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Caitlin Macy's Mrs. could be the next Big Little Lies: Read an excerpt

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Little, Brown and Company

Caitlin Macy‘s Mrs. won’t hit shelves until Feb. 13, 2018, but start counting down the days on your calendar now: EW’s books editor Tina Jordan thinks this novel could be the next Big Little Lies

Set on New York City’s Upper East Side, Mrs. follows three women whose paths collide when their children attend the same preschool. There’s Philippa Lye, a chic queen bee with a mysterious past who’s snagged a billionaire as her husband; Gwen Hogan, a childhood pal of Philippa’s who uncovers a massive secret about Philippa’s pre-marriage life; and wealthy newbie Minnie Curtis, who catches the community’s attention with her easy divulgences about her poverty-stricken upbringing. Soon, Philippa’s secret catches the attention of Gwen’s husband, a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s office, because of its connection to an investigation he’s been obsessed with — and this whole well-heeled society could be affected by what he’s found.

EW exclusively reveals the cover and an excerpt from Mrs., below.

Excerpt from Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

Chapter One

Look at you in your fur! You were so smart to wear it!”

“It was my mother’s. I never wear it. I really never do. But today I just thought, Why not?

In the cold, the mothers gathered outside the school. One after another, like children being summoned in a schoolyard game, they came battling off of Park Avenue into the leeward hush of the side street.

“ . . . sick the whole time, all five of us.”

“ . . . quit over the phone . . .”

“ . . . got to be kidding me . . .”

“ . . . torn ACL the very first run of the very first day . . .”

“ . . . Doug will only ski in March.”

“Called me up—said she wasn’t coming back from St. Lucia.”

It was January, the first day back after Christmas break—freezing out, with a surprisingly cutting wind. When Gwen Hogan, standing at the outer remove of the crush of mothers, turned her head to look up the block, the cold hit her cheeks and went right through the hood of her parka, making her temples ache.

Not that she minded—not in any nonphysical, existential way. You had to earn spring, after all.

“ . . . something to be said for the tropical Christmas . . . ”

“ . . . Tom’s mother’s camel-hair coat. A gift certificate to Best Buy . . .”

“Yup, yup—do the reverse.”

“ . . . because I don’t need snow at Christmas. I like it, but I don’t need it.”

“ . . . paid her the entire summer while we were away. If I had only known—”

The school, St. Timothy’s, was a brick-and-limestone town house with a mansard roof on East Sixty-Third Street. It had been built at the turn of the nineteenth century as the rectory of the church that was just around the corner. By the turn of the next, it was no longer clear whether St. Tim’s the Preschool was still Episcopalian, or even Christian. (If pressed, the administration would have copped to the denomination before the religion; Christian suggested Jesus a little too pointedly for this parent body.) The building itself had been ceded bit by bit, at first, by rooms and then by floors, until this past decade when it was given over entirely to the widely desired, deep-coffered preschool.

The front door was of a heavy-paneled forest green on which a brass knocker in the form of a lion’s head snarled menacingly. Above the door hung the school flag, whipped every which way today by the wind. On a quieter morning you could see that it had a white cross on a red background. Gwen Hogan kept her eyes on the flag, watched it flutter and snap. Me? Oh, no—I was just thinking about what to make for supper! was the response she kept at the ready, should someone take pity on her for standing alone and address her. In her mind she was always having to set potential empathizers at ease. In fact, they never materialized—these kindly souls who would feel themselves implicated in her solitude—although she was occasionally mistaken for Lally Stein’s au pair, to whom, it was true, she bore a passing resemblance (the ponytail and the youthful, makeup-less face; the jeans and running shoes).

“It’s not about the money! I just can’t get over the selfishness of it.”

“Well, I refuse—”

“We refuse—”

“Ron refuses on principle—”

But one was never to learn what it was that Ron’s moral code had prompted him to reject, for at that moment, a violent gust assailed the women. “Agh!” They cringed; gloved hands flew protectively to girlish faces. Really! This weather was unbelievable! When the wind died away, a ripple of laughter went down the line as the women gave in to the giddiness anyone feels in the face of such brief, surmountable challenges that never actually interfere with comfort.

“Well, I’m glad I wore fur today! I’m glad I dragged it out!”

