Alexandra, Gone

LIST PRICE $22.99

About The Book

LETTING GO FOR GOOD . . .

Once, Jane Moore and Alexandra Walsh were inseparable, sharing secrets and stolen candy, plotting their futures together. But when Jane became pregnant at seventeen, they drifted slowly apart. Jane has spent the years since raising her son, now seventeen himself, on her own, running a gallery, managing her sister’s art career, and looking after their volatile mother—all the while trying not to resent the limited choices life has given her.

Then a quirk of fate and a faulty elevator bring Jane into contact with Tom, Alexandra’s husband, who has some shocking news. Alexandra disappeared from a south Dublin suburb months ago, and Tom has been searching fruitlessly for her. Jane offers to help, as do the elevator’s other passengers—Jane’s brilliant but self-absorbed sister, Elle, and Leslie Sheehan, a reclusive web designer who’s ready to step back into the world again. And as Jane quickly realizes, Tom isn’t the only one among them who’s looking for something . . . or traveling toward unexpected revelations about love, life, and what it means to let go, in every sense.

In this insightful and irresistible novel, by turns profound, poignant, and laugh- out-loud funny, acclaimed Irish writer Anna McPartlin tells a story of friendship and love, of the families we are born into and the ones we create for ourselves, and of the hope and strength that remain when we fi nd the courage to leave the past behind at last.

Excerpt

“Universe”

Oh nothing lasts forever,

you can cry a million rivers,

you can rage it ain’t no sin

but it won’t change a thing,

’cos nothing lasts forever.

Jack L, Universe

Alexandra

June 21, 2007

Tom,

When you are shopping can you pick up the following:

Bread

Milk x 2

Water x 4

Spaghetti

Mince (Lean! Make sure it’s lean and not the stuff they call lean and charge half price, because it’s not lean. I want lean cut right in front of you and I don’t care how much it costs.)

Tin of tomatoes

Basil

Garlic

Wine, if you don’t still have a case or two in the office, and make sure it’s not Shiraz. I’m really sick of Shiraz.

If you want dessert pick something up.

I’m meeting Sherri in Dalkey for a quick drink at 5. She has the Jack Lukeman tickets so I took money from the kitty to pay for them. I’m taking a ticket for you so if you don’t want to go, text me. I’ll be home around 7:30. Your aunt called. She’s thinking about coming to Dublin next weekend. Try and talk her out of it. I’m exhausted and can’t handle running around after her for 48 hours straight. Your aunt is on cocaine. I’m not messing. An intervention is needed.

Oh, and dishwashing liquid. And will you please call someone to get the dishwasher fixed?

OK see you later.

Love you,

Alexandra

P.S. When somebody close to you dies, move seats.

God, I love Jimmy Carr.

Alexandra laughed and put her note up on the fridge and held it in position with her favorite magnet, a fat, grinning pig rubbing his tummy. She was damp and sweaty, having run five miles, which was a record, and she was extremely pleased. She unclipped her iPod from her tracksuit, placed it on the counter, and headed upstairs to the shower. There she sang Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and did a little dance move before rinsing shampoo out of her hair. Forty-five minutes later she walked down the stairs with her shoulder-length glossy chestnut hair perfectly coiffed. She was wearing her favorite black trousers and a black fitted blouse complete with a large bow. She stopped at the hall mirror and applied lipstick and then rooted some lip gloss out of her handbag and applied that too. She stared at herself in the mirror for a moment or two, sighed, and mumbled something about Angelina Jolie crapping her pants. She smiled at her own joke while putting on her jacket. She picked up her handbag and walked out the door.

Alexandra walked along her own street and waved at Mrs. Murphy from No. 14. Mrs. Murphy was busy sweeping her step, but she waved and called out that it was a lovely day. Alexandra smiled and told her it was perfect. She waited for the DART and listened to a man talk about cruelty to animals to Joe Duffy on Joe’s radio show Liveline. It was too sad, so she switched from her radio to her music collection and stopped humming along to James Morrison’s “Last Goodbye” only when she realized that three pimpled teenagers were laughing and pointing at her. She stuck out her tongue and grinned at them, and they laughed again. She sat on the train next to a man in his fifties. He asked her to wake him at Tara Street Station if he fell asleep, explaining that there was something about moving trains that always made him sleep. She assured him she would wake him, and true to his word he was snoring less than five minutes later. Coming up to Tara Street, she tapped his arm gently; nevertheless, he woke with a start. He thanked her once he regained his senses and made his way off the train. He forgot his bag and so she ran after him and handed it to him, and he was grateful, but she was in a hurry to get back on the train, so she just waved and ran.

The woman sitting opposite her grinned and nodded. “My own dad would forget his head,” she said.

Alexandra smiled at her. “He was sweet.”

The woman nodded again. Alexandra got off the train in Dalkey. The woman got off at the same station, but neither made eye contact.

