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  • Written by Diane Hammond
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A Novel

Written by Diane HammondAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Diane Hammond

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On Sale: January 20, 2004
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-385-51254-1
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

In the small coastal town of Hubbard, Oregon, your man may let you down, your boss may let you down, life may let you down . . . but your best friend never will.

Welcome to Hubbard, where Petie Coolbaugh and Rose Bundy have been best friends since childhood. Now in their early thirties, both are grappling to come to terms with their age and station in life. As they struggle to make ends meet and provide for their children and the good-hearted but unreliable men in their lives, they take jobs cooking for a brand-new upscale restaurant, Souperior's Cafe, starting from scratch every morning to produce gallons of fresh soup from local recipes. The proprietors of the cafe, Nadine and Gordon, are fraternal twins from Los Angeles with adjustments of their own to make, but Rose’s warmth and the quality of the women’s soups quickly make them indispensable despite Petie’s abrupt manner and prickly ways.
The strains of daily life are never far, however, and the past takes its toll on the women. Petie’s childhood as the daughter of the town drunk—a subject she won't talk about—keeps her at a distance from even her best friend, until an unexpected romance threatens to crack her tough exterior. And despite Rose's loving personality, the only man in her life is a loner fisherman who spends only a few months of the year in town.
In this fishing village, friends are for life and love comes in the most unexpected ways. As the novel draws together lovers, husbands, employers, friends, and family, each woman finds possibilities for love and even grace that she had never imagined.

Excerpt

Chapter 1



Hubbard was one of the oldest no-account towns on the coast of Oregon. Men there fished commercially or helped others deep-sea fish for sport; they worked in the woods cutting timber, or they worked in the mill over in Sawyer, making paper amidst a great noise and stink. They lived hard, bore scars, coveted danger and died either young and violently or unnecessarily old. The women worked, or not. The children belonged to them.

Hubbard was one of those places where you could still have your choice of oceanfront trailers--old rusting aqua and silver tunafish cans with moisture problems. Highway 101, the West's westernmost route from Canada to Mexico, was the town's only through street, a straight and single shot lined with gift shops and candy shops and kite shops and a Dairy Queen, shell art and postcards and forty-six flavors of saltwater taffy, homemade right here. There was everywhere a spirit of cheer, clutter and nakedly opportunistic goodwill: what Hubbard had it would happily sell you, and if you didn't see it, just ask. Everyone loved a tourist, and the fatter the cat, the better. To a point. The locals maintained their own entrances to the Dairy Queen, Anchor Grill and Wayside Tavern: unmarked doors around back by the service entrances, where there was no parking problem.

In this town, beautiful even if no-account, lived two women, old friends, Petie Coolbaugh and Rose Bundy. Rose was a big, soft woman of calm purpose and measurable serenity. Petie was small and hard and tight and flammable, like the wick of a candle. They were both thirty-one, and ever since grade school had been celebrating good times, hunkering down in lean ones, hiding truths from each other's families, sitting up with each other's babies. In the last six weeks they had also become business partners. They made soup for a living now.

Two months ago a cafe and coffeehouse had come to Hubbard by way of a brother and sister, fraternal twins from Southern California who'd had the idea of coming north to slow down. They had bought the old barbershop at one end of town and moved in tables and church pews and giant green ferns. They bought crockery dishes, an espresso machine, quilted tablecloths and posters for the walls. They sanded the old fir floors and built a mahogany counter of great beauty and grace. They installed a tiny kitchen, named the place Souperior's, and then, instead of hiring a cook, they held auditions.



Bring your best soup (they invited all of Hubbard, on index cards in city hall, the post office and the Quik Stop) to Souperior's next Saturday afternoon. Winners get on our menu. Grand winner gets a job offer.



