Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

by Lee Smith

Narrated by Debra Monk, Julia Gibson, Kate Forbes

Unabridged — 12 hours, 32 minutes

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

by Lee Smith

Narrated by Debra Monk, Julia Gibson, Kate Forbes

Unabridged — 12 hours, 32 minutes

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Virginia native Lee Smith has won two O. Henry Awards, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, and the Robert Penn Warren Prize for her engaging works. A collection of 14 tales-both new stories and previously published favorites-Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger is sure to delight listeners with its warm humor and unforgettable characters. "Each tale is beautifully honed ." -Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

Jan Stuart

In her brittle tale "House Tour," Smith describes a salesgirl's red-velvet elf costume, endowing it with attributes that could serve as a template for this entire collection of new and previously published stories: "A little kitsch, a little sex, a little irony."
—The New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Smith slips effortlessly into the voices of her funny, smarter-than-they-look characters in her latest collection (after News of the Spirit), containing a handful of new works among some old favorites. In “Toastmaster,” a family's dinner outing is parsed from the point of view of a brainy 11-year-old who sees through the motivations of his flaky mother and demonstrates his powers of observation when a group of joking, drunken men enter the restaurant. Similarly, “Big Girl” allows an overweight wife who has sacrificed everything for her awful husband to tell her story while attaining the ultimate emancipation. Each tale is beautifully honed and captures in subtle detail and gentle irony the essential humanity of characters who might initially strike the reader as superficial or unsympathetic. “House Tour,” for instance, finds a cynical wife and mother contemplating her possible alcoholism when her house is overrun by an endearing group of similarly life-worn but irrepressible women who mistake her house for one on their home tour. Other tales about indomitable wives and mothers will be familiar to Smith's fans and round out this thoroughly enjoyable collection. (Mar.)

Library Journal

Southern storyteller Smith (The Last Girls) here collects 14 stories—seven new ones, seven from previous collections, and all filled with sorrow and humanity. Comparisons to Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor are not far off the mark, for these stories have the careful, handcrafted feel of those masters. Many look at aging women and their mortality. In the title story, for instance, the yearnings and weight of all the past years are palpable as the daughters of Lolly Darcy earnestly discuss what to do with their mother, who is clearly slipping. In "The Happy Memories Club," former English teacher Alice Scully, now a resident of a nursing home and confined to a wheelchair, resists her little writing group's dictum that only happy memories be read aloud. VERDICT This is a fiction writer whose work puts her at the top of her game in the crowded field of modern Southern writers.—Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA

Kirkus Reviews

Prolific novelist Smith (On Agate Hill, 2006, etc.) offers 14 stories, most circling issues of class in the contemporary South. "Bob, A Dog," about a sweet woman dumped by her educated husband, sets the tone: Highfalutin' Yankees and earthy Southerners don't mix well. In "Ultima Thule," the Dixie-born wife is the transgressor, betraying her oversensitive Northern husband. Not only Yankees but also bourgeois Southerners lack the spirit of Smith's hardscrabble heroines, who fight constant battles to survive and maintain their dignity. In "Big Girl," even the arresting authorities sympathize with Dee Ann, who has committed a crime "in the name of love" for a worthless man. Each heroine with bad taste but a heart of gold seems charmingly colorful on her own-readers understand why the businessman in "Intensive Care" sacrifices his respectability for a waitress who offers the joyful love his buttoned-down wife can't-but lumped together, the women edge toward stereotype. The town of Salt Lick is full of them in "Between the Lines." The clueless narrator of "The Southern Cross" is too cliched and lame-brained to take seriously as she describes a weekend cruise with her married boss. And "Fried Chicken," about a murderer's pathetic mother, reads like an exercise in politically correct sentimentality. However, Smith can strike deep. In "House Tour," both Yankee academics and their elderly Southern visitors defy stereotypes and expectations. The previously unpublished "Stevie and Mama" is the volume's standout. A woman discovers that her husband, the love of her life, may have had an affair years ago. The hard-earned clarity she reaches while deciding whether to confront him is nuanced and true.After this freshly detailed, deeply satisfying work, the cute twist ending of the final story, concerning the widowed Mrs. Darcy and children who should take her more seriously, is quite a letdown. Always colorful, sometimes predictable and at its best profoundly moving.

