Cover image for The tall pine polka
Title:
The tall pine polka
Author:
Landvik, Lorna, 1954-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
440 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780345433176
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The northwoods town of Tall Pine, Minnesota, is home to a collection of characters only novelist Lorna Landvik could have created. And they all hang out at the Cup O'Delight cafe, where Lee O'Leary serves up good food and heavenly coffee with a lot of heart. The most excitement this quaint, quirky paradise sees is when the locals gather for the inspirational evenings they call the Tall Pine Polka.

But things really start jumping when a Hollywood movie crew rolls into town -- and zooms in on Lee's best friend, Fenny Ness, to star in the romantic comedy they're shooting. It's just the shot in the arm the melancholy young woman needs, until an itinerant musician named Big Bill comes along and shoots her in the heart with Cupid's arrow. The trouble is, Lee's also bewitched by Big Bill ... and the triangle will test her and Fenny's friendship in ways neither could imagine.


Author Notes

Author Lorna Lanvik was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1954. After high school graduation, she and a friend traveled in Europe and settled in Bavaria where they worked as hotel chamber maids and English tutors. After returning to the United States, she briefly attended the University of Minnesota before moving to San Francisco to perform stand-up and improvisational comedy. She moved to Los Angeles, where she did stand-up comedy at the Comedy Store and The Improv as well as worked a variety of temporary jobs including one at the Playboy Mansion and another at Atlantic Records.

She is an actor and playwright who has performed in plays she has written and produced. She has appeared in numerous plays including Bad Seed, Lunatic Cellmates, and Valley of the Dolls. She has written six novels and currently lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daughters.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Off-kilter characters with grit and humor populate this delightfully quirky novel by the author of Patty Jane's House of Curl (1996). A group of regulars meets at the Cup o' Delight Cafeto share music and friendship in gatherings that coalesce into what the participants call the Tall Pine polka, named after their town in Minnesota. They sing and dance, so comfortable with each other they feel free to be themselves. But two events out of the ordinary become catalysts for dramatic change. First, a movie production crew comes to town and casts Fenny, 22, the youngest polka member, in the lead role. And then Big Bill, a traveling musician, arrives in Tall Pine in search of his roots. Lee, the owner of the cafeand the secret for making the world's best coffee, falls for Big Bill, but Bill only has eyes for Fenny, Lee's best friend. Things get progressively more complicated from there on in, but the group's strong bond allows them to evolve with each unexpected yet inevitable event, good or bad, and there are plenty of both. So vivid and lively are Landvik's characters, readers will wish they could jump in the car and go find the Cup o' Delight, settle in at the counter, and join a high-energy jam session. This is another down-home winner for Landvik, one that will interest fans of Fannie Flagg. --Patty Engelmann


Publisher's Weekly Review

Having previously created beguiling characters in Patty Jane's House of Curl and Your Oasis on Flame Lake, Landvik invites readers to belly up to the counter and join the regulars sipping coffee at Cup O'Delight Caf‚ in Tall Pine, Minn. In this swift-moving romp, Lee O'Leary, the Cup O'Delight owner, is a 210-lb., 40-year-old redhead who fetched up in this north woods tourist town three years ago while fleeing her abusive stockbroker husband. Lee's coffee shop is the daily rendezvous for idiosyncratic locals: shoemaker Pete, suffering unrequited love for Lee; Mary Gore, famous for her bad poetry; Slim, the barking 'Nam vet; and lesbian couple Frau Katte and Miss Penk. When Hollywood invades Tall Pine, the eccentric population triples. Location scouts for a grade-B flick, Ike and Inga, find their perfect leading lady in the book's central figure, 22-year-old Fenny Ness. Ever since her adventurous parents died in an accident in Belize, Fenny has run the local bait and craft shops. Fenny is reluctant, but her friends persuade her to take the Hollywood plunge. Lacking guile or malice, plainspoken Fenny transforms the Hollywood types, standing up to a tyrannical director, flooring more than one nasty talk-show host, and making life-long friends of the other actors. Meanwhile, Fenny struggles to win and keep the man she loves: Big Bill, a half-Polynesian, half-Chippewa musician and athlete, who floats into town to reconnect with his Indian heritage and stirs up romantic rivalries between Fenny and Lee. The endless nattering of Landvik's locals (the tale is told mostly in dialogue) doesn't add up to much in terms of character development, but the lengthy novel is good-natured and zooms along, fueled by zany Minnesota energy. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection; 8-city author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

