The Corner Booth Chronicles: A Novel by Mimi TheboThe Corner Booth Chronicles: A Novel by Mimi Thebo

The Corner Booth Chronicles: A Novel

byMimi Thebo

Paperback | August 18, 2009

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As summer descends on Eudora, tempers rise with the scorching sun. The romance of Janey Lane and Mark Ramirez is a perfect example of how the town has resolved its racial tensions, but misunderstandings (compounded by a late-night discovery of beautiful Kylie Requena in Mark’s living room) lead Janey and Mark to call it off. And theirs is not the only split. Patti and Phil Walker, with three mischievous boys and another baby on the way, have not been seen together in weeks. Now Phil has moved in with Chuck from the Beer and Bowl, and the two seem to be plotting something with retiring wheat farmer Jim Evans. It’s suspected that Jim Flory (the town’s confirmed bachelor) might be in on it, but nobody’s sure what “it” might be.

The over-the-hedge talk ignites as Mark fumbles his attempt to re-woo Janey (honestly, a ring and a wedding date would have sealed the deal). Toss in mounting pressure on the farming community, political conflicts (local and beyond), some strange crops growing in a certain backyard, and even more babies–now that herbalist and part-time spell maker Lottie, who is conspiring to save Patti’s and Janey’s romances, is herself pregnant–and Eudora must take collective cover as sparks fly.

Happily, the town is quick to forgive its all-too-human citizenry, as profound questions of existence take comic and heartfelt turns in a place where nothing much ever happens–except life.
Mimi Thebo, an American of Cajun descent, is from Lawrence, Kansas. She now lives with her husband and daughter in Somerset, England, where she is a professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. She has worked as a copywriter, a cowgirl, and a waitress, and now holds one of the first Ph.D.s in creative writing.
Title:The Corner Booth Chronicles: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:304 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.65 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.1 × 0.65 inPublished:August 18, 2009Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:034549220X

