From The New York Times bestselling author comes a poignant, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel about an unlikely path to motherhood, and of two lost souls healing each other
1950 Tennessee, a time and place that straddles the past and present. Ivorie Walker is considered an old maid by the town (though she's only in her early thirties) and she takes that label with good humor and a grain of salt. Ever since her parents passed away, she has hidden her loneliness behind a fierce independence and a claim of not needing anyone. But her mother's death hit her harder than anyone suspects and Ivorie wonders if she will be alone forever.
When she realizes that someone has been stealing vegetables from her garden--a feral, dirty-faced boy who disappears into the hills--something about him haunts Ivorie. She can't imagine what would make him desperate enough to steal and eat from her garden. But what she truly can't imagine is what the boy faces, each day and night, in the filthy lean-to hut miles up in the hills. Who is he? How did he come to live in the hills? Where did he come from? And, more importantly, can she save him? As Ivorie steps out of her comfort zone to uncover the answers, she unleashes a firestorm in the town--a community that would rather let secrets stay secret. The Good Dream is Donna VanLiere is at her absolute best.
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St. Martin's Press
July 03, 2012
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Excerpt from The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere
I didn't set out to be an old maid. When I was in my early twenties there was, according to my mother, "still hope for me." But when I got into my late twenties the hope all but left Mother's eyes. "Lord have mercy, Ivorie," she would say. "What is going to happen to you when your pop and I leave this earth?" I was, in her opinion, doomed to a bed-of-nails existence without a man.
Mother had always been fire and sizzle but there was something used up about her the last two years of her life. Her arthritis grew worse; gnarling her small, freckled hand into the shape of a claw and taking care of Pop wore what was left of her away. One afternoon, she came to me in the garden, where she rested that crippled hand atop her cane and looked at me with those sad, cornflower-blue eyes. "What about Lyle Hovitts?"
I nearly toppled the basket of beans I was picking. "That melon-headed man with the fat stomach and stumpy legs?" I threw my head back and laughed. "Mother! What have I done to you?"
She waved a bony hand in the air and rolled her eyes. "I'm just saying, Ivorie. You're a pretty girl."
I wiped the sweat off my face and squatted back down to my work. "Well, I don't know why every pretty girl in Greene County isn't lined up outside Lyle Hovitts' door. What girl wouldn't want that old, saggy butt crawling into her bed every night?"
"Oh, Lord have mercy, Ivorie! It's too close to Sunday for such talk."
I laughed and tossed another handful of beans into the basket. "You started it, Mother. Lyle Hovitts. I'm surprised you didn't say Garth Landis."
"There's nothing wrong with Garth Landis."
"He's a tall, lanky goon! He's got that sloped nose and those gangly arms with the hairy hands at the end of them. Plus--he must be fifty!"
"He's a fine-looking man."
My gallbladder shook I laughed so hard. "Well, his beauty must be the kind that's magnified by liquor!"
"He's tolerable," she said. "Not all men are tolerable, but you could tolerate Garth."
I grabbed my head. "Is that what marriage is, Mother? Tolerating somebody?"
She looked at me like I was a kook. "Well, it has a lot to do with it! If you don't get sick looking at somebody, you're halfway there in tolerating them."
I couldn't even respond to that. She started to hunch down and I waved my hand in the air at her. "Don't get down here. I'll have a world of a time getting you back up. I'll finish these. You just commence to worrying about which sad, lonely buck I need to hook my horns into." And when she leaned her bent, tiny frame over her cane and looked out over the garden, I knew she was doing just that!
Mother was my closest friend. We spent our time working in the garden, canning, cooking, and baking together, and we'd talk about Pop until we were both giggling like girls. We loved sitting down at the table and eating a slice of pound cake with a cup of coffee while we listened to Maxine Harrison read the news on the radio station out of Greenville. We'd shake our heads over the obituaries and talk about the poor, old widow who was left behind, or make a high-pitched noise in our throats on hearing about the birth of a new baby. Mother didn't wear a watch; she didn't need one--she just knew when it was coffee-and-cake time. It didn't matter where we were or what we were doing--if we were stooped over in the garden, Mother would say, "Coffee and cake time," and we would stop our work and sit down to listen to Maxine. I always knew when Mother was thinking she needed a rest with a glass of sweet tea, and she could sense when I needed to pick up a book and hide out on the back porch. I've always been too impatient with myself and others, my expectations of them too high, but Mother just loved people, plain and true, warts and all. Her hope was always cell deep and child simple.
My six brothers are all married with children. By the time I was born (when Mother was forty-two--a miracle anywhere), my oldest brother, Henry, was already settled down with two children. Shoot, at my age Mother had had six of her seven children. Whenever I looked at her and Pop I could hear time speeding by me. Tick: There's a man! Tock: Better grab him! Tick: Time's running out! Tock: Too late.
Morgan Hill, Tennessee, is just seventy miles north of Knoxville, but it's as far from the city as it is the ocean, in my opinion. It's not big enough to be a city or even a town; we're a community--the Morgan Hill community. We've got Walker's Store, which my brother Henry owns, the Langley School Building, the church, and that's it (not exactly a hotbed for available suitors), but I can't imagine living anywhere else. These hills and farmland are home.
Pop served in Africa during the Great War, and while there, he held a piece of ivory in his hand, claiming it to be the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. He brought it home with him and laid it on the chest of drawers in his and Mother's bedroom. Mother held that piece of ivory the night I was born. I didn't come easy. "You about ripped me sideways to Christmas," Mother said. When Mother grasped for the sheets, her friend Nola threw the ivory into her hand to give her something to hold on to. She and Pop named me Sarah Ivorie. I claimed Ivorie as my first name during my second year in school when another girl, a pinched-face, puckered-lip thug was also named Sarah. She was so sour that her cheeks turned red as a plum when she got mad. I told my mother that from there on out I would no longer share the name Sarah with that brutish blob of a girl but would answer only to Ivorie. "Pretty name for a pretty girl," Mother said. Imagine the heartbreak when years later that pretty name wasn't attracting a husband.
In the early years, when I was right out of high school, the people in Morgan Hill still held out hope for me: Which young man do you have your eye on? Have you seen the way that Carl Winters makes over you? Before you know it, you're going to have three or four proposals. But when I hit twenty-four and was still living at home, it threw the whole community into crisis mode. A distress signal spread throughout it: Awkward Walker girl doomed to manlessness. Gasp! I went from resident old maid to queen of the downtrodden parade. There I was, sitting high on my float and just waving and blowing kisses to the sorriest lineup of the lonely and cripple-hearted I've ever seen. The phone rang off the hook. Have you met my nephew, Lenny? He's the man with dropsy over in Midway. Have you ever met my uncle Lew? His wife died two years ago and he's got a house full of good chil'ren. Have you met Harold over at the Co-op in Morristown? He's that real nice man that works there with the eye patch. Real funny. Nice head of hair.