Lay It on My Heart

Lay It on My Heart

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It's summer in Kentucky, the low ceiling of August pressing down on Charmaine Peake and the town of East Winder. Charmaine and her mother get along better with a room between them, but they've been forced by circumstances to relocate to a tiny trailer by the river. The last of a line of local holy men, Charmaine's father has turned from prophet to patient, his revelation lost in the clarifying haze of medication. Her sure-minded grandmother has suffered a stroke. At church, where she has always felt most certain, Charmaine is tested when she uncovers that her archrival, a sanctimonious missionary kid, carries a dark, confusing secret. Suddenly her life can be sorted into what she wishes she knew and what she wishes she didn't. A moving, hilarious portrait of mothers and daughters, Lay It on My Heart brings us into the heart of a family weathering the toughest patch of their lives. But most of all, it marks out the seemingly unbearable realities of growing up, the strength that comes from finding real friendship, and the power of discovering—and accepting—who you are.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547542713

  • ISBN-10: 0547542712

  • Pages: 320

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 07/01/2014

Angela Pneuman

Angela Pneuman

ANGELA PNEUMAN, raised in Kentucky, is a former Stegner Fellow and teaches fiction writing at Stanford University. Her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Her widely praised story collection, Home Remedies, was hailed as “call[ing] to mind Alice Munro” by the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in Chicago and in the Bay Area of California.
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  • reviews

    "Biting yet optimistic, this first novel will knock you sideways with its Southern charm and quiet humanity." --O, The Oprah Magazine

    "Charmaine Peake is struggling: with her mentally ill father, her difficult mother, the boy on the bus, her homemade purse and her relationship with God. Pneuman captures the voice of adolescence and the uncertainty of faith in this endearing novel." 

    —Minneapolis Star Tribune

    “[A] marvelous dark and comic debut novel...Pneuman is a master of dark comedy, and the grimmer the material, the funnier it becomes in her twisted but capable hands. Like her literary ancestor, Flannery O'Connor, she shows how myopic allegedly religious people can be, but she doesn't take cheap shots at religion either.” –San Francisco Chronicle 


    "An affecting coming-of-age story...Pneuman's sharp, insightful writing reveals the myriad challenges life can throw in a young girl's path." --Marin Independent Journal 


    "Pneuman rarely allows slack in this taut storyline...Pneuman’s treatment of the ‘reality,’ or lack thereof, of divine communication is lovely and not in the least bit condescending. Readers are left to make their own judgments." --Kansas City Star

    "Pneuman’s evocation of Charmaine and her surroundings is absolute and gripping, and her novel will please any lover of good fiction, especially those with a religious background and a sense of humor."  -- Amber Peckham, Booklist 


    "Both a compassionate and uncompromising coming-of-age tale."  -- Kirkus Reviews


    "Pneuman uses potent prose in her intimate and intense debut novel." --Publishers Weekly

    "I loved Lay It on My Heart. Angela Pneuman has written a funny and moving coming-of-age novel that explores the mysteries of faith and family with uncommon grace and wry wisdom." -- Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers

    "You will stay up all night reading this brilliant and devastating novel the way you might have with a new best friend in junior high—one whose revelations thrilled and terrified you, and whose raw, hard-earned wisdom remade the way you saw the world. It evokes the genius of Angela Pneuman's canonical progenitors:  Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Walker Percy.  Lay It on My Heart is a gorgeous, riveting, and unforgettable book." -- Julie Orringer, author of The Invisible Bridge and How to Breathe Underwater

    "At the center of this stunning first novel is a family in crisis, a story that in Angela Pneuman's incredibly capable hands is both utterly original and nearly mythic in its powerful universality. A girl on the brink of adolescence, the only child of evangelists living in a small Kentucky town, watches the unraveling of her father's faith and her parents' marriage and discovers, in her necessary efforts to escape the attentions of her troubled mother, the dangers and promises of the secular world."—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Songs Without Words, and Swim Back to Me

