Steps and Exes

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9780006512974: Steps and Exes

Celia Henry owns the most famous bed-and-breakfast in the whole Northwest. At Henry's House on Isadora Island, Celia has created a faux-family homestead, a testament to tradition. Personally, however, Celia's unconventional love life has kept Isadora Island entertained for a generation.

Married only once and widowed at twenty-two, Celia has spent a lifetime preaching (and practicing) Unfettered Love, preferring unions free of matrimony, free of the ties that bind -- and can just as easily strangle. Despite all the domestic upheaval, she has acquired a large extended family of children, stepchildren, partners, and ex-partners. Generous and spirited, but notoriously stubborn, Celia nonetheless draws people into her arms and her home.

When, much to Celia's dismay, her daughter Bethie announces her engagement, Celia reluctantly agrees to throw a lavish celebration. To this party she must invite everyone in her whole overextended family: her steps and exes, their current partners and starchy in-laws, as well as a host of island eccentrics. As the big day approaches, Celia senses impending disaster. But nothing prepares her for the fallout when the nuclear family explodes and she must reconstruct the past in order to transform the future.

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Review:

On Laura Kalpakian's imaginary Isadora Island, women not only rule, they've been calling the shots since men first hunted (i.e., sat around campfires trading their B.S. stories) and women gathered (cooked, raised kids, cleaned up, etc.). At least, that's how Celia--grand dame, 1960s holdout, and advocate of unfettered love--sees it. In the world according to Celia, Eve wears the pants while Adam's alias is "first whiner." Perched at the tip of Useless Point, she lords over a quirky, cozy B & B, Henry's House, all the while extolling the virtues of independence and bristling at the notion of institutionalized love. That is, until one of her daughters announces she wants to tie the knot Martha Stewart-style, and Celia is called upon to host the event. In her desire to fulfill her daughter's whim, she transforms Henry's House into the magical hub for a far-flung, idiosyncratic, anything-but-nuclear family. And in this rarified air, guests assemble to raise glasses but instead reveal their deepest, darkest secrets. The trick allows Kalpakian to poignantly dramatize the inner struggle between autonomy and the sometimes cloying grasp of familial love--or, as Celia puts it, "the tie that binds all right. Enough rope to hang yourself."

Kalpakian's well-honed, lyrical prose is as intoxicating as "lavender and lemon, cinnamon and rose and something else, a whiff of what must have been--surely from some remembered Eden." Celia tells us that "God's opera has no sopranos," but after reading Steps and Exes, you'll beg to differ. --Sandra Dalrymple

About the Author:

Laura Kalpakian has received a National Endowment of the Arts, a Pushcart Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, and the first Anahid Literary Award for an American Writer of Armenian descent. Her novels include Steps and Exes, Graced Land, Caveat, and These Latter Days. Her short fiction has been gathered in three collections, including Fair Augusto, which won the PEN/West Award for Best Short Fiction. She lives in Washington State with her two sons.

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Laura Kalpakian
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ISBN 10: 0006512976 ISBN 13: 9780006512974
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ISBN 10: 0006512976 ISBN 13: 9780006512974
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