Olympia Crawford Rubinstein has a busy legal career, a solid marriage, and a way of managing her thriving family with grace, humor, and boundless energy. With twin daughters finishing high school, a son at Dartmouth, and a kindergartner from her second marriage, there seems to be no challenge to which Olympia cannot rise. Until one sunny day in May, when she opens an invitation for her daughters to attend the most exclusive coming-out ball in New York-and chaos erupts all around her. One twin's excitement is balanced by the other's outrage; her previous husband's profound snobbism is in sharp contrast to her current husband's flat refusal to attend.
For Olympia's husband, Harry, whose parents survived the Holocaust, the idea of a blue-blood debutante ball is abhorrent. Her daughter Veronica, a natural-born rebel, agrees-while Veronica's identical twin, Virginia, is already shopping for the perfect dress. Then there's Olympia's ex, an insufferable snob, who sees the ball as the perfect opportunity for a family feud. And amid all the hubbub, Olympia's college-age son, Charlie, is facing a turning point in his life-and may need his mother more than ever. But despite it all, Olympia is determined to steer her family through the event until, just days before the cotillion, things begin to unravel with alarming speed.
From a son's crisis to a daughter's heartbreak, from a case of the chicken pox to a political debate raging in her household, Olympia is on the verge of surrender. And that is when, in a series of startling choices and changes of heart, family, friends, and even a blue-haired teenager all find a way to turn a night of calamity into an evening of magic. As old wounds are healed, barriers are shattered and new traditions are born, and a debutante ball becomes a catalyst for change, revelation, acceptance, and love.
In a novel that is by turns profound, poignant, moving, and warmly funny, Danielle Steel tells the story of an extraordinary family-finding new ways of letting go, stepping up, and coming out...in the ways that matter most.
In her 67th novel (following May's The House) bestselling author Steel (more than 530 million copies sold) fashions a plot around a single event: an invitation to a debutante ball in New York City. Attorney Olympia Crawford Rubinstein manages to juggle a challenging full-time job; a loving relationship with her second husband, Harry (an appeals court judge who is her former law professor); the care of their five-year-old son, Max, and her three older children from a previous marriage. Olympia's first husband, Chauncey, is a stereotypical, upper-class snob, with no job but a passion for playing polo. Harry, son of Holocaust survivors, champions liberal causes. When Olympia's teenage twin daughters, Veronica and Virginia, are invited to an exclusive "coming out" ball, everyone's lives are thrown into turmoil. Most of the book revolves around the arguments and disagreements spurred by the invitation, and Steel appears overly didactic as she tries to pump life into the simplistic setup: Olympia's Jewish mother-in-law, Afro-American law partner and gay older son are trotted out like polo ponies at auction. Steel's métier is glamour and romance; her attempt to deal with social injustice falls flat. (July)
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May 27, 2007
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Excerpt from Coming Out by Danielle Steel
Olympia Crawford Rubinstein was whizzing around her kitchen on a sunny May morning, in the brownstone she shared with her family on Jane Street in New York, near the old meat-packing district of the West Village. It had long since become a fashionable neighborhood of mostly modern apartment buildings with doormen, and old renovated brownstones. Olympia was fixing lunch for her five-year-old son, Max. The school bus was due to drop him off in a few minutes. He was in kindergarten at Dalton, and Friday was a half day for him. She always took Fridays off to spend them with him. Although Olympia had three older children from her first marriage, Max was Olympia and Harry's only child.
Olympia and Harry had restored the house six years before, when she was pregnant with Max. Before that, they had lived in her Park Avenue apartment, which she had previously shared with her three children after her divorce. And then Harry joined them. She had met Harry Rubinstein a year after her divorce. And now, she and Harry had been married for thirteen years. They had waited eight years to have Max, and his parents and siblings adored him. He was a loving, funny, happy child.
Olympia was a partner in a booming law practice, specializing in civil rights issues and class action lawsuits. Her favorite cases, and what she specialized in, were those that involved discrimination against or some form of abuse of children. She had made a name for herself in her field. She had gone to law school after her divorce, fifteen years before, and married Harry two years later. He had been one of her law professors at Columbia Law School, and was now a judge on the federal court of appeals. He had recently been considered for a seat on the Supreme Court. In the end, they hadn't appointed him, but he'd come close, and she and Harry both hoped that the next time a vacancy came up, he would get it.
She and Harry shared all the same beliefs, values, and passions--even though they came from very different backgrounds. He came from an Orthodox Jewish home, and both his parents had been Holocaust survivors as children. His mother had gone to Dachau from Munich at ten, and lost her entire family. His father had been one of the few survivors of Auschwitz, and they met in Israel later. They had married as teenagers, moved to London, and from there to the States. Both had lost their entire families, and their only son had become the focus of all their energies, dreams, and hopes. They had worked like slaves all their lives to give him an education, his father as a tailor and his mother as a seamstress, working in the sweatshops of the Lower East Side, and eventually on Seventh Avenue in what was later referred to as the garment district. His father had died just after Harry and Olympia married. Harry's greatest regret was that his father hadn't known Max. Harry's mother, Frieda, was a strong, intelligent, loving woman of seventy-six, who thought her son was a genius, and her grandson a prodigy.
Olympia had converted from her staunch Episcopalian background to Judaism when she married Harry. They attended a Reform synagogue, and Olympia said the prayers for Shabbat every Friday night, and lit the candles, which never failed to touch Harry. There was no doubt in Harry's mind, or even his mother's, that Olympia was a fantastic woman, a great mother to all her children, a terrific attorney, and a wonderful wife. Like Olympia, Harry had been married before, but he had no other children. Olympia was turning forty-five in July, and Harry was fifty-three. They were well matched in all ways, though their backgrounds couldn't have been more different. Even physically, they were an interesting and complementary combination. Her hair was blond, her eyes were blue, he was dark, with dark brown eyes, she was tiny, he was a huge teddy bear of a man, with a quick smile and an easygoing disposition. Olympia was shy and serious, though prone to easy laughter, especially when it was provoked by Harry or her children. She was a remarkably dutiful and loving daughter-in-law to Harry's mother, Frieda.
Olympia's background was entirely different from Harry's. The Crawfords were an illustrious and extremely social New York family, whose blue-blooded ancestors had intermarried with Astors and Vanderbilts for generations. Buildings and academic institutions were named after them, and theirs had been one of the largest "cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island, where they spent the summers. The family fortune had dwindled to next to nothing by the time her parents died when she was in college, and she had been forced to sell the "cottage" and surrounding estate to pay their debts and taxes. Her father had never really worked, and as one of her distant relatives had said after he died, "he had a small fortune, he had made it from a large one." By the time she cleaned up all their debts and sold their property, there was simply no money, just rivers of blue blood and aristocratic connections. She had just enough left to pay for her education, and put a small nest egg away, which later paid for law school.
She married her college sweetheart, Chauncey Bedham Walker IV, six months after she graduated from Vassar, and he from Princeton. He had been charming, handsome, and fun-loving, the captain of the crew team, an expert horseman, played polo, and when they met, Olympia was understandably dazzled by him. Olympia was head over heels in love with him, and didn't give a damn about his family's enormous fortune. She was totally in love with Chauncey, enough so as not to notice that he drank too much, played constantly, had a roving eye, and spent far too much money. He went to work in his family's investment bank, and did anything he wanted, which eventually included going to work as seldom as possible, spending literally no time with her, and having random affairs with a multitude of women. By the time she knew what was happening, she and Chauncey had three children. Charlie came along two years after they were married, and his identical twin sisters, Virginia and Veronica, three years later. When she and Chauncey split up seven years after they married, Charlie was five, the twins two, and Olympia was twenty-nine years old. As soon as they separated, he quit his job at the bank, and went to live in Newport with his grandmother, the doyenne of Newport and Palm Beach society, and devoted himself to playing polo and chasing women.
