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On Sale: April 13, 2004
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-58836-387-9
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

It begins with the sudden revelation of astonishing secrets—secrets that have shaped the personalities and fates of three siblings, and now threaten to tear them apart. In renowned author Elizabeth Berg’s moving new novel, unearthed truths force one seemingly ordinary family to reexamine their disparate lives and to ask themselves: Is it too late to mend the hurts of the past?

Laura Bartone anticipates her annual family reunion in Minnesota with a mixture of excitement and wariness. Yet this year’s gathering will prove to be much more trying than either she or her siblings imagined. As soon as she arrives, Laura realizes that something is not right with her sister. Forever wrapped up in events of long ago, Caroline is the family’s restless black sheep. When Caroline confronts Laura and their brother, Steve, with devastating allegations about their mother, the three have a difficult time reconciling their varying experiences in the same house. But a sudden misfortune will lead them all to face the past, their own culpability, and their common need for love and forgiveness.

Readers have come to love Elizabeth Berg for the “lucent beauty of [her] prose, the verity of her insights, and the tenderness of her regard for her fellow human” (Booklist). In The Art of Mending, her most profound and emotionally satisfying novel to date, she confronts some of the deepest mysteries of life, as she explores how even the largest sins can be forgiven by the smallest gestures, and how grace can come to many through the trials of one.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

 
this is the minnesota state fair i remember most:

 

It was 1960, a Saturday morning when I was eleven years old, and I was the first one up. I had brought my mayonnaise jar stuffed with dollar bills and coins into the living room, spilled the money out onto the carpet, and then stepped over it to turn the television on to a low volume. I was going to watch The Three Stooges while I sorted my fortune.

 

I had just finished counting when my father came into the room. He was wearing a pair of trousers and a T-shirt and his battered old leather slippers speckled with paint the color of my bedroom walls. His blond crew cut was damp; you could see the glistening of water in it, making him look anointed, and he smelled of a citrusy aftershave. He was headed for the kitchen, where he would make coffee and bacon. This was his Saturday routine: He'd take a cup of coffee up to my mother in bed, prepared the way

 

she liked it, with an eighth of a cup of cream and three level teaspoons of sugar. Then she would come down in one of her silk robes and make pancakes to go with the bacon.

 

I always hoped she would wear her peach-colored robe. It was my favorite, for its generous yardage and elaborate ruffled trim. Seeing what my mother wore was always interesting to me, whether it was the three-quarter-sleeve blouses she wore with the collars up, or the full skirts, tightly belted, or the pastel-colored cashmere sweater sets, or one of her many bathing suits, works of art designed to showcase her spectacular figure. Those suits came complete with cunning little skirts and jackets to wear over them, and broad-brimmed sun hats trimmed with fabric bands in coordinating colors. Before she was married, my mother worked for several years for an upscale department store, parading beautiful clothes before rich men's wives. She inspired more sales than any other model before or after her; everyone wanted to look like her, though of course no one did. Think Grace Kelly with red hair and green eyes-that was my mother. But it wasn't just her model's training that made it so interesting to see what she wore, it was a quality inside herself. Charisma, my father said, but it seemed to me to be more than that. Other people had charisma. No one had what my mother did.

 

She had a large collection of jewelry, too; sometimes she allowed me to take one necklace at a time over to her bed, where I would lay it out and turn it this way and that, making it shine hard in the sunlight. "Are these real diamonds?" I once asked, and she said, "Why have them if they're not?"

 

That Saturday morning, my father saw me sitting on the floor and came over to survey my neat stack of dollar bills, my coins piled high. "How much have you got there?" he asked.

 

"Forty-seven dollars and eighty-three cents." I kept my smile tight to hold back my pride and stuck all my fingers between all my toes for the low pull of pleasure.

 

My father whistled between his teeth in a falling-bomb way I greatly admired and could not emulate despite hours of practice. He took his glasses off to polish them on the bottom of his T-shirt, then held them up for inspection: still dirty-he never managed to get them completely clear. "How'd you get that much?" He resettled his glasses on his face, pushing them up snug against his nose, a gesture I associated so strongly with him that I reflexively took issue with others doing it.

