, and was filmed in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, one of the most beautiful seaside towns I've ever seen. My love for Nova Scotia had already begun, but it certainly deepened during my visit to the set.
Happy memories...I am glad for the chance to share them with you. The sky does inspire me. I hope you look up tonight and all nights and enjoy what you see...
Paris is home. If you are lucky enough to live to a certain age, and you've moved around some, perhaps you've had an address in a few cities, inhabited a number of dwellings. But only a few can be called home: the house you were born into, the place that shows up in your dreams, wherever you and your family currently live, and, if you have ever resided there, Paris.
I lived there for two years, exactly half my lifetime ago. I was in love. He worked long hours, so I spent a lot--most of--my time alone. My tutor was an older, very proper Parisian woman who lived in the 15th Arrondissement and who taught me many lessons along with verbs and dialogues, including the fact that Celine is preferable to Chanel.
Each day I would concentrate on learning the dialogues by walking west along the Seine, crossing the Pont Marie and Ile Saint Louis, then heading east on the Quai de la Tournelle, angling up any given street toward Odeon or Saint-Germain-des-Pres, and eventually winding my way back home across the Pont de l'Alma.
After a recent and circuitous trip to see Bill Pullman play Othello in Bergen, Norway, I wound up back in Paris. I've been there many times since moving away, but this visit felt urgent, intense, as if Paris had something my spirit could not do without. The weather was February damp and cold, encouraging hours spent reading by the window. The city has a special melancholy from November through February. I was glad not to have missed it.
Paris feels ancient, and it is. Roman baths from the 3rd century exist at the Thermes de Cluny, and more recent layers of history are visible on every step of my walk. One friend's apartment was built in the 15th century, close to the river in the 5th Arrondissement, and at night the lights of the tour boats would come through the windows and dance on the ceiling. My building was Belle Époque, ornate with carvings and balconies. The windows in most buildings are tallest on the rez-de-chaussée andpremier étage, growing progressively smaller as the floors go up because before elevators the wealthiest lived closest to the ground and the servants lived up above. I wrote in the maid's room on the top floor, and the window, although tiny, overlooked rooftops and chimneys, with a distant view of the Tour Eiffel.
On this most recent visit, I took my regular walk every afternoon. The sky stayed dark most days, but occasionally the clouds would part enough so the Seine and the building that border it turned the color of tarnished silver. Paris always fills me with nostalgia. The city doesn't change the way New York does, so it's easy to call up memories of past times: sitting for hours with Karine at Brasserie Lipp, having dinner with friends at tiny Restaurant Paul in Place Dauphine, meeting Peter Turnley at Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis. (When Angels All Over Town, my first novel, came out, Peter took my photo for Newsweek, and we became friends.)
Paris reminds me of my mother. She visited me when I lived there, shortly after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had her chemotherapy treatments at the American Hospital in Neuilly during the time Rock Hudson was there dying of AIDS. We had to walk through the paparazzi on our way inside. My mother was poignantly starstruck. On days when my she felt well enough she would carry the watercolors we'd bought at Sennelier and sit by the Seine just down the street from my apartment, in a narrow park lined with trees and full of interesting shadows, and she would paint.
Did I need to connect with thoughts of my mother? And of my father, who had fought in World War II and told us stories of France? Perhaps so, and I did. I thought of both my parents, who had never been to France together. It's odd the way each of them--my father had been shot down over Alsace, my mother had never been on a plane before flying to Paris to stay with me--was connected to France so definitively by flight.
I didn't only spin back into the past. Most of the time during this stay I remained present, in the actual day. I wrote at the hotel and in cafés, and I made sure to walk a few unfamiliar streets. I stopped into favorite bookstores and found others I'd never seen before. Paris is books to me--ones I've read, and some I've written. In 1985 I wrote Crazy in Love, my second novel, sitting at my desk in the cramped office under the eaves, and this year I worked on my thirty-third novel in a seventh-floor hotel room just a block away.