There are four words Fenny Ness wished she had never spoken. These four words were not ones that cause obvious heartbreak like "We must operate immediately" or "I want a divorce," but because they were spoken, they nearly (literally) blew Fenny's chances for a normal life. Four innocent words addressed to a beefy teenager standing behind a counter patterned with smudges: "One Burrito Suprema, please." Of course, nobody knew that Ike and Inga would become one of the top-grossing romantic comedies ever made. A bartender in Boston, after seeing the movie, was inspired to invent the "Ike & Inga Igloo," a blend of gin and shaved ice and peppermint schnapps, and within days the drink was being served in bars and lounges across America. Costumed Ike and Inga parties were held on college campuses and in singles apartment complexes. A production assistant wrote an account of the making of Ike and Inga and was a bestselling author two weeks after the book's publication. Variety called the movie "one of the biggest surprise hits in cinematic history." Harry Freed, the movie's producer, agreed completely with that assessment. His career had been based on pumping out low-budget B movies, and that one should actually become number one at the box office and receive critical praise was a likelihood he'd been too levelheaded to ever consider. Especially considering his nephew had so much to do with it. "Ike and Inga?" Harry had said when his secretary brought him the script. "They did this a couple years ago--it was about that singer who wound up in jail, and his singer wife. The one with the muscles and the good legs." "That was Ike and Tina," said his secretary. "Your nephew wrote this." She pointed to the bottom of the cover page, which read in fancy gold leaf, "Conceived and written by Christian Freed." "That idiot," said Harry as he began kneading his temple with his fingers. Reading one of Christian's scripts was reminiscent of Harry's Golden Glove days in the ring with Hookie Turk: there was no way of escaping without a headache. "It's actually kind of a cute story." Like all good secretaries, she read all of his correspondence before her boss did. "He's really come along since that one about the paid assassin/manicurist." Harry rolled his eyes. "Then I'm presuming it's better than the one about the taxidermist who goes on a stuffing rampage at his high school reunion?" "Much better. Really, Harry, this one's going to surprise you." Harry sighed and sank into the cushions of his cracked leather chair. Drawing his knees to his chest, he wiggled his small feet at his secretary. She smiled at her employer of twenty-eight years, who in this position (one he assumed often) always reminded her of one of her grandchildren. But whereas grandchildren might want to be tickled or have their diapers changed, Harry Freed only wanted to be primed for work. "You can't concentrate if your feet can't breathe," he told his secretary long ago. Other secretaries might rebel against being asked to take off their boss's shoes, but Harry's secretary liked doing things for him. She had, after all, carried a torch for him for years, even though he wasn't interested in lighting it with his own. She gently untied and pulled off her boss's wing tips and placed them in a wildly patterned bread box on top of his desk. Harry firmly believed in "a place for everything and everything in its place"--he simply chose to make use of things that, if used for their original intent, were useless to him. "See," he explained to his secretary on her first day of work, "I get a lot of presents--people want to impress me, be my friend. So I get a god-awful hand-painted bread box from an actress who takes a couple of pop-art classes and suddenly thinks she's Andy Warhol. I'm supposed to put my bagels in that neon mess?" Harry paused, took a long drag of an unfiltered cigarette (he smoked in those days but quit when he started waking up to a cough instead of a clock alarm), and ashed it into a soap dish covered with pink porcelain cupids. Looking up at his new secretary, Harry had laughed at the confusion that lifted the penciled eyebrows on her young, pink face. "Don't