 

I said I'd been saving for a long time. I told him about the groceries I'd carried in for Mrs. Riley, "Mrs. Five Operations," my mother called her, for her incessant replaying of the laminectomies she'd endured. I'd pulled weeds for Muriel and Helen Lockerby, the two wild-haired old-lady sisters who lived around the corner. I'd babysat for little Rachel Thompson every Thursday after school while her mother went to run errands, and I'd occasionally walked their dog, an arthritic old German shepherd named Heintz, who seemed to me to grimace every time he lifted his leg. I'd made pot holders and sold them around the neighborhood-once, a man who answered the door in his bathrobe had bought my entire week's inventory, which made him in my eyes equally wonderful and weird. Also, though I did not tell my father this, I'd recently found a ten-dollar bill on the street, and I'd made no effort whatsoever to find the owner.

 

My father told me to wait for just a minute and disappeared. I sat immobile, my high spirits on hold, because I thought he was going to consult with my mother about how much I'd have to share with my eight-year-old sister, Caroline, who had saved little, and my seven-year-old brother, Steve, who had saved nothing at all. But that's not what happened. Instead, my father reappeared, holding his wallet. He took out a twenty-dollar bill and handed it to me. Mutely, I put it on the bottom of my pile, so no one would see. But I found out later that each of us kids had received the same gift.

 

I still remember what I brought home from the fair that day: a lantern that glowed Gatsby green in the dark, which I intended to take under the covers with me to read by; a bag of Tom Thumb doughnuts so redolent with the scent of cinnamon sugar it nearly levitated me; a poster of a brown mare and her foal, lying in a field full of daisies. The rest of the money I'd spent on rides and on chances to win something big on the midway. Over and over I tried, and over and over the carnies at the tacky wooden booths smiled and said, "Sorry. Want to try again?" They knew what I'd say. From the time I was quite small, I had about me a certain air of heedless determination.

 

When my funds were gone, I went to the blanket my parents had spread out near the edge of the fairgrounds. This was our meeting place, our refueling station-our family went to the fair once a year and stayed there all day. We kept a cooler filled with drinks and sandwiches and fruit, deli containers of various salads, Oreos and Chips Ahoy!-all this though we knew we would be gorging on fair food. There were also pillows and Band-Aids, suntan lotion and insect repellent, aspirin and a couple of Ace bandages. My parents took turns manning the station, sitting in a lawn chair and amusing themselves in their own way-my mother flipping through fashion magazines or crocheting, my father doing crossword puzzles or reading one of the historical tomes he so enjoyed. He tried often to interest us kids in history, saying it was invaluable for putting things into perspective. "You think something's really great?" he'd say. "A long time ago, there was something just as good or better. You think something's really bad? Look in the past-you'll find something worse. Think something can never happen again? Wrong! History repeats itself-that's what you can be sure of." But we, like most children, did not resonate much to things beyond the day at hand. History had nothing to do with us.

 

My father also liked people-watching-he could sit for hours and stare at all the fairgoers who passed by him and feel perfectly entertained. He just got a charge out of people, their frailties and foolishness as much as their more admirable characteristics. I remember once lying in bed and overhearing an argument between my parents. This was a rare thing; they almost never crossed each other. But that night my mother was yelling: "Is everything just fine with you, then?" After a moment, I heard him say simply, Yes, everything was. An accusatory silence followed. I rose up on one arm and leaned toward my parents' bedroom wall. I heard the ticking of my bedside clock; the movement of night air in the trees outside my window; then, finally, the even, comical sounds of my father snoring. I lay back down and fingered the buttons on my nightgown, and contemplated the disturbing possibility that my parents were not perfect.

 

On that day at the fair when I came back to the blanket, my mother was off with my brother and my sister was with a new neighbor her own age whom we'd brought along in the desperate hope that Caroline and she would become friends. My father was alone. I sat on the blanket beside his chair, and he gave my shoulder a little squeeze. Then he moved out of the chair to sit beside me. He looked at me for a long moment then asked, "How are you doing, Laura?"

 

I held my hands out, palms up. "I spent it all."

 

"Yes," he said. "But I meant, how are you doing in general? Is there . . . well, how's life treating you?"

