Saralee Rosenberg's compelling debut novel, told in a warm, wise and endearing voice, is about sisters, mothers and daughters, and loss, sacrifice and love.
Barnes & Noble.com
This is the story of an embattled family and the mother who tries to keep them together. In her case, from the afterlife. A Little Help From Above explores the enduring link between mothers, daughters, and sisters, and asks the age-old question: who are the people in my life and what was God thinking when he put us together? The story begins when Sandy Lazarus, a deceased wife and mother, decides that she's had it with decades-long family fighting. How can she rest in eternal peace if she doesn't step in and problem solve? Trouble is, divine intervention is a no-no. On the other hand, enough is enough. It's just too bad that instead of making things better, good old mom makes things worse. Or maybe not.
A near-fatal accident back home forces Shelby, her 38-year old, single-as-a- sock-in-the-dryer daughter, to return to Long Island. Faster than you can say dysfunctional, a wild chain of events forces her eldest to confront old demons...her mother's untimely death, her father's remarriage to her mother's younger sister, her own younger sister's meshugina behavior, and the terrible void caused by the disappearance of Matthew Lieberman, her childhood love.
But Shelby faces her biggest life crisis after discovering that her younger sister, Lauren, is a DES daughter, and in need of a surrogate mother. Up until now, Shelby wouldn't consider lending anyone her designer shoes, let alone her uterus. But the more Shelby learns about DES, the harder it is to let Lauren face this struggle alone.
A Little Help From Above is a poignant, entertaining and emotional roller coaster ride that stops exactly where it's supposed to. Home sweet home.
“Bagels! Who wants hot bagels?” David bounded through Shelby’s apartment door, slamming it shut with the heel of his sneaker. “You up hun?” he called from the kitchen.
I am now hun, she almost yelled back. Instead Shelby lay motionless, hopeful Mr. Get-Up-and-Go would do precisely that. Why would a guy finally relieved of his dog-walking, diaper-changing responsibilities be up and out so early on a Sunday?
“I also got fat-free muffins,” David hollered, his mouth full of nova and cream cheese.
Bagels? Muffins? Was he joking? After three months of dating, you’d think he’d have noticed those calorie-clogged, carbohydrate killers never passed her lips. Or, at least had some inkling women in their late thirties didn’t maintain taut, 115-lb bodies by eating just because the sun happened to rise.
“I know you’re up,” David poked his head into the bedroom. “You’re not snoring.”
“I don’t snore. I have hayfever. Remember?” She would have said it sweetly if not for the shorts. The same damn shorts she’d just tossed in the cleaning lady’s rag bag.
“What?” David looked down.
“Didn’t I throw those out?”
“C’mon Shel. They’re so comfy. Be a sport.”
“Can’t. Where I come from, hairy men with large prostates don’t wear threadbare shorts that went straight from El Salvador to the $9.99 table at the Champion outlet!”
“Well excuse me if they don’t say Prada.”
“Very funny. What happened to that nice pair I bought you?”
“I hate green. And they ride my crotch.”
Better them than me, she thought, watching an exasperated David slink back to his bagelfest. Shelby rolled over, depressed by two epiphanies. All men were created equal, sadly. And, bad batches were not limited to poorly manufactured clothing. Relationships also came in defective lots. How else to explain the run of dismal luck she’d had this year? Four different men. Not one of whom would pass muster with Inspector #36.
Gregory had been Harrison Ford handsome but a trifle too married. Next came Marc. And his mother. Such nice people, but between them they carried more baggage than a skycap at O’Hare. Then there was Donald, a 56-year old commodities broker, who was all too happy to let Shelby blow out his late wife’s Neimann-Marcus charge, provided she didn’t limit her blowing to the store. Donald was followed by David, who came into her life via a blind date arranged by one of Shelby’s colleagues at the Chicago Tribune.
Things with David had begun on a promising note. He was sweet, funny, generous, and well trained by his ex-wife to pick up his socks but leave the toilet seat down. Trouble was he had little if any sex appeal. No physical attributes that made her heart beat faster. Or at all.
Ultimately what soured Shelby was the speed at which David had latched on to her as if she were prey in his Penis Flytrap. She worried there might not be time to escape before his poisonous grip rendered her limp and breathless. “Death by strangulation,” is what the coroner’s report would read. At least that’s how the scene played out in her recurring nightmare. The one where she married David, moved to the suburbs, and drove the Wednesday carpool to ballet.
“Guess it’s that time of month again,” David, the ovarian expert, handed her coffee. “Want me to sing to you? That’s what I do when Marissa wakes up cranky.”
“I’m not cranky. Just stop feeding me, okay? Bagels go right from my lips to my hips.”
“Not if you work them off,” he nuzzled her neck.
“You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”she pushed his sweaty body off her.
