THE BOOK: Refuge
PUBLISHED IN: 2015
THE AUTHOR: Nanci LaGarenne
THE EDITOR: JoAnne Pilgrim
THE PUBLISHER: Blue Bottle Press
SUMMARY: The power of friendship and love among a group of women who overcome abuse and find a family they create in a refurbished brownstone in Brooklyn.
THE BACK STORY: After becoming a sudden widow, Dr. Rain Miller, therapist for abused women, buys a dilapidated brownstone in Brooklyn Heights and takes in boarders, women who need fresh hope and a new beginning. The tables turn as the wise therapist and den mother of sorts becomes a victim herself and her boarders help her as a result.
WHY THIS TITLE: A refuge was what the first domestic violence shelter was called when started in England. And for the the safety and harbor and solace these women find at the brownstone.
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Refuge is a heartwarming inspirational story of hope and and there are humorous bits and quirky characters and chapters of blissful description and escape, especially in Part Two, which takes place in Ireland, where the author spent some time and fell in love with the west of Ireland. Many women have told me they are feeling validated by the story. And it was the hope they needed to address their own abuse or celebrate their leaving an abusive relationship.
Amazon review: “Refuge is an impressive novel in many ways. It tackles the theme of domestic abuse with great sensitivity, it manages to leaven the horror it relates with humor, and it demonstrates the powerful force that is women’s friendships. LaGarenne is fearless – she doesn’t shy away from the deepest degradations of humankind, so be prepared to cringe at some of what she describes in the book. I was fully engaged and drawn in to all the characters’ stories. In a way the book felt like two books – the first half in the U.S. at the brownstone that is the refuge of the title, and a second half, when some of the characters go to Ireland (which acts as yet another refuge). LaGarenne is especially gifted at description and dialogue, and the rich beauty and history of Ireland were thoroughly enjoyable to read.” Celine Keating, author of Layla.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Nanci LaGarenne is a former freelance journalist for Dan’s Papers and former childcare worker and night hotline staff ,e,ber at The Retreat, a domestic violence shelter on Long Island. She lives in East Hampton NY in a blissful cottage in the woods. She has written a book prior to Refuge, called Cheap Fish, a murder mystery set in Montauk NY and published in 2013. Nanci belongs to a local Story Salon where she reads her memoir-like short stories. She is currently working on her third novel, an unsolved cold case she is solving.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I am always happy to answer readers questions about my books and my passion for writing.
Henry had snapped me out of it. Even in death he was my hero. In our little apartment I felt connected to him again. Among his treasures and books I could feel him near me. His innate goodness and his tender heated touch. My ethereal husband. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. That was us. I cooked his favorite Hungarian dishes and set the table for two every night. Candles and good dishes. Even if it was take out Chinese. I was quite sane really, merely trying to heal the gaping wound Henry’s death left in my life. Ophelia had been overruled.
The paprika tin would occasionally fall down from the spice rack into whatever pot I was stirring. Henry saying hello. Giving me his blessing to go on. Reminding me to rejoin the living. Do more work with the women. For a spirit, Henry was very persistent.
A new domestic violence shelter was about to open its doors in the Heights near my office. I was invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony since I had been part of the grass roots campaign to get the shelter started. I had mixed feelings about its completion. More women would have a refuge. Sad that they needed one at all. We had not progressed as much as a society where it counted most. How men treated women. What was tolerated by the masses. How we turned a blind eye. How all of that could change. That was a project for a longer day.
I donated my time at the new shelter several times a week, running group sessions for the resident women. My days and nights were filled with work. I slept soundly out of pure exhaustion. No longer needing to inebriate myself, I said a wistful goodbye to my old pal Southern Comfort. I dug out my walking sneakers and hit the park.
I missed Henry but I was back in the crusade. Colleen called often from the Ponderosa. She urged me to find some socializing time. “Come up and visit us,” she begged. I wasn’t quite ready to witness happiness and wedded bliss and children. I made excuses. She didn’t push. I loved her for that. “How about getting a dog?” she suggested, worrying I was becoming a hermit when I wasn’t working. I thought about it. A poor dog would be alone all day and sometimes half the night. Not fair to coop up an animal that way.
