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  • Written by Jeanne Braselton
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  • A False Sense of Well Being
  • Written by Jeanne Braselton
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Written by Jeanne BraseltonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jeanne Braselton

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On Sale: December 10, 2008
Pages: 400 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48461-1
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead. . . .”

At thirty-eight, Jessie Maddox subscribes to House Beautiful, Southern Living, even Psychology Today. She has a comfortable life in Glenville, Georgia, with Turner, the most reliable, responsible husband in the world. But after the storybook romance, “happily ever after” never came. Now the housewife who once wanted to be Martha Stewart before there was a Martha Stewart is left to wonder: Where did the marriage go wrong? Why can’t she stop picturing herself as the perfect grieving widow?

As Jessie dives headlong into her midlife crisis, she is aided and abetted by a colorful cast of characters in the true Southern tradition: her best friend and next door neighbor Donna, who is having a wild adulterous affair with a younger man; Wanda McNab, the sweater-knitting, cookie-baking grandmother who is charged with killing her abusive husband. Then there’s Jessie’s eccentric family. Her younger sister Ellen, born to be a guest on Jerry Springer, has taken her seven-year-old son and squawking pet birds and left her husband “for good this time” . . . while their mother crosses the dirty words out of library books and alerts everyone to the wonderful bargains at Winn-Dixie, often at the same time. And then there’s the stuffed green headless duck . . .

When a trip home to the small town of her childhood raises more questions than it answers, Jessie is forced to face the startling truth head-on–and confront the tragedy that has shadowed her heart and shaken her faith in love . . . and the future.

From a brilliant new voice in fiction, here is a darkly comic novel full of revelation and insight. The danger of secrets and the power of confession . . . The pull of family, no matter how crazy. . . The fate of wedlock when one can’t find the key . . . Jeanne Braselton weaves these potent themes into a funny, poignant, utterly engaging story of a woman at the crossroads–and the unforgettable journey she must take to get back home.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Dear friends in Christ, here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

Confession of Sin The Book of Common Prayer

I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead. Beginning that year, and not, to my recollection, prompted by any overt unkindness or sudden disruption of affection, images of random damage, of events more simple and unpredictable than murder, invaded my dreams both sleeping and awake. The more I tried not to think about it, to purge these worrisome ideas out of my head, the louder my unconscious mind wailed. When I woke in the sheet-twisted dark and found myself pasted to the body of my very real husband, his whimpering snore as high-pitched as a cat’s, it was a bitter comfort. The familiar smell of him on the pillows, a pungent mix of his daily dousings of cologne and hair tonics, seeped into my pores with all the nauseating effects of a virus. I spent my nights, and an embarrassing number of days, picturing how I would react, what plans I would make, when misfortune cast me in a new role: that of grieving widow.

I would see him rounding the curve of the old highway, eyes closing, driving head-on into someone else’s headlights. Stumbling into the line of fire during a convenience-store robbery. Stepping off the curb to be dragged under the wheels of a bus. When he fell asleep in front of the television late at night, head tilted backward over his chair, I would see him strangled that way, his breath cut off in mid-snore, a large bubble of exhaled air dancing cartoon-style in front of his face.

Every day I imagined some new way for it to happen. I saw the harmless objects of our ordinary lives turning against him, his body betraying him in one violent, irretrievable moment.

He’d crack his skull on the shower wall while reaching for a towel.

He’d try to light the pilot on the furnace and trigger a freak explosion.

He’d stumble over a child’s bicycle in a neighbor’s driveway and snap his neck.

Once, when I was turning my key in the kitchen door, my left arm balancing a bag of groceries, I found myself thinking, He could be dead inside this house, in our bed, and I wouldn’t know it.

Sometimes he would fall as he made the climb toward the sixth hole at Glenville Meadows, his heart squeezing in upon itself with a final cholesterol-clogged pang, his long, rigid body landing like a toppled game piece on the freshly mown fairway. The last thing he’d see is the dimpled ball sailing skyward toward the green, where it rides the hillside on waves of light and dark, hopelessly out of his reach.

