Book Review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

Susanna Daniel

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I enjoyed Daniel’s Sea Creatures so much, I went back to read her debut novel which begins in the same community of stilt houses in the sand flats off Miami’s coast. This is also a story about marriage, family and relationships. It was interesting to read Stiltsville after Sea Creatures because I can see the where her unique writing style and character development begins.

When Frances Ellerby and Dennis DuVal meet at the DuVal family’s stilt house in 1969, they are twenty-somethings playing at being adults. Sparks fly and Daniel chronicles their relationship and marriage for thirty years. It’s not a perfect union, however, and they face many of the typical the pitfalls of married life.

I liked a lot of things about Stiltsville because I like reading about the ocean and boats. The author spent much of her childhood at her family’s stilt house and it’s obvious she knows what she’s talking about.  In addition, the stilt house community has a lot of draw because it is so different. Daniel does a great job describing the stilt houses and the dangers that exist, things people on land wouldn’t even think about. I think her other strength is in portraying the tensions and conflicts these characters face as they start their adult lives. I especially liked reading about Frances and Dennis’s early years because there’s a certain excitement in the time before things happen. That shows.

There’s a definite slow-down as time passes, however, and there are a few undeveloped story lines that would have been fun to know about. Frances’s friendship with Marse begins with a lot of tension and I think the early Marse is a great complex character. As the years go on, however, her personality mellows and becomes a little stereo-typed.  I also would have liked to have learned more about their daughter Margo, who struggles in her teens and during college, and about her marriage to Stuart, who has the potential to be one of the more interesting characters. 

Daniel also introduces several historical events into the plot which I think must be very hard to do.  There’s a shift in her writing style as this happens and I prefer when Frances returns to her thoughts about her own life. These events help bring authenticity to the Miami time and setting, however, and help to make the story whole. But the book is otherwise well-constructed and if you like to have the details of your story tied up in the end, you will enjoy this.

If you read both Stiltsville and Sea Creatures, you will be interested to see how Daniel experiments with themes and the ideas of marriage and family in Stiltsville. The mixed attractions of danger and the beauty of the stilt house settings are apparent in both. She also introduces the Stiltsville hermit in her first book – I enjoyed that!  And of course, the forces of nature play in both books.

This is an easy entertaining read with a relaxed and contented ending.  I’m looking forward to what comes next!

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What’s That Book? The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach


: The Art of Fielding

Author:  Chad Harbach

Genre: Fiction

Rating:  ***

What’s it about?  Westish College star shortstop Henry Skrimshander thought he was headed for Major League Baseball, but now his throw is off.  He must do something, but what?  As the season unfolds, Henry grapples with self-doubt and several other characters, including the university president, struggle with their own challenges.  Each character hopes that their beliefs in love, family and relationships are strong enough to carry them through.  A dramatic conclusion awaits at the season’s end.

How did you hear about it?  I was interested in the idea of an athlete facing a slump because it’s a common topic in college and professional sports commentary.

Closing comment:  I was disappointed with the book because I thought it was going to be about overcoming adversity, one of my favorite themes, but it is more about unlikely relationships and situations and unrealistic characters.

Contributor:  Ginette

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at for information.

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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn Toibin

Colm Tóibín


Eilis Lacey’s older sister Rose understands the small-town limits of Enniscorthy, Ireland.  The years following World War II have been hard for the Lacey children and their widowed mother.  Brothers Jack, Pat and Martin have left for work in England, leaving Rose and Eilis to look after their mother.

At thirty, it may be too late for Rose, but Eilis has a chance for a better life in America.  And the decision is made when Rose arranges for an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor her sister.  A few weeks later, a stunned and wide-eyed Eilis boards a ship for New York to begin her life.

Eilis settles into a Brooklyn walk-up with a group of women boarders, overseen by the opinionated Mrs. Kehoe and begins her job working the floor at Bartocci’s department store.  The strangeness of her new life overwhelms Eilis, but she keeps busy with work and accounting classes at Brooklyn College.  Slowly, her life changes and when she meets a man at an Irish church dance, Eilis begins to believe she can find happiness in New York.

