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The Paper Palace
Cover of The Paper Palace
The Paper Palace
A Novel
REESE'S BOOK CLUB PICK

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION

INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

THE PAPER PALACE IS:


“Filled with secrets, love, lies and a summer beach house. What more could you ask?”—Parade

“A deeply emotional love story…the unraveling of secrets, lies and a very complex love triangle.” Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club July ’21 Pick)

"Nail-biting." —Town & Country


“A magnificent page-turner.” —Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author

“[An] irresistible placement of a complicated family in a bewitching place.” The New York Times

A story of summer, secrets, love, and lies: in the course of a singular day on Cape Cod, one woman must make a life-changing decision that has been brewing for decades.


“This house, this place, knows all my secrets.”

It is a perfect August morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace”—the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside. Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.
REESE'S BOOK CLUB PICK

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION

INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

THE PAPER PALACE IS:


“Filled with secrets, love, lies and a summer beach house. What more could you ask?”—Parade

“A deeply emotional love story…the unraveling of secrets, lies and a very complex love triangle.” Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club July ’21 Pick)

"Nail-biting." —Town & Country


“A magnificent page-turner.” —Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, New York Times bestselling author

“[An] irresistible placement of a complicated family in a bewitching place.” The New York Times

A story of summer, secrets, love, and lies: in the course of a singular day on Cape Cod, one woman must make a life-changing decision that has been brewing for decades.


“This house, this place, knows all my secrets.”

It is a perfect August morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace”—the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside. Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1

    Today. August 1, the Back Woods.

    6:30 a.m.

    Things come from nowhere. The mind is empty and then, inside the frame, a pear. Perfect, green, the stem atilt, a single leaf. It sits in a white ironstone bowl, nestled among the limes, in the center of a weathered picnic table, on an old screen porch, at the edge of a pond, deep in the woods, beside the sea. Next to the bowl is a brass candlestick covered in drips of cold wax and the ingrained dust of a long winter left on an open shelf. Half-eaten plates of pasta, an unfolded linen napkin, dregs of claret in a wine bottle, a breadboard, handmade, rough-hewn, the bread torn not sliced. A mildewed book of poetry lies open on the table. "To a Skylark," soaring into the blue-painful, thrilling-replays in my mind as I stare at the still life of last night's dinner. "The world should listen then, as I am listening now." He read it so beautifully. "For Anna." And we all sat there, spellbound, remembering her. I could look at him and nothing else for eternity and be happy. I could listen to him, my eyes closed, feel his breath and his words wash over me, time and time and time again. It is all I want.


    Beyond the edge of the table, the light dims as it passes through the screens before brightening over the dappled trees, the pure blue of the pond, the deep-black shadows of the tupelos at the water's edge where the reach of the sun falters this early in the day. I ponder a quarter-inch of thick, stale espresso in a dirty cup and consider drinking it. The air is raw. I shiver under the faded lavender bathrobe-my mother's-that I put on every summer when we return to the camp. It smells of her, and of dormancy tinged with mouse droppings. This is my favorite hour in the Back Woods. Early morning on the pond before anyone else is awake. The sunlight clear, flinty, the water bracing, the whippoorwills finally quiet.


    Outside the porch door, on the small wooden deck, sand has built up between the slats-it needs to be swept. A broom leans against the screen, indenting it, but I ignore it and head down the little path that leads to our beach. Behind me, the door hinges shriek in resistance.


    I drop my bathrobe to the ground and stand naked at the water's edge. On the far side of the pond, beyond the break of pine and shrub oak, the ocean is furious, roaring. It must be carrying a storm in its belly from somewhere out at sea. But here, at the edge of the pond, the air is honey-still. I wait, watch, listen . . . the chirping, buzzing of tiny insects, a wind that stirs the trees too gently. Then I wade in up to my knees and dive headlong into the freezing water. I swim out into the deep, past the water lilies, pushed forward by exhilaration, freedom, and an adrenaline rush of nameless panic. I have a shadow-fear of snapping turtles coming up from the depths to bite my heavy breasts. Or perhaps they will be drawn by the smell of sex as I open and close my legs. I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the need to get back to the safety of the shallows, where I can see the sandy bottom. I wish I were braver. But I also love the fear, the catch of breath in my throat, my thrumming heartbeat as I step out of the water.


    I wring as much as I can from my long hair, grab a threadbare towel from the clothesline my mother has strung between two scraggly pines, lie down on the warm sand. An electric-blue dragonfly lands on my nipple and perches there before moving on. An ant crawls over the Saharan dunes my body has just created in its path.


    Last night I finally fucked him. After all these years of imagining it, never...

