The Season of Second Chances: A Novel

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9780312674113: The Season of Second Chances: A Novel

A world of possibilities opens up for Joy Harkness when she sets out on a journey that's going to show her the importance of friendship, love, and what makes a house a home

Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy's interest to encourage his personal and professional growth. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus's single, middle-aged men, known as "the Coyotes,"and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

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About the Author:

Diane Meier is the author of The New American Wedding and president of Meier, a New York City-based marketing firm. Her career spans from writing and design to public speaking. The Season of Second Chances is her first novel. Meier lives in New York City and Litchfield, Connecticut.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

It takes a keen eye to tell a false start from a dead end. I was finished with New York. I wanted out. I wanted somewhere else, anywhere else. I'd taught at Columbia for fifteen years and was, against all odds, a full professor. I'd published three books of poetry that few had read, not even my mother, and a biography of Margaret Chase Smith that no one read, not even me. How I'd managed to shred that fascinating woman—a clear-thinking, hard-talking, Yankee senator from Maine who had the guts and fortitude to run for president against Goldwater, Rockefeller and Stassen—into tiny bits of endless detail that added up to nothing, certainly nothing human, was almost an act of genius in itself. I'd created a belabored pile of facts and figures, with no life whatsoever between the hardbound covers, wrapped in the dung-colored book jacket. I am a teacher—a good teacher. I like the year in, year out repetition of the curriculum. I like the fact that my job is to impart knowledge and enthusiasm, managed within an environment where the risk is minimal; what these kids do in the future with the information and the potential they may or may not display is not my problem. I'm thoroughly entertained by them through the school year, and, for the most part, in the spring they move on. In September I get a whole new batch. It's redemption every fall. I have no arguments with this life. But New York is another story. Within the vaulted halls of Columbia I've been rubbed raw by the administration, frustrated by the exclusionary snobbery of academe and driven wild by the politics and the postures we're forced to assume to maintain any standing in the community. One is obliged to align oneself with positions that refuse to distinguish common sense from pageant, and God help you if your thoughts stray from that which is predigested and approved by committee to block any offense that might be taken by bullies masquerading as thin-skinned victims.

Should one suggest that banding homosexuals together and creating a "team" that demands recognition might, indeed, buy the team a bus, but that this bus will certainly not be in the fast lane—you will be ousted from the bosom of this academic community faster than you can say "Boys in the Band."

But go ahead, I dare you, because I am finished with this. I am packing my bags and moving away from this tempo of insistence that everyone step to an insipid dance or be labeled a rabid, right-wing reactionary.

I am moving away from an apartment that, while it has a heart-stopping view of the Hudson, if one hangs out the window, is roughly the size of the kitchen in the old Victorian I saw in Massachusetts. Four flights up when you are thirty-four may seem like an adventure. Four flights up when you are forty-eight seems an increasingly steep Matterhorn. Try carrying three bags of groceries up those stairs for decades, and you will find yourself eating only food that can be delivered.

I moved to New York when I was thirty-one, rather late to come to the press and whistle of the men and the subways, and perhaps too late to learn the wit and timing of real New Yorkers. I watched and listened in awe and delight, but I was never of their league. I was too quick for Saint Louis, that was obvious, but not ever-ready for old New York.

Since childhood, I'd dreamed of Manhattan and wished for a way out of Saint Louis, but I had no plan. When the opportunity to teach at Columbia appeared, I found the courage to leap from the Midwest, and I didn't look back. I left a pretty little starter house in Clayton, a teaching assignment at Washington University and a husband of four years, for the canyons and the peaks of New York's promise.

In my first apartment, shared with a secretary from Revlon and a stewardess from Delta, I read Kerouac, Salinger and Allen Ginsberg again and again, as I had in high school and college when the image of New York—and the woman I would become—fueled my fantasies. I kept reading and waiting for it all to take, but it never did.

There was a television commercial for Chemical Bank on the air when I first arrived, in which an attractive young woman purposefully made her way up Park Avenue. The camera caught her long stride to somewhere important. She ran a publishing company, I imagined. She designed jet engines. Her game farm in Africa bred white tigers. She commanded respect and used other people's money. The tagline to the commercial: "The New York Woman. When her needs are financial, her reaction is Chemical."

I opened an account at Chemical Bank within days of landing in Manhattan. I wanted to be that woman. Four months after my move, Chemical merged with Manufacturers Hanover and my bank became known as Manny Hanny. In New York, I was always just a tad late for the party.