Although Hubbard loved its tourists, resident newcomers were a source of suspicion. For a week or so the little index cards--tacked up fresh and bright among the curling notices about firewood and crab pot repairs and handmade dog figurines--excited a lot of comment, most of it skeptical. On the other hand, an invitation to compete against your neighbors didn't come along often except for the county fair, and in the end, sixty-four soups were entered in the contest and were judged during an open house and soup-feed by the cafe's owners, Nadine and Gordon Latimer. Petie and Rose won with a jointly submitted bottomfish stew born of desperation the year Eddie Coolbaugh broke his foot and couldn't work for three months. A fisherman Rose had been dating then had fed them all from the junkfish left behind on a sportfishing charter boat. Two more of Rose's soups also made it onto the menu. When she was offered the job of soup cook, she asked if she and Petie could share it. The deal was that they would supply the cafe with two fresh soups each day, Tuesday through Sunday, and they could work from home. Breads came from the Riseria in Sawyer; Nadine handled the salads herself. Every day the soups would be different until the menu was exhausted and they could start again. New soups would always be under consideration.

Rose had been working at the time as a waitress for the Anchor Grill, 3 a.m. to noon shift--a job from which she'd come and gone for years. Bad hours, good tips. Petie had been cleaning motel rooms at the Sea View Motel: bad wages, good people, good location. In either case, cooking sounded better and the money was only slightly worse. Plus as long as they could stand a steady diet of soup, they could feed their families for free.

The Coolbaughs lived in a shabby little rental on the north side of town, on a dead-end road called Heyter Place. The house was old and had been no good to start with, but Petie knew how to put a good front on things. Small, exquisite watercolors hung on the walls: still lifes of balloons and baby toys; wildflowers and action figures; cooking utensils, bouquets of keys. She'd painted the kitchen walls and ceiling brilliant white with lemon yellow trim, and even the sickly sun of winter seemed to try a little harder there. Now, in robust late September, the cheap white curtains were so saturated with light they seemed incandescent.

While Petie diced fifty carrots, Rose read aloud from the weekly newspaper about old Billy Wall, who had just been indicted on sodomy charges.

"You know what I think? Hand me that peeler." Petie weighed it thoughtfully in her hand, then pointed it at Rose. "I think if he did what those kids say he did, the guy deserves to have a bad thing happen to him. I mean worse than shame and a jail term. I mean something bad. They should take him just like you'd take a carrot, and peel him down real slow, you know, real careful, layer by layer until you've got him peeled naked as an egg, and then you bring him to Hubbard Elementary and you lock him in the gym with twenty mothers with baseball bats. You put some Gatorade in there, and some high-nutrition snacks, and maybe have an alternate or two who can substitute when one of the women gets tired." She traded Rose the peeler for a paring knife. "The son of a bitch."

For several minutes Petie's knife made sharp regular reports like gunshots on the cutting board. She had thick, strong, shiny black hair--Indian hair, although she was no part Indian--that she'd tied back from her face with an old rolled-up bandanna. Stuffed under it were some straggly ends, old bangs. She was always trying to grow out old bangs or some other hair fiasco. Once, Rose remembered, she had bleached out a central stripe in her hair. She'd looked strange as a skunk with the jet black running up against the peroxide yellow with no warning and no apology. That was back in high school, in their freshman year. Petie's mother had died four years before, and she and her father were living up at the top of Chollum Road in a twelve-foot camp trailer. Old Man Tyler had always been mean, but after Petie's mother died and he had to declare bankruptcy, he'd been even worse. But as far as Rose could tell, even before Petie's mother died, the only time Old Man Tyler had really paid attention to her was when he was yelling at her; otherwise, he took no notice. Petie swore she didn't own a dress until she was twelve, and by then it was too late to get a feel for them. She'd have gotten married in pants if she'd had her way, but Eddie Coolbaugh had balked so she was married in a homemade lace sheath Eula Coolbaugh made for her, a dress that showed how essentially boy-shaped Petie was. And how small. Everyone thought she was bigger, including Rose. In her own way, she took up a lot of space.

"What are you thinking about?" Petie said, scraping the cut carrots into a big plastic Tupperware container to use tomorrow morning.

"That time you bleached your hair out."

Petie chuckled. "I looked just like a skunk."

"That's what I was thinking. I never thought it bothered you, though. You didn't show it."

"Of course I didn't show it. I didn't tell anyone Old Man beat me over it, either."

"He did?"

"Well, he was drunk."

"Oh."