From the Publisher

"Smith's heroines find strength in the moments that push us all forward." —People magazine
People Magazine

"Smith's character-driven tales are funny, touching, and resonant, with a quirky honesty. A southern-fried charmer!" —Family Circle
Family Circle

"Smith also has a soft spot for incorrigibles like the dyspeptic ex-writer of "House Tour," who resists playing reindeer games with the local philistines at Christmas, or the former teacher in "The Happy Memories Club," who refuses to placate an amateur writing group that appears to prefer its fare upbeat and scrubby-clean. Smith's book, you suspect, is the one those club members would sneak under their bedcovers to read by penlight." —New York Times Book Review
New York Times Book Review

"Like Chekhov, Smith can lay out a world of social and personal connections in a few pages. Her new collection, mingling seven previously published short stories with seven new pieces, offers a marvelous panorama of Smith's achievement over four decades. It's funny, shrewd and heartbreaking—often all three at once." --AARP The Magazine
AARP The Magazine

“Lee Smith has long had a reputation as a master of the short story, and her new collection . . . galvanizes that reputation . . . Smith offers the grit of the domestic scene, the power of the written word, and the transcendent beauty of women as friends, lovers, daughters and mothers.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A marvelous panorama of Smith’s achievement over four decades. It’s funny, shrewd, and heartbreaking—often all three at once.” —AARP magazine

“Smith’s character-driven tales are funny, touching and resonant, with a quirky honesty. A southern-fried charmer!” —Family Circle

“Smith’s heroines find strength in the moments that push us all forward.” —People, four stars

AARP The Magazine

"Like Chekhov, Smith can lay out a world of social and personal connections in a few pages. Her new collection, mingling seven previously published short stories with seven new pieces, offers a marvelous panorama of Smith's achievement over four decades. It's funny, shrewd and heartbreaking—often all three at once." --AARP The Magazine

Family Circle

"Smith's character-driven tales are funny, touching, and resonant, with a quirky honesty. A southern-fried charmer!" —Family Circle

New York Times Book Review

"Smith also has a soft spot for incorrigibles like the dyspeptic ex-writer of "House Tour," who resists playing reindeer games with the local philistines at Christmas, or the former teacher in "The Happy Memories Club," who refuses to placate an amateur writing group that appears to prefer its fare upbeat and scrubby-clean. Smith's book, you suspect, is the one those club members would sneak under their bedcovers to read by penlight." —New York Times Book Review

People Magazine

"Smith's heroines find strength in the moments that push us all forward." —People magazine

People Magazine

"Smith's heroines find strength in the moments that push us all forward." --People magazine

SEPTEMBER 2012 - AudioFile

Lee Smith’s collection of short stories, seven new and seven previously published, offers a humorous yet meaningful look at the lives of wives and mothers. The five narrators alternate stories, playing to their strengths, and all the narrators highlight the Southern settings of the stories. In “The Toastmaster,” a story told in the point of view of a child, Julia Gibson uses a youthful tone. In the title story, Kate Forbes voices characters with a more mature tone and a hint of mischief that keeps the listener guessing. Debra Monk and Susan Bennett use even tones and mature voices, often with slight Southern accents, to capture the voices of other mature women. Cynthia Darlow delivers her selections in a grandmotherly tone, her voice creating the intonation of a true Southern belle. E.N. © AudioFile 2012, Portland, Maine

Product Details

BN ID: 2940170559022
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 05/11/2012
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt

Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger

New and Selected Stories

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Copyright © 2010 Lee Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-915-3

Chapter One

Bob, a Dog

It was early May, two days after his thirty-ninth birthday, when David left her forever. "Forever" - that's what he said. He stood in the downstairs hallway turning an old brown hat around and around in his hands. Cheryl had never seen the hat before. She stood on the stairs above him, coming down, carrying towels. David said he needed a different life. Behind him, the door was wide open. It was sunny and windy outside. She had made him a carrot cake for his birthday, she was thinking - now what would she do with the rest? Nobody liked carrot cake except David and Angela, who was dieting. Angela was always dieting. David continued to talk in his calm, clipped way, but it was hard to hear what he said. He sounded like background noise, like somebody on the TV that Cheryl's mother kept going all the time in the TV room now since she had retired from her job at the liquor store. David wore cutoff jeans and an old plaid shirt he'd had ever since she'd met him, nearly twenty years before. She must have washed that shirt a hundred times. Two hundred times. His knees were thin and square. He was losing his hair. At his back, the yard was a blaze of sun.

