Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores April 2020.)


PROLOGUE

When the man was murdered, the gallery was full of voyeurs. They'd come to see and be seen, to admire and be admired. In their finery they'd postured and praised the artist, considering each canvas, looking carefully at every mark of the brush, discerning nuance and tone and meaning. They'd eyed each other as rivals in fashion and wit, in the sycophantic ability to recognise artistic genius. The show belonged to art and artists and art lovers. And so no one noticed the writer.

When the body was discovered, there were screams of horror. Some sobbed upon seeing the corpse; others could barely contain their glee. The gallery staff soothed and apologised, management called insurers, the authorities barked orders and asked questions. They listened for guilt, for motive and lies. And no one heard the writer.

When the dead man was identified, many claimed intimacy. Some had worked with him; others had danced in his arms. Several people purported friendship, a few admitted to a mutual loathing. They offered opinions and insights, analyses of character. And yet no one knew the writer.


ON INTRODUCTIONS

What if you wrote of someone writing of you? In the end, which of you would be real?

In the beginning she was a thought so unformed that he was aware only of something which once was not.

And there was the idea. The embryonic notions of story. Fragile, swirling mists that struggled to find patterns; sense that was made and unmade and made yet again. In time there were shapes in the clouds and there was her.

They were shy with each other at first. Stiff.

It took the longest time to exchange names. Many were considered and discarded until, finally, one was familiar. One rang true.

She wrote books—quirky, whimsical mysteries with an eye for the absurd. Her pen was light and her voice assured. Even so, she had not been born with the knowledge that she would write, but happened upon storytelling accidentally while seeking some unknown distraction. In writing, she found meaning and purpose and a kind of spiritual joy. And, like many who come late to religion, her devotion to the craft was absolute, her conviction in its power unshakeable.

Yet she hesitated before calling herself a writer lest it seem presumptuous, or affected, or just plain silly. Some small part of her recoiled from claiming her place aloud too absolutely.

Her work had achieved a modicum of success, though she was by no means a household name.

He called her Madeleine d'Leon. Her husband would call her Maddie.

She was thirty and—when they first came to know of one another—happy.

Madeleine was a lawyer. She'd been a lawyer first. She practised in the corporate sector, but she didn't like to talk of work or even think about work when her time was her own.

"My concern is billable," she'd proclaim when asked about some matter she'd left at the office. "If I'm not being paid, I just don't care."

But she'd married a man who cared all the time. Hugh Lamond was the doctor. Not just a doctor, but the doctor. Ashwood was not large enough or gentrified enough to have more than "the doctor" and Hugh Lamond was it. Every man, woman, and child in Ashwood knew who he was and assumed he cared about each small twinge or ache or concern, regardless of whether it was his anniversary or his wife's birthday. They were right.

In the beginning, Madeleine had thought it funny: the god-like status of the country doctor. And Hugh was, after all, charming and committed. If anyone deserved to be a small-town god, it was him. Now, it niggled just a little that she had been lost in his divine glory, a handmaiden to his social deity. But still, she was proud of him.

So Madeleine worked, commuting when she had to and advising from home when she could. During her non-billable hours, she painted and sewed and built a garden that would grow to be worthy of the grand home they would have—whenever they finally got around to renovating.

And then, one day, whilst sitting in a particularly tedious meeting about some technical matter for which a lawyer's presence was merely decorative, Madeleine d'Leon had an idea for a story, and the very first thought of him.
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