 

I smiled. I thought he might be kidding. Sometimes he would ask me about politics in the same false and jocular way. "How about that Eisenhower?" he would say. And I would shrug and say, "I don't know." But his expression now was serious; he asked me again how I was, so I said, "Good, I guess." Then, feeling this was not enough, I described my excitement at finding out I'd be getting the teacher I wanted that year at school: Mrs. Lindemeyer, who was old as the hills, and an easy grader.

 

My father nodded. "So you're okay, then, are you? You're happy?" The question was odd to me-I didn't ever really think about whether or not I was happy-but I said yes. It seemed he was looking for something he couldn't name and I couldn't decipher, and the closest I could come to satisfying us both was for me to say I was fine; I was "happy." He returned to his chair, and we sat in uneasy silence until the others returned.

 

My brother, his mouth rimmed with red from a candy apple he'd just eaten, had spent all his money too. My sister had spent none. I remember being astounded at this; angry, too, that Caroline would be left with so much when I now had nothing. "How can you have fun if you don't even spend any money?" I asked her.

 

A pleated caramel-apple wrapper skittered by, and she captured it beneath her shoe. "I had fun."

 

I snorted. "How?"

 

She looked up at me, an irritating calmness in her eyes. "I watched." The new neighbor, Linda Carmichael, confirmed this: While Linda rose high up in the sky on the Ferris wheel, Caroline stood watching and waving from below.

 

"That's retarded," I said. I could tell Linda agreed with me, and I remember thinking that she and Caroline would never be friends; here was yet another opportunity Caroline had lost.

 

"You mind your own business, Laura," my mother said quietly. That's what she said when I told Caroline she was stupid not to eat the treats that were handed out at various classroom celebrations, too. Every time there was a party at school, Caroline ate nothing. No candy corn at Halloween, no message hearts on Valentine's Day, no red- and green-sprinkled spritz cookies at Christmas, no garishly decorated cupcakes brought in because someone in class was having a birthday. Instead, anything she ever got she tented with paper towels and then carefully carried home on the school bus. As soon as she walked in the door, she presented it to my mother and my mother

 

ate it.

 

I never understood this about Caroline. Now I do. It's all clear now: the times Caroline, as a small child, lay in the hall outside the bathroom door while my mother bathed. The presents she later bought for her with babysitting money: barrettes, scarves, lipsticks. Paperback books and velvet roses. "Brownnoser!" I once whispered after she'd given my mother a bottle of dime-store perfume. Caroline ignored me; she sat at the kitchen table where I was doing homework and began pulling books and papers out of her schoolbag. She was in sixth grade then, and I in eighth. "Brownnoser!" I said again, out loud.

 

"Laura," my mother said, and I returned to my homework. There was a tiny smile on Caroline's face, and I kicked her under the table. She did not kick me back; rather, she moved away to another chair and straightened with pinched-nose efficiency a stack of notebook paper that did not need straightening. She cocked her head slightly to the left and the right as she did it. I hated it. I glared at her between narrowed lids; I believed I could feel heat coming from my eyeballs. All this was to no avail; Caroline looked at her schoolwork only.

 

Then came a gift I remember particularly well, something given to my mother by Caroline the Christmas she was sixteen. It was the last gift opened that year, and it was a framed photograph, an 8-by-10. My mother stared at it briefly, murmured a low thanks, and started to put the picture back in the box.

 

"What is it?" I said. "Let me see!" I snatched it away. The picture was of Caroline wearing one of my mother's slinky evening gowns, her hand on her hip. Caroline's auburn hair, the same color as my mother's, was styled in a twist like the one my mother always wore. Her makeup was heavily applied in a style exactly my mother's own, and she stared unsmilingly into the camera. It was chilling, the look on Caroline's face: the flat eyes, the hard line of mouth, the remove. I had never seen such a look. "What is this supposed to be?" I asked.

 

My brother took the photo from me and looked at it. He burst into laughter, the goofy adolescent-boy kind, and Caroline grabbed the picture from him and threw it onto the floor. "It isn't for you," she said. She turned to stare at my mother, who did not look back at her, and then left the room.

 

"Caroline!" my father called after her. "Come back here!" But she did not return. My father rose, as though to go after her. Then he saw the picture, and he sat back down.

 

This I understand now, too-as well as what my father meant that long-ago day at the fair, when what he was really asking was if I knew.

