The stunning new novel from the "New York Times" bestselling author of "Open House" and "Never Change". Three women demonstrate the power of love and the importance of freedom in this unique new novel by the author of "The Art of Mending", "Open House", and "The Year of Pleasures". Paige Dunn is a woman whose beauty, intelligence, and free spirit are such that two men in town are pursuing her despite the fact she has been handicapped by polio and is raising her daughter with just the help of her carer Peacie. Her daughter, Diana, longs to please her mother, and also escape her, yet when the precarious independence of this household is threatened, Diana makes a radical move which changes everything...In this extraordinary novel about the resilience of the human spirit, Berg demonstrates her ability to be both poignant and amusing and captures the special relationship which these three women share.
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Elizabeth Berg is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Never Change and Open House, which was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2000. Joy School was selected as American Library Association Best Book of the Year. Elizabeth Berg won the 1997 New England Bookseller's Award for her novels. A former nurse, she lives in Chicago.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The sun was barely up when I crept downstairs. I had awakened early again, full of a pulsating need to get out and get things done, though if the truth be told, I was not fully certain what those things were. I had recently turned thirteen and was being yanked about by hormones that had me weeping one moment and yelling the next; rapturously practice-kissing the inside of my elbow one moment, then crossing the street to avoid boys the next. I alternated between periods of extreme confidence and bouts of quivering insecurity. Life was curiously exhausting but also exhilarating.
I longed for things I’d never wanted before: clothes that conferred upon the wearer inalienable status, makeup that apparently transformed not only the face but the soul. But mostly I wanted a kind of inner strength that would offer protection against the small-town injustices I had long endured, something that would let me take pride in myself as myself. I focused on making money, because I believed that despite what people said, money could buy happiness. I knew beyond knowing that this was the summer I would get that money. All I had to figure out was how.
I crept into the dining room and made sure my mother was sleeping soundly, then slipped out onto the front porch. I wanted to be alone to unravel my restlessness, to soothe myself by making plans for the day being born before me. I stretched, then stood with my hands on my hips to survey the street on this already hot July day. It was dead as usual, no activity seen inside or out of the tiny houses with their sagging porches, their dented mailboxes, their yards mostly gone to dust. I walked down the steps and started for a patch of dandelions growing against the side of the house. I would use them to brighten my desk, where today I would be writing a letter to Sandra Dee. I wrote often to movie stars, letting them know that I, too, was an actress and also a playwright, just in case they might be looking for someone.
I did not get back inside quickly enough, for I heard a car door slam and looked over to see Peacie, her skinny self walking slowly toward our house, swinging her big black purse. She was wearing a red-and-white polka-dot housedress, the great big polka dots that looked like poker chips, and blindingly white ankle socks with her black men’s shoes, and inside her purse was the flowered apron she’d put on as soon as she stepped inside. When she left, she’d carry that apron home in a brown paper bag to wash in her own automatic washing machine—she did not like our wringer model.
I ran under the porch, praying she hadn’t seen me, wishing I’d known her boyfriend, LaRue, was going to drop her off. If I’d known that, I’d have stayed in the house so that I could have run out and visited with him. LaRue often brought me presents: Moon Pies or Goo-Goo Clusters, Popsicle sticks for the little houses I liked to build, puppets he’d made from socks, and on one memorable occasion, a silver dollar he’d won shooting craps. He could balance a goober on the end of his nose and then flip it into his mouth. He was a highly imaginative dresser; he once wore a tie made from the Sunday comics, for example. He favored electric colors and had white bucks on which he’d drawn intricate designs in black ink. He cooked bacon with brown sugar, chili powder, and pecans—praline bacon, he called it—and it was delicious. He told jokes that I could understand. He drank coffee out of a saucer and made it look elegant.
LaRue tooted his horn to Peacie and drove off. I thought quickly about what my options were and decided to stay hidden and then sneak back in, acting like I’d been inside the house all along—I wasn’t ever supposed to leave my mother alone. The unlatched screen door was a problem. That door was always supposed to be kept locked. Otherwise it would stay stubbornly cracked open and flies would be everywhere, big fat metallic blue ones with loud buzzes that made you feel sick when you got them with the swatter—their heavy fall from the window onto the sill, the way they would lie there on their backs, their legs in the air, only half dead. But I’d just say I’d forgotten to latch it—it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.