"Then again, you never really knew, with Old Man. Chances are, he would have beaten me anyway."

"What do you think will happen to those boys Billy Wall messed with? I've heard kids don't recover from something like that, ever. Do you think that's possible, that those poor kids have been ruined?"

Petie shrugged. "I don't know. They'll grow up. They'll date, they'll make stupid choices. At some point they'll realize their lives aren't nearly as good as the ones they expected. Same old same old. Everyone's ruined somewhere along the line."

Rose started to laugh. "Oh, Petie."

"Really. Sooner or later something terrible's always going to come along. It's really just a question of timing."

Rose took the carrot peeler and started scraping potatoes, a small mountain of them, into the sink. "Something terrible like what happened to those boys is not going to happen to everyone, Petie. My God."

"Of course not. It could even be something that seems like not much--moving to another town, say, or having bad acne or liking beer too much. Or it could be something quiet like hopelessness or boredom. No one ever said that ruin always comes in a big loud package."

Rose watched Petie tear apart some sprigs of parsley and toss them into one of the pots. "Well, I'm thinking I might start driving Carissa to school."

"Does she worry about the trip?" Petie stirred some heavy cream into one of the pots.

"No."

"Does she complain about having to wait after school?"

"No, but--"

"So she's a smart kid. She can take care of herself. Stir." Petie put her spoon in Rose's hand.

"You worry about the boys," Rose pointed out, stirring.

"I worry about Ryan. I fear for Loose. There's a difference."

Five-year-old Loose Coolbaugh (short for Lucifer, although even that wasn't his real name) was a fearless, physical kid: he would hit before he'd concede he was wrong. His playground daredeviltry had already made him, in less than a month, an object of admiration in his first grade class. He'd been to the emergency room over in Sawyer twice in just that time period: once for a minor concussion when he swung into thin air off the monkey bars, once for stitches in his hand from an old can he'd systematically broken apart with a rock.

Ryan, on the other hand, was frail and suffered for it. At eight years old, he still had frequent asthma attacks, night fears and daytime dreads: large dogs, sneaker waves, public toilets, physical contests. He was also bookish, which no one in the family could fathom. Loose needled him mercilessly, and often got the upper hand. Eddie Coolbaugh used to push him to try harder, be bolder, cry less often, but since Loose had come along Eddie had lost interest. Petie and Rose often took turns bringing Ryan along on after-school errands, just to give him a break from the household. Petie protected him when she could, but she admitted to Rose more than once that she didn't exactly get the point of him, either.

"I think this is ready," Rose said. "It's getting late. We better go." Petie was cutting Rose's scraped potatoes and stowing them in a Tupperware container filled with water, for the morning. The finished corn chowder on the stove was one of their favorites. The other vat was lentil, a recipe of Rose's that wasn't even on the Souperior's list. The soup was supposed to have been vegetable barley, but Petie refused to fix anything submitted by Jeannie Fontineau. Jeannie Fontineau was nothing but a sad-eyed fat woman now, but she had fooled around with Eddie Coolbaugh a little bit years ago, before she got so fat but after he and Petie were married. Jeannie Fontineau wasn't the only one Eddie had ever fooled around with, but she was the first, and that made her stand out. Nadine would be mad about the soup substitution, but they'd just tell her something.

Petie stowed the Tupperware container in the refrigerator and said, "You call Nadine and tell her we're on our way. I'll load the car." The vats of soup were too hot and too heavy for either of the women to carry, so Eddie Coolbaugh had rigged up a table-high dolly for them, and a ramp down the two steps outside. From there they just slid the vats into the back of Petie's old Ford Colt. Together they jockeyed the huge pots onto the dolly and out the kitchen door. Petie disappeared down the ramp while Rose dialed. It was ten-thirty in the morning; Souperior's started serving lunch at eleven. Nadine answered on the first ring.

"You're pushing it, you guys," she said when she heard Rose's voice. She sounded unusually testy; Rose guessed it was a migraine day.

"Petie's got the engine running. Corn chowder and lentil."

"Where's the vegetable barley?"

"We got a deal on salt pork, so we switched. Does it matter? Did you publish the menu in the paper?"