Alexandra made her way through the station and out into the sunshine. She continued straight onto the main street and took the left at the end of the street, after that she took a right and then another left, and after that Alexandra was gone.

Elle

Sunday, December 31, 1989

Dear Universe,

Please don’t send a fiery ball of hellfire comet thing to kill us all. I’m only eight so if I die now I won’t get to do anything that I really want to. Miss Sullivan thinks that I could be an artist. If I’m dead I can’t paint and I love painting and living. Margaret Nolan says that everyone thinks that we’re going to be nuked in 1999 but the real truth is that a flaming ball of death is going to crash into earth at the stroke of midnight tonight. She sits next to me in class and sometimes smells like a hospital. Her dad’s a scientist and he told her so she has a good chance of being right. She’s already given her pocket money to the poor and says I should do the same so that when our time comes God will think we’re decent enough sorts and let us into heaven. I forgot to go to the church to put money in the poor box because I got carried away working on a painting of my family dying in dancing fire. Jane says I’m a depressing little cow. She’s always in a bad mood lately. Mum says it’s because she’s a teenager, she’s fighting with her boyfriend, and she’s got fat. She thinks being eight is the same as being slow but I know Jane is pregnant because they shout about it all the time. I’m not slow and I’m not deaf either. I feel sorry for the baby because if we all die tonight it will never have known life but then again maybe that’s for the best.

OK, here are my promises to you if we make it past midnight.

  1. I’ll be good.

  2. I’ll do what my mum tells me to.

  3. I won’t swear.

  4. I won’t tell any lies unless my mum asks me to (see promise 2).

  5. I’ll be nicer to Jane.

  6. I’ll paint every day.

  7. I’ll help Jane take care of Mum a bit more. (I can’t help all the time—see promise 6.)

  8. I’ll give my pocket money to the poor tomorrow morning.

  9. I’ll be nice to Jane’s baby because I’ve a feeling I might be the only one.

  10. I won’t listen to anything Margaret Nolan has to say again.

And, Universe, if we do all die in fire tonight, thanks for nothing.

Yours,

Elle Moore
XXX


That was the first letter Elle Moore wrote to the Universe, and once it was written she folded it and put it into an old shortbread tin. After her supper, she tied her long brown hair in a knot and dressed in her brand-new Christmas coat, hat, and gloves, and her sister Jane’s favorite tie-dye fringed scarf. She made her way down toward the right-hand side of the long garden, where she dug a hole between her mother’s roses and the graves of four dead gerbils—Jimmy, Jessica, Judy, and Jeffrey. Once the tin was placed in the hole and its earth returned, she made a promise to herself that if she did live past midnight on that thirty-first of December in 1989, the following year she’d retrieve her letter and replace it with another. Little did she know back then that Elle Moore would continue to write letters to the Universe every New Year’s Eve for the next eighteen years.

Jane

May 5, 1990

“Dear Mrs. Moore,

“I am writing to you today about my concerns regarding your daughter Jane. I have attempted to reach out to Jane on a number of occasions in recent times but to no avail. As you are well aware, I have also attempted to communicate with your good self, but that too has proved difficult/nigh on impossible. Therefore, I am now left with no choice but to write this letter.

“It is clear to the teaching staff and to the student body that Jane is in the latter stages of pregnancy and so it is now urgent that we speak. Jane’s schoolwork and attendance suffered immeasurably last term, and as a Leaving Cert student she now faces her mock examinations unprepared and with motherhood imminent. Jane seems to be incapable of coming to terms with her condition, as it would appear are you, but we in St. Peter’s cannot simply stand by and act like nothing is happening to this seventeen-year-old girl.

“I urge you, Mrs. Moore, to phone me or to come in to the school and meet with me at any time convenient for you. I cannot allow this silence to continue any longer, and so if we do not hear from you within the next week we will be forced to ask your daughter not to return to school until such time as communication has been reestablished.

“Over the years, Jane and I have had our disagreements. Her flagrant disregard for our rules regarding smoking on school premises and the Irish stew incident that led to a fire in the home economics room are only two of the episodes I could mention. As you are aware, we’ve butted heads on many more occasions, especially when she came to school with purple hair or indeed during her thankfully short-lived Cure-inspired Gothic phase. This school has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the presentation of its students, but I must admit, though exasperated by her opposition and having to endure debate on many occasions, she conveyed her points ably and with admirable passion. The reason I mention this is that although our relationship as principal and student is checkered, I feel it necessary to make it clear that Jane is a very clever girl, bright and articulate, and I have often thought that this girl could do anything she set her mind to, and in twenty years I have thought that only a handful of times. I am worried for her, Mrs. Moore. She has lost her sparkle and her fight. The girl I knew and, despite our differences, have a great fondness for has all but disappeared.

“Teenage pregnancy is terrible and absolutely not to be encouraged, but support is not the same as encouragement, and with support Jane could continue her studies and fulfill her ambitions. Surely it is not the end for a girl such as Jane?