look so scared, honey. I've still got all my marbles. All tiger's eyes, too, I'll bet." His secretary tried to smile and wished she had paid more attention to the "Staying Ahead of Your Boss" lecture that was given on Commencement Day at secretarial school. Standing up behind his desk, Harry had spread his arms like a priest blessing the communion altar. "Now, I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings--I'm a nice guy and you'll learn that soon enough--so I don't throw away any presents. Now, it stands to reason that I'll store my shoes in a hand-painted bread box, I'll ash my cigarette in a soap dish, and I'll give panhandlers movie passes instead of spare change. Y'understand?" "Yes, Mr. Freed," lied his secretary. Her head bobbed up and down like a dashboard toy. "Good," Harry had said. "Now go take a good long coffee break while I enjoy a little shut-eye." And Harry's secretary had learned soon, just as he told her, that Harry was a nice guy. When her husband ran off with the girl who steam-pressed suits at the dry cleaner's, Harry's secretary thought she was finally free to love Harry and confessed this to him. Harry wiped away tears that began swimming in his dark brown eyes and took her hands. "Just because I'm here," he said, "don't use me the way I use my bread box. There's got to be a better place for your lovely feelings." Now Harry cleared his throat. "Save your trip to outer space for the weekend, honey." Harry's secretary jumped so that her glasses, dangling on a silver chain around her neck, thwacked against her chest. It wasn't often Harry caught her meandering down Memory Lane. "And pour me a nip, por favor." His secretary opened the cabinet of the old teak grandfather clock and took out a bottle of brandy and a shot glass. She filled the glass and set it down on Harry's desk blotter, waiting for the words he always said. "Now take the bottle, jazz up your coffee with it, and take a good long break." This was a treasured Thursday ritual. Back in her own office, she turned on the coffeemaker, instructed the switchboard to take all calls, put on her stereo headphones and a Nat King Cole album on the turntable. (She was never one to upgrade to tapes or CDs; she found the fuzzy hum of the needle against the record an integral part of her listening pleasure.) An hour later, she had listened to both sides of the album, finished the shawl collar of a vest she was knitting for her son, and had a buzz on that would last the rest of the workday. And Harry, who had finished reading Ike and Inga, sat facing the window, staring out past studio buildings the color of sand, past the line of brown smog smeared along the horizon. He rocked back and forth, unconsciously massaging his bald spot with the pads of his fingers. "Well, well, well," he said aloud. His nephew, whose ambition had always outrun (by a great distance) his talent, had actually written a good script. Oh, sure, there were some lines that creaked like old floorboards, but on the whole, it was good. Harry checked the cover page to make sure it was his nephew's byline and then he called in his secretary to take a memo. Harry Freed has told Fenny this story at least a dozen times. "It's your beginnings," he explained. Although Harry is a worldly man, occasionally he suffers from the delusions of one who has spent his life making movies: that Hollywood, and not the equator, is the center of the earth. "The day I read Christian's script was the day you began your rendezvous with Fate." "Fate had rendezvoused with me before, Harry." "Well, sure," agreed Harry, "but not Hollywood-style." Part One Chapter 1 Two thousand miles from Hollywood, California, Fenny Ness would have preferred any sort of date with Destiny to the one she was on now. She was ice-skating on the frozen surface of Tall Pine Lake with Craig Asper, who, when he wasn't falling, was trying to get Fenny to invest in his motivational tapes business. "I get letters from guys who were on the brink of bankruptcy," he was saying, taking Fenny's arm as he wobbled on the ice. "Knowing that we helped them not only get back on their feet but ignited their earning power is really satisfying--makes you sort of understand how Albert Schweitzer and those other humanitarian guys felt." It had taken Fenny a while to understand that the many stupid things Craig Asper said were not jokes; that he did think his "Strike While It's Hot and Earn!" tapes could perhaps save the world, or at least those interested in lighting a match to their earning power. "Why do you make so many references to fire?" Fenny had asked earlier in the Northlands Inn dining room. This was a young man whose main interest, when she knew him at Bemidji State, had been beer, not