When tragedy at home calls Eilis back to Ireland, she realizes that her ties to home are much stronger than she knew and she is tormented by indecision.  And her life in New York becomes more remote the longer she stays in Ireland.  Love, loyalty and family pull from two directions and it isn’t until the final pages of this lovely story where Eilis chooses.

Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is a classic tale about post-war immigration to America.  Readers feel the same mix of optimism and fear that runs through Eilis as she makes her way in an entirely new world.  Tóibín includes many details about 1950s New York, adding unique color and depth to an experience many have shared.  And the author’s strong female characters make this a story as much about gaining independence as it is about love and happiness.  What I enjoyed most was the emerging strength in Eilis as she adapts to change and then confronts the most important decision of her life.

At 262 pages, Brooklyn is fairly short and I would have liked to learn more about some of Tóibín’s lesser characters, including the Lacey brothers, Father Flood and Miss Fortini.  The author hints at interesting details about them and I think the story would have been even stronger if they had played greater roles.  Likewise, the author only touches on the conflicts between the different immigrant nationalities and other post-war tension.  Maybe he chose to only refer to these to add context and perhaps we will see these minor characters in another book.

Of course, if it’s a book that’s become a movie, I’m likely to watch the movie and make the comparison.  In this case, I was delighted.  While the movie, like all adaptations to film, omits layers of details too difficult to include, I thought it kept very close to the characters and story line.  You can learn more about the movie starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson here.

Follow along as I work my way through my 16 in 16 Challenge!

Book 1 – A Book You Can Finish in a Day:  The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner
Book 2 – A Book in a Genre You Typically Don’t Read:  The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Book 3 – A Book with a Blue Cover:  The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Book 4 – A Book Translated to English:  I Refuse by Per Petterson
Book 5 – A Second Book in a Series:  Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
Book 6 – A Book To Learn Something New: The Beginner’s Photography Guide by Chris Gatcum
Book 7 – A Book That Was Banned:  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Book 8 – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit:  Calmer Girls by Jennifer Kelland Perry
Book 9 – A Book with Non-human Characters:  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

olive kitt pic
Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout


Olive Kitteridge is Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of Crosby, Maine, a seemingly simple town on the New England coast.  The people in Crosby trade news and gossip, but the real stories lie buried deep in the complicated and often painful family relationships that only surface behind their closed doors.

The stories span twenty-five years and focus on the town’s most complicated character, Olive Kitteridge, whose harsh and critical personality is both widely disliked and misunderstood.  Not surprisingly, Olive’s husband, Henry, the town’s pharmacist, and their son, Christopher bear the brunt of her brutal temperament.

Olive speaks her mind.  She apologizes to no one and alienates many.  But something happens over time:  the reader discovers that, while Olive has no patience for simps and ninnies, she cares very much about the emotionally vulnerable, and intervenes at crucial times, using a keen instinct.  If only she could treat Henry and Christopher this way.  Olive’s everyday interactions with her family are so unpleasant they cause deep and lasting damage.  As years pass and lives change, however, Strout offers a better look at Olive’s marriage.  The author shows glimpses of hope, renewed connections and a true understanding of a very complicated woman.

Olive Kitteridge is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Strout takes a simple Maine town and adds layers and layers of themes, including depression, love, family, marriage, infidelity, growing old and forgiveness.  Her characters show that goodness exists right next to all the flaws and faults of human interaction.  One of my favorite things about Olive is how she works out her frustrations in the garden.  The hearty yet fragile beauty of flowers is everywhere in these stories, an excellent metaphor.  In addition to flowers, Strout includes the subtle yet prominent influence of nature and the sea in her characters’ lives. Sub-themes of religion and politics add further understanding of her characters.

While all of the thirteen stories are terrific, my favorites are “Pharmacy” in which Strout shows Henry’s lovable and caring personality, “Incoming Tide”, a story of critical human connection and “River”, a hopeful look to the future.

