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Confusing,
Insightful,
Romantic

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This Fine Life: A Novel
by Eva Marie Everson

Published: 2010-05-01
Paperback : 352 pages
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It is the summer of 1959 and Mariette Puttnam has just graduated from boarding school. When she returns to her privileged life at home, she isn't sure where life will take her. More schooling? A job? Marriage? Nothing feels right. How could she know that the answer is waiting for her within the ...
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Introduction

It is the summer of 1959 and Mariette Puttnam has just graduated from boarding school. When she returns to her privileged life at home, she isn't sure where life will take her. More schooling? A job? Marriage? Nothing feels right. How could she know that the answer is waiting for her within the narrow stairwell of her father's apparel factory, exactly between the third and fourth floors? In this unique and tender story of an unlikely romance, popular author Eva Marie Everson takes readers on a journey through the heart of a young woman bound for the unknown. Readers will experience the joys of new love, the perseverance of true friendship, and the gift of forgiveness that comes from a truly fine life.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

This is not the story of my life. This is the story of my husband’s
life, or at the very least how the story of his life affected
mine and all those he touched just by his being near
them or with them. Thayne was like that, you see. Just by
being, he touched lives. He was infectious, upbeat, passionate,
determined. Next to the flame of his existence I was a
spark looking to ignite, a matchstick never quite making it
to the striker. But, in time, the same fever that burned within
him burned within me.

For too long I had existed, not really going anywhere and
not standing still. I just lived, always in search of something
that seemed just out of my range of vision. Or, if I thought
I could see it—this elusive thing I needed to be complete—it
was slightly out of reach.

But the change didn’t occur instantaneously after meeting
Thayne. I had to come to grips with who he was, who I was
when I was with him, and who I was without him. I had to
open myself up to the truth he’d discovered, step into the
pages of its book, pressing myself like a flower between them.
I had to stop looking for the fairy tale and find the story.

Up until my eighteenth birthday the days of my life came
too easily. Pampered childhood, oldest of three children, good
my next academic move, my mother plotted the rise of my
social status, and all the while I lived day to day, trying to
figure out just where my life would go from wherever it was
at that moment.

And then everything changed, all within the narrow stairwell
of my father’s apparel factory, exactly between the third
and fourth floors.

I returned home on a warm summer’s day in early June 1959.
The previous afternoon I’d celebrated my graduation from
Saint Margaret Mary High, a private boarding school I’d attended
over the past four years. Mama and Daddy were there,
of course. Daddy’s mother. My brothers, Tommy and Mitch
(whom I had always called Toodles, much to his dismay). After
the solemn services—where I received the St. Francis de Sales
award for having read the greatest number of books in the four
years I’d attended—Daddy had taken us out for a pricey dinner
at a swank restaurant Mama had chosen for the occasion. While
Tommy and Mitch devoured hamburgers with thick, juicy fries,
the rest of us dined on steak and baked potatoes loaded with
gobs of sour cream and sweet butter and garnished with chives.
It was the Great Feast, the Last Supper, if you will. The meal
where I’d officially left the innocence of childhood and entered
the sacrificial experience of adulthood with all its questions,
most of which Grandmother Puttnam was asking.

“So, Mariette, what’s next for you, dear?” she asked, dabbing
at the corners of her mouth with the white linen napkin
she’d drawn from her lap.

“Well,” I began. I dropped my hands to my own napkin.
I grabbed it by its seam and pulled, curling my fingers until
my hands had formed tiny fists. “I’m not really sure. I’m all
packed and ready to go home tomorrow, of course, and I
thought maybe this summer I’d just, you know, spend some
time with old friends, hang out at the beach, take in some
movies. Come fall I can concentrate on what’s really next.”

I cut my eyes over to Mama, who added, “She’s a young
lady of breeding, Miss Emily. She’ll do what all young ladies
of breeding do.”

Daddy cleared his throat. “She’ll go to school starting the
first of next year. We let her slide on fall enrollment, but come
January . . .” His voice trailed off.

I smiled at Grandmother Puttnam. “Maybe I can combine
my father’s wish with my mother’s wish, go to college, and
come back with an M.R.S.”

Grandmother Puttnam reached for her glass of water and
spoke, directing her comments to my mother. “Mary Sue,
what I would have given for the opportunity to have earned
a college degree. Women didn’t do things like that in my day,
of course. Or it was few and far between. Most of us were
expected to marry and participate in all that goes with wedded
bliss, and so we did.” Then she looked at me. “My dear,
what do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

I didn’t answer right away. I couldn’t. I had absolutely no
idea what I wanted to do or be, what I wanted to accomplish
or earn. The thought of being some man’s wife for
the rest of my life—especially some man Mama might find
suitable—left rocks in the pit of my stomach. But I couldn’t
imagine four years at a college—an all-girls college if I knew
my father—either.