Change rarely happens in doses large enough to choke you. Every day you swallow a little more and expect a little less. So I don't remember the day I stopped hoping I would become that self-assured woman who knew where the important people lunched. I don't know when I last believed that I would grow into someone Susan Sontag would choose to meet for an early supper and a movie we might then hack to pieces. I didn't know I'd given up. And yet, when opportunity beckoned to fly yet another coop, I jumped headlong into the gale that might carry me away from the niggling shame that I never would become That Woman whose reactions were Chemical.

Amherst College has recruited me, rescuing my sorry ass from what had seemed a sealed and dismal fate. For reasons I won't question, lest they wise up, they're paying me far more than I'm worth to move to the wilds of Massachusetts and work with one of the living legends of literature and criticism on developing new ways of sharing, if not teaching, the written word. This is far more than good fortune. This is like finding an unmarked envelope full of hundreds on the backseat of a cross town bus. Before they figure out their mistake, I plan to be ensconced in some ivy-covered office, so wrapped in bureaucratic tape they won't be able to unravel my contract.

The three-hour drive to Amherst in my old BMW had been easy and pleasant. The air-conditioning was working again, and encased in my cool bubble of air I felt protected from the heat of early August. The New York route into New England allowed me to drive along the Hudson until Riverdale and then catch the wide, tree-lined superhighway that unfolded vistas of the Catskill Mountains and the foothills of the Berkshires.

The feeling of freedom, driving into scenery as green and lush as a postcard of Ireland, was close to bliss.

I pulled into the Red Rooster, a hamburger joint on Route 22 that seems lifted from my Missouri childhood. Years ago, I'd stopped there with a musician with whom I'd had a brief fling. I picked the same picnic table where Roger and I sat in the middle of a very cold winter, downing hot dogs and Brown Cows, as the snow seeped into my city shoes. After a chilly night in a motel somewhere on a river in Connecticut, my hips and shoulders hurt and I wanted to be warm. It occurred to me, even back then, that I might be getting too old for romance. But I remembered the place with fondness, as I remember Roger with fondness; not perfect, but, all in all, not a bad memory. In his honor I had a Brown Cow, that sweet mixture of vanilla ice cream and root beer a friend of mine from England thinks tastes like ointment. I love this drink, but I haven't had one in—what can it be?—more than five years. Lord! More like eight or nine years. Time, as they say, flies.

Six months ago my secretary buzzed my intercom and announced a call from Bernadette Lowell. It was possible that Celeste might be playing a little joke, but Celeste has never displayed anything close to a sense of humor, and she is pathologically disconnected from academic life. She might as well be a secretary in a lumberyard (where, no doubt, as it is her nature, she would be disconnected from all things wood). Most of all, a joke in itself, Celeste would never have heard of Bernadette Lowell, who is about as famous an academic as one can be.

In my world, we don't herald the beautiful, the best dressed or the rich, but we do have the very occasional individual who breaks through the line between academy and popular culture. They publish, they lecture, they become regular guests on NPR and PBS, lending their studied air to whatever crises or phenomena the media believe must be explained to the dim public. They become our superstars; although, true to the nature of academics, we do nothing but denigrate them in our conversations and public attitude. In private, we maintain little shrines, Harold Bloom pin up pictures and prayers to the gods of academic politics, that someday we might have our own tiny place in a New Yorker profile or within the gloomy embrace of Charlie Rose's roundtable.

Lowell had done her groundbreaking work thirty years ago, defining and developing the field of gender studies, making magazine covers and television appearances and creating unlikely best sellers out of academic research. She was now making waves with equally radical ideas about how humans learn, the pejorative nature of identifying and cataloging learning disabilities and an idea about graduate studies she was tagging Immersion Technique. Amherst College had given her a chair, made her a dean of graduate studies and stood behind her experiments. Most of academe was snickering, as usual, but everyone was watching.

Harry Fox, the resident glamour boy hotshot from Columbia's School of Journalism, recommended me to Dr. Lowell. I didn't know Harry well and was surprised to learn that I figured on his rarified radar at all. Harry's a type. Every school of journalism worth its salt has one. They come out of media and swagger across our campuses with insufferable style. They can be useful in bringing some real-life contacts, a bit of attention and often a trickle of money to our limited and insular stage, but they never do seem to fit in.

At any rate, at his suggestion and crediting him with the call, Bernadette Lowell asked me to lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in February, to see, she said rather coquettishly, if we "liked each other." I was, admittedly, a little intimidated, but I "liked" her fine. She is about seventy years old, give or take a few years; her hair is white as snow, cut like Buster Brown or a page in a Maxfield Parrish mural; but the first impression was that of power. She stood as I approached. "Dr. Harkness?" Her head was tilted and eyes bright, like a bird dog on the scent of a quail.

