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<anon I1="BLANK" I2="BLANK">Chapter 1Some stories are never meant to be told. Some can only be told as fairy tales. Once upon a time three girlfriends threw a little party for a fourth who had yet to arrive by the time the first bottle of Pinot Grigio had been downed. Walk with me now across the backyard of the neat suburban house, in this street of widely spaced heartlands, past the kid's bike and baseball bat staged just so on the satin green lawn, up to the sweet glow of the kitchen window, and take a look inside. Three women, one dark, one blonde, the third a redhead--all in their prime, those tenuous years when middle age is held carefully at bay. There they are, sitting at the table, innocent of their unreality, oblivious to the story, naively breathing in and out. "Where is Lydia?" says Amber, the blonde. She is a neat little package. Delicate features, Peter Pan collar dress, French tip manicure. "Where the heck can she be?" "We holding off on the sandwiches, right?" says Suzie, the dark-haired friend. She didn't have time to get changed before she came out. There is a splash of Bolognese sauce on her T-shirt. She made it in a hurry and left it for the kids and babysitter to eat. "These reduced-calorie Ruffles? Forget it, not going there." She pushes the bowl of chips away. "Should I call her again?" says Amber. "I left three messages already." She closed up her clothing store an hour early to be sure to get everything ready on time. The redhead, Tevis, takes a small phallus-shaped crystal out of her pocket and sets it on the table. She says, "I had a premonition this morning." "You see a doctor about that?" Suzie, in her favorite khaki pants and stained T-shirt, sits like a man, right ankle on left knee. She gives Amber a wink. "You guys can mock all you want," says Tevis. She has come straight from work. In her pantsuit, with her hair in a tight bun, pursing her lips, she looks close to prim--the opposite of how she would want to be seen. "We're not mocking," says Amber. "Was it about Lydia?" "Not specifically," says Tevis in a very Tevis way. She cups her hands above the stone. "You carry that around with you?" says Suzie. Her hair is aubergine dark, a hint of purple, and has that freshly colored shine. She plucks a carrot out of the refrigerator and peels it directly onto the table that has been laid with the pretty crockery, hand-painted red and pink roses, fine bone china cups and saucers with handles so small they make you crook your little finger, just like a real English high tea. "Don't worry, I'm clearing this up." "You better," says Amber, but she reaches across and scoops up the peelings herself. If Lydia walks in that second everything has to look right. She feels guilty about packing Serena and Tyler off to friends' houses when they'd wanted to stay and say happy birthday to Lydia. Wouldn't Lydia have preferred to see the children rather than have everything arranged just so? Amber tucks her hair behind her ears and pulls a loose thread from her sleeve. "Please say it wasn't about her." "Jeez Louise," says Suzie. "She'll be working late. You know how she loves those dogs." "Why isn't she answering her phone?" says Amber. "I didn't wrap her present. Think she'll mind?" Suzie snaps off the end of the carrot with her front teeth. The teeth are strong and white but irregular; they strike an attitude. "I'm not trying to worry anyone," says Tevis. She puts the crystal back in the pocket of her tailored jacket. She is a Realtor and has to look smart. It's not who she is. It's what she does. As she herself has pointed out many times. But this is a town full of skeptics, people who buy into all that bricks-and-mortar-and-white-goods fandango instead of having their chakras cleansed. "Seriously," says Suzie, "you're not." She loves Tevis. Tevis has no kids so you talked about other stuff. Suzie has four kids and once you'd talked about those and then talked about the other moms' kids, it was time to head home and pack sports gear for the following day. Tevis being childless meant you felt a bit sorry for her, and a bit jealous. Probably the same way she felt about you. She could be dreamy, or she could be intense, or some strange combination of the two. And she was fun to tease. "Remember what happened last time?" says Tevis. "Last time what? You had a premonition? Is it about Lydia or not?" Amber, she is pretty sure, knows Lydia better than the others do. She got friendly with her first, nearly three years ago now. "I don't know," says Tevis. "It's just a bad feeling. I had it this morning, right after I got out of the shower." "I had a bad feeling in the shower this morning," says Suzie. "I felt like I was going to eat a whole box of Pop-Tarts for breakfast." "How late is she anyway? God, an hour and a half." Amber looks wistfully at the silver cake forks fanned out near the center of the table. They were nearly black when she found them in the antiques store over on Fairfax, but have cleaned up beautifully. "And guess what," said Suzie. "I did. The whole freakin' box." Tevis takes off her jacket. "The air always gets like this before a thunderstorm." "What?" says Suzie. "It's a beautiful evening. You're not in Chicago anymore." "I'm just saying," says Tevis. She fixes Suzie a stare. "Come on, Tevis, don't try to creep us out." The cucumber sandwiches are beginning to curl at the edges. It is kind of dumb, Amber knows it, to have English high tea at seven in the evening. More like eight thirty now. "Yeah, let's just hear it, girl, the last time you had a premonition . . ." Suzie begins at her usual rat-a-tat pace, but suddenly tails off. "So you do remember," says Tevis. She turns to Amber. "Please try not to be alarmed. But last time I had a premonition was the day Jolinda's little boy ran out in the street and got hit by the school bus." "And you saw that? You saw that ahead of time?" Tevis hesitates a moment, then scrupulously shakes her head. "No. It was more like a general premonition." "And that was--what?