All eyes turned to me. I finally smiled, tilted my head, and
said, “Oh, I don’t know, Grandmother. Let’s just see what
the summer brings.”

The following evening, Daddy stood at my bedroom door
and said his final good night. “Tomorrow?” he asked. “Lunch
at noon with the old man?”

“Like old times?”

Daddy winked at me. He instinctively knew what I was
asking. “Old times” was our code for a greasy cheeseburger
with fries and a fountain drink at Drucker’s Rexall Drug
Store. “Like old times.” He disappeared from the doorway
and stepped down the hall to say good night to Tommy and
Mitch.

I chuckled lightly. It was good to be home, even though
Mama would have a conniption fit if she knew Daddy would
be spoiling me with such tempting delicacies. “She’s a young
woman now,” she’d say. “She needs to watch her figure if she’s
going to land a husband of any worth.”

I am a young woman now. That much was certain. I’d left
for Saint Margaret Mary’s a gangly fourteen-year-old and
had returned after my senior year as grown and ripe for the
picking as they come.

I heard the faint “good nights” whispered by my father and
brothers, then listened as Daddy entered the master bedroom,
where my mother was waiting. Their room was separated
from mine by the wall behind my headboard.

At first no words were spoken between them. I waited expectantly
for the sound of drawers sliding open then shut. The
door to the bathroom closing, then opening. My father muttering
something followed by my mother’s comeback. These
were the words I never understood, muffled by Sheetrock and
wallpaper. But I’d certainly wondered about them. These
were the words of a couple who still loved each other after
twenty years of marriage. What were they, exactly? What did
a woman say to a man she’d slept with for two decades?

Typically, after the ebb and flow of their final conversation
of the day, they and the house would grow silent, then dark.
I would turn off my bedside lamp and, like all the others in
our home, fall asleep. But this night was different. This night
I heard their words. Not the first words, but the final ones.

“This is a new era, Mary Sue,” Daddy said. “A young
woman can choose more than being a wife and mother. A
young woman can choose education and following in her
father’s footsteps rather than her mother’s.”

I gripped the year-old copy of First Love and Other Sorrows
I’d been reading. I sucked in my breath, held it, and
listened. They were fighting . . . they were fighting over me.

“Don’t be asinine, Carroll. Mariette will now join all the
social clubs for women of her age and stature. She’ll do some
volunteer work, I imagine, but she’ll also attend parties and
teas. This is her time to prepare herself for—”
“Who are you calling ‘asinine,’ woman?” To my relief,
Daddy’s voice was not demanding; it was tender and sensual.
I released my breath with a sigh.

Mama’s voice dropped low. “You, you old bear,” she said.
Then the rumble of laughter from deep within my father’s
ample girth. I slid low between the crisp and familiar white
sheets. My father had never been (nor would he ever be) a
match for my mother when it came to sparring over their
children. When not another sound came through the wall, I
closed my book, turned out the white milk glass lamp next
to my bed, drew a pillow over my head, and went to sleep.

I slept in until ten o’clock the next morning, forced myself
out of bed, then traipsed down the stairs and into the kitchen,
looking for Mama and a cup of coffee. Instead I found Daisy,
Mama’s once-a-week help, ironing laundry and humming an
old spiritual tune I didn’t know the name of; but I certainly
knew the melody. I’d been hearing Daisy vacillate between
humming and singing it since I was five. “Wheel in a wheel,
way in de middle of de air,” I sang as a way of greeting her.
“Well, look what the cat done drug out of the bed,” she
said, shaking her head.

Daisy was a tall, slender woman with mahogany skin and
round gray-blue eyes that belied her heritage. Or, at the very
least, kept mine in a state of reproach. Her hair was nearly
sheared, and no matter what day of the week, she wore large
pearl-like earrings that seemed to elongate her earlobes. She
was stunning enough to be a movie star but poor enough to
be a white woman’s housemistress.

I stood before her in my baby pink cotton pajamas that
were too short since I had grown another two inches. Mama
said I should be done by now, but I’d hit 5'9" not two months
ago. I placed my hands on my hips in mock reprimand and
said, “I deserve a little rest and relaxation, Daisy. I’ve been
hard at work earning my high school diploma.”

“The good Lord never meant us to sleep till the day was
nearly half over,” she said, pressing the iron hard against
one of my father’s handkerchiefs, one of those I’d embroidered
his monogram along one corner of and slipped into
his Christmas stocking six months before.

“Is there any coffee?” I asked, ignoring her reprimand as
I often did.

“Will be when you make yourself a pot,” she said.
I giggled. “Oh, Daisy. You know I don’t know how to
make coffee.”

“Time you learned,” she said. “Grab that pot over there in
the drain. I’ve already washed it once this morning. I reckon
I can wash it again.”

