Cover image for All we know of love
All we know of love
Schneider, Katie, 1966-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, [2000]

Physical Description:
279 pages ; 22 cm
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A moving first novel that sets the burgeoning creative and romantic life of a young woman against the backdrop of the art and history of Florence Jo Shepherd grew up in the Pacific Northwest under the loving care of her grandfather, Frank. After spending months nursing him through his final painful illness, Jo receives a glorious vision of the Virgin Mary, who tells her to head to Italy to live out her dream of becoming an artist. In doing so Jo must leave behind her childhood sweetheart, Jack, facing the prospect of losing him forever.         In Florence, Jo's intense artistic visions begin to find fruition, but her magical odyssey is complicated when she meets two extraordinary young American men, Chad and Walter. By day, Jo paints--women in a marketplace, a street musician near the Duomo, the view of the Arno from the Piazzale Michelangelo. By night, she sketches in a tavern, while Chad and Walter vie for her attention and pay for her meals. As the lives of these three friends become more deeply entwined, the revelation of painful secrets threatens to destroy their delicate balance. In one heart-wrenching scene, one of Jo's paintings is badly damaged, and the ensuing heartbreak causes her to flee Stateside. In New York City, and eventually back in the Pacific Northwest, Jo begins to face up to the legacy of her time in Italy, and to her future with or without Jack.         All We Know of Love deftly blends themes of female spirituality, creat- ivity, and romantic awakening. Along the way there is love left behind and love regained; a bloody fight and a ruined painting; miraculous visions and a child lost. Alternately lyrical, engaging, and funny, this is a remarkable achievement by an evocative new voice in women's fiction.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A first novel of extraordinary assurance and ineffable tenderness. Joanna Shepherd is rooted in the Pacific Northwest, where her mother died, where her grandfather raised her, where Rene and Chuck and Jack, her friends from childhood, live their lives. But after she nurses her grandfather through his last illness, she takes her college money and goes to Florence, where she hopes to match the visions in her head with the art she needs to make. She meets Walter and Chad there: Walter who has money and likes to spend it, Chad who argues politics and studies occasionally. The story loops from the present, when Jo goes back to her grandfather's land, and her stay in Italy, her relationships with the absent Jack, the comforting Chuck and Rene, and the dance of eroticism and envy that she does with Walter and Chad. There's an anchor of real faith, a whisper of visions, in Jo's tale. She tells voluptuous truths about the making of art, the inarticulateness of desire, and the way love heals across space and time. Beautifully constructed and written. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Publisher's Weekly Review

Told with a watery melancholy brightened by flickers of wry humor, this debut novel sends 20-year-old Joanna Shepherd to Florence on behalf of the Virgin Mary. After Joanna's beloved grandfather, FrankÄher last living relative, who raised her from the age of fourÄdies of cancer on their eastern Washington farm, a vision of Mary appears to Joanna in the kitchen, instructing her amid "an overpowering scent of lilacs... and white light" to "go to Europe and become a painter." Joanna plans her departure quickly, her resolve swayed only by a bittersweet farewell to Jack Pearce, a childhood friend, which sparks "years of fantasies." Resolutely, she journeys to Italy, rents a room from an elderly widow, Lena Cabrini, and begins to absorb the magnificent city and its art. Cutting across the Piazza della Repubblica one afternoon, Joanna is drawn by a cellist whose music "[makes her] want to paint." The captivating musician, Chad Lesa, turns out to be an American studying at the political science institute, and he introduces her to Walter Haffner, a wealthy student who takes a financial interest in Joanna's artwork. They all form an instant connection, but love complicates the trio's dynamics, as do Joanna's abiding feelings for Jack. Schneider's portrait of an artist is convincing, but the novel's real power is in its landscapes, which are rendered so pungently that they become characters in their own right: the rural Pacific Northwest, Florence's busy streets and squares, the Sistine Chapel on a day trip to Rome. Less believable is the romantic fallout from Italy, which steers Joanna to a stereotypical stint as an artist-bohemian in New York. Though spirituality reenters via a series of paintings, the charming incongruity of the Virgin makes no further appearances. A quicksilver pace precludes development of any character other than Joanna and muddles tricky shifts between time frames. Like Joanna's visitation, the story is a jumble of sensory images, sparked by an eloquent vision without a clear path of resolution. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Schneider's debut novel, orphaned Jo Shepherd nurses her beloved grandfather Frank through his last illness. Bereft after his death, Jo experiences a vision of the Virgin Mary, who tells her to pursue her dream of becoming an artist in Italy. The action switches effortlessly from Jo's home in the Pacific Northwest to Florence, Rome, and New York and then back again, as Jo relives the odyssey that helped her grow up. Deeply involved with two young men to whom she attaches herself during her travels, she compares and contrasts them to Jack, her best friend and boyfriend, who has been in her life forever. While she reaches personal milestones and works through her grief, secrets emerge within and around Jo, who continues to search for love, peace, and meaning in her life. Well recommended.--Ellen R. Cohen, Rockville, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ONE My grandfather spent his life mending fences. So much of his life that it seemed like a religion. Thou shalt not let thy barbed wire sag. On our farm, Frank single-handedly built a straight line of barbed wire that stretched for acres. He attacked repetitive work like prayer; for him, it was a kind of Zen meditation, a fingering of rosary beads. Dig holes, drive posts, splice wire. Dig holes, drive posts, splice wire. Frank's sharp and shining metal fences were not about keeping anyone out or, for that matter, keeping anything in. They marked his territory, squarely for all to see. Frank knew every inch of ground on his property--he'd walked and worked and fenced it all, from the time he was a boy shooting groundhogs with his .22 right up to the day he became housebound with bone cancer. He might've said it was his destiny, that farmland, those dry pine woods that came to him through his grandfather. The straighter the fence, the clearer the connection to the past, the better the possibility for the future. That is one of the things I always understood about my grandfather, his curious attachment to fences, and I guess I have always had it too. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here in the high desert of eastern Washington, dressed in heavy jeans and steel-toed boots on a ninety-degree day, working on the line. I wouldn't be on the farm at all, much less out in the front pasture. Frank died six years ago, so there is no one here to make me do it. There is no one back at the house to ask me how it went. The ground underneath my feet bakes in the yellow gold sun. I wear a baseball hat to keep the light out of my eyes, leather gloves to keep the barbed wire from catching my skin. Sweat trickles down my back, collects in the brim of my hat. Dust, from the field and the gravel on the county road, sticks to the damp hairs on my forearms. The fence line, standing straight and proud, shimmers in waves of heat that steal the horizon. It hurts my eyes to look. The earth pulses with the lazy singsong saw of crickets. In this part of the country, where the hills roll golden gray into one another for miles at a time, the sky is unbelievably big. There are no buildings to blot it out, to get in the way of the clouds that gather and part on the whim of a powerful wind. From this spot, I can see the curve of the world. I approach my task methodically. Where the fence has slackened under seasons of hard frost and heavy snows, quick thaws and rain, I tighten new stretches of wire around the metal posts. I use a special tool, made just for fencing, a hammer and pliers and wire cutters all in one. It is solid, unambiguous, and fits in the palm of my leather-bound hand. There is a pleasure in that, uncomplicated and real. My name is Joanna, after John the Evangelist. I am finally home and it has been a long time since I've worked like this, wrestling with spools of wire. I admit that it is no coincidence that I chose to tackle this job first. It could've easily been the roof on the house, which has sprung a leak into the living room, or the linoleum that's pulling free in the bathroom. But I chose the fence line because I want to bake. I want to sweat. Effort will purify me. In the early part of this century, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. The pasture where they saw her is now a plaza in which tourists congregate and nuns pass back and forth on their knees in supplication. A small chapel stands over the actual site of the apparition, the bush that Mary touched with the tips of her toes. Iron candle racks stand on one side of that plaza. People bring tapers the size of their prayers, some