Thirty-five-year-old Elayna Leopold lives with her young family in suburban New Jersey. Working from home so that she can raise her six-year-old daughter, Hazel, while her husband, Paul, puts in long hours as a corporate lawyer, Elayna is typical of women who spend their twenties chasing dreams in the city only to spend their thirties chasing children in the suburbs. Yet no one knows better than she that life can change in an instant. Two years ago her infant son died, sending her into a deep depression from which she is just emerging. Awakening now to the idea that she can want more than simply to get through the day, Elayna finds herself suddenly -- thrillingly -- craving life's passions again. When she meets Kevin, a young artist with whom she begins to spend more and more time during Paul's absences, Elayna discovers a version of herself she thought was gone forever. As she uncovers yearnings that could destroy everything she cherishes, a threat to Hazel emerges from an unlikely source, making Elayna's choices and decisions that much more critical.
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June 10, 2006
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Excerpt from Sweet Ruin by Cathi Hanauer
I suppose, for literary effect, I should start with how everything was dying that year ' how the riverbed dried up into a brown Brillo pad, the wisteria shriveled on their vines. But the truth is, that brilliant April, after rain had soaked us all March, it felt to me as if the earth and the plants, the insects and trees just couldn't stay in their pants. Daffodils unfurled and grinned into bloom; tulips reached up their orange and crimson cupped hands. Across the street, the Japanese weeping cherry tree exploded into a firework of lilliputian pink clouds, while down the block Mrs. Zuppo's lily garden peeked out from its bed weeks early. All the world was a stage, and I walked around in a daze beholding the spectacle that was life. It seemed to me it had never been this way. But then, I was waking up again, after all that time.
During the more than two years since Oliver's death, my goal had been simply to get myself through the days. After dropping Hazel at preschool or kindergarten or first grade and dragging myself through the errands (grocery shopping, bill paying, dry cleaners for Paul ' all those things that plague the work-at-home wife), I'd simply returned to my house and crawled back into bed, where, between the empty escape of deep naps, I did my editing work ' its own kind of refuge ' until it was time to pick up Hazel again. Then, with what felt like superhuman effort, I would act out the role of the cheerful, inspired mother I was not, somehow getting us through the hours until we were at last back in bed again ' her bed, this time, where we'd both fall asleep, me half-waking only to switch to my own bed and continue my dreamless coma. I never felt Paul slip into bed hours later when he finally got home. Really, it was as if I were dead, except when taking care of Hazel or working, and then I operated on automatic pilot: numb, simply soldiering on.
But this year, with the first signs of spring in my New Jersey town ' a slowly gentrifying commuter and college hub where octogenarian Dominicks and Guiseppes bordered thirtysomething Manhattan transplants like me, with handfuls of crunchy Gen X-ers tossed throughout ' something had started to change. I felt my old self, the one I'd thought was gone forever, sending out tiny shoots from deep in my bones ' stiff, strong, green tips to tell me the roots were still in there, I was still in there, somehow ' and wanting, at last, out again. On the day this story begins, I had taken a morning walk, peeling my old Eileen Fisher cardigan from my arms to let the sun drench my pasty, winter-sapped skin. I'd headed to the fish market for two slabs of salmon, then to the bakery for a crusty ciabatta. Then a bottle of sauvignon blanc from the liquor store and a bar of fine dark chocolate for dessert. I suppose I was celebrating my rebirth. At any rate, when I got home I was ravenous, and by the time my piece of fish was done broiling I'd already sampled a few bites, standing at the oven forking the salty pink flesh into my greedy mouth, burning its tender skin. I didn't care. It was worth it to taste that delectable bliss, and to finally crave food again.