"Joy," I answered and extended my hand, met by her powerful and warm grasp. She is big, by any standards, in a strong, masculine way, and taller than my own average height by at least four or five inches. Her hands are large, and she wore a distinctive sapphire and diamond ring. She displayed a disconcerting combination of apparently shy reserve, fluttery infectious charm and a well of immense calm. I have yet to make sense of the expression of gravitas and willful strength all wrapped in a package of girlish delight; but there you have it. My father once referred to my brother's "life force," his immense energy, his distinct and unique personality, so defined and powerful, even in childhood. And that was the term, life force, that came to mind when confronted with Bernadette.

We discussed her plans for Amherst and the team of academics she hoped to build, and we talked about my situation in the barest terms. I played no games, I was completely candid. I would run from New York and Columbia, like a hound at the drop of a hare.

A month later, on the twenty-seventh of March at three o'clock in the afternoon, Dr. Lowell rang and offered me a job for far more money than anyone who teaches might ever anticipate. For this, I would have to commit to a minimum of four years, carry what would amount to my existing workload of teaching and join her Core Team, who would, in addition to our teaching schedules, develop Bernadette's new curriculum concept. There would be weekends and evenings required, although not so many in the first year, Bernadette explained, as the plan was just beginning. She wondered if she'd remembered to mention that the team would need to work together for a month in the summers. So what? I thought. I had no other life. Summer travel didn't much interest me; tooting around the world with hordes of tourists in months too hot for comfort. I had no country house, no partner and no children, underfoot or otherwise. My summers could easily be sold to Bernadette Lowell.

The real catch was that she wanted me, or someone, on board and in place by the beginning of the following term. Here, deep into spring, I had a semester to end, a position to relinquish, an apartment to sell and pack and move and an Amherst home to find by the first of September, at the latest. Bernadette was asking me to create a whole new life in a matter of weeks.

I was her first choice, she told me squarely, but if I could not see my way clear to agree to this move right now, she needed to get on to another candidate immediately. Not see myself clear to make the move? Had I not been plain? I was out of here. Whether I sold the New York apartment or not, my psychic bags were packed and I was, emotionally, already in Amherst.

My apartment was literally on the market for four days when it sold for more than the asking price. I hadn't even gotten around to clearing out the foyer. A parade of seven couples and a single man marched through my rooms in the first two days of the listing, attended by their real estate agents and mine. Everyone seemed to think that the apartment was such a gem, with its high coffered ceilings, parquet floors and the bowed window that looked out onto broad Eighty-sixth Street. Wait until you hear the bus, I thought, but I didn't say a word. I smiled when they talked about the light. I nodded when they mentioned the perfect proportions of the rooms. I knew it was a crowded, dark, mean little apartment with a fireplace that didn't work and too few closets. Two real estate agents mentioned that the building was promising to install an elevator at the back service stairs. I didn't tell them that our co-op board had been arguing about that imaginary elevator for all of the sixteen years I'd lived in the building.

I watched the potential buyers navigate the piles of books that made my living room floor a cityscape in miniature, and chat on about the potential of the place. Potential? We were standing in a dim and noisy crowded box, drafty, sometimes buggy and not quite near enough to a subway, a restaurant or a decent garage. This apartment was no prize. But I also wanted one of them to buy it; I held my tongue, and I held my breath. And lo and behold, after bidding against one another and pushing up the price by more than fifty thousand dollars, one of them did. I could only laugh. With real estate booms, as with comedy, timing is everything.

Now it was my turn. The college recommended a real estate agent, with the promising name of Donna Fortunata, to help me find accommodations, and we'd agreed to meet in front of the administration building. I pulled into a parking space directly opposite the entrance and recognized her immediately. She looked just the way her voice on the phone sounded. Donna was small and bright in the way women's magazines sometimes describe as perky. Her honey-colored hair was pulled high in a ponytail that made her look about twelve. She was wearing a pale yellow stretch-terry warm-up suit that seeme...

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Descrizione libro Griffin Publishing, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth.Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes , and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all. Codice libro della libreria AAV9780312674113

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Descrizione libro Griffin Publishing, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth.Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes , and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all. Codice libro della libreria AAV9780312674113

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Descrizione libro Griffin Publishing, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth.Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes , and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all. Codice libro della libreria BZE9780312674113

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