In Sussman’s heart-wrenching debut, two former high school classmates take a second chance at love, despite one partner’s terminal cancer. Resisting the impulse to descend into bathos, Sussman shows remarkable restraint in her depiction of a love affair that transforms a dying woman’s last days into a celebration of life. When Luke Bellingham, an acclaimed screenwriter in his forties, agrees to become “Finder of Lost Souls” for his twenty-fifth high school reunion, the only lost classmate he really wants to find is the enigmatic Blair Clemens, whose gang rape at seventeen inspired his Oscar-winning screenplay, Pescadero. Suffering from writer’s block and his wife’s sudden desertion, Luke is thrilled to discover that Blair lives near him in San Francisco. Bohemian Blair is now a single mom as well as chef of a chic restaurant, but beginning a relationship is definitely not on her agenda when she agrees to reconnect with Luke after first meeting his cute dog, Sweetpea. All she wants to do is work, have no-strings sex with her ever-randy ex-hippie landlord and enjoy what’s left of her life with her teenage daughter, Amanda. At their initial meeting, the immediately smitten Luke informs her, “On a night like this, I could fall in love,” and Blair, frightened by her own attraction, quickly retorts, “Don’t bother ... I’m dying.” The novel’s elegant denouement and Sussman’s fluid treatment of tough moments make this a keeper for fans of high-caliber weepies.
Ellen gives an overview of the book:
Blair lifted the man's arm and slid out from under him. She tucked a pillow back in her place, and he embraced it, easily. She smiled at that. Men. She gathered her clothes from the floor and tucked them under her arm, picked up her shoes, stopped in the doorway. She looked back at the man, his long, lean body curled away from her, his hair a tousled mess, his face half-buried in the pillow. I could climb back into bed and stay there awhile, she thought. She closed the door quietly behind her.
The hallway of his apartment was dark and she slid her hand along the wall until she found a light switch, flicked it on, squinted in the sudden brightness. She hadn't looked at the clock. Had she slept all night or only an hour or two?
She headed down the hall, drowsily dropped a shoe which thudded on the hardwood floor. Suddenly another door opened and a woman appeared, pajamaed and sleep-rumpled. Blair recovered her shoe, stood and shrugged, naked, too slow to cover herself up.
"Are you a roommate or a wife?" Blair asked.
The woman peered at Blair. Someone without her glasses.
"Roommate," she mumbled.
"Good," Blair said. "Go back to sleep. I'm leaving."
Perry. That was his name.
"Sleeping. Sorry I woke you."
The woman plunged back into the darkness of her room. Blair continued on down the hall.
She found the kitchen, dropped her clothes and shoes on the old pine table, found a glass and poured herself water from the tap. She drank, then opened the fridge. Filled the glass with white wine, sipped at it, took it with her back to the table. Microwave clock read 11:45. She had barely slept. Amanda would still be awake, maybe waiting for her. She found a phone, curled into a chair at the table, dialed and drank.
"Hey," Amanda said into the phone.
"I'm sorry," Blair told her. "I'm late."
"Or early," Amanda told her. "I thought maybe you'd crawl in sometime tomorrow."
"I don't crawl, Amanda."
"Then you'd tango home. Who's the guy?"
"Maybe I'm at the library. Studying for a master's degree in quantum mechanics."
"You coming home?"
"Did you get worried? Damn, I should have called."
"I didn't get worried. I'm not a baby."
"What did you eat for dinner?"
"I finished the lasagna."
"Damn you. I've been dreaming about that lasagna."
"I'll make you some eggs."
"You go to sleep."
"I'm not tired."
Blair smiled. "O.K., then I'd love a mushroom omelet. With cheese. Tons of cheese."
She hung up the phone, took one last swig of wine, pulled herself up and out of the chair. When she half-turned, reaching her sweater over her head, she saw someone standing in the doorway and gasped.
"You scared me," she said. Perry. Naked and watching her. She reached for her jeans, pulled them on. Stuffed her bra and underpants into her backpack.
"Who was that? Your boyfriend?"
Blair smiled, shook her head. "My daughter," she said. "Sixteen years old. Waiting for her mom to come home and tuck her in."
"You're some teenager's mom?"
"That I am." She slipped her feet into her shoes and turned toward him.
"You can't stay?" he asked.
"I don't stay," she said. "Something you should know about me." Blair put her hand on his chest, pressed her palm into him. "But I had fun."
"Too bad," he said, covering her hand with his own.
"Tell me where we are. How I get home. That sort of thing."
Ellen Sussman is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, French Lessons, and the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, On a Night Like This. Her new novel, The Paradise Guest House will be published in March, 2013. She is the editor of two anthologies, Bad Girls: 26...
Time was, bad girls had sass and smarts and originality. Lately it’s been taken over by celebrities and heiresses given to sloppy behavior. Ellen Sussman’s anthology Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave...