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A Novel

Written by Therese FowlerAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Therese Fowler



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On Sale: March 24, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-51253-6
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Blue Reynolds, celebrity talk show host and queen of daytime television, appears to have it all. But no one knows the secret she has harbored for the last twenty years—a secret that could destroy her image, her reputation, and her career. A week in Key West to do her show on location brings Blue a much-needed change of pace—and an unexpected reunion with an old flame, Mitch Forrester. Helping him launch a television series may help her recapture the kind of genuine romance long missing from her life. But it also means dealing with Mitch’s disapproving son, Julian, who is only nine years younger than Blue. Back from his years as a war photographer in the world’s most dangerous hotspots, Julian struggles to get close to his father while making his disdain for Blue crystal clear—which makes his desire for her all the more surprising.

As serendipity and scandal collide, Therese Fowler’s passionate, illuminating novel takes a dramatic turn deep into our own hearts, as the healing power of love transforms regrets into new beginnings.

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Excerpt

Chapter One


In Chicago, the snow was falling so hard that, although quite a few pedestrians saw the woman standing on the fire escape nine stories up, none were sure they recognized her. At first the woman leaned against the railing and looked down, as if calculating the odds of death from such a height. After a minute or two, though, when she hadn’t climbed the rail but had instead stepped back from it, most people who’d noticed her continued on their ways. She didn’t look ready to jump, so why keep watching? And how about this snow, they said. What the hell? It wasn’t supposed to snow like this in spring!

To the few who watched her a minute longer, it was conceivable that the woman in the black pants and white blouse could be the popular talk show host whose show was taped inside the building. Conceivable, but unlikely. Was Blue Reynolds’s hair that long? That dark? Why would Blue be standing there motionless on the fire escape, looking up into the sky? Such a sensible, practical dynamo of a person—she certainly wasn’t the type to catch snowflakes on her tongue, as this woman now appeared to be doing. And especially not when The Blue Rey
nolds Show was going to start in twenty minutes. Tourists who’d hoped for last-minute tickets were right this second being turned away, the studio was full, please check the website for how to get tickets in advance.

This snow, coming two days after spring had officially begun, had the effect of bringing people throughout the city to windows and doorways—and to fire escapes, apparently. Though six to eight inches was forecasted, it was hard to begrudge snow like this, flakes so big that if you caught one on your sleeve, you could see the crystalline shape of it, perfect as a newborn baby’s hand. And with tomorrow’s temperatures rising into the fifties, what snow was piling up on railings and rooftops and ledges would melt away. It would be as if this remarkable snowfall had never happened at all. Much like the sighting of Blue—if in fact it was Blue—there outside her studio building’s ninth floor.

The black steel fire escape stood out against the buff-colored limestone, an add-on when the building got transformed from bank to apartments in 1953. Now that it housed offices again, its fire escape made balconies for those lucky enough to have access along with their downtown skyline views. Like a switchback trail, the escape descended from the twelfth-story rooftop to the second floor, with landings at each floor. The landing on which the woman stood was piled with a good three inches of snow, deep enough to close in on her ankles and soak the hem of black crepe pants. Her boots, Hugo Boss, lambskin, three-inch heels, were styled for fashion, not utility, and as she stood with her face upturned, she was vaguely aware that her feet were growing cold. Still, the pleasure of being pelted by snowflakes held her there. She could not recall the last time she’d been in, truly in, weather like this. And never alone, it seemed, and never focused, anymore, on the weather. Standing here, she had the exquisite feeling of being just one more anonymous Chicago dweller. Just a forty-ish woman on a fire escape in the snow, and not Blue Reynolds at all.

This snow made her want to be a child again so that, instead of going home to a bowl of Froot Loops eaten while she reviewed reports, she would be preparing to pull on snow pants and boots and head for the lighted hillside at the park, plastic saucer sled in tow. She would return home later soaking wet, with chapped red cheeks and frozen toes and a smile that would still be on her face when she woke the next morning. Was such a day a memory, she wondered, or a wish?

She knew the snowflakes must be wetting her just-styled hair, spotting her white silk blouse, Escada, she’d put it on not fifteen minutes earlier. These thoughts, they existed outside her somehow, far enough away that they didn’t motivate her to climb back inside her office window—even as today’s guests waited downstairs in the green room, nervous about meeting her. Even as the camera and lighting and sound and recording crews were gearing up for this last show of the week. Even as three hundred eager audience members were now taking their seats and would soon meet Marcy, Blue’s right hand, Marcy who managed her life, who would tell them what to expect on today’s show. They wouldn’t expect a snow-wet, distracted Blue Reynolds.

