Excerpt from Fever by Mary Beth Keane, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Mar 2013,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2014,
    320 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Have you ever made sauerkraut, or do you always purchase it?" Mrs. Kirkenbauer had asked during their first meeting, and Mary admitted that she'd never done either, without adding that no employer she'd ever worked for had wanted sour cabbage and its sharp aroma anywhere near the floral patterns of their halls, the intricate moldings of their ceilings. If Alfred had an evening yearning for it he went out to the streets in search of the roaming sauerkraut man and the steel drum he wore around the city.

"Would you be willing to learn if I showed you once? Are you a quick learner?" How far removed is this woman from her native Philadelphia's version of the Lower East Side, Mary wondered, but simply answered "Yes."

Was that all it took to get Mary to agree to leave the city that summer? Had the wages been better than she remembered? No. Years later, when she had all the time in the world to think about it, every hour of the day if she chose, every single minute, nothing seemed to add up, least of all seeing a younger version of herself step off a train to await pickup by Mr. Kirkenbauer himself because they had no full-time chauffeur. Alfred had begged her to decline the job. He'd wanted her to find something closer to home, promising a Fourth of July fireworks show she'd never forget. He'd already begun stockpiling the rockets and sparklers, and planned to invite everyone in their building to watch. But the Fourth of July fell on a Tuesday that year, and Mary didn't want to organize her summer around one single day, so she left Alfred alone on Thirty-Third Street to fend for himself. Maybe that was the spring when he told her once and for all that he'd never marry her. Not because he didn't love her, but because he didn't believe in it. In the old country, fine, some customs could not be shaken, but what was the point of America if two people couldn't do as they pleased?

Funny how she grew so used to Alfred and the way they were that it was hard to believe there was ever a time when she wanted him to marry her, a time when she thought that he would, eventually, when his mind came around to it, when he admitted to himself and to her it was only the right thing to do. It was even harder to believe that she'd ever considered their not being married their biggest problem. Maybe the summer of 1899 was when she finally admitted the possibility that the things he said were really the things he believed. There was no secret code to crack, no door she could knock upon to make him come around. She was not a woman who should have to convince a man to marry her. There were plenty who would trip over themselves for the chance. That was it, she remembered, a lifetime later, when she went over the details of that summer once again. That must have been it. Her pride was injured. She wanted to teach him a lesson. She wanted space from him to think, maybe to work up the courage to leave him, to try for a different kind of life. So she went away that summer, and wished him the best for his fireworks show, and told him she'd be home on Sundays or she wouldn't, depending on her mood.

"And there's a child, isn't there?" the woman at the office had said during that first meeting, glancing at her notes. Mary noticed that Mrs. Kirkenbauer's clothes were exquisite, every stitch in its place, the fabric somehow skimming her slim figure and hiding it at the same time. She was younger than Mary, with a beautiful German face.

"Yes, one, a boy. Is that a problem?"

"Of course not," the agent had said. "Mary loves children. Don't you, Mary?"

"I do," Mary said in a flat voice.

Mary did not love all children, but she did love that boy. Within forty-eight hours of her arrival in Dobbs Ferry she saw that there would be no way to keep baby Tobias out of her kitchen, so she told his nanny to leave him, set him up on the floor with a toy and let him watch. The clever boy played happily until his nanny was out of sight, and then he reached his hands up to Mary to be lifted so he could see for himself what she had on the stove. "Spoon," he said, when he wanted a taste. "Hot!" he warned when he saw steam coming up from a pot. She gave him a new word every day and he stored it, trotting it out a few days later like he was born knowing it. It got so it was lonely in the kitchen without him. When he was there with her she talked to him all afternoon. "You are a good boy," Mary would say, and he'd beat his chest and say "good boy." When she dressed in the mornings, long before anyone else in the house was up, she looked forward to the tug of his chubby hand on her skirt, his fat little legs sticking out beneath his short pants. She listened for him coming down the hall before breakfast, running as fast as he could manage toward her kitchen, to see her, to press his soft cheek against hers and say her name.

Excerpted from Fever by Mary Beth Keane. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Beth Keane. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  A Short History of Typhoid

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  66Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.