--two years ago? How many you had since then?" Amber, her anxiety rising, glances at the Dundee cake, enthroned on a glass stand as the table's centerpiece. It is mud brown and weighs a ton. Lydia mentioned it one time, a childhood favorite, and Amber found a recipe on the Internet. "None," says Tevis, "until today." "You never get a bad feeling in the mornings?" says Suzie. "Man, I get them, like, every day." Amber gets up and starts washing the three dirty wineglasses. She has to do something and it's all she can think of except, of course, calling Lydia again. But when Lydia strides through the door, that swing in her hips, that giggle in her voice, Amber doesn't want to feel too foolish. "Damn it, I'm calling again," she says, drying her hands. "There's no reason why it should be to do with Lydia," says Tevis, but the more she says it, the more certain she feels that it is. Only a couple of days ago, Lydia came over and asked for the tarot cards, something she had always refused before. Tevis laid the cards out on the mermaid mosaic table but then Rufus wagged his tail and knocked two cards to the floor. Lydia picked them up and said, "Let's not do this," and shuffled all the cards back into the deck. Tevis explained that it wouldn't matter, that to deal the cards again would not diminish their power. "I know," Lydia said, "but I've changed my mind. Rufus changed it for me. He's very wise, you know." She laughed, and though her laugh contained, as usual, a peal of silver bells, it also struck another note. Lydia was intuitive, she knew things, she sensed them, and she had backed away from the cards. "Absolutely no reason," Tevis repeats, and Suzie says, "It's probably nothing at all," which sounds like words of comfort and makes the three of them uneasy that such comfort should be required. Amber tosses her cell phone onto a plate. Lydia's phone has gone to voice mail again and what's the point in leaving yet another message? "Maybe she took Rufus on a long walk, lost track of time, forgot to take her phone." She knows how lame it sounds. "She could've got the days mixed," says Suzie, without conviction. "Suzie, it's her birthday. How could she get the days mixed? Anyway she called this morning and said see you at seven. There's no mix-up, she's just . . . late." Lydia had sounded distracted, it was true. But, thinks Amber, she has frequently seemed distracted lately. "What the . . ." says Suzie. "I told you," says Tevis. "Hail." "What the . . ." says Suzie again, and the rest of her sentence is lost in the din. "Come on," shouts Amber, racing for the front door. "If she arrives right now we'll never hear the bell." They stand outside on the front deck and watch the hail drum off Mrs. Gillolt's roof, snare sideways off the hood of Amber's Highlander, rattle in and out of the aluminum bucket by the garage. The sky has turned an inglorious dirty purple, and the hail falls with utter abandon, bouncing, colliding, rolling, compelling in its unseemliness. It falls and it falls. The hail is not large, only dense, pouring down like white rice from the torn seam above. "Oh my God," screams Amber. "Look at it," Suzie screams back. Tevis walks down the steps and plants herself on the lawn, arms held wide, head tilted back to the sky. "Is she saying a prayer?" yells Suzie, and Amber, despite the tension, or because of it, starts to laugh. She is laughing still when a car pulls off the road; the headlights seem to sweep the hail, lift it in a thick white cloud above the black asphalt driveway, and spray it toward the house. Tevis lets her arms drop and runs toward the car, her Realtor's cream silk blouse sticking to her skinny back. The others run down too. It must be Lydia, although the car is nothing but a dark shape behind the lights. When Esther climbs out of the front seat, clutching a present to her chest, they embrace her in an awkward circle of compensation that does little to conceal their disappointment. Back in the kitchen, Amber sets another place at the table. Esther brushes hail from her shoulders, unpins her bun, and shakes a few hailstones out of her long gray hair. "Forgot I was coming, didn't you?" she says, her tone somewhere between sage and mischievous. "No!" says Amber. "Well, yes." "That's what happens to women," says Esther. "We reach an age where we get forgotten about." She doesn't sound remotely aggrieved. Amber, through her cloud of embarrassment and anxiety, experiences a pang for what lies ahead, fears, in fact, that it has already begun, at her age, a divorcée the rest of her life. She gathers herself to the moment. "The thing is, we've all been a bit worried about Lydia. Has she been working late? She's not answering her phone." "Lydia took the day off," says Esther. "You mean she's not been here?" Nobody answers, as Esther looks from one to the next. "We should drive over to the house," says Suzie. "Wait until the hail stops," says Tevis. "We can't just sit here," says Amber. They sit and look at each other, waiting for someone to take charge. Excerpted from Untold Story by Mónica Ali All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.</anon>
Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
In Ali's (Brick Lane) latest novel, Princess Diana has faked her own death and is living under an assumed name, Lydia, in Kensington, a small American town. She has four stock-character friends and a boyfriend to whom she can't commit, for fear of revealing her secret. Now, a paparazzo may have found her. The novel is narrated from three perspectives: Lydia's, on her life in the suburbs; a series of journal entries by Lawrence, Lydia's private secretary and accomplice, as well as correspondence between Lydia and Lawrence; and by John "Grabber" Grabowski, the paparazzo who made his name taking pictures of Diana. VERDICT Readers who are not already invested in the Princess Diana story will not have much to work with here. The lackluster character development and absence of tension make this a bit of a slog. As a celebrity novel, it is more successful. Fans of Diana may appreciate the bland character as it allows them to flesh out the Princess of Wales with their own ideas.-Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Ali (Brick Lane) tackles a juicy premise: what if Diana hadn't died. Far from a salacious romp, though, this is a (sometimes too) slow character study of a woman in extraordinary circumstances. Here, Diana-err, Lydia-has escaped her life as an ex-princess for a new one in the states. All the real details of her previous life-carefully researched and extrapolated from-are there, with one exception; having survived the car accident, she later fakes her death (by drowning) and finds her way, via Brazil, to America. She ends up, on a darkly humorous whim, in an anonymous everytown called Kensington, where she builds a quiet life with her dog, Rufus, a job at an animal shelter, and a tight group of friends. When a British paparazzo stumbles into her town, though, her new life is threatened. This tense development is almost a subplot, overtaken as it is by Lydia's emotional exploration-how she was nearing the edge before her "death," how unbearable but necessary it was for her to leave her sons, how she has matured and recovered over the years. The result is a very human rendering of a mythical woman who survives a tumultuous youth to find an aggressively calm middle age. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* What if Princess Diana hadn't died tragically in Paris but instead had found a way to escape the unrelenting scrutiny she lived with on a daily basis? That question is the premise of Ali's new novel, which revolves around a fictional Princess of Wales whose life mirrors Diana's. Divorced from the prince, separated from her sons, and hounded by the paparazzi, Ali's princess fakes her own death with the help of her devoted private secretary, who is afflicted with an incurable brain tumor. Reinventing herself as Lydia Snaresbrook, the princess flees England for the U.S., eventually landing in Kensington, North Carolina, where she starts to build a life for herself. Though Lydia can't tell her friends or the man she is falling for the truth about her identity, she is on her way to finding happiness until a figure from her past shows up in Kensington and threatens to unravel the life she has grown to love. As it tackles Lydia's impossible dilemma and the toll fame takes on her, the story builds to a thrilling and rewarding finish. With the recent marriage of Prince William grabbing headlines, Ali's daring and engrossing new novel is bound to garner plenty of attention.--Huntley, Kristin. Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Princess Di is alive and well and living incognito in an ordinary American town in this buzzy fourth novel from the British Ali (In the Kitchen, 2009, etc.).How did she do it? And why? Those are the biggest questions looming over this speculative fiction. Her movement from one life into another was orchestrated by her top aide and only true confidant, Lawrence Standing. He set up a safe house for her in Brazil, where she was spirited after a nocturnal swim from her yacht. Lawrence oversaw her plastic surgery in Rio and the paperwork for her new identity: Lydia Snaresbrook. As for her reasons, she feared "they" wanted her dead; the press was driving her crazy; most of all, her lifestyle was hurting her boys. This portrait of the princess jibes with the common perception. She was a bundle of contradictions: tough yet fragile; nave yet suspicious; narcissistic yet empathetic. To these Lawrence adds one moreleaving her boys was both selfish and "her greatest act of selflessness." Certainly she has been racked by guilt and longing for them in the 10 years since she left. For it's now 2007, and Lydia has found a comfortable niche in neighborly Kensington. She has her own modest home; a congenial job at a canine shelter; a rock-steady boyfriend, Carson; and three super girlfriends. They don't pry; she has a good cover story. Lydia is a tamer, emasculated version of the tempestuous Di. The novel has an awkward structure, but its real failing is that Ali has not drilled down into Lydia's essence. Is she capable of commitment? Unanswered question. By chance, or rather contrivance, there's a newcomer in town, Grabowski, a paparazzo, one of the Brits who chased Diana. Her extraordinary eyes give her away. Instead of a novel of character, we get the cheap thrill of a cat-and-mouse game, as Grabowski senses the scoop of a lifetime.Despite the bold premise, this gifted writer has, uncharacteristically, settled for less.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.