This Must Be the Place by Kate Racculia
Henry Holt & Company, July 2010
Hardcover, 368 pages
Very Highly Recommended
A sudden death, a never-mailed postcard, and a long buried secret set the stage for a luminous and heartbreakingly real novel about lost souls finding one another
The Darby-Jones boardinghouse in Ruby Falls, New York, is home to Mona Jones and her daughter, Oneida, two loners and self-declared outcasts who have formed a perfectly insular family unit: the two of them and the three eclectic boarders living in their house. But their small, quiet life is upended when Arthur Rook shows up in the middle of a nervous breakdown, devastated by the death of his wife, carrying a pink shoe box containing all his wife's mementos and keepsakes, and holding a postcard from sixteen years ago, addressed to Mona but never sent. Slowly the contents of the box begin to fit together to tell a story—one of a powerful friendship, a lost love, and a secret that, if revealed, could change everything that Mona, Oneida, and Arthur know to be true.
This Must Be the Place, Kate Racculia's debut novel, is the story of a widower, a past friendship, a mother and daughter, first love, and what happens when all these different worlds collide. Really, it's a hard novel to classify as it crosses genres. It's a coming of age story mixed with elements of chic lit, but it is also a plot driven character study. And, after melding elements from these different genres, it's really quite good.
All the characters aren't perfect so they feel realistic. (Arthur was annoying me at times, but he felt real.) The big secret will not be a secret to the readers because it is clearly foreshadowed, but experiencing the character's discovery as small details are revealed and explained is masterfully handled by Racculia. (I don't want to give any spoilers.) I appreciated hearing from the different character's point of view, and loved how all the little details and plot twists were slowly explained and revealed from each character's point of view. Racculia doesn't quite explain a remorseless, cruel act at the center of the novel, but we certainly come close to some measure of understanding.
As I was reading This Must Be the Place that I kept discovering little gems of writing that resonated with me - a sentence here, a turn of the phrase there. If I didn't consciously show self-restraint, I could have flagged many quotes throughout the whole novel. There is some humor, some touching scenes, some absurd events, some conflicts. I'm going to be looking forward to more from Kate Racculia in the future because I really enjoy the way she expresses herself.
Very Highly Recommended
Many thanks to Henry Holt & Company who sent me my review copy of This Must Be the Place.
Amy considered the postcard: a boardwalk scene. Throngs of people wandering in the sun. Sparkling blue ocean to the right, cheery awnings on the shops. She sniffed. The man beside her on the bus stank of tuna fish and cigarette smoke.
This must be what it feels like to die, she thought.
She was sore all over, sore and too tired to be scared. She suspected this was what it would feel like to die: to give up everything that came before, to just—cut it off. Tear it out. opening
She didn't know why she'd done it. She woke up early and knew today was the day (or rather, yesterday was the day; she'd been on this bus for something like twenty hours now), and when you knew something, there was no point in not-knowing it, just like there was no point in waiting. pg. 3
And he—Ray Harryhausen—had created them! Had built them, improbably, from wire and clay and plastic and feathers; built them and given them movement, and desire, and souls. Harryhausen, come to think of it, was the only god she had ever learned to worship; he created a world in his movies that captured her, that thrilled her, that felt like home. It was a world she'd spent her entire life trying to find.
And now she could see the doorway, just a little down the road, waiting for her to walk through.
She sat up and grabbed her pen.
Anyway, I left you the best parts of myself, she wrote. You know where to look.
There was nothing more to say. pg. 3-4
When Arthur asked Max why he let Manny go on thinking he liked the donuts—wasn't he worried some day Manny would discover the truth and be hurt?—Max shrugged and said sometimes you let the people you love believe what they want to believe. pg. 7
Arthur loved people. He didn't really understand them or feel like he belonged among them, even, but he adored being a witness to their existence. He loved how various they were, how fragile and tough and strange and each his own universe: self-contained and whole. He was a Watcher. Amy told him, one afternoon six months after they met, that he would be unbelievably creepy if he weren't so damned good. pg. 8
They'd see a hint of the person Jennifer would grow up to be, after she'd bested this phase of her life simply by outliving it. pg. 10
That was how Arthur Rook met Amy Henderson. Amy, who would sit down with him at a table in the sun, who would explain the difference between a double-double and a Flying Dutchman and then wipe a dot of ketchup from the corner of his mouth with her left fingertip. Who would teach him how to navigate, how to survive, how to fall in love with LA's charmingly daft will—finding its resolve to exist for its own superficial sake perfectly romantic and not a terminal fool's dying delusion. Who would teach him to fall in love with her. Who would be his friend and his lover and then his wife, who would be his home, who could create life from metal and rubber and wires for the sake of a few frames of film, and who would, at 7:48 on a Friday morning in early October, send ten thousand volts from the tip of the same finger that had wiped the ketchup from his lips through all the chambers of her heart.
Amy, who would be killed instantly.
Amy, who would make Arthur Rook a widower at thirty-two. pg. 13
And Max would hope that his strange, quiet, runaway friend, wherever he'd gone, would be able to find his way back home.
But Arthur's home had ceased to exist. Its ghost had called to him and told him where to run. pg. 19
Oneida Jones was a freak. It was nonnegotiable. It was absolute. It was common knowledge among both her fellow classmates and the population of Ruby Falls at large, but it wasn't until after her twelfth birthday that she ever considered the possibility that it was something to be embraced rather than raged against. pg. 20
"Los . . . Angeles." Arthur Rook shrugged, anticipating Oneida's knee-jerk response, she realized, of So what the hell are you doing here? "I had to leave," he said. "I was tired of it." He shook his head. "You need a decoder ring to order a hamburger."
"Oh, come on," said Mona. "Everybody knows about the secret menu at In-n-Out."
At that, Arthur Rook's face turned ashen and his eyes lost their intense focus, flicked back and forth, shone. In the awkward silence that followed, Mona offered to show him his room and he agreed— a little too quickly, Oneida thought, for a man who claimed he was just tired. She wasn't sure which mystery bothered her more: what Arthur Rook was doing in Ruby Falls, or what her mother had said to make him look like he wanted to cry. pg. 31
The postcard was dated August 18, 1993. It read:
Mona, I'm sorry. I should have told you. You knew me better than anyone - I think you knew me better than me. Don't worry, I swear I'm happier dead. Anyway, I left you the best parts of myself. You know where to look.pg 35
When Amy, who hadn't even said good-bye, spoke to him in signs and wonders, he grabbed onto them with both hands. pg. 41