I had only yesterday discovered access to this space under the porch, small and damp and fecund-smelling—cool, too; and in a climate like ours that was not to be undervalued. Mostly I liked how utterly private it was. In addition to my other burgeoning desires, I was beginning to crave privacy. Sometimes I sat at the edge of the bed in my room doing nothing but feeling the absence of interference.
I sucked at the back of my wrist for the salt and watched as Peacie started up the steps, thinking I might reach out, grab her ankle, and give it a yank, thinking of the spectacular fall I might cause, the black purse flying. I often wanted to hurt Peacie, because in my mind she wielded far too much power.
Peacie was still allowed to spank me, using a wooden mixing spoon. She was also allowed to determine which of my misdeeds deserved such punishment, and I believed this was wrong—only a parent should be allowed to do that. But my mother had decided long ago that some battles were worth fighting and some just weren’t—if Peacie said I needed a spanking, well, then, I needed a spanking. My mother made up for it later—a treat close to dinnertime, an extra half hour of television, a story from her girlhood, which I always loved—and in the meantime she kept a reliable caregiver. Others came and went; Peacie stayed. And stayed.
Once, when I was six years old and Peacie was sitting at the kitchen table taking her break, her shoes off and her feet up on another chair, I’d crossed my arms and leaned on the table to look closely into her eyes. I’d meant to pull her into a kinder regard for me, to effect an avalanche of regret on her part for her meanness, followed by a fervent resolution to do better by me. She had dragged me to revival meetings; I knew about sudden miracles. But there’d been no getting through to Peacie. She did not tremble and roll her eyes back in her head and then chuckle and pull me to her. Instead, she narrowed her eyes and said, “What you looking at?”
“Nothing,” I said. “You.”
“Get gone.” She picked a piece of tobacco off her tongue and flicked it into the ashtray. The ashtray was one of the few things belonging to my father that we still had; it featured black and red playing cards rimmed with gold. “Go find something entertain yourself.”
“But what?” I spoke quietly, my head hanging low. I felt sorry for myself, tragic. I longed for a red cape to fling around myself at this moment. I would cover half my face, and only my soulful eyes would peek out. I had my mother’s eyes, a blue so dark they were almost navy, fringed by thick black lashes. “What is there to do?”
“Crank up your voice box; I cain’t hear a word you saying.”
I straightened. “What should I do?”
“You need me to tell you? You ain’t got your own brain? Go on outside and make some friends. I ain’t never seen such a solitary child. I guess you just too good for everybody.”
I stared at my feet, bare and brown, full of calluses of which I was inordinately proud and that were thick enough to let me walk down hot sidewalks without wincing. We had no sidewalks in our neighborhood, but downtown was only a mile away and they had sidewalks. They had everything. A lunch counter at the drugstore that sold cherry Cokes served in glasses with silver metal holders and set out on white paper doilies. They had a department store, a movie house, and especially they had a five-and-dime, which sold things I desired to distraction: Parakeets. Board games. Headbands and barrettes and rhinestone engagement rings and Friendship Garden perfume. Models of palomino horses wearing little bridles and saddles. There were gold heart necklaces featuring your birthstone on which you could have your name engraved. White leather diaries that locked with a real key. Cork-backed drink coasters of which I was unaccountably fond featuring a black-and-gold abstract pattern of what looked like boomerangs.
Peacie dug in her purse for a new pack of Chesterfields, and she did not, as ever, offer me one of the butterscotch candies that were in plain sight there. The actual butterscotch wasn’t as yellow as the wrapper, but still.
“I don’t think I’m too good for anyone,” I said. “But nobody will play with me.”
Peacie pulled out a cigarette with her long fingers, lit it with a kitchen match, and blew the smoke out over my head. “Humph. And why do you suppose that is?”
“Because my mother is a third base.”
Peacie held still as a photo for one second. Then she took her feet off the chair and slowly leaned over so that her face was next to mine. I could smell the vanilla extract she dabbed behind her ears every morning; I could see the red etching of veins in her eyes. I thought she was going to tell me a secret or quietly laugh—the moment seemed full of a kind of mirthful restraint—and I grinned companionably. “She is,” I said, in an effort to prolong and enlarge the moment.
But I had misread Peacie completely, for she reached out to grab me, squeezing my arms tightly. “Don’t you never say that again. Don’t you never think it, neither!” Her voice was low...
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Book Description Transworld Unknown, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. 208 pages. 7.83x5.08x0.51 inches. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk0099499525
Book Description Arrow Books, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 0099499525