Cover image for Quickening
Brown, Laura Catherine.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2000]

Physical Description:
318 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



Our lives all contain growth spurts--physical ones, most obviously, but intellectual and emotional ones as well. This acutely powerful debut novel focuses on just such a time in the life of a nineteen-year-old girl. Mandy Boyle is leaving home for the first time to begin college, full of ambition and anticipation, more than ready to sever ties with her blue-collar family and their backwater town in upstate New York. Over the next six months, Mandy's life is transformed, but hardly in the way she'd anticipated. Her father's sudden death acts as a disruptive catalyst on her own life, and overnight, it seems, her childhood ends. Mandy drops out of college, moves to New York City with a man she hardly knows, goes to work, and gets herself caught in an agonizing situation that she didn't choose but is entrapped by nonetheless. The stage in a pregnancy when a fetus first shows signs of having a life of its own is known as the "quickening"--a milestone of development as important and dramatic as when a young person leaves home for the first time. The story of Mandy's quickening--her emotionally wrenching growth spurt--is an affecting, engrossing read, about real people making real choices, reacting to the unexpected turns a life can take. Brown's writing evokes comparisons to that of pragmatic, perceptive novelists like Wally Lamb, Elizabeth Berg, and Mona Simpson as she describes a young woman's growing, acting, and choosing, for the first time, a life for herself.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Two new novels, one from a seasoned veteran, one from a newcomer, take on the subject of a woman finding herself. At the center of Berg's eighth novel is Samantha Morrow, a woman who knows her marriage is far from perfect and feels helpless as she watches it fall apart in front of her. When her husband, David, walks out on her, it seems as though the rest of her world is falling apart as well. Her eleven-year-old son, Travis, is sullen and withdrawn; her mother keeps trying to set her up on dates; and she has to find a way to keep her house. Soon she is advertising for roommates and, at the advice of a new friend, King, taking on temporary jobs. As Sam begins to take charge of her own life, she gains a new confidence in herself. There's love in Sam's future but not until she finds out who she is on her own. Sam is an engaging character, and so are the rest of the supporting cast, making this an enjoyable, uplifting read. Brown's first novel revolves around Mandy Boyle, a girl who is finally about to escape the small town she's lived in all her life. She's headed for a new, exciting world of possibilities: college. At first, it's everything Mandy imagined it would be: new friends, stimulating classes, and a chance to reinvent herself. But when her father dies suddenly, her new happiness begins to fall apart. Her sickly, clingy mother wants her to come home, but Mandy resists, instead returning to college only to find herself spiraling downward into depression, missing classes, and alienating her friends. When she goes to spend the weekend with her older boyfriend, Booner, she simply doesn't go back to school. She falls into a routine and is able to hide away for a while, until events call for her to make the decisions about her future that she's been avoiding. Mandy's coming of age, or "quickening," comes slowly, but surely. --Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

Brown's surefooted debut novel takes its title from the term used to describe the time when a fetus's movement distinguishes it as having a separate life of its own. In 1985, in rundown upstate Ransomeville, N.Y., Miranda "Mandy" Boyle is preparing to depart for college. Finally, she will be able to escape from her hypochondriacal mother, who crushes Mandy under the weight of her obsessive scrutiny. Once at Albany State, Mandy's dreams of privacy and the opportunity to reinvent herself are realized, at least in part. But tragedy strikes when Mandy's father's dies. An enormously obese barroom philosopher whom she adores, he had been her intellectual mentor, and Mandy thinks that she has been bereft of the wrong parent. Feeling abandoned and helpless, she resists her nagging mother's demands to come home and her roommate's pleas that she get counseling. Instead, she throws herself into the arms of "the one person I didn't need forgiveness from," another fugitive from Ransomeville, a drainage ditch cleaner named Booner who convinces her to move into his filthy apartment in New York City. In addition to an office job, Mandy signs up for a photography class, using her father's old 35-millimeter camera and learning to see her world in new ways. But an unwanted pregnancy seems to presage a future with Booner that for the first time she has the insight and courage to resist. With the nearly Sisyphean task of overcoming her dismal past, Mandy is a heroine worth rooting for. When she recognizes the power of choice in determining her own course in life, most readers will cheer, even if the path she ultimately chooses would not be acceptable to everyone. 