Love locks are everywhere. Padlocks left by people in love cram not only every inch of grate and rail on the classic spots such as the Pont des Arts, Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, and Pont de l'Archevêché, but also random little pieces of hardware all along the river.
Did I also spend an afternoon, writing at a table in the corner of the bar at Closerie des Lilas, in an homage Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway, from which my sister Maureen and I quote far too often? Yes, I did. And I called Maureen afterwards, and as I walked though the Jardin du Luxembourg she offered up lines from the book regarding that Tommy and red wine.
My first day in Paris I went to lunch, and on my last night there dinner, at Le Stresa, a favorite restaurant in the 8th Arrondissement. Owned and operated by six brothers, les Frères Faiola, it is tiny and great, and although it is Italian, it is so Paris. I loved seeing the brothers, and was touched that they remembered me, right down to the year I lived on their street. At the end of the meal I had fraises des bois. They were delicious.
And Paris is still home.
When I was little and would leave my mother's side, she would always say, "Be careful." And I was, mostly. Those words were my invisible tattoo. I paid attention to the rules. We didn't have sidewalks in our neighborhood, and when I walked my sisters to school, I made sure we stayed a safe distance off the busy road, a few feet onto the grass or around trees, out of danger. In seventh grade and through high school I attended Catholic school. One of my boldest moves was roll the waistband of my uniform skirt a few times to make it shorter than the rules--and nuns--allowed. I took care. Even now I have to hold myself back from using those words as a mantra: be careful. I say the phrase too often to the young people in my life. If I thought my cats would heed, I would say it to them, to keep them from falling off the high, narrow beams they love to explore. In certain areas of my life, I am protective--even over-protective.
But not writing.
When it came to writing, I encourage recklessness. This comes from experience. Writing my first novel, Angels All Over Town, I drew on my life. It's fiction--not memoir, not autobiography--but emotionally my book was very close to what I knew to be true at the time I wrote it. It's a story of sisters who had considered themselves inseparable, and then things come along to separate them: mainly love and loss. They fall in love with men who don't necessarily get along; their father dies. They grow up, and it hurts. These facts mirrored reality in my life.
If I'd been careful, everyone would have gotten along. Everyone would have been nice to each other. The protagonist wouldn't have told the messy truth about her father's alcoholism. The sisters would have been chaste instead of falling dangerously in love with Australian sailors on the Newport docks. The mother would have spouted words of wisdom instead of isolating herself at her easel with watercolors and cups of milky tea.
Fiction requires bravery. Writing that novel allowed me to see my characters, those three sisters, with some measure of detachment. They didn't climb the Matterhorn or sail the Atlantic single-handed--they lived in Newport and made their way in life, and in small ways and large ways learned about their world, and about each other, and, most scarily, about themselves. They faced their father's death. They were wild. They drank, but even more, the oldest sister recognized the way their father's drinking had affected the family. I was in my twenties when I wrote that book. What did I actually know back then? More than I thought, apparently.
If you're a writer, write the deepest and truest you can. Go close to the edge. Play in traffic. Sit at your desk every morning and face the page. Write what alarms you. Don't censor yourself or worry about what your friends--or your husband, or your mother, or your high school teacher--will think. If your dreams are haunted by a terrible family secret, and you feel it's your duty to keep it under wraps, don't. Write about it. Write down every detail. Tell the secret. Write it from your heart.
You can always burn the pages, but I hope you won't.
Sometimes writers hold themselves back by comparing themselves unfavorably to their idols--or their peers, or their younger or older or imaginary better selves. This is a waste of time and spirit; it will do nothing but hold you back. All you can do is face the page. "Believe in yourself" might sound corny and New Age and dumb, but it's not. It's the way to go. If you feel called to write, then you must write. It's nice to have support and affirmation from outside, but that's not always possible or forthcoming. So you have to give it to yourself.
