I am so thrilled that in less than one week, A HAPPY CATASTROPHE will be out there on the shelves, in the cybersphere, on the algorithm, in the Kindles–wherever we’re all looking for books these days.
It’s a funny thing, having a book come out in a pandemic. It’s…quiet. No book launch at the library or the bookstore, no standing up in a crowd and reading an excerpt and then signing copies for those old friends who’ve given up an evening to come and raise a toast and catch up on news. And no chance to meet new readers either who have seen advance publicity or been told by their friends they should come. No hugs.
Nope. I am home on Publication Day. Working on the revisions of my next book, which will be published next June, when I hope we’re all hugging in public again and going to movies and concerts and eating in restaurants. (Remember restaurants?)
The good part is that I don’t have to show people what my hair looks like now, in the ninth week of quarantine, especially considering I was actually due for a haircut just as the lockdown started. OMG. I’m wearing baseball caps nearly all the time now, and my hair has gotten so long and unwieldy that I’ve taken to putting the whole mess up in a straggly ponytail and jamming the ponytail through the little opening in the back of the cap. That IS what that is for, right?
But pretend for a moment that you are in a bookstore or a library, and I am reading to you from Chapter One of my new book. You can picture that we are all snacking on oatmeal lace cookies and sipping Champagne. Or peach iced tea. Everybody smells nice. I don’t look terribly ratty, just the right amount of ratty. And you–you are looking radiant. Your hair is perfect.
I tell you that A Happy Catastrophe is a stand-alone book, but that it follows the same characters from Matchmaking for Beginners, which was released in 2018 and became an overnight national bestseller. (I tell you this shyly, in case you might think I’m boasting.) If I am very comfortable with you, I might add that I just found out last week that it sold over 250,000 copies! Mainly I am just so surprised and also so grateful to everyone who bought it and for all the people who have left comments and sent me letters telling me how much they love it. It’s been so much fun!
And then…well, I start to read to you from Chapter One. I clear my throat and smile at you. And here is what I say:
CHAPTER ONE. MARNIE.
Patrick is late meeting me for dinner, which is good because it means I get a few minutes to sit by myself at our favorite table in the back of LaMont’s, where I can sip my merlot and practice how I’m going to ask him my big question.
Patrick and I have been together for nearly four years, and I can talk to him about every little thought that might come into my head, but this–this is one of those questions, you see. Life-altering stuff. And Patrick is a man who has already had enough life-altering stuff to last him a hundred years. He would prefer decades of some good old status quo.
But…I just can’t.
So I take a gulp of my wine and close my eyes. I left the flower shop early so I could rehearse. Luckily, this is Brooklyn, so people on the subway didn’t seem to notice that I was practicing out loud and enumerating talking points on my fingers.
Here’s what I’ve got so far. “Patrick,” I will say, “I love you more than anything. You, my love, are the flap in my flapjack. The cream in the center of my Oreo cookie. The monster in my monster mash. And you are the horizon of all my longing.”
Sappy? God, yes, although that part about the horizon of my longing might be considered poetic if I use the right tone of voice. If I’m lucky, he’ll laugh. And once he laughs, it’ll be easy. I’ll just blurt the question out, and then it will be done. Yes or no.
“Yes or no, Patrick,” I’ll say. “Take all the time you like, my love, but please remember that I am already thirty-three years old, and that loud banging noise you hear–well, that thing is my heart.”
For God’s sake, get a grip, Marnie.
I smile, recognizing this voice in my head. It’s Blix–or not really her since she’s dead and all, but it’s what she would say if she were here. I can squint and pretty much see her essence sitting across the table from me right this minute, all floaty and light, in her bright scarves and necklaces and long skirts, with her wild Einstein white hair sticking up everywhere, shaking her head and yelling at me to stop stressing about the question.
Just lighten up! Trust in the goddamn universe for once, will you?
Blix was always going on about the universe, and frankly, she and that universe of hers are what got me here. She was a one-of-a-kind matchmaking wizard, and she always said she knew two things from the moment she met me: I was a natural-born matchmaker, and also Patrick and I were meant to be together. (Never mind that I was engaged to be married to Blix’s grandnephew at the time; she and the universe already knew that relationship was a lost cause.)
I wasn’t so sure I believed her. In fact, I was stunned when I found out soon after she died that she had left me her Brooklyn brownstone, having apparently decided that I, Marnie “Nobody Special” MacGraw, was the one to follow in her matchmaking footsteps and inherit her ongoing projects as well as all the charming misfits she cultivated.
I had no intention of actually doing anything that crazy. By then, I was divorced from the grandnephew, and I was back living with my parents in Florida, heartbroken and blindsided by life. After months of listlessly dating my ex-boyfriend from high school, I may have accidentally agreed to marry him. I had zero plans to become a matchmaker in–Brooklyn? Are you kidding me with this stuff? So I came here intending to sell the building and go back home…only it just so happened that there was this guy Patrick living in the basement apartment of that brownstone.
And, well, Patrick turned out to be…my true home.
Okay, if I’m being honest here, he was not the man I would have chosen. That’s when I learned that love doesn’t always come in the package we might expect. He’s a reclusive introvert, for one thing, and I’m always working out plans on how not to be alone. But he’s smart and funny and possibly the tiniest bit crazy in all the good ways, and he knows how furnaces work and also he senses exactly what to say when I’m feeling lost or sad. He bakes the best pies from scratch, and he’s the only person I know who likes to have all his conversations about world events in the bathtub, and besides all that, he lets me eat the centers of all his Oreo cookies. From the very start, even when I was a big whiny pain who knew nothing whatsoever about city life, he took care of me and made me laugh. And I fell for him in a way I’d never known I could love anyone.