"As it happens, the ad doesn't start until next week. But I'd like to have known. You should have asked me. I'm the owner. You're the employees."

"You sound like you have a headache."

"I have late soup, is what I have. Give me a break, Rose."

"We'd be there already if we weren't talking."

Nadine sighed. "You're both taking advantage of me."

"Yes," Rose said, "but we're completely supportive. Look for us in five minutes." Rose retrieved the empty dolly and closed the kitchen door behind her, smiling. She'd just been kidding about a newspaper ad.



Souperior's turned its back on the highway to moon westward from the high and rocky rim of Hubbard Bay. Petie remembered when the shambly little place had been the barbershop and all the Hubbard men had looked alike because old Walt Miller hadn't gone to barber school up in Portland yet to learn a second way to cut hair. Petie's father used to hang around the place half plowed making a pest of himself, especially after her mother died and they lost the house and had to move into the camp trailer up at the top of Chollum Road. Old Man was a contentious drunk; sometimes Walt had had to sneak out of his own shop to get away and call her to come get him. Once, while Walt wasn't looking, her father had taken his little buck knife and carved into the shop's doorjamb, I got fucked in '74. JST. That was the year her mother's uninsured hospital bills came to seventy-five thousand dollars and she died anyway. Walt had sanded most of the message away, but he'd left the JST as an expression of sympathy. Although the initials had been covered over with a few coats of paint by now, Petie could still feel a faint depression with her fingertips.


From the Hardcover edition.
Diane Hammond|Author Q&A

About Diane Hammond

Diane Hammond - Going to Bend

Photo © Mark Rainer

DIANE HAMMOND has pursued careers in writing, editing, and public relations, and was awarded a literary fellowship by the Oregon Arts Council. Her first novel, Going to Bend, received high critical acclaim, and her work has appeared in such magazines as Yankee, Mademoiselle, and Washington Review. She and her family live in Los Angeles, California.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Diane Hammond

Q: Going to Bend is your first novel. Is there a story behind your writing it?
A: I think of the first half of this book as my graduate school thesis. I wrote it in 1994 and 1995, agonizing over its technical aspects and devices as well as its characters and story line. Craft issues have always loomed large for me. Are the character voices clear enough, consistent enough, revealing enough? How much of the story should I stage, and how much can I just allude to in internal monologues? Is it moving along smoothly? Experienced writers make hundreds of critical decisions by instinct, but most less-experienced writers don’t have that luxury. It can be exhausting. In fact, by the exact midway point in the book, I was so worn out from the technical choices and decisions I was making that I was losing my way in the story. This, plus the fact that I had a young child, multiple sclerosis, and a demanding day job, convinced me to put the manuscript down. In fact, I didn’t look at it again until 2001, when I was uninspired by whatever work was at hand and instead hauled out the manuscript. By then, thanks to my appallingly bad memory, I had forgotten more about the book than I remembered. This afforded me the luxury of reading the manuscript straight through with relative objectivity, and by the time I was done, I knew exactly where the remaining story was headed, and how to get there. And the craft issues never waylaid me again—I’d graduated. I completed the second half of the book in just six months.

Q: A lot of readers assume that you’re from a small Oregon town yourself, because Hubbard is so vividly evoked and its characters are so deeply defined by its limitations. But you were born and raised in suburban New York. What’s the deal with that?
A: It’s true that my background, up until my late twenties, was largely urban. I grew up in Upper Nyack, a suburb of New York City, and later lived in Honolulu and Washington, D.C. But in 1984 I moved to Newport, Oregon, then a coastal town of just under 9,000, and everything changed. My first job interview—for a secretarial position with the electrical utility serving the central Oregon coast—ended with a stern lecture about the fact that big-city, East Coast ways would not be tolerated here. It was clear that I had two choices: I could maintain my urban identity and spend a lot of time alone and misunderstood, or I could pipe down, listen hard, and learn about a way of life that was completely new to me. It’s probably no surprise that my survival instincts led me to choose the latter. On those terms, I was befriended by some extraordinary teachers, skilled storytellers, and sure-footed guides to the insular culture of coastal Oregon. I became an avid solicitor of stories of all kinds, and developed a great respect for the strenuous business of living in a town that offers low-paying jobs, limited educational opportunities, significant isolation, and a whole lot of bad weather.

