For Kate Klein, a semi-accidental mother of three, suburbia has been full of unpleasant surprises. Her once-loving husband is hardly ever home. The supermommies on the playground routinely snub her. Her days are spent carpooling and enduring endless games of Candy Land, and at night, most of her orgasms are of the do-it-yourself variety.
When a fellow mother is murdered, Kate finds that the unsolved mystery is the most exciting thing to happen in Upchurch, Connecticut, since her neighbors broke ground for a guesthouse and cracked their septic tank. Even though the local police chief warns her that crime-fighting's a job best left to the professionals, Kate launches an unofficial investigation from 8:45 to 11:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, when her kids are in nursery school.
As Kate is drawn deeper into the murdered woman's past, she begins to uncover the secrets and lies behind Upchurch's picket-fence facade and considers the choices and compromises all modern women make as they navigate between marriage and independence, small towns and big cities, being a mother and having a life of one's own.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:March 28, 1970
Place of Birth:De Ridder, Louisiana
Education:B.A., Princeton University, 1991
Read an Excerpt
Goodnight NobodyA Novel
By Jennifer Weiner
AtriaCopyright © 2005 Jennifer Weiner, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Hello?" I tapped on Kitty Cavanaugh's red front door, then lifted the brass knocker and gave it a few thumps for good measure. "Hello?"
"Mommy, can I ring the doorbell?" Sophie asked. She stood on her tiptoes and waved her fist in the air.
"No, it's my turn," said Sam, kicking his sneakered feet against one of the half-dozen perfectly spherical pumpkins beside Kitty's front door. Halloween was a week away, and we'd only gotten around to carving our single jack-o'-lantern the night before. It had come out crooked and its right side had rotted and caved in overnight, and it looked like we had a sadistic stroke victim parked on our porch. When I'd lit the candle, all three kids had cried.
"My turn!" said Jack, shoving his younger-by-three-minutes brother.
"Don't push me!" cried Sam, shoving back.
"Sophie, then Sam, then Jack," I said. Two degrees in English literature, a career in New York City, and this was where I'd ended up, standing on a semi-stranger's doorstep in a Connecticut suburb with uncombed hair and a tote bag full of bribe lollipops, wrangling three kids under the age of five. How had this happened? I couldn't explain it. Especially not the part about getting pregnant with the boys when Sophie was just seven weeks old, courtesy of an act of intercourse I can barely remember and can't imagine I'd condoned.
Sophie reached up, pigtails quivering, and rang the bell. A dimple flashed in her left cheek as she gave her brothers a smug look that said, This is how it's done. Nobody answered. I looked at my watch, wondering if I'd heard Kitty wrong. She'd called on Wednesday night, when the boys were in the bathtub and Sophie was sitting on the toilet, applying lipstick and waiting her turn. I was kneeling in front of the tub, my shirt half-soaked, a washcloth in my hand, scrubbing playground grime from underneath their fingernails and enjoying one of my most persistent and vivid daydreams, the one that began with two men knocking on my front door. Who were they? Police officers? FBI agents? I'd never figured that out.
The younger one wore a beige suit and a clipped inch of sandy mustache, and the older one had a black suit and thinning black hair combed over his bald spot. He was the one who did the talking. There's been a mistake, he would tell me, and he'd explain that, due to some glitch I'd never quite fleshed out (Bad dream? Alternate universe?), I'd wound up with someone else's children, living someone else's life. Really? I would ask, careful not to sound too eager as a woman - these days, she was usually the lady from the Swiffer commercial who danced around to the Devo song, happily dusting - stepped between them, hands planted on her capable hips. There you are, you little scamps! she would say to the children. I'm so sorry for the inconvenience, she'd say to me. No problem, I'd graciously reply. And then she'd say ...
I looked up. My husband stood in the doorway, with his briefcase in one hand and the telephone in the other, staring at me with something that was either disdain or its close first cousin. My heart sank as I realized that getting slopped with the boys' bathwater was the closest I'd come to showering that day.
I reached for the phone with one soapy hand. "Can you watch them for a sec?"
"Let me just get out of this suit," he said, and vanished down the hall. Translation: See you in an hour. I stifled a sigh and tucked the telephone under my ear.
