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Summary

Summary

Children's book author Mort Lear dies accidentally at his Connecticut home and he leaves his property and all its contents to his trusted assistant, Tomasina Daulair. She is moved by his generosity but dismayed by the complicated and defiant directives in his will.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* When the celebrated children's-book author and illustrator Mort Lear dies in a fall at his Connecticut home, complications quickly ensue. There's his will, for starters. In it, he leaves his estate to Tomasina Tommy Daulair, his personal assistant of many years, even though he had led Merry Galarza, curator of the Contemporary Book Museum, to believe the museum would be the legatee (it holds a large amount of Lear's work on semipermanent loan). Then there is the motion picture that is to be made of Lear's life, starring Oscar-winning British actor Nicholas Greene. The novel rotates among these three characters, interspersed with the occasional flashback that provides context, including the evolution of Tommy's troubled relationship with her younger brother. Glass has created a compelling story with fully realized characters, though there is a whiff of the roman à clef; Lear's work and the complications of his legacy will inevitably remind readers of Maurice Sendak, though there is much here that is different. But both real person and fictional character inhabited the world of children's books, which Glass nicely contextualizes, demonstrating that she has done her homework (though she confuses Library Journal with School Library Journal). The result is a fascinating look at a world in which a creative artist becomes a hot property to be both honored and exploited.--Cart, Michael Copyright 2017 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

When famed children's author Mort Lear falls to his death in a stubborn attempt to trim a wayward tree limb, he leaves behind an invaluable legacy of work and an even greater wealth of secrets. Glass (Three Junes) employs her trademark multilayered character studies and intricately woven time-jumping narrative to slowly unspool each thread connecting Mort's past to the lives of those he left behind. Tomasina "Tommy" Daulair, his long-term live-in assistant and the older sister of the boy Mort's most beloved character was modeled after, inherits everything-including the burden of explaining the last-minute change in Mort's will to museum director Meredith Galarza, whose love for Mort's work is only exceeded by her obsession with the man himself. Tommy's attempts to navigate her grief and the complexities of her new duties are interrupted by an unwelcome visit from Oscar-winning actor Nicholas Greene, eager to research his next role: a biopic covering the most dramatic periods of Mort's life. Nick, to Tommy's dismay, arrives with fresh information about Mort's past that shows how little she, or any of his loved ones, truly knew him. Unfortunately, Glass demonstrates more skill in building anticipation than in following through with satisfying revelations. Her use of a fragmented, narrative-hopping timeline overwhelms the characters themselves, leaving them as obscure as Mort's secrets. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair gets a terrible shock when children's author Mort Lear, famous for the beloved classic Colorquake, dies unexpectedly. Tommy is Mort's longtime assistant, though she is actually more like a wife to the gay author-except for the sex, as Tommy's brother Dani snidely points out. Tommy shares Mort's home, but after his death, she is shocked to learn that Mort has left the house and his entire estate to her; she will also be his literary executor. Meanwhile, Meredith, a high-strung museum curator, insists that Mort's artistic holdings were promised to her. There's also a movie about the young Mort in the works, and the charming British actor who is starring in it shows up. The characters in this complex and fascinating novel find themselves coming to terms with secrets and torments from the past as they learn more about Mort's life. VERDICT Since her first novel, Three Junes, Glass has explored family dynamics of all kinds with a warm yet never sentimental sympathy. She excels at bringing her many characters to life and at imagining vivid scenes from the rarified world of art and entertainment in this excellent new book.-Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

