Sofia is in a rut. Her dissertation work is stalled, and her life seems to be one gray day after another. When an elderly scholar, Monsieur Charles Vinson, invites her to his house in Villeneuve-les-Avignon for the summer, cataloging his dead father's papers and writing, she jumps at the offer. There, she spends her days flipping through relics of the past century, burrowing deeper into the troubled history of the Vinson family.
Villa Bohème is a Puerto Rican motel where, in the words of one of the "strays" who have assembled there, the people are biding their time. They drink, they play darts, they wait on the beach for something to happen. This washed-up place is run by a washed-up lawyer with one remaining client, and into it steps Tito, the lawyer's son, fourteen years old, smart and surly, fleeing his mother and her annoying boyfriend.
When the Khourys and McKissicks meet to share a neighborly meal, an adventure begins. Living in the changing ethnic landscape of Kansas City, one is a family of Syrian immigrants; the other, African Americans with roots in Louisiana. What brings them together is a love of food. Along with friendship, a dream takes root between the two mothers, Miriam and Tamara—starting a new restaurant that will feature the specialties from both of their traditions, the Café Deux Mondes, or Two Worlds Cafe.
Meet Clay, a Brooklyn performance artist who is sick of being broke. Sporting a row of stitches from his last show, and severely in debt to both family and girlfriend, he decides to do the unthinkable: get a straight job. Clay shaves off his green hair, teaches himself to type, and gets a secretarial gig on Wall Street. But is this just another form of theater? Will his girlfriend still love him in a necktie? What about his artist friends--will they forgive him for consorting with the enemy?
When Robert Howard is assigned James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in his Catholic high school, his teacher, a Jesuit priest, announces, "Other people may read about it, but you are LIVING it!" As promised, the young Howard, growing up in 1970s Detroit, feels an intense identification with the protagonist of Joyce's first novel, Stephen Dedalus.
Leaving behind her strict Mennonite upbringing, Kathryn has moved west. America has just won victory in Japan, and a charming older man begins visiting the diner where Kathryn works, taking her out dancing and around town. With her old soldier boyfriends now scattered, and the country flush with postwar happiness, Kathryn takes a chance on her mysterious admirer and moves to Los Angeles with him. But how much does she really know about this new man?
In this meditative and flavorful essay, Alexandra Johnson visits Viggiano and the large, extended Italian family that would have been her own—had she married the youngest son, Giorgio, her old boyfriend. Now married to another man, she returns to the house to help Giorgio improve his English as he thinks about leaving southern Italy and its struggling economy behind.
Fleeing a turbulent Guatemala with her missionary parents, Penny returns to America and is forced to deal with a fresh kind of trauma: summer Bible camp for Mennonite teens. Along with her outspoken and rebellious friend, Gina, Penny struggles to deal with her past, the camp's fierce regulations, and the sexual energy that electrifies the air between the campers, counselors, and even visitors.
Young and naive, Kathleen Hill moves to newly independent Nigeria with her husband to teach at Igbobi College. It is the early 1960s, and Hill is soon caught up in the swirl of the times: the legacy of colonialism, chaos back in America, and violence and racism across the globe that touch even the quiet school where she teaches English literature.
Living under the shadow of two gifted parents, Astrid Nordling feels trapped everywhere but at the piano, finding solace in Schubert and Debussy. Her piano teacher is convinced that she is a prodigy; her mother is not so sure. Set in 1960s Chicago, this excerpt from Lisa Heiserman Perkins' upcoming novel shows that there can be such a thing as too much talent in a single family.