Excerpt from The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Family Tree

by Carole Cadwalladr

The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2005, 416 pages

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Tiffany marched out of the room and slammed the door. She was tall for her age and had a habit of throwing her head back that made her seem taller still. I followed her up the stairs and onto the landing.

"You could be the second lady prime minister," I pointed out. She glared at me.

"Shut up, Rebecca! Who'd want to be second?"

She stomped into the bathroom. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to my room. But then, I was a youngest child. I was used to coming second.

My mother was toiling over her frying pan when I handed her Aunty Suzanne's envelope and we opened it together.

Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Edwards
At Home
Saturday June 16, 1979, 1pm
The Old Parsonage
Middleton
RSVP

It was printed on thick cardboard, and the words were engraved in golden ink with curlicues and baroque squiggles, the A in "At Home" its finest swirl. At the top, in brilliant blue ink, it said, "Mr. & Mrs. James Monroe & family."

"Well! It's all right for some!"

But she hummed and smiled and tried to pin it to the cork notice board (ousting a timetable for upcoming PTA meetings). She struggled for a moment trying to pierce the card with a pin, but it was simply too thick and had to stand on the breakfast bar instead, propped up against the sugar bowl. There was a sudden hiatus in the preparation of our dinner (frozen beef burgers and chips, it was a bit of an off night for my mother, and she wouldn't be happy if she knew this particular menu was being recorded for posterity).

"Whatever am I going to wear?" she exclaimed.

I looked around but there was only me in the room. It was hard to imagine that my mother was really soliciting my advice. Nevertheless I gave the matter careful consideration before replying.

"Why don't you wear your red dress with the silver buckle?" My mother had what Granny Monroe called a "tidy" figure, and in her red dress with her hair up, she looked like one of the efficient secretary types they had on ITV sitcoms. She narrowed her eyes at me.

"I don't think so, Rebecca."

"Mum?"

"Hmm."

"Mum? Do we have to send out cards when we stay at home?" I stood waiting but she'd turned her attention back to her frying pan. The reply never came. But then when did they ever?

"Coitus à la Florentine," said Lucy. We were sprawled across the genuine New England patchwork quilt of her parents' bed and I was seeing how long I could hold my legs in the air. Lucy stumbled over the words, but there was no mistaking that at least half of them were rude.

"Intercourse with the woman holding the man's penile skin forcibly back with finger and thumb at the root of the penis and keeping it stretched all the time," said Lucy. "Excellent way of speeding up ejaculation, and greatly boosts intensity of male sensation if you get the tension right."

She paused for breath and I swallowed hard. I understood only one word in ten, but it was enough to remind me of my only previous encounter of a sexual nature: when I'd watched Love Story on the television and Ryan O'Neal's woollen hat had rubbed against Ali MacGraw's in a provocative manner.

Lucy, because her father was a doctor, but mostly because she liked to be right, claimed to have superior knowledge in all matters pertaining to everything. "Kenneth told me," she'd say if I tried to dispute one of her more unlikely claims, such as the assertion that if you swallowed chewing gum it stuck to your heart or that the sun could give you cancer. Lucy didn't call her parents Mum and Dad. She called them "Kenneth" and "Suzanne," which I found bizarre and unnatural. Lucy did know a lot, though; this was undisputable. She'd garnered certain information from her cousin Elsa, on the other side of the family. Elsa had told Lucy that if you hit her in the chest, her breasts felt like two sharp stones; that there was no such thing as Santa Claus; and that Suzanne and Kenneth enjoyed the benefit of an open marriage.

From The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, pages 1-17. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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