Elizabeth Berg, bestselling author of The Art of Mending and The Year of Pleasures, has a rare talent for revealing her characters' hearts and minds in a manner that makes us empathize completely. Her new novel, We Are All Welcome Here, features three women, each struggling against overwhelming odds for her own kind of freedom.
It is the summer of 1964. In Tupelo, Mississippi, the town of Elvis's birth, tensions are mounting over civil-rights demonstrations occurring ever more frequently-and violently-across the state. But in Paige Dunn's small, ramshackle house, there are more immediate concerns. Challenged by the effects of the polio she contracted during her last month of pregnancy, Paige is nonetheless determined to live as normal a life as possible and to raise her daughter, Diana, in the way she sees fit-with the support of her tough-talking black caregiver, Peacie.
Diana is trying in her own fashion to live a normal life. As a fourteen-year-old, she wants to make money for clothes and magazines, to slough off the authority of her mother and Peacie, to figure out the puzzle that is boys, and to escape the oppressiveness she sees everywhere in her small town. What she can never escape, however, is the way her life is markedly different from others'. Nor can she escape her ongoing responsibility to assist in caring for her mother. Paige Dunn is attractive, charming, intelligent, and lively, but her needs are great-and relentless.
As the summer unfolds, hate and adversity will visit this modest home. Despite the difficulties thrust upon them, each of the women will find her own path to independence, understanding, and peace. And Diana's mother, so mightily compromised, will end up giving her daughter an extraordinary gift few parents could match.
A polio victim and her 13-year-old daughter work miracles from their Tupelo, Miss., home during the summer of 1964 in Berg's latest carefully calibrated domestic drama (after The Year of Pleasures). Having contracted polio at 22 while pregnant, Paige Dunn delivers her baby from an iron lung, and ends up raising her daughter, Diana, alone after her husband divorces her. Able to move only her head, Paige requires round-the-clock nursing care that social services barely cover. Now 13, Diana has taken over the night shift to save them money, sharing her mother's care with no-nonsense African-American day worker Peacie, who is protective of Paige and unforgiving of Diana's adolescent yearning for freedom. Paige is a paragon of kindness and wisdom, even in the face of less-than-charitable charity by petty small-town residents, while Diana and Peacie consistently lock horns. But when Peacie's boyfriend, LaRue, ventures down the perilous path of helping register black voters during this Freedom Summer and trouble follows him, Diana will gain compassion thanks to her mother's selfless aid to LaRue and Peacie. As the novel (based on a true story) is set in Tupelo, the specter of Elvis Presley naturally intrudes, for an over-the-top, heartrending finale.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
April 15, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg
The sun was barely up when I crept downstairs. I had awakened early again, full of a pulsating need to get out and get things done, though if the truth be told, I was not fully certain what those things were. I had recently turned thirteen and was being yanked about by hormones that had me weeping one moment and yelling the next; rapturously practice-kissing the inside of my elbow one moment, then crossing the street to avoid boys the next. I alternated between periods of extreme confidence and bouts of quivering insecurity. Life was curiously exhausting but also exhilarating.
I longed for things I'd never wanted before: clothes that conferred upon the wearer inalienable status, makeup that apparently transformed not only the face but the soul. But mostly I wanted a kind of inner strength that would offer protection against the small-town injustices I had long endured, something that would let me take pride in myself as myself. I focused on making money, because I believed that despite what people said, money could buy happiness. I knew beyond knowing that this was the summer I would get that money. All I had to figure out was how.
I crept into the dining room and made sure my mother was sleeping soundly, then slipped out onto the front porch. I wanted to be alone to unravel my restlessness, to soothe myself by making plans for the day being born before me. I stretched, then stood with my hands on my hips to survey the street on this already hot July day. It was dead as usual, no activity seen inside or out of the tiny houses with their sagging porches, their dented mailboxes, their yards mostly gone to dust. I walked down the steps and started for a patch of dandelions growing against the side of the house. I would use them to brighten my desk, where today I would be writing a letter to Sandra Dee. I wrote often to movie stars, letting them know that I, too, was an actress and also a playwright, just in case they might be looking for someone.
I did not get back inside quickly enough, for I heard a car door slam and looked over to see Peacie, her skinny self walking slowly toward our house, swinging her big black purse. She was wearing a red-and-white polka-dot housedress, the great big polka dots that looked like poker chips, and blindingly white ankle socks with her black men's shoes, and inside her purse was the flowered apron she'd put on as soon as she stepped inside. When she left, she'd carry that apron home in a brown paper bag to wash in her own automatic washing machine--she did not like our wringer model.
I ran under the porch, praying she hadn't seen me, wishing I'd known her boyfriend, LaRue, was going to drop her off. If I'd known that, I'd have stayed in the house so that I could have run out and visited with him. LaRue often brought me presents: Moon Pies or Goo-Goo Clusters, Popsicle sticks for the little houses I liked to build, puppets he'd made from socks, and on one memorable occasion, a silver dollar he'd won shooting craps. He could balance a goober on the end of his nose and then flip it into his mouth. He was a highly imaginative dresser; he once wore a tie made from the Sunday comics, for example. He favored electric colors and had white bucks on which he'd drawn intricate designs in black ink. He cooked bacon with brown sugar, chili powder, and pecans--praline bacon, he called it--and it was delicious. He told jokes that I could understand. He drank coffee out of a saucer and made it look elegant.