"Beautifully detailed and rich in exceptional characterization ... Curran's novel gently reminds readers that fantasy has a place in everyone's life, and dreams can come true. Uniquely uplifting and never didactic, this is a gem." -BOOKLIST, starred review
"With a masterful wit and clever twists, Sheila Curran has created an intricately woven mystery. Captivating, fast-paced, no-holds-barred storytelling, DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN defies pigeon-holing. Wrestling the complexities of motherhood, loss and betrayal, politics, the environment, and theme parks, it is at once intimate, domestic, and worldly. A debut to celebrate!" -Julianna Baggott, GIRLTALK, THE MISS AMERICA FAMILY, THE MADAM
"Brilliant, touching, and funny as hell, Diana Lively packs a powerful punch. A poignant and biting satire of contemporary family life, American business, ivory-tower academics, and trans-Atlantic cultural differences, this spirited romp through an Englishwoman's Arizona deserves a unique place of honor on any bookshelf. Diana is one of those stories that can linger forever in one's own memory and imagination, as a reference point for every new book that comes along, or even more, for life itself. Wry, engaging, and wise beyond words, Diana is bound to delight and amaze." -Carlos Eire, 2003 National Book Award winner, WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA
"DIANA LIVELY IS FALLING DOWN is a terrific pick-me-up. You couldn't find two more disparate landscapes than Oxford, England and Arizona, and that's exactly what one British woman discovers when she crosses the pond to find herself a fish-out-of-water -- only to realize that for the first time in her life, this means she can stand on her own two feet. Filled with characters who make you laugh out loud even as they break your heart, this is a funny, warm, inventive, original book."
-Jodi Picoult, NYT bestselling author of VANISHING ACTS and MY SISTER'S KEEPER
I said to myself for the eighteenth time (yes, I do talk to myself) “I’ve been working my butt off promoting Diana Lively,” when I was visited by a ghastly epiphany.My butt has not diminished one little bit.In fact, were were measuring, we might be discovering the sad-but-true fact that Sheila’s butt is growing by leaps and bounds!
Tarnation, as they say in someone else’s South.
I have several theories on this astonishing reversal of natural law.
I am naturally selected to be an efficient user of caloric intake.The more I worry, the more my brain sends messages to my body to quiver just so, and get ready for the famine.The more work I have to do, the more I ought to burn, with sheer anxiety, if nothing else, but some sort of inner control freak is second-guessing my brain and making sure that the furnace is turned down as low as possible, the better to conserve.Alternately, my spending hand appears to work in the exact opposite way, so I hurry willy-nilly to acquire important staples like REAL SIMPLE magazine (which I don’t have time to read) nail polish (which I don’t have time to apply) and T.J. MAXX clearance items that match nothing in my wardrobe and in fact, I’m too hurried to try on.
I do in fact eat with a similarly frenetic pace, and my stomach makes these horrible gnawing sounds that I cannot easily ignore without worrying that maybe there are ancestors of my own (say, like Eric the Red) in there, whose coastal rampages caught them in an eternal revolving door of reincarnation as protozoa or mitochondria or maybe bacterium in the lining of my stomach.No matter what he’s done, no relative of mine’s going to go hungry if I have something to say about it.
It’s possible that my anxiety about deadlines emits subtle changes in my electro-magnetic field so that mirrors begin to reflect badly on the very parts of self one would normally like to be less, shall we say, protuberant.
Also possible that similar physical forces are scaring the beejesus out of my clothing fibers, sending them into a prolonged retraction otherwise known as shrinkage, just like George Castanza’s meat-and-two-veg after a dip in the ocean.
Sometimes, an extra beer when you know you shouldn’t, except that you are really, really tense about being a complete flop, is very calming.Sometimes it isn’t, in which case it’s necessary to offer Eric the Red a war tribute to keep him from moving into the isles of langerhorn,or, God-forbid, the appendix, which I just know is going to explode some inconvenient moment, unleashing a battery of watermelon seeds, swallowed Bazooka and chewed-off fingernails.Besides, no relative of mine is going to go thirsty if I have anything to say about it.
My brother Tom used to say that Americans were the only people in the world who cleaned before the maid came and tanned before they went on vacation.For me,getting ready to go away imposes a pressure all its own.First, several gazillion things that I have let go all year long are suddenly breathing down my neck.God forbid I don’t deserve my break.Furthermore, my house had better be clean, in ways it never otherwise is, in case we die on a plane and relatives have to unlock the front door and comb through the papers for the will we haven’t gotten around to making.
Why do I always feel so mournful when we’re getting ready to go on a trip?It might be that in my childhood, loading up into the car for a trip meant Dad had been transferred and we were moving.Again.
Then there’s the flying part.For the daughter of an Air Force pilot, I’ve got one hell of a resistance to strapping myself into a huge HEAVY hunk of metal that purports to deny gravity with the use of thrusters and other dodgy-sounding mechanicals.
