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This book was the 2012 Best Literary Fiction award winner from Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. (BAIPA)
The Emma Caites Way
Empty-nester, Fiona Hedge, finds a strange and evocative painting while rummaging in a thrift store. Later she discovers that it connects her to Emma Caites, an obscure, long-dead artist whose mysterious life compels her. In her quest to unravel Emma’s story, Fiona is forced to shake free of her own circumscribed life to explore new definitions of success, as she learns to live fully.
“She did it with her head held high.”
“I am awestruck. I can’t fully grasp the enormity of your task and I marvel at the thoughtful sensitivity you bring to the undertaking.”
These are two quotes from this novel and I can’t think of a better way to pay homage to A V Walters and her knack for storytelling. I became absorbed and mesmerized by the story and the characters. My only disappointment was not being able to see and taste personally what the author described so eloquently.
I wanted to sit at the table with the characters, I wanted to see the visions described within the pages. This is a must read if you enjoy the interweaving of how one persons’ life can impact so many others; and the triumph of living life despite whatever hard knocks may be thrown in your path. An amazing tale of lives crossing paths, a must read.
Fiona Hedge is a woman of a ‘certain’ age who is on her own, reasonably content but living a life that falls something short of real fulfillment. The chance discovery of a landscape, painted from the perspective of her rented home, launches her onto a quest to discover the story behind the artist, Emma Caites. This sets in motion a series of events that transform Emma’s rather uninspired day-to-day existence into a voyage of discovery. Along the way we meet a memorable cast of characters, each of whom widens Fiona’s world. This book evoked a bit of Alexander McCall Smith – one of my favorite writers. There is real warmth and just plain unassuming genuine goodness to Fiona and her new friends. OK, ‘chick lit’ is not really my genre, but this is a good story filled with characters that you’d like to meet. There’s a bit of Fiona in all of us who have reached some kind of maturity. Quickly, we’re cheering her on, hoping she can still grow, change, learn and expand outside her somewhat stodgy, fussy but endearing little eccentricities. I’d like to see a sequel where Fiona takes her natural curiosity and caring nature into new adventures – maybe even romance? Fiona (and Emma) show us that life is about our connectedness to others. In the words of Tolstoy, “The only real happiness is shared.” Highly recommended.
This is a simply fabulous novel filled with characters who will stay with me for many many years. WOW – what a story this author has created and the telling of it is masterful. I loved the book – one of those that I hated for it to end but could not put it down!
As I was reading, I laughed out loud, smiled often, teared up and actually shed tears a couple of times. The story resonated with me on so many levels (and it will for most people) … including the parent / child relationship aspect, the non-stereotypical fitting in to the “norm”, flying under the radar yet achieving great things, personal growth, love and friendship, completeness in one’s life, and so much more … Right down to the flea markets / “vintage” shops … OMG did I mention that I love the book and can still “picture the characters”?
This one is a must read!
Arthur Bradley rang the bell, fidgeting nervously at the door. His lanky frame tilted, weighed down on one side by his briefcase. He hadn’t called in advance—not knowing what he could have said on the phone. There was no answer. Anxiously, he pressed the button again. He set the briefcase down, clasped his hands together, and waited.
Finally, Fiona swung the door open, eyes widening when she saw who it was. “Why, Mister Bradley… what a surprise.” Clearly it was. Fiona was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans with her hair piled high on her head, wrapped in a towel.
Despite teaching for over forty years at a women’s college, Arthur Bradley had never become accustomed to the rituals of female grooming. He couldn’t imagine why a grown woman would be towel-turbaned in the middle of the afternoon. He blushed.
“Come on in,” she invited. “I’ll be just a minute.”
He followed her in and stood awkwardly for a moment in the living room while she ran upstairs. Realizing he’d left his briefcase on the porch, he stepped out to retrieve it, and as he bent over to pick it up, the door swung shut behind him. His fear was confirmed when he reached down to turn the knob. Locked. He couldn’t bear the idea of ringing the bell and stood, briefcase in hand, trying to decide whether to simply wait or flee.
He was still debating his next move when the door opened, and a confused Fiona peeked out. Her hair was damp, but combed neatly, she’d donned a cotton pullover.
“Well there you are.”
Arthur Bradley blushed again. This time it was clear that she’d noticed, making him blush even more.
“Well, I guess you’d best come in, again. Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, please, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“No, of course not. I was just going to make myself a pot.” She retreated to the kitchen to put on water. He followed her as far as the dining room, and seeing the table and chairs, set himself down for the duration. While she busied herself with the tea, he reached down into the briefcase and pulled out more than a few stacks of paper and a file folder, which he arranged neatly in front of him. All told, it added up to almost three reams of paper, separated into tidy piles.
Fiona brought the tea service in on a tray. Seeing the state of the table she retreated to the kitchen, and returned carrying only the two cups.
“Would you like sugar or cream?”
“No, thank you, black is fine.”
She placed a cup in front of Arthur and held hers as she sat down across from him at the paper-covered table.
Art Bradley, apparently satisfied with his organization, sat straight as he addressed Fiona, “I want you to know how impressed I am with this. It is a monumental effort.”
“What is it?”
Bradley had thought that self-evident, but replied, “Why, it’s the manuscript.”
“My manuscript? Surely it’s not this big. I’ve never actually seen it printed.”
“This is it. It’s in the edit format and I made the print a little bigger. I’ve also separated it into functional segments, corresponding loosely with decades. And thank you for getting it to me in advance of the deadline. Almost no one does that. This stack here,” he patted the largest stack of paper, “These are the footnotes.”
Fiona looked on.