Olive Kitteridge is the type of book you can read more than once.  This was my second read and I enjoyed as much as the first, picking up on wonderful details about the characters and town.

This book has made it to my All-Time Top Ten List!

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What’s on your reading wish list?


Although I’m busy with my Summer Reading Challenge, here are a few books on my wish list:

The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

D’Aprix’s debut novel about four adult children’s dysfunctional family and their joint trust fund.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Benjamin’s new novel about New York’s socialite Swans of the 1950s: Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill.  Everything changes when Truman Capote enters the scene.

The Widow

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Here’s another debut novel:  a story about being the perfect wife to a man accused of a heartless crime.

My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

One of my favorite writers!  Mother and daughter come together after many years as they confront the tension in their imperfect family.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi, age thirty-six, was just completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  In his book he asks, “What makes life worth living in the face of death?”

Have you read any of these?  What’s on your list?

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Some thoughts and books for Mother’s Day


As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about my mom and about being a mom.  We’ll be spending the day with my parents tomorrow, enjoying a nice brunch and honoring my mother.  I won’t have all my kids with me, but I’ll have the whole crew home next week.  So nice to have a full nest for the summer!

So in keeping the wonderful sentiment of honoring and celebrating motherhood, here are a few books that do just that!

Tommy’s Mommy’s Fish by Nancy Dingman Watson

Tommy's Mommy's Fish

If you don’t know this book, try to get your hands on a copy.  I’m told it’s out of print, but it’s such a wonderful story and a great one to read to your kids.

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

make way for ducklings

Mrs. Mallard causes quite a stir when she leads her eight ducklings through the streets of Boston, across town to meet Mr. Mallard on the pond in the Public Garden!  It’s a wonderful picture book for little children and for young elementary school kids

An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresinowski

An Invisible Thread

Here’s an incredible story about a woman who befriends a boy panhandling in New York, and begins a thirty-year friendship.  Proof that motherhood comes in many forms.

Text Me, Love Mom: Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest by Candace Allan

Text Me, Love Mom cover

You don’t stop being a mom when your kids leave the nest.  Candace Allan tells us how it feels when the flights begin.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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What’s up next? After You by Jojo Moyes

After You

If you read Me Before You, you are probably wondering how Lou Clark is doing on her own, now that Will Traynor is gone. I was, and I’m glad my book club friend chose After You for one of our upcoming discussions.

Me before you pic

If you haven’t read Me Before You yet, here’s a basic description without giving anything away:

Lou Clark, a working-class girl in a small town in England, has lost her job.  She has trouble finding another and reluctantly accepts an offer to be care-giver for a quadriplegic man, Will Traynor.  She’s kind of quirky.  He’s bitter and has a difficult personality.  It’s a love story, but there’s a whole lot more.

Me Before You is the kind of book you have to read yourself to know what it’s about.  To read a more detailed plot would spoil the experience.  There is happiness in this story.  There are many very funny parts.  But there are also many sad moments and many difficult and moral decisions.

After You tells Lou’s story once she’s on her own. I’ve already begun reading and will tell you that Jojo Moyes is an excellent writer. She is both funny and serious in just the right measure so that, when her characters move through the hard parts of life, you know they will be lifted with the proper amount of humor and affection.

Me Before You is the kind of book you power through because the subject matter demands it. After You is also a fast-moving story and I’m sure I will be finished soon.

If you are interested in the storyline, check out my blog posts on Me Before You. There is one with no spoilers and a second one which discusses Lou’s difficult moral decision.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – No spoilers in this review!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – What would you do? – Warning: spoilers below

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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins cover
A God in Ruins

Kate Atkinson


How do you reconcile the things you do during a war with how you live when it’s all over? Can you make up for what you did? This is the conflict that becomes Teddy Todd’s personal war in Kate Atkinson’s terrific book, A God in Ruins, a companion to her equally terrific book, Life After Life.