 

 

 

 


From the Hardcover edition.
Elizabeth Berg|Author Q&A

About Elizabeth Berg

Elizabeth Berg - The Art of Mending

Photo © Joyce Ravid

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels as well as two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award. Her bestsellers also include The Year of Pleasures, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library and is a popular speaker at various venues around the country. She lives near Chicago.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with E l i z a b e t h B e r g

Interviewer Heather Lee Schroeder is a writer and editor. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

HEATHER LEE SCHROEDER: Is it true that real events inspired this book? Can you talk about those events?
EB: It was knowing people who have endured terrible abuse and hearing those stories and wondering how they got to the various places they were—of forgiveness. That’s something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Then the other thing was, I really did go to an art exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art that showed those kids I described in the book in the scene with the really sad little girl. I went back and forth on this book about whether I wanted to write it or not. I had decided not to, but when I saw that exhibit, I felt like I had to. The third thing was an article in The New York Times I read—also mentioned in the book—about the monkeys and the surrogate mothers. That article just killed me. It rang so true, unfortunately, that someone who is so vulnerable will go back again and again to a harmful source because their need is so strong for what they want that source to give them—even if it never does.

HLS: The scene early on where Caroline gives her mother the photo of her dressed up in her mother’s gown, where she seems to be going back to the source, seems remarkably accurate.
EB: I did a Barnes & Noble online discussion group about this novel, and there were divided opinions about that photo. Some people thought she was trying so hard to imitate her mother. And others thought, as I intended, that it was her challenging her mother, that it was her saying, “I know what’s up.” I was reading Eudora Welty’s book on writing the other day—just a couple of passages from it. She was talking about how the art of writing and the art of analysis are two completely separate things. I have seen it happen over and over, not only in my own work but in others’, that readers come to their own conclusions about why things are there, and they fit things together to make their own story. So there ’s what the author intends, there ’s what happens, and then there ’s what the reader takes away. Which isn’t to say there shouldn’t be some consistency, and if most people didn’t understand that the photo was meant to be a challenge, then that’s my fault.

HLS: Is it typical for you to use something from your own life—like these three events that inspired you?
EB: Well, sometimes. It depends on what the book is. For example, Talk Before Sleep was inspired by the death of my best friend to breast cancer, which was, of course, extremely painful and deeply sad, but it was also heartening to see what people do for one another. In the case of What We Keep, it was made up entirely. But there are issues I think about. As always, when a writer looks back on his or her body of work, you see certain themes that just get hammered out over and over again. I really believe writers write about the same thing over and over, just in different forms. I like to explore, with some level of intensity, family and intimate relationships, and I am drawn to really powerful emotions because I think
they’re what we have to wade through to get the work done. One of the problems with this book is that because the abuse didn’t happen to me, I had to circle around and imagine what someone who had endured that would feel like. If you look at the reader reviews on Amazon.com, a lot of people had a problem with this book. I think this book got a short shrift. I don’t think it’s my best book by any means, but I think there ’s more there than some people want to or were able to see.

HLS: Were you surprised that this book did get short shrift from its readers? The Art of Mending could probably be described as the most difficult of your novels to read. None of the characters are fully likable. It’s a really tough topic, and ultimately the reader is, in some ways, left to his or her own devices to understand what it means.
EB: You always run that risk. If you’re going to create an unsympathetic narrator, you’re going to get into trouble. I guess it was important for me to write this story, having created other characters that people really did like. I don’t know why this character emerged the way that she did. The narrator is hard to like—but then, everybody in the novel is. I guess, in the end, it represents reality. One of the things that make this novel so complicated is that none of the characters are innocent. To make them unlikable drives home that point. Or maybe since I’ve not experienced abuse, there was a necessary distance between me and the characters that made them seem unsympathetic. The truth is, writing fiction is for me a magical and largely uncontrollable act: the characters create themselves, as does the story. But whether you like the characters or not, I believe the novel makes you think about a lot of things.

HLS: Was this book easy for you to write?
EB: No. Usually I write with such joy and abandon. I had to drag myself to the keyboard to do this, which was why I was going to give up on it when I went to that art exhibit. I grimly went back and said, “Well, I'm going to tell this story the best way I can. I need to getsomething out here.”