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2021

    In this new addition to the Regency-set "Westcott" series, recently widowed Lydia Tavernor wants Someone To Cherish but would rather have a lover than a husband after the numbing servitude of marriage to Rev. Isaiah Tavernor. In Brenner's Blush, college senior Sadie Bailey discovers that straitlaced Grandma Vivian once ran a book club devoted to scandalous women's fiction. To find respite from griefover her grandfather's death, Marisa Rosso travels to a seaside Cornish village, where she helps locals save their beloved bakery (well known to Colgan's fans) in Sunrise by the Sea (100,000-copy paperback and 30,000-copy hardcover first printing). On the Terminal Ward at the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital, life-hungry 17-year-old Lenni joins forces with 83-year-old rebel Margot in debuter Cronin's The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot (150,000-copy paperback and 25,000-copy hardcover first printing). With The Paper Palace, Heller, HBO head of drama, turns in a first novel about a woman who makes a momentous and long-overdue decision one bright Cape Cod morning. Diagnosed with a terminal illness, newly married Lauren decides to leave her husband 12 letters to guide him through the first year without her in Higgins's Pack Up the Moon. Killed in a hit-and-run in Nantucket, novelist Vivi is given heavenly permission to spend a year watching over her children, her best friend, and her ex-husband in Hilderbrand's Golden Girl (750,000-copy first printing). In Phillips's When Stars Collide, opera diva Olivia Shore and Thaddeus Walker Bowman Owens, backup quarterback for the Chicago Stars, are paired on a nationwide tour promoting a luxury watch brand with tumultuous results (150,000-copy first printing). Debuter Ray's The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton features a once-aspiring artist now running from a tragedy in her life by simply collecting beautiful objects--until the collection-conscious little boy whose family moves in next door makes her rethink things (100,000-copy first printing).

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    May 1, 2021
    When it comes to making the biggest decision of your life, what matters more: the events of one epic day or the events of a lifetime--though could that day have even happened without the lifetime leading up to it? Elle Bishop has spent every summer of her 50 years at her family's compound on Cape Cod, in the Back Woods. Ramshackle and in a constant losing battle with the elements, the beach retreat is a reassuring constant in Elle's life, which has otherwise been marked by her parents' divorce, a series of increasingly inappropriate parental mates, gruesome stepsiblings, and interactions with lecherous and violent men and boys. Jonas, a childhood friend of Elle's from the Cape, served as another constant during her challenging upbringing. Elle's day of reckoning is prompted by a sexual encounter with him--just outside a dinner party with both of their spouses in attendance--after years of a slow-burn relationship. Elle's marriage to a man she truly loves (and the comfortable family life they've made together) is balanced against the secret-filled history she and Jonas share. Over the course of the ensuing hours, Elle narrates her day of introspection and intersperses it with flashbacks spanning the course of her whole life, with and without Jonas. The moody and atmospheric setting of the shadowy paths and ponds of the Back Woods is described in lush detail that makes a sharp contrast to the colder, sharper elements of Elle's story. But the long-held secrets that Elle reveals and reckons with over the course of her day of decision cast the biggest shadow over her life and will inform the rest of her days. From the first pages of her debut novel, Heller pulls no punches. Some of them just sneak up on you later on.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 17, 2021
    In Heller’s captivating debut, a woman’s visit to her family’s summer home on Cape Cod forces her to make a momentous decision. Elle Bishop, 50, and her family are back at the “Paper Palace,” nicknamed for the cheap pressed paperboard their grandfather used in constructing the house. Elle continues to go there each summer despite painful memories, beginning after her parents split when she was 10 and her mother started bringing along a new boyfriend and his children, including his menacing 11-year-old son, Conrad. As the novel opens, Elle’s finally consummated her feelings for Jonas, a friend from the Cape whom she’s loved since she was a girl. Over the next 24 hours she must make the decision to stay with her husband, Peter, or finally be with Jonas. Woven throughout are flashbacks from Elle’s childhood, including a horrific series of events over the summer of 1983 when Elle was 13, involving Conrad, Elle, and Jonas, as well as other family traumas that have reverberated through generations. When the details are revealed later on, they put the somber mood of the first half in a new light. While the story takes a while to get going, Heller’s prose is full of lush atmospheric details. This will keep the reader guessing all the way to the end. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners.

  • Booklist

    June 14, 2021
    Elle has spent almost every summer of her life in her family's run-down summer cottages in the backwoods of Cape Cod. Most of her childhood summers were spent playing alongside Jonas, a neighbor a few years Elle's junior who shared her adventurous spirit. Now Elle is 50 years old and married with three children, but she can't shake the memory of a traumatic incident that took place one long-ago summer, an incident that changed her once-innocent friendship with Jonas. Years of sexual tension have built between Elle and Jonas, and a passionate encounter threatens to destroy the life that Elle has carefully built, as well as reveal the childhood secrets that Elle has kept from her husband and her mother. Heller's debut novel juxtaposes present-day events with extensive flashbacks to Elle's past, revealing a long-hidden family legacy of devastating abuse. It's a dark, moody, propulsive story, a love triangle decades in the making, with far-reaching implications for every character in the book. Fans of dysfunctional family sagas will fly through the pages, eager to know what happens next.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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The Paper Palace
A Novel
Miranda Cowley Heller
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