Read Garbo Laughs Online

Authors: Elizabeth Hay

Tags: #Literary, #Fiction, #General, #Humorous

Garbo Laughs

PRAISE FOR
Garbo Laughs

“If you love movies, you’ll be enchanted.”


Chicago Tribune

“Thoughtful, smart, sardonically funny.”


Toronto Star

“Innovative in its reach and a stylistic delight,
Garbo Laughs
is endlessly engaging. Oscar for Best Novel.”

—Terry Griggs

“Elizabeth Hay’s novel is an anatomy of all kinds of love…. Full of Hay’s off-centre wisdom and bull’s-eye psychological accuracy….”

—Katherine Ashenburg

“[Hay] has a delightful deadpan wit, the kind that sneaks up on you.”


New York Times Book Review

“A sparkling demonstration of Hollywood’s hold on our fantasies—and its awkward fit with our earthbound selves.”


Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Outstanding – deft and compassionate and bittersweet…. About community, in all its guises; about family, old friends, and cherished foes….”

—Bill Richardson

“Dreamy, moving, frequently hilarious…. Startlingly original.”


Maclean’s

“Sophisticated and intelligent, fresh and endlessly inventive….”


Quill & Quire
(starred review)

“A beautiful story of love and loss. With wit and sympathy, Elizabeth Hay superimposes the world of film perfectly on the life of Harriet Browning. A novel that should be read and re-read.”

—Jury citation, Governor General’s Award

“Imaginative, droll, and incisive, Hay’s profound tale of attempted escape and accepted responsibility, of found joy and dreaded sorrow, deftly explores the dangers and benefits of fantasy.”


Booklist
(starred review)

“Thumbs up for
Garbo Laughs!
Four-star novel celebrates love, film, and love of film.”


Ottawa Citizen

“There aren’t enough adjectives to describe
Garbo Laughs
. The book is, quite simply, wonderful. It is inventive, intelligent, polished and enchanting. And you won’t be able to put it down…. Bittersweet, richly entertaining and deeply moving….”


London Free Press

“A gracefully written novel, mapping out the patterns of tensions and release in a family whose members are best able to express their love and disappointment through the films of the past.”


Publishers Weekly

“Garbo Laughs
, written in Hay’s by now distinctively understated voice, gives us her literary talent in full, extravagant bloom … [it] finds a pitch-perfect balance between comedy and sadness.”


Vue Weekly

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Part I - The Fern

Chapter 1 - Kenny and Frank

Chapter 2 - Harriet and Lew

Chapter 3 - Dinah

Chapter 4 - Married Life

Chapter 5 - Harriet’s Deprived Childhood

Chapter 6 - The Letter

Chapter 7 - The Hat

Chapter 8 - A Green Globe

Chapter 9 - The Phone Call

Chapter 10 - John the Baptist

Chapter 11 - In Deeper

Chapter 12 - Family Life

Chapter 13 - The Crucifier

Chapter 14 - Sunday

Chapter 15 - The Comedy Class

Chapter 16 - Man of La Mancha

Chapter 17 - All of This Would Seem to Have Significance Later

Chapter 18 - Cary Grant

Chapter 19 - Kenny’s Laughter

Chapter 20 - A Poem

Chapter 21 - More Intimations

Chapter 22 - The Magic Table

Chapter 23 - Dinah’s Boots

Part II - The Ice Storm

Chapter 24 - Leah

Chapter 25 - Jealousy

Chapter 26 - Nobody’s Perfect

Chapter 27 - Under the Tree

Chapter 28 - Blackout

Chapter 29 - A Paperweight

Chapter 30 - The Sleep Clinic

Chapter 31 - Shock

Part III - Spring

Chapter 32 - The Funeral

Chapter 33 - In Which the Formidable Aunt Takes Revenge

Chapter 34 - The Seduction

Chapter 35 - Love

Chapter 36 - The Wedding

Chapter 37 - The Third Visitor

Chapter 38 - Afterwards

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

For Bella Pomer,
with affection and gratitude

We will never know the extent of the damage
movies are doing to us
.

Pauline Kael

I
T
HE
F
ERN
1
Kenny and Frank

K
enny lay awake in the smallest room in the house. It had a narrow bed, a narrow desk, and a cupboard-closet that started partway up the wall. In the dark he could make out his desk covered in books – including his bible, the movie guide of 1996—and his clothes hanging from a hook on the open cupboard door. With his dad he had gone to a used-clothing store and bought the oversized brown-and-white checked-tweed sports jacket and the red-and-pink tie and the long-sleeved blue shirt, his gangster outfit, and his dad had let him borrow, indefinitely, his black fedora. From Bolivia. His dad was a traveller.

Kenny loved Frank Sinatra. His mom – he couldn’t believe this – thought Marlon Brando was better.

“Who’s better?” he’d asked her.

“Not again,” she said.

“No, wait. Just this time. Who’s better? Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brando?”

“Are you ready for this?” she said. “Can you take it? I’d have to say Marlon Brando.”

“You’re
crazy
, you’re
nuts
. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”

She laughed, as one nut laughs with another, since she too wore her movie heart on her sleeve. “He’s a better actor. He’s better-looking. Which isn’t to say I don’t like Frank Sinatra. I do. At least, I like the young Frank Sinatra when he looked like Glenn Gould. He was an awful thug when he got older.”