This doesn't mean you should consider shoddy work to be brilliant. The Rules of Grammar are not made to be broken. Read The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. Read books you love. Read a lot. Remember that thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, talking about writing, attending workshops about writing is not the same as writing. The only way to write is to sit down and write. Write for hours every day if possible. Don't hold yourself back. Tell secrets. Make up stories. Tell the truth--or don't. Be reckless.
I dare you. There's nothing more thrilling, and I want that for you.
What a great night on The Lemon Orchard book tour! I am very thankful to Warwick's Books in San Diego CA for welcoming me back again. This wonderful independent bookstore is a haven for readers and writers. The evening started at dinner at La Valencia where I got together with dear friends (from left) Andrea Boyles, Mike McIntyre, and Phyllis Boyles. They live here in San Diego, and I was really overjoyed to hang out with them and walk over to Warwick's together. Mike is a writer, and I'm a huge fan.
I was thrilled and honored to see my friends from Water Station. They save lives by placing water in the desert, where migrants cross the border. I volunteered with them, and my life was forever changed. The work they do is very like that of Louella, in the novel. Armando, on whom the character Roberto was based, once told me that while crossing the border he dreamed he died of thirst. Then he dreamed of an angel who brought him water. That very well could have been the people who work with Water Station. From left: me, Paula Poole, John Hunter, Laura Hunter, and Brett Stalbaum.
Rachel Hartwig is an incredible reader, and I am so lucky to know her. She and her husband Mike drove all the way from Nevada to see me tonight. Not only did they travel a long distance, they brought cheesecake for everyone at the bookstore! What generosity. Here are Rachel and I with what was left of the delicious Aphrodite cheesecake from the Market Grill Cafe.
I loved meeting Deborah and Amy and their daughters Adilee and Madelyn. As Deborah wrote in a note to me, "Amy and I have been best friends since we were sixteen, living in Vacaville, CA. Over the years we have shared our love of books--mailing them to each other and sharing our favorite books and authors. Three years ago we were able to become neighbors after twenty-four years of friendship. Now our girls trade books too." From left, Amy Josse, Deborah Walters, me, Adilee Walters, and Madelyn Josse.
Julia Jones (left) and Suzy Cox were college roommates at the University of Texas. They were wonderful to talk to; they wanted to hear the details of how I was inspired to write the love story between Julia and Roberto, and as sometimes happens at book signings, there was an incredible magic in line when I confided in them, and they in me, and we had a best friends moment.
Evelyn Goodwin and Phyllis Hansen, shown separately in these two photos, drove together from a town east of San Diego. They were so kind and supportive, and we had a chance to talk for a few minutes before the even began.
I was thrilled to see my friend and fellow author Machel Shull tonight. It's her anniversary week and I know she made a very special effort to come see me. Machel has interviewed me for her column in The Coast News, and I gave her a quote for her book. She is a wonderful, kind, dear person; it was really great to reunite at Warwick's with her and Rachel--because this is where they first met, as my readers, now friends on Facebook and in life. And congratulations to Machel on finishing her second book--I'm sure it will be as insightful and soulful as her first.
Mitch Little came! He was a great friend of my sisters and me when we were all young in Connecticut. We knew him from Essex and Fenwick, where his family had a house, so it was really amazing to see him and his wife Stephenie a continent away in San Diego. I spotted him in the crowd and would have known him anywhere.
Group shot of old friends and new friends--the incredible people from Water Station and the UT roommates. From left, Brett Stalbaum, Paula Poole, me, Laura Hunter, John Hunter, Julia Jones, and Suzy Cox.
Here is Julie Slavinsky, Warwick's director of events. She gave me this Warwick's special label bottle of wine, but even more, she gives writers and readers a chance to gather, to exchange ideas, to support each other. She has such warmth and kindness--qualities that mean so much to writers on book tour. I am incredibly grateful to Julie and everyone at this great independent bookstore.
At the end of the event, we took an Ellen Selfie. I thank everyone who showed up--on a gorgeous summer night, in the resort town of La Jolla, when they could have been doing anything else--looking at the moon, walking on the beach, dancing the night away--but instead came to the bookstore to hang out with me. I had a great time, and it was because of you.
