Absent a Miracle
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360 pages

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An ex–talk show host, her cheating husband, and a plot to canonize a friend’s Nicaraguan aunt make for “pure, unadulterated adulterous entertainment” (The New York Times).

Lapsed Catholic Alice Fairweather is searching for meaning. Having lost her ideal job as a radio talk show host who interprets dreams, hopelessly in love with a husband who loves too many other women, and stuck in upstate New York with her sons and dogs, one of whom is ill, her life isn’t exactly what she envisioned as a young girl. So when Abelardo, her husband’s former roommate, comes to visit on a quest to make his aunt the first Nicaraguan saint, it feels like a sign.
Suddenly, Alice finds herself on a madcap mission to canonize a woman she’s never met, becoming intimately acquainted with the history of female sainthood, striking up an odd friendship with the eccentric head of New York’s hagiography club, and traveling to Nicaragua on a last-minute flight.
Equal parts moving and hilarious, Absent a Miracle is a quirky and sharp look at love, loss, identity, faith, marriage, and—of course—sainthood.



Publié par
Date de parution 07 août 2009
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9780547488615
Langue English

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Absent a Miracle
Christine Lehner
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Boston New York 2009
Books by Christine Lehner
Copyright © 2009 by Christine Lehner
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lehner, Christine, date. Absent a miracle / Christine Lehner. p. cm. ISBN 978-0-15-101429-3 1. Catholic women—Fiction. 2. Marriage—Fiction. 3. Friendship—Fiction. 4. Hagiography—Fiction. 5.New York (State)—Fiction. 6. Nicaragua—Fiction. 7. Domestic fiction. I. Title. PS3562.E439A27 2009 8I3'.J4 —dc 22 2008053294
Book design by Joyce Weston
Printed in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and inci- dents are the product of the writer's fevered imagination, or in the case of actual places, are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All the saints referred to do actually exist (in the loose hagiographic sense of existence), but in some cases the details are changed. For narrative purposes, the author has moved the months for coffee picking and processing from winter to summer.
Stranger things have happened.
—Hubert van Toots, head librarian and provost, the Hagiographers Club of Gramercy Square and North America
I shall have many curious facts to relate concerning these mimetic resemblances.
—Thomas Belt, A Naturalist in Nicaragua
The country and the people of Nicaragua are too much like other parts of Spanish tropical America, with their dull, lazy, sensual inhabitants, to possess any novelty. There is little that can be called adventure, and still less of geographical discovery.
—From a review by Alfred Russell Wallace of Thomas Belt's A Naturalist in Nicaragua
Sainthood in itself is not interesting, only the lives of the saints are.
—E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints
Many things about this place are dubious.
—Elizabeth Bishop, "The End of March"
TWO YOUNG MEN , Abelardo Llobet Carvajal, a Nicaraguan of an old landed family from the ancient capital of León, already wise in the ways of coffee, cattle, chickens, and sugar cane, and Waldo Fair-weather IV, the older son of Waldo Fairweather III and Posey Fair-weather, née Pinchbeck, from Catamunk and Bug Harbor, Maine, an incipient inventor with a tortured family history of inventions unrewarded, are sprawled across the sofa. The sofa, acquired from the former residents of the suite—party-loving members of the lightweight crew and one German scholar—is dimpled, beer stained, and, at this moment, littered with popcorn. From their third-floor window in Quincy House they can watch the completely predictable activity on the green.
Abelardo's English is perfect and at times he is more easily understood, even with his accent, than his friend from Maine. He says, "My sister is coming."
"Which one? Don't you have several? Have I seen a picture?" "Only one would come here. Carmen."
"She should be downstairs by now."
"You could have warned me. How does she handle squalor?"
"Nothing frightens her," Abelardo says.
When Carmen enters the room, it is as if the decrepit sofa, the stained rug, and the tasteless posters all recede like a full-moon low tide, and the space is taken up by beauty, scent, and wind.
For a week it is always the three of them, always together. Carmen goes to classes with Abelardo, and Waldo skips his classes to come along. She eats meals with them in the dining hall. Every evening both young men walk her back across the bridge to the turreted nineteenth-century guesthouse maintained by the diocese for Catholic visitors with ecclesiastical connections. Abelardo arranged the accommodations for his beautiful younger sister, who takes every opportunity to explain that she has ceased to believe in the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, the Shroud of Turin, and the Resurrection of Anyone. Waldo is undone and transformed. He sits up straighter. He keeps his jokes to the bare minimum. He takes cold showers whenever he can. Waldo falls in love.
On the seventh day of his sister's visit, Abelardo has an appointment with his adviser, and Carmen says she would rather walk along the Charles with Waldo. In no time at all, Waldo tells her she is lovely and enticing beyond words. Carmen tells him that she is a virgin and would rather not be, and she would love to go back to their suite and learn the ways of sex on their sofa.
They do. Carmen enjoys it more than she imagined, Waldo less so. But he is no less in love.
When Abelardo returns from his appointment, Waldo and Carmen are dressed and sitting under a pollen-dripping tree on the green. Carmen tells her brother that, thanks to his wonderful roommate, she is no longer burdened with virginity. Abelardo buries his face in his hands and stays that way for what seems like several minutes, at least to Waldo. When Abelardo raises his head, he says, "I knew this would happen. I should have warned you, Waldo. This is what I should have warned you about."
Waldo says, "I don't know what to say. Your sister is extraordinary."
"Say nothing. You don't need to say anything. I know Carmen, after all."
Carmen says, "You are both so serious. Everything is fine. Tomorrow is my last day and I would like to see the glass flowers."
That very afternoon the three cross Harvard Yard and go to the Peabody to see the glass flowers. Carmen is not disappointed. She is enchanted with the glass lady's slippers. Waldo tells her those flowers grow in hidden places in the Maine woods, though it is illegal to pick them because they are so precious. Abelardo explains they are members of the same orchid family whose tropical relatives grow all over Las Brisas, their coffee farm. Carmen says those look nothing at all like lady's slippers. She does not say what she thinks they really look like.
When Carmen Llobet Carvajal has returned to her convent school in the hills outside Matagalpa (where it pains the nuns to love her as much as they do, given her apostasy), when the air has ceased to rustle and her scent has dissipated, Waldo tells his roommate Abelardo that he would ask his sister to marry him in a second if only she were not so fearless. Abelardo would shrug if he ever shrugged. He tells Waldo it is a moot point because his sister will never again leave Nicaragua (though he is wrong about this) and, he asks Waldo (contradicting himself), how fearless can that be?
Blizzard: Abelardo Llobet Carvajal
Alice Loses Whatever Jobs She Has
MY NAME IS Alice Ewen Fairweather. It used to be Alice Llovet Ewen, because Llovet was my mother's maiden name. All three sisters got the same middle name. I would have liked a middle name of my own, and briefly lobbied for Hyacinth. I stopped using Llovet when I became a Fairweather. Why? Because I was madly in love.
Given what happened, it would have been somewhat amusing if Llovet were still on my passport, because in Spanish, v and b are basically the same letter, writ small ( b pequeño ) or writ large ( b grande ).

