Authors: Claire Lombardo
“Old times’ sake,” she said, but he shook his head, moving his knees to accommodate her.
“My back’s not cut out for this level of holiday whimsy, my dear.”
She lay back flat, her husband’s knees tented over her thighs in a corduroy bridge, and looked upward. They had five trees remaining in their backyard now, plus the stump of the tree David had put out of its misery: three ginkgoes and two oaks, all of which were older than they, older than her parents, older than anything. The ginkgoes had shed weeks ago but the oaks were different, always Marilyn’s favorite: stragglers, late bloomers, the last to get their leaves and the last to lose them. There were a few remaining on the branches, misshapen handprints, hanging by a thread and waiting to fall.
Two seasons in Chicago,
the old joke went.
Winter and construction.
But there were so many more, she thought. Dozens of seasons, some only a few hours long, idiosyncratic little pockets between the definitive stretch of autumn, the bright flash of spring. This season now, which may possibly last only a few moments, where you could wear a sweater outside in December and there were still a few leaves on the trees and the warmth radiating from the person next to you was enough to make it all bearable. And the season that would follow when they went back inside, their skin foggy from the cold air and the warm proximity of each other, their bodies overtaken as ever by their children, hands on their shoulders and eyes on their every move and voices in their ears, hands and eyes and voices that would never fully comprehend the complexity of their own origins; hands and eyes and voices that would be forever ignorant to what transpired on those stairs between David and Marilyn Sorenson, on their thirty-ninth Second Thanksgiving, literate in their own elusive language, their merged genes snaking through nearly every person inside the house on Fair Oaks.
“Hey, love,” she said to him, imploring, but she wasn’t sure what for.
He hummed in response, both echo and acknowledgment, and held out his open palm.
She shifted beneath her husband, reached up and took his hand.
To begin at the beginning: Sally Lombardo is the best. My unending thanks to her for teaching me how to imagine things and believe in them, for bringing so much love and light into my life, for being unequivocally supportive, for showing me strength by example, and for always finding an upside, even when it’s well hidden. I couldn’t ask for a better mom or a better friend.
Ellen Levine and Alexa Stark are the dream agenting team—magnificent readers, sage advisors and tireless advocates—and they have given the Sorensons and me their all from day one (even when the Sorenson saga meandered beyond the nine-hundred-page marker). I am ever grateful to have the smartest and most formidable women shepherding me through an unfamiliar world. Abundant thanks as well to Martha Wydysh, whose fastidiousness has kept me afloat.
Were it not for the incandescent Lee Boudreaux, this book would be a pile of Post-its and I an incoherent shell. I cannot talk about her—her brilliance, her intuition, her boundless enthusiasm and her generous spirit—without gushing, and I can’t begin to properly thank her for the (approximately) 4,398 times she read this novel, nor for tactfully nudging me, again and again, with extraordinary kindness and magical editorial abilities both macro and micro level, to make it the best I could. I am the luckiest writer in the world to have her in my corner. I, too, extend effusive gratitude to the unendingly keen-eyed and benevolent Cara Reilly, for her efficacy and critical prowess.
The Doubleday office is a treasury of superheroes, and I cannot thank their fabulous team enough, in especial: Bill Thomas, Sarah Engelmann, Suzanne Herz and delightful lifesaver Todd Doughty. Thanks to Emily Mahon for creating the cover of my dreams, right out of the gate. And I shudder to think of where I’d be without the help of Ellen Feldman, production editor extraordinaire—and her magical copy editor and team of proofreaders—who left no stone unturned and whose eye for detail is the stuff of fantasies.
My four siblings—Adam, Erin, Molly and Heidi—are my appendages and my friends, and I’ll be forever honored that they accepted a late-add into the fold; I will always, to some degree, be the little kid with a bowl cut watching them adoringly from the sidelines. I owe a great deal, too, to my late grandmother, Helen Lombardo, one of the most unfaltering, strong and loving women I’ve ever met. And I would be remiss to leave out the beloved canine faction of the Lombardo clan—Beau, Cooper and Henry—who taught me early on about unconditional love.