Which just goes to show that we don’t know everything about ourselves, because this was definitely not the way I saw my life going, being the live-in girlfriend of a brooding but funny artist, and owning a flower shop where I did matchmaking on the side. By the age of thirty-three, I was supposed to be a suburban mom married to Blix’s handsome grandnephew, living next door to my parents and spending Saturday afternoons lolling around the pool with my sister while our husbands manned the barbecue pit and our kids napped in their strollers.
The only big question I’d planned to be asking at age thirty-three was should we have potato salad as a side dish, or would corn on the cob be best.
But you know what? Blix had some serious magic to her, and somehow she transferred that to me, and right now I hear her whispering in my ear, Oh, for heaven’s sake, Marnie, stop with this. You’re going to get everything you want. Just trust in the universe.
So I’m sitting there practicing my speech when I get distracted because at the table next to me, a sweet-faced hipster in a plaid shirt and fedora is being yelled at in a most entertaining way by a blonde-haired older woman dressed in white and gold. His mother, no doubt, since they have the same nose. Any person from around here could tell exactly what’s going on. A Florida mom has come to Brooklyn top visit and has now had quite enough of us. And her unsuspecting son, not reading the signs, has gone all irresponsible on her and ordered himself some food, just as she’s planning to make her escape.
And she’s furious. “If you think I’m going to be running through the damned airport because you had to eat something called a quail egg slider that no doubt takes thirty minutes to prepare, you’ve got another think coming!” she says. “I’m not putting up with any more of your thoughtlessness. I’ve called me an Uber, and I’m leaving. You will not be taking me to the airport.”
Normally not having to take someone to the airport is like a huge, amazing gift. But the guy takes in this news with the glazed look of a man whose mom has been visiting for far too many days. He’s quietly mumbling that it’s four whole hours until her plane leaves, and also, just as a point of information, quail egg sliders are quick to prepare.
I am beaming over to him the message, You can make it, dude, we’re all here for you, when suddenly my hand jerks and knocks my glass of merlot into my lap, and red wine spreads everywhere, splashing the tablecloth, my skirt, the floor. As I’m standing up to escape it, the guy leaps into the air with the kind of alacrity a firefighter might display upon running into a burning building, and hands me a fisful of napkins.
“Oh, thank you,” I say. “That’s really very kind.”
“Here. You might need more,” he says, now grabbing bundles of them.
“No!” yells his scary mother. “Stop that, you’re spreading it. Here, I can fix this.”
And then, in one quick motion, she stands up and tosses white wine all over the front of me. Like this is a real thing that civilized people do.
I gasp and blink in surprise as it slowly occurs to me that the entire front of my body is freezing cold, soaking wet now with two kinds of wine.
“OH MY HELL WHAT JUST HAPPENED,” says the guy.
“White wine takes away red wine,” sayd his mother. “Believe me. She’ll thank me later.”
“Mom!” he says. “You can’t go pouring wine on a stranger! How is it that you don’t know this?” He turns to me. “I am so sorry. Really! Please, Mom, sit down. You’re making things worse.” He’s grabbing for even more napkins. Soon he’ll be going from table to table taking them out of people’s laps, I’m afraid.
“Oh, stop it, Graham. This will take the stain out,” she says, her eyes huge and insistent and maybe just a tad insane. “White takes out red. Everybody knows this.”
He says to me in a low voice, “You might want to run to the restroom before she starts ordering whole pitchers of pinot grigio to drown you in.”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she says, laughing. “This son of mine! He always makes me out to be a lunatic, when he’s the one who can’t figure out how to be on time for dinner when he knows I have a plane to catch. Thanks to him, I can’t even finish my glass of wine because my Uber’s coming for me. Anyway, honey, your skirt already looks better.”
“I’ll go to the rest room and get the rest out,” I tell her, ducking in case she is going to start dousing me with other liquids she finds around the restaurant. “But thank you.”
“No, no!” wails Graham. “Don’t thank her. We don’t want to encourage this.”
“Why shouldn’t she thank me?” she says. “I did her a favor. Now kiss your old mother goodbye, you rapscallion, because I’ve got to go.”
She holds his face between her two hands and kisses him, the loud, smacking kind of kisses, and then she turns to me. “Are you married, by any chance? Because this delinquent of mine is very available. Unfathomable, I know, but true.”
I decide I like these two, just as Micah, the waiter, glides over with a fresh white tablecloth and some setups and a new glass of wine for me.
“When Patrick gets here,” I say to him, “would you please tell him I’m in the restroom?”
“Well, are you married?” the mother says.
“She’s married to Patrick,” says Micah, and I can’t resist correcting him. Patrick and I are not exactly married, I explain, but we are committed, living together, here forever and all that.
“It’s never forever until you get the ring,” warns the mom, and Graham rolls his eyes and picks up a huge suitcase she’d stored under the table, and begins ushering her out, his hand at the small of her back. She’s waving to us all like a beauty queen on a parade float–and all I can think as I hurry to the restroom is that I hope he comes back.
Because something momentous has just happened. There are sparkles forming in the air all around that guy, and I know what that means: he’s about to fall in love with somebody, and the reason I’m here is because the universe needs me to help things along.
So that’s part of chapter one.
Want to read more? Just click right here.
And thank you again to all of you who support authors and love to read, and I wish you good health and safety–and we’ll see each other in the bookstores in the future! (And really, your hair does look just awesome.)