Still, even when she heard someone tapping the window to get her attention, she stood there squinting up into the whitened sky. One more minute. One more.

The tapping, again.

“I know, I’m coming,” she said.

Inside, the stylists and her producer and her assistants fluttered around her, clucking like outraged hens. What are you doing, it’s practically showtime! Look at that blouse! Are you sure you’re okay? No. She wasn’t okay, hadn’t been truly okay ever, that she could recall.

What expectation she saw on the faces of her studio audience when she took the stage! It wasn’t her they’d come to watch; she never lost sight of that. Because she was a regular person who argued with her mother, who cleaned hair from her shower drain so that the cleaning lady didn’t have to. She was a woman who failed to floss, who needed to clean out her purse, who paged through People at the dentist’s office, just like most of them. They were here to see the woman who, upon seeing that magazine, could then book whoever interested her and interview them on this very stage. They were here to see the woman who sometimes made the cover herself.

On today’s show were a sociologist, a high school superintendent, a Christian minister, and three teens—one boy and two girls. One of the girls was eight months pregnant. The topic was abstinence education.

In talking with Peter, TBRS’s producer, about this show, Blue had protested his suggestion that she open with an audience poll. Getting the audience involved in hot-button issues had in the past led to a Jerry Springer–like atmosphere she had to work hard to redirect. Peter said, yes, but think of the drama. “We want people to engage,” he said. “And not only because it’s good for ratings.” She agreed in part; engagement was the point of it all, or was supposed to be the point.

He continued, “You saw the latest numbers. We’re slipping—just a little, and obviously we’ll bring it back up, but if we lose our edge right now, we lose our contract renewal leverage.” Lower ratings also led to lower ad revenues, lower production budgets, more difficulty in booking guests who had the power to draw viewers—all of which then trickled down to lower salaries for everyone on her payroll. Lower salaries meant good people jumped onto newer, flashier, competing ships. Ultimately, she’d agreed to do the poll.

Standing at the front of the stage, she welcomed the audience. Three hundred faces of all skin tones and both genders watched her eagerly, fans from any and every place on Earth. Beyond, too, she sometimes suspected. While Marcy claimed there was an angel in every audience, Blue rather thought there was an alien, who would inevitably write in to rant about how ?offbase she’d been on a particular topic, even if that topic was the fifty best uses of phyllo.

“Let me introduce you to some typical teens,” Blue said, and the two teenage girls appeared from the wings to take their seats behind her. Indeed, both girls were typical-looking, with long brown hair and eye makeup and TV-modest clothing bearing popular-brand logos. Both girls were white.

Facing the audience, she said, “Kendra and Stacey—who is eight months pregnant—are seventeen-year-olds from intact middle-class families. Their parents are professionals. Both girls are B-students, involved in extracurricular activities”—this drew a chuckle from some of the audience—“and both have made preliminary plans to attend college. The main difference in these young women’s lives is that one of them attends a high school that follows an abstinence-only curriculum, and one attends a school where teenage sexuality is considered ‘normal’ and the students are educated accordingly. Abstinence is taught as one of several possible choices.

” She stepped down from the dais and walked to the lip of the stage. “With a show of hands: Which of you thinks Stacey, our pregnant teen, got the sex-is-normal message?”

About half of the audience raised hands.

“Now, who thinks Kendra did?”

Most of the other hands went up, as did the volume of voices, arguments already begun.

Blue waited a beat, resisting the urge to rub her face. Looking into Camera 4, she said, “The answer, when we come back.

” She allowed the rumbling to continue during the break, hoping the audience would get it out of the way now; things were not going to get better.

Taking a seat between the girls, she looked at each of their nervous faces. “Are you hanging in there?”

Kendra shrugged. Stacey shifted in her chair and smoothed her pink maternity top. “I’m okay, I guess,” she whispered.

In a moment, they were on-air again. Blue said, “With me today are Kendra and Stacey, Chicago-area teenagers who, like most of their peers, are dealing as best they can with the pressures of growing up in our increasingly sexualized culture.

“Before the break I polled the audience on which of these girls received the teen-sex-is-normal message from her school, and which was taught to abstain until marriage.” She looked at Camera 2: “Brad, give us that tight view—audience, watch the screen.

