Authors: Liza Gyllenhaal
“A compelling, adroitly crafted novel of suspense about a woman’s second chance at happiness. [Gyllenhaal’s] lucid prose illuminates everyday life while shining a light on the darkest secrets and desires. The taut and evocative prose is psychologically astute and powerful. Liza Gyllenhaal is one of our finest novelists of the heart writing today.”
—Carol Goodman, author of
The Lake of Dead Languages
“A tale of betrayal, greed, and murder with more twists than the paths through the gardens she describes so poetically along the way. Gyllenhaal also handily highlights a contemporary social issue sure to spark debates in every corner, as well as creates female characters with heart and ambition. . . . Fans of Jodi Picoult and Chris Bohjalian, this book’s for you!”
—Holly Robinson, author of
The Wishing Hill
Beach Plum Island
“Full of intrigue and heart, Liza Gyllenhaal’s new novel is sure to leave you feeling as if you’ve taken a stroll through your favorite flower garden and found that strength was in full bloom.”
—Jennifer Scott, author of
The Sister Season
A Place for Us
“As timely as today’s headlines, as eternal as familial love, this is a dazzling novel of the joys and perils of parenthood and the desperation of adolescents striving to belong and struggling to grow up. Gyllenhaal has written a lyrical, psychologically astute, heart-stoppingly suspenseful novel about what it means to be part of a family.”
—Ellen Feldman, author of
Next to Love
Written by today’s freshest new talents and selected by New American Library, NAL Accent novels touch on subjects close to a woman’s heart, from friendship to family to finding our place in the world. The Conversation Guides included in each book are intended to enrich the individual reading experience, as well as encourage us to explore these topics together—because books, and life, are meant for sharing.
Visit us online at penguin.com.
“Gyllenhaal’s novel is a snapshot of a family and a community in crisis. It is a thought-provoking, all-too-familiar story of young people attempting to navigate the often treacherous road to adulthood and adults attempting to parent on an equally dangerous path.”
“Very compassionate and realistic. A very compelling, gripping story from the start to the last page.”
—My Book Addiction Reviews
“A powerful story about grudges, secrets, and family loyalty.”
RT Book Reviews
“[With] a timely, ripped-from-the-headlines story, this book will get readers thinking even after the last page is finished.”
News and Sentinel
“Unexpected, jarring, and beautiful. . . . Gyllenhaal doesn’t just invite us to follow a story from the sidelines. She grabs our arms and yanks us right into the center of an emotional whirlwind. . . . Gyllenhaal demonstrates a deft hand at lyrical writing that subtly balances metaphors, philosophical realizations, and the realistic complexity of emotions.”
“Intriguing . . . a real page-turner!”
“Gyllenhaal plumbs the complexity of human emotions in this wonderful novel. With sensitivity and compassion, she creates characters that will pull at your heart on their journey through grief. I loved reading
a truly believable and compelling story.”
—Katherine Davis, author of
A Slender Thread
“A bighearted debut.”
“This is a book to savor. . . . Selling real estate is the surface story, but as you peel back the layers throughout the chapters you realize it is about family relationships, old friends, and new friends.”
“A damn fine novel. . . . Gyllenhaal truly makes the Berkshire setting jump to life. And she is terrific with character—I particularly admired the way she wove personality into action—so that the behavior of her characters in her setting seems natural, unforced, and often really compelling. . . . I constantly felt as if I knew the people on the page, so I was captivated by their story.”
—John Katzenbach, bestselling author of
What Comes Next
“Gripping and deeply perceptive, this powerful debut novel reveals the pleasures and struggles of true friendship and the painful decisions we often make for acceptance and love. Small-town life and work are rendered in vivid detail, as are the memorable characters, who come alive in the hands of a gifted new writer.”
—Ben Sherwood, author of
Charlie St. Cloud
“Deftly draws the reader . . . down through the layers and layers of intimate entanglements her characters have with each other, the land, and the new and old ways of life. I highly recommend
to anyone who loves good writing.”