Life After Life is a “what if” story, showing the different paths and possible outcomes for Teddy’s sister, Ursula, during World War II. A God in Ruins is about Teddy and his role as an RAF pilot during its bombing campaign over Germany. You can read them independently, but I think it’s better to read Life After Life first.

Both books are ambitious reads and can’t be rushed. A God in Ruins, however, is a different kind of story, and examines Teddy’s life during and after the war. Atkinson also introduces Teddy’s wife, Nancy and their daughter, Viola and her children, Sunny and Bertie, taking the reader to the present day. As in Life After Life, this story includes a lot of time jumps and requires careful reading. But the central story revolves around one path in Teddy’s life and his role as a husband, father and grandfather.

It’s hard to explain how this story goes without spoilers, but I can tell you this: Atkinson has a beautiful writing style that creates a reading experience like no other. From the beginning, her description of the Todd family puts the reader right in the middle of their home at Fox Corner, and with the neighboring Shawcross sisters. When the war breaks out, Teddy announces he wants to fly planes, a wartime career of exceptional leadership that defines and haunts him his entire life.

The most important theme in A God in Ruins is the war and the things people must do during this time. Can you be at peace with dropping bombs? Can you make up for “the dreadful moral compromise that war imposed upon you?” Teddy deliberately chose how to live after the war – “he resolved that he would try always to be kind. It was the best he could do. It was all that he could do.” But these choices do not guarantee happiness.

As in Life After Life, flowers, trees and animals, especially foxes, hares, dogs and birds, play an important part in the characters’ lives and suggest a strong spiritual connection with nature, including the idea of reincarnation. These ideas tie into her characters’ doubts of faith during wartime. Ursula puts it just right when she says, “There’s a spark of the divine in the world – not God, we’re done with God, but something. Is it love? Not silly romantic love, but something more profound…?”

I loved every word of this book, but here’s what I loved best about A God in Ruins:

  • Teddy’s character – especially how he quietly takes care of the people in his life. His leadership of his flight crew shows how much he cares about the people around him. But his character has this great moral dilemma – he and his crew are killing innocent people, but the distance removes them from reality. Can you blame them? They’re fighting the enemy. After the war, Teddy’s love for his grandchildren comes before everything, but Atkinson throws a curveball at Teddy’s character, something that may change the reader’s opinion..
  • Sunny’s character – Atkinson reveals it bit by bit and the reader comes to understand him by the end of the story.
  • Viola’s transformation – reading about things from her perspective changes everything. Saving her point of view to the end forces the reader to completely reconsider her character.
  • The appearance of Ursula’s dog, “Lucky” from Life After Life. It’s great to see him in this story too!
  • I like how Atkinson also shows the important role that women played during the war. Many worked as pilots transporting planes, truck drivers, translators, mathematicians, decoders and nurses.
  • Atkinson shows small details about her side characters, hinting about stories and scenarios that the reader can imagine taking place in the background. This is especially true with her descriptions of Hugh and Sylvie and their marriage.
  • She makes a small jab about the Eat, Pray, Love craze – enjoyed that very much!
  • Her description of the moment of death – its effect on family members who are far apart, how they can sense it, on nature, on the world, and on what’s next.

A God in Ruins ends in a surprising twist. It has left me wondering, but I’m thinking that’s just what the author wanted! Have you read A God in Ruins? What did you think? Did you like the ending?

If you liked this review, click here to read my review of Life After Life.

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Short story review: “The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allan Poe

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. The complete works of Edgar Allan Poe in Kindle format are free on Amazon. Click here for more info.

“The Oblong Box”
Edgar Allan Poe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As he boards a ship from South Carolina to New York, Cornelius Wyatt’s busybody friend is obsessed with what might be inside a mysterious oblong box that the artist Wyatt is transporting.  He takes careful note of the box and tells the reader, “The box in question was, as I say, oblong. It was about six feet in length by two and a half in breadth.” Knowing Poe, we might have a pretty good idea what’s inside, but Wyatt’s friend guesses that the box contains “nothing in the world but a copy of Leonardo’s ‘Last Supper.’” He congratulates himself on the deduction, telling us, “I chuckled excessively when I thought of my acumen.”