A taxi pulled up, and before the women even turned, they knew who would emerge from it—who among them would risk being late for pickup on the very first day back. Sure enough, she unfolded the almost excessive length of herself till she stood, nearly six feet tall, in an ankle-length black-and-tan shearling coat and a fur hat: Philippa Lye. Gwen hadn’t seen the hat before, wondered briefly if it was a Christmas gift. Its fluffy gray-brown flaps framed Philippa’s face becomingly: those cheekbones, unconciliatory in the extreme; the arrogant jutting triangle of a nose; and then—as if to give it some wanted thematic contrast—the large, watchful brown eyes. Watchful—in a woman who, for so many reasons, you’d think wouldn’t give a shit. Her hair, which fell to her shoulders from underneath the hat, was the chocolate-Lab brown; Gwen privately felt, it made suckers of all these dyed blondes.

“He says I owe him money,” Philippa announced, her voice just loud and insistent enough to carry over the wind. A couple of the nannies, who waited on the east side of the school, closer to Park, looked over at her, keeping their expressions vague, and then looked away. Cravenly, Gwen Hogan also veiled her expression; she couldn’t afford to get involved any more than the nannies could.

“The driver, you mean? Well, what does the meter say?” said Ann DeGroat, detaching herself from a conversation about limestone versus soapstone countertops.

“Yes—what are you implying?” said Betsy Fleming, rubbing her upper arms to keep warm as she joined Ann. “He’s trying to cheat you?”

“That’s the thing.” Philippa sounded amused. It was the other women who moved and spoke impatiently, attempting to get to the bottom of things on her behalf. “The meter’s broken! He said I should estimate.”

“Sir! Sir!” This was Emily Lewin, a former prosecutor, taking on the cabbie.

Philippa went on without rancor: “I take this cab every day. It never costs more than twelve. Twelve with tip. He’s very angry with me. I don’t have any more. I gave him everything I have.” With that, she turned her coat pockets inside out—an irrelevant gesture had she carried a handbag, but, in typical fashion, Philippa Lye seemed to have walked out of her apartment with nothing but the coat on her back and the hat on her head.

“That’s not the point,” Betsy said, sharing an exasperated glance with Ann. “We can give you money.”

The taxi driver, who had been leaning out the window following this exchange, began to yell, accusing Philippa of things.

Gwen still hung back so as not to be the one who loaned Philippa money if it came to that, for the others all could—indeed, would be thrilled to have her in their debt. She watched Philippa watching the other women haggle over it, as if the scene, though of mild interest, were unconnected to herself. Gwen thought her beyond beautiful—no mere specific example, idiosyncratic in its variation on a theme, but the embodiment of some Platonic form that had always existed in her mind. Always, as with all things, meant since preadolescence. In a coincidence that would have mattered little to most of the women here but figured largely in her own thoughts, Gwen had known Philippa Lye’s face a long, long time—since she was eight years old, in fact. Consciously or unconsciously, for most of her life, Gwen had judged all other faces on how they compared to it.

“Exactly how much did you give him?” Ann DeGroat persisted.

“Fourteen, I’m sure, because I had a dollar in coins and I gave him every penny.”

Betsy groaned—. “You paid in change?” but Emily went on the attack. “Look, sir!” She leaned into the driver’s-side window. “It’s clear that, in fact, you’ve been overpaid for this trip!”

Decades before New York had made its queer claim on her life, Gwen had been in Girl Scouts with Philippa’s younger—plainer—sister, Rosemary, in Nautauqua, Massachusetts. Hard to imagine such a humble pursuit and place could have any connection with as exalted an event as pickup at St. Timothy’s in the aughts. To be fair, the Lye sisters were from Dunning, the next town over; the nicer town, with the pristine Main Street and the twin white steeples of the Congregational and Unitarian churches. Nautauqua, where the Girl Scouts met, had the traffic circle and the fast-food franchises. But still: thirty years ago, Gwen Hogan—Gwen Babinau then—had spent afternoons playing dress-up at the Lyes’ house—not so very many of them, for her friendship with Rosemary had limped along rather than taken off. Then again, it had limped along awhile, as if neither girl was willing to be the one to call a halt. What Gwen remembered most was the feeling of luck she had when Philippa—who everyone said was going to be a model and who was already in a newspaper ad for the local Ford dealership—having no better options on the particular day, would join them. Both Gwen and Rose lacked imagination. Philippa Lye created the fantasy and then took you along on it. Rosemary complained often, to their mother, but Gwen was tickled to be lady-in-waiting to Philippa’s queen, the long-suffering hairdresser to her movie star. When Gwen thought of Philippa over the years, hearing snippets about her success—catalogs and a magazine cover; a stint in Japan—she felt complacent, as one does when one’s own opinion is corroborated by the universe.

Rosemary she thought of not at all.

In a stream of disgust, the taxi driver gesticulated violently and skidded off. “It’s fine—it’s fine.” Emily put up a staying hand as she turned back to the group though Philippa hadn’t yet thanked her. “It’s okay!”