“Afraid not. It’s a beautiful June morning, you’re a beautiful blond, and no matter how badly you behave, when we’re together, I feel inspired and alive.”
Normally Shelby longed for men to speak tenderly and with reverence, but it was too late for David. She had already made the discovery he was less a man than a medical miracle. A male species born with a brain, but no spine. How else to explain the mindset of a successful attorney who babysat his two children, so their mother, his ex, could shop courtesy of his credit cards, then see her boyfriend, Mr. Marriage Breaker?
“Could we please not confuse a hard-on with personal growth?” Shelby yawned.
“Party pooper,” he groaned.
“Sorry, but I really want to go back to sleep so I don’t have to think about my problems.”
“Name it. Relationship problems. Work problems...”
“We have relationship problems?” he gave her a tentative, puppy-dog face that made Shelby want to hit him with a rolled up Tribune. Luckily for David the phone rang.
“Don’t answer that,” she ordered. “It’s probably Rhonda wanting to know if you’re coming over to blacktop the driveway.”
“Okay, if this isn’t P.M.S., what is?” he muttered on his way back to my kitchen.
“Fine. It’s P.M.S.,” she stared at the ringing phone. Putting up with Men’s Shit.
Should she answer or let the machine pick up? If it was her editor calling with a story for her column she’d want to know. But if it was someone who could aggravate her...
“Yes?” she tried sounding annoyed in case it actually was a call for David.
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
Shelby shot up so fast the room spun. She only knew one person who spoke in triplicate when she was having an anxiety attack. “Lauren?”
“Don’t hang up. Please don’t hang up. I know you’re not speaking to us, but don’t hang up,” she sobbed. “There’s been a terrible accident. Everything’s a mess. You have to come home.”
“Stay calm,” Shelby instinctively shifted gears into reporter-speak, a habit she’d developed early in her career, more to mollify herself than the victim. “Who? What? Where?”
“Mommy and Daddy,” Lauren was choking, her breath dry from hysteria. “They were out jogging this morning when some freak of nature in a landscaper’s truck smacked into them. A witness said the guy tried to take off, but his truck was wrapped around a light pole.”
Shelby inhaled the news, instinctively categorizing it by level of importance. Even by her jaded standards this was a big story. If her father died before they reconciled, it would cost her thousands more in therapy. As for the woman Lauren insisted on calling Mommy, the jury was still out.
“Shel-bee,” Lauren whined. “Are you listening? Did you hear a word I said? Daddy just suffered a severe head wound, his lungs are collapsed, his ribs are fractured, his neck is sprained, his spleen is ruptured, both legs are broken, maybe his hip, too... Shelby, the doctor said he might not make it. You have to come home.”
Shelby’s pulse raced. Fly to New York? Today? But she had tickets for a Cubs game, not that she cared much for baseball. Trouble was, this outing had nothing to do with drinking beer and eating peanuts, heaven forbid. It was about sitting in the Trib’s sky box. It was about getting nine blissful innings to discuss ideas for her popular column with the paper’s top brass.
“Are you there?” Lauren wept. “Say something. Anything.”
“You’re serious? They really jog?”
“Yes, they jog,” Lauren gasped. “What kind of question is that?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that this call is coming as such a shock.”
“Oh, and like when my phone rang at eight o’clock this morning I was expecting to hear from an Officer Padowski?”
“Are they in the hospital?”
“No, the Holiday Inn. Of course they’re in the hospital!”
“Shelby, what is wrong with you? You know which one. Please don’t do this.”
Shelby shivered. As a former beat reporter she’d witnessed tragedies strike randomly and without warning every day. Just not to her. Somehow she’d been lulled into thinking she’d been given immunity. Call it professional courtesy for journalists. But obviously she was as vulnerable as everyone else, and what a quandary that represented. For no matter who was lying in Long Island’s North Shore University Hospital right now, she was never going back there.
“Shelby, you have to come home. I’m scared. What if Daddy dies?”
“They’re not going to let him die. You think North Shore wants it on record they lost yet another Lazarus?”
“But you’ll come home anyway?”
“What about Eric?”
“Are you kidding? And miss a day of rehab? Daddy just got him back into Betty Ford.”
“I don’t know. I’m on deadline now. Maybe I can clear my calendar for later in the week.”
“Clear your calendar?”
“Hello?” Shelby was stunned to hear a dial tone.
“This is what happens when people don’t sleep late on Sundays,” Shelby rummaged through a closet for an overnight bag. “They get hit by trucks. But does anyone ever listen?”
“There ought to be a law,” David watched a possessed woman start packing. “You’re doing the right thing you know.”
“Oh good. Be sure to include that in my epitaph. ‘Here lies Shelby Lazarus. Not the selfish bitch you thought’.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he stroked her hair. “Hey. Should I come with you?”
“No need. I’ll be back by tomorrow night,” she deposited one bra into her bag.