A year later Chauncey married Felicia Weatherton, who was the perfect mate for him. They built a house on his grandmother's estate, which he ultimately inherited, filled her stables with new horses, and had three daughters in four years. A year after Chauncey married Felicia, Olympia married Harry Rubinstein, which Chauncey found not only ridiculous but appalling. He was rendered speechless when their son, Charlie, told him his mother had converted to the Jewish faith. He had been equally shocked earlier when Olympia enrolled in law school, all of which proved to him, as Olympia had figured out long before, that despite the similarity of their ancestry, she and Chauncey had absolutely nothing in common, and never would. As she grew older, the ideas that had seemed normal to her in her youth appalled her. Almost all of Chauncey's values, or lack of them, were anathema to her.
The fifteen years since their divorce had been years of erratic truce, and occasional minor warfare, usually over money. He supported their three children decently, though not generously. Despite what he had inherited from his family, Chauncey was stingy with his first family, and far more generous with his second wife and their children. To add insult to injury, he had forced Olympia to agree that she would never urge their children to become Jewish. It wasn't an issue anyway. She had no intention of doing so. Olympia's conversion was a private, personal decision between her and Harry. Chauncey was unabashedly anti-Semitic. Harry thought Olympia's first husband was pompous, arrogant, and useless. Other than the fact that he was her children's father and she had loved him when she married him, for the past fifteen years, Olympia found it impossible to defend him. Prejudice was Chauncey's middle name. There was absolutely nothing politically correct about him or Felicia, and Harry loathed him. They represented everything he detested, and he could never understand how Olympia had tolerated him for ten minutes, let alone seven years of marriage. People like Chauncey and Felicia, and the whole hierarchy of Newport society, and all it stood for, were a mystery to Harry. He wanted to know nothing about it, and Olympia's occasional explanations were wasted on him.
Harry adored Olympia, her three children, and their son, Max. And in some ways, her daughter Veronica seemed more like Harry's daughter than Chauncey's. They shared all of the same extremely liberal, socially responsible ideas. Virginia, her twin, was much more of a throwback to their Newport ancestry, and was far more frivolous than her twin sister. Charlie, their older brother, was at Dartmouth, studying theology and threatening to become a minister. Max was a being unto himself, a wise old soul, who his grandmother swore was just like her own father, who had been a rabbi in Germany before being sent to Dachau, where he had helped as many people as he could before he was exterminated along with the rest of her family.
The stories of Frieda's childhood and lost loved ones always made Olympia weep. Frieda Rubinstein had a number tattooed on the inside of her left wrist, which was a sobering reminder of the childhood the Nazis had stolen from her. Because of it, she had worn long sleeves all her life, and still did. Olympia frequently bought beautiful silk blouses and long-sleeved sweaters for her. There was a powerful bond of love and respect between the two women, which continued to deepen over the years.
Olympia heard the mail being pushed through the slot in the front door, went to get it, and tossed it on the kitchen table as she finished making Max's lunch. With perfect timing, she heard the doorbell ring at almost precisely the same instant. Max was home from school, and she was looking forward to spending the afternoon with him. Their Fridays together were always special. Olympia knew she had the best of both worlds, a career she loved and that satisfied her, and a family that was the hub and core of her emotional existence. Each seemed to enhance and complement the other.
Olympia was taking Max to soccer practice that afternoon. She loved her time at home with her children. The twins would be home later that day, after their own after-school activities, which in their case included softball, tennis, swimming, and boys, whenever possible, particularly in Virginia's case. Veronica was more standoffish, shyer like her mother, and extremely particular about who she hung out with. Officially, Virginia was more "popular," and Veronica the better student. Both girls had just been accepted at Brown for the fall, and were graduating in June.