“Please come and speak to me for Jane’s sake. Don’t leave me with no option but to expel such a talented young girl from our school.

“Kindest regards,
“Amanda Reynolds
“Principal Amanda Reynolds”

Jane finished reading the letter aloud and blew her blond fringe out of her eyes while waiting for her best friend’s response. Alexandra twirled her chestnut hair around her finger and stared at it in silence.

After a few seconds she shrugged. “Jesus, who knew Reynolds had a heart?”

Jane felt like crying because her principal had responded to her crisis pregnancy with far more kindness and understanding than her own mother, who had one tantrum after another since Jane’s condition was revealed months previously. During her latest tantrum she took the time to mention how much money she had pissed into the wind by sending Jane to private school and told Jane in no uncertain terms that her education was over because only a bloody childless spinster like Amanda Reynolds could possibly think that having a baby at seventeen didn’t mean an end to an academic career. She slammed the door on exiting the room, not once but twice for effect.

On that afternoon and for the first time Jane truly acknowledged the predicament she was in and how badly wrong her life had gone. She realized that she would miss her principal and she would miss school and the opportunity to go to college. She’d miss her friends, who except for Alexandra had drifted away during her pregnancy, and she’d miss Dominic even though he was avoiding her and was completely ignoring the fact that she was carrying his child. She could see through his schoolyard bravado and recognized his pained expression and haunted look, and she loved him.

Following an argument with Dominic’s parents, who had dared to imply that Jane was a little whore, her mother had made it clear that if she saw him anywhere near their property she’d attack him with a shovel, and Jane’s mother did not make threats of violence lightly. Once when Jane was seven a man had come to their door. He was buying and selling antiques. Her mother said she wasn’t interested but he spied an antique table in the hall. He put his foot in the door and attempted to change her mind about doing business. She reiterated that she had no interest and told him if he didn’t remove his foot from her door she would hurt him. He laughed at her. “No can do,” he said, and his foot remained in the door. She counted down aloud from five to zero. He continued to push his foot farther into her hallway, all the while grinning stupidly at her. It was clear to Jane’s mother that this man believed her to be a stupid, incapable woman and that she would not or could not keep her promise. When she got to zero, she calmly reached for an umbrella that she kept by the door and, releasing the door, shoved the umbrella with full force into his stomach. Startled, he bent forward, clutching his midriff. She then bopped him on the head, not once or twice but three times. He fell backward; she smiled politely, said good day to him, and left him winded and slightly dazed on her doorstep. Jane remembered the incident well because she had stood at the window watching the man sit on the step for what seemed like a long time before he was capable of getting up. Her mother had joined her just as he was leaving. “Good riddance,” she’d said with a genuine smile. “You know, Janey, there is nothing quite like giving a smug arrogant cock like him a good dig to cheer up an otherwise gray day.” Jane knew that if her mother had enjoyed giving that cock a dig because he put his foot in her doorway, she would definitely enjoy slapping Dominic in the face with a shovel for putting his cock in her daughter.

After Alexandra had read the letter a few more times and lamented with Jane over her mother being a bigger bitch than Alexis on Dynasty, she opened the first of six cans of Ritz. Later, when Jane was drunk on one can and Alexandra was on her third, Jane compared her and Dominic’s plight to that of Romeo and Juliet. Alexandra expunged Jane’s fanciful theory in an instant.

“It’s like this, Janey,” she said. “Romeo didn’t get Juliet up the pole and then dump her at a disco.”

“I know, but his parents made him give me up and—”

“And anyway,” Alexandra said with drunken authority, “as bad as your situation is with Dominic, you don’t want to be anything like Romeo and Juliet because Romeo and Juliet is a shit love story. Romeo was a shallow slut, Juliet was pathetic and needy, their families were killing each other, and they were in love one stupid day before they were married and then dead. Romeo and Juliet weren’t star-crossed lovers, they were white trash.”

“When you put it that way,” Jane said sadly.

“Can you believe Miss Hobbs only gave me a C in English? I may not be able to spell ‘apothecary,’ but I have insight. That woman doesn’t know her ass from her elbow.”

Then Alexandra threw up in Jane’s wastebasket.

After that they talked about how Jane could win Dominic back, but neither came up with a workable solution, and so they agreed that Jane should just wait it out.

“As far as I’m concerned he’s just a cock artist, but I know you love him, so it will work out,” Alexandra said.

“He’s more than a cock artist,” Jane said.

“I disagree,” Alexandra said, burping Ritz.

“He’s the one,” Jane said.

Alexandra sighed and tapped her can. “He’ll come back, Janey. He’ll see you in school every day and he’ll miss you. Just give it some time.” She stopped in time to throw up again, wiped her mouth, and sighed. “That’s better. What I was I saying?”

“‘Just give it some time,’” Jane said.