About two months before Waldo and the boys went on vacation, I lost my job hosting The Dream Radio Show, Monday mornings for three hours on WBLT. ("Start your week by freeing up your subconscious. Tell me, Alice Fairweather, and our listeners in the tri-state area last night's dream, and we'll tell you the obvious.")
The events were not related in any way. I was sacked in December. You'd think that even the dimmest station manager would realize that it is especially in the trying holiday times that listeners need to be able to tell their dreams, live, and be reassured. But no, without the slightest consideration for the spirit of Baby Jesus or Rockefeller Center, Trudy Swatherton, in an act of generosity so rare it should have alerted me to the coming blow, took me to Joe's Rib Joint, and then she fired me. She canceled my show and left the itchy dreamers of the region with no outlet, no airwaves, no listeners, no disembodied voice beckoning them to unload the lingering memories of weird and disturbing dreams.
Trudy knew damn well I was a vegetarian and had been since the first mad cow scare. About the only things I could eat at Joe's Dead Cow Emporium were fried mozzarella sticks and hush puppies. I would have eaten fish (cooked or otherwise) but none were on offer. I sat there, huddled there, beneath faux-antique wagon wheels, branding irons, cow skulls, and horns, and Trudy ordered a pitcher of beer for the two of us and told me that my skills were wasted in talk radio. I had no idea what skills she was referring to, and I'm sure neither did she. Trudy claimed she wanted to let me down gently, but I knew better. I knew that she was worried I would reveal what I knew of her dreams.
People can rationalize all they want about the workings of the unconscious, but the truth is that we all feel somewhat responsible for the content of our dreams. And if our dreams are kinky or perverted or repulsive (and Trudy's were all of these), then it must be inferred that we are kinky, perverted, or repulsive as well.
I'm not a psychologist. For Dream Radio I'd had no qualifications whatsoever except a quic

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