—Tina Welling, author of
Cowboys Never Cry
“Enjoyable and intriguing. . . . Gyllenhaal has a magnificent grasp of small-town dynamics. . . . Gyllenhaal breaks the mold of expectation by weaving in complex interactions over years of shared economic and emotional struggles. . . . [T]hrough Gyllenhaal’s superb skill there is an almost poetic quality to how the events of the past tie into the fragile relationships of the present.”
“How accomplished this first novel is . . . a rich, authentic read . . . with a tightly focused cast of characters once again proving the old adage that less is more . . . a timely enough message if ever there was one.”
A Place for Us
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published by NAL Accent, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Copyright © Liza Gyllenhaal Bennett, 2014
Conversation Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REG
Bleeding heart / Liza Gyllenhaal.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
heater! Cheater! Cheater!”
I stopped on the pathway leading out to the barn to listen to the male cardinal’s repeated cry. He and the missus lived in the stand of hemlocks behind the house and spent their days alternately foraging under the kitchen bird feeders and reminding me over and over again of my folly.
Most ornithologists identify the call as
cheer, cheer, cheer
birdie, birdie, birdie
. But I knew better. The soundstage effect of the snow muffled the bird’s cry, but I still heard the warning clearly.
Don’t forget! You must never forget!
Not that I could even if I wanted to. It would be like forgetting that I’d lost an arm or a leg. The source of the pain was gone, but its throbbing absence would always be with me. For, in fact, I had been cheated. Something
been taken from me. Many things, actually. Trust. Security. Identity. The wonderful complacency of marriage and motherhood. Of knowing exactly where I stood in the world. And that the sun would come up again over the sugar maples bordering our old Westchester property. The Hyatt house on the corner. I could still see it all so clearly in my mind’s eye! My
daughters, bent dutifully over their cereal bowls at the kitchen table. Richard, flapping open the
Wall Street Journal
. The row of African violets on the windowsill. All of it gone now. Swept away—no, cruelly severed. Without warning. Or recourse. Or even—and this was the worst of it, really—explanation.
“You got a call from the Mackenzie residence,” Mara said as I came into the office, stamping the snow off my boots. Last night’s unexpected late-winter storm had dumped another six inches on the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. The thrill of January’s sun-dazzled snowscapes was long gone. It was mid-March, after all. Daffodils were blooming in other parts of the country.
“What?” I asked, shedding my duffle coat and hanging it on the wall rack next to Mara’s oversized parka.
“The Mackenzie residence,” she said again. “That big new place on the mountain. The one you and Mrs. Boyland were talking about last week.”
I’m always a little taken aback when I realize that my self-effacing assistant, Mara, might actually be listening in on my telephone conversations. I guess it’s hard not to overhear each other in the winter when I close off most of the old barn to save on heat, and Mara and I are forced to share the small front office. I know I should probably just shut down Green Acres altogether during the off-season. But a nagging fear that I’ll somehow lose momentum and slip back into the abyss keeps me at my desk. Just as her need to provide for her son, Danny, keeps Mara, a single parent, at hers. Both of us, in the dead of winter, frittering away time on the Internet. And, in my case, talking on the phone, frequently to Gwen Boyland.
“I’m guessing two million when all is said and done,” Gwen had told me the week before. My closest friend in Woodhaven, Gwen takes endless pleasure in talking about money. What things
cost. How much people are worth. Lately she’s become obsessed, as have many others in town, with calculating the final tally for the glass and steel monolith on Powell Mountain that’s been under construction for the past two years. Since the recession hit, building in our area has fallen way off. This was one of the few new homes to go up in ages—and certainly the biggest.
“Todd told me they had to tear out all the marble in the bathrooms because the owner thought it was too pink,” I’d said to Gwen. Todd Franey, who works for Green Acres during the summer, picks up odd construction jobs the rest of the year and had been a dogsbody for the tile installer. A sweet-natured local boy, he was dumbstruck over the waste of money and materials. “He told me the marble had all been custom cut, so the owner had to eat the cost. It must have been thousands of dollars.”