The first time I make my confession I know I’m making a big mistake, as if I’ve taken the wrong exit off the interstate and am barreling full speed down rain-slick, unlit streets with no on-ramp or telephone booth in sight. It’s a Saturday, the day my next-door neighbor Donna Lindsey and I reserve for what we affectionately call our “suicide strolls.” At 6 a.m. sharp on most Saturdays, Donna and I meet at the boxwood hedge separating our two lawns—lawns kept green, well-trimmed, and dandelion-free by the Lawn Doctor, not our husbands—and set out along the bicycle paths that wind around the cookie-cutter Georgians and mock Tudors in our thoroughly modern and fitness-friendly subdivision. Donna and I begin our walk by streetlight and moonlight, leaving our homes bundled in sweat suits and windbreakers, stealthy as teenagers sneaking out past curfew. Much of our route is uphill until we reach the cul-de-sac where, in a mirror version of our own cul-de-sac, Phase Four of the Heritage Knoll development ends, so we usually talk only on the way back to our respective homes, when we can catch our breath.

Donna and I swing our arms purposefully and tell ourselves we aren’t getting older but healthier. We wave to the other, younger wives who jog at a faster clip, the cheeks of their aerobicized size-six butts barely jiggling. These women all carry or strap to their arms and legs reflective devices that each weigh five pounds or more, and when they trot past us, graceful as butterflies, pores freshly scrubbed and cucumber-soothed and without the slightest hint of perspiration, one has the distinct impression that they might, at any moment, take flight if they were not weighted down so carefully.

We keep walking, dreaming of the day when we can look just like them, when we can prance into Rich’s Department Store and buy identical pairs of red silk running shorts in a size six, completed, of course, by red silk cutoff T-shirts that show off our tanned and liposuctioned midriffs. We tell ourselves we’re happy with our own less-than-flawless bodies in case our plan doesn’t work, and I’m guessing it probably won’t, so until then we resent the presence of these other wives for making us want it so badly.

It is during today’s walk, on the return trip down a particularly steep hill, that Donna tells me she’s having an affair with a salesman in the department store where she works part time, that it’s been going on for two months, and that she needs me to tell her husband David we’re going shopping next Tuesday after work. David will never even ask me about it, she points out a little too enthusiastically, so it isn’t like I’ll actually have to lie for her, but she wants to warn me just in case a lie is necessary. She also hints that it wouldn’t be wise for me to be seen in my yard between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday since, quite obviously, I can’t be at the Glenville Meadows Mall with her and trying to resuscitate my ailing geraniums at the same time.

“I’m sleeping with that young guy in menswear.”

That’s actually how she breaks the news. She says it matter-of-factly, as if she’s just told me, “I’m painting my kitchen blue.”

I remember that Donna made a point of introducing me to him a week or so earlier when I stopped by the mall to pick her up for lunch. When I arrived, I found him leaning over her jewelry counter, two fingers looped through a display of freshwater pearl bracelets.

His name is Perry Ferguson, and on the day we met he wore stylish burgundy suspenders over a cream-colored button-down broadcloth shirt and a pair of neatly pressed black gabardine trousers, and he had a lock of blond hair that, despite his efforts to slick it into place, kept falling over one of his eyes. He did, I noticed, wear a wedding ring. And he’s young. At least ten years younger than Donna is my guess, which means he’s maybe fifteen years younger than me. His leaning over her counter, touching those bracelets the way he did, was hardly the innocent gesture it had seemed.

I can’t think of a thing to say. This is news I do not want to hear.

As we walk, we pass 1980s-style Victorians and country ranches, houses we’ve visited with our husbands for impromptu dinner parties and Neighborhood Watch–sponsored backyard barbecues, houses where the owners spend weeks searching antique stores for the perfect armoire and wouldn’t dare refinish it. A lawn mower cranks somewhere nearby, a clear violation of the 10-4 rules. The people on this street must mow their own lawns. The Lawn Doctor knows the rules.


From the Hardcover edition.
Jeanne Braselton|Author Q&A

About Jeanne Braselton

Jeanne Braselton - A False Sense of Well Being
Jeanne Braselton was born and raised in Georgia. She is the adopted daughter of a poet who was designated chief of the Cherokee Nation. While working as a journalist for the Rome News Tribune, she won numerous Georgia Press Association awards. She currently lives in Rome, Georgia, with her husband. A False Sense of Well-Being is her first novel.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Kaye Gibbons
& Jeanne Braselton


Questions We're Never Asked So We'll Ask Each Other

Kaye Gibbons is one of the most widely acclaimed novelists of our time.
She is the author of
Ellen Foster, A Virtuous Woman, A Cure for Dreams, Charms for the Easy Life, Sights Unseen, On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, and Raised by Hand (to be published in 2003). Her work has been honored with the Sue Kaufman Prize for first fiction, the Louis D. Rubin Writing Award, the PEN Revson Award, the Heartland Prize, and many other awards, and has received special citations from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation and The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. She recently was invited to be a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a most significant honor that recognizes an author's lifetime achievement.