Kenny turned to Dinah, who lived down the street and never minded his questions and always answered them to his liking. “Who do you like better, Frank Sinatra or Marlon Brando?”

“Frank,” she said.

“Me too.” He was very excited. “You think he’s a good singer?”

“The best.”

“My mom says Marlon Brando is better.”

“Marlon Brando is good.”

“But he’s not better than Frank Sinatra?”

“Frankie,” said Dinah, “is divine.” But Dinah had always gone for skinny, serious, temperamental guys, until recently.

They were in the middle days of November, and all the hesitations of early fall, the tentative snowfalls and bewitching spells of balminess, had given way to sudden cold. From under the covers, in the pale green light that came through the curtains, Kenny heard sounds – soft sounds – that froze the blood in his veins. There was tapping, sawing, tiny running feet on the porch roof outside his window. Rats. He knew it would be hard for a rat to walk up the wall, but in the night anything was possible. Then water, flowing water. Then scratching. Bugs were in the walls.
Big-eyed, hairy, losing their grip. He heard one land, very softly, on the windowsill beside his head and was about to call out when something else, something hard, slapped against a window.

It sounded like Jean Simmons slapping Marlon Brando across the face.

It worked. After that it was quiet.

Frankie was good in that movie, and Frankie hated Marlon so Kenny hated him too. Jean Simmons was pretty nice; though, on the whole, he had to say he preferred Vivian Blaine.

He closed his eyes. For a while he pictured the fight, Marlon cracked over the head with a chair, Jean Simmons drunk and funny and throwing punches. He wondered if Havana was really like that. His dad would know. Then Big Julie was rolling dice in the sewer and Nathan Detroit was eating Mindy’s cheesecake with a fork.

In the morning he opened his eyes when his mom opened the curtains and he said, “Let’s watch
Guys and Dolls.”

“Why not
Take Me Out to the Ball Game?
You haven’t seen that one yet.”

“Is Frankie in it?”

“Of course,” she said.

2
Harriet and Lew

T
hree nights later the slow, searching sound of a taxi came up the wet street and stopped directly below Kenny’s window. A door slammed, the taxi pulled away, and then Lew Gold was heading up the steps and Kenny was heading down. His sister was on his heels.

Their house was two storeys high and made of yellow brick. The wood trim in the hallway was American chestnut, a tree wiped out by blight in the 1920s. What remained of the old forests was inside. Everything outside had come inside, even the movies. The banister Kenny never bothered to hold on to was American chestnut too, golden brown in colour, but the steps themselves were white pine from the forests of white pine that used to grow where this house was standing. Lew’s grandfather had built the house in 1928; after he died it passed out of the family, until last spring, when the grandson had the pleasure of buying it back.

Lew came through the door, and then what a tangle of big and little limbs there was. What a scene of affection. He looked so tanned and lighthearted, so eager and beloved and beaming, that Harriet, standing in the living-room doorway, couldn’t resist. She said, “Something unpleasant happened while you were gone.”

“Doña,”
he smiled, reaching over the kids to take into his arms his northern-eyed, meatless-on-principle, strangely yearning
wife. “I’ve missed you,” he said. And the gift, wrapped in a piece of newspaper in his shirt pocket, got pressed a little flatter.

It was late – a Sunday night – but he could tell by the look in her eye that she was still under the influence of her Friday-night movie. A certain distancing look she directed his way that made him feel he was blocking her view. You’re a better door than a window, he heard her thinking, why don’t you sit down and remove your hat? Then she would be alone again with Sean Connery or Gene Kelly or Jeff Bridges or Cary Grant. The list was endless. He had been gone for two weeks, to distant parts, and she had spent it with who was it this time? A glance at the video box on top of the TV gave him his answer: Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
. How could a man compete?

Maybe this would bring her back.

“I have something for you,” he said, drawing the gift out of his pocket.

By now the kids were tucked back into bed, and they were alone in the living room, Harriet in the rose-coloured loveseat, Lew in the black wicker rocking chair. Nearby, in this room where everything was well used and old, stood a lamp with a cockeyed shade. Lew unwrapped the newspaper and laid the tip of a fern leaf, underside facing up, in her lap.

It was like the tip of a spear. Or a large arrowhead, its own tip broken off and the surface patterned with a series of black lines, arrowheads again, one laid into the next, a most beautiful design.

“No two spore patterns are the same,” he said, now that he had her attention. Her eyes, suddenly bright and appreciative, fastened on him and she waited for the rest of the story.

Outside, it was snowing all over again.

Large flakes, drifting down through the yellowy glow of the streetlight, melted away on the dark ground. Very gradually, the street began to go white. The neighbourhood was quiet, the city like something from another time – safe, protected, clean, well run. From now until spring, as the snow accumulated, city vehicles would come by in the dead of night to cart the snowbanks away. Windowpanes would rattle and eerie blue lights, ricocheting into their room, would bounce off their bed where they lay side by side, listening to a monster snowplough push banks of snow into the middle of the street, forming a single windrow, like the haircut of a Huron warrior. Then it would rumble away, to be replaced by another safe, growling monster that gobbled up the snow with rolling blades and spit it back out through a high snout into the dump truck alongside. It occurred to her – to Harriet Browning-that Ottawa and Havana were alike in this one fundamental way. Both cities were backwaters, seemingly left behind in the 1950s. In their different ways they were a lot like Brigadoon.

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