There was an impatience in Emily’s voice, as there often was when the women spoke to Philippa. They snapped at her more often than you would expect adults to snap at another adult. They seemed to feel it their due, though the impatience, Gwen had noticed, stopped short of harshness. No one yelled at Philippa Lye. Not for now anyway. One wondered what would happen if the money suddenly disappeared—if her husband’s bank fell prey to one of those rogue traders who were jeopardizing the bigger establishments. But one didn’t wonder long. Skinker, Farr was an old institution, its establishment nearly a century ago now less remarkable, Gwen’s husband, Dan, had informed her, than the fact that it had remained in the Skinkers’ hands through the 1980s, when most of the private banks were disappearing.

Skinker, Farr meant something. Even the extremely rich hedgefund wives—even Lally Stein and Belle Ostergaard—and their husbands gave the Skinkers a certain deference.

One could snap; one could not yell.

“How will you get home?” This was Betsy, who perhaps had been upstaged by Emily.

“Oh, gosh—I don’t know!” Philippa caught Gwen’s eye. Gwen hid a smile because she, too, found the question ridiculous. “We’ll take the bus!” Philippa proposed. “Or even—walk!”

But the mothers of St. Timothy’s didn’t, as a rule, do comedy.

“Walk?” Looking alarmed, Ann gestured to the sky. “In this weather?”

“Here, take a twenty.” Betsy reached into her purse, fumbled for her wallet.

Ann was the quicker draw, from a shallower pocketbook: “Take mine. Take it.”

A brief argument ensued over who would loan Philippa the twenty.

“Just take both,” Emily decided. “In fact, you know what, I’m going to give you twenty too. You may need it.”

“All right,” Philippa said gravely. “Thank you.”

The women, looking pained by their own generosity, turned away with jerky, defensive movements. It was Philippa who stood, tall and unslouching in the magnificent hat. She reminded Gwen of a medieval bishop receiving patronage. She glanced happily at the bills as a child looks at money for candy—frankly counting—and crushed them into her pocket.

***

At twelve sharp, the green door swung inward. “Hello, hello!” Mrs. Davidson cried spiritedly, as if something unexpectedly pleasant had befallen her in the fact of these women waiting to collect their children. Beside her, Ms. Babcock, her assistant head—and henchwoman, so people said—might have been delighted as well, or she might have been filled with extreme loathing at the sight of the mothers, which she covered up with a kindly smile. The women surged forward as the ceremonial handing-off of their excuses for existence began. Mrs. Davidson cried, “I have Virginia DeGroat! I have Willie Haskell!”

On the tailwind of another gust, as the names continued, one final mother blew in. Why, it was the new mother! Ah yes. Everyone, turning, having forgotten her entirely, observed her with curiosity: the New Mother. Her daughter had started just that morning, a rare midyear admittee. Coffee conversation after drop-off had concluded that strings must have been pulled or, rather, lines yanked, cut, and resealed. Nobody got into St. Tim’s midyear. Short but not petite—trim and muscular, in fact—she was darkly attractive. In giant sunglasses and hustling, though not in a panicked way, more as if she enjoyed the challenge of the clock, and with her arms heavily laden with shopping bags, the New Mother swept down on St. Tim’s in the same wildly high-heeled pumps she’d been wearing at drop-off. Minnie was her name, was it? Minnie Something? “Like the mouse?” Emily Lewin had asked her provocatively. “Yes!” had come the disarming reply. “My mother loved anything Disney, and she named me after the cartoon!”

She looked good-humored as she flipped her sunglasses up and glanced around. Her manner, as if in imitation of her name, was congenial in a giggly, little-girl sort of way. Here—here, they all felt—was something new. She didn’t seem to notice that the mothers, who were keeping an ear cocked for their children’s names, were all glancing at the labels on the shopping bags and turning back to one another with raised eyebrows. Most people would have stowed them at home or in a waiting car. The New Mother—Minnie—was apparently ignorant of these subtleties. Or perhaps—the idea presented itself uncomfortably—she was simply uninterested in them? Gwen stared at her shoes, unable to believe a person could actually walk in them. They must’ve been four inches high, the metal heel spiked to a fine and frightening point, as if the point she made by wearing them was far beyond ambulatory. But walk she did—triumphantly, weaving confidently through the crowd, her shoulders thrust back, her balance as light and careless as if she were in the old running shoes that Gwen herself wore. And that was the only way to wear shoes like that, thought Gwen, who, despite the fact that she took no time at all with her own appearance, could be exacting about others’. In shoes that high, any telltale hunch of the shoulders, slump of the back, or grimace, and you looked—well, you looked like a prostitute at the end of a long night.