“I happen to know it was almost twenty thousand,” Gwen had said. Before she took over as executive director of the Woodhaven Historical Society, Gwen worked as a real estate broker, and she still maintains a wide-ranging network of contacts in that world. “That’s a drop in the bucket for someone like Graham Mackenzie. The man has got to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
“Todd said he’s putting in some kind of fancy landing pad,” I’d told her.
“Oh, folks are going to love that!” Gwen said. “The griping I’ve heard about that damned helicopter!”
I’d heard the sound myself from time to time, though only as a distant irritant. But I knew that people who lived closer to Powell Mountain swore the noise of Mackenzie’s swirling blades overhead was interrupting their sleep patterns and destroying their sense of rural repose. When I’d summered in Woodhaven with my family as a girl, Powell Mountain, which rises eleven hundred feet over the northern edge of town, was a wilderness of hemlocks and birches,
limestone outcroppings, deer paths, and cascading brooks. It wasn’t until after 9/11, when the Berkshires were hit by a sudden growth spurt, that anyone seriously considered building there. After all, it would take a ridiculous amount of money to clear the heavily wooded mountainside, cut in switchbacks, and lay down the necessary power and water lines. But by the time I moved up to Woodhaven from Westchester five years ago, a half dozen millionaires—all loosely affiliated through business dealings—had divvied up the 125-acre property and started erecting enormous trophy homes. Graham Mackenzie was building his place on the last and biggest parcel. It was on the very top of the mountain and had panoramic views of three states.
“Where did he get all his money?” I asked.
“I’ve been Googling him. He’s very big in hydrofracking. His MKZEnergy is the third-largest natural gas producer in the country. The stock price has been almost doubling every year for the last four years.”
“I’d ask you why this matters,” I said, “but I’m afraid I already know.” My dear friend is not a gold digger in any traditional sense of the word. She doesn’t yearn to be draped in minks or to be sunbathing on a yacht in Monte Carlo. Her ambitions are far more focused and hardheaded than that. At this point, I think Gwen would do just about anything to raise the funds necessary to restore Bridgewater House. Built in 1751, it’s the oldest standing residence in Woodhaven, and its renovation is the main reason Gwen was hired as the full-time executive director of the Woodhaven Historical Society. Since the announcement of the start of the capital campaign last summer to return the structure to its former glory, Gwen has been relentlessly running down every loose piece of change in the area.
“It makes me crazy that I can’t make inroads into that millionaires’ row up there,” Gwen said. “They throw all their money at Tanglewood and at Shakespeare & Company and totally ignore this historic gem nestled right here in the heart—”
“I’ve already heard your sales pitch,” I reminded her. “Save it for Mackenzie. But I wouldn’t put much hope in someone who rips apart the earth for a living.”
“Oh, right, unlike Andrew Carnegie and Henry Frick and those other robber barons.”
But no matter how Gwen tried to justify it, I was still uncomfortable with what felt to me like her growing desperation about meeting the Bridgewater fund-raising goal. I knew all too well what the campaign meant to her career. Though she tried to put a good face on it, her midlife shift into the not-for-profit sector had resulted from a series of dead-end jobs in the for-profit one. This in many ways was Gwen’s last chance to turn her luck around. We’re both in our late forties now. We’d both been forced to make drastic reductions in our lifestyles and expectations over the past several years. Our options were narrowing. But I believed I was coming to terms with the setbacks I’d experienced. Bitterness welled up in the back of my throat only occasionally now, and the old outrage that had once dominated my waking hours had finally slackened. Green Acres had turned a decent profit for three years running, and I believed I was finally starting to get my life back on track. I wasn’t so sure about Gwen.
“And what did the Mackenzie residence want?” I asked Mara as I sat down at my desk and swiveled my chair in her direction. Though I’d suggested she set up her workstation next to mine in front of the large sunny windows that looked out on the herb garden and greenhouse, Mara had elected to stay in the back of the
room near the sliding doors that opened to the rest of the barn. She’d angled her desk so that the back of her computer was facing me, blocking her body and the screen from view. It seemed to me that Mara made a concerted effort to avoid any kind of attention. Though she’d been working for me for more than a year now, I knew very little about her personal life except for the fact that she was raising an adorable toddler on her own. In the beginning, I found her guarded to the point of being rude. But just as I’d become dependent on her quiet efficiency, I’d grown used to her curt and wary manner.