“Exactly. And anyway you still have me.”

“I know.”

“You will always have me.”

“I know.”

“Even if I get Science in Cork because, let’s face it, I’m not going to get into UCD, you still have me.”

“I’ll miss you,” Jane said.

“You won’t have to,” Alexandra promised. “I’ll be home every other weekend, and you can come and stay with me.”

“I’ll have a baby.”

“Leave it with your mum.”

“She’s made it clear she’s not a babysitter.”

“She’s such a cow.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“I love you, Jane.”

“I love you too, Alex.”

They were interrupted by Jane’s mother, who was even drunker than Alexandra and determined to fight.

“Go home, Alexandra.”

“I’m going home.”

“So go!”

“I’m going.”

“So get out!”

“Jesus, what’s wrong with you, woman? Can’t you see I’m trying to get up?”

Jane helped her friend into a standing position.

“See,” Alexandra said with arms outstretched, “I’m off !” She weaved through the corridor and walked out the front door. She turned to say good-bye, but Jane’s mother slammed the door in her face.

Jane’s mother turned to her. “She’s not welcome here anymore.”

“She’s my best friend.”

“Yeah, well, kiss your best friend good-bye.”

That was the last time Alexandra was in Jane’s house. Jane gave birth to a son two weeks later and, although they maintained a friendship for four months after that, when Jane became a mother and Alexandra went to college in Cork, they lost contact. Over the next seventeen years Jane often thought of her friend, and she missed her.

Leslie

June 5, 1996

Dear Jim,

It’s time to talk about Leslie. We both know she’s stubborn and cut off, and we both know why. When I’m gone you’ll be all she has left in this world and I know it’s a big ask, but please look out for her.

We’ve talked about you remarrying, and you know I want you to find someone to love and to love you. I want you to have a great new life that doesn’t include overcrowded hospitals, dismissive doctors, overworked nurses, and cancer. I want you to find someone strong and healthy, someone you can go on an adventure with, someone you can make love to, someone who doesn’t cause you anguish and pain. Every time I see your face it hurts because for the first time I see that in loving you I’ve been selfish and I understand why Leslie is the way she is.

Leslie is a better person than me. I know you’re probably guffawing at that as you read, but it’s true. She’s watched her entire family die of cancer, and when we were both diagnosed with the dodgy gene after Nora’s death she made the decision not to cause pain to others the way Nora caused pain to John and Sarah and I’m causing pain to you. Before cancer she was smart and funny, kind and caring, and she still is to me. Without her care I wouldn’t have coped. I know sometimes she calls you names, but trust me, she knows you’re not a monkey so when she calls you an ass picker, ignore it and be kind.

I thought she was being defeatist. I thought that we’d suffered enough as a family and that we’d both survive. So I made plans and fell in love and for a while we had a great life but then that dodgy gene kicked in. Now I see you look almost as ill as I feel, and I realize that my sister Leslie knew exactly what she was doing when she broke up with Simon and all but closed off. I watched her disappear from her own life. I thought she was insane back then, but it makes sense now. She put the pain of others before her own. She watched John and Sarah suffer after Nora, and she’ll watch you suffering after me, and although she pretends not to like you, she does, and it will hurt her and it will also confirm for her that she is right to remain alone waiting for a diagnosis that may never come.

I’m her last family and friend. She hasn’t even let herself get to know her niece, and so when I’m gone she’ll have no one and that haunts me. Please go and live your life but all that I ask is that every now and again, no matter how rude or uninviting she may seem, call her, talk to her, be her friend even if she fails to be yours, because she has been there for me, for Mum, for Dad and Nora, and I can’t stand the idea that after everything she’s been through she should live or die alone.

I know I say it all the time and in all my little notes and letters about this and that, but time is running out and I need you to know that it’s been a privilege to be your wife. And although I feel selfish for all the pain I’ve caused you, I know I’ve brought happiness too, so hang on to that and forgive me because even knowing what I know now I’d love and marry you again. I suppose Leslie would say I was a selfish pig, but I can die with that.

Yours,

Imelda

Imelda Sheehan died at eight o’clock on the morning of July 12, 1996. She was twenty-five years old. Her husband, Jim, was by her side and holding her right hand, and sitting on the opposite side of the bed and holding her left hand was her sister Leslie. They both felt her slip away at exactly the same time. For Leslie it was familiar: the ocean of grief inside her swelled and rose, but she knew what to do, and so she remained still and allowed the pain to wash over her. For Jim it was so shocking: one second his wife was alive and battling to breathe, the next she was dead and silent. He let Imelda’s hand go and stood up quickly, so quickly that he nearly fell. He steadied and hugged himself. He stood in the corner of the room as the doctor and nurses approached to confirm time of death. Leslie sat with her dead sister Imelda, holding her hand for as long as they would allow her. Jim cried, and his parents, brothers, and friends made a fuss over him. Leslie sat alone and frozen. She knew the physical pain that made her heart feel like it was about to explode and her ears ring until she feared they’d bleed would dissipate in time, just as the tide would turn and with it Imelda would drift farther and farther away until she was a distant memory and it only served to make her loss greater. Leslie had just turned twenty-seven.