large, some small, some the actual shape of their affliction. Shopkeepers sell candles in the village, pieces of wax shaped like arms and legs, or the heads of babies, along with postcards and rosaries and T-shirts, shot glasses and sunglasses adorned with the image of the Madonna. At night, the plaza is quiet. For all the tour buses and motels, Fatima remains a rural place. Civilization is just a veneer, a patina that fades with the dusk. But once all is dark and still, an attentive soul hears what has been missed during the day, among the crush of people and the fervent prayers--the whisper of the divine, the voice of God, carried on the flames of two hundred burning candles. I stand at my kitchen sink in eastern Washington, washing my hands after a day out on the line. The view is unspectacular: a bit of the front pasture, a corner of the barn, the straight line of the fence, the blur of trees that marks the creek. A strange thought occurs to me: I imagine a sea of people out there, a priest inside here by my side. To help the faithful on crutches and in wheelchairs, the field is paved with concrete. Pilgrims carry plaster images, sold in town. They pray the rosary and ask for me, or for a drink of water from my tap. At night, volunteers fill glass bottles with water from our well. I smile at the idea of all this happening here. But if I tell about what I have seen in this kitchen, it could. When I was five, my mother Susie--who had been raising me in a trailer park on the outskirts of Spokane--got drunk and drove her Dodge Dart into a tree. From there, the car ricocheted into the river, where she drowned. It all happened quickly, the accident and the retrieval of her body. The rescue crew, who thought she might still be alive, pulled her out of the crumpled wreck exactly one hour before the baby-sitter managed to get me to bed. So my grandfather was the one who raised me. Frank spanked me when I wandered out of the house and into the cow pasture. He held me on his lap and rubbed my feet when they were cold. He taught me how to read. And we lived a kind of normal life until I turned eighteen. Frank was diagnosed with cancer the summer before I was due to go to college. Despite his illness, he urged me to stick to our plans. He even took me to the bank, had me sign papers to open a new account, deposited the tuition, plus a living allowance, directly into it. "They tell me I have a long time left," he said. They did tell him that, but I also saw the expressions on their faces when they talked to him, the patronizing way they laughed at his jokes. For doctors in a hospital, chatting with a seventy-year-old man with tubes in his arms and a cut in his scrotum where his testicles used to be, three years might have seemed like a long time. But when they were talking about the only father I had ever known, it didn't seem that way to me. I may have been young, but I wasn't stupid. At eight in the morning, Chuck Riley pulls into my driveway. He is driving a tow truck with his name painted on the side. Last I heard, Chuck had bought the garage over on Main. He'd also married Rene, the girl he had dated in high school. I'm not sure how he knows I'm here, but Bright River is like that, a small town where good news circulates quickly and bad news travels even faster. And secrets, in order to be kept, have to be buried so deeply that they may rot before they're uncovered. It is comforting to see him, a heavyset man in a truck with stubble on his cheeks and a soiled baseball cap on his head. If it would not have scandalized him, I might've walked straight up to the truck, reached my arm around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. As it is, I settle for leaning on the cab, and tap once on the back of his hand with my index finger. Chuck grins. "Hey," he says, as if I had seen him yesterday, not six years ago at the occasion of Frank's funeral. He has gained weight since high school. I halfway wonder whether, under that cap, he is bald. "Hey yourself." "I bring messages from the outside world." Chuck's voice sounds green to me, as if the water in it reaches into the dry parts of my soul, soaking them with life. I take a deep breath and my chest expands. The air smells sweet. "I'd offer you coffee, but I haven't got any." "That brings me directly to point number one. Rene has packed two bags of groceries for you. There is fried chicken in one of the bags and it needs to go into the refrigerator." Before I can so much as nod, Chuck moves on. "Second, Mrs. Stanley at the library wants you to call her." I do not care about Mrs. Stanley. I do not care about much of anything, except for the fact that Chuck still exists, that the farm and the pastures have survived just fine, that there is a corner of the universe that seems to belong to me. "She says to tell you that it has something to do with Hazel Potts." The name seems vaguely