Chloe Dale's life is in good order. Her only child, Toby, has started his junior year at New York University; her husband, an academic on sabbatical, is working at home on his book about the Crusades; and Chloe is busy creating illustrations for a special edition of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Yet Chloe is disturbed--by the aggression of her government's foreign policy, by the poacher who roams the land behind her studio punctuating her solitude with rifle fire, and finally, by Toby's new girlfriend, a Croatian refugee named Salome Drago.
Raised in the Croatian expatriate community of New Orleans, Salome is a toxic mix of the old world and the new: intelligent, superstitious, sly, seductive, and confident. But Salome's past is a mine of dangerous secrets, and the violence that destroyed her homeland is far from over. Chloe distrusts her on sight, and as Toby's obsession with Salome grows, Chloe's mistrust deepens, alienating her from her tolerant husband and besotted son. Rich with menace, the novel unfolds in a world where darkness intrudes into bright and pleasant places, a world with betrayal at its heart. In shimmering prose Valerie Martin raises the question: who shall inherit America?
This thought-provoking novel by Orange Prize-winning Martin (for Property) opens deceptively, as the quiet story of a mother slowly adjusting to her 21-year-old son becoming an adult. In 2002, Chloe Dane is a loving mother and wife, an artist engrossed in illustrating a new edition of Wuthering Heights and a protestor against the imminent invasion of Iraq. Her husband, Brendan, is a historian who doubts that his work has any value but is generally self-satisfied. When their only child, Toby, a junior at NYU, gets Salome Drago, his Croatian immigrant girlfriend, pregnant and hastily marries her, Chloe fears he was trapped by a calculating woman more interested in Toby's family's impressive house and property than in Toby. When Salome learns her mother, Jelena, whom she believed was killed by Serbs, is alive, she traces her to Trieste and abruptly departs to find her. Toby follows, and when the newlyweds decide to drop out of college and remain in Italy, Chloe sends Brendan to bring Toby home. A tragedy--one very convenient for the narrative--strikes while Brendan's in Italy, paving the way for a startlingly light resolution. Forgiveness doesn't come easy for the characters as they learn that nothing--not family, borders or survival--is inviolable. (Sept.)
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September 16, 2007
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Excerpt from Trespass by Valerie Martin
Dark hair and lots of it, heavy brows, sharp features, dark eyes, dark circles under the eyes, dark looks about the room, at the maitre d', the waitress, the trolley laden with rich, tempting desserts, and finally, as Toby guides her to the table, at Chloe, who holds out her hand and says pleasantly, though she is experiencing the first tentative pricks of the panic that will consume her nights and disrupt her days for some time to come, "Salome, how good to meet you."
The hand she grasps is lifeless and she releases it almost at once. Toby pulls a chair out, meeting his mother's eyes over the truncated handshake with a look she characterizes as defiant. "My mother, Chloe Dale," he says.
"Hello," the young woman says, sinking into the chair. Toby lays his fingers upon her shoulder, just for a moment, very much the proprietor, and Salome sends him a weak smile.
On the phone Toby said, "You'll like her. She's different. She's very serious."
Which meant this one was not an airhead like Belinda, who had ruined an entire summer the year before. On hearing Toby's description, Brendan warned, "Brace up. Young men go for extremes."
"That's true," Chloe agreed. "You certainly did." She recollected Brendan's mad poet and the bout with the anorexic alcoholic, but she herself had not been a model of probity--the misunderstood artist who read too much William Blake and spent a semester poring over accounts of the Manson murders in preparation for a series of lithographs depicting dismembered female bodies.
The waitress approaches, brandishing heavy, leather-backed menus. Toby reaches for one, so does Chloe. Salome keeps her hands in her lap, forcing the waitress to stretch across the table and slip it in place between the knife and fork. "Can I get you something to drink?" she inquires.
"Let's have a bottle of mineral water for the table," Chloe says, "and I'll have a glass of the white Bordeaux."
"That sounds good," Toby agrees. "I'll have the same."
Salome's eyes come up from the menu and rest on Toby's mouth. "Coffee," she says.
She doesn't drink. Is that a good sign?
"She lives on coffee," Toby chides indulgently, as if he's letting his mother in on some charming secret. Chloe studies the young woman, who has lowered her eyes to the menu again, a faint smile playing about her lips.
She's confident, Chloe thinks. "So, how did you meet?" she asks.
"We're in the same poli-sci class," Toby says. "It's a big lecture. I spotted Salome, but we didn't actually talk until we both showed up at a meeting to organize a campus antiwar group."
"That's good," Chloe says. "You won't have to go through boring arguments about politics."
"What kind of arguments?" Salome asks offhandedly, still studying the menu.
"About politics," Chloe replies. "You're already in agreement." The drinks arrive and the conversation is suspended while the waitress pours out the water, arranges wineglasses and Salome's coffee, which comes in a silver pot with a smaller silver pitcher of cream. "Shall I give you a few minutes to decide on your orders?" she asks.
"I think so?" Chloe says to her son, who replies, "Yes. I'm not ready yet." All three fall silent, concentrating on elaborate descriptions of food. "What are you having?" Chloe asks Toby.
"I'm not sure," he says. "Maybe the salmon."
Salome pushes the menu aside, nearly upsetting her water glass, but her reflexes are quick and she steadies it with a firm hand laid across the base. Her fingernails, Chloe notes, are short, filed straight across. For a moment all three are fascinated by this decisive movement--no, the glass is not going to tumble--then, for the first time, Salome directs upon Chloe the full force of her regard. It's unsettling, like seeing a spider darting out crazily from some black recess in the basement. "Why would an argument about politics necessarily be boring?" Salome asks, her voice carefully modulated, free of accusation, as if she's inquiring into some purely scientific matter--why does gravity hold everything down, why does light penetrate glass but not wood.
Toby is right. There is nothing ordinary about this young person. "Well, not necessarily," she concedes. "But sometimes when people disagree strongly on principle, and there's no reconciliation possible, it can get pretty dull, pretty..." she pauses, looking for the noninflammatory word ..."unproductive."
"Salome loves to argue about politics," Toby observes, temporizing, as is his way.
Lives on coffee, loves to argue. Could there be a connection?
"I don't actually love it," Salome corrects him. "But when it's necessary, I never find it boring."
Fast work. Chloe now stands accused of calling Toby's new love interest boring.