AN EXCERPT FROM LOOM
Eva is coming. Her laughter rings in Emilie’s memory. She remembers the girl’s thick hair falling to her shoulders (although no longer a girl; Eva has been a woman for a long time now), a red headband keeping it away from her face. Her plaid blue and gray school uniform is mostly what she remembers her in, and those droopy navy blue knee socks slipping down her legs like gravity was dragging them, when in fact it was Eva herself who had pulled and stretched to make the elastic give, to make those socks fall and show more skin. On the night table, the clock ticks. This time, the waiting is for a purpose . Soon, a line will be drawn between here and there, past and present. The past will be made flesh, and Eva will emerge and ask with her usual liveliness, Khalti Emilie, have you straightened out those Americans yet? The morning breaks slowly, casting its gray light on the fields swollen with snow. Emilie makes her way to the window, pulling her black woolen shawl about her more from habit than actual chill. Her view is obstructed by the white blur the wind has whipped up. From memory, she makes out where the farm stands behind the cornfields and where the road loops around the hill then drops into a sharp descent all the way to Main Street. Only the tall trees and the church’s steeple are saved from the general drowning. Will Eva notice how different the sky is here, as if the breaths of the people living under it rise together to paint it a different blue, a different gray? When Emilie saw it the first time, she couldn’t tell exactly where the difference lay. Seemed like she was already losing her memory, slowly becoming submerged in the new skittering light. Seemed like the land stretching ahead was too big not to disappear into, and she a speck tumbling down the sloping earth. At 7:05, she looks at a point on the horizon where she thinks her niece’s plane must be landing at that precise minute. Is she expecting her to emerge from the whiteness and, taking huge leaps toward the house, to stand before her as the incarnation of the past, untouched by separation? She dozes, waking every once in a while to look at the brooding sky. It is nearly eight when the ring jolts her awake. She knows it is Eva even before she picks up the phone in the hallway. “I’m in New York and will be coming as soon as I can,” Eva says. “All planes are cancelled on account of the storm. I miss you so, Khalti!” When they talked on the phone before, a scratch in the line, the background noise when Eva called, usually from a public Centrale, reminded them that their communication, Eva in Beirut and Emilie in Vermont, was miraculous and fragile. Emilie would press her ear into the phone, as if doing so made her closer to her niece. She would remember the white walls in the Centrale, the small ceiling fans stirring up an ineffectual breeze, and the people listless with the heat, shuffling through to the next available phone. This morning, Eva’s voice rings clear. Stark, somehow, without the usual undercurrent of noise. Yet she is near. But for the blizzard she would be here. And at this, touched by joy, Emilie gives herself to it, laughs and chatters, samples at the feast of words before her. And then it is gone. Slips off her like a beautiful gown, and at once Emilie’s shoulders sink. What, a moment ago, was Eva’s nearness is again huge distance. Emilie lifts her head and sees her daughter leaning against the wall waiting her turn to talk, and hands her the receiver. Back in her room, Emilie tidies up to pass the time. She smoothes a ripple in the bedspread, a blue mercerized cotton coverlet with a diamond pattern in the middle she had brought with her from Lebanon, pushes a chair against the window and sits. Folding her hands in her lap, she waits for the house to wake. A world hopeful under its thick blanket of snow. A world cleaned to the bone, at the ready. More waiting. At her age, this is no less than hateful. . . .
PRAISE FOR LOOM
"An expansive and beautiful new storyteller, Chehade tightly binds personal experience with the universal desire to belong, effortlessly weaving a dense tapestry of loneliness and regret."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"A thoughtful family portrait that deals subtly with the variegated experiences of being outsiders in a strange land and the pulls of loss, memory, and desire."
—The Arts Fuse
"Loom is Chehade's first novel, but she writes with refinement. Hers is a careful, attentive prose--gorgeous but unpretentious, and skillfully adapted to whoever has the floor."
"In Loom Lebanon and North America flare to life, illuminating each other. With a wonderfully assured touch Chehade weaves the pain and joy of familial bonds around stories of war and migration. A beautiful novel."
—Kamila Shamsie, author of Home Fire, winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction
"In Chehade's luminous debut novel, stories and secrets accumulate and eventually transform the Zaydan family and their mysterious neighbor, Loom. Chehade's nuanced prose perfectly captures the wild quiet of snow and of people who fear their lives have already ended, somewhere else."
—Pamela Thompson, author of Every Past Thing
"A thoroughly original story that lingered with me long after reading it."
—Laila Halaby, best-selling author of West of the Jordan
"Loom stands on its own as a hauntingly beautiful read."
—Theri Alyce Pickens, Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 63
"I loved the final chapters of this book. Chehade does a wonderful job of unravelling the tale, as her characters finally face their demons head-on, and are able to move on...This contemplative debut novel portrays its characters and story with depth and sensitivity, and I, for one, eagerly anticipate more from this author."
—Akeela Gaibie-Dawood, Belletrista
"Chehade weaves a sense of place, memories of the past, emotional connections to both the old and the new, and characterization to make us understand the difficulties of emigrating to a new world."
—Susan M. Andrus, Story Circle Book Reviews
On the Valley Advocate list of favorite reads for 2010, Valley Advocate, December 30, 2010