In the tradition of "The Good Mother and "The Deep End of the Ocean, Anne D. LeClaire delivers a heartbreaking-and breathtaking-novel of two very different but equally loving mothers who face the most painful of losses and then find the courage not only to go on but to find meaning and hope in their lives. Rose Nelson is a middle-aged woman with a broken past, a sorrow from which she cannot recover. Secretly guilty about her role in her teenaged son's death five years ago, she has sealed herself off from life, enveloped by a grief that has slowly eaten away at her relationship with her husband. Against her will, Rose is drawn into the world she has avoided when Opal Gates and her five-year-old son, Zack, move in next door. Determined to start an independent life for herself, twenty-year-old Opal has left her family and the father of her son in North Carolina. But when she quickly begins an affair with Tyrone Miller, a part-time mechanic and local musician, Opal unwittingly breaks the tacit rules of both her family and her new hometown.
An emotional wallop comparable to that produced by Sue Miller's The Good Mother or Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World awaits readers of LeClaire's latest (after Sideshow, etc.). In the small town of Normal, Mass., Rose Nelson has never ceased grieving over the accidental death of her teenage son, Todd. Years of unremitting grief and compulsive housecleaning have dismayed and frustrated her devoted husband, Ned, who tries to lose himself in work at the filling station he owns. Rose notices a peculiar itch around a mole that could indicate cancer, but tries to dismiss it because she doesn't trust drugs or doctors. At the same time, 20-year-old Opal Gates arrives in town with her young son, Zack, in tow. On the lam from her boyfriend, Billy, and her nagging mother in New Zion, N.C., stubborn, flighty Opal has landed in Normal because that's how far exactly three full tanks of gas have taken her chance and signs are central to her life. When she rents the house next door to the Nelsons, prudent Rose observes that "girls like Opal suck trouble to them" and resolves not to get involved. Though striving for independence and ambivalent about a new romance, Opal does seem fated to attract trouble. First, Zack breaks his arm when she sneaks out to the store while he's sleeping; then Billy, with Opal's parents' help, files a custody suit. The tentative friendship that slowly develops between Opal and Rose sustains both women as they face new obstacles and old demons, and the saga of these endearing (if at times frustrating) characters will hold readers' interest right up to the bittersweet ending. Agent, Deborah Schneider. (June 6) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Entering Normal by Anne D. LeClaire
Ned is snoring, a thick thunder that rolls up from his chest. His arm is flung over Rose's ribs, and she takes a breath against the heft of it, the pressure that recently seems to have increased.
Back in the middle of summer, she mentioned getting twin beds, but his response was sharp. Typical Ned. "Whadda you crazy?" She explained how his arm made it hard for her to breathe, how she felt pinned down by it. "We've slept in the same bed for thirty-five years, Rosie," he said, his gaze level. "Exactly when did my arm get so heavy?" Not willing to go where that subject might lead, she dropped it flat.
He snores again, a long, rippling snort with a catch in the middle, like he is swallowing his breath. It's a wonder more women don't kill their husbands. Half asleep, she imagines herself picking up the pillow, holding it over his open mouth.
What on earth is the matter with her, thinking something crazy like that? Ned is a good man. Where she would be without him she hates to think. She gives him a slight nudge, just enough to make him stop snoring, but not enough to wake him. The last thing in the world she needs right now is for him to wake and ask her what's wrong.
This is a question she doesn't want him to ask, not when all that is wrong swirls through the room, hangs above her face like smoke. The digital clock on the nightstand glows 1:40, red numerals that remind her of eyes, the alert eyes of some nocturnal animal. The time changes to 1:41. She wishes they still had their old dial-face clock, the one that didn't need resetting every time there was a power failure. Very carefully she lifts Ned's arm from its hold across her ribs and scratches her stomach, hard.
It's still there. It's bigger. Maybe.
The itchy spot first appeared toward the end of September, the same week Opal Gates and her boy moved into the house next door. At first Rose figured it was an insect bite of some kind, or dry skin, what with the furnace coming on in the evening now. Yesterday she finally took a reluctant look at it--she doesn't much like looking at her stomach--and even without her reading glasses she was able to see the small, raised welt right over the mole on her stomach. Red circled out from the brown center. Definitely a bite she decided, pushing away darker possibilities conjured up by the Cancer Society leaflets she's read in Doc Blessing's waiting room, their bold letters enumerating the Seven Deadly Signs.
She doesn't think it is anything significant. If something important was going on in your body, you'd know it. No, she's sure it's just an insect bite. They are into October now, late for mosquitoes, but it's been a particularly mild fall, the first frost not coming until the last of September.
She lies in the dark, reminded suddenly of the mosquito bites she used to get summers at Crystal Lake when she was a girl, great welts that rose on her arms and legs and ankles until she looked like she had a tropical disease. "Don't scratch," her mother would say as she swabbed them with calamine lotion. "It makes it worse." Rose scratched the bites until they bled. Then, the summer she was sixteen, she fell in love with her best friend's cousin, and just like that she stopped scratching mosquito bites. Instead she dug her thumbnail directly across the swollen spot and then again in the opposite direction, forming the shape of a cross, her magic remedy, better than calamine.