ISBN - 13:9780345492203


Read from the Book

Chapter OneIn the middle of oil, wheat, and cattle, the small town of Eudora twinkles in the night. Once, there had been a constellation of such towns sprinkled between the great city in the east and the county seat in the west. But one by one, the other stars had flickered and died. Now, great swathes of corporate- farmed land are as dark and devoid of life as the vastness of space.pretend we are God, or the farming insurance satellite crew, and keep watching from above. As dawn appears in a line across the unbroken horizon, the prairie (or what is left of it) begins to come to life. Hawks and buzzards circle below, looking for any nocturnal rodents so tardy in returning to their nest as to make a suitable avian breakfast. Deer emerge from tree cover near creek beds and around the lake to browse. The farmers are already up; cows wait by the milking area, thermoses are tucked into warming tractors. Two joggers, out near the state park, suddenly diverge, the smaller, lighter jogger pulling briskly away from the larger, darker one, who stops for a moment and watches the lighter one run away. The lighter one seems to have something wrong with its eyes. The arms keep dropping out of their rhythmic drumming of air to wipe them. Too late, the larger, darker jogger gives chase, but by now, the smaller, lighter one has a considerable lead. It puts on yet another sprint going under the bridge and past the sign, and still shows no symptoms of flagging as it hurtles past the high school. At the only corner in town with a traffic light, the lighter jogger, revealed by the increasing daylight to be female, tears off to the left. Behind her, with some urgency, the light blinks amber, urging everyone in this marginal community to proceed with caution. But, since it had been doing so all of her life, Janey Lane did not heed the warning. Others, however, did. When Mark Ramirez walked stiffly past the bakery, his face set in forbidding lines of anger, nobody said anything for a while. All three of the people present at that early hour noticed, of course. They noticed that his girlfriend, Janey, was not with him; they noticed that he was not running with his usual loose and easy stride; they noticed that his open, friendly face was closed for business. But they thought before they said anything. Margery Lupin had just finished the morning baking and was sliding in a tray of maple- iced long johns. She straightened her back while she watched Mark walk by. She was getting too old for this, she decided, for the fivehundred- and- twenty- first time that week. And indeed, she had retired over two years previously, sold the bakery and taken off. But then the new owner had been hurt and the family had asked her to come back and help out. And here she was, two years later, still lifting trays and cleaning out the Hobart bowls. Margery sighed. “He looks how I feel,” she said. Ben Nichols, sheriff ’s deputy, shook his head. “It’s terrible,” he said, “what women do to men. That boy was happy as anything last night at the bowling awards.” Odie Marsh, Ben’s senior in law enforcement, sniffed. “It’s probably his fault. Janey’s a peach.” Ben was just about to argue that Mark might be equally blameless when the UPS man arrived. It was a small package requiring Margery’s signature. Ben, who had just started to put on a few spare pounds around his middle, noticed with disgust that the very fit young man doing the delivery did not even glance at the assorted donuts, buñeolos, empanadas, and croissants before trotting back out to his shiny brown van. The package was home- wrapped, with brown paper and string. Margery, who knew Eudora well, took the precaution of removing herself to the far end of the bakery before opening it. At last, Odie could bear it no longer. “What is it?” he called. Margery came slowly around the counter, reading the back of a book. “It’s Margaret’s latest novel,” she said. Her oldest daughter was an author. Eudora generally felt that this was not Margery’s fault. The other kids had turned out just fine. “Let’s have a look,” Odie said. He took the book from her hand and squinted at the title. “What does it say?” he asked, holding it at arm’s length and squinting at it again. “The Vortex,” Margery said, and then, “Odie, when are you going to get your eyes checked?” There was diabetes in Odie’s family and lately things had gone a little fuzzy, both close up and in the near distance. Odie was afraid to discover he had also succumbed to the disease and so refused to visit the ophthalmologist. He said, “There is nothing wrong with my eyes,” in a raised and slightly hysterical voice, and Ben snatched the book from his hand. Ben, who knew all about Odie’s fear of diabetes, but who also lived with his own abject fear of Odie’s impaired driving (for, as the senior partner, Odie was reluctant to let Ben behind the wheel), said, “Well then, why did you back the car into a tree day before yesterday? And nearly got us killed when you hung that U- ey on Highway Ten in the fog and didn’t see the silver Bronco?” At this point, coffee, book, and Margery herself all forgotten, the two officers went out to the car to continue their dispute in private, or what they thought of as private, shouting in a car during the business opening hour on Eudora’s main street. Of course, the first order of the day for most business owners in town, after turning on the lights and setting staff to work, was finding a reason to go next door and discover if the tantalizing fragments they had overheard (something about a tree? something about a book?) could be explained by other listeners further down the street. Margery kept reading The Vortex by Margaret Lupin. It was set in 1969. Charles Warrington, a young undercover narcotics detective calling himself Trick, was working in a small university town in the Midwest, and had infiltrated a group of hippies. The leader of the hippie household, Tiger, and his girlfriend, Jules, had just given the detective a great deal of LSD to make him talk. It was interesting. Margery remembered the era well, and the details were just right. Strange, because Margaret had been little at the time, though a noticing child. Trick was a big, rawboned blond with slightly watery blue eyes. He seemed a bit familiar. So did that Jules girl. Janey Lane was walking to work when Ben and Odie came barreling past, shouting at each other in the squad car. Something about a book and Margery Lupin. It didn’t seem enough to get two grown men so exercised, but Janey had recently learned that serious arguments could begin over the most trivial of things. She shook her head and continued on her way to the Wellness Center, where she was the administrative linchpin.You would never know, looking at Janey Lane, the passions that stirred beneath her crisp checked blouse. Any other woman who had run five miles and hurriedly showered and changed and who, during that five- mile run, had sustained a major difference of opinion with her boyfriend, would look hot, bothered, and somewhat disheveled. But Janey was (outwardly, anyway) cool and collected. Her honey brown hair, which she scorned to highlight, swung demurely