Pieces of Paris (Paperback)
Annalisse and Dennis seem to be living the American dream until Annalisse's secret past and the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome threaten to destroy her family.
This skillfully crafted novel explores the long-term effects of personal tragedy in haunting flashbacks of Annalisse's former life &mdash flashbacks that are interwoven with a passionate romance and reveal a person entirely different from the woman Dennis thought he married.
But as each revelation increases the emotional gulf between them, Dennis's investigation of a toxic waster incident ignites the wrath of a former political ally and an industrial firm that will go to any lengths to cover up a shocking crime.
Can Annalisse reconcile her past and present before it's too late? And can Dennis find a way to save his family and the town they've called home?
- Size: 6x9
- Pages: 320
- Published: 2010
About the Author
G.G. Vandagriff received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master’s degree from George Washington University. Besides writing, research, and genealogy, G.G. enjoys traveling and playing with her grandson. She and her husband, David, are the parents of three children and reside in Provo, Utah.
It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night – so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling.
Straightening up from picking beans in Dennis’s garden, she drew a hand across her sweaty forehead. She had a family now, she told herself firmly. Little Jordan and a husband who had rescued her and chased away the darkness. Thinking of Dennis with his Brad Pitt good looks and quixotic worldview, she wondered, not for the first time, whether the tenderness she felt for him would ever be enough to qualify her as the kind of wife he deserved. She longed to feel the passion she knew she was capable of, but that woman was a stranger to her now and thus to Dennis. He had no place in that up and down and over and under looping past that had made her cry and laugh and perhaps lose her heart forever.
She looked at the wretched green beans in her bucket and stretched to ease the muscles in her back. On the farm growing up she had hated picking vegetables, but now being six months pregnant made it doubly hateful.
Did I make a mistake.
For the four and a half years of her marriage, she had thought she was happy. Of course, that was before they had moved to the Ozarks, of all places. But she must love Dennis. How could she not? His dreams for a better world and his efforts to make it so had seduced her into feeling there was hope after all. Those had been her childhood dreams as well. Marrying Dennis was like coming home.
But he had never met or known the real Annalisse, the one who existed in parentheses between her leaving her childhood farm and marrying him. She had, until now, allowed him to reinvent her, to place her on the pedestal of his dreams. But, lately, flashbacks had been jolting through her daily life, transporting her from their farm back to more exotic times and places. She thought she had expunged those memories from her life six years ago, leaving them behind in the blackness. Why had they begun to resurface, harrowing up her numbed heart with their sights, scents, and sounds?
On the other hand, what was she doing here in the middle of this blasted garden picking beans? It had to be the world’s worst irony that she had ended up back on a farm. She had tried to make their life in the country work. With all her might she had tried. But now, not only did her back ache but her heart ached. The bugs were crawling up her ankles and arms, and the dense blanket of humidity caused sweat to trickle down her neck.
“Mom! Bug!” shrieked her three-and-a-half-year-old son.
Annalisse looked at towheaded Jordan, a tiny miniature of Dennis, and in the midst of her misery, a thrill of fondness lifted her out of the past. “Since when are you afraid of spiders, Anakin? Use your lightsaber?”
She did feel. Maybe not as she ought, but her love for Jordan eclipsed every other love in her life. She would never, ever forget the moment the she first held the miracle that she, Dennis, and God had made. For days she had felt as though she were queen of the world.
Jordan assumed a frightening mien, brushed the spider off his leg with the stick, and stamped it with his little green Crocs. “Squash, squash, squash!”
“Good for you! Now, back to the beans.” Feelings for her little boy climbed like a vine all around her heart. She hoped that vine would be strong enough to hold together the Annalisse she was trying so hard to become. She hugged and loved Jordan, taught and played with him, joined in his imaginary games.
Why wasn’t it enough? Why wouldn’t Jules and their tightly woven past leave her alone? Were these sudden violent bout of memory turning her into a schizophrenic?
But Jordan was not finished complaining. “Mommy, beans are for daddies.”
Internally, Annalisse agreed. It was a constant wonder to her how precious her son was. But she tried to motivate Jordan, just as her mother had always spurred her on in difficult tasks. “I know it’s hot, honey. I hate it, too. But Dad’s at his office, and he’ll be tired when he gets home.” She hadn’t had the heart to tell Dennis that canned beans from the store on sale were cheaper, considering all the labor that went into growing, picking, and canning. Why does it have to be done?