    “At stake in this must-read novel is the sanity of a modern-day prophet, the state of his God-ordained marriage, and, most of all, the painful coming-of-age of his daughter—our wise, perceptive narrator—in the evangelical territory of the rural South. Angela Pneuman brings searing psychological insight to the conflicts that draw people to extreme faith, keep them there, or force them to emerge—dazed, blinking and giving thanks. A profoundly moving, deeply compassionate, wickedly funny book.”—Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son

    "Lay It On My Heart is a lovely book fully steeped in the quirks and growing pains of the changing South. With the biting humor of Flannery O'Connor and the empathic ear of Ellen Gilchrist, Pneuman creates characters who come alive off the page to fully pull you into their lives. A subtle, absorbing, funny portrait of the faith it takes to come of age and to love with grace from a masterful young writer." —Katie Crouch, New York Times bestselling author of Girls in Trucks and Abroad

    “I know the voices of southern girls, and when they sing true, my heart expands.  Angela Pneuman is a flute.  She’s let the Big Breath blow through her to create a force of nature named Charmaine Peake, who then lets the spirit blow through her to tell a story about mothers and daughters and fathers, and how we all get lost, and how we might get found--or found-out, and how, ultimately, it's the courage to bear one another’s vulnerability that can save us.  When I finished this book, I wanted to fold the narrator and the novelist into my arms, and tell them: what stellar gifts you are!" --Rebecca Wells, author, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; Ya-Yas in Bloom; Little Altars Everywhere and  The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

    "Angela Pneuman has the voice I have been waiting for: sure and graceful, earthy and edgy, heartbreaking and hopeful. It is this wholly unique voice, bolstered by wicked humor and a keen sense of character, that drives so deep into Flannery O’Connor’s Christ-haunted South. I feel nothing short of evangelical about this powerful debut; you’ll want LAY IT ON MY HEART on your 'keep forever' shelf." -- Joshilyn Jackson, bestselling author of Gods in Alabama, Someone Else’s Love Story, and others


  • excerpts

    Chapter 1

    My mother and I get along better with a room or two between us. The way she’s humming now, to herself, is the kind of thing that would make me crazy up close. But there’s something separate and free about the fact that she doesn’t know I’m listening, like she’d be doing this same thing if I didn’t exist, or if I was someone else’s daughter she knew only from church or the IGA. She breaks into a soft, nervous soprano. “My Favorite Things.” The words lilt over the opening and closing of her dresser drawers, over the sound of Mayor James’s lawnmower next door approaching and retreating like something that can’t make up its mind.

       It’s August, hot, and I’m waiting in the foyer on the bottommost stair, trying to catch the breeze from the window.

       “Charmaine?” my mother calls now from the bedroom, breaking off the song. She likes to exaggerate the French pronunciation of my name, for fun, in a way that pains me: Shah-hah-mehnn. “Come help me dress,” she says. “I have something to share with you.”

       In the bedroom I find her pulling her beige half-slip over her head, letter from my father in one hand. The international mail was so slow that it didn’t arrive until just this afternoon, as we’re about to head out to collect him from the Bluegrass Airport.

       “We’re not French,” I say.

       “We’re a little bit French,” she says, speaking through the thin polyester fabric. “Maybe.”

       She shrugs the slip down past her shoulders and bra, settles the elastic at her waist, and flaps the letter at the bed, where our black cat, Titus, sniffs at the airmail envelope. “Your father’s had new revelation,” she says.

       I perch on the bed and study the Jerusalem postmark. God’s own city. Where my father, a man after God’s own heart, a prophet, has spent the past month. Prophecy is the rarest of spiritual gifts. Usually it involves God telling my father what kinds of things to bring to people’s attention, but sometimes it involves God telling him what to do. Like visit the Holy Land. Or before that, take a year’s leave from The Good Word Press, where he writes up his prophecy, so that we can live, as we’ve been doing since last summer, on faith alone.

       “What kind of revelation?” I say carefully.

       My mother is frowning into the grainy mirror over the dresser, eyeing the tiny roll of loose skin that spills over the waistband of her slip.

       “Phoebe,” I say. “A revelation like to live on faith alone?”

