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Estranged from her family, documentary filmmaker Lex Cavanaugh returns to Westport, Connecticut, at the request of her nephew Jared, after her niece, ten-year-old Calista, is found murdered in the family home and the entire family--Jared, her celebrity brother-in-law, and her obsessive, controlling sister--falls under suspicion. 25,000 first printing.
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Caroline Slate holds a degree in theatre from New York University and has acted on the stage and in television. She has also worked in public relations and executive search. She and her husband live in New York City. The House On Sprucewood Lane is her first novel.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
This is a love story, of sorts. Perhaps passion play is more accurate, except that the classic passion play finishes off with a clear, ringing moral, which is missing here.
I was not present that Halloween night in Connecticut, nor the following morning. I was not inside Melanie's head, nor Jared's, so what you've just read is the view from my mind's eye: Jared, isolated in his fury, frightened; Melanie, frightened as well, struggling to control her own instincts. I think I've gotten it right. I believe this partly because recording shards of human behavior is my job, partly because I know these particular people in my blood and bone. They are (and the cozy oatmeal-and-bananas feel of the word can still turn to glue in my mouth) my family.
When it happened, I was an ocean away from them, six years out of contact. I'd constructed a life insulated against strong feeling for anything but my work. Since passion had, in my hands, inflicted deep damage, I abstained, much like a so-called recovering alcoholic or gambler, supported by an Anonymous organization of one. Safer for everyone, or so I'd thought...
The cold, wet key slipped from my hand, and since the bulb above my front door had burned out weeks ago, I found myself on all fours in the rainy dark, panning for a bit of metal, to the accompaniment of more metal -- eighties rock -- blaring from above. The volume rose as the parlor window swung open. "Charades, is it, Lex?" Colin shouted. Half his face was painted green, his lower lip a luscious purple. Not Halloween any longer -- past the witching hour two nights later, in fact. Apparently, the boys had decided to extend the revels. "Pig after truffles, that what you are?" David, this time "See, I've guessed, so you can quit snuffing about the ground and come on up for a pint."
We lived in St. Augustine's Road, Camden Town. Colin and his band, Sussed Out, shared the main house; I lived alone in the basement flat. Nice boys. Oxford and good lineage, all five, which they tried intermittently and unsuccessfully to obfuscate with multiple orifice rings, working-class accents, and Australian beer binges. "Thanks, no," I hollered back. "And it's not truffles. I'm searching for my inner child."
Not altogether untrue. I'd been working a straight eighteen hours and had my own sort of binge on tap, if only I could lay hands on the damned key. I groped the ground faster as my nose caught the fragrance of the wet plastic carry bag on the ground beside me: doner kebab, pilaf, poori, and the hottest of the onion chutneys. It was overeagerness for the food that had made me drop the key in the first place. Furthermore, if I did not find it very soon, I knew I would sit my bottom down on the muddied concrete step and, drenched in front of a locked door, scoop Indian takeout into my mouth with my bare hands. That's the thing with passion: leaves you in the mud every time.
My thumb touched a serrated edge. My hand pounced to grab the key before it could escape. I barely managed to get inside the door before ripping open the bag and teasing my mouth with a chunk of the kebab, prelude to an ecstasy of tastes and textures, strong, assertive, substantial...
I've examined these eating orgies not only because they're mine, but because, as I've mentioned, observing odd human behavior is what I do -- not cataclysmically odd human behavior, not wars, or genocide, or even serial killing, but small, offbeat aberrations, which seem to beckon and draw me inside them. And there I shelter myself, entirely absorbed for the months it takes to complete my work, something like a camper in a sleeping bag. I'm not in the business of passing judgment or dispensing remedies; I try to record accurately and comprehend what it is I'm recording. To be more specific, I make my living producing short films about, for example, grannies who cover their bodies in erotic tattoos, men who hunt crocodiles in sewer systems, children trained to commune with long-dead ancestors. This is fare for which British television has a reliable, if not voracious, appetite.
My own appetite, only sporadically voracious, is equally reliable in its way. Since childhood, it has come roaring in, usually to mark certain endings. I well remember being twelve, becoming ravenous on the train home from school for summer holiday, beginning to think of treats to stockpile; equally so twenty years later, following final-cut editing sessions, like tonight, and other endings, too, less neutral ones with consequences far more devastating. I eat at home alone, and urgently. I eat highly spiced food, aggressive food. I eat until I'm stuffed and faintly ill and thoroughly exhausted. Then I sleep for many hours. When I can keep from it, which is only some of the time, I do not throw up. In my grogged, overstuffed state, it seems to me like an unspecified win of sorts if the food stays put.
The panel of experts who have written on the subject judge me to be the classic "overinvestor," one who is emotionally decimated when her portfolio of hopes vaporizes. I gorge myself so as to fill the void, which turns out to be unfillable. Let me mention that I have never sought to cure myself of this "eating disorder."
Though in some essential but unspecific way I feel American, most of my attitudes are English, and so I give a wide berth to therapies that claim to heal anything other than a broken bone or infected appendix. Besides, I'd grown to find my binges useful, as well as troublesome: I would write finis to the teenaged mediums or the tattooed elders and go home to eat myself into oblivion; then, it would be over until the next time -- usually some months later. The useful bit was that each occasion worked as a kick up the arse, a sharp aide-mémoire to mind my graver disorders and keep my emotional valuables tucked safely in a lockbox.
Now, as I sat on a flowered sofa, shoveling food into my impatient cavities, it occurred to me how futile is the action of clean logic upon murky need. Trying to match the two resembles arranging a bad blind date -- the couple engaging perhaps for the length of an introductory drink, before realizing they could never dine together.
When the phone rang, it was as though the interruption had come during sex -- if I remembered sex well enough to be accurate. I likely would not have answered, except that I thought the caller must be Clive, whom I'd left two hours ago, still bent over a viewer at the editing studio. Though food was a sometime addiction, work was my rock and redeemer: life jacket and teddy bear; mate, lover. So when it called, no matter what, I responded.
The voice wasn't Clive's, though. "I need you to come. Don't you read your...?" Then a cutoff, as though someone else had taken the phone and hung it up.
Just those few words, a child's voice, a boy's. No way to recognize it, not after six years. Not likely he'd even know how to reach me. But despite those odds, my pounding heart insisted this was not a chance wrong number. A mouthful of curried meat barely made it through my constricting gullet and landed hard. The appetite went stone cold, shoved aside by surprise and apprehension and the tickling of my recalled feeling for a little boy, lost to me through my own fault -- a boy who'd suffered because of my unchecked passion.
When I first met my nephew, he was three. I fell for him instantly. How could one not fall for a three-year-old who'd look up at a stranger dispensing preserved fruit at Fortnums, a stranger he'd just been told was his aunt, and greet her by asking if she knew the difference between eternity and infinity? But shortly after falling for Jared, I fell for his father. That's the précis. There is, of course, a longer version, complete with mitigating details: Melanie and Tom's souring marriage; her obsession with the hard-born baby girl;
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Book Description Atria, 2002. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743418883
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