Gibbons and Braselton met in 1996, when Gibbons was the keynote speaker at the Southern Women's Writers Conference at Berry College-- Braselton's alma mater--in Rome, Georgia, where Braselton resides. They soon became close friends, and Gibbons became Braselton's mentor, asking to read an early draft of
A False Sense of Well Being. Gibbons has said: "In book table lines, lots of people tell me they're writing, but I've believed only Jeanne Braselton and Charles Frazier."

When A False Sense of Well Being was published in October 2001 and Braselton began her first author tour, Gibbons joined Braselton in Nashville, at the Southern Festival of Books, and traveled with her for more than a week, showing up at bookstores and universities--unannounced, and to the delight of those attending--to introduce her, telling audiences she had a moral obligation to "see Jeanne at the beginning of a long and happy life with the best readers and writers in the world." She went on to say: "Show her the love you have shown me. Tell your friends about her. Put her in your book clubs. She is like both a daughter and mother to me-- the best kind of friend. She's not a one-book wonder. She is a Georgia lady who'd make Flannery O'Connor squirm enough to quit work and raise peacocks for a living."

This interview took place the week of April 9-14, 2002, over the course of several nights, often beginning at 11 PM or later, and continuing into each morning, while Gibbons and Braselton were both writing. Gibbons was finishing her seventh novel, Raised by Hand, while Braselton was working on her second novel, The Other Side of the Air. The interview was inspired by Walker Percy's self-interview of 1977, entitled "Questions They Never Asked Me So He Asked Them Himself." In that satire of all interviews, Percy discusses his reluctance to consult to interviews in general, and holds forth, devil's advocate style, about his love of the South and Southern literature. Percy contradicts one of region's most pervasive myths, saying that it is the absence, not the presence, of the South's storytelling tradition that gives birth to a distinctive literature. The South, Percy said, is "Crusoe's island for a writer," and "I've managed to live here for thirty years and am less well known than the Budweiser distributor." Gibbons and Braselton discuss this and more in the dialogue that follows.

Kaye Gibbons: Interviewers always ask the same questions, don't they? What time of day do you write? Do you use a computer or write longhand? Who are your favorite writers? Why do you write about the South? What is the role of the Southern writer in society? What makes Southern literature unique?

Jeanne Braselton: Oh my, yes. Let's not talk about that.

KG: After being asked a few too many of these sorts of questions, I have to fight the urge to give completely ludicrous answers.

JB: I once told someone that I write in longhand on the walls of my
house, and repaint when I start a new novel. He looked a little
alarmed.

KG: The most impossible question--and it always pops up every few years on literary panels--is: "Are we witnessing the death of Southern fiction?" I've been hearing that one for at least fifteen years, and Walker Percy, Shelby Foote, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter, and Flannery O'Connor were asked the same thing.

JB: They were tired of trying to answer that one, too. It's the kind of
question that makes a writer a little batty. I'm pretty sure it was
you who once said, "We're still writing, aren't we?" I've always
loved and admired you for saying that because, in the end, what
more can be said? Most writers, though, fall into a peculiar kind
of hypnotic state induced only by academics who ask questions
like that, and end up talking about the pervasive influence of
television, the homogenization of the South, with a McDonalds
and a Holiday Inn in every city, and the fact that a good many
people would rather watch football or get their teeth cleaned
than read novels.

KG: As if having a McDonalds on every block is ruining our culture. Indoor plumbing didn't ruin the South, so why should McDonalds? We stopped having to write about making trips to the outhouse in the middle of the night, but that didn't stop us from writing.

JB: You can find a McDonalds, and probably a Holiday Inn, in every
major city in the world. I have a friend who once traveled inside
the Arctic Circle, and he walked into this shed--an igloo
really--and all these people were huddled around in fur coats
watching--not a fire, but MTV. And who knows? Maybe we are
witnessing the death of Southern fiction, and fiction in general,
or at least a debilitating illness. It's my understanding that every
junior editor in New York claims to be looking for the same
thing--'narrative nonfiction and the occasional novel.' And yet
there seems to be more fiction out there than ever before. I can't
keep up with it all.

KG: Sometimes I think being stuck with the label of "Southern writer" is a form of literary discrimination perpetuated by the, critics.

JB: It's a label that sticks. I can't think of another regional category,
except for "Western," and we all know that doesn't refer just to
the region, but to the genre. Call someone a Southern writer and
you immediately think of a certain style, like calling someone a
science fiction writer, or a mystery writer, or a romance writer.
The problem is that the best Southern fiction today is too diverse
for that.