Cheryl could remember the first time she ever saw him like it was yesterday, David standing so stiff and straight in the next-to-back pew of the Methodist church, wearing a navy blue suit, and everybody whispering about him and wondering who he was, him so prim and neat it never occurred to any of them he might be from the Peace Corps, which he was. He didn't look like a northern hippie at all. He was real neat. Cheryl and her sister Lisa and her brother Tom were sitting right behind him, and after a while of looking at the careful part in his hair and his shoulder blades like wings beneath his navy suit, Cheryl leaned forward and gave him her program so he would know what was going on. He acted like somebody who had never been in a church before, which turned out to be almost true, while Cheryl's own family was there of course every time they cracked the door.

But oh, it seemed like yesterday! He was dignified. And he sat so straight. He might have been a statue in a navy blue suit, a figurine like all those in Mamaw's collection. Cheryl had sucked in her breath and bitten her lip and thought, before she fell head over heels in love right then, that she ought to be careful. Because she had always been the kind of big, bouncy girl who jumps right in and breaks things without ever meaning to, a generous, sweet, well-meaning girl who was the apple of everybody's eye.

Cheryl handed him the program, and touched his hand too long. After the recessional she took him into the fellowship hall for a cup of Kool-Aid and wrote her telephone number down on a paper napkin before he even asked for it. "He's just my type," she said to her mother, Netta, later. "Ha!" Netta said. Netta thought he looked nervous. But Cheryl liked that about him, because everybody else she knew was exactly like their parents were, exactly like everyone else. David was older, a college graduate. Cheryl, who had finished high school two years before, was working then at Fabric World. She thought David was like a young man in a book, or a movie. Whatever he said seemed important, as if it had been written down and he was reading it aloud.

Later, when she got to know him, she'd go to the room that he rented over Mrs. Bailey's garage and lie with him on the mattress on the floor, where he slept - the mattress pulled over to the window where you could look right out on Thompson's Esso and the back road and the river winding by - and sometimes afterward she'd open her eyes to find him looking out this window, over the river, and she couldn't tell what he was thinking. She never knew what he thought. Then, Cheryl found this romantic.

But probably she should have gotten herself a big old man who could stand up to things, not that she didn't have offers. Look at Jerry Jarvis, who had always loved her, or Kenny Purdue, who she was dating at the time. When she told Kenny she didn't want to go out with him anymore because she was in love with David Stone from Baltimore, Maryland, Kenny went out and cried and rolled in the snow. That's what his mother told Netta on the telephone: she said Kenny rolled in the snow. But David Stone had a kind of reserve about him, a sort of hollow in him, which just drove Cheryl wild. It was like she was always trying to make up to him for something, to make something be okay, or go away, but she never knew what it was.

David came from a small, quiet family, one sister and a shy divorced mother with her hair in a little gray bun on the top of her head, and a father who was not mentioned. At the time she met David, Cheryl didn't know anybody who was divorced. Now everybody was. Including her, it looked like. With David leaving forever, Cheryl would be divorced too. Should she put up her hair in a bun? Cheryl would be a divorcée. Like her sister Lisa, like her best friend, Marie, like everyone on television.

This seemed totally crazy with all the towels she held in her arms, with how fresh and sweet they smelled. With the bedrooms upstairs behind her so full of all the children, of their shared life. Now Netta would say, "I told you so." She'd swear up and down that she wasn't a bit surprised. And even Cheryl knew - had known when she married him - that David wasn't exactly a family man. She'd had four children knowing it, thinking that he would change. Because she loved him, and love conquers all. You can't decide who you're going to love.

And even though David didn't really believe in God and made fun of their cousin, Purcell, an evangelist, and taught at the community college all these years instead of getting a real job, and refused to help Louis make a car out of wood that time for the Pinewood Derby in Cub Scouts, even so, there were other things - good things - as well. He liked to cook, he read books to her out loud, he'd been the one who got up with the babies in the night. It was weird to find these traits in a man, although they were more common now since women's lib than they had been when David and Cheryl got married, all those years ago.