Sue Anzaldi is the fourth sister and first reader I was so blessedly lucky to find, and I’d be lost without her counsel, her candor, her kindness and her camel emojis; her friendship is one of the best gifts I’ve ever known. My love and thanks as well to Mike, Grace and Louise Anzaldi, for giving me a perpetual place to land. David Rubin has been a pure ray of sunshine for me since our fraught tween years, and knowing he’s around lets me move more easily through the world. Maddie Labadie, my banana-seat buddy of nearly three decades, will forever be the Little Yellow to my Little Blue. Patricia Nix-Hodes is a steadfast pillar and a paradigm of quiet strength, and she helped me begin the search for my place in the world as both writer and person. Scott Ditzler and Bri Postlewait—extraordinary writers, joggers and confidants—became my family in Iowa City, and life is so much brighter because of them. And after talking to Kiley Reid for about forty-seven seconds, I felt like I’d known her for a lifetime: she is the Martha to my Lee and a top-notch literary coconspirator; her warmth, enthusiasm, encouragement, discernment and snort-aloud-alone-in-public hilariousness mean more to me and have done more for my spirit than I can say.
Deb West and Jan Zenisek are powerhouse women who make the world go round; they deserve daily parades in their honor, and I thank them copiously for making me feel at home at the Writers’ Workshop. Charlie D’Ambrosio and Allan Gurganus are radically kind and intelligent writers and humans, and spending time in their classrooms made me a better person. Margot Livesey’s huge-hearted brilliance is nothing short of superhuman, and I am so grateful to call her my teacher and my friend.
In a category all her own: Connie Brothers is, simply put, the embodiment of all things good.
I have been gobsmacked by the abundant kindnesses I encountered while living in Iowa City. To that end, I’d like to first thank the Edwards-Gessner family for providing me with a home away from home: Michelle Edwards, whose creativity inspires, whose friendship sustains and whose patient compassion has truly kept me sane; the jocular and astute Rody Gessner; and Flory Gessner, my fellow private-school dropout, dog enthusiast and dear friend. Barb Canin’s headstrong warmth and agendaless generosity have helped me time and time again. Kurt Anstreicher and Jane Van Voorhis gave me a beautiful writerly respite out in the woods, and my visits with the congenial, serene and unendingly furry Dexter Van Voorhis brought me pure joy during even the most crazy-making times of bringing a book into the world. And—resoundingly, exuberantly—for opening her home to me before she’d even met me, my infinite gratitude to the brilliant and immeasurably compassionate Miriam Gilbert: she is the reason I was able to finish this novel, and her generosity will forever be a benchmark to me.
I’m deeply indebted to the following for friendship, aid, tutelage and more: Patricia Phelan, Bill Lovaas and Rich Zabransky at the Oak Park public schools; Anne Bowhay and Rene Heybach at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; and Regina Porter, De’Shawn Winslow, Drew Calvert, Mia Bailey, Kevin Smith, Amanda Dennis, Jade Jones, Alex Madison, Sarah Frye, William Shih and Paul Maisano at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
What fortune, when I arrived in Iowa with my tome, that I stumbled into the classroom of an all-in-one brilliant wordsmith, compassionate father, razor-sharp physician and master carpenter. I’m running out of ways to thank the inimitable Ethan Canin for seeing both this book and its creator to safety, and for the extruded polystyrene, the thousand-plus pages of spot-on line edits, the prompt responses to my anxious queries and the leaves he allowed me to cathartically rake from his front lawn on the day this book found its home. Any medical inaccuracies or misuse of
are entirely my fault. His generosity, wit, warmth, insight and wild intelligence are invaluable guiding lights for me.
Last, and most, always: this book is for my dad. Tony Lombardo made this world make sense, and it astounds me daily that it continues to spin, dimmed, without him in it. He was, and remains, my safety net, my sounding board, my comedic relief, my moral compass and the best man I’ve ever known. I go through life with belief in good things because I came from him. I miss him infinitely and love him even more.
A NOTE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Claire Lombardo earned her MFA in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She was born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. A former social worker, she now teaches fiction writing and is at work on a second novel.
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