blazes. "Because fire is energy," said Craig, gazing into the table's candle flame with what Fenny thought was an interest bordering on pyromania. "Fire is power. The sun is a ball of fire and without the sun we'd die." Fenny waited a moment for further elaboration, but there was none, and she made the first of many surreptitious glances at her wristwatch. Fortunately, she hadn't brought a swimsuit, so she had a good excuse for declining his invitation to take an after-dinner dip in the Jacuzzi and suggested they go ice-skating instead. "You can rent skates from the hotel," she said. "Great," said Craig, with none of his usual salesman's enthusiasm. Right in the middle of his lecture on buying real estate with no money down, Craig took approximately his tenth fall. "Enough of this Hans Brinker shit," he said, rubbing his tailbone. "Let's go back to the lodge and have a drink." "Go ahead," said Fenny. "I'm just going to skate a little longer." Craig Asper shrugged. "However you get your jollies." Fenny watched as he stumbled in his skates up the wooden walkway to the small trailer the hotel had set up as a warming house and returned the wave he gave her just before he opened the door. Then, in the long clean strides she'd been unable to use while holding up the wobbly entrepreneur, she skated around the shoveled rink and then skated around it again, backward. "She's fast," said a little boy, who on double-bladed training skates was making his way around the rink with his mother. He was right; Fenny was fast, and without the burden of Craig Asper on her arm, she felt she could almost fly. The Rainy River cuts an aquatic border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, and situated on the south bank of this river was Tall Pine. It was an aptly named town, one that inspired tourists to remember poems they had memorized in junior high school ("This is the forest primeval ...") and to send postcards with scribbled exclamations: "It's like Hal and I have been set down in the Christmas tree farm of Paul Bunyan!" International Falls, at thirty miles to the east, and Baudette, at forty miles to the west, were the nearest metropolises, and it was there that the citizens of Tall Pine did their bulk supermarket and clothes shopping, where they got their driver's licenses renewed and their backs adjusted. When Sigrid Ness's mother died, she and her husband, Wally, returned to Tall Pine for what they thought would be a two-week stay, long enough to bury Lena Nordstrom and take care of her affairs. The couple hadn't been to their native Tall Pine since their wedding, having spent their entire married life in pursuit of international travel. Sig was boxing up fishing lures in the general store/bait shop that had been in her family for over fifty years when Alma Forslund, a friend of her mother's, had come in and told Sig how happy she was to see Lena's daughter in the shop again and when was the blessed event? "Blessed event?" said Sig, thinking for a moment that the woman was referring to the upcoming close-out sale. Alma patted her own tummy. "It's sort of a sixth sense of mine. I can tell when an egg's incubating--even before the hen knows what hit her." The doctor who had brought Sig into the world confirmed her pregnancy. "I'd say you're about two months along." Sig merely stared at him, as if she had just been told she'd won a lottery that she thought was no longer being held. After sixteen years of a childless marriage, Sigrid and Wally Ness assumed it wasn't in their cards to bear fruit and multiply, and now, having conceived, they realized they were dealing from a whole new deck. "So what about Belize?" Sig asked Wally, referring to the place that was next on their agenda. "What about it?" "Well, I know people have babies all over the world, but I'd like to have mine here." Wally took his wife in his arms. "I am so glad you said that. I want to stay here and have the baby, too. I think it's time we settled down." "You don't have to sound so apologetic," said Sig, laughing. "I think we should settle down, too." Still holding one another, they laughed, in the delighted way of a long-married couple that finds they still can surprise one another. Throughout Sig's pregnancy, she and Wally worked on reconfiguring Nordstrom's General Goods & Bait into two separate stores. They sold Lena's drafty Victorian house in town and moved into the log house that Wally had inherited from his long-dead parents. "We're not settling down permanently," said Sig, who with an upside-down mop dusted years of cobwebs tatted into the corners of the ceilings. "Absolutely not," said Wally. The couple felt a need to reassure one another that they weren't giving up adventure, only embarking on a slightly different