“This sublimely written novel takes on large issues such as illness, race, family relations, and the varieties of human love. Honesty and compassion inform every page, and there are passages so musical and full of grace they read like hymns. Reading groups should rejoice at this book.”
Sigrid Nunez, author of The Last of Her Kind
“A sustained tenderness and rare emotional sympathy for all her characters infuse Varley O’Connor’s latest novel, her best. The Cure is fresh and engaging from author’s commanding literary skill, her imaginative control of the historic details, and her marvelous feeling for the fragility of family dynamics.”
Phillip Lopate, author of Waterfront
“In this poignant and well-told novel, Varley O’Connor inhabits the fragile lives that unravel in the face of illness and disease. But, as with all wonderful writers, this is just the beginning for this tale ripples into one of race and class. Part period piece, part family saga, The Cure is a particularly American story and an achingly beautiful one at that.”
Mary Morris, author of The River Queen
“Varley O’Connor’s The Cure is a moving, beautifully written, character-driven novel about a compelling couple and their children living in rural New Jersey in the thirties. The book captures the dangerous intersection between private life and the forces of history — the crises of the post-depression years, the war, polio epidemics, racial prejudice — and gives the reader that rare pleasure of inhabiting another family life that feels at once entirely familiar and new.”
Susan Richards Shreve, author of A Student of Living Things and Warm Springs
As America emerges from the Depression, the Hatherfords build a comfortable life just outside of New York City, in rural Bergen County, New Jersey. They are a glamorous couple: Vern is the charismatic owner of a successful Ford dealership, and his flamboyant wife Maeve is beautiful even in middle age. When their three-year-old son Scott falls prey to polio, and later, another son must go to war, their marriage slowly implodes. In the midst of it all, twelve-year-old Patsy steals swallows of whiskey and tries to make sense of the world around her, which includes an unusual intimacy between her brother Scott, and Julian, a young African American boy who lives among them.
A beautifully written family saga about race, war, childhood illness, and romantic desire, The Cure has at its heart wounding and the struggle for hope.
Excerpt from The Cure
When he learned he was leaving the school and Reverend Miles he was ready. By then he knew he was part of the Talented Tenth and that his was a Rising Race. It was time to get out of his protected environment, and he looked forward to being with his mother again.
To his dismay, they did not return to Hoboken, as his mother had always said they would. They went to Ridgewood, where they were servants, but in almost a castle, and there was Walter—he was no Reverend Miles. Julian liked the Hatherford children, he liked the house he shared with his mother and his new school. One hot day a year after he’d come to Ridgewood he went out with Mrs. Hatherford to help with shopping. They left his own mother taking care of Scott, who was recovering from an operation. Finished—they bought supplies and presents for Scott—they got back in the car, but rather than going directly to Ridgewood they stopped at Bergen Pines, in Oradel.
“I want to visit the children,” she said. “I have so much to be grateful for. Scott went to Bergen Pines when he first got sick.”
They went down a bleached empty hallway, and then up a ramp that led to a narrow dead end and a large window.
“This is the men and boys’ polio ward,” Mrs. Hatherford said. “Scott had a private room on the other side. You stay here. It isn’t safe,” and she started down some short stairs.
“What about you?” he called. “I’ll be fine,” she said. She was gone, he felt weak and shaky, afraid of the flickers behind the glass, the whiteness, the sea of beds, and a sound like bellows, and crying. Was he supposed to be here? Why did she leave? Why had she taken him here?
The people down there were white—he realized that he was raised up, observing them from the upper half of the room so he felt less exposed. White men and teenagers, babies and kids, women in white gowns and masks feeding heads poking out from what looked like submarines—iron lungs. He’d seen a picture of one. There was a row of them down there, and they looked especially like submarines because each of them had a little American flag stuck on top like the ones people waved on the Fourth of July. It was the sixth of July, somebody must have brought flags for the kids. Which one was crying? He couldn’t tell. Everybody looked hot, with sheets kicked back and the babies only in diapers and slings and casts and splints and things strapped to their chests, and there were two beds that rocked back and forth, and stretchers up against walls. More women came in wearing gowns and masks, one Mrs. Hatherford, he identified her by her slow swaying walk. God! One kid hung from the ceiling, like a piece of meat in a net.
And then he saw him, a little skinny guy of about three who writhed in his bed, his small mouth an O, his head in a sling, his chest strapped down by a strip of cloth tied to the sides of the bed, and on both of his arms and legs splint-braces of canvas and straps and silver buckles. He writhed, Julian had never seen a more suffering thing. O, O, Julian watched him, could not take his eyes from him.
“Julian.” He didn’t know how long had passed.
The boy was a hot thing burned into Julian’s mind, and the O of the sufferer’s mouth cried silently outside the car, like Julian’s window in the car was the viewing glass and the boy was out there, expanded, spread, burned over everything.
It was Julian’s turn to tend Scott. The curtains were closed and Scott was asleep. He loosened the sheets around Scott to let in some air. He moistened a cloth and dampened Scott’s forehead, put his hands in the basin of water and softly ran his wet fingers through Scott’s hair. Scott stirred, but didn’t wake up. Julian sat in the chair. He had missed Scott while Scott was away for the operation, but he had also had more time for himself, to read and to dream his own dreams that had nothing to do with Scott and the Hatherfords. But something was different today in the room, and better. It was different and also the same as what he had felt for Reverend Miles.