       “Let’s hope not,” she says. “Charmaine. I think we’re done living on faith alone. It’s exhausting. Look here. Never forget to draw in the muscles, see? See?” She waves her arms until I look, then sucks in her stomach, pointing at the way the loose skin disappears. “Then you’ll never need a girdle. A project, he calls it, which sounds practical. If I had to guess, I’d say your father’s starting a new series of articles. About our year, maybe, or his trip. Maybe he’ll even write a book.” She steps into the bottom half of a cornflower blue suit she sewed herself. Bespoke is what she calls it, if anyone asks.

       Inside the airmail envelope is a postcard made out to me. It shows a tall, thin boulder rising from a faded landscape of rock, standing craggy and pale against blue, blue sky above an even deeper blue sea below. The Dead Sea. Which is really a lake, my father explains on the back, underneath which, quite possibly, lie the ruined, sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The boulder is supposed to be Lot’s disobedient, unfortunate wife. That’s all the note says. I flip the card back over and study the picture, wishing I could tell if this particular choice has anything to do with his revelation. Lot’s wife. One way you can look at the boulder makes her seem stuck in mid-motion, like she’s trying to move forward and turn back all at the same time. The other way makes her look like she’s hunched into herself, maybe under a shawl, watching her home disappear under a merciless rain of fire.

       Phoebe adjusts the skirt and squares her shoulders. She studies me with a serious, confiding tilt to her head, which usually means she’s about to share something she’ll want to stay just between us. Like her secret tailoring jobs that have kept us in peanut butter for the past year, which my father never thinks to question. Or how she has it on good authority that my grandmother, Daze, thinks my father married down. Since my father’s been away, I’m beginning to wonder if all information can be sorted into what I wish I knew and what I wish I didn’t.

       “Listen,” Phoebe begins, but I don’t want to. I scoop up Titus and jiggle him in Phoebe’s direction until he relaxes into my arms and starts to purr.

       “I’m a fat black kitty,” I say from behind his soft head.

       Phoebe sighs and pinches the pads of Titus’s foot. “Look at these little black beans,” she says in her half-scornful, half-babyish cat-talking voice. By the time I let him down and stand up, she’s already on to something else, giving me the once-over. “What’s that you’re wearing?”

       It’s a brown dress, one that Daze bought me.

       “Where’s the pretty white one I made for summer?” Phoebe says, pouting.

       I shrug. I’m not about to tell her how tight it’s gotten in the chest, how the roomier brown one does a better job hiding the burdensome evidence of my first period, too — the awful belt, the safety pins, the cotton pad thick as my forearm. In 1989 you can’t even buy pads for a belt anymore, but Phoebe found a year’s supply at a closeout sale. Fifty cents a box. And if I reminded her of any of this now, I’d have to hear the words your breasts again, and your flow, whispered at me in her best private voice.


    Outside, the sky is a low, humid ceiling. Everything under it is muddled with heat. We head north out of town, past the campus of the East Winder Seminary, past the retirement home named after my grandfather, the famous evangelist Custer Peake. Daze, his widow, lives there now. We pass the tree streets — Elm, Maple, Walnut — that dead-end at the seminary’s neglected athletic field. On a hill in that field stands our huge water tower with the light-up electric cross on top. Underneath that tower, before I was born, Custer Peake led more than four hundred people to the Lord in one of the world’s largest spontaneous revivals. It went on for two weeks. People stood or sat or camped, even, listening to my grandfather over the PA system someone rigged up on day three. They came from all over, even from other states, once the word got out. It made the papers. It made the television news in Lexington and Louisville, both. On day six, my father came home from college in Ohio to see what all the fuss was about, and on day ten, as the sun set, my grandfather sent him to meet a delivery truck from Clay’s Corner carrying two hundred loaves of Wonder Bread for communion. That’s when my father spotted her. A petite girl, standing at the edge of the crowd wearing a sun hat and cutoff dungaree...

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547542713

  • ISBN-10: 0547542712

  • Pages: 320

  • Price: $9.99

  • Publication Date: 07/01/2014

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