“It’s very impressive. I certainly never expected this level of scholarship, or involvement.”
“Thank you. I had a lot of help.”
They sat quietly for a moment, surveying the array of paper on the dining room table.
Fiona sensed some discomfort from Arthur and broke the silence. “Is it too long?”
“Well… not exactly. It’s academic.”
“Yes. I thought that was, in part, the objective. It is, after all, an academic press.”
Bradley laid his hand again on the footnotes. “I must say again, I am particularly impressed with this.”
“Thank you…” Now, it was Fiona who was uncomfortable.
He picked up the footnotes, and flipped through them. “You, see, the heart of it is in here.”
“Is that good?”
“Of course. You truly captured it. Not an easy feat for any scholastic endeavor. With the accompanying exhibit materials, this is an exhaustive and sensitive approach to the art and times of Emma Caites.” He smiled.
“Thank you.” It was clear now that Arthur Bradley had something to say, but was avoiding saying it.
“If this were the Master’s or Doctoral thesis by any Mills student, I would be proud to publish it. Honored.”
Fiona couldn’t sit quietly any longer, “Mister Bradley, is there a problem with the manuscript?”
“Yes, you said that already.”
He paused nervously, “Normally, that would be precisely what I’d be looking for.”
Fiona leaned forward, as if that could get her closer to his meaning. “But not in this case?”
“Exactly. Thank you.” Bradley relaxed a little now that Fiona seemed to understand. With his hand still on the footnotes pages, he sipped his tea.
“Mister Bradley, what exactly is it you want me to do?”
The question seemed to surprise him. “Why, fix it, of course.”
“And what do you think is wrong with it?”
“It’s academic.” He saw Fiona’s eyes narrow as he searched for the words, “It could be more. It’s… inside-out.”
“The story is here,” he patted the footnotes stack again. Then he waived his hand dismissively at the rest, “These should be the footnotes.” Fiona hung in the silence. Arthur Bradley began to wonder if he’d offended her.
“Are you asking me to re-write it?”
“The whole book?”
He glanced over at her and noted her color draining away. “Well it’s really a reworking that’s needed. You’ve buried the story in the dates and influences. The footnotes, though, are lovely. They really sing. You’ve really got the story there.”
“Mister Bradley, there’s only…”
“Arthur, please. Call me Arthur.” He smiled warmly.
“There’s no time. There’s just over a month to the exhibit. It’s still got to be edited and printed.”
“There’s plenty of time to do it right. There always is.”
“Mister…” She caught his glance, “Arthur, I’ve just spent three months writing it. How do you expect me to re-write it in three weeks?”
“Fiona, it’ll be fine. But it has to be the best you can give. This just isn’t that.” She looked despondent. He’d thought there for a bit that she understood. He continued “Your research is done and the bones are good. You just need to turn it right-side-out.” She was near tears. Arthur Bradley had never been good with emotional women.
“What is it, exactly, that you mean by that? I don’t understand.” Shaking her head, she challenged, “Inside-out, right-side-out, speak English. What the hell do you mean?”
Bradley was flummoxed. “You know Emma well. Maybe too well. Sometimes you tell the story of Oakland, or the times, but forget Emma.”
“It’s all there.” Fiona was defensive, “I think I tell it all. Show me what you mean.”
Bradley hadn’t come to pin her to the wall. He was sorry that it was going so badly. He reached out, grabbed one of the stacks, and opened it randomly. He scanned the page, on which the text discussed the dynamics of Depression era art employment, particularly during the 1937 double dip period. At the end of the passage there was a footnote. Arthur Bradley handed her the page. “Read this section.”
Fiona complied. She looked up, “So?”
“What’s the footnote number?
Fiona scanned the text again, “137.”
Arthur Bradley hoisted the hefty footnote section and flipped through its pages. He found 137, and handed it to Fiona. “Okay, read the footnote.”
She skimmed through the reference. It explained Emma’s reticence to exhibit, and apply for WPA jobs, quoting letters to Wren in which Emma lamented the plight of her fellow artists. Bradley saw her soften. She looked up and met his eyes.
“Which one of those passages tells you more about Emma?”
Her shoulders slumped. She sighed.
“It’s like that throughout. Academic. And yet the footnotes tell a wonderful story.”
Fiona flipped randomly to another page of the text and tracked it through to a footnote. She shook her head. Arthur Bradley sat quietly and watched her work the process through several times.
Wilted, she looked up, “Okay. Inside-out.”
“It’s okay, Fiona. Like I said, the work is done, just flip it.”
She looked sapped. “How am I supposed to do all this?”
“You’ve already done it. Start with the footnotes, let them lead you. Much of what is your current text will become your footnote material.” Arthur went on to discuss the plans for the exhibit, how each section would emphasize a phase in Emma’s life, but that some threads would carry through, show her styles changing and growing. His excitement was infectious. Fiona sat nodding, understanding the exhibit’s visual approach.
“For the exhibit, the paintings and some of the other items are the story. Emma’s biography is the footnote. You can flip that, too—use particular paintings to illustrate events or trends in her life. You’ve already written it, Fiona, if you just look at what you’ve done. This is more of a reshuffling to make it less…” He couldn’t find the word.
“Academic. Yeah, I get it.” She continued rifling through the pages, “Can I keep these?”
“Sure. Of course you have all this on your computer.”
“Yeah, but holding it, moving it around helps.”
He nodded. “Me, too.”
“Arthur, how do you know I can do this?”
He sat a moment, thinking, then reached across to the file folder on the table. He opened it up and removed another, smaller stack of papers. Fiona glanced over at the emails she’d written from Paris. He held them out to her. “Because, I’ve read these.”
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