The friend is consumed with Wyatt’s traveling party, the artist, his new wife and his two sisters. Wyatt had spoken about his bride’s loveliness and grace, but the friend is shocked when he meets her. Her beauty and character are clearly below the standards he had expected. And Wyatt is acting strangely, like a man gone mad, laughing hysterically when his friend mentions the box. Now there are two mysteries. As they sail, the friend is determined to confirm what’s in the box and understand the story behind Wyatt and his new wife.

A hurricane threatens to wreck the ship and the crew and passengers must board a lifeboat. Wyatt, however, is beside himself and insists they return for the box. He shouts to the captain, “By the mother who bore you – for the love of Heaven – by your hope of salvation, I implore you to put back for the box!”

When characters reach this point in a suspenseful story, they act, or they don’t, and the finish is determined by this moment. Within minutes, Wyatt’s desperate decision seals his fate. A month later, the friend finally learns the mystery of the box. He admits to us his foolish mistake, but also confides he is haunted by a hysterical laugh forever ringing in his ears.

What a great story, and it gets better the more you think about it! I did not know about The Oblong Box until I read about it on Jeff’s blog, Stuff Jeff Reads. In his post, he talks about what the story means: “For me, this tale is an allegory of the return to the source, or the Godhead, which is symbolized by the sea.” Jeff goes on to praise Poe’s writing, “I really enjoyed this tale, both because of the symbolism contained within, but also because the writing is so exquisitely crafted.”  Want more analysis? Click here to read Jeff’s full post on The Oblong Box.  Thanks, Jeff for recommending this story!

I’m so glad I read this story. Not all things are free, but this was. I downloaded The Oblong Box on my Kindle – and you can too, no charge!

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Friday Fiction – Jessica Ch 42 “Visiting Stu”

Friday Fiction


Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 42 of Jessica. The story is winding down, but there are still some loose ends hanging! I hope you will follow me to the finish and tell me what you think.

Chapter 42 – “Visiting Stu”

I went to bed in a strange state – feelings of both panic and a new sense of power looped through my head. I lay in bed and tried to sleep. My head ached as I thought of Mom and Dad. They were still in the kitchen and I wondered what they would talk about, alone for the first time in years. They had separate lives, but they were alarmingly together in their decision to send me away. Despite thinking clearly now, I was in such a mess! Maybe it would be good to get away. I was bluffing when I said they couldn’t make me go. I didn’t know my rights and whether they had the legal power to do that didn’t even matter to me. It wasn’t fair to plan this behind my back. I would call Dr. Hutchins in the morning. Even though she had told them about Briarwoods, she would have to tell me what my rights were.

But I had to see Jimmy again too. No one understood how I felt about him, whether it was based on something real or not. Only Jimmy and I knew what we had. I needed to see his face, to look into his eyes and even though I didn’t want to, I knew I had to talk to Stu. I didn’t understand what had happened between us. How could I have misunderstood everything he said and did? All that time I thought he was trying to force himself on me. My head hurt every time I tried to untwist what I was sure had been real and what everyone was telling me was not.

And there was Stevie. I promised I would visit him tomorrow. I had not been able to think about him all night, but whether Stevie wanted it or not, I knew I was going to have to tell Mom and Dad about him. They had the right to know. I had the power to give it to them. We were still a broken family, but I was beginning to see how Stevie’s return, and his illness, might at least bring us together to define what we could be, broken or together, still something.

I had a lot to do tomorrow. I would get up and out of the house early. No one would stop me.

I stood in the kitchen the next morning and waited for the water in the tea kettle to boil. I waited by the stove, ready to pull it off the burner as soon as it was hot enough. It was barely 6:00, but I wanted to be as quiet as possible so I could get out of the house without seeing Mom. I looked out the kitchen window and I was shocked to see Dad’s car still in the driveway. What could that possibly mean? I didn’t want that and I didn’t want to think about it. Not now. I had too much to do.