I bravely made some calls to friends of ours I had been avoiding since Henry passed. I forced myself to accept a lunch invitation. We met up one Saturday down at a favorite restaurant near the Promenade. Lunch was actually enjoyable. Everyone made me feel like my old self. I didn’t even feel guilty that my appetite returned. We included Henry in our topics of conversation instead of sidestepping around the mention of his name. No one told me how to grieve. In fact they gave me no advice at all. Just their company. What a relief. Why do people make death so hard? Separating it from life like we do. As if we can escape its very presence in our lives. We can’t. Someone’s always being born and someone’s always dying.
I wandered around the Heights the rest of the afternoon, taking in the lovely neighborhood that I took for granted. It was alive with possibility and renewal. I felt a presence here that I hadn’t before. So quickly had I passed through each day there. Busy inside my office and then back to Henry’s apartment. Barely noticing the gem of a neighborhood all around me.
The brownstones were romantically historical. Beautiful aged brick. Orante embellishments along the roofs. Cherubs, winged lions, egg and dart molding set in stone. I gazed up at tall windows and wide stoops and beveled glass double front doors in awe. I will live in one of these mysterious buildings, I decided. I will make the home Henry and I dreamed of. A germ of an idea was gestating in my brain. I found myself in a real estate office making an appointment to see a brownstone.
The realtor called it a renovation project, saying the words carefully like they were silver or gold on her tongue. The reality of mortgages and where the hell the money would come from were secondary to me at that moment. Rain Taylor was back.
When my Group at the shelter finshed for the night, I had a chat with the shelter manager. “We’re dealing with a difficult situation, Rain.” Aurora looked very woried. “There just isn’t enough affordable housing for the clients who have completed the program. We can’t keep them beyond their extension dates because we’re filled to capacity at all times. Yet how can we throw them on the streets?”
I sipped the welcomed cup of coffee she handed me and pondered her words. “I may have a solution, Aurora. I’m looking at a brownstone.”
“Sorry? And that solves what around here?” Aurora raised her eyebrows.
“A house,” I said, as if that explained everything.
“Rain, I know what a brownstone is, but what’s that got to do with us, you moving to a bigger place?”
I laughed. “I’m being unclear. I mean to take in boarders. Women.”
“Oh…now I get you. Well. That sounds wonderful. But clients? How can you do that? It would probably be unethical somehow, no?”
“They won’t be clients anymore, will they? Not once they leave. They have to live somewhere. Any reason they couldn’t live with me?”
Aurora scratched her head. A few grey hairs fell forward on her cheek. “None I can think of at the moment. I can look into this further if you’re serious…”
“I am. Quite.” I sipped my coffee, pleased. The seed was planted. All I needed was a water source.
Walking into my apartment an hour later I took a deep breath and looked around. How was I going to leave? The wind was knocked right out of my sails as I inhaled
the familiar smells of our domicile. Mine and Henry’s. The love I shared with him was kindled here. How could I abandon that? It was nothing short of dishonorable.
I poured myself a glass of Portuguese port and kicked off my shoes. Lit the fireplace and curled up in a fireside club chair. The firelight shone on the intricate pattern of an old
oriental throw rug that circled the cozy parlor. The very rug Henry laid me down on to make love.
Even in my California days of free love I had not climbed to the heights that Henry took me to each night he held me. The song Magic Carpet Ride took on a whole new meaning. Before I met Henry I had been merely preparing for a man who would unselfishly take me on a journey of bliss. I sighed, sipping my ruby port. This reminiscing was getting me quite fired up and there was nothing I could do about it. Damn, I miss you Henry.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Burtons Books in Greenport, Whites Dept Store in Montauk, Canios Books in Sag Harbor, Preston’s in Greenport, Montauk Book Shop.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon.com