One     Wednesday     Today, the actor arrives.   Awake too early, too nervous for breakfast (coffee alone makes her more nervous still), fretful over what to wear (then irritated at caring so much), Tommy patrols the house that is now hers, shock­ingly and entirely hers--not just her bedroom and all it contains but everything she can see from its two windows: seven acres of gardens and grass and quickening fruit trees, fieldstone walls and stacks of wood, shed and garage and hibernating pool. The sky above: does she own that, too? Owning the sky would be easy. The sky would be a gift. The sky weighs nothing. The sky is unconditional.   She roams and circles through rooms she knows by heart: living room, dining room, kitchen, den, mudroom, pantry, porch. She can­not enter a room these days without beginning a mental inventory: What to keep? What to give away? (Worse, far worse, how much of it will she sell?) She goes to and from the studio, back and forth between this world and that--in that one, he simply must be alive--so many times that her skirt is now damp from brushing against the tight-fisted buds of the peonies flanking the path.   Will she have to change again?   The birds are in prime song, the sun beyond a promise, the day upon them all. Five hours to fill, and Tommy has no idea how.   She still finds it hard to believe that Morty agreed to this. But he did. He spoke to the actor more than willingly--to Tommy's embar­rassed ears, unctuously--only a few days before his fall. His eager remarks punctuated by a forced, nasal laughter, he said that he looked forward to welcoming the actor to his home and studio, showing him "everything--well, almost everything!"   Unlike many women around the civilized world, Tommy does not yearn to meet or spend time with or even catch sight of Nicholas Greene. That she will be alone with him--if he complies with her conditions, and he must (Yes, Morty, you are not the only one with conditions!)--is even more unsettling, but one thing she knows is that she will not allow a wolf pack of movie people to poke around the premises. It was bad enough letting the art director visit last month. "Just a walkabout to soak up the spirits," he claimed. He arrived with a photographer and two assistants, who managed to trample flat a swath of crocuses emerging from the lawn. Morty behaved like a puppy, tagging along rather than leading them through, setting no limits to their invasion.   She has seen Nicholas Greene's face on the racks at the CVS check­out (though a year ago, Americans hadn't a clue who he was), and she did share Morty's excitement when they watched the Academy Awards and saw the actor hoist his trophy aloft, thank his costars, his director, his agent, and (tearfully) his "courageous, unforgettable mum." Even then, barely three months ago, Tommy was confident that this proposed "biopic" of Morty would, like countless other movie projects, wither on the vine. (How many books of Morty's had been optioned yet never come close to the screen?) She has to won­der if Nicholas Greene's Oscar galvanized the project, to which the actor had already been "attached"--as if he were a garage adjoining a house or a file appended to an e-mail.   There is something shamefully alluring to Americans about a Brit­ish accent, whether it's cockney or sterling-silver Oxbridge. Even Tommy is not immune. Given the choice, who wouldn't rather listen for hours to Alec Guinness or Hugh Grant, over Johnny Depp or even a velvety vintage Warren Beatty? But why in the world, with all the platoons of hungry, gifted, handsome actors out there (Morty was handsome in his youth), would anyone sensible pick an English­man to play a guy who grew up in Arizona and working-class Brook­lyn? Maybe that's why Morty was so enthralled. Maybe he couldn't resist the flattery of seeing his life story told through the medium of a boyishly sexy, upper-crusty-sounding younger man who had been nurtured, almost literally, on Shakespeare and Dickens. Morty had a passion for Dickens. (She will certainly show the actor the glass-front cases containing Morty's book collection; no harm there.)   Once Morty learned that Nicholas Greene had signed on, he asked Tommy to do a little research. As he leaned toward the computer over her shoulder, taking in the googled stills of the actor playing Ariel at the Globe, Sir Gawain in a defunct but cultishly admired TV series, and of course the doomed son in the film that just won him a slew of prizes, Morty's face shed years in expressing his naked delight. It was a face he might have drawn for five-year-olds, a face to be duplicated millions of times, seen by children who spoke and sang and shared their secrets in two or three dozen languages.   Maybe it's because Tommy lived with Morty for twenty-five years and knew him better than anyone else possibly could (even Soren) that she cannot actually see why he would be chosen as the subject of a feature film; not a documentary, which made sense--there were two of those already, one for children, one for adults--but the kind of movie you watch in order to be swept away by crisis or intrigue or menace or laughter or the conquering power of love. Maybe she's too close to Morty's everyday life--"the monotony of quiet creativity, imagination fueled by routine and isolation," he mused aloud in the PBS series--to see it as a source of entertainment. At the same time, she is dead sure that Morty would not want certain details of his life offered up as fodder for strangers' titillation or tears. God forbid they should delve into the mercifully obscured months of his club­bing binge, for instance, the breakdown that led to Soren. Maybe that's why she can't stop rushing about, as if she's taken some kind of mania-inducing drug, fretfully scanning shelves of mementos and knickknacks, walls crowded with framed photos and cartoons and letters, searching for anything that might expose unnecessary per­sonal matters to a curious stranger passing through.   