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Excerpt from Villa America by Liza Klaussmann, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Villa America

A Novel

by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann X
Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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"Give me your coat," Nurse said, holding out her strong hand to Gerald. "You can wear the play coat outside in the muck."

Gerald was trying to think of an excuse to hold on to it when he heard his mother's voice from behind the nursery door.

"Nurse," his mother cried. "Nurse. Come see to Baby. She has a color on her. A most unnatural color."

"Now, we must stay calm, Mrs. Murphy," Nurse called out briskly, turning from Gerald. "Baby is well. I will be with you directly."

"Nurse, come. Do," his mother said, but her voice was less agitated. Then, a few moments later: "Yes, yes," as if she were talking to herself.

Gerald didn't wait to hear any more and raced up the next flight of stairs, his coat and its precious cargo safe from Nurse's grasp.

He took off his uniform, laid his knickerbockers over the chair, and folded his shirt and sweater for the morning. After changing into his play clothes, he slipped his wool coat on again and made the perilous journey back down to Pitz.

Kneeling on the floor at the foot of the stairs, Gerald wrapped his arms around the little fox terrier and laid his cheek against the dog's neck. There was the earthy, animal smell — fresh bread and leaves — and Pitz's coat, coarse like his hairbrush, pricking his nose.

The dog let himself be held by the boy, patient, unmoving, despite the smell of the biscuit in the boy's pocket. The boy made a small sighing noise, like a prayer. It was the first warm thing Gerald Murphy had touched all day.

Gerald ate his supper alone at the small table in the nursery. Besides the table, the room had one little chair, a board to do sums on, a rocking horse with an uncomfortable seat (a present from his uncle), and a couple of ledger books in which Gerald was supposed to practice his handwriting before meals.

There used to be two chairs in the nursery, but the companion had been removed when his brother, Fred, had gone away to school. Gerald didn't really miss him; Fred had never been unkind, but he spoke to Gerald the same way the streetcar conductor did. Politely, as if he were there but not there, somehow. As for Baby, she was too small to eat in the nursery with him, but Gerald hoped she might get big enough soon so that he would have someone to talk to.

The one good thing about the nursery was that it had a large window, rounded at the top, that looked out over Fifty-Seventh Street, and Gerald could watch the people go by and wonder about them while he ate his boiled beef.

Tonight, as he was halfway through a particularly tough nugget of meat, a hansom cab drew to a stop two doors down. Gerald shifted his chair around the table so he could keep his eye on it. A man in evening clothes alighted, followed by a woman in a dark blue dress, her gloved hand resting lightly on his. A single brown, wrinkled oak leaf fluttered down onto the man's hat. The lady tipped her head in slightly towards her companion, and Gerald thought he could see her smiling at something the man had said. The way she smiled reminded him of Father's friend in Atlantic City.

Father had taken him there last spring so that he could see the boardwalk and also to get some fresh air. Mother had said that she didn't like the look of Gerald's pallor, which she put down to a bilious nature. This frightened Gerald a little, because he didn't know what it meant, and it sounded dangerous. He wanted to ask Father about it and almost did when they were on the streetcar on their way to the ferry slip. But once on the steamboat that would take them across the North River to the train at Paulus Hook, he forgot all about it.

At first, before the boat blew for departure, Gerald was absorbed by the advertisements in frames hanging on the walls of the long mahogany cabin. He knelt on the bench to get a better look until Father rapped him slightly with his cane. Gerald quickly righted himself, but it took all his effort to keep from swinging his legs. When the ship set off, Father rose and, beckoning him, strode out to the deck. It was a raw morning and the sky hung very gray over the harbor, the Manhattan piers like tentacles reaching out through the mist, saying, Don't go, don't go. There was a huge steam liner docked at one of them. There was also a thrilling tugboat with a big, fat C painted on its stack that passed so close to them that Gerald thought if he reached out he might be able to touch it.

Excerpted from Villa America by Liza Klaussmann. Copyright © 2015 by Liza Klaussmann. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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