HLS: There’s a moment when Caroline unburdens her soul at the hospital while her dad is lying in his hospital bed. Her siblings get frustrated and angry with her for insisting on discussing the issue right then. Was that a bit of a reflection on how you felt about Caroline?
EB: I wanted, always, to make sure that she wasn’t portrayed just as a victim, that there was reason to doubt her, that there was reason to dislike her and to not want to defend her, because, you know, how can someone turn their back on their sister, on their child. It happens at times that children are unlikable or that siblings are unlikable. There’s something to like in all these characters, but there ’s a lot not to like as well.

HLS: Every scene is so precise. Early on, Laura remembers talking to her dad before they go to the fair. You write: “I kept my smile tight to hold back my pride and stuck all my fingers between all my toes for the low pull of pleasure.” That line is so evocative and memorable, and it’s just one of many. Do lines like this come out of you fully formed, or do you spend a lot of time revising to get just the right wording?
EB: They just come. I remember thinking, when I wrote that line, Oh I know just what I mean. That kind of language comes when you trust yourself the most, when you just do that free-falling into creative space and let whatever image you’re thinking of come. My best writing is always done when I am not in control. If I’m not surprised, it’s just not that good. The more I’m surprised, the better it is.

HLS: There is abuse in Laura’s family, but it’s different from what the reader first suspects. Was your decision to avoid using sexual abuse in this story deliberate? If so, why?
EB: You know, it occurs to me only now that maybe it was another subconscious thing. People are becoming inured to sexual abuse, unfortunately; I think it makes their eyes start to glaze over a little bit.
But it’s not just sexual abuse that cripples people, it’s all different kinds. And again, I think that these types of things, if they’re illuminated, can make somebody think twice. If you read about someone who so violates their child and who is so selfish, it’s very dramatic and very far away from how you live your life—hopefully. But it can illuminate the smaller things that you do.

HLS: You do a great job of balancing the past and present throughout the story. Particularly fascinating are Laura’s hazy, golden memories of her childhood and her gradual realization that those memories may not contain all the information of her family’s story. It seems as though most parents have this fantasy that they’re treating all their children exactly the same. It’s kind of an ugly unspoken truth, isn’t it that parents sometimes favor one child over another? Is it fair to suggest that you were busting some parental myths when you wrote The Art of Mending?
EB: My mother says it best when she says, “Yes, you do have favorites, but it changes. It depends on who needs you most.” I’ve found that to be true with my own daughters; I’ll be more sympathetic toward one over the other depending on what the circumstances in their life are. But about revisiting memories: I think the purpose behind those snippets is that you can see an event one way, but then armed with the knowledge that Laura has, her developing knowledge, she sees those things another way entirely. It raises a million questions. I even feel that looking at old pictures. You see more in them every time you look at them.

HLS: Once the reader understands why the mom was abusive toward Caroline, it becomes easier to understand this family’s struggles. Did you always know you were going to give your readers a better understanding of Laura’s mother’s motivation? Did you ever consider leaving your readers in the dark?
EB: I knew why she was doing that. I knew it had something to do with that child she lost. I wondered how that could affect someone. If it were me, because I’m a bit of drama queen myself, how would I react to one child born so close to the death of another? She wasn’t ready to get pregnant again. She wasn’t ready to have another baby. She had the equivalent of postpartum depression, and nobody would listen to her, including her husband, who thought she was perfect all the time. I think it would be really hard to not have your behavior toward the next child affected. Probably, more likely, you would spoil them.

HLS: Or be overly worried about them?
EB: Right.

HLS: You have often said that you admire Alice Munro—a writer who is considered a master of the short story but who doesn’t necessarily make the New York Times bestseller list. What lessons have you
learned from her writing?
EB: I’m not even sure I can articulate this, but I’ll try. There is such unadorned confidence in her writing. She knows that what she's talking about is interesting. It just is. It’s not an epic trip around the world. It’s not political, except in the domestic sense. But there is such a keen understanding of psychology in her stories and such sympathy and empathy. She is one of the few writers who get me right away and don’t let me go. There is a precision of language. There is a beauty, a great, great beauty in the language, but mostly I think it’s just that she understands people—their foibles, their humor, their sinfulness, their longing, their inabilities and their great abilities. She ’s like a little god. She ’s a literary aphrodisiac. Anne Tyler does that for me, too.