I miss my mother. I think of her every day. There are so many things I want to talk to her about. She had a unique sense of humor and I'll catch myself laughing at sights or phrases or stories that I know she'd so enjoy. So much of what I love in life came from her: gardening, swimming in the ocean, cooking, poems, English literature, art. I didn't inherit her talent for drawing and painting (although both my sisters did,) but I do have her love of art galleries and museums. So often I'll see an exhibit and think of her, and wish she were there to see the artist's work with me. She loved the beach, and I'm sure that's one reason I'm happiest with bare feet, walking along the tide line. We would spend summer days building sandcastles, finding shells and sea glass, swimming to the raft, crabbing at the end of the beach. Often she would sketch while my sisters and I played and swam; frequently we'd all be reading, covered with sunscreen, lost in our books.
When I grew up and moved to New York City, I'd take Amtrak to Old Saybrook CT nearly every weekend. My mother would meet the train, no matter what time it was; Sundays came too soon, and I'd never want to leave. The photo above (taken in 1988 or so) shows us at the train station, waiting for the train back to NY. I read her expression and know she wasn't ready for me to leave. The picture brings back that moment and many emotions.
She died way too young, after a long illness. After her death I was filled with memories of nurses and hospitals and the great sadness of losing her slowly. But time has passed, and you know what? I rarely think of her illness anymore. The gift of time has been that I remember my mother being young and healthy, painting nearly every day, writing every night. I remember watching Julia Child on Saturday afternoons, then cooking dinner together--sitting around the table at Hubbard's Point, enjoying the meal with my sister and her family, laughing and talking and feeling that it would last forever, that our family would go on forever.
I wrote about her in an essay called "Midnight Typing." It appears in the collection What My Mother Gave Me, edited by Elizabeth Benedict.
I used to write here nearly every day, didn't I? A few things have pulled me away, and I've been living more inside than usual. But I've always loved my relationship with my readers, and the online world has been a way for us to connect. It's immediate and intense. Write, hit post, and there I am in your inbox. I want to ask you: what have you been doing during this time? What have you been reading? What are the big and small things in your life? The small things sometimes get overlooked. We're so focused on the major events and hurdles, we can forget that the smallest, seemingly--at the time--insignificant--moments or choices can add up to major changes, dramatic life directions. I'm serious: the littlest things. Just as, on a hike, if you find a tiny stream and follow it far enough, you'll find the ocean.
Have you found the ocean since we last visited?
But see? Even with that question I'm asking about the big thing, not the tiny stream, and I'm of a mind that it's the small, the overlooked, the near, the easily dismissed that keeps us in the present, where all good things happen.
Today I plan to pet my kitties and look into their eyes. I plan to take a walk in the Ramble in Central Park to see birds passing through on spring migration. I plan to pause and look at tree branches, at the buds that will soon, but not yet, be leaves. I plan to stop into the book store and choose something I want to read.
But for now, this minute, I am here with you. So hi, you. I've missed you, old friend.
photo: 192 Books, wreathed in pear blossoms.
Chelsea's Callery pear trees bloomed overnight--literally, between dusk and dawn. Every year I look forward to their flowers with such anticipation; the trees fill the parks and streets of New York City and symbolize true springtime to me. Yesterday they looked like this:
and today they look like this:
the townhouse gardens are full of daffodils and forsythia:
and on West 22nd Street there is a window box full of purple pansies:
sometimes we have giveaways on facebook. here's an example...in fact, it's running now. you might win a tote bag and lemons from my lemon tree! meanwhile, please do pre-order THE LEMON ORCHARD.
Please come see MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD in the Berkshires to benefit the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and WAM Theatre. I will be doing a talkback after the Friday 3/28 performance and would love to see you there. Jayne Atkinson will direct, and Jane Kaczmarek and Michael Gill (currently appearing as the president on "House of Cards") will star. Very excited and happy to see Jane again--she performed my monologue at the Geffen Playhouse in LA. My friend Susan Rose Lafer is producer; Joan Stein also produced, and I still miss her every day. MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD continues to be a wild, wonderful ride. You can get tickets here.