kind. "Birds' nest," said Sig resolutely. "But they still fly." Wally nodded. "I don't see any clipped wings around here." Fenny (her given name, Honoria, was dropped when as a toddler she had made her parents laugh and declared, "Me Fenny") was soon to experience her parents' wanderlust when at three weeks of age she was loaded up in the Dodge van and taken on a holiday trip through the Southwest. She spent her first Christmas at a campground outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, being rocked in front of an aspen-wood fire as a big-voiced woman from Tenafly led campers through peppy versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "O Holy Night." Sig and Wally were thrilled at her arrival, but they felt the major concession--staying in Tall Pine and giving their child stability--had been made and that few other concessions in their active lives were necessary. Conversely, Fenny was included in everything. As an infant, strapped onto her mother's back while Sig and Wally cross-country skied deep into the woods, she watched moonlight fall like blueing liquid across the snow; at six months of age, cradled in a life jacket between seats, she took her first boat ride. The Ness family home was two miles outside Tall Pine proper, a log house whose front door faced a lake and whose back door was just yards away from a forest. Fenny thrived there. By age six, she knew how to bait a hook and cast a fishing line, how to tie a slipknot, how to dive off the dock Wally had built. She could tell which trees belonged to the spruce family and which to the pine; she knew how to roll up a sleeping bag into a tight, neat cylinder and how to get her bearings by finding the North Star in a sky overwhelmed with pinpoints of light. In the summer, the Ness family sat fishing until sunset striped the sky with colors, the water gently slapping the sides of the boat as orange darkened into red and red bled into dusk. In the spring, when the last of the ice gave way in big chunks, Fenny stood between her parents, watching vees of geese return from their winter vacations. They roasted chestnuts and popped corn in campfires by Tall Pine Lake, they pitched tents in forest clearings, they carried lanterns through a frosty night to rescue a baby wolf trapped in the burlap sacks that covered the tomato plants. When marooned inside, the Nesses' idea of entertainment was not sitting in front of a television set (which they did not own) but holding contests in birdcalling (Sig always won--she could give a lonely loon hope), knot tying, and target practice. Sig and Wally were not hunters, both disliking the taste of game; target practice for them was more a test of skill and hand-eye coordination. Once Lars Larson, a hunting and fishing guide and their nearest neighbor, stopped by to find Wally, Sig, and Fenny perched in three corners of the living room, casting fishing lines at a Maxwell House coffee can in the middle of the room. "Anything biting?" he asked, scratching the back of his broad, blond head. The Nesses had kept the bait part of Nordstrom's General Goods & Bait and expanded on it, turning it into Wally's Bait & Camp. It smelled of fish and worms, the hardware of new rods and reels, tent canvas and the sweat and funk of canoeists who had stopped by to share their stories after weeks spent exploring Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake or any of the other dozens nearby. In the summer, for fifty cents per fish, Wally cleaned the catches of neophyte fishermen and -women whom he had, hours earlier, outfitted with bait and bobs and advice on where to find biting northern and walleye pike. It was a profitable sideline, and Fenny was often called upon to help; she could scale and gut a five-pound muskie in under two minutes. On the other side of the thick wallboard that separated the two stores was Sig's Place, home to the craftwork of northern artisans. There were crocheted tablecloths; agate earrings; hand-knit sweaters patterned with reindeer and snowflakes; jars of potpourri, their fragrances dark and smelling of lake country; butter-soft moccasins, tanned, beaded, and stitched by Mae Little Feather (the most talented of her contributors but also the crabbiest); framed needlepoint samplers, their stitches immeasurably tiny; wool blankets; and patchwork quilts. The only thing that wobbled the integrity of Sig's Place, as far as its proprietor was concerned, was a table in the northwest corner on which perched handiwork of the church circle women. Sig had been loath to open the shop to amateurs, but she grew tired of the pressure from Benevolent Father's Lutheran Church (known locally as B.F.), of which she was a member. "Surely you're aware of the reservoir of