"Kate, it's Kitty Cavanaugh," she'd said, in her low, cultured voice. "I was wondering whether you were free for lunch on Friday."
I'd been too shocked to stammer out "Sure" or "Yes." I'd wound up saying "Shes," even though lunch with Kitty Cavanaugh wasn't high on my to-do list. As far as I was concerned she represented everything that was wrong with my new hometown.
I remember the first time I'd seen Kitty. After a morning of unpacking I'd driven the kids to the park our Realtor had pointed out. I hadn't washed my thick, curly brown hair in three days and was looking more than a little disheveled, but the other mothers wouldn't mind, I thought, as I pulled into a parking space. As the kids and I walked through the white picket playground gates, we saw four women seated on the green wooden bench by the seesaws: four women wearing the identical shade of dark pink lipstick; four formidably groomed, exquisitely fit, terrifyingly capable-looking women. Each one had a monogrammed paisley silk diaper bag slung across her shoulder, like a Pink Lady jacket. Or an Uzi.
"Hi!" I said. My voice seemed to bounce off the pebbled rubber mats underneath the slides and echo through the swing set. The women took in my outfit (loose, syrup-stained cargo pants, fingerpaint-smeared sneakers, one of my husband's washed-out long-sleeved gray T-shirts with one of my own violet short-sleeved shirts on top), my messy hair, my makeup-free face, the belly and hips I'd been meaning to do something about for the past two years and, finally, my kids. Jack looked okay, but Sam was clutching his favorite pacifier, which he hadn't used in months, and Sophie had pulled on a tutu over her pajama bottoms.
The buff-looking blonde in the middle, in camel-colored boot-cut pants topped with a zippered fleece vest, raised her hand and gave us a semi-smile. Her name, I'd later learn, was Lexi Hagen-Holdt, and she looked exactly like what she was - a former all-state athlete in soccer and lacrosse who'd worked as a high school coach before marriage and had started training for a triathlon six weeks after she'd had baby Brierly.
The brunette next to her had shoulder-length light brown hair perfectly streaked and styled, and eyebrows plucked into perfect arches, then dyed to match; she gave us a half of a wave. Her full lips twisted sideways, as if she'd tasted something sour. This was Sukie Sutherland, in Seven jeans and high-heeled, pointy-toed suede boots - the kind of outfit my friend Janie would have worn out clubbing and I never would have attempted at all.
"Hi!" said the redhead - Carol Gwinnell - at the far end of the bench. She sported a pumpkin-colored sweater with a long skirt in swirling shades of red and orange and gold. Her little gold earrings were clusters of bells that jingled and chimed, and she wore sequined purple slippers trimmed in gold braid. Carol's husband, I would shortly learn, was head of litigation at one of the five biggest law firms in New York City. Carol and Rob and their two sons lived in a Bettencourt and had a summer house on Nantucket, which I guess gave her the right to dress like she was going to a Stevie Nicks concert if she wanted to.
Finally, the fourth woman deigned to approach us. She knelt down gracefully in front of my kids and one by one asked them their names. Her straight, thick hair fell to the center of her back, a glossy sheet of chocolate brown held with a black velvet band. She had lovely features: full lips, a straight, narrow nose, high cheekbones, and a neat little chin. Given her hair, and her golden complexion, I would have expected brown eyes, but hers were wide set and a blue so dark it was almost purple. The color of pansies.
"And I'm Kitty Cavanaugh," she said to my children. "I have twins too."
"Kate Klein," I managed, thinking, Don't fall for it, you little bastards. Of course, my kids were charmed. The boys let go of my leg and smiled at her shyly, while Sophie stared at her and said, "You're so pretty!" I tried not to roll my eyes. The last time Sophie looked at me that intently, she hadn't said that I was pretty, she'd told me I had a hair growing out of my chin.
I plastered a smile on my face and made a series of mental notes: figure out where to buy a perfectly cut suede jacket; find out where these women got their hair blown, their teeth bleached, their eyebrows plucked; and try to locate the other overwhelmed, undergroomed, bigger-than-a-breadbox mothers like myself, even if I had to cross state lines to find them.