Charlie had been accepted at Princeton, like his father, and three generations of Walkers before him, but had decided to go to Dartmouth instead, where he played ice hockey, and Olympia prayed that in spite of that he would graduate with teeth. He was due home for the summer in a week, and after visiting his father, stepmother, and three stepsisters in Newport, he was going to work at a camp in Colorado, teaching riding and taking care of horses. He had his father's love of equestrian pursuits, and was a skilled polo player, but preferred more informal aspects of the sport. Riding Western saddle all summer, and teaching kids, seemed like fun to him, and Olympia and Harry approved. The one thing Harry didn't think his stepson should do was waste a summer going to parties, like his father, in Newport. Harry thought Chauncey's whole lifestyle, and everyone in it, was a waste of time. And he was always pleased to notice that Charlie had a great deal more substance, and heart, than his father. He was a fine young man with a good head on his shoulders, a warm heart, and solid principles and beliefs..
The girls were going to Europe with friends as a graduation present, and Olympia, Harry, and Max were meeting them in Venice in August, and taking them on a driving trip through Umbria, to Lake Como, and into Switzerland, where Harry had distant relatives. Olympia was looking forward to the trip. Shortly after their return, she'd be taking the girls to Brown, and after that there would be only Max at home with her and Harry. The house already seemed too quiet to her these days, with Charlie gone. Having the girls leave too would be a real loss to her. Already now, with graduation and freedom imminent, the girls were almost never home. She had already missed Charlie terribly for the past three years. She was sorry that she and Harry hadn't decided to have more children after they had Max, but at nearly forty-five, she couldn't see herself starting with diapers and nursing schedules all over again. Those days were over for her, and having Max in their life, to bind them even closer together, seemed like an incredible gift.
Olympia ran to open the door as soon as she heard the bell, and there was Max, in all his five-year-old splendor, with a wide, happy grin, as he threw his arms around his mother's neck and hugged her, as he always did when he saw her. He was a happy, affectionate little boy.
"I had a great day, Mom!" he said enthusiastically. Max loved everything about life, his parents, his sisters, his brother whom he seldom saw but was crazy about, his grandmother, the sports he played, the movies he watched, the food his mother served him, his teachers, and his friends at school. "We had cupcakes for Jenny's birthday! They were chocolate with sprinkles!" He said it as though describing some rare and fabulous occurrence, although Olympia knew from volunteering in his kindergarten class that they had a birthday, with cupcakes and sprinkles, nearly every week. But to Max, every day, and the opportunities it offered, was wonderful and new.
"That sounds yummy." She beamed down at him, noticing the paint splattered all over his T-shirt. He dropped his sweatshirt on a chair, and she saw that his new tennis shoes were covered with paint, too. Max was exuberant about everything he did. "Did you have art today?" she asked, as he settled into a chair at the big round kitchen table, where the family shared most of their meals. There was a pretty dining room with antiques she had inherited, but they only used it for the rare dinner parties they gave, and holidays like Christmas, Chanukah, Passover, and Thanksgiving. They celebrated both sets of holidays, both Christian and Jewish, in fairness to all their children. They wanted them to appreciate and respect both traditions. At first, Olympia's mother-in-law had been leery of that, but now she privately admitted that she enjoyed it, "for the children." The kitchen was the hub of the family wheel, and the nerve center of Olympia's operations. She had a small desk in the corner, with a computer, and a constantly precarious towering stack of papers, most of which dealt with the family. She had a small room upstairs, off their bedroom, which she used as a home office on Friday mornings, or occasionally at night, when she had a big case and brought work home with her.
Most of the time, she tried to leave her law practice in the office, and focused on the children when she was home. But juggling both lives was a challenge at times. Harry and the older children admired her for how well she did it. Max didn't seem to notice. Whatever happened at home centered on the family, and not her legal work. She did her best to keep her two worlds separate. She rarely talked about her work with her children, unless they asked her. At home, she was more interested in talking about what they were doing. And she only had a sitter for Max for the hours she was at work, and not a minute longer. She loved being with him, and savored their time together.