talent in our congregation," said Gloria Murch, wife of the pastor. Sig said no, she wasn't aware of any such reservoir, but when Gloria had an idea, she held on to it like a pit bull and soon Sig was besieged by doodads and gimcracks and ornaments that oozed driblets of hard and opaque Elmer's glue. Serious customers ignored what Sig referred to as the Junk Table, but the churchwomen bought each other's handiwork, so Sig could be certain that even a Nativity scene made of dyed Q-Tips or the bas-relief map of Minnesota constructed of multicolored macaroni shells would eventually sell. Running their own businesses, which they did with Fenny's help (it was she who made the stores' bank deposits, who washed the windows until they shone, who dusted and arranged merchandise, swept and waxed floors; she who double-checked invoices, who knew when to order rods and reels, and how to bargain with Mae Little Feather without losing her shirt), engaged the Nesses, but certainly not like their passion: travel. They indulged this passion domestically (they didn't consider Canada, right across the river, a foreign country) throughout Fenny's childhood, taking yearly trips to far-off states during the winter, and countless weekend camping trips throughout the year. Fenny was a cheerful and able camper until homesickness set in and she'd begin to worry if their backyard bird feeders were empty or if Sig and Wally had remembered to put the canoe in the boathouse. Even as a small child, nothing pleased her more about their travels than the ride home, when she began to recognize the landscape around Tall Pine. "Twees!" she'd cry excitedly, and as she got older that exclamation gave way to ones like, "Oh, it's so beautiful here!" or "I am so happy to be home!" When she got into high school, she began making excuses why she couldn't join them on a canoe or camping trip: "I've got homework" or "It's Homecoming weekend" or "I've got a date." Sig and Wally expected a child of theirs to inherit certain qualities, and she had; she was naturally easygoing like Wally, but when pushed, could be as feisty as her mother. ("If everyone stood up for themselves," Sig counseled Fenny, "bullies would be out of business.") Like both of them, she had a sly sense of humor, was an excellent sportswoman and a lover of the great outdoors (particularly the outdoors surrounding Tall Pine), but as yet, she felt no compulsion to backpack through Europe, to sign on as a cruise ship dishwasher and visit different ports, to ride crowded, tilting buses up into the thin altitudes of the Andes; to do what Sig and Wally had themselves done. This is what baffled them: How had they spawned someone who hadn't inherited their defining trait, their spirit of adventure? How had their daughter become--it was hard for them to even say it--a homebody? They came to the sad conclusion that Fenny didn't answer to the call of the wild, but as Sig once said, "the purr of the tame." They talked over this genetic mystery as seriously as musical parents discuss an offspring's inability to carry a tune, or athletic parents puzzle over their child's inability to carry a ball. "Maybe it's something she'll grow out of," Wally said hopefully. "I don't know," said Sig, shaking her head. "The older she gets, it seems the more she's set in her ways." The Nesses had planned on resuming their journeys abroad after retirement; until then, they were content to live vicariously through their daughter's daring and exotic travels--the only hitch being their daughter didn't seem interested in daring and exotic travels. After high school graduation, Fenny rebelled further against her parents' wishes by enrolling in a state college close enough to commute to. She paid her tuition with a partial scholarship and money she had earned working in the shops; money Sig and Wally had hoped she would spend on airfares and youth hostel bills and tips doled out to rickshaw drivers and camel guides. "It's not that I don't want to see the world," she told her parents. "I just want to see it educated." "That sounds like an excuse to me," said Sig. Wally nodded. "You can read a book anywhere." They supposed they were impressed enough over Fenny's good grades and constant appearance on the dean's list, but still, at the price of shaming her Viking heritage? By the end of Fenny's freshman year, when she still had no plans to drop out and book passage to Jakarta or Marrakech, Sig and Wally decided their own itch for international travel was something they finally had to scratch by themselves. "We're going to Belize," they announced casually one night at dinner. "Belize?" said Fenny. "Where's Belize?" "It's the country we were headed to right before we found out I was pregnant with you," said