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A magnificent debut about a man's odyssey toward family redemption—with his granddaughter along for the ride
Bill Warrington has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and his lucid days are numbered. Determined to repair a lifetime of damage with his estranged adult children, Bill takes off with his rebellious fifteen-year-old granddaughter April on a cross-country odyssey, bound for San Francisco where she dreams of becoming a rock star. As the unlikely pair head west, Bill leaves clues intended to force his three children—including April's frantic mother—to overcome their grievances to work together to find them.
Author James King masterfully explores themes of aging, sibling rivalry, family dysfunction, and coming of age, against a backdrop of the American heartland. Unflinching, funny, and poignant, Bill Warrington's Last Chance speaks to that universal longing for redemption and familial reconciliation, love and forgiveness.
James King lives in Wilton, Connecticut, with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.
Bill Warrington listened to the final huffs and pings of the engine and the crackle of the vinyl settling about him as he removed the key from the ignition and let his arms drop into his lap. He sat quietly for a few moments, staring at but not really seeing the rack of garden tools hanging on the wall in front of him. Discipline was needed, a little self control. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
It had been a good decision, he thought now, to attach the garage. He had considered building a separate one, similar to the one he had played in as a boy, sneaking into his father's DeSoto Coupe and grabbing on to the thick steering wheel and pretending to drive out of the musty garage and onto the broad streets, waving at the awe-struck neighbors as he made his way out of Woodlake, maybe even out of Ohio altogether. He had envisioned a son, maybe a couple of them, who would spend hours, as he had, dreaming up the kind of car they would drive someday, the places they would visit.
But the sheet-rock installer told Bill he'd be making a mistake. His future wife would complain about having to haul in groceries from an unattached garage, especially in foul weather. "That's all they do after you marry them," he said. "Complain."
The guy had been wrong about Clare. And he, Bill, had been wrong about the boys. Mike never took much of an interest in cars when he was young. And Nick was convinced that the garage housed not only cars, but also boy-eating monsters.
Bill opened his eyes. He was wasting time, sitting there like that.
He got out of the car and went into the kitchen, directly to the counter drawer where he kept the address book—the same pocket-sized, vinyl covered directory with his name embossed along the bottom in gold letters that he'd gotten some thirty or forty years ago as a holiday gift from a supplier. He fished around, wondering if he'd left it someplace else.
Bill studied the open drawer. Nothing to worry about, he told himself. This sort of thing happens all the time, no matter how old you are and no matter what any smart-ass doctor says.
He yanked the drawer out, emptied it onto the counter, and sifted through the items: a slim Woodlake telephone directory, several years old; a black umbrella cover; a sports watch with a broken band; the smiley Isoflex ball Clare had used to take her mind off the pain; the Phillips screwdriver he'd spent an hour looking for in the garage last week; a pad of yellow notes stuck to the inside of a Tupperware lid; a Greetings-from-Grand-Canyon key chain.
But no address book.
Bill picked up the ball, turned, and leaned against the counter. If he could remember the last time he'd had it, he knew everything would come flooding back. He squeezed the ball gently, and then turned it over in his hand to smooth out the bulges. He may have done this a number of times without realizing it, for he gradually became aware of a chime. It took him a moment to recognize it as the front door bell.
Who the hell?
Bill guessed the boy to be twelve or thirteen. He was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, with a chain of some sort running through his belt loops and into one of his front pockets. Bill squinted. Was this kid wearing eye make-up?
The kid looked eager to get out of there, but apparently had the stones to stick around long enough to say whatever he'd come to say.
"I know you?" Bill asked.
The boy nodded. "Blaine Rogers? From down the street? My father told me to ask you if you need help with the leaves."
Bill looked over the kid's shoulder. The trees had somehow gone bare without his noticing. The front lawn was a rumpled blanket of fading red, orange and yellow.
"We have a blower," Blaine said. He fiddled the chain around his pencil-thin waist. "Wouldn't take long. I won't charge you or anything. My dad said you might want to take care of them in time for the pick up."
A glance at the brown piles that lined the curbs told Bill that almost all his neighbors were ready for the giant vacuum-truck the city sent out to collect the leaves. The oblong mounds looked like freshly covered graves. Why hadn't he noticed them? And why hadn't he realized it was time? Raking leaves was one of the few chores he'd always loved—especially before they outlawed burning them. The boys would stand by the fire on the side of the street, waving their arms back and forth while chanting incantations they'd made up or heard in a cartoon. Later, over Claire's pot roast, mashed potatoes with thick gravy and tall glasses of ice-cold milk, they'd argue about who the smoke had obeyed more. Clare would laugh.
"You want me to blow your leaves, or what?
Bill looked at him. "Your old man the one with that ridiculous yellow Hummer?"
Blaine shifted his weight.
"A Hummer. Yeah."
"There a war around here I don't know about?" Bill asked.
Now the boy appeared confused.
"Listen: Tell your dad thanks for volunteering you, but I'm not crippled yet. Do I look crippled to you?"
The "sir" surprised Bill. He smiled.
"All right, then. Anything I else I can do for you? Like maybe lend you a real belt?"
Blaine looked down, then back up at Bill. He offered a half-smile before turning and walking across the front lawn. Bill was tempted to call out to him that front walks were made for a reason, but he stopped when he noticed that his was almost completely covered by leaves.
from Bill Warrington's Last Chance