from its ponytail. Her crisp shirt was tucked into a formfitting navy skirt. Beneath it, bare, tanned legs ended in serviceable sandals with a modest heel, which clicked as she walked. Over her arm was a canvas bag with her needs for the day. Tortoiseshell sunglasses protected her eyes. Hector Rodriguez, the handsome young mayor of Eudora, caught up with her on the corner. “What’s that all about?” he asked, nodding toward the disappearing squad car. Janey pulled off her sunglasses to converse, revealing large brown eyes. “Something about a book and Margery Lupin,” she said. “They seemed pretty upset.” She smiled. “I’ve got to run,” she said, before crossing the street. Hector watched her as she walked. Those eyes, he thought. Ay, Mama! Janey has really grown into them. He remembered, just two years ago, when she’d seemed a scrawny little bug- eyed thing. But now . . . he couldn’t help but observe the movement of Janey’s bottom under the close- fitting skirt as she continued walking briskly toward work. . . . She wasn’t no size zero anymore. Mark Ramirez is a lucky boy, he thought to himself. But of course, he was himself an extremely fortunate man in the girlfriend department. And Kelly would probably not appreciate him standing to watch Janey Lane’s bottom. So, like any true Eudoran, Hector went to find out what else he could learn about Odie and Ben’s argument from Pattie Walker. In the end, four or five local businesspeople with no pressing morning engagements walked down to the bakery together. Sure enough, they found Margery Lupin sitting down at a dirty table and reading in public. Now if you are from another kind of place, with another kind of work ethic, this may not mean anything to you. But Margery Lupin, who had intoned the mantra, “Time to lean, time to clean,” to hundreds of young bakery assistants, had never been known to visibly rest during working hours in all her forty- four years of retail baking. Something, the assembled thought, was seriously wrong. They watched her for a few moments outside the window without discussion. Then, with a kind of communal feel for what was appropriate in this kind of situation, they sent in the most gentle and ladylike of their party to help with a completely unforeseen crisis of mental illness in the former rock of sanity known as Margery Lupin. They sent in Pattie Walker. It shows the eminence in the community to which Pattie Walker had risen that she would be automatically selected in such a situation. No one even had to say anything. They just kind of nudged her forward with their eyes and she opened the door. Margery showed Pattie Walker the book and said something to Pattie, who spoke herself, waving in the direction of the various local business owners still congregating on the sidewalk. Then Margery started to laugh, laugh really hard, and Pattie laughed too, bending over and wrapping her arms around herself, the way she did when she was truly tickled. Finally the remainder of the business owners, some two or three (the rest having at this point felt foolish and hurried away), came inside the bakery. “It’s Margaret’s latest,” Margery explained, showing them the cover. She opened it and said, “Look.” On the dedication page it read, “To my mother, Margery Lupin, who has always been my inspiration.” There was a collective sigh of satisfaction. Eudorans feel they are, as a people, a little bit superior to anyone anywhere else and this dedication validated that elemental fact in a gratifyingly public way. Then they looked at the cover again. The Vortex. Kind of a fancy name. It showed a typical Midwestern town—Victorian houses with gingerbread trim and white picket fences; a few ranch- style homes on the edges, with nicely landscaped front yards. A tornado loomed in the distance, and closer up, you could see that in every one of those yards was an unusual looking plant, kind of like sweet corn, but with five pointed palmate leaves. Suddenly they all knew what it was, and just as suddenly, they all decided not to be the one to say the word marijuana. The investigatory party broke up and reported back along their various routes to their businesses. By ten a.m. the whole of the town was in possession of the facts. “ . . . and every single house had pot growing in the garden.” Pattie Walker was still breathless from running to her appointment. “You’d better sit down, Pattie,” Janey Lane said. “Or else when you climb those stairs your blood pressure is going to read crazy.” The waiting room was almost empty. A child with a persistent cough and his mother stacked blocks in the corner, and two elderly medication reviews examined a National Geographic in seats strategically located near the donut box, but business was a little slow that morning. Janey went to the water cooler and poured Pattie a cup. “Here,” she said. Pattie thanked her and then, as Janey sat down and opened the sleek laptop on which she managed the affairs of the practice, said, “I saw Mark this morning. He seemed kind of upset.” Janey didn’t look up from the screen, but her big brown eyes grew noticeably moister. “Well,” she said. “We’re all upset.” Her tone did not encourage further discussion. “He’s a good boy,” Pattie said. “Yes, he is,” Janey agreed. “But I’d like him to be a good man.” She snapped the laptop shut with a definitive click. “Lottie can see you now,” she said, and stood up to take the cup. Pattie reported both this conversation and the news about the book to Lottie Emery, the herbal practitioner and midwife. Lottie said little. All Pattie got was, “Your blood pressure still seems a little volatile. You’re going to have to take it easy when the hot weather hits.” Then Lottie washed her hands at the stylish glass sink. A moment passed, an uncomfortable, silent moment. Then Lottie dried her hands and asked, “Is Phil going with you to the scan?” “He’d better,” Pattie said. “I told him about fifty times. If it’s another boy, I swear I’m going to scream.” The three Walker boys had raised the bar in the town for sheer naughtiness, against some formidable opposition. Pattie was not alone in hoping this one was a girl. “You probably won’t be able to tell this early. How did Phil take the news?” Pattie had hopped down to put her clothes to rights. “I’m not sure, really,” she said. “He’s gotten kind of quiet.” Lottie looked thoughtful as she moisturized. “Don’t you think anything about this book?” Pattie asked. Lottie produced one of her infuriatingly calm smiles. “It sounds interesting, like all of Margaret’s books. Did you read New Amsterdam?” “You know very well I didn’t,” Pattie had said. “I’ve never read any of her writing. But I’ll tell you what: I’m going to read this one.” And so, the whole thing began. Pattie was not alone. The UPS truck had previously disgorged items from Amazon .com to various households in Eudora. In fact, when Dr. Jim Emery was new in town and before his curious and alarming courtship of Lottie Emery, then Lottie Dougal, the UPS truck had been an almost daily visitor to what was then the luxurious apartment on Main Street and which now formed the alternative medicine section of the doctor’s practice. But now the UPS truck made an extended stay in the locale.