Jim asked Leslie to read at the funeral, but she refused. He asked her to sit beside him in the first pew when she’d attempted to sit at the back of the church. She told him she didn’t want to shake hands with the people whose hands she had shaken so many times before, but Jim was not taking no for an answer, and so she found herself sitting beside her brother-in-law with a heavy heart and an all-too-familiar swollen hand from those whose earnest sympathy ensured they squeezed too tight.

When the priest asked if anyone would like to speak, Leslie stood up. This surprised her and those around her, especially Jim, who couldn’t even get her to agree to a reading. She found herself standing without reason. The priest asked her to come forward, but her legs refused to comply with his request, and so he waited and the congregation waited, and Jim nudged her and asked if she was all right. What the hell am I doing? she asked herself as she started to move toward the altar, but once she was at the altar and standing in front of a microphone the words came easily.

“I am the last of the five Sheehans,” she said. “Four days ago there were two of us—me, the middle child; and Imelda, the baby of the family. I should have been next, and not just because I was older but because Imelda was the strong one, the one who embraced life regardless and without fear. Over the years she’s run five marathons in aid of cancer. I didn’t even walk for cancer, not even once—mostly I’ll avoid even standing if I can.” She stopped to take a breath. There was a hint of a titter from the crowd. “She fell in love and married Jim, and she always planned to have kids. Imelda always made plans, and that’s what I admired about her most, because even when she was diagnosed with the same cancer that had killed our grandmother, our mother, father, and sister, she still made plans. She froze her eggs and they bought a house, and when she wasn’t in chemo she traveled. Even when she knew her life was coming to the end, she still made plans. Little plans that don’t mean much to most, like ‘Tonight we’ll reminisce about the summer we spent in Kerry’ or ‘Tomorrow when the sun comes out we’ll sit in the hospital grounds and watch the people come and go and make up stories about who and what they are.’ She even planned her own funeral. She knew exactly what she wanted—the kind of casket, the flowers, the priest, the prayers, the attendees. She asked me once if I would speak at her funeral and I said no. I’m sorry, Imelda, of course I’ll speak for you. I just was scared that I wouldn’t know what to say and I didn’t want to let you down. So I’ll just end by saying this: I miss my dad, my mum, my sister Nora, and now I miss my sister Imelda, and I’m so sorry because it should have been me, but I will see you all again and soon.”

Leslie’s voice was cracking, her eyes were streaming, and her nose was running. She walked toward her seat, and once she’d accepted a tissue from Jim she sat with her head in her hands, attempting to regain composure but finding it almost impossible to do so. Back then her hair was still jet-black, she was slim, and although she was not a natural beauty, she was striking. The people sitting in pews behind her felt nothing but pity for this young woman who was merely waiting for her turn to die. Later, by the side of the grave, she watched Jim grieve, and if there was something she could have said to make him feel better she would have said it, but there wasn’t, so she stood in silence waiting for the day to end so that she could disappear behind her closed door and wait for the inevitable. It never occurred to her that she’d still be waiting for the inevitable twelve years later.

Tom

August 25, 2007

Transcript ofLivelineradio show with Joe Duffy

“I have a Tom Kavanagh on the line. Tom, are you there?”

“I am, Joe.”

“Tom, you are trying to find your lovely wife, Alexandra.”

“Yes, Joe.”

“She went missing on the twenty-first of June this year?”

“It was Thursday, the twenty-first of June.”

“Tell us about it, Tom.”

“I don’t know where to start. She was last seen in Dalkey and now she’s gone.”

“Okay, okay, all right. How about you tell us a little about her?”

“She’s funny, she’s giddy, she’s kind, she’s friendly, she’s fussy, she’s lovely, Joe.” Caller becomes emotional.

“The police have managed to retrace her steps as far as Dalkey. Can you tell us about that?”

“She left the house in Clontarf around two p.m. She said hello to a neighbor who verified the time. She walked to the train station, and three teenagers who were there came forward to say that they witnessed her getting on the train. She’s also captured on CCTV footage on the platform at Tara Street at three thirty, but she got back on the train. After the train stations were canvassed, a woman came forward and identified her as getting off the train in Dalkey. She was captured on CCTV footage again there but after that ….” Caller becomes emotional.

“And after that?”

“She was gone. She’s just gone.”

“Ah God, that’s desperate. What time was that?”

“It was approximately four p.m.”

“And where were you?”

“I was working. We were finishing a project in Blackrock.”

“It says here you’re a builder.”

“I am.”

“So when did you realize that she was missing?”

