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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Print Excerpt

1898

Gerald thought about Pitz all the way home from school — he thought about him from the moment the bell rang at the Blessed Sacrament Academy, during the long walk through Central Park, Nurse's hand clamped painfully on his wrist, all the way to his house on West Fifty-Seventh Street — so by the time they reached his brownstone, his excitement was so great that he felt he might pee in his pants a little at the thought that the dog would be waiting for him behind the heavy black door.

Pitz had been his special birthday present when he turned ten, almost a year ago now. Mother had been sick with Baby, whatever that meant, and Gerald had been given Pitz. To teach him responsibility, his father had said. Gerald had heard the words, but they'd barely registered, because at the same moment, the wiry-haired fox terrier had bounded through the door into the drawing room.

Today his friend was exactly one year old and Gerald had smuggled him two butter biscuits from his lunch. He'd been very careful not to let the biscuits crumble in the pocket of his wool coat or to let Nurse find them.

Nurse hated Pitz. She said he was dirty and that he would bite them all one day and might even smother Baby in its sleep. Gerald knew this was a lie. Pitz was special. He had been his special present and now he was his special friend. Pitz was all-around special. Best of all, the dog could read his mind. Gerald had seen him doing it; Pitz would cock his head when Gerald was thinking something secret, and Gerald would know that Pitz knew what he was thinking.

Now, as the black door was opened at last, Pitz was waiting and Gerald almost cried with relief. He didn't know why, but he feared that one day the door would open and Pitz wouldn't be there.

"If you want to play with that filthy beast, it will be out in the garden," Nurse said.

Gerald looked at Pitz, gingerly feeling the biscuits in his pocket. It was January and the wind bit into his nose, but he'd rather be freezing outside with Pitz than warm indoors with Nurse. He moved towards the back door.

"Gerald Clery Murphy." Nurse could make her voice tower. That was the only word Gerald could think of for it, the way it seemed to grow bigger and bigger until it was looming over him. "What do we do first?"

Gerald reluctantly turned and headed for the stairs to change out of his uniform. Pitz just looked at him. He knew better than to try to follow Gerald upstairs when Nurse was around.

The house was chilly and the curtains were drawn against what was left of the day. His father said only invalids lived in warm houses. Murphys, he said, didn't get sick, although Mother had been sick with Baby. Gerald had seen Baby, and Baby looked fine to him. Mother was very white, though, and would call out often for Nurse in a high voice, saying Baby was unwell or that Baby was strange.

On the second floor, Gerald had to be very quiet when he passed Mother's door and the nursery so that Mother wouldn't get upset. Nurse was marching behind him and he hoped she wouldn't try to take his coat, with the biscuits, because then he would be punished and Pitz would be banished to the cellar again. Pitz was supposed to sleep in his basket in the little room off the kitchen. But it was so very cold there; it seemed cold even in summer. At night, if it was quiet, Gerald would sneak downstairs after his prayers and spirit the dog back to his own bed on the second floor.

Sometimes Nurse checked, and if she found Pitz, his friend would be locked in the cellar. Sometimes Nurse wouldn't let Pitz out until the following afternoon, and Gerald would see his friend's eyes, haunted after a day down in the dark with no food or water. When this happened, Gerald knew it was his fault and he wouldn't try to smuggle Pitz upstairs for a while. But inevitably, after a week or so, he would chance it again.

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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