IT COULDN'T HAPPEN TO ME
I met him right after my mother died. We fell in love right away. In retrospect there were red flags, but I didn't know how to read them.
He had a hard luck story, an awful childhood. Hearing about it filled me with compassion and a desire to help him. Now, looking back, I don't know how much of it was real. Lying came with the package.
I saw the good at first. He was friendly, funny, interested in life. When I talked, he seemed to anticipate my next word, seemed to understand me better than I did myself. He listened to me talk about my mother's long death, and he'd hold me and tell me she was up in heaven. He meant it literally: puffy white clouds and angels with harps. This was new for me, a person who spoke of death in such simple, childlike ways, but I latched on and accepted the comforting image.
He also said, from our first night together, that we were Made in Heaven. "Heaven" came up frequently. I was a once madly devout child but had fallen away, and he was a serious Catholic, and I felt spellbound by the thought of my old faith, embodied by this man who said he loved me. We'd walk through the city and many walks included a stop in church. He'd light a candle and kneel, head bowed in deep prayer, and somehow that made my heart open a little more.
The beach; he did love the ocean, and so did I. We could spend hours walking the tideline in any weather, swimming when we could, lying on the beach and staring at the sky. He told me he loved surfing.
The courtship happened fast--a whirlwind romance--and lasted until we were married six weeks after meeting. (Not my first marriage.) Right after I said "I do" everything changed. He quit his job so I would support him, disappearing whenever he felt like it. He didn't speak to me so much as growl.
I was strong, "myself," at the beginning. But he wore me down. I was one way the day we married, and quite a different way by the time I finally left. My bones aren't broken, he never gave me a black eye. Yet his need for control depleted me terribly--to this day I'm shocked to think it happened at all.
When he yelled, his voice boomed so loud it reverberated through my bones. His eyes scared me. He raged at me. Or he'd go silent for days, not saying one word but giving off hateful energy, brushing past me hard enough to knock me aside. His physical changes were extreme and violent, frequently instantaneous; I felt I was watching Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde.
After a while we'd make up and he'd beg me to understand HIS pain, and not to leave. He could be so charming, seeming to love me. People on the outside saw a handsome, friendly man. Sometimes I saw him that way, too.
I had close women friends. I would confide in them. Some got sick of seeing me drain away; they must have felt frustrated to watch me be stuck in such a bad, destructive relationship. They would say something real to me, and I would agree, say that I had to leave. Then he'd be nice again, and I'd remember the harsh words my friend had spoken about him. Eventually my friends drifted away. Or I did.
Seeing the relationship was like looking through a prism: now it looks this way, now it's completely different. What is real?
His first wife is a great woman. We respected each other from the beginning and became good friends as we went along. She was one of the few people I could really open up to--because she got it. While pregnant with their child, she'd been hammered on the head by him, one night when he'd come home late from the grocery store where he worked. She still has skull pain and hearing loss from that beating.
He had gotten arrested for beating other women--after his first wife there were girlfriends, and incidents, and nights in jail. He learned not to use his fists. If you don't leave marks, you won't get arrested. He told me that he had once broken a woman's jaw in three places, the message being that he could do that to me.
Why did I stay with him?
Check out the Cycle of Violence diagram. That part when you decide to believe his explanations, is called the fantasy or honeymoon, and it happens over and over, and it's unbelievably destructive. Each time I decided to stay, it chipped away a little more of myself.
I used to drive past a domestic violence center in a nearby town, but I never entered--wasn't that for women who were bruised and bleeding?
