Fresh air /
Charlotte Vale Allen.
Don Mills, Ont. : MIRA Books, [2004], c2003.
348 p. ; 18 cm.
More Details
Don Mills, Ont. : MIRA Books, [2004], c2003.
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A Look Inside
First Chapter

Lucinda didn't bother anyone, kept to herself as much as possible. It wasn't so much about privacy as it was about the effort required to speak. She felt as if she'd said everything she had to say at least a thousand times. There was nothing more to add. And, inevitably, talking - to anyone, about anything - either required elaboration on what had been said, or got you into trouble. She preferred to keep her thoughts to herself; it was safer that way.

Luckily, she had skills that allowed her to have something to do without ever having to leave her house; she rarely even had to talk to anyone in conjunction with the jobs she did. That was one of the beautiful aspects of the Internet. You could work in blissful solitude, responding to queries by email or fax, and bill at an hourly wage that was well above that of most of the husbands of the yuppy-mummies whose newly built houses kept creeping ever closer to her secluded, intentionally overgrown piece of property. It wasn't that she needed the money, but she had to do some sort of work to keep herself sane.

She'd been inundated with offers for the land for the past decade; they'd started as sporadic feelers and had gradually grown to regular, insistent telephone calls. The instant she saw "anonymous" or the name of some now-familiar real estate agency on the Caller ID, she let the Auto Hang-Up field the call. She particularly enjoyed its message: "I'm sorry, we do not accept telemarketing calls. Please regard this message as your notification to remove this number from your list. Thank you." She did pity many of the people who worked these thankless, low-paying jobs; but a lot of them were con-artists who scammed people, particularly the elderly, out of millions of dollars every year. Besides, the calls were ceaseless and annoying. If you happened to pick up the receiver, you'd be saying, "Hello, hello," into dead space sometimes for as long as ten or fifteen seconds before the person on the other end realized that the auto-dialer had caught a live one. So Auto Hang-Up was her pal, keeping telephonic nuisances away from her. If it was a real estate agent, she said, "Sorry, not interested," and hung up.

She didn't want to sell her house or any part of her land; she didn't want something for nothing (she knew better and, anyway, she didn't have a greedy bone in her body); she had no interest in changing her Internet service provider, or her long-distance provider, or extending the credit line on any of her plastic cards. She knew categorically that she hadn't won a free trip, or a free anything. Those excited voices, prepped to make their pitch, merely made her tired. There wasn't a single service or convenience that she wanted that she didn't already have. So, unless it was work-related (and very occasionally, it was) there was no reason for her to answer the phone.

She had, some time ago, lost her skill in the art of conversation; lost the easy give-and-take rhythm she'd once had, and the ready humor that had been an integral part of her everyday interactions. With time and enough neglect, most of her friends gave up and quit calling. One or two had hung in, but she rarely took their calls. Along with the loss of her conversational skills, she'd mislaid her comprehension of friendship. Intellectually, she understood the reason for it, the need. But it had become like a dance she'd once known and had been able to perform automatically, effortlessly. Now she was awkward, uncertain in her movements; could no longer recall the steps or their sequence. And so, at her choosing, she lived in not unpleasant isolation. She wasn't out of touch, though, because everything she might conceivably need to know, or want, was available to her through the Web. Anything could be purchased online, from drugstore items to specialty foods, to books and music, and tools of every conceivable kind. There wasn't a thing she needed that she couldn't acquire in under half an hour on the Internet.

The arrival of a UPS or FedEx driver in the morning, and the mailman each afternoon were the focal points of her day. There was a small pleasure in opening packages to examine her purchases: computer accessories or software updaters, office supplies, bath products, even clothes. Diligently, she flattened the packaging and each week, tied with twine, she set the sizable bundle of cardboard out with the blue box of recyclables - the brown paper bags of newspaper and magazines, of hard copy, of junk mail.

She had routines and took something close to comfort in maintaining them. There were nights when she worked until two or three in the morning, then slept until nine-thirty, awakening with a guilty start. There was no one to know or care that she'd overslept, but guilt was a lifelong habit, unbreakable. Still, she liked the early-morning hours when CDs played quietly through the computer's speakers (oldies from the forties, fifties and sixties; tunes that each had a significance she didn't dare examine too closely) and she worked until her concentration began to flag. Then she'd close her connection, let whichever song was playing come to an end and, finally, shut down the computer.

Swiveling in her chair, she'd look around the living room from the vantage point of her L-shaped desk positioned in the corner against the outside wall by the broad window, studying the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture, the way the verticals defined the size of the windows. The place bore little resemblance to the way it had looked years before, when they'd first come to live here. Her mother had had terrible taste, just terrible. She'd been living proof that becoming rich and famous couldn't overcome what you inherited from a tainted gene pool. The few decent pieces of furniture in the house had been passed along to her mother from her sister Beattie (who'd had exquisite taste). And those pieces had stood out painfully - like new rich kids coming into a classroom filled with students whose parents worked in stores or factories - shockingly out of place, yet fascinating in their own right, with their expensive clothes and flawless teeth. A gorgeous teak sofa with nubby beige fabric; a wonderfully squat, sunny-yellow ceramic lamp with a generous, spreading shade; a wide wicker tray that had at Aunt Beattie's house held an array of glossy magazines but in which her mother had placed three African violet plants that leaked dirty water through the wicker onto the top of the coffee table so that the veneer eventually lifted and split. Given the extreme ugliness of the table, it had been no hardship for Lucinda to consign it to the trash.

In the years since her mother's death, the house had become entirely Lucinda's. Almost nothing of her mother's remained, except some old framed photographs on the mantelpiece, half a dozen carefully packed cartons of highly collectible memorabilia, and eight or nine photo albums that had been started in the early forties and covered nearly thirty years of a remarkable career, and random, almost incidental, family moments.


Excerpted from Fresh Air by Charlotte Allen Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-03-31:
Spunky nine-year-old Katanya Taylor, from Harlem, moves in with agoraphobic Lucinda Hunter, in Connecticut, when Katanya's original Fresh Air Fund matchup for a two-week vacation goes awry. At the start of this tale of reawakening and reconciliation-Vale Allen's 37th novel-young Katanya opens up 46-year-old Lucinda's life, breathing fresh air into her staid existence. Lucinda's world once revolved around her mother, Lily, who lived a rags-to-riches saga as a Hollywood star. Lily's untimely death from breast cancer left 19-year-old Lucinda-recently graduated from Yale with successful screenplays already under her belt-both orphaned and wealthy, with unanswered questions about her absent father, who she has come to learn was partly black. Her subsequent history-after the loss of her mother and a failed love affair, she becomes a total recluse-is not entirely credible, and now, 27 years later, it's hard to believe that a few encounters with Katanya could cure such a deeply rooted problem. Yet the author builds a poignant story out of Lucinda's search for her black roots and the family that she never knew. And Katanya, with her bright outlook on life, street smarts and spirited personality, is a delightful character. Despite the rather schematic fictional world Allen creates, the fluidity of her prose and her easy narrative skills are persuasive, and there's no doubt that readers will find her characters immensely appealing. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Main Description
A New York Times Bestselling Author Lucinda Hunter has been alone in the Connecticut farmhouse that was once her mother's. Her life has become a small thing. One July morning as she sits near the window, something in the garden catches her eye: a little girl in shorts and a t-shirt, her bare feet in outsize sneakers. Taken with the girl's sweet nature and generosity of spirit, Lucinda gradually finds herself drawn back into the world.
Unpaid Annotation
In this complex story about uncovering the past, it takes a little girl's spirit to open a screenwriter's heart when she learns that her father was a black man who died in the Korean War.

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