4-city author tour, with Elizabeth Berg (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Going away to college usually brings a mix of hope and fear. For Miranda (Mandy) Boyle, the emotions are more complicated. First, she is confronted with last-minute guilt brought on by the real and imagined illnesses of her mother. Then, when her father stops off at his favorite bar on their way to the college, she feels the anxieties of being a scholarship student who is out of place on a campus of worldly students. Despite this uneasy beginning, Mandy begins to define a new place for herselfDuntil her father's death shatters her world. Numbed by her grief and her anger at her mother, Mandy tumbles into a love affair that can only provide a temporary cushion. Reminiscent of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone (LJ 5/1/92), Brown's novel realistically captures the tension between family myths and realities and sympathetically renders the coming-of-age experience of learning what to let go of and what to keep. Recommended for fiction collections.DJan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-In this coming-of-age novel, 19-year-old Mandy takes charge of her life. Her father is an unsuccessful man and a poor provider, but he is supportive and devoted to his only daughter. Her mother's ill health is real, but she resists all attempts to improve it. The woman is a nag and a constant drain on her daughter. Arriving at college with her father, Mandy perceives anew his awkward peculiarities and how different he is from the other parents. However, her roommate proves to be just what Mandy needs, offering her congenial encouragement. Her father's sudden death and her mother's demands precipitate a departure from school, and the deadliness of her home situation propels her into a romance with an amiably appreciative loser. She departs with him for New York City, where she becomes aware of the possibility of a better life and a career in photography, and recognizes the limitations of both the young man she is living with and her mother. Thus, she begins to assume self-responsibility. This realization that she can control her future should strike a chord in many young people.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



IMPULSE The morning I was leaving for college, Mom fainted. She had been playing solitaire at the kitchen table and had stood up too fast. I was washing the car with Dad, who'd gone inside for matches, then came back out and said, "She's down." I dropped the hose. Water pooled in the crevices where weeds grew, ran down the driveway and out into the street. "Did you call Dr. Wykoff ?" I followed Dad into the kitchen. "Now, how'm I going to do that, Mandy?" Of course. The phone had been cut off. We hadn't paid the bill. The cards were scattered over the table. Mom lay on the kitchen floor, her pilly pink robe half buttoned and wrinkled around her fleshy splayed legs, slippers still on her feet. Her blue eyes bulged and blinked. "It took you long enough," she said as we bent over to help. She twisted my forearms in a vise grip while Dad, wheezing, cigarette hanging from between his clenched lips, hoisted her up from behind. "Be careful, for God's sake," she said. "You know how easily I bruise." "Can you make it to the car?" he asked. "We'll drive you to Ransomville General." "I'm not going to the hospital looking like this! It's just a meegrain. The dizziness will pass. Help me to bed." "They're called migraines, Mom." I took one side and Dad took the other. "Would you listen to smarty-pants!" Mom was short but wide, and solid, still a dead weight after her faint. Her robe smelled of trapped sweat. "Are you sure you don't want to go to the hospital?" I asked. "Didn't I just say no? Don't treat me like I'm stupid, Miranda. I had the brains for college, too, you know--" I should have guessed it was about college. The three of us stumbled through the kitchen door, down the little hall, into the bedroom. The bed springs squeaked and squealed as Mom settled in. "Oh dear," she muttered. "I won't be able to drive with you to your college." "Gee, what a surprise. But I'm still going." All through high school, I had worked toward college. I had been in the honor society, had gotten a partial scholarship, a federal grant, a student loan, and a work-study grant. This moment of leaving had been the point whenever I thought, What's the point? "And you can't stop me." I walked out as Dad was turning on the electric space heater and the humidifier, pulling the curtains shut. "Did I say anything? What's the matter with her!" Mom shouted. "Bring me my pills, Miranda Jane!" She hadn't left the county in years. It was predictable. Why did it upset me? I didn't even want her to go. My heart banged out of control against my rib cage, in panic and hope that Mom would just disappear, even if it meant her dying. I took the flat plastic box out of the refrigerator and brought it to her. It was separated into compartments designating times of the day and days of the week, the measure of Mom's life. For her migraines, she took Fiorinal or Naprosyn, depending on the nature of her pain. For the lupus, she took Prednisone twice a day. For her postpartum depression, she had been on Elavil for eighteen years. Halcion to fall asleep. Dexamethasone for her asthma. Premarin since the hysterectomy. And Xanax for the panic attacks. When I was little, we did drills where she pretended some health crisis and I rushed to the refrigerator to give her a pill. "No!" she would scream. "I'm a dead