HLS: The Art of Mending is your thirteenth novel. Does the expectation that a fourteenth will follow sometimes seem overwhelming?
EB: Lately it has. There is some sort of shift occurring in me creatively, and I don’t know what it is yet. I have a contract to fulfill, and I think I will never do that again because there is too much of the good-girl, Catholic fourth-grader in me. I need my playfulness back. I’m trying to call forth that playful self.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Praise

Praise

"Maybe Freud didn’t know the answer to what women want, but Elizabeth Berg certainly does.”
USA Today

“Elizabeth Berg writes with humor and a big heart about resilience, loneliness, love, and hope. And the transcendence that redeems.”—Andre Dubus

“Berg’s writing is to literature what Chopin’s études are to music—measured, delicate, and impossible to walk away from until they are completed.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Berg knows her characters intimately....She gets under their skin and leaves the reader with an indelible impression of lives challenged and changed.”
The Seattle Times

“Elizabeth Berg is one of those rare souls who can play with truths as if swinging across the void from one trapeze to another.”
—Joan Gould


From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. What do you think of the author’s choice to tell the story from Laura’s perspective? How does that affect the story’s structure and focus?

2. Is this Caroline ’s story or Laura’s story? Explain.

3. None of the characters in The Art of Mending are fully likable, and the story of Caroline ’s abuse leaves both the family and the reader divided. Who did you identify with most closely? Who did you believe? Who did you distrust?

4. The Art of Mending is a story that is shot through with longing and memory. How does the structure of the novel—a present-tense story intermittently broken up by Laura’s memories of the past—serve to advance the narrative?

5. Caroline most closely resembles her mother in physical appearance, but in some ways Laura is the most like her emotionally. How does the sisters’ relationship to each other mirror that of Caroline and her mother?

6. Laura’s personal journey drives this story forward. She can be both smaller and meaner than the average heroine, and yet she slowly grows as the story unfolds. How does the reader’s awareness of Laura’s foibles change the reader’s perception of and feelings about her?

7. Beyond the title of the book, how is Laura’s profession—quiltmaking—significant or symbolic?

8. Each sibling’s perception of their childhood is a little different. How does each one’s personality play into what he or she remembers about the past?

9. Throughout this story, Laura struggles with believing and disbelieving her sister and their mother. As a reader, did you find yourself going through the same struggle?

10. Why do you think Laura’s father decided not to tell Laura what happened?

11. Laura’s husband, Pete, changes her perspective on his parents, whom she has idolized as particularly loving and kind parents, by telling her the story of how his father would spank him and swear at him. Later, Laura wonders what part of her parents’ marriage she couldn’t see or understand: “I stood in my parents’ bedroom,thinking about what their life together was really like. I recalled various things we kids witnessed—the kisses hello and goodbye, the stereotypical sharing of household tasks—and I wondered about what we didn’t see.” How are our experiences shaped by our individual perception? Can “truth” ever really be discerned from memories that we know are not 100 percent foolproof?

12. Some researchers talk about families as social organisms that have a life outside of the individual’s experience. Do you think families have collective memories, or are a family’s memories just individual perceptions held together by emotional bonds? Explain.

13. Laura tells the reader that her sister’s decision to invite their mother to have a brownie and go shopping means that Caroline wants to start over. Did you read it that way? Did Caroline ’s shift from anger to forgiveness feel authentic to you?

14. How do the generational differences between Laura and her mother play out? How do you think the lack of choices women of a certain generation had in their personal lives have affected this family?

15. Caroline is a difficult person for her family to relate to and like. Late in The Art of Mending, Aunt Fran says to Laura, “And the other part, I must tell you, was Caroline herself. She was a difficult child. Surely you remember that! She remains difficult today; that woman cannot settle down inside herself. I love her, truly, but she is a tortured soul. It is not easy to be around her—not then, not now. You’ve had good luck with your children, Laura. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what it would be like to have a child like Caroline.” Do you agree with Aunt Fran that Caroline was born difficult, or do you think she was transformed into the difficult person she is by the circumstances of her relationship with her mother? As a reader, did you find yourself struggling to sympathize with Caroline? If so, how did that affect your understanding of the story?




From the Hardcover edition.

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