“I can’t believe how well you’re taking this. My wife would be downing Dylan’s Ritalin.”
“Ex-wife,” Shelby cringed. “She’s your ex-wife.”
David shrugged. “Anyway, I thought you said your mom died when you were a little girl.”
Shelby took a deep breath. “She did. Then a year later my father married my aunt,” she removed her new Lilly Pulitzer dress from its hanger, staring curiously at the reincarnated version of the crisp, colorful shift her mother had once worn.
Back in 1969, Sandy Lazarus, a size-five-fashion-plate via her Bonwit Teller-charge plate, was the first to show the ladies-who-lunched at the Shelter Rock Country Club what their fashion sisters in West Palm were wearing. Certainly not those dreadful moo-moos the gals at her club donned to camouflage their middle-aged girth.
Up until now, Shelby had no idea why she’d purchased the designer dress for herself. Lord & Taylor had been singing its historic, socialite praises, yes. But for a hard core customer of the other Taylor in the family, Ann, the lime green elephant print was a far cry from Shelby’s usual and customary wardrobe. Anything black. From top to bottom her closet was strewn with the requisite funeral-ready, career girl clothes. Who would recognize her in shocking pink? No one. Which made it perfect to wear around her old home town of Manhasset Hills, Long Island.
“So let me get this straight,” David knew Shelby liked it when he invoked the name of her popular column. “Your father married his aunt?”
“No. He married my aunt. My mother’s younger sister,” Shelby threw in a pair of running shoes in case there was time to jog. Although given the circumstances, it would probably be wise to find an indoor track. “Lauren calls her Mommy. To me she’ll always be Aunt Roz.”
“You never mentioned having a sister,” David followed Shelby into the bathroom.
“Really?” she grabbed the matched set of cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing products from the medicine chest. “What about a step-brother who’s an alleged drug dealer?”
He shook his head. “And you call yourself an ace reporter?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she glared.
“C’mon Shel. When you told me the story of your life, you left out two of the most basic, fundamental facts. A) you have a family and B) you haven’t spoken to them in years.”
“Guilty as charged, your honor.”
“And yet, you’re dropping everything to go home?”
“Am I on trial here?” Shelby applied lip color without so much as a quiver, all too aware David was looking for signs of frailty so he could finally play prince to her damsel in distress.
“No. But you’ve got to admit it sounds bazaar. Why aren’t you speaking to them?”
Shelby blinked. This wasn’t a road she could go down. At least not with a man who idolized his parents and who would never dream of violating the fifth commandment.
“Doctor, I believe I’ve hit a nerve,” he smirked too quickly.
“No. I’ve got a flight to catch, remember? Did you check the weather like I asked?”
“Yes, my lady,” David knew a dead end when he careened into one. “According to the Internet, New York’s got lots of rain in the forecast.”
“Just great! My own boyfriend prefers going on line instead of reading the Trib.”
“Sue me,” he shrugged. “Maybe while you’re away I’ll join AOL-ANON.”
Shelby sighed. If only David was as handsome as he was amusing. “Have you seen my good umbrella?”
“In my car,” David followed Shelby out. “But you’re in luck. Mine’s in the closet.”
“Not that ugly, crappy Totes you got free with your J.C. Penney raincoat!”
“Jesus, Shel,” he watched her tear through the closet looking for designer protection. “It’s not like the Gucci’s are on border patrol.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just....”
“I know. It’s okay.” David lifted her chin. “I’m worried about you.”
“You sure I can’t drive you to O’Hare?”
“Positive,” she brushed a bagel crumb from his face. “I’m fine with a cab.”
“Is there anything I can do? Call your boss? Water the plants?”
“No need. The last one died Tuesday.”
“Your boss or your plant?” he pulled Shelby to him. “Can I at least give you a hug?”
“Sure,” she shrugged, not expecting the warm embrace to feel so good it nearly broke her momentum. “Shoot. I still have to call the office and cancel out on the Cubs game. What do you think I should tell them?”
“I don’t know. I’m generally partial to the truth.”
“Sounds like a plan. But I can’t do that. I never share my personal life at work.”
Or anywhere, David thought as he watched Shelby head down the hall to the elevator. “I’m sure you’ll think of something,” he waved. “I hear TB is making a comeback.”
“Such a kidder,” Shelby chuckled before stepping into the elevator.
Not this time, he thought. For David was painfully aware he knew virtually nothing about his new love, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Even after their most intimate moments he could only get Shelby to reveal small, meaningless nuggets. She wasn’t just playing her story close to the vest, she was playing it under lock and key. Even a private investigator on his law firm’s payroll came up emptier handed than expected. “Lady’s done a damn good job covering her tracks,” the investigator shrugged when he threw a half-page dossier on David’s desk. “She may be a great reporter, but she’s a lousy source.”
So, David remained in the dark. Precisely where she wanted him. And everyone else.