It was too early to see anyone so I drove to the lake to wait. Maybe looking out at the water and remembering the peace I always felt there would help. I sat in my car and stared at the sun glinting off the water. Just being there made me feel closer to Jimmy and I thought when I saw him I could tell him about it. Maybe he would feel better too, remembering all summer nights we spent there, kicking back and having fun. I had to think of a way to reach Jimmy, but I could barely remember those nights myself.

At 7:00 I drove to Jimmy’s house. I knew Stu would be up and I wanted to talk to him before he went to work. I felt strange pulling into the driveway. Jimmy’s truck was parked in its usual spot and I desperately wished I was simply going to see him and would see his smile as I walked through the door. I longed to feel him hold me close, to feel his arms lock around my waist.

I knocked this time. Everything was different and a wave of sadness passed over me. Stu saw me and came right to the door.

“Jes, come in. I’m getting ready for work, but I was going to call you later. Here, sit down and have something. I made a pot of coffee and there’s a box of doughnuts on the counter.”

It made me nervous to see Stu so friendly, and nice. I didn’t trust myself. How could I have gotten everything so wrong?

“No thanks, Stu. I don’t want anything. I just came over to talk to you about Jimmy.”

“Okay, then I’m going to take all this coffee for myself. Stu grabbed the pot and poured the coffee into a thermos.

“I have to work on a deck this morning but I’m going to the hospital later. Do you want to come with me?”

“I do, Stu. I have to see him. Maybe nobody else understands Jimmy, but I think I do, even after all that has happened.”

I stopped. I felt confident about this small piece of my life, my connection with Jimmy, but who would believe it? I had gotten everything else wrong! Stu knew that.

“Well,” he said. “I’m afraid Jimmy’s not much better than the last time you saw him. I keep thinking that if I just go there, talk to him like it’s a normal day, maybe I will see part of the brother I know is in there.”

Stu picked up the box of doughnuts. “Last chance before I pack these up to take with me,” he offered.

“No thanks, Stu. I’m not hungry. I only came here to see if you could take me to see Jimmy. I have a couple other things I need to do today. What time are you going to the hospital?”

“Right after lunch, around 1:00. Can you go then?”

“Sure. I can meet you back here at 1:00.”

I didn’t trust that Stu was actually on my side, even though everyone was telling me he was. But I had so much to figure out today and I knew I had to move quickly. “Stu, I want to ask you about something else.”

“Sure, what is it Jes?”

“I know about Stevie. I’ve been to see him twice. How long have you been helping him?”

“How did you find out about him, Jes? He didn’t want anyone to know where he was or that he was sick.”

“I saw Jimmy’s car there once. And I saw him in his own car another time. I didn’t recognize him, but he startled me and I remembered him. And then I noticed the rocks outside this house. I saw a little pile outside Stevie’s house too. I thought it had something to do with the robberies, Stu. I didn’t know it was Stevie. Not until I went over there to try to figure it out. I was shocked to see that it was Stevie. He’s in bad shape, Stu. Were you ever going to tell me, or my family about him?”

I was mad about a lot of things, but I realized I was also mad at Stu for not telling me about Stevie. Were they such good buddies in high school that Stu would keep this secret from me? I didn’t even remember that they had been friends.