Holidays became a time to brood and suffer. He'd brood, I'd suffer. Eventually we shut everyone out. He liked to sit in a big armchair, right in front of the fire, staring at the flames. If I interrupted his fire-watching, he'd glare as if he wanted to roast me. I spent many many hours feeling dread and fear. Paradoxically, he was big on sending out Christmas cards--it was all about the show, giving the appearance of a marriage. He kept a detailed list of people who would receive our cards each year. He wrote them out and addressed the envelopes. He'd sign them, "May your New Year be blessed!" He spoke about God and religion frequently, had prayer cards and rosary beads and miraculous medals and spiritual books. Meantime he wouldn't be speaking to me.
Driving ragefully: it got worse toward the end. Once we were heading to Woods Hole, and I said or did the "wrong" thing, and he told me he was going to kill us both, drive us into a tree. He sped up, onto the shoulder--I felt and heard that buzzing friction of pavement designed to let drivers know they're going off the road. I was terrified.
Sometimes there is an actual incident that tells you you've had enough. There is also a cumulation of everything that has happened all along. That day of road rage was the end for me--I told him I wanted a divorce, and this time I meant it. When his ex-wife's father heard, he called me and said, "He's left a lot of wreckage in his wake."
I went to that domestic violence center I'd passed so many times, and found loving support. The women there really helped me realize emotional battering is as bad as any other kind. I wish the courts and our society would recognize that emotional and psychological abuse leaves scars which, although you can't see them, are just as terrible and deep.
At one point I began writing a novel (writing has always saved me) about a woman who was married to a man with secrets. The husband was a white collar criminal, a banker who had committed fraud. Researching the character, I spoke to an FBI agent in the Oklahoma City field office. I told him the scenario, then told him about my own marriage. He told me I should try to talk to women he was involved in with before me, to see if he had treated him the same way.
I remembered one woman's name. I tracked S down and called.
"I've been waiting for your call," she said, when I identified myself.
She knew he wouldn't change. That is a pattern with abusers--the behavior continues on and on. She described his patterns--so familiar to me, his abuse, the way he had made her feel it was all her fault even while taking every single thing she had, sucking the life out of her. I loved her then, and I love her to this day, and am forever grateful to her for sharing with me. She came to court, to support me in the divorce. He went after everything I had, hired a lawyer who made sure the divorce would go on a long time--trying to wear me down--an abusive divorce to follow an abusive marriage. I will never forget the look on his face when he saw his old girlfriend, my new friend, walk into the courtroom.
Here's what I know: I'm strong and independent. I have wonderful friends and family, including his ex, and a life and career I love. Domestic violence can happen to anyone. To learn more about that, and to get help, I recommend reading Patricia Evans's powerful book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, and to visit websites such as The National Coalition for Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
My own linked novels, Summer's Child and Summer of Roses, as well as Stone Heart, The Perfect Summer, and Little Night deal with domestic abuse. I am proud to be involved with the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center, headed up by Deborah Epstein. Law professors and students advocate for victims of abuse in Washington, DC. They take their cases to court and fight for them. Their work is extraordinary.
Good luck to anyone reading this--with love and support to you.
(The painting at the top of the page is Tea by Mary Cassatt.)
My novel LITTLE NIGHT deals with domestic violence and its devastation on the women in one family... Thank you to all the readers who've written me with their own stories. I am honored and grateful.
Here is a note from Elizabeth Benedict: "I'm thrilled that Christy Turlington's fabulous organization EVERY MOTHER COUNTS chose WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME as its book club pick this week. Turlington writes about her favorite gift from her mother: 'While I am just grateful to still have my mother in my life, the gifts she gave me that mattered most were the ones she gave herself: Mothering my sisters and me, traveling the world and continuing her education. The fact that she was born in El Salvador provided me with an early connection to a larger world than the one I would have known otherwise...' Shout out to Judith Hillman Paterson, Luanne Rice, Elinor Lipman, Caroline Leavitt, Karen Karbo, and all the other wonderful contributors to the anthology."
Liz edited and wrote for WHAT MY MOTHER GAVE ME. My essay is Midnight Typing, about how my mother gave me the gift of...perhaps you'll read it.
