Excerpt from Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Fernanda Eberstadt

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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages
    Mar 2011, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Print Excerpt

Rat sits down beside her, chastened. “You’re going to get burnt on your shoulders.”

She rubs the suntan lotion across her mother’s back, all the way down to the butterfly tattoo nestled at the base of her spine, just above the two dimples on her buttocks.

She braids her mother’s hair, which is henna-red, but she has nothing to tie it with, and little coils and tendrils keep escaping. She tries to fasten it with a strand of seaweed, but the seaweed breaks.

“Yuck,” says Vanessa. “Horrible kid. Vile brat,” but her tone is affectionate now, and she rolls over and rubs her nose against Rat’s in an Eskimo kiss.

“Do you love your little Vanilla-do? Tell me you love me.”

“Yes, I love you, Mama.”

“I love you too, my little Ratkin. Don’t you forget that, I love you, love you, love you.”

Rat’s mother is exquisite. She has a tiny heart-shaped freckled face with a pointed chin, and huge eyes like a cat’s. Beside her, Rat feels raw-boned, gawky. She lies down beside her mother, so that she can peek into Vanessa’s eyes which are deep-river dappled. Her cat’s eyes change color, from green-brown-gray to brown to green again, depending on her mood.

Rat knows the language of those eyes. Brown when Vanessa’s sad (worried about a friend who’s sick, or a boyfriend she ’s broken up with). Gray when she ’s angry (a fight with Mémé Catherine, Rat’s French granny, or with the landlord who won’t fix the drain). Green when her favorite song comes on the radio, or when she’s dancing around the house, parading some crushed-velvet scarf or feather boa she ’s found for nothing in the market.

“You’re so beautiful; you should have been an actress,” Rat says. “You’d have been a superstar.”

“Yeah,” says her mother drily. “Story of my life, one long string of should-have-beens.”

And Rat feels doubly bad, because she knows if it weren’t for her, Vanessa could have been any one of those things she dreamed of—artist, actress, singer, fashion designer.

Because Vanessa’s missed so many chances on Rat’s account, she feels extra guilty for giving her mother a hard time. When Rat grows up, she ’s going to buy the two of them a big house with a walk-in closet, and a bathroom with a full-size bathtub and mirror walls and vanity lights with a dimmer. She ’s going to take Vanessa to Venice and Africa and the Greek Islands, all the places she loves to read about, and she ’s going to bring her breakfast in bed every morning.

Rat isn’t easy. That’s what Vanessa tells her friends, she isn’t easy. Other times, she says, “You’re the love of my life.”

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Excerpted from Rat by Fernanda Eberstadt, pages 10-13 from the hardcover edition.
Copyright © 2010 by Fernanda Eberstadt. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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