Q: Yes, the weather on the Oregon coast takes on the aspect of a character in the book. Why?
A: I think that until you’ve spent nine months in nearly relentless wind and rain, you can’t fully appreciate the effect that such weather has on everything you feel and do. And it’s dynamic weather, where the rain takes many shapes—teeming, drizzling, blowing, pelting, and pouring straight down, to name a few—and storm fronts come through like conquering armies. On any given day, damned near everyone I knew could tell you what flags the U.S. Coast Guard was flying over Yaquina Bay to announce the incoming weather. Here’s the thing: You lived in all of this, you worked in it, drove in it, carried your groceries inside through it, ferried small children and babies through it, and your moods reflected it even when you thought they didn’t. You and the weather become one. So when I began writing Going to Bend, it was only natural to cast the weather in a major role.

Q: Let’s talk about your characters for a minute. Do you have a favorite?
A: Petie is certainly the character to whom my heart goes out first. She is a woman who’s been dealt a bad hand and she refuses to pity herself for it. From that innate pride of self springs everything else about her—her tough exterior, her faith in her own ability to get by, her fierce sense of right and wrong. And yet, her ability to love unconditionally has come through intact. Given her life circumstances, that’s a small miracle. In many ways, Going to Bend is a love story. It’s about the healing powers of unconditional love. For Petie, finding unconditional love has come at a huge price: Paula’s love, though absolute, is insufficient to keep Petie from harm; Rose’s love gives her a staunch ally, but also one who offers limited protection. It is only Eula’s love that brings with it healing powers, though for far too little time. Even so, these pockets of unconditional love have given her sufficient strength to endure exceptionally difficult circumstances. Other characters for whom I have a tender spot include Marge and Larry Hopkins, who also have a gift for loving not only each other, but those around them; and Schiff, who is a much better man than he’s ever given credit for, either by himself or by those around him. I’d have to say that Old Man Tyler was the character who presented me with the greatest writing challenge. I’d never created a thoroughly bad character before, someone capable of doing loathsome things. We tend to protect our characters as we do our children, wanting them to be liked and successful. Old Man was neither. And yet, I don’t believe he was evil—just incredibly, deeply, cruelly flawed.

Q:
How do you approach building a novel? Do you work out a lot of your story ahead of time?
A: I have always envied those writers who can build a story ahead of time, who can pull together a comprehensive road map, the who, what, when, where, how, and why, all very lucidly and methodically set out in advance. It probably says something about the scattershot way in which I create that I am absolutely unable to do this. I really only succeeded in doing it once, and the resulting work was so lifeless that I buried it in a desk drawer. No, for better or worse I am an impulsive, instinctive, intuitive writer, which means that when I begin writing a book, I know a couple of my key characters, though not well; I have a sense of the feel of the story, though not its specific events; I have a rough timeframe in mind over which the story will take place; and I have a hazy idea of where the main characters will end up. Other than that, I don’t know a thing. I invent it, discover it, reveal it—not only to my readers but to myself—in the writing itself. This can be both exhilarating and terrifying; it’s a very highrisk creative proposition, in that I’m staking a year or more of my writing life on the bet that I can bring the story—which I don’t yet know—home successfully in the end. So far, it’s worked, but there isn’t a day when I take that outcome for granted. That’s why, for me, the process of writing is fraught with danger, a nearly incomprehensible act of the greatest faith in my creative outcomes. I wouldn’t wish this writing style on anyone, though on a good day when my characters’ voices are flowing and I’m hurrying to get it all down, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Q: We leave Petie and Rose at a real crossroads, literally and figuratively. Do you plan to write a sequel?
A: I’m often asked that. No, I don’t have any plans for a sequel. I feel that I safely guided Petie, Rose, and the rest of Bend’s characters through a difficult time, a life-changing time, and at the book’s end had safely delivered them not to an ending, but a beginning. I don’t believe they need me to take them any further. And wherever they go from here, it will not be with the sort of high drama that makes for a compelling story to read. So, literarily speaking, I’ve wished them Godspeed and moved on. I have hung on to the towns of Hubbard and Sawyer, though. My next book, Homesick Creek, takes place there, too, though with entirely different and unrelated characters—except for Roy, the bartender at the Wayside, who continues to drift in and out of scenes.

