Excerpt from The Laments by George Hagen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Laments

A Novel

By George Hagen

The Laments
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2004,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2005,
    384 pages.

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In a flash, the hand of Miss Julia Clare would shoot up, entwined by the recalcitrant braid, intent on an urgent and passionate rebuttal. The scholarly badger, who hated contradiction and despised the Socratic method, would cast a blind eye to the twitching braid until her pupil’s gasps became too insistent to ignore.

"What is it, Miss Clare?"

"Perhaps, Mrs. Urquhart, Lady Macbeth was simply fed up with listening to her husband complain about his station in life!"

"I cannae hear yuh, Miss Clare, speak louder next time." Mrs. Urquhart smiled, as if that settled the matter.

"Consider Macbeth, Mrs. Urquhart," the girl persisted. "No backbone, no confidence, believing a gaggle of old biddies stirring a cauldron. I mean, what a dope of a Scotsman!"

A hush of delight spread across the classroom as the girls watched their mentoress blanch; not one day passed that she didn’t wear the official green-and-black tartan of the Urquharts (didn’t she play the bagpipes for the school as a special treat on Robert Burns’s birthday?). Her great badgerly whiskers rose in outrage; she removed her misty tortoiseshell glasses and drew up her massive Caledonian breast.

"Ere yuh presuming to divine Shakespeare’s truh intention, four hundred years after his death, Miss Clare?"

Even as she trembled before this woman, there was in Julia Clare a stubborn refusal to be intimidated by anyone. Softly, she replied, "No more than you are, Mrs. Urquhart."

Now the gnarled, nicotine-stained fingers of her teacher, clutching a yellowed and crusty handkerchief, stabbed the air in the direction of the door.

"Get oot of mah class!"

"With pleasure, Mrs. Urquhart."

Julia Clare took the familiar route to the Office of the Head-mistress, sitting in penitence on a hard oaken bench in the foyer—punishment far worse, in fact, than any time spent with the headmistress. Mrs. Grace Bunsen, a woman unrelated to the inventor of the famous burner yet possessed of a bright flame of hair (the color of Double Gloucester cheese, curiously similar to the hair of Julia’s future husband), by virtue of her mercy reinforced Julia’s belief that a Christian name is a window into one’s character.

Said Grace, "Julia, when will you realize that some opinions, however inspired, are best kept to yourself?"

"Forgive me, Mrs. Bunsen, but every word out of Mrs. Urquhart’s mouth is insulting to women!"

With a dignified frown, Grace Bunsen would ask for the particulars—which produced considerable mirth when she conveyed them to the faculty. Julia was unaware of her fame in the teachers’ lounge; its shabby armchairs and unemptied ashtrays were the hub for Julia stories while Mrs. Urquhart nursed one of her pungent Malayan cigars beneath a cedar tree on the school grounds, spitting tobacco-stained saliva at the squirrels.

"but what shall we name our son?" asked Howard as Julia stared at the ceiling from her hospital bed.

"I’m busy thinking," replied Julia, though she was really thinking of Beatrice. Parenthood has, as one of its side effects, the quality of recasting all childhood experience.

It was Mrs. Urquhart’s butchery of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing that finally dissolved Julia’s veil of respect. Beatrice was Julia’s favorite character, sharp-spoken, skeptical of love, but, when stoked, possessed of a fiery passion; most of all Julia loved Beatrice’s tongue, for she was a character armed with quick and witty retorts, a woman who always knew what to say.

It wasn’t as though Mrs. Bunsen hadn’t warned Julia ahead of time.

"Julia, you’re certainly entitled to disagree with her, but do try to express it without insulting her heritage."

"She provokes me!"

"She’s your teacher, Julia. Further arguments could lead to your expulsion."

Excerpted from The Laments by George Hagen Copyright© 2004 by George Hagen. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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