The Cure for Modern Life: A Novel

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9780743492799: The Cure for Modern Life: A Novel
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From Lisa Tucker, the critically acclaimed author of Once Upon a Day and The Song Reader, comes an extraordinary novel about the way we live now: the choices we make and the decisions we let life make for us.

Matthew and Amelia were once in love and planning to raise a family together, but a decade later, they have become professional enemies. To Amelia, who has dedicated her life to medical ethics, Matthew's job as a high-powered pharmaceutical executive has turned him into a heartless person who doesn't care about anything but money. Now they're kept in balance only by Matthew's best and oldest friend, Ben, a rising science superstar -- and Amelia's new boyfriend.

That balance begins to crumble one night when, coming home to his upscale Philadelphia loft, Matthew finds himself on a desolate bridge face-to-face with a boy screaming for help. Homeless for most of his life, ten-year-old Danny is as streetwise as he is world-weary, and his desperation to save his three-year-old sister means he will do whatever it takes to get Matthew's help. What follows is an escalating game of one-upmanship between Matthew, Amelia, and Danny, as all three players struggle to defend what is most important to them -- and are ultimately forced to reconsider what they truly want.

Dazzlingly written with a riveting story that will resonate with readers everywhere, Lisa Tucker's The Cure for Modern Life is a smart, humorous, big-hearted novel about what it means in the twenty-first century to be responsible, to care about other people, and to do the right thing.

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About the Author:

Lisa Tucker is the bestselling author of The Promised World, The Cure for Modern Life, Once Upon a Day, Shout Down the Moon and The Song Reader. Her short work has appeared in Seventeen, Pages and The Oxford American. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

The Kindness of Strangers

Was Matthew Connelly a bad man? He'd never once asked himself that question. Make of it what you will. Of course it would have surprised him to know that, as he walked toward the bridge that night, a little boy was asking the question for him. Because Matthew didn't notice people like this boy, he never wondered what they were thinking about, or if they thought at all. They were as invisible as the ants he'd crushed under his feet as he walked through the streets of Grand Cayman the weekend before, with Amelia and Ben, the happy couple, deliriously grateful to have found each other, all demons of the past behind them -- and all thanks to him. His matchmaking was a good deed from their point of view, pure and simple. To Matthew it was something else entirely, something he didn't dwell on but accepted as another delicate operation in an extremely complex job.

The boy watching Matthew, who gave his name as Timmy or Jacob or Danny, depending on the situation, was only ten years old, but his mother said he was closer to forty in his harsh judgments of other people, by which she usually meant his harsh judgments of herself. And it was true; the boy took an almost instant dislike to Matthew Connelly. It wasn't just that the guy looked too young to be so filthy rich, with a fancy topcoat that had to cost more than it had cost to feed Isabelle for her entire life, or even that he was obviously in a hurry, striding up Walnut Street like he had somewhere important to be, though it was way past midnight. It wasn't even the loud, idiotic singing the man was indulging in as he walked, as though no one could possibly be outside on that frigid November night in Philadelphia except Connelly himself, who no doubt considered the journey a reason to pat himself on the back that he was always up for a little exercise. No, the real thing that condemned him, from the boy's perspective, was the position of his hands, which were jammed so far into his pockets that all you could see were the tops of what surely were the most luxurious leather gloves sold on the planet. So he wasn't cold, which meant there was only one reason his hands were like that. He was a selfish person, the kind who wouldn't lift a finger to help anyone else. The kind of person his mother called a "natural-born Republican bastard," even though she didn't believe in her son's hands theory, preferring instead the simpler principle that all rich people were bastards.

Still, the boy, who ended up naming himself Danny that night, had no choice; he had to try. He grabbed three-year-old Isabelle in his arms, groaning under her weight, and ran up the concrete stairs as fast as his scrawny ten-year-old legs would carry him. He had to be standing on the bridge when the man got there, blocking his path. As the guy came closer, Danny proceeded to yell and scream and cry: "Help! Please, mister! My baby sister! Help!"

The tears weren't real because he never cried, but the fear made his frozen hands shake harder. Isabelle had been throwing up all day and his mother had told him a million times that if you throw up for too long, you can die. Protecting Isabelle was his sacred duty and he would do it no matter what, even if he had to die himself. It was part of the code of honor he'd adopted a few months after his sister was born, when he'd sworn himself in as a knight. This was after he'd read a book about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which his mother had stolen for him from the library, but he wasn't playing some stupid pretend game. Even the book said that knights weren't only in the past, and anyone could be one. True, the boy had never met another knight, but that wasn't surprising since knights had to sacrifice everything to uphold the code, and that was hard, even for him. But whenever he wanted to renounce his knighthood and go back to being a regular kid, he remembered his honor and how no one could take it away from him -- not his mother, not the cops, and certainly not this selfish asshole who wasn't going to stop, Danny knew, no matter how much he begged.