The ladies had gone back to their conversation, which seemed to concern the student-teacher ratios at the town's competing private schools. It had taken three more playground visits, twenty minutes spent listening to Sukie talk about reorganizing her pantry, and a trip to Mr. Steven, the local hairdresser, before Kitty and I had had an actual conversation, about what kind of baked goods I should bring to the Red Wheel Barrow annual holiday bake sale. "No nuts, no dairy," she'd told me. I'd nodded humbly and managed to keep from asking, "How about crack? Would crack be okay?"
Our second talk had been less successful. We'd been standing side by side at the swings on the playground one summer afternoon. Kitty was wearing a pink linen sundress, simple yet elegant, a look (and a fabric) I hadn't attempted in years, and I was wearing my usual - grubby pants and a cotton tank top - feeling overweight and underdressed and entirely inadequate. It's this town, I thought, tugging at my waistband with one hand and pushing Sophie with the other. Back in New York I'd get the occasional whistle from a construction worker, an appreciative glance from a guy on the street. Sixty miles out of the city and I was Shamu in a sweater set.
I had been daydreaming out loud about a vacation I'd probably never take, describing some resort I'd read about in a travel magazine in my gynecologist's waiting room. Private open-air bungalows ... individual swimming pools ... fresh-cut pineapple and papaya set out on the terrace every morning ...
"Can you bring kids?" Kitty had asked.
Startled, I'd said, "Why would you want to?"
"Phil and I take our daughters everywhere," she'd said primly, giving little Madeline a push. "I would never, ever leave them."
"Never ever?" I'd repeated - a little sarcastically, I'm afraid. "Not even for a Friday night at the movies? Not even to go out to dinner? Or for a light snack?"
She'd shaken her glorious hair, a tiny smile - a smug smile, I thought - playing around her lips. "I would never leave them," she'd repeated.
I'd nodded, plastered a smile on my own face, eased Sophie out of the swing, mumbled, "Have a nice weekend" (without realizing until much later that it was Tuesday), hustled all three kids into the van, stuck a DVD into the player, turned up the volume, and muttered the word "freak" all the way home.
Since then, Kitty and I had had a nod-and-wave acquaintance, smiling at each other across the soccer field or the dairy aisle of the grocery store. I didn't want it to go any further than that. But I'd said yes - or "shes" - anyhow. Oh, well. Mindless assent, I thought, and shoved a wayward curl behind my right ear with one shampoo-slick hand. It was what had gotten me three babies and a house in Connecticut in the first place.
"I think we have a friend in common," Kitty said.
I wiped my hands on my thighs. "Oh? Who's that?" For one giddy moment I was completely sure that she was going to say Jesus, and that I'd be stuck listening to a soliloquy about her personal relationship with the Savior and how I needed one myself.
But Kitty answered my question with another one of her own. "You were a journalist, right?"
"Well, that's putting it a little strongly," I said. "I worked at New York Night, and I covered celebrity addiction. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein stuff. Why?" Here it comes, I thought, bracing myself for the invitation to edit the nursery school newsletter or do a quick polish on the Cavanaugh Christmas card. ("Dear friends! Hope this season of comfort and joy finds you well. It's been a blessed year for the Cavanaugh Clan ...")
"There's something ...," she began. Just then Sam dunked Jack under the water. "Mommy, he's drownding the baby," Sophie observed from the toilet seat, where she was twisting her hair into a chignon. I bent down to drag Jack upright. He was spluttering, Sam was crying, and Kitty said we'd talk on Friday.
At least, I was pretty sure she'd said Friday. Positive, almost. I took a deep breath and lifted the knocker again, noticing the way the Cavanaugh house gleamed under the cloudless blue sky. The hedges were trimmed, the leaves were raked, the windows sparkled, and there were charming arrangements of bittersweet and miniature pumpkins in the window boxes that complemented the dried-red-pepper wreath on the door. Gah. I gave an especially forceful knock, and the door swung open.
"Hello?" I called into the dim, echoing entryway. No answer ... but I could see lights gleaming from the kitchen at the end of the hall, and I could hear music playing, one of the Brandenburg Concertos, which were undoubtedly more edifying than the polka tunes my kids enjoyed. "Kitty? Hello?" I called again. Nothing. The wind kicked up, sending a drift of brown leaves rattling against the hardwood floor. I was starting to get the proverbial bad feeling about this as I wiggled my cell phone out of my pocket, called information, and asked for the Cavanaugh listing at 5 Folly Farm Way.
