Excerpt from The Darling by Russell Banks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Darling

by Russell Banks

The Darling
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 384 pages
    Oct 2005, 416 pages

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She’s a local, and I, of course, am not. When I first bought the place from her aunt and uncle and learned at the closing that Anthea had run the farm by herself for years, I knew that I would need her at least as much as her invalided uncle and bedridden aunt had, and I hired her on the spot to be my manager. Besides, I felt sorry for her and angry on her behalf. Her aunt and uncle, having elected to move to the village and live at the Neighborhood House, an assisted-living home for elderlies, had put the farm up for sale without consulting her. She told me that she drove home one afternoon from picking up their weekly groceries at the Stop & Shop in Lake Placid and saw a For Sale sign posted where the lane left the road, and another stuck in the middle of the front yard.

Anthea should have inherited the farm. Or her uncle should have somehow arranged for her to buy it from them. Her parents died when she was a child, and her uncle and aunt had raised her as their own. But she was an unmarried woman in love with a married woman from the next town, and the affair was widely known, probably known even by the woman’s alcoholic husband, a house painter who rarely worked but was liked and looked after in the town because of his sweet nature and their three small children.

Her aunt and uncle went straight from the closing at the realtor’s office to the Neighborhood House. When they are dead, whatever’s left, if anything, of the nearly one hundred thirty thousand dollars I gave them for the farm will likely go to Anthea. But it won’t let her buy the place. Not even if I were willing to sell it. The farm is worth three times now what it went for in 1991. I may feel sorry for Anthea and angry on her behalf, but I wouldn’t sell her the farm at a discount. The truth is, I’m not very generous and don’t mind saying so.

The other girls, Frieda, Nan, and Cat, arrived at their usual times, Frieda and Nan together at seven roaring up on Nan’s motorcycle, and Cat, drifting in ten minutes later like a petal falling from a daisy, strolling blithely down the lane as if wondering what to do with this lovely, end-of-summer day opening up ahead of her, when she knew very well that Anthea and I had her day all laid out for her. Cat’s a third-generation hippie, in her late teens, a dreamy throwback to the sixties, her grandparents’ era. My era. Catalonia’s her real name, given to her at birth by her parents, Raven and Rain, who got their names in adulthood from a Bengali guru on a New Mexico commune, Cat told me. Her woozy, laidback affect and language are the same as her parents’ and grandparents’, but she’s replaced their form of soft, open-ended rebellion with a posthippie, puritanical adherence to abstinence. She’s a drug-free, homeschooled, vegan virgin from Vermont, childlike and winsome on the surface, but inside tight as a fist. Cat’s the type of girl thirty years ago I would have tried to recruit for Weatherman. Cat is a girl you can picture nowadays becoming a born-again Christian fundamentalist, dark and judgmental. She’s the kind of girl I once was.

But Anthea and I and the other girls love Cat and can’t help protecting her—mostly from ourselves, as it turns out, and our rough edges and indulgences. None of us is drug free, virginal, or even a parttime vegetarian. We smoke, drink beer after work and stronger stuff often till bedtime, and eat meat whenever possible…

From The Darling by Russell Banks. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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