Excerpt from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Good Daughters

A Novel

By Joyce Maynard

The Good Daughters
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2010,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2011,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
BJ Nathan Hegedus

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Ruth
B e a n p o l e

My father told me I was a hurricane baby. This didn’t mean I was born in the middle of one. July 4, 1950, the day of my birth, fell well before hurricane season.

He meant I was conceived during a hurricane. Or in its aftermath. “Stop that, Edwin,” my mother would say, if she overheard him saying this. To my mother, Connie, anything to do with sex, or its consequences (namely, my birth, or at least the idea of linking my birth to the sex act), was not a topic for discussion.

But if she wasn’t around, he’d tell me about the storm, and how he’d been called out to clear a fallen tree off the road, and how fierce the rain had been that night, how wild the wind. “I didn’t get to France in the war like my brothers,” he said, “but it felt like I was doing battle, fighting those hundred-mile-an-hour gusts,” he told me. “And here’s the funny thing about it. Those times a person feels most afraid for their life? Those are the times you know you’re alive.” He told me how, in the cab of his truck, the water poured down so hard he couldn’t see, and how fast his heart was pounding, plunging into the darkness, and how it was, after—outside in the downpour, cutting the tree and moving the heavy branches to the side of the road, his boots sinking into the mud and drenched from rain, his arms shaking.

“The wind had a human sound to it,” he said, “like the moaning of a woman.”

Later, thinking back on the way my father recounted the story, it occurred to me that much of the language he used to describe the storm might have been applied to the act of a couple making love. He made the sound of the wind for me, then, and I pressed myself against his chest so he could wrap his big arms around me. I shivered, just to think of how it must have been that night.

For some reason, my father liked to tell this story, though I—not my sisters, not our mother—was his only audience. Well, that made sense perhaps. I was his hurricane girl, he said. If there hadn’t been that storm, he liked to say, I wouldn’t be here now.

It was nine months later almost to the day that I arrived, in the delivery room of Bellersville Hospital, high noon on our nation’s birthday, right after the end of the first haying season, and just when the strawberries had reached their peak.

And here was the other part of the story, well known to me from a hundred tellings: small as our town was—not even so much as a town, really; more like a handful of farms with a school and a general store and a post office to keep things ticking along—I was not the only baby born at Bellersville Hospital that day. Not two hours after me, another baby girl came into the world. This would be Dana Dickerson, and here my mother, if she was in earshot, joined in with her own remarks.

“Your birthday sister,” she liked to say. “You two girls started out in the world together. It only stands to reason we’d feel a connection.”

In fact, our families could hardly have been more different—the Dickersons and the Planks. Starting with where we made our home, and how we got there.

The farm where we lived had been in my father’s family since the sixteen hundreds, thanks to a twenty-acre land parcel acquired in a card game by an ancestor—an early settler come from England on one of the first boats—with so many greats in front of his name I lost count, Reginald Plank. Since Reginald, ten generations of Plank men had farmed that soil, each one augmenting the original tract with the purchase of neighboring farms, as—one by one— more fainthearted men gave up on the hard life of farming, while my forebears endured.

My father was the oldest son of an oldest son. That’s how the land had been passed down for all the generations. The farm now consisted of two hundred and twenty acres, forty of them cultivated, mostly in corn and what my father called kitchen crops that we sold, summers, at our farm stand, Plank’s Barn. Those and his pride and joy, our strawberries.

Excerpted from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 2010 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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