KG: Faulkner's works have been translated into almost every language on the planet, and even as he was being presented with the Nobel Prize in Literature, he was introduced as "essentially a regional writer" and the "great epic writer of the southern states."

JB: John Cheever was never asked if he considered himself a Northeastern
writer.

KG: Right. Because Cheever wrote about the suburbs instead of Yoknapatawpha County.

JB: Gin instead of moonshine. I guess that's considered more
American.

KG: What about those of us who write about the suburbs in the South?

JB: Then they call it writing of the "New South," another category
that's been around forever. I'd like to know who came up with
that term, because whoever it was deserves to be slapped. It
probably was a politician. People have been talking about the
"New South" for at least fifty years, and it's mostly politicians
promising "new" this and "new" that. Now, every year or so,
somebody puts out a collection of fiction called "Writing of the
New South" or some such. As far as I can tell, there's nothing
new about it.

KG: It's the same way the critics judge us as one of two things: literary or popular.

JB: Your work is both, and I can only hope mine will be, too. In that
order. Literary first, but literary fiction that also happens to be

Praise

Praise

“This may be the best first novel I’ve ever read.”
–ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS

“With characters who touch the heart and dialogue that rings true, Braselton does a masterful job of telling Jessie’s story in this warm, moving, and remarkably accomplished first novel.”
Booklist
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. The novel opens with Jessie Maddox having fantasies of her husband's untimely death, either by fate or by accident. What has happened in her life to cause this? What do you think she would do, and how would she react, if her fantasies were to come true? Do you ever have similar thoughts about those you love? If so, examine the way your innermost thoughts often conflict with what you believe you want in life.

2. Jessie is the one telling her story. What are the strengths and
weaknesses of Jessie's first-person narration? Do you think she's
able to remain objective when discussing her unhappiness, or
when describing her family and friends? How would the novel be
different if it were narrated by her husband Turner?

3. Jessie talks about wanting the perfect marriage and the perfect
home. She subscribes to House Beautiful, Southern Living, and
Psychology Today, trying to copy decorating ideas and lifestyle
tips. She joins the Glenville Society Cotillion, and she and her
husband are members of the local country club. Discuss how
Jessie is influenced by what she reads in books and magazines, or
sees in movies, and how her expectations of love and marriage
may be unrealistic. Do you know people who do the same thing?
How has she, as she admits, worked to create the life she always
dreamed of having? How much of Jessie's dilemma do you believe
is based on her desire to keep up with what society expects of her?

4. We know Turner only from the details Jessie reveals, and from the
few scenes where he appears. What do you think of him as a husband,
and what about Turner hasn't Jessie told us? Do you believe
he loves Jessie? What could he be doing to help her through this
crisis? Do you think he realizes how unhappy Jessie is? Consider
reading Gustave Flaubert's classic novel Madame Bovary, and discuss
the similarities and the differences between the characters
and the plots of Madame Bovary and A False Sense of Well Being.

5. Is Jessie experiencing a typical midlife crisis? If so, what do you
believe she should be doing to work through it? If not, what do
you think triggered the wave of self-doubt and self-examination
she's having? Discuss any time in your life when you may have felt
the same way.

6. The novel uses passages from The Book of Common Prayer to introduce
certain chapters. Why do you think the author chose The
Book of Common Prayer
, and what is the significance of each passage
to the story that follows? Do you think Jessie, or any of the
characters, find any comfort in the passages and prayers that are
presented?

7. As a social worker at a mental health clinic, Jessie talks about the
power of confession, and wonders if her clients are helped by
telling her their secrets. Do you believe confession, as the saying
goes, is good for the soul? How do you feel about Jessie as a therapist?
Do you think she's helped by the confessions she makes to
her friends and family? Discuss how the power of confession is
the novel's central theme.

8. Unlike many contemporary novels, in which the male characters
are the ones making bad decisions, having affairs, or leaving
home, it's the women in this novel who are the ones doing all the
misbehaving. What is the significance of this? Discuss the choices
these women make and how these choices affect their lives. Are
the women who are having affairs or running away from home
behaving, in a sense, like men? Do you believe--as does the self-help
writer that Jessie listens to on tape--that men and women
want the same things but have trouble communicating their
wants and needs to each other? Discuss the changing roles of
women over the past few decades, and how this has affected the
traditional ideas of marriage and family.

9. Jessie and her friend Donna have different ways of looking at
things, especially marriage. Jessie says, in fact, that she feels like
she can live vicariously through Donna, because of Donna's affair


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