Cheryl looked down the stairs at David, memorizing him.

"Please don't blame yourself," he said formally. "I feel terrible about doing this."

"Oh, that's okay," Cheryl said without thinking, because she had gone for so long pleasing men.

David started to say something else, and didn't. He turned sharp on his heel like a soldier and plunged out into the shiny day, right through Louis and his friends playing catch in the yard, and got in the Toyota and drove away. Cheryl stood in the doorway and watched him go and couldn't imagine a different life. She wondered if David would wear the hat.

Netta did not say "I told you so." Instead she cried and cried, sitting in her pink robe on the sofa in the TV room surrounded by blue clouds of Tareyton smoke. You would have thought that David Stone had left her, instead of her daughter Cheryl. But Netta, now sixty-two, had always been a dramatic woman. When her own husband, Cheryl's father, George, died suddenly of a heart attack at forty-nine, Netta had almost died too. She referred to that time now as "when George was tragically taken from us," but the truth was, it was tragic. Cheryl's father had been a kindly, jovial man, a hard worker.

Not like David Stone, who was, as Cheryl's friend Marie put it, an enigma. Marie came over a lot after David left, to help Cheryl cope. Marie was divorced too. She went to group therapy. "He was just an enigma," she said. That seemed to settle it as far as Marie was concerned, only of course it didn't.

For one thing, although David had left forever, he didn't go very far, just about four miles out the Greensboro highway, where he rented an apartment in the Swiss Chalet Apartments, which looked like a row of gingerbread houses. At first the kids liked going over there, especially because of the pool, but then they didn't because their daddy wouldn't get a TV or buy soft drinks or meat. According to Angela, he said he was going to simplify his life.

"Isn't it a little bit late for that?" Lisa asked when she heard this news. Lisa, who ran the La Coiffure salon in the mall, had had one so-so marriage and one big disaster and always took a dim view of men anyway. She disagreed with Marie and felt that David was an asshole instead of an enigma.

Cheryl sat among these women - Lisa, Marie, and Netta - in her own velvet armchair in her own TV room, feeling like she wasn't even there. What Angela said about David simplifying his life reminded Cheryl of the old days, the really old days, when she lay with him on that mattress pulled over to the window in the room over Mrs. Bailey's garage, when the sun fell through the uncurtained windows in long yellow blocks of light, warming their bodies. She remembered the way the leaves looked, yellow and red and gold, floating on the river that October. David had loved her so much then. Whatever weird stuff he might be saying or doing now, David had loved her then.

"Good riddance, I say," said Netta, lighting up. David had made no bones about how much he hated cigarettes. If they hadn't been living in Netta's own house, he'd have made her go out in the yard to smoke.

"It might just be the male menopause," Marie offered. Marie was thin and pretty, with long pale legs and a brand-new perm, which Lisa had just given her. Marie and Cheryl had been best friends since grade school. "He might turn right around and try to come back," said Marie.

"Ha!" said Netta. "Never!"

But Cheryl seized on this, thinking, He might come back.

Marie's other insight, seconded by their cousin Purcell, was that David's sister's dying of cancer so recently had a lot to do with this whole thing. Louise had died that January, before he left. She was forty-seven, a sweet shadowy English teacher who had never married. She was so shy. Yet it was surprising how many people had showed up at her funeral, ex-students, friends, people from their neighborhood in Baltimore. Cheryl, who never could find much to say to Louise, had been amazed. Louise had lived with David's mother, and now David's mother lived alone. David used to call them up every Sunday night. Now he probably called his mother. Cheryl bit her lip. David leaving was like him dying, was exactly like a death.

The first week, for instance, everybody in the neighborhood brought food. Mrs. Tindall brought her famous homemade vegetable soup, and Mr. and Mrs. Wright, across the street, sent a twenty-six-dollar platter of cold cuts from the Piggly Wiggly, where he was the manager. Helen Brown brought chicken and biscuits, Betsy Curry brought enough chili to feed a crowd. Other people brought other things. Then Johnnie Sue Elderberry came in bringing a carrot cake, and Cheryl sat right down on the floor and burst into tears.

"Mama, get up," Angela said. Since her daddy left, Angela had gone off her diet and started smoking, and nobody had the heart to tell her to quit. Angela was sixteen.