Morty's lawyer, Franklin, has passed through several times, as well as Morty's agent, Angelica, who is still in shock over the will. Frank­lin has always treated Tommy as an equal and seems to like her--or at least he's done a convincing job of pretending. What upsets her (though logically, why should it?) is that Franklin knew about Morty's latest will for weeks. He assures her that Morty meant to sit down with her and explain the reasons for the seismic shift in his inten­tions. He was simply waiting for the right time--because time, he had good reason to assume, was something of which he still had plenty.   Tommy never doubted that Morty would be generous to her, but she had no idea he would leave her the house and the surrounding property outright; even less than no idea that he would name her his literary executor, assigning her a series of detailed responsibilities as variously remote from her experience as foraging for mushrooms or Olympic diving. And some of them will be deeply unpleasant: first and foremost, telling the people at the museum in New York that no, he will not be leaving them the bulk of his artwork and letters and collections and idiosyncratic belongings, as Tommy knows he led them to believe he would do. Now, she must somehow repossess the drawings, manuscripts, and annotated book proofs that have been on loan with the general understanding that the loan was a prelude to a gift . . . a very large gift. Tommy has yet to answer the e-mails and phone messages from the distressed director. Even though Franklin is confident that the museum has no legal grounds for challenging the will, Tommy herself is the one who will have to face up to those messages. She can only hope she won't have to tell the woman why Morty turned sour on them. She doesn't like remembering how easily his ego was bruised these past few years.   She wishes that somewhere among all the legal surprises, Morty had also left directions to cease cooperation with the movie peo­ple. But up through the very last night of his life, he was beyond delighted; he was as close to rapturous as Tommy ever saw him. Silly of her not to have realized that as he aged, his ego was as readily inflated as it was bruised.   As usual, he spent that afternoon working and napping in the stu­dio, then joined Tommy in the kitchen at six. And, as had become his habit in the few days since his second transatlantic conversation with Nicholas Greene, he wanted to talk not about the story or drawings in which he was immersed (how deeply Tommy already misses seeing new images, listening to Morty read out loud new constellations of words--to her before anyone else) but about what it would mean, what it would feel like, to be the subject of a "real-deal movie." Morty never cared much for drink, but that night he went to the back fridge, the extra one they had installed in the early years of Soren (the party years), and rooted out a bottle of true champagne, then stood on a stool to reach a pair of dusty flutes. Tenderly, he soaped and rinsed and polished the glasses, insisting that he and Tommy share a "prop­erly classy toast."   After Tommy returned to sautéing garlic for the linguini with clam sauce that neither of them knew would constitute Morty's last sup­per, he sat at the table, refilled his glass, and rambled on in earnest wonder about the prospect of being played ("Like an instrument!" he exclaimed, miming a violinist) by an actor who had won both an Oscar and whatever the British equivalent was. "Tommy," Morty said--uttering her name with such gravity that she turned away from the stove--"just think: you'll be on my arm at the premiere . . . or I suppose, considering my infirmities, I'll be on yours, my dear." He raised a second toast, to her.   "What infirmities?" she said.   "You know how long these projects take. I'll be eighty by then."   Tommy still saw Morty as essentially youthful, but she had become aware that his agility and sense of balance were diminishing, that he should hire younger men to climb tall ladders or scrunch down into a crawl space. He did not agree. (Last fall she caught him on the phone, trying to cancel the handyman she had hired to clean the gutters.) And so, the next morning, while Tommy was off at the UPS Store, copying and shipping a batch of color sketches for Angelica, Morty climbed out an upstairs window onto the steeply pitched roof above the screened porch, intent on removing a limb that had fallen from the granddaddy maple, his favorite of all the fine old trees for which he had bought this property--a tree whose likeness he had rendered in his books again and again. Tommy knows he waited until her car was out of sight.   Far too often now, she must force her mind to detour sharply away from the predictable ambush of her suffocating sorrow (not guilt, because she was away doing her job, and he was being foolish) when­ever she imagines Morty lying on the flagstones for God knows how long before she reached the end of the driveway and saw him there, out cold--the bough having tumbled down after, landing across his legs. He was already dead, she would learn, but for the time she sat beside him on the damp frigid stone, wishing she could just hold his head in her lap, and for the time the EMTs tried to bring him to consciousness, she had a wish that generally only a wife or a parent would have: Take me instead.   When had she crossed that line, from being the big sister of his favorite model, the boy whose doppelgänger put him on the literary map, and then his indispensable helper, his fifth limb (maid, cook, driver, party escort, website warden, proxy on difficult phone calls, repository of names), to finding herself so inescapably devoted to the man, the porcupine as well as the genius, the hermit as well as--something surprisingly new, perhaps even to him--the starstruck fan? Excerpted from A House among the Trees: A Novel by Julia Glass All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


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