“Jes, I was, but you have to understand how desperate Stevie was to keep all this from you. We had been friends in high school for a while, but after ninth grade he went off with a different group. I wasn’t into the stuff he did. You know what he was like. Even then, I felt a responsibility to my family. Our father is no help to us. He spends most of his days sleeping off the nights he spends drinking. It’s all been on me. I knew I couldn’t be partying and acting crazy because I had Jimmy and Gene to take care of. About a year ago, I met up with Stevie at CVS, in line at the prescription counter. Gene was sick with bronchitis and I was there to pick up his medicine. Stevie had been much healthier then, but he still looked like he didn’t have it all together. To be honest, the first thing that ran through my head was that he was still living the party life, and I wondered if the meds he was picking up were part of that scene. I’m ashamed to say that now, because Stevie was pretty sick, even then. We got to talking and he told me about the cancer. I could tell as soon as he said it, though, he regretted telling me. And he begged me, ‘Dude, you can’t tell Jes or my parents. They’ve already written me off as a loser. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, especially not them.’ He made me promise, Jes. What else could I do? I wanted to help in some way. I gave Stu my number and told him I would drive him to appointments, pick up his medicine, whatever he needed. He didn’t call me for about six months. I figured he was afraid of the connection I had to you, even though he didn’t know you and Jimmy were a couple. Then one day he called and he was in bad shape. He told me he was out of his painkillers, couldn’t drive anymore, and asked if I could come to the house and take the prescription to CVS and bring his meds back to him. What else could I do, Jes? I was trying to help even though I was keeping it from you.”

“I don’t know what to say to you, Stu. I’m mad that you didn’t tell me about him. I know your family has had its own troubles, but maybe you don’t know what it was like living at my house. The last couple years before Stevie left were terrible. Our dad had already left us. Stevie was out of control then, I know. But I was just a kid and when he left, I felt like just as much of a loser and all alone. I’ve never shaken that feeling and it has shaped who I am today. If I had only known that Stevie was living right around the corner from us, maybe I would have felt better about myself and our family. You didn’t give me the chance to figure that out, though.”

Stu looked uncomfortable. Was I going too far? I hadn’t planned to talk about this then, but words were flying out of me. By keeping Stevie’s secret from Mom and Dad, even though it had only been a couple days, I was doing almost the same thing. Maybe I did understand. Maybe Stu was just trying to do the right thing.

For the first time in my life, I smiled at Stu. To my surprise, it came naturally. Maybe he had earned it. “Okay, well I have so many other things to think about today, I guess I can’t be mad at you right now. If you’re still willing to drive me to the hospital, I’ll be back at 1:00.”

Stu smiled back at me. He looked relieved. “Sure thing, Jes. Now I have to get moving, but you can let yourself out when you’re ready. Stay as long as you like. You know your way around.”

Thank you for reading – all comments are welcome.

Click below to check out earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 – “Jimmy”
Chapter 2 – “Stevie”
Chapter 3 – “A Photo and a Letter”
Chapter 4 – “The Life Within”
Chapter 5 – “Jimmy’s Truck”
Chapter 6 – “The Springs Diner”
Chapter 7 – “Dinner and a Game”
Chapter 8 – “He Made Me Nervous”
Chapter 9 – “I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday”
Chapter 10 – “Connections and Time”
Chapter 11 – “The Reverse Apology”
Chapter 12 – “Empty Bedrooms”
Chapter 13 – “Job Description”
Chapter 14 – “The Car I Saw”
Chapter 15 – “It’s Not What You Think”
Chapter 16 – “A Different Route”
Chapter 17 – “Choosing Balance”
Chapter 18 – “A Mother Sees”
Chapter 19 – “Taking More”
Chapter 20 – “Robbing the Future”
Chapter 21 – “I Thought I Didn’t Need Her”
Chapter 22 – “It Was Up to Me”
Chapter 23 – “Separate and Icy”
Chapter 24 – “Striking a Nerve”
Chapter 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Chapter 26 – “Who Asked for Help?”
Chapter 27 – “You’ve Done Enough”
Chapter 28 – “The Plan”
Chapter 29 – “Who Says I’m Not Okay?”
Chapter 30 – “What’s So Great about Balance?”
Chapter 31 – “I’ll Call You When It’s Over”
Chapter 32 – “Sorting It Out”
Chapter 33 – “Truth and Lies”
Chapter 34 – “The Car-Port House”
Chapter 35 – “It’s a Dead Yard”
Chapter 36 – “I Just Want To See Him”
Chapter 37 – “I’m Not Going Anywhere”
Chapter 38 – “He’s Here Now”
Chapter 39 – “Not Everything Changes”
Chapter 40 – “Anger’s Release”
Chapter 41 – “What Are Rights?”

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