"Sometimes God provides us with these hidden opportunities for growth and change," remarked Mr. Dodson Black, their minister. But Purcell, their cousin the evangelist, disagreed. "I'd like to get ahold of him," Purcell said. "I'd like to wring his neck." Purcell was a big blond man with a bright green tie. Lisa and Marie were putting all the extra food they couldn't eat right then into white plastic containers and freezing it. They put labels on the tops of the containers. Finally Cheryl got up from the floor. "Don't make any big decisions for the first year," warned their cousin Inez Pate, who had come on the bus from Raleigh to see how they were holding up. "Try some of this meat loaf," said Marie. "You've got to keep up your strength."

But Cheryl couldn't eat a thing. She was losing weight fast. She was wearing some nice gray pants that hadn't fit her for the last two years. She pushed the meat loaf away and said something to Marie and something to Purcell and went out the back door, under the porch light which wasn't working because Louis had shot it out with his BB gun. He was shooting everything these days. Cheryl couldn't keep up with him. "It's okay. He's expressing his anger," Marie had said. But Cheryl wouldn't have a light fixture or a breakable thing left in the whole house, at this rate.

She sighed and wiped her forehead. It was hot. Every summer, her whole family had rented the same beach house out from Morehead City for two weeks. This year what would they do? What would they ever do? It was almost dark. Shadows crept up from the base of the trees, from the hedge, from the snowball bush, from the nandina alongside the house. Cheryl had grown up in this very house, she'd played in this backyard. Her daddy used to bring her packing boxes from the store and help her cut windows and doors in them for playhouses.

Cheryl walked out in the yard and stood by the clothesline, looking back at the house which was black now against the paling sky, all its windows lighted, for all the world like one of those packing-box playhouses that she hadn't thought about in years. It was her family, her house, she had opened all these doors and windows for David, had given it all to him like a present. It was crazy that he had left. He'll come back, she thought.

But in the meantime she was going to have to go back to work, because even though David had simplified his life so much and even though Netta had a pension and they got some money all along from the rent of Daddy's coal land, anyway, things were getting tight all around. Luckily Johnnie Sue was pregnant again, so Cheryl could fill in for her over at Fabric World while she thought about her options. One thing she was considering was starting up her own slipcover business. Slipcovers had come back in style, slipcovers were big now. Cheryl wished her mother would go out and get a job too. Her mother was driving Angela crazy. "Don't make any big decisions," Inez Pate had said. Poor Inez was aging so fast, she put a blue rinse on her hair now, it looked just awful. Cheryl held on to the clothesline and wept. But she didn't have to make any real big decisions, because of course he'd come back. It was just the male menopause, he'd come back. How could a man leave so many children?

And Cheryl thought of them now, of Angela too grown up for her age, too big breasted and smart mouth, smoking, suddenly too much like Lisa; of Louis, who'd always been edgy, getting in fights at school; of Mary Duke, only six, and whiny, who didn't really understand; and of Sandy, who was most like his father, so sober and quiet his nickname had always been too sporty for him.

Right after David left, Sandy had run away for four or five hours, and when Purcell finally found him down by the river he said he was sorry he was so bad, he knew his daddy had left because he was so bad. Purcell had brought him home in the rain coughing, and Sandy was still coughing, although Dr. Banks couldn't find any reason for it. Dr. Banks said the cough was just nerves.

Suddenly Cheryl heard a funny, scraping noise. And speaking of Sandy, here he came up the driveway, dragging a box along the gravel, walking backward, coming slow.

"Mama?" he said.

Then suddenly Cheryl felt like she hadn't actually seen Sandy, or any of her other children, for years and years, even though they had been right here. She had been too wrought up to pay them any mind. "What are you doing, honey?" she said.

Sandy pulled the box more easily across the grass and stopped when he reached her. "Lookie here," he said, leaning over, reaching down. Netta opened the back door just then and hollered, "Cheryl?" Cheryl looked down in the darkness, down in the box. Sandy coughed. His hair caught the light for a minute, a blur of gold. Netta slammed the door. Sandy straightened up with something in his arms that made a sniffling, slurping noise.


Excerpted from Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by LEE SMITH Copyright © 2010 by Lee Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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