Two Estranged Sisters Return to a Beloved Family Home In This Excerpt From A Good Life

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Two Estranged Sisters Return to a Beloved Family Home In This Excerpt From A Good Life

Virginie Grimaldi is one of France’s most beloved contemporary authors and her uplifting literary novels have won her millions of fans around the world. A Good Life is her American debut, a delicate and compelling story of sisterhood and healing. Charming and emotional, the story blends poignancy and humor as it asks universal questions about meaning and family.

Translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, the story follows an emotional weeklong reunion between two estranged sisters who must return to their beloved grandmother’s house in the beautiful Basque countryside before it’s sold to new owners. As the sisters tentatively attempt to reconnect, their fractured pasts are slowly revealed in ways that are both sweet and heartbreaking, The story deftly explores all aspects of their lives, from the scars of their girlhoods to the challenges of motherhood, and everything in between.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

Emma and Agathe are sisters. They were thick as thieves when they were young but have always been as different as can be. Agathe, the younger sister, is disorderly, chaotic, and fiery. Five years older, Emma has always been the more mature sister, the defender, the protector, the worrier. Their relationship as adults is scarred by a tragedy that transformed their happy, ordinary childhoods into something much more complex and challenging. For a long time, Emma hasn’t wanted to be involved in Agathe’s life. But then they must return together to the Basque Country, to the house of their adored grandmother, to empty out her home and in the process to reconcile, to remember, and to pour out what is in their hearts.

A Good Life will hit shelves on May 28, but we’ve got an early look at an excerpt from the story for you right now. 

7:22 A.M

The sea is even calmer than yesterday. I can relax in it without the risk of being tossed out by a wave while doing my favorite thing: floating like a log. It’s only then, facing the sky, rocked by the swell of the water, arms and legs totally limp, that I feel entirely serene. There are still some scattered clouds left over from last night’s rain, together with that earthy smell you get after a downpour. I learned recently that it’s got a name: petrichor. It refers specifically to that scent that rises from wet soil after a dry period. While looking into it, I discovered that languages of all kinds abound in terms that are little-known, yet so poetic. Thus, in Italian, umarells are those elderly men whose pastime is watching building sites, hands clasped behind backs, always ready to offer advice or an opinion. In Japan, the sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees is called komorebi. In Portugal, saudade is a melancholic feeling that’s a mix of nostalgia and hope. I devoted a lesson to this, which my pupils really enjoyed. One of them asked me if there was a word to describe the smell that comes out of the principal’s mouth, which his classmates found highly amusing—as I did, though I made sure not to show it.

The cries of seagulls pierce the silence. I return to a vertical position, the old man is at the edge of the water, surrounded by birds. Like yesterday, he plunges his hand into his bag and throws food to them. Further along, a father and child watch the spectacle. I swim a few strokes before coming out. I intend to return to the house with breakfast, I want to be there before Agathe wakes up, even if that’s likely to be late, considering what time she got to bed. We prolonged our evening under the linden tree, made ourselves tomato and mozzarella on bread and had an impromptu picnic, just as Mima often did. We found the rug she’d use, and we just stayed there, talking about our lives now, going down memory lane, until darkness eclipsed daylight. I then went back to my room and into the arms that Morpheus had been holding out to me for some time. The wind had risen, heralding rain, but Agathe remained outside. In the dead of night, I was awoken by a downpour against the window. Through the curtain, I made out Agathe, standing in the middle of the garden, face turned up to the sky. Thinking she was having a turn, I tore down the stairs four at a time and ran up to her, but no, she was just fine.

“I love the rain,” she said. “Can’t see why it’s got such a bad reputation.”

She has always liked what others reject, a kind of heightened Good Samaritan syndrome. She’s crazy about Brussels sprouts, passionate about sharks, and has always been drawn to people who’ve been sidelined. One day she adopted a dog, no doubt to repair the trauma surrounding Snoopy, and, of course, she chose the ugliest and oldest mutt at the shelter.

“Stay with me,” she said, as I was heading back for cover.

I went inside and watched her through the window. She looked happy. I got a lump in my throat, it’s what happens when expectations and reality match perfectly. By suggesting to my sister that we spend this week together, I knew what I was coming to do. But my expectation, I realize, lay elsewhere, I just wanted to reassure myself that she was fine. She was always better than me at catching happiness as it’s flying past. I grabbed an umbrella from the hall cupboard and returned to her.

“Are you kidding?” she guffawed. “Get rid of that thing, there’s no point otherwise. It’s like eating chocolate with an anesthetized mouth.”

I closed the umbrella and let the water fall into my short hair, slide down my forehead, my neck.

“Lift your head!” Agathe said.

I closed my eyes and turned my face up to the sky. My T-shirt was drenched, the rain was warm thanks to the summer it was taunting; it ran over my eyelids, my cheeks, my lips, I felt a sob forming in my stomach, rising up to my throat, and escaping into the downpour.

The air is fresher than yesterday, I shiver as I get out of the sea.

“Good morning, monsieur!” I call out to the gulls’ friend.

 “Go fuck yourself!” he replies, charmingly. 

A Good Life will be released on May 28, but you can pre-order it right now. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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