The operator connected me. Inside the house I could hear Kitty's phone ringing ... and ringing ... and ringing.
"Nobody's home," Sophie said impatiently, bouncing up and down in pink sneakers that did not quite match her orange overalls.
"Hang on," I said. "Hello?" I called into the house. Nothing.
"Mama?" Sophie reached for my hand. The boys looked at each other, their foreheads drawn into identical furrows, plump mouths pulled into matching frowns. The two of them were all curves and dimples and alabaster skin that flushed when they were overheated or upset. Their lashes cast spiky shadows on their cheeks, and their brown hair curled into ringlets so beautiful I'd cried at their first haircuts ... and second ... and third. Unlike her brothers, Sophie was tall and lanky, like her father, with olive skin and fine brown hair that tended toward snarls, not ringlets.
"Stay here. Right here. On the porch. On the pumpkins," I said, in a burst of inspiration. "I want tushies on pumpkins until I say it's okay. And don't close the door!" Sophie must have caught something in my tone because she nodded. "I'll watch the babies."
"We're not babies!" said Jack, with his hands balled into fists.
"Stay here," I said again, and watched Sophie scowl at her brothers as they copped a squat on one of Kitty's perfect pumpkins. I held my breath and walked inside. The Cavanaughs had the same house we did, the Montclaire (six bedrooms, five full baths, hardwood floors throughout). The investors in our development were Italian, plenty of the residents were Jewish, and yet the homes all had names that made them sound like members of the British Parliament. Evidently nobody would buy a model called the Lowenthal or the Delguidice, but if it was the Carlisle or the Bettencourt, we'd be lining up with our checkbooks.
I tiptoed through the entryway, into the warmly lit kitchen, where the solemn notes of the cello and an antique clock's ticking filled the air. No dishes in the sink, no newspapers on the counter, no crumbs on the kitchen table, and no lady of the house that I could see. Then I looked down.
"Oh, God!" I clapped my hand against my mouth and grabbed on to the countertop to keep myself from sliding to the floor. Kitty had gone for the same upgrades that Ben and I had picked. Her countertops were granite, her floors were pickled maple, and the French doors leading to the garden had leaded glass insets. There was a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Viking range, and between them was Kitty Cavanaugh, facedown on the floor with an eight-inch carbon-steel Henckels butcher's knife protruding from between her shoulder blades.
I ran across the kitchen and knelt in a pool of tacky, cooled blood. She lay arms akimbo, white shirt and hair both a sticky maroon. I felt dizzy as I leaned over her body, queasy as I touched her sticky hair, then tugged at the handle of the knife. "Kitty!"
I'd watched enough cop dramas to know better than to move the body, but it was as if I were floating outside myself, unable to stop my hands as they grabbed her slender shoulders and tried to pull her up into my arms. The music swelled to its crescendo, strings and woodwinds sounding in the still, copper-smelling air as her torso came loose with a sickening ripping sound. I let her go. Her body thumped back onto the floor. I clapped my hands over my mouth to keep from gagging, and stifled another scream.
Excerpted from Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Weiner, Inc..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Reading Group Guide
Life in suburban Upchurch is anything but picturesque for Kate Klein. Along with three small children and a husband who is hardly at home, Kate has to contend with living up to the standards set by her fellow Upchurch mothers. They're designer-clad, perfectly coiffed at the playground and feed their kids organic food. They make motherhood look effortless while Kate, with uncombed hair and a stash of bribe lollipops, "hasn't done one single thing right" since moving from Manhattan to this small Connecticut town.
When Kate arrives for lunch at the home of Kitty Cavanaugh and finds the Upchurch mom murdered, she's jolted from her malaise and sets out to uncover the killer. As her investigation heats up, Kate finds out not only that Kitty had a few dark secrets but that they had a mutual acquaintance a man from Kate's past who will lead her to reexamine the life she's chosen.