” She waited, knowing that on the screen behind her would be a close-up image of a girl’s left hand, on which there was a silver ring. Brad nodded, and Blue continued, “This is known as a purity ring, representing adherence to the abstinence ideal: a vow of chastity, a promise to wait for the right man—or woman, because some young men are wearing them, too—and marriage.

“Girls, raise your hands.

” Of the four hands now displayed, three were bare of jewelry, as they’d arranged ahead of time.

The silver glinted, of course, from Stacey’s left hand.

Amidst the reactions of surprise from many in the audience, and satisfaction from others, a skinny, dark-haired woman in the middle of the room stood up and yelled, “Sinner! Hypocrite! Take off that ring!”

Stacey’s face crumpled. “It’s not wrong! I love him,” she said, then burst into tears.

And before Blue could stop herself, she did, too.

After refereeing fifteen rounds between the sociologist and the minister—had Peter chosen such a closed-minded, sanctimonious old man on purpose?—Blue escaped the set the minute they were clear. Reverend Mark Masterson, a tall, self-serious man with heavy jowls and bottle-black hair, followed her backstage.

“Just what do you think you’re going to accomplish by telling teenage girls to go ahead and have sex?”

“Was that what I said?”

“You made that child out to be a hero.

” He’d made no secret of his disdain for the facts and the statistics, which were the substance of her supposed endorsement. Blue looked at him coolly. “And you made her out to be a whore—I’m sorry, ‘whoremonger’ was your word, wasn’t it? I thought you were a minister, but apparently you’re a judge."

He frowned down at her, his height giving him an illusion of superiority she was sure he made the most of. He said, “When I agreed to do this show, I was under the impression that you had a conscience.”

“And I was under the impression that someone who has committed to serving his community would at least attempt to do so.

” He straightened the lapels of his brown suit jacket and picked off a spot of lint. “These are children we’re talking about. They require firmness and absolutes to shut down ungodly urges. Romans chapter eight, verse thirteen, for example: ‘For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’ ”

“So Stacey must die? That’s a reasonable punishment.”

“Now let’s not be ridiculous. The Bible permits a certain amount of interpretation.

” Blue nodded. “So true. Excuse me.” Giving him no chance to reply, she walked away quickly, shoulders pulled back, chin up, and shut herself in her dressing room. She’d known there would be no easy consensus on such a complex issue, but just once she would have liked to have the kind of powers needed to instantly transform a person like Masterson into a hormonal, love-struck teenage girl.

Blue was pulling off her boots when Marcy joined her, looking as fresh and enthused now, at four-fifteen, as she had at eight this morning. It was more than Marcy’s white-blond hair (“Of course it’s dyed,” she’d told a woman in the audience during a commercial break. “Nature doesn’t make this color…”), more than her flared-leg jeans and gray cashmere T-shirt. Marcy had what Blue’s mother Nancy Kucharski called “a dynamic aura,” grown even more dynamic since meeting Stephen Boyd, an industrial designer who was teaching Marcy ballroom dance. Passion created that aura, Nancy said. “It’s good for the complexion, and not bad for the rest of the body, either!” Blue had to take her word for it—and an experienced word it was.

“Good show,” Marcy said, as though things had gone just as well as the day before, when they’d hosted four champion dog breeders and four captivating puppies.

“Compared to what?” Blue stepped out of her pants and stripped off the substitute Escada blouse (there were two of everything, just in case) then put on gym gear and brown velour sweats. Or rather, a brown velour track suit, as they were being called again. The seventies were back, complete with Barry Manilow and Cat Stevens and Neil Diamond on the radio, which Blue didn’t mind so much. The songs were reminders of a time when she was young enough to believe she knew where she stood.

“I’m serious. Except for that little…outburst, you really kept things under control.”

Blue shook her head, still embarrassed. “I don’t know what that was about.” “Empathy, maybe.”

“Is Peter having a fit?”

“He’s too busy working on a spin strategy. Stacey’s still a mess though, poor thing.”

“I suspect she’s going to need therapy.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did. I just didn’t get any."

Marcy reached behind Blue to straighten her hood. “Speaking of misguided youths, your mother called. She’s not coming to the Keys with us after all; she says she met someone and he wants her all to himself this weekend.”