“I was supposed to be home by four. I had promised to make dinner because Alexandra was meeting her friend Sherri to collect tickets for a gig from her. She had left a note saying she’d be home by seven thirty. But I was delayed on site. I didn’t get in until nine p.m.”

“When did you raise the alarm, Tom?”

“The next morning, Joe.” Caller becomes emotional. “I thought she’d stayed out with Sherri or maybe she was pissed off that I didn’t get home in time to make the dinner so went out again. I was exhausted so I fell asleep.”

“That’s understandable. What age is Alexandra?”

“She’s thirty-six. She has chestnut-brown hair, shoulder length. She was wearing black trousers and a black blouse with a bow on it. She had a black fitted jacket on. She’s very attractive, the kind of person you’d remember if you’d seen her.” Caller becomes emotional.

“And she went missing on …”

“Thursday, the twenty-first of June this year.”

“And did she have any mental issues, Tom?”

“No, Joe. She was a very happy, well-adjusted, normal woman. She was normal, Joe, ordinary.”

“Okay, okay.”Joe sighs.“I’m going to ask the obvious, Tom, so forgive me. Is there any chance she took herself into the water?”

“No. No. She wasn’t suicidal, and the coast guard searched it and the police divers, and there were plenty of people on the beach that day and no one saw her.”

“Okay, I had to ask. I’m sorry for your trouble, Tom. I hope that maybe someone listening remembers something.”

“And, Joe?”

“Yes, Tom?”

“I’ll be at Dalkey train station handing out flyers later this evening and I’ll be doing the same at a Jack Lukeman gig on Dame Street next Friday.”

“Why there, Tom?”

“She was a big fan, Joe. She never missed a show.” Caller becomes emotional.

“And he’s very popular; lots of people from all counties will be there.”

“It’s as good a place as any to get the word out, Joe.”

“God love you, Tom. I sympathize. Good luck to you. We’ll put Alexandra’s details on the website, and if you could send in a photo we’ll post it.”

“I will, and thanks for taking the call.”

“And if anyone has information on Alexandra Kavanagh, who went missing on the twenty-first of June 2007, would they contact Clontarf Garda Station, and the inspector in charge of the investigation is Des Martin. Right, we’ll be back after these ads.”

Tom put down the phone and turned to Breda, his mother-in-law. She was sitting at the kitchen table, looking frail and small. She smiled at him through tears.

“You did very well, love,” she said.

“You should have left this phone number,” Eamonn said while pacing. Eamonn was Alexandra’s older brother, and he and Tom had never really been close. Alexandra’s disappearance had served to widen the divide between them. “And you should have said that she was upset about not getting pregnant.”

“Nothing to do with anything,” Tom said. “She was fine, happy.”

“You just didn’t want to see it!” Eamonn shouted. “It was tearing her apart and you didn’t see it!”

“Take that back, Eamonn,” Tom said, walking toward Eamonn.

Eamonn in his mind was begging Tom to punch him. Take a swing, I dare you!

Breda called out to the two boys, “Stop it, both of you!”

Alexandra’s father stood up from his chair outside on the patio. He put his cigarette out and came inside.

“Go home now,” he said to Eamonn and Tom. “Go home before you both say and do things you’ll regret.”

Eamonn and Tom both nodded and apologized. Breda was crying again. She looked at Tom, who had aged ten years in ten weeks. His black hair was almost entirely gray; his once-sparkly blue eyes were tired and circled by shadowed skin. He had been so persnickety about the way he looked that Alexandra’s family, especially Eamonn, had often joked about her marrying a metrosexual. His suits were always the best, dry-cleaned after one wearing and fitting precisely. His hair was professionally cut, and his face was perfectly clean. Off-site, Tom didn’t look like a builder; he looked like a banker. He was wealthy, and although he wasn’t extravagant, he left those around him in no doubt about his standing. Breda noticed his suit was now too big, his hair was a mess, and he hadn’t shaved in weeks. He was a shadow of the man he used to be, as she was a shadow of the woman and mother she once was. She recognized his suffering, as it mirrored her own, and she wanted her son, whose anger was more intense than his pain, to stop hurting her already mortally wounded son-in-law. She promised herself she would talk to Eamonn when she found the strength to deal with his quarrelsome nature.

When Tom was leaving, she hugged him, and he could feel every bone in her back. She whispered into his ear, “She’s still with us, I can feel it. God will take care of her—she’s not alone because God is there beside her.”

Tom nodded. “Try and eat, Breda.”

Tom sat in his car for a minute or two and was still there when Eamonn came out of the house. Eamonn walked over to the car window and knocked on it. Tom rolled it down.

“I don’t care what the police say,” Eamonn said. “I don’t care what my mother says. It’s your fault. I blame you.” He turned and walked to his own car and drove away, leaving Tom sitting in Alexandra’s parents’ driveway crying like a baby.

Oh God, please, please, where is she? Bring her home to me, please, please, bring her home! I’m so sorry for everything I’ve done. Forgive me and bring her home.