I reached for the pot and shook out the excess water. “You
really want me to make the coffee?” I asked. I looked down at
the Timex gracing my wrist. “I’m supposed to meet Daddy
at 11:45, and I haven’t had a bath yet.”

“Then I reckon you’d best hurry and do what I tell you.
Now, fill the pot with water up to that there line you see
marking for four cups. No, make that six. May as well have
myself a cup or two seeing as you’re making it.”

Later, I dressed in a cotton swing skirt—white, with large
luscious slices of watermelon splashed across it—a wide black
patent leather belt and a red summer sweater with a satin
bow at the shoulder, a pair of nylons and black high-heeled
pumps. I pinched my cheeks hard for color as I looked at my
reflection in the vanity mirror then raced down the stairs,
ready to hop into the new cherry red Chrysler De Soto Daddy
and Mama had gifted me with for graduation.

Mama met me with a smile at the bottom of the curving
staircase. “What?” I asked, stopping before her, two stairs
up from the landing where she stood. “What has you so
pleased?”

“I’m just happy to see you dressed like the young lady you
are, and not in that tomboyish way you’ve insisted upon for
so long, looking more like an older brother than older sister
to the boys.”

I stepped to the hardwood floor and turned slowly. “You
like? Pretty peachy, huh?”

“Honestly, all these new sayings you children have these
days.” She briefly touched my ribbon. “I do like this red ribbon.”

I gave my hair a light touch. Naturally dark blonde, it
reached past my shoulders when straight, but in a flip, as I
wore it now, it grazed the top with a light bounce. My hair
was an asset, and I knew it. I took great care to brush it repeatedly
before bed, to use the best products, and to drench it
in egg yolks at least once a month, allowing the yolks to dry
to a crisp, stiff mask before rinsing. “Thanks, Mama.” I gave
her a light kiss on the cheek, wiped off the lipstick imprint of
my affection with my thumb, then left my childhood home
to begin my life as an adult.

I just didn’t know it yet.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1. By the end of the story, Mariette and Thayne had experienced “a fine life” together as a married couple and had gained the approval of her parents. But when they met, Mariette’s parents adamantly forbade their relationship. In fact, it was Mariette’s disobedience that resulted in their getting married. This raises some questions:
a. Do you think Mariette was wrong for defying her parents, and if so, do you feel any of their early misfortunes were a consequence of those actions?
b. If Mariette had listened to her parents and ended her relationship with Thayne, do you think she would have missed God’s purpose for her life? Do you think it’s possible she missed God’s purpose for her life by not listening to her parents?

2. Why do you think God waited so long to reveal himself to Mariette?

3. Which attributes of Christ did Thayne possess that made him a better witness for Christ? Which helped him be a better witness to his wife, who for years lacked his passion for God?

4. How is the story of Mariette and Thayne’s journey symbolic of our role as the bride of Christ?

5. Without the influence of God on Thayne’s life, do you think his and Mariette’s passion would have ever blossomed into the love they shared by the end of the story? What does love entail that passion doesn’t and how do these differences mirror our ever-maturing relationship with God?

6. Could it have been God’s mercy and grace that redirected the fate of Mariette and Thayne’s relationship? Besides giving us eternal life, what are some of the ways God’s mercy and grace have saved you from the consequences of your actions?

7. How were Mariette’s negative experiences in Logan’s Creek useful in eventually drawing her to the heart of God? How has God used hurtful or difficult times in your life to strengthen your faith and/or relationship with him?

8. As a pastor’s wife who lacked a personal relationship with God, Mariette was given a role that, at least initially, she could not understand. Simultaneously, everyone criticized her every move and mistake. Have you ever felt God has given you a purpose or a role that you and others around you did not understand? How did you deal with it and what did you learn about God’s ways? Did you obey immediately or did you first run the other direction?

9. What are the similarities and differences between Mariette’s having no relationship with God and the people of Logan’s Creek’s “dead” relationship with God?

10. The Bible tells us, “All things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). How was God able to weave the lives of everyone involved to both renew and develop their spiritual walks? Do you think Logan’s Creek would have gone unchanged if Mariette or Thayne had ignored God’s calling?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the author:

Most readers will be surprised to know that the idea for This Fine Life came in the form of an old Frank Sinatra standard, When I Was Seventeen. When I "worked for a living,” my boss played Old Blue Eyes on the sound system because I loved his music. One day, as that song played, I got the germ of an idea for a story about a young man who leaves the farm, moves to the "city,” meets a girl, and his life changes. From that time until I contracted the book -- which was years -- I'd add to the storyline. By the time I sat down to write, the story had become about the life of his bride, how knowing him changed her and everyone they met, their struggles as a couple, and the way their love deepened as they matured.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "OK"by FriendshipSisters (see profile) 02/17/14

At first I loved this book, and did love the characters. Towards the middle to end of book the author just seemed to jump way ahead leaving you curious about everything in between. In the end, I felt... (read more)

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