That Danny turned out to be wrong had nothing to do with his ability to judge men like Matthew Connelly. On that particular night, there was something about Matthew that even a very wise, very hardened ten-year-old boy/knight couldn't guess from the man's appearance. The rest, Danny had gotten right, uncannily so. It was true that Matthew was what most anybody would call rich, given his upper-six-figure salary; his stock options at Astor-Denning, the pharmaceutical company where he was a VP; the top-of-the-line Porsche 911 he'd bought with last year's bonus; his property investments across the city -- though he was leasing the loft where he'd lived for the last two years, an upscale but not intimidating place, perfect for his friendships with scientists. It was also true that he was walking quickly, not because he had a flight to Tokyo in the morning, which he'd put out of his mind, but because it felt good to move; not as wonderful as it had on the dance floor, but still good. The idiotic humming was a carry-away from the club he'd just left, a way of remembering the woman he might have taken home with him if this were a normal night, yet it had been anything but.

At seven-thirty he'd gone out to dinner with a nationally known med school professor who'd agreed to testify before the FDA on behalf of Astor-Denning's new diabetes drug. Matthew's goal was to make this guy happy, to give him the right food, the right wine, the right conversation, even, if necessary, the right women. But the only thing the good doctor really wanted was to try MDMA: ecstasy. He was recently divorced; he thought he needed a drug that would "release" his emotions about his ex-wife. Matthew agreed to make a few phone calls, though he hoped he wouldn't have to listen to the guy's emotions as they were released. When the doc insisted that they try the drug together, Matthew's first reaction was to smile and nod and decide he wouldn't swallow it. The illegal part didn't bother him, but he didn't want to lose control of the meeting. But then the doc said they'd know they were "tripping" when their pupils dilated, and Matthew realized it might not be easy to fool this doc, even if the guy was high. Whatever happened, he could not let this important contact decide he was a liar. What the hell. The E was pure, according to his source, and he had a brilliant medical professor at his side. What could go wrong?

The fiftysomething, fat, balding doc had had the time of his life, running around the club, groping one woman after another, telling each of them, "I know I'm on X, but the way I feel about you is so intense, it has to be real." Matthew was much more subdued, but he enjoyed the experience, too. And he felt proud that he'd forced himself to leave the club alone -- after the doc left with some blonde -- even though the pill was still working, knowing it would give him a cheerful walk home, which, damn, he needed for a change. The trip to the Caymans last weekend, meetings and conference calls and putting out fires all day, wining and dining research partners five nights out of seven: all of this was making him feel unusually tired, though he was determined to prove that nothing had changed, despite the fact that he'd just turned forty. He was in great shape. He could always party like it's 1999, even if that particular phrase was one he kept to himself, fearing it would date him with the hot twentysomethings he invariably found himself attracted to rather than women his own age.

With the pill's help, he floated painlessly down thirty-one blocks from Old City to the bridge, no side effects except a little teeth-chattering. He lived on the West Philly side of the river to enhance his intellectual cred with academics, but the loft scored him points for being hip, too, because uptight people were afraid to live there even though the building was more like a suburban gated community than an edgy inner-city neighborhood, and his Porsche was probably safer there than anywhere in the city. Walking on the Walnut Street Bridge at night did make him a little nervous, which was why he usually took a cab home, but now nothing bothered him, not even some screaming kid standing near the stairs to the river.

When he reached the kid, he noticed the boy was holding what looked like a bundle of clothes, except that it was making sounds like a kitten (or were they words? Whatever it was, that sound was so sweet), and Matthew found himself bursting into a smile. "Can I hold it?" he said, pointing at the bundle.

He just wanted to see what could make that brook sound, but the dirty boy wasn't cool. He frowned and said, "What? Are you a perv or something?"

Matthew wasn't sure why, but the question made him feel so happy he started laughing. "No, I'm not," Matthew said, still grinning. "Am I supposed to be?"

The boy cursed under his breath. "You're drunk."

"Wrong again," Matthew said, and then he blurted out something he would never have told another adult, especially in his condition, given his strict policy of avoiding emotional entanglements. "I'll have you know that my father died of cirrhosis of the liver. I am not now and have never been drunk. So there." He stuck his arm out, pointing one finger playfully at the kid. "Take that!"

The boy looked away then, lost in thought, but Matthew was too busy trying to see over the top of the bundle to care what the dirty kid was thinking about. Even if he'd known the kid was thinking about drugs, he wouldn't have cared. What was the boy going to do, have him arrested for swallowing his first-ever tab of E? After a minute, Matthew said, pointing at the bundle, thrilled that he'd figured it out, "It's a little girl!"

"Duh," the kid said. "It's Isabelle, my sister." He pulled the blanket down just enough to expose the largest blackest eyes Matthew had ever seen. Doll eyes.

"She doesn't look like you," Matthew said. The little girl was a light brown color, while the boy was chalky pale, even under the...

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