Alexandra had then been missing nine weeks and two days.

© 2009 Anna McPartlin

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Alexandra, Gone includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Anna McPartlin. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 

 

Summary

When Alexandra Kavanagh disappears one afternoon, it changes everything—not just for her husband and family, but for long-lost friends and complete strangers as well. In a strange twist of fate, her husband, Tom; former best friend, Jane; Jane’s sister, Elle; and the terse stranger, Leslie, are trapped together in an elevator at a concert. They form an unlikely bond, culminating in a pact to do everything they can to find Alexandra. The three women, however, have problems of their own, which are thrown into sharp relief by their efforts to help Tom Kavanagh find his wife. Jane is the rock of her family, constantly caring for her teenage son, Kurt; artistic and unstable sister, Elle; and alcoholic mother, Rose. But as she invests more and more in the search for her friend Alexandra, Jane thinks back on her teenage years and begins to wonder what happened to her dreams. Elle, abandoned by her lover and beginning to doubt her artistic talent, struggles in the search for Alexandra and in her unlikely new friendship with the reserved Leslie as her unstable emotional state escalates. Leslie, terrified that she will develop the cancer that has ravaged her family, tries to find her way in the world again after years of self-imposed isolation. As the search for Alexandra progresses, each person unearths truths—some less welcome than others—that they must face, lest they become lost themselves.

 

Questions for Discussion

1. At the beginning of the novel, who did you believe was to blame for Alexandra’s disappearance? Do you agree that Alexandra is not “the type” to abandon her family and husband? Did you ever suspect Tom?

2. Every New Year’s Eve, Elle writes a letter to herself with a list of things she wants to accomplish in the coming year, and digs up the previous year’s letter to compare her resolutions with her accomplishments. Do you have your own New Year’s ritual? How often do you keep your resolutions?

3. After her sister Imelda’s death, Leslie is overwhelmed by her family history. She withdraws from the world until her chance meeting with Tom, Elle, and Jane pulls her back. What would you have done in her place? Is it better to know the possibilities, even if the knowledge leads to fear, or do you agree with her niece that it’s better not to know and to just live instead?

4. When did you first realize that there was more to Elle’s behavior than simple whimsy or selfishness? How often does creative talent disguise or excuse deeper emotional and/or behavioral problems in our society?

5. Dominic chooses college and a career over a shotgun wedding with Jane in high school. Do you agree with his choice? Were those truly his only options, or was there a third choice he didn’t consider?

6. Irene’s mother, Martha, accuses Jane of being overly permissive with Kurt and Irene (allowing them to drink, sleep together, etc.), while Jane believes that Martha is the worse parent because of her extended absences and strained relationship with her daughter. Whom do you agree with? Is it better to have potentially dangerous behavior going on in a safe environment, or should Jane have tried harder to prevent these behaviors?

7. Is Tom’s relationship with Jeanette truly “cheating,” or is it an understandable error on his part? Is Jane’s violent reaction based on true indignation on behalf of the absent Alexandra, or on her growing emotional attachment to Tom?

8. Breda’s faith keeps her going in the early months of Alexandra’s disappearance, but eventually it wears thin. She tries to make a bargain with God, takes to her bed, and develops a terminal illness, all within a short time span. Are these three things related? If yes, in what ways? Does Breda’s faith help her through her time of need, or does it actually make it harder for her to let go?

9. W hat is the driving force behind Elle and Dominic’s affair—her mental illness, the forbidden nature of the entanglement, or something else altogether?

10. W hen Elle learns that her father committed suicide and that she shares his “temperament,” she begins to have visions of joining him, and eventually tries to kill herself. Is her attempt prompted by her discovery about her father? Could Jane have handled this revelation of family history differently, in a way that perhaps would have led to a different outcome?

11. Leslie, in order to move on with her life free of the fears that have plagued her, elects to have extreme surgery—a hysterectomy and double mastectomy. Would you have done the same? What are your feelings about elective surgeries like these? Are there cases in which they shouldn’t be allowed, or should it be entirely up to the patient?

12. At the end of Alexandra, Gone, Tom and Jane both get second starts in life—Tom as a traveler and philanthropist, and Jane as a doctor. Would they have had these second chances without the traumatic experiences they went through? Is it easier to change direction after a trauma?

13. Each chapter begins with a verse from one of Jack Lukeman’s songs. How did these lyrics influence and enhance your reading of the subsequent chapter?

 
Enhance Your Book Club 

1. Incorporate Jack Lukeman’s music into your discussion. Compile a mixed CD using the songs that appear at the beginning of each chapter. Or select a moment in the book when a specific song is playing (e.g., “Taste of Fall” during their entrapment in the elevator, or “Metropolis Blue” at Elle’s “missing persons” exhibition) and play the song while rereading the segment. Discuss how listening to the music changes the reading experience.