I am touched by Christy Turlington's words about her favorite gifts from her mother, and about the important work she is doing. According to a story in The New York Times, the goal of her organization is to help "people understand that pregnancy and childbirth, even though it’s a joyous experience for so many women, really is a risky endeavor for millions of other women,” according to Erin Thornton, executive director, who happens to be expecting right now herself. “To this day, hundreds of thousands of women will die in pregnancy and childbirth, but 90 percent of those could be prevented just with basic, simple access to health care.”
Buy the Book
Still devastated by grief five years after the death of her husband and teenage daughter in a car accident, Julia hopes to find solitude and solace while house-sitting at her aunt and uncle’s California estate. Amid the lush landscapes and lemon groves of Malibu, Julia does find these things—in addition to an unexpected relationship with Roberto, who oversees the estate. Roberto, an undocumented immigrant, connects with Julia over her loss: he became separated from his young daughter during their crossing from Mexico and believes her to be dead. Julia, an anthropologist specializing in movements and migrations, thinks that the little girl is still alive and sets out to find her—even if doing so means potentially losing Roberto. The plot alternates from an initially tepid pace to moments of intensity—as when the estate is threatened—that seem largely irrelevant to the developing narrative. Nevertheless, Rice’s fans will appreciate the evocative setting and unconventional romance, as well as the harrowing, if familiar, depictions of border crossing and the fascinating parallels drawn between Julia’s research interests (she studies the Irish who arrived in America over a century ago) and modern-day Mexican immigrants. Agent: Andrea Cirillo, Jane Rotrosen Agency. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/03/2013
Thank you to Kris Phillips for this lovely review. I'm lucky to have such a supportive reader. I’ve been a huge fan of Luanne Rice’s novels for many years now and was thrilled when I won the first copy of her novel, The Lemon Orchard, in a contest on her Facebook page. I quickly devoured the wonderful book and was honored when Luanne asked me to review it for her blog. While Cloud Nine will always hold a special place in my heart as my favorite of her novels, The Lemon Orchard is now a close second. I love that Luanne believes in angels, in second chances, in the power of the human spirit, in true love and in the importance of family above all else – and she will make you a believer, too! Julia and Roberto’s story touched my heart so much; I didn’t want to put it down. As a mother to a little girl, my heart broke for them both for the loss of their daughters. The bond – the love – between these two lead characters is palpable. And the story of how Roberto and his young daughter, Rosa, try to cross the border into the United States from Mexico was so heart wrenching, I actually dreamt about it and woke up exhausted, my legs aching, my throat parched. No book has ever affected me like that! I’ve always had a strong opinion about illegal immigrants, but Luanne’s story changed my heart. I could not imagine what Roberto, Rosa and the others went through to try to make it into this country and a better life. Julia and Roberto not only find love with one another, but help to heal each other’s broken hearts over their mutual losses. While this book did leave me wanting more (don’t expect a “happily ever after” ending), it was a satisfying ending that touched my heart and gave me hope. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves stories about the resiliency of the human spirit. It will not disappoint! Here’s hoping that Luanne is already working on a sequel.
By Kris Phillips
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September 2012 Before dawn, the air smelled of lemons. Roberto slept in the small cabin in the grove in the Santa Monica Mountains, salt wind off the Pacific Ocean sweetening the scent of bitter fruit and filling his dreams with memories of home. He was back in Mexico before he’d come to the United States in search of goodness for his family, in another huerto de limones, the lemon orchard buzzing with bees and the voices of workers talking, Rosa playing with her doll Maria. Maria had sheer angel wings and Roberto’s grandmother had whispered to Rosa that she had magic powers and could fly.