Bookclub Guide

1. How would you describe Eudora? Do you have any experience with a town similar to it? 2. Mimi Thebo says, “Although some reviewers say that Eudora is in Kansas, I never do. Readers from Illinois, Ohio, Nebraska, and even Eastern Washington have all decided that Eudora is their hometown. I think they’re right.” Why do you think she is vague about Eudora’s exact location? 3. Who is your favorite character, and why? 4. Which character surprised you the most? 5. The seasons and what they bring are central to the town’s traditions, from harvesting to the Maple Leaf Festival and the competitive gardening that so many of the townspeople engage in. Why do you think this is? 6. If you’ve read Welcome to Eudora, how would you describe the changes that the town has undergone? 7. In what ways do the characters in Eudora subscribe to traditional gender roles? In what ways do they challenge these roles? 8. Do you think Lottie and Pattie have a typical sisterly relationship? How does it change over the course of the novel? 9. The businesses downtown (the restaurants and bakery, the stationery shop and the fabric shop) are often stages for the scenes in the novel, and the entire town is often interested in the events in those scenes. Does this happen in real life? 10. The novel has a nostalgic, even cozy, feel. What do you think are the drawbacks to such warmth in the narrative? What do you like about this tone? 11. Kylie Requena is an extraordinarily beautiful young woman. Do you think that affects how the other characters feel about her? Does it affect the way you feel about the character as a reader? 12. Kelly Brookes comes home to Eudora from her glamorous Hollywood lifestyle. What do you think are the pluses and minuses of living in a town like Eudora? Would you choose it over Hollywood? 13. The Mexican American community seems to have integrated well into Eudora at the beginning of the book, but then racial tensions erupt again. Do you think these tensions are resolved at the end of the novel? 14. Eudora has quite a few churches and only one bar–the Beer and Bowl. How does religion affect the events in The Corner Booth Chronicles? 15. Comedies traditionally end with a marriage. What new beginnings come at the end of The Corner Booth Chronicles? 

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Welcome to Eudora:

“As warm and involving as an old movie.”
—Tessa Hadley, author of Accidents in the Home

“A delightful saga about uncertain attractions, limited ambitions, circumspect passions—and, ultimately, realizable dreams.”
—Diane Hammond, author of Homesick Creek