2. Incorporate artwork into your discussion: visit a local modern art gallery; attend a lecture on modern art; ask group members to bring in works by their favorite artist, modern or otherwise; ask group members to check out a few modern artists and pick the one they feel is most like what they envision for Elle’s work.

3. Have each member draft a “resolutions” letter. Share the resolutions, and discuss ways the group can help members achieve their goals.

A Conversation with Anna McPartlin

In your introduction, you mention that Jack Lukeman and his fans were a source of inspiration for this novel, in particular the relationship that the fans develop with Jack and the band without ever knowing them personally. What do you think it is about music that lends itself to creating those kinds of relationships? Do you believe the same thing is possible for authors and readers?

I think people respond to others’ talents. I don’t think an author can possibly have the same relationship with the reader as a performer—whether it’s a good singer, actor, or comedian—has with his or her audience. I’ve been at gigs that Jack has played and you literally could hear a pin drop, the audience was so enthralled. It was fascinating to witness.

 

Alexandra, Gone was originally released in Ireland under the title So What If I’m Broken. What led to the title change? Were there other things changed to adapt the book for a U.S. audience? Does the title shift change the book for you, personally?

I hated the title So What If I’m Broken, but my publishers in Ireland really liked it, as did the buyers and retailers, so I didn’t get much of a choice. I’m much happier with Alexandra, Gone. The title was changed to suit the market, so it gets a little confusing. I find it difficult to keep up, never mind my poor readers!

 

What led you to choose a missing person as the pivot point of the novel? Have you experienced a disappearance in your own life?

When Maddie McCann went missing while her parents were on holiday in Portugal, like everyone else I was completely horrified, and as time went on I started dreaming of this poor child. Her face was everywhere, and I remember watching out for her and doing a double take whenever I saw a little girl who matched her description. Alexandra came from the feelings Maddie stirred in me.

 

Art and music are an integral part of Alexandra, Gone, and are clearly topics close to your heart. How do these interests inform your writing process? Do you listen to certain musicians, or surround yourself with certain artists’ work?

Music informs everything I write. Every book I’ve written has its own soundtrack. When I get the idea for a novel, I upload between five to ten CDs onto my computer and I listen to them, and only them, until the book is finished. The music is my way in and out of the world I’ve created.

 

You start each chapter with a verse from one of Jack Lukeman’s songs. Describe the process of putting together the lyrics and the novel.

I listened to all of Jack’s albums for six months solid before I even typed one word. Elle came to me during one of his shows. He was performing a capella; it was a heartbreaking song and the audience was still and silent; then he burst into this huge up-tempo big-band song, and the audience started to dance and sing . . . and in my mind Elle was born. The rest of the characters all came from particular songs. Tom comes from “Lost in Limbo,” Jane was born with “Keep Dancing,” and Leslie comes from “I’ve Been Raining.”

 

Alexandra, Gone highlights many complicated issues—mental illness, addiction, cancer, missing persons, and teen pregnancy, to name a few. Which did you plan to address, and which cropped up during the course of your writing? What kind of research was involved to get all the small, essential details?

I never plan to address any subject or issue. I dream up characters and the story comes from them. I knew the moment I dreamed up Elle that she was bipolar although I never actually diagnose her in the book. I knew that Leslie had lost her entire family to cancer and I knew that Jane was living a kind of half life and that Tom was experiencing a living hell. After that, the story told itself.

 

Do you lay out your plots beforehand, or are there surprises in the writing process? Did you know from the beginning what had happened to Alexandra?

I have a brief story outline, but because I know my characters inside and out, I know what they are capable of and the decisions they’ll make; it makes sense to me to write that way. As a result my stories are character and not plot driven. I had no idea what happened to Alexandra until one day I was midway through the book and Jack’s “Rooftop Lullaby” began to play. It’s such a sad song. I shed a little tear or two because in that moment, I knew she would be found dead.

 

The novel shifts viewpoints from character to character, revolving around Jane, Tom, Elle, and Leslie. Which character was the hardest to write? Which was the easiest? Which is your favorite?

Elle was the greatest challenge because I had a lot of research to do before writing her. Her mental struggle needed to feel real so I worked really hard to ensure she didn’t become a silly cliché. She’s also my favorite character because I worked so hard on her and I feel closest to her.

 

Who are your influences as a writer?

My single biggest influence is Roddy Doyle. When I read “The Snapper,” I fell in love with all his characters and their warmth, and I knew I wanted to write stories just like he does.

 

Are you working on anything new that you can tell us about?

I’m working on a movie about five kids who break into banks during the Irish matches during the 1990 World Cup. Its working title is The Football Five.

About The Author

Photograph by Ken Browne

Anna McPartlin, who was shortlisted for Newcomer of the Year in the 2007 Irish Book Awards, was formerly a stand-up comedian and a cabaret performer. She lives in Dublin with her husband, Donal.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (April 13, 2010)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439123331

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