In Goodnight Nobody, Jennifer Weiner brings together two compelling tales an engrossing murder mystery and a poignant story about one woman's quest to save her sanity and sense of self amidst the challenges of motherhood, marriage, and suburbia.
Questions & Topics for Discussion
1. Even when it becomes increasingly dangerous a threatening note is left on her windshield, her neighbor Lexi Hagen-Holdt disappears Kate continues her search for the truth. Discuss what compels Kate to get involved in solving Kitty's murder.
2. At the beginning of the story Kate remarks about Kitty, "As far as I was concerned she represented everything that was wrong with my new hometown" (5). Explain how Kate changes her opinion of Kitty as she learns more about her life. Why is Kate so surprised to find out that she and Kitty had a number of things in common?
3. To get Tara Singh to speak with her about Kitty, Kate tells her she's writing a thesis on women and "erasure" (159). Later, when Kate's father asks her if she's looking into Kitty's death she replies, "I'm actually more interested in her life. I'm trying to figure out who she used to be before Upchurch" (164). How do these two statements apply to Kate as well as to Kitty?
4. Kate feels as if she doesn't fit in with the other Upchurch mothers and that they routinely snub her. Yet Sukie later says to her, "You always thought you were the smart one. So smart! So sophisticated! So much better than us dim-bulb mama bears in boring old Connecticut, right?" (354). Using examples from the story to support your opinion, discuss whether Kate was right or wrong in her assumptions about the Upchurch mothers and how they treated her.
5. Ben constantly criticizes Kate, from the incident with the birthday party to his remark about running out of clean shirts to his suggestion that she join a gym. Why does Kate allow Ben to treat her this way? On their first date, Kate thinks, "He is a suitable man. We'll have a suitable life together" (176). Why did Kate choose to marry Ben, especially since there is an obvious lack of passion in their relationship?
6. From their first meeting in the offices of the New York Review, it's clear that Kate and Janie are, in many ways, opposites. What makes their friendship so strong? Why has it endured despite their leading remarkably different lifestyles, most notably with Kate in the suburbs and Janie single and living in the city?
7. The book includes flashbacks to important moments in Kate's life. How do these scenes set in the past provide you with a better sense of Kate's character? What significant details do they reveal about the other characters, including Janie, Ben, and Evan?
8. How much responsibility does Kate bear for the distant relationship she has with her mother? How would Raina measure up according to Laura Lynn Baird's principles for a good mother? Given Raina's past behavior, why does she support Kate so strongly in the months following her daughter's brush with death?
9. What universal themes can be drawn from Goodnight Nobody about marriage, motherhood, and balancing the two? Does Kate have to choose between fulfilling her obligations to her family and reclaiming her independence, or can she successfully do both? Of the different approaches to motherhood presented in the book, which do you most identify with?
10. Discuss the mystery aspect of the plotline and whether or not you found it convincing, taking into account plot twists, red herrings, and the concealment of the murderer's identity.
11. Kate acknowledges that "before we'd moved [to Upchurch], but even more since the great relocation, I'd find myself daydreaming about how my life could have turned out differently" (182). Given what you've learned about Kate throughout the story, do you think she would return to her former life if given the chance? Why or why not?
12. Why do you suppose Jennifer Weiner chose not to have Kate make a decision about remaining in her marriage with Ben or taking a chance on a relationship with Evan? What do you think the future holds for Kate, romantically and otherwise?
13. If you have read any of Jennifer Weiner's other books (In Her Shoes, Good in Bed, Little Earthquakes), discuss the differences and similarities of Goodnight Nobody to those novels.
Enhance Your Book Club
The title of the novel comes from a phrase in the children's book Goodnight Moon. Give the gift of reading by donating several copies of Goodnight Moon to a local shelter or hospital in your club's name.
Organic carrots? No way! Follow Kate's lead and serve Rice Krispies Treats® at your book club gathering when you discuss Goodnight Nobody. At www.kelloggs.com you'll find more than 60 festive recipes, including Chocolate Pumpkin Eaters (the pumpkins will remind you of the opening scene in the book).
Make up your own mystery game. Take turns reading aloud quotes from Goodnight Nobody and guessing which character said it. Reward the person with the most correct answers with an Uglydoll keychain, which can be purchased at www.uglydolls.com.