“Philomena Stein! Lila and Dickson Dilworth!”

In the middle of the calling of the names, a curious little side drama began, apparent only to Gwen, because she habitually hung back. The New Mother went straight up to Philippa, of all people—and introduced herself. “Philippa? Philippa Skinker? I’m Minnie Curtis.”

But Philippa was the sort of person who might not answer even a direct address if she didn’t feel like it. She looked vaguely at the woman as she went on, recounting some tenuous connection.

“I have Peter Felekonaides! I have Emma Eliot! I have—” Mrs. Davidson hesitated for a second, and stolid Ms. Babcock, lips as wooden as a dummy’s, might have been feeding her the name: “I have Mary Hogan!”

Gwen made her way to the door, took Mary by the hand, and accepted the unwieldy pile of construction-paper collages Ms. Babcock delivered smugly. “Some artwork you’ll want to take home and display.”

Still, for a moment, the brutality of the city fell away in her joy at seeing her daughter, at the feel of the warm little hand in hers.

“Did you have a good day, honey?”

Dreamy and not given to small talk, Mary didn’t answer but gazed off toward Park Avenue as if she were trying to recall something. Gwen gave her hand a squeeze and pulled her gently as she started through the crowd—“Let’s go, honey”—clamping the artwork to her side with an elbow. On the way out she brushed by Philippa, who was pressing forward at the summons of “Ruth and Sebastian Skinker!”—the New Mother chattily in her wake. “Just such an amazing coincidence! I’ve been so looking forward to trading stories with you about the place! I’ve heard your name so often, I feel like I already know you!”

“What’s for lunch, Mom?” Mary tugged at Gwen’s hand.

“Um . . . the leftover meat loaf from last night,” Gwen mumbled, reluctant to have these women overhear the humble nature of the food she fed her child. There was a shame over here on Sixty-Third and Park in cooking from scratch, in not simply serving chicken nuggets and other branded, microwavable products—Go-Gurts and Veggie Stix. Perhaps it reeked of the middle class, or seemed grungy. Gwen had quickly learned to keep silent.

“Hey,” Gwen said to Philippa as she brushed by her.

“Gwen.” Some sympathy passed between them, as it always did.

Their children had never been classmates, for Mary was older, in the Fours, while Ruth Skinker was a tiny Two and Sebastian a Three; the Skinkers’ seven-year-old, Laura, had moved on to big school already. And despite the fact that both women were outsiders at St. Tim’s, Gwen knew full well that the natures of their exclusion were distinct—hers innate, an extension of her personality and relative poverty, Philippa’s more like that of a celebrity; she kept herself apart except when she needed something. Her children were the third generation of Skinkers to attend the school; their father, Jed, ran the bank; their paternal grandmother, Laura Winifred “Winnie” Skinker, a frequently photographed society matron, was on the board at Cleary, the most bluestocking of the Upper East Side girls’ schools, where her namesake, little Laura, was now in second grade. Even the bank played its part in the lore; rather than occupying a few stultifying, fluorescent-lit stories in a midtown office tower, Skinker, Farr was housed in a Beaux-Arts mansion on West Fifty-Fourth that the Skinkers themselves owned. Stone gargoyles instead of elevator banks greeted the potential client, and the old Mr. Skinker, now deceased, was said to have named them all.

“He had another accident,” Gwen could hear Ms. Babcock flatly informing Philippa. “Poo this time.”

Waiting for the light to change, Gwen glanced back. Philippa was taking the news impassively. This seemed to vex Ms. Babcock, who likely expected flustered apologies from the mothers—prostrations and embarrassment. A flicker of annoyance crossed the woman’s broad face, which came up to Philippa’s bra line. “You really need to remember to bring in the change of clothes,” she instructed Philippa’s chest, the truculent note that Gwen instinctively avoided inciting sounding in her voice. “We’ve gone to the Lost and Found twice for him.”

She didn’t hear Philippa’s reply, only glimpsed her haughty, indifferent body language, for at that moment the light changed, and Mary cried, “Walking person! Walking person!” Across the double avenue Gwen hurried her daughter the way her own mother had when Gwen was growing up in Nautauqua, Massachusetts. Camilla had always hurried her—into the car, out of the car, up the stairs to St. Agnes’s, down the aisles of Donnelly’s. Gwen had never, as far as she could remember, gone anywhere at a relaxing pace when she was little.

From the book MRS. by Caitlin Macy.  Copyright © 2018 by Caitlin Macy. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York.  All rights reserved.