Rosa wore her favorite dress, white with pink flowers, sewn by his grandmother. Roberto stood high on the ladder, taller in the dream than any real one would reach. From here he could see over the treetops, his gaze sweeping the valley toward Popocatépetl and iztaccíhuatl, the two snow-covered volcanic peaks to the west. His grandmother had told him the legend, that the mountains were lovers, the boy shielding the girl, and tall on his ladder Roberto felt stronger than anyone, and he heard his daughter talking to her doll. In dream magic, his basket spilling over with lemons, he slid down the tree and lifted Rosa into his arms. She was five, with laughing brown eyes and cascades of dark curls, and she slung her skinny arm around his neck and pressed her face into his shoulder. In the dream he was wise and knew there was no better life, no greater goodness, than what they already had. He held her and promised nothing bad would ever happen to her, and if he could have slept forever those words would be true. Sleep prolonged the vision, his eyes shut tight against the dawn light, and the scent of limones enhanced the hallucination that Rosa was with him still and always. When he woke up, he didn’t waste time trying to hold on to the feelings. They tore away from him violently and were gone. His day started fast. He lived twenty-five miles east, in Boyle Heights, but sometimes stayed in the orchard during fire season and when there was extra work to be done. He led a crew of three, with extra men hired from the Malibu Community Labor Exchange or the parking lot at the Woodland Hills Home Depot when necessary. They came to the property at 8 a.m.
The Riley family lived in a big Spanish colonial–style house, with arched windows and a red tile roof, just up the ridgeline from Roberto’s cabin. They had occupied this land in western Malibu’s Santa Monica Mountains since the mid-1900s. While other families had torn up old, less profitable orchards and planted vineyards, the Rileys remained true to their family tradition of raising citrus. Roberto respected their loyalty to their ancestors and the land. The grove took up forty acres, one hundred twenty-year-old trees per acre, planted in straight lines on the south-facing hillside, in the same furrows where older trees had once stood. Twenty years ago the Santa Ana winds had sparked fires that burned the whole orchard, sparing Casa Riley but engulfing neighboring properties on both sides. Close to the house and large tiled swimming pool were rock outcroppings and three-hundred-year-old live oaks— their trunks eight feet in diameter—still scorched black from that fire. Fire was mystical, and although it had swept through Malibu in subsequent years, the Rileys’ property had been spared.
Right now the breeze blew cool off the Pacific, but Roberto knew it could shift at any time. Summer had ended, and now the desert winds would start: the Santa Anas, roaring through the mountain passes, heating up as they sank from higher elevations down to the coast, and any flash, even from a power tool, could ignite the canyon. It had been dry for two months straight. He walked to the barn, where the control panel was located, and turned on the sprinklers. The water sprayed up, catching rainbows as the sun crested the eastern mountains. it hissed, soft and constant, and Roberto couldn’t help thinking of the sound as money draining away. Water was delivered to the orchard via canal, and was expensive. The Rileys had told him many times that the important thing was the health of the trees and lemons, and to protect the land from fire.
He had something even more important to do before his coworkers arrived: make the coastal path more secure. He grabbed a sledgehammer and cut through the grove to the cliff edge. The summer-dry hillsides sloped past the sparkling pool, down in a widening V to the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally hikers crossed Riley land to connect with the Backbone Trail and other hikes in the mountain range. Years back someone had installed stanchions and a chain: a rudimentary fence to remind people the drop was steep, five hundred feet down to the canyon floor.
He tested the posts and found some loosened. Mudslides and temblers made the land unstable. He wished she would stay off this trail entirely, walk the dog through the orchard, where he could better keep an eye on them, or at least use the paths on the inland side of the property. But she seemed to love the ocean. He’d seen her pass this way both mornings since she’d arrived, stopping to stare out to sea while the dog rustled through the chaparral and coastal sage. He tapped the first post to set his aim, then swung the sledge- hammer overhead, metal connecting with metal with a loud gong. He felt the shock of the impact in the bones of his wrists and shoulders. Moving down the row of stanchions, he drove each one a few inches deeper into the ground until they were solidly embedded. The wind was blowing toward the house. He hoped the sound wouldn’t bother her, but he figured it wouldn’t. She rose early, like him.
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice. Copyright © 2013 by Luanne Rice