Praise

Praise

"Diane Hammond is a fabulous storyteller. Her portrait of small town life is full of humor and detail, and in her characters Petie and Rose, a relationship so original and real, you root for them from page one. I loved this heartfelt story and I am sure you will too."
-Adriana Trigiani, author of the Big Stone Gap trilogy and Lucia, Lucia


"In this remarkable first novel, Diane Hammond brilliantly captures the subtle nuances of everyday life in a small Oregon town and the friendship between two extraordinary women. Funny, heartbreaking and wise."
-Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes


From the Hardcover edition.
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Much of the action in Going to Bend happens over food preparation. What does soup represent in the lives of Petie and Rose? How is that different than its significance for Nadine and Gordon?

2. Kitchens are also centers for discussion, revelations, and turning points. What key scenes take place in kitchens?

3. As a young man, Schiff meets a redheaded girl at a carnival and, early in the book, vividly remembers the few hours they spent together. Later, he will associate her with Petie. Why? What characteristics and quirks do these characters hold in common—and why does Schiff find them appealing?

4. When Petie is young, she and Paula seek refuge in a gift shop from Old Man’s drinking. When a fragile teacup is broken, the shopkeeper gives it and a matching saucer to Petie. What is the significance of these objects to Petie?

5. Old Man Tyler and Petie live in a camp trailer in the woods behind Hubbard. Later, Jim Christie discovers the trailer and uses it for his own purposes. What role does the trailer play in Petie’s past and in later causing a disastrous rift between her and Rose?

6. Going to Bend explores the different kinds of love that can exist between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and friends. How did those different kinds of love manifest themselves between the characters in Going to Bend?

7. Rose and Gordon become good friends. Why—what do they have in common?

8. In some sense, Going to Bend is a story about the effects of isolation—geographical isolation, psychic isolation, and isolation based on shame and secrecy. What are some examples of isolation and its effect on the characters and on their unfolding stories?

9. In the course of the book there is an unfolding tension between Jim Christie and Carissa that will ultimately have tragic results. What’s really going on between these two characters?

10. Eula Coolbaugh is one of the most important people in Petie’s life. Does Eula’s love for Petie differ from Paula Tyler’s? If so, how?

11. In a childhood visit to Camp Twelve, Petie is badly burned in a fire, and Old Man applies a poultice of ashes. What do these ashes signify, both then and at the book’s end? What role do they play in helping Petie to resolve grief?

12. 12. Eula Coolbaugh may be Going to Bend’s only truly wise character. What wisdom does she impart to Petie that has a lasting effect on her life and decisions? Why?

13. The title Going to Bend has both a metaphorical and literal meaning. What are they, and how do they relate to the book’s main characters?

14. At several key moments in Petie’s life, she buries objects beneath a tree. What are the objects, what do they represent, and why does she bury them?

15. Petie and Schiff, both of whom are married, carry on a clandestine relationship through much of the book. What’s missing in their respective marriages, and how does this play a role in their unfolding relationship?

16. Jim Christie is an inarticulate man with a severely limited ability to communicate his feelings. How does Rose deal with this throughout the book, and what role does it play in the book’s climactic outcome?

17. Work creates tensions throughout the book, and everyone except for Paula Tyler and Eula Coolbaugh has a job. How do the characters regard their respective jobs at the start of the book? At the end? How do they suit each character?

18. Were any of the characters in Going to Bend reminiscent of people you’ve known in your own lives? If so, what were the resemblances?

19. Were there universal truths about people and relationships that were revealed in Going to Bend? If so, what were they, and how might they relate to, say, white-collar people living and working in an urban environment?

20. What do you think will happen to Petie and Rose after the book’s end? What would you like to see happen?


  • Going to Bend by Diane Hammond
  • March 01, 2005
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $13.95
  • 9780345460981

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