familiar, like the smell of a flower that used to grow in someone else's backyard. But I am more preoccupied with the beauty of my own trees, a line of poplars my great-grandfather planted as a break against the fierce wind. They stand straight and silver-green against a cloudless sky. "Third, I have come to look at the truck to make sure it runs because if it doesn't, then you are stuck and you will starve to death." The truck is Frank's truck, a 1954 International, gun-metal gray. It has no seats, only pine boards covered with sofa cushions. There is still half a roll of his peppermint Lifesavers in the glove compartment. "It worked yesterday." "Doesn't mean it'll work tomorrow. Get me the key?" "Sure." He pauses. "Have you talked to Jack yet?" He means Jack Pearce, his best friend, my best friend from a long time ago. He lives in Seattle now, climbs Mount Rainier for a living and sells equipment to people who want to follow him. Chuck and Rene have been trying to fix us up since we were twelve years old. "Jesus. I just got here day before yesterday." "You didn't tell him you were coming home, did you?" I walk toward the back to get the groceries. That way, he can't see the shaking of my hands. "What makes you think that?" "The fact that he tried to call your number in New York and then called us when it was disconnected." "Well." I set one bag by a tire, hold the other in my arms. Chuck looks at me. I stare back. I know him well enough to be sure that he doesn't have the patience I do. Finally, Chuck shrugs. "You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?" "If it makes you feel any better, I'm not telling anybody else either." I head back up on the porch with the bag full of food. "I'll make you some coffee, though, if Rene put any in here." "Of course she did." And like a good parent, he can't help himself from finishing with one last protective question. "Are you sure you're going to be okay here by yourself?" He knows I am without family. He knows, too, that my economic health is always in question. I am an artist, both by profession and by temperament. I am attracted to color and shape, often to the exclusion of practical matters. For Chuck, the artwork I create is akin to collecting cats, the hobby of the perpetually lonely, the spinsters and hermits of the world. He cares for me, but wonders whether I am slightly strange. I can't say that I blame him. Two and a half years after high school graduation, after everyone my age had escaped from our small town, I woke Frank at midnight so he could take his pills. We had a routine, a series of moves perfected by practice and necessity. I pulled the heavy blankets off his body, then held out a hand. He would grip it tightly, then use the leverage to maneuver himself around, legs off the edge of the bed, his head running crossways. Then I would help him sit up. He had to do as much by himself as he could, otherwise I might have hurt him. Once he was in position, I wrapped a quilt around his skeletal feet. Then I knelt there, on the floor, and handed him pills, one by one. Some days, Frank offered to go into a nursing home. He thought he meant it. I knew he didn't. When the pain became too much for him to fall asleep, I read descriptions from the Territorial Seed catalog, as if we would have another garden, as if he would be alive another season. No one in a managed-care environment would have listed the merits of pole beans, conjured up the illusion of pink and purple sweet peas. Frank had not left me in an orphanage. I refused to put him in a home. Still, one night in particular, he swallowed with such deliberation that it made me scared for him, scared for me. What would I do when his throat closed down completely, when even the slick gelatin capsules lodged there to choke him? It was then that it struck me, how tired I was, tired of getting up at midnight and again at six, tired of counting out meds into plastic pill boxes with seven compartments, one for every day of the week. I was tired of buying eggs that Frank was supposed to eat, but couldn't get down. I was tired of running into Mrs. Sherman from down the road, who wanted a blow-by-blow account of every doctor's visit, each blood transfusion. I was tired of the town's sympathy, I was tired of the town's disdain, the men down at the diner who had never quite forgiven my mother for flashing her bare breasts at the drive-in in Spokane, showing it all, but not to them. Frank rarely spoke at night, except that particular night he did, as if he sensed how much I needed to hear his voice, to hear someone's voice, to pull me back from the black edge of exhaustion. "Thank you," he whispered, with the terrible graciousness of a man who was dying. "Thank you for doing this for me." From the Trade Paperback edition. Excerpted from All We Know of Love by Katie Schneider 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.