Sig. "It's in Central America," added Wally. "It faces the Caribbean." "We're trading in our cross-country skis for surfboards." "Our snow shovels for snorkels." "How long will you be gone?" asked Fenny. Sig and Wally looked at one another, laughed, and then said in unison, "Who knows?" The answer, tragically, turned out to be "forever." Fenny received a package from a place called Monkey River Town and the enclosed note read, "These are courage beads. Local legend has it that while wearing them, a person's natural bravery and thirst for adventure comes out. Guess who we thought could use them? Love, Sig and Wally." Fenny laughed as she picked up the string of amber glass beads--she was willing to bet that her parents had created the necklace's "legend"--but no sooner had she opened the clasp than it broke, the beads skittering across the floor like tossed marbles. On the same day that Fenny crawled across the living room on her hands and knees collecting beads, her parents were riding a rented tandem bicycle down a coastal road, enjoying the sun on their backs and a discussion of the man who had let the room next to theirs. They were in their true element--a new place--and their senses reveled in the smell of the sea, the almost surreal tropical vegetation, the raucous cries of jungle birds. "He's either a drug dealer or a spy," said Sig. "Anyone who wears a panama hat that big is hiding something." Wally shook his head. "Have you seen his eyes?" "How can I? His hat covers up half his face!" "Well, take a peek at them sometime. They're the saddest eyes I've ever seen. I'd say the guy's had some bad luck in the love department." "Not like us," said Sig. "No, not like us." Sig leaned back slightly, lips puckered. Wally, seated behind her, leaned forward to meet her kiss, and in their repositioning, the tandem bicycle swerved. It was a swerve that met another swerve, a truck's swerve, caused by its driver, who, while tearing open a snack bag with his teeth, let go of the steering wheel to scoop up the cascade of corn chips that spilled onto his lap and the floor of his cab. His annoyance turned in a flash to terror as he heard a smack against his truck and then felt a bump. He saw an arc in his peripheral eyesight and realized it was a flying body. He scrambled out of the cab of his truck, praying that it had been a dog or a goat he had hit, but then he saw the mangled bicycle mashed against his fender and, knowing that the arm that lay under his front wheel belonged to no bicycle-riding dog or goat, he fell to his knees. The sounds the truck driver made matched those of Fenny when she got a telephone call from the American Consulate telling her Wallace and Sigrid Ness were dead. Lars Larson, who was dumping a load of gravel onto the driveway he had agreed to resurface for Wally, heard Fenny scream. "I can't get that scream out of my head," he told his wife Trude when she found him pacing in the rec room at three o'clock in the morning. "It sounded like the end of the world." It was the end of the world, at least the world as Fenny knew it. The gale force of her parents' deaths knocked her flat, and when she was finally ready to stand up again--to do something as simple as leave the house and go into town--she had the odd sensation of still being flat, of lacking dimension. It was as if her spirit, her joy, her easy laughter--all those buoyant things that had shaped her--had deflated. She was only nineteen years old when she was orphaned, but felt at least fifty years older, and so it seemed only fitting that she should settle into Tall Pine like a retiree, following little superstitions she was convinced helped her get through the day, working odd hours at the shops, and hanging out with people twice and three times her age at a coffee shop counter. Building up speed, Fenny jumped gracefully over the small border of snow, off the shoveled rink, and onto the lake. About two inches of snow covered it, but the blades of her skates cut through it cleanly and she zipped along the lake's edge, was skating fast, one arm behind her back, leaning over like a speed skater. The only sounds to break through the night air were those made by her blades on the ice and her breath: steady, even inhales and exhales. Craig Asper was a guy who turned negatives into positives; if Fenny wanted to stand him up, that was her loss. By the time he had finished his second White Russian and was lecturing a very attractive bar waitress on her need to ignite her earning power, Fenny had skated several miles and was nearly home. Excerpted from The Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik 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.

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