From the Hardcover edition.
Therese Fowler|Author Q&A

About Therese Fowler

Therese Fowler - Reunion

Photo © Elena Seibert

Therese Fowler is the author of Souvenir, Reunion and Exposure. She has worked in the U.S. Civil Service, managed a clothing store, lived in the Philippines, had children, sold real estate, earned a B.A. in sociology, sold used cars, returned to school for her MFA in creative writing, and taught college undergrads about literature and fiction-writing -- roughly in that order.  With books published in nine languages and sold world-wide, Therese writes full-time from her home in Wake Forest, NC, which she shares with her husband, four amiable cats, and four nearly grown-up sons.

 

 

 

Author Q&A

Random House Reader’s Circle:What was your inspiration for writing
Reunion?

Therese Fowler: This will sound crazy, but the first seed of inspiration
was my reaction to the ending of the movie Something’s Gotta Give. I
wanted to write a younger-man-older-woman story that turned out the
way I thought the movie should have.
That gave me a basic plot frame, but the substance of the story really
grew from my longtime interest in celebrity, and from my own
childhood experiences of growing up yearning for a better life than the
one I was living.

RHRC: This is your second novel; did you find it easier to write Reunion?

TF: Not really. In fact, second novels are widely considered to be
harder to write, and I have to agree. There is the difficulty of figuring
out how to craft a new story that’s both similar to and different from
the first. There is the distraction of the first book’s publication and the
activities that go along with it. With the second book you do a lot of
second-guessing. Sometimes you have the pressure of a looming deadline.
And you can only hope that you can figure out what you did right
the first time and do it again.
I’m starting on my fourth book now, and as far as I can tell, the next
book is never easier than the one before it. I just worry about different
things with each one. Even so, I love writing novels, and feel so fortunate
that this is my job. I’m living out a dream that took forty years to
come true.

RHRC:
There’s a great line in Reunion about how some people are
spotlights and some are reflectors. What did you mean by that? Which
of the characters are spotlights and which are reflectors?

TF:
Some people live outwardly; they shine with their own power,
drawing attention to and illuminating whatever they come into contact
with. Others live more inwardly. They’re quiet about their passions,
blending into the scenery and only shining when light is turned their
way. As for which characters are which, I’ll turn that question back to
you and the readers.

RHRC:
I loved all the bird imagery in Reunion. Are you a bird
watcher? Did you have to research the different types of birds you
wrote about?

TF: My husband was a casual bird watcher when I met him, and as I got
to know him, I grew more and more interested in both him and birds.
Where the birds were concerned, I became fascinated by the amazing
variety of colors and markings, the differences in sizes and habits, the
fact that some birds are carnivorous predators while others are passive
seed-eaters. (My husband, incidentally, is an omnivore.) We love traveling
and spending time outdoors; searching out birds we haven’t seen
before gives every trip an extra bit of purpose and pleasure.
I did have to do a fair bit of research in order to know which kinds
of birds can be seen in which locations—which is how I discovered
that macaws and parakeets live in the Keys not by nature but because
they escape or people release them there. Key West is a haven for all
kinds of orphans and runaways.

RHRC: Key West is so wonderfully portrayed and described in
Reunion—you really made it come alive. Did you make a special trip to
Key West for this book? Have you ever visited the Hemingway Home?

TF:
Thank you! Key West has always intrigued me, so it was a treat to
do the research for the book—and yes, I did visit as part of that research,
including an extensive Hemingway Home and Museum tour.
The fact that Hemingway’s writing studio is painted the same soothing,
pale shade of blue as my home office makes me wonder if there’s
something about that shade that’s conducive to writing.
Blue’s fascination with the house during Mitch’s tour for TBRS is
really my own. It isn’t so much that I revere Hemingway—his work is
for the most part darker than I like—but there’s no discounting his
place in literary history.
Key West, with its multiple personalities, its varied history and
unique location, is such a rich setting to work with. It’s also a lovely
place to spend time. Whether or not I set a future story there, I can’t
wait to return.

RHRC:
Daniel is such a fantastic and charming character and I love
his split personality. Why did you choose Ken Mattingly as his alter
ego?

TF: Really, this happened of its own accord, odd as that sounds.
So much in my storycrafting process and the choices I make is subconscious,
and occurs literally the moment I’m typing the words. Of
course, the information that inspires such choices has to be rattling
around somewhere in my brain, right? I’m sure I learned about Mattingly,
and all the Apollo astronauts, in elementary school—and I was
struck by his role in the events of Apollo 13, which Gary Sinise portrayed
beautifully in the movie Apollo 13.
Now, why he came to mind in conjunction with Daniel and the
stroke is beyond me, but I can tell you that when that happened, I loved
it instantly.