“Don’t know,” she said, getting up and walking across the room to hand me a yellow sticky note upon which she’d written in her loopy schoolgirl hand a local number and “Eleanor—housekeeper.” “You’re supposed to call back.”
I made a cup of tea and sorted through the mail, which was mostly catalogs from nursery wholesalers and garden supply companies. My mind was on the message, though. And what it probably meant. Why else would someone contact a landscaping firm? Like everyone else in Woodhaven, I’d watched Mackenzie’s house taking shape on the mountaintop, the late-afternoon sun blazing across its row of windows. Most people thought it was a monstrosity, but I found its clean, forceful lines intriguing. It was way too big, of course, more fortress than home. But I also recognized that it was modern in the best sense of the word—unexpected and visually compelling. There were very few vantage points in Woodhaven where, looking north, you could miss catching sight of the sprawling edifice. I’d wondered in passing what sort of landscaping Mackenzie had in mind. It wasn’t going to be easy. That kind of bold, in-your-face architecture demanded an equally aggressive garden design. Specimen trees and shrubs. Grasses, perhaps. Lots of stonework.
I played with the sticky note, curling the glued edge inward with my index finger. It was harmless enough to tinker with ideas, but I knew I could never work for someone like Mackenzie—someone who despoiled the land for profit. When my life had imploded seven years ago this past September, the world around me turned to ash. For months on end, nothing gave me pleasure. It was only after I left Westchester and moved up to Woodhaven that my depression slowly started to lift. The old white clapboard Colonial that had been my family’s summerhouse for generations became my refuge, the long-neglected gardens my salvation.
Working almost nonstop those first few months, I uprooted the brambles that had imprisoned my grandmother’s peonies. I pruned back and rejuvenated my mother’s roses. I restored the fencing around my father’s old vegetable garden and dug up and replanted whatever herbs had not been colonized by weeds. My daughters and friends believed that I began to find new purpose in life when I went back to school to get my horticultural degree and then started Green Acres. But the truth was I’d already found it. By then I’d lost all faith in human beings. It was the boundless, selfless beauty of the natural world that led me back to the land of the living.
“I said you’d return her call this morning,” Mara said, interrupting my thoughts. I glanced up at the wall clock. It was a little past noon.
“You did?” It was unlike Mara to make such a promise. Early on, we’d settled on a clear-cut division of labor. I handled sales, client contact, and design. She took care of the billing and scheduling. Though I’d hired her as my assistant, I soon realized that she was more than my equal in terms of organization and efficiency. I’d learned to say she worked
—me. We were both careful about observing each other’s boundaries. I would never take it
upon myself to speak for her, and this was the first time that I could remember her doing so for me.
“Yeah, well . . . ,” Mara said from behind her computer terminal, “I got the feeling the housekeeper really wants to talk to you.”
“But I can’t work for this Mackenzie person. Do you know what hydrofracking is?”
Mara leaned around her desk, her gray-green eyes taking me in with an intensity that I often found disconcerting. Mara was hardly out of her teens, but she had the world-weary, unyielding stare of someone several decades older.
“Sure,” she said. “I know what it is.”
“And you don’t think it’s a danger to the environment?”
“Maybe,” she said. “But so are a lot of other things.” Despite her impassive expression, her tone was subtly wheedling. For whatever reason, she wanted me to return the phone call. She wanted me to meet with Mackenzie.
Then she added: “Don’t you kind of wonder what that place looks like on the inside?”
“Is that what this is all about?” I said with a laugh. “Crass curiosity?” Mara’s answering grin—such a rare sight!—reminded me of how young she still was. Young and struggling to keep her head above water. She rotated the same jeans and sweatshirts week after week. I suspected that any extra money she made went directly into caring for Danny. That Mara would be eager to learn about the interior trappings of some millionaire’s house touched and saddened me. She acted so tough and self-sufficient. But, of course, like the rest of us, it was just an act.