Excerpt from Sunnyside by Glen David Gold, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Glen David Gold

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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 576 pages
    May 2010, 704 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

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Print Excerpt

“Lord! It’s just a skiff, an open skiff,” she whispered. She made fluttering gestures to push back the group around the Alvan Clark, and they exchanged glances of anticipation. This was either a real crisis or one about to be shouted into existence. Emily applied her eye to the eyepiece, blinked, and ran her fingers along the reeded focus knob, making a blur, and then, in a perfectly circular iris, she saw, with a clarity that made her gasp, Charlie Chaplin.

She jolted a step backward, looking to the window without the aid of magnification, as if the telescope might have somehow fabricated this vision. She could see the boat, now rocking on the crests of ever- increasing waves as it came closer, and there was indeed a solitary figure aboard. He was dressed in baggy black trousers, a tight morning coat. He had a mustache. A cane. A derby.

“Is that . . .” She swallowed.

“We were thinking it looks like Charlie Chaplin,” Leland said, with the shame of a boy caught believing in fairies.

Emily gulped coffee, searching for it to kick like gin, and then she looked again through the telescope. The lighthouse provided a brilliant spotlight that swept away all color in the flood of illumination, casting its view into glowing white or penumbral mystery; there was no missing the open skiff, its single sail patched and sagging, its occupant shuffling from stem to stern, toes out, gingerly leaping over each oarlock’s thwart. He was rubbing his chin, and waggling his mustache as if itched by a puzzling thought, and in the several seconds Emily watched speechlessly, a gust of wind swung the ruined sail so that it hit him in his rear end, causing him to jump in place. He realized what had hit him, he tipped his hat as if he and the sail were engaged in polite social discourse, and he returned to his bowlegged pacing.

“We have to rescue him,” Leland finally said.

“Yes,” Emily whispered.

“Could it be someone dressed as Charlie Chaplin?” asked the elder Field, who always saw the blank physics of a situation, but even his voice had doubts. Each assistant took turns looking at the little fellow in the skiff, and each had to agree, one could certainly dress like Chaplin, and even act like Chaplin—there were contests and so on—but in the view of their telescope’s eye, there were no hesitations, no awkward attempts to remain graceful. This man was not pretending or attempting to convince them of his identity. Further, they were battling against logic with their desire to believe it was true. In the end, what was right before their eyes won.

“Well,” Leland said, helplessly showing off what he knew from the magazines, “that is definitely Charles Spencer Chaplin.” Then he whispered, “Son of a gun. There’s a hole in the hull.”

He knew this because Chaplin was now using a tin cup to bail out water. As the boat drifted closer to the rocks, waves dumped over the bowl, so the bailing was useless and frantic. Chaplin removed his hat to use it as a ladle, and now both his arms became pistons flinging water away as the sea drew his boat closer and closer to its doom.

Emily’s hand went to her mouth. “There’s a hole in his derby, too!”

“Perhaps he’s making a movie here,” suggested Field.

“I’m going,” Leland said. Before his mother had a chance to object, he had shot to the exit, and his boots made the authoritative peal of cathedral bells as he sprinted down the circular metal staircase.

“Leland, come back,” she cried, as mothers have always called to their children who in turn were called to the brutal seas, but in truth she hardly wanted to stop him. To stop him smacked of that phantom discipline she could not muster. Moreover, he was going to aid a helpless sailor, an act that throbbed with responsibility.

Excerpted from Sunnyside by Glen David Gold Copyright © 2009 by Glen David Gold. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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