Once I’m aboard, when everyone else is heaving a deep sigh of relief at having crossed off their to-do lists, I’m just getting started.I figure when it’s Mission Impossible, we’ve all got to pitch in.It’s tiring though, keeping prayer lines open Dear Jesus, please dear Lord, don't let this plane fall out of the sky! while at the same time listening for metal pings gone awry. Did you hear that! Did that sound like a bolt fallingoff an engine mount to you?
It was much worse when my kids were little.There I’d be, holding my toddler, trying to be a grown-up with her act together but truly and deeply wanting my own mommy to get me the hell out of Dodge.I’d watch the flight attendants' faces for the slightest sign of alarm and fellow passengers for expressions of guilt/remorse, Oh, what a cute baby; why did we pick this flight to hijack? My absorption in helping the pilot keep the plane afloat could often make me a less than attentive mommy.I remember one time, allowing Curran, who was only one year old, to have my plastic cup of ice water.I knew he shouldn't have those tiny chokable cubes, shouldn't learn that Mommy would do anything if he whimpered enough, but I was busy.
They’re big now, my kids, old enough to see that Mother will never be a real-life grown-up with her act together.She’s someone who is simultaneously summoning help from Above while reminding herself that she doesn’t have to take this anxiety lying down.
After all, I’m not the first person who’s had this fear.I’ve learned a thing or two.There are ways of dealing with unreasonable emotions.
1.First off, there is science.Statistically speaking, you could fly every day for two thousand years and not be in a single plane crash.To which I am inwardly shrieking “What!Spend centuries doing something I loathe, just to prove a point?And after the first eighty years, think of all the wheelchairs the airlines would have to set aside, just for me.”Scrap that.Uh-oh, bad word choice.On to the next selection.
2.Well-meaning enablers suggest a cocktail or two, but I’ve tried that.Two, three Bloody Marys in an hour are just enough to loosen my inhibitions and fling open the affective flood gates.Now, I can admit I’M REALLY SCARED! and can’t seem to stop myself from shrieking when the plane hits an air pocket.Plus, I suspect God doesn’t approve of drinking during the day.Why burn bridges?
3.I have found partial relief in viewing a really terrifying movie on my laptop.One of the calmest flights I took was spent in the grip of "Under Siege." Terrorists take over a submarine and Steven Segal is singlehandedly responsible for putting out fires, killing bad guys and defusing bombs.I call this the Comfort of Comparative Misery.After all, things could be worse.
4.Fly first class.There is something soothing about those huge leather seats and all that attention.Once, when I was upgraded, I kept thinking, "They couldn't charge you that much to kill you."
5.Buy that million dollar insurance policy at the little booth in the airport.As my friend Jane’s father is fond of saying "No one could be that lucky."
6.Try to figure out what it is that's really bothering you.Is it a deeply buried childhood memory, your mother's constant worry over your pilot father's safety, your first flight at the age of four, the deafening engine roar, the size of the plane?Could the plane be representing something else you find traumatic?Your credit card balances, for example?
7Find a distraction.Count how many male passengers have taken the whole armrest, leaving neighboring women to crunch their arms into their rib cages.Ponder the mystery of the impenetrable Mylar peanut bag.It's not, as everyone before you has supposed,a sadist who invented the peanut package.It was either a desperate frequent flyer who hoped no one would be able to access their “musical fruit” or it was part of an early feminist conspiracy to get the male passengers so intent on proving their strength that they were forced to forfeit occupancy of the armrest long enough for the women to relieve their aching and annoyed elbows.
9.If you find comfort in others, converse with your fellow passengers.For a few minutes one flight, I found myself completely occupied in my search for words, explaining to the little old lady in front of me, whose head had just been drenched by a plastic cup of ice water, that my one year old son did not yet have an attorney.
10.Become a Buddhist.Abandon yourself to the whims of the universe, throw yourself upon the waters of life and accept what fate has in store for you. In other words, when your number’s up, your number's up.Look around at those you love, appreciate them all, bask in the camaraderie of your final moments together.Face the fact that no matter how hard you press the sole of your shoe against the metal footrest, it will not operate the braking system of the plane.
If I could divorce myself I would (Oh the lie of suicide, thinking that’s the end!)
But I might lock the kids in the cellar and blast music by Beethoven or Nirvana to mask the screams, unplug all the phones, lock the outside doors and imagine behind my snapped shut eyes ocean waters and a long white beach.
Not the sorry grey sand and water of Long Island Sound, crammed with the cold waste of the Big City, pieces of toilet paper, the odd syringe, but something clear and blue as the summer sky, something warm as the oven cooling down, as endless as my own lone self, except my sister Mary is there too sitting in the folding chair next to me.
Water laps at our feet until the sun disappears, along with the contents of the bottle, a very big bottle, as big as the sun and the ocean we are now a part of.
We know our mom is there too admiring the fading colors of the setting sun (Ah this is the life!) and our dad is glad we are together, his two girls, catching our breath in this inebriated peace.
We have no regard for time or caring for anyone but one another, and that is all we know, until the crab bites our bare toes or the turtle appears hissing in surprise and we laugh so hard we pee in our pants too drunk to care and not caring anyway because it is only my sister Mary and me and everything is fine in this vast universe.