RHRC: Marcy waited years for Blue to reveal what brought upon her
teenage rebellion and angst. Do you think that you could be as patient
a friend as Marcy?

TF:
Marcy assumed all along that it was a case of love gone wrong—
but even at the time she and Blue first ran into each other at the convenience
store, she didn’t probe for information. I think Marcy lives in
“now,” and so is never burdened by or especially concerned with
what’s past. Patience, then, is easy for her.
As for me, I’m pretty laid back, definitely more patient than not, so
unless I felt there was something important to accomplish by probing
for information, I probably could let the matter lie indefinitely. Like
Marcy, I’m primarily concerned with what’s going on in my friends’
lives now, along with how things are shaping up for their futures.

RHRC:
Do you believe that people in show business have to sell their
souls or lose an essential part of themselves in order to become successful?

TF: No, but I do think that those who are willing to do so stand a better
chance of success. And I think the business certainly can be soulsucking
even to those who didn’t intend to give in to the pressures. It’s
heartening to know that there are many who’ve resisted and still managed
to become hugely successful, even iconic: Paul Newman comes to
mind, and Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Barbara Walters. Nice guys
don’t always finish last.

RHRC:
I’m really intrigued by the opening quote for Part Four. “Make
the most of your regrets . . . To regret deeply is to live afresh”—Henry
David Thoreau. Why did you choose this quote?

TF:
I chose this not only for the way it frames the part of the story
that’s ahead, but because it’s a message everyone needs to hear. Regret
is often seen as a waste of time and energy, something to be avoided
lest it weigh us down and prevent us from moving forward. Thoreau
knew, though, that if a person truly embraces the emotion, he or she
will be compelled to make important changes, to understand, learn
from, and amend mistakes, and to live a fuller, better life from that
point forward.

RHRC:
What are you working on now?

TF:
I’m doing a lot of planning for the release of my third novel, Exposure,
which my publisher is calling “a deftly crafted, provocative, and
timely novel that serves as a haunting reminder of the consequences of
love in the modern age.” It’s based on real events my family endured
in 2009. It will be in stores on May 3, 2011; I hope readers will look for
it, as well as my debut novel, Souvenir, with my thanks.

Praise

Praise

“An enjoyable, breezy escape.”—Booklist

“Therese Fowler writes with such wisdom about . . . intense and impossible choices, and the way one decision can affect an entire life.”—Luanne Rice, on Souvenir

“Beautifully written and full of heart, Reunion is a satisfying tale perfect for a weekend escape.”—Bookreporter.com
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Blue had a flighty mother who frequently left her to take care of herself, while Julian grew up torn between a mentally unstable mother and a distant father. How much can we blame our parents for our troubles later on? Do you feel Blue and/or Julian blame theirs?

2. Do you think Blue would have kept the baby if she’d sought out and received her mother and sister’s support?

3. Should Mitch have fought harder against Renee’s bullying and threats? What was at stake for each of them?

4. Was it selfish of Blue to try to locate her son?

5. Blue’s sighting of Daniel is a catalyst for the nostalgia she experiences while walking through Old Town and while at the house there, which is then brought to a fine point when she sees Mitch later at dinner. Is nostalgia always behind the rekindling of an old romance? How might it be dangerous? How might it be beneficial?

6. Do you think the best photographers are connected to their subjects, or disconnected from them? In what ways might both be true about Julian?

7. What did the shop owner mean when she told Blue “you brought it all with you”? Do you believe strangers can be so attuned to people they’ve just met, or was this more likely coincidence combined with Blue’s guilty conscience?

8. Julian and Brenda both thought that Mitch would be a sell-out if he sold Literary Lions to a cable show. Do you agree? Why is PBS seen as more respectable than a cable network?


9. Why did Renee wait so many years to tell Julian the truth about what happened between her and Mitch? Why do you think she chose that moment to reveal all the facts?

10. When Blue asks how her mother knows that Calvin is “The One,” Nancy tells her that she and Calvin like the same things, and want the same things—but that such a simple-sounding truth is really not so simple. What does she mean?

11. Might Blue have forgiven herself for her choices and moved forward sooner if not for the way events unfolded? Conversely, was the crisis exactly what she needed to get her moving forward?

12. The author has said that the ending was not intended as a cliff - hanger. Since that’s the case, what do you think she intended by it? What, if anything, should happen next between Blue and her son?


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