woman. You've just given me the wrong medication!" I had since resolved never to take pills, not even aspirin. "Do me a favor. Tell your father to shave before he goes. He looks like a bum." Her round face was as pale as her worn pillowcase. I handed her a Naprosyn and a small glass of water. "Be a daughter to me, please." She pointed to the chair by her bedside table. The humidifier blew steam on the wallpaper, which bubbled and buckled in the damp corner. The room stank of camphor, menthol, and bad breath. I wanted a cigarette. How had Dad slipped out of the room so quick? "I have to finish washing the car," I said. "Your father said he would finish." "No, really, I. . ." I edged toward the door. "Frank!" Mom bellowed. "Tell Miranda you'll finish the car." I heard the back door slam. "He said he would finish," she insisted. I sat down. Her bedside table smelled charred and musty. She had bought it years ago at a fire sale. Cluttered on its surface were a bell, a box of tissues, a thermometer, Vaseline, and a battery-powered blood pressure machine. The place of honor was held by a framed picture of Mom's mother, sitting on the porch, squinting and mean. Dad had taken it. Every night before she went to sleep, Mom kissed this picture. Or so she claimed. "You're all packed," she said. "You've got your clothes." How long was she going to keep me here? "Yes. I've got my clothes." We had gone over them last week, and all the dresses Mom had sewn for herself years ago were mine now, for college. All the little replicas of those dresses, also sewn by her but worn by me until I was twelve or so, were packed in cardboard boxes and piled in the basement. In my bag was the floral-patterned skirt with the ruffle at the bottom and buttons running all the way up. I managed to button it only by holding my breath. It had a blouse with bell sleeves that matched. There was a green dress with a princess collar that choked and a too-tight skirt with a houndstooth-check pattern. Mom and I just weren't shaped the same. I was taller, rounder, bigger. Mom called me chunky. She had said, "We can let out the waist in that one." But she hadn't sewn in ages, and I didn't want to be the reason for her starting again. I wasn't going to wear her dresses anyway. I had jeans, T-shirts, normal things. "It's okay, Mom. I like it this way." I had minced after her in a skirt so tight that I couldn't take a normal step. "I'm sure that sewing machine is somewhere around here." She had opened closets, peeked along shelves, pulled open dresser drawers, wandered out to the kitchen, a wake of hanging doors behind her. But she didn't think of the basement, and I was careful not to suggest it. "Yes," I repeated. "I've got my clothes." I folded my hands in my lap. My fingertips were raw, chapped, my nails bitten to the quick. Big hands. Ugly hands. "I remember you as a little girl, picking daisies out in the backyard in your sunsuit. You made a daisy chain for me. You were such a precious thing. Now you're going to college!" Mom inhaled sharply, exhaling a sob. "Don't cry, Mom. Please." Her sobs always forced me open. I fought it. No. I didn't remember any daisy chains. No, I wasn't going to cry. But the tears welled up and I bent my head to wipe them away, imagining a child in a sundress picking daisies for a healthy, vibrant mother who laughed a musical laugh. It was only a fantasy. I was surprised she had declined Dad's offer to drive her to the hospital, her second home. She seemed happier in a hospital bed, attached to intravenous devices, her face flushed and cheerful against a clean white pillow. "I got 'em stumped," she would say. She had actually been written up in a textbook called Autoimmune Disease: Symptoms and Pathology. Her case appeared in a section on the difficulty of diagnoses and the flare-up remission pattern of symptoms. Her name wasn't mentioned. She was the thirty-seven-year-old female patient of Bernard Wykoff, M.D. It was back in 1975, ten years ago, and she still kept the book under her bed. "You can bring me my jewelry box," she said. I got up, sniffing down my tears, and walked around the bed to the dresser. There were weeping willows trailing sun-dappled leaves by a brook on the ceramic lid of Mom's jewelry box. She thought she was giving me a treat by going through her jewelry, but I was too old. I felt another sob coming. "I don't have time for this, Mom." "Just open it. Pull out the top bit. Ow! This pain is like trolls throwing stones in my head. I should be used to it, God knows. The only meegrain-free period in my life was when I was pregnant with you." She was stroking her stomach, rustling the housedress she wore beneath her robe. I pulled out the top container of the jewelry box, where she kept her earrings, and squashed inside was a roll of bills. "That's for you." Mom said from her bed. "For college. For the niceties." The bills were greasy, soft from handling. "I've been saving it, and you're going to need some cash. And . ."  She shut her eyes. "Don't tell your father." The scent of calamine lotion wafted from her skin as I leaned in to kiss her forehead, but she tilted her face back, her mouth pink with the Pepto-Bismol she took to counteract the nausea from the painkillers, and our lips mashed moistly, hers soft and open and mine clenched shut. Excerpted from Quickening: A Novel by Laura Catherine Brown 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.