She knew the answer: It was part of the city-born Dennis’ dream of becoming the next Thoreau – a dream of light and hope that was a necessary weapon against her past. A dream that was becoming more necessary by the hour, as the haunting grew worse.
Ignoring her, Jordan danced down to the creek and began to splash himself with the glee of a typical child.
“Can you tell me what in the world you’re doing here?” Jules was inside her head again. “Green beans? I thought you’d left the far. What’s happened to you, Lisse?”
She felt the tears she hadn’t shed years ago sting her eyes, and she turned her back so Jordan wouldn’t see. Her nose was running now, and she had nothing but the back of her dusty hand to wipe it. Yanking at the beans, she pulled them up, plant and all, and flung them into her bucket.
“Mom!” Jordan said, standing up to his knees in water, his little freckled face scrunched with worry. “Yo, wecking the gawden!”
Suddenly, she knew she couldn’t pick one more green bean. “Let’s just forget them, Jordan. Come away from the creek.”
As they climbed the hill to the house, her short night caught up with her. She was very tired. Physically tired and more than exhausted by her ongoing mental debate. Was it wrong for me to have married Dennis? Especially when our marriage was founded on lies of omission? Guilt struck her so forcibly that she stumbled.
“Go wy down on yo’ bed!” said Jordan, the worrywart, when she couldn’t keep up with him. “Membew my sistew in yo’ tummy. Daddy said I gotta take cao of you.”
Annalisse knew that is she continued to view her surroundings through Jules’ eyes, she was going to completely lose it. “Why don’t you go play Star Wars, honey,” she suggested. “I have a new action figure for you.”
Her son jumped up and down. “Who? Who?”
“Yoda. the little guy with the big ears …”
“Coool! I been wanting Yoda fo’ a wong time.”
“Go look in my bottom drawer, sweetie.”
After Jordan ran upstairs, she walked towards the fridge with the idea of pouring herself a glass of orange juice but stopped in the middle of a kitchen that suddenly appeared strange and unfamiliar. What in heaven’s name is wrong with me? Grabbing fistfuls of her long blonde hair, she beat her head with her knuckles.
Forgetting the juice, she walked aimlessly into the living room and looked at her baby grand piano, so out of place in the farmhouse. She simply couldn’t stay away any longer. They had dragged it halfway across the country, and as far as Dennis knew, it was her father’s gift for the children. But now, as though she were sleep-walking, she went over to it and caressed the keys. Then she did something she hadn’t allowed herself to do in six years. She sat on the bench and put her feet on the pedals. She was swept away by a memory so intense that she had no strength to fight it off.
The door was open, but Jules was so lost in his practicing that he didn’t see or hear her. Leaning against the door frame, Annalisse listened to him master the Tchaikovsky violin concerto.
Light filtered in from a high window, making the small practice room with its bare green walls look like a monk’s cell. On the floor was a ragged denim jacket, a pack of Marlboro’s spilling from one pocket. Across a folding chair lay his violin case, open, so that the ruby velvet lining caught the light and gleamed like wine.
Overlaying the sparseness of these few details was music so vivid and rich that Annalisse was compelled to close her eyes against it, reducing the meager visual surroundings to a color negative on the back of her eyelid.
Such music! Minor chords striving heroically toward a dissonant climax, and then, abruptly, a hauntingly melodic interlude where the bowing slowed. Slavic melancholy, Jules called it. Climbing, reaching desperately up the scale, the wistfulness grew into feverish, teeth-gritting longing, made more poignant still by Jules’ obvious identification with the work.
When she could stand it no longer, she opened her eyes. Perspiration had plastered a fringe of dark curls to his forehead, and a grimace distorted his expressive mouth. He looked the picture of a suffering El Greco Christ. Annalisse’s prosaic Lutheran upbringing had done nothing to prepare her for the pain of her heart stretching to contain this new world of feeling.
“Oh, God, help me!” she pleaded silently. Usually very self-possessed, she felt the logical, practical organ she knew to be her heart fly out of her breast and lose itself in the dramatic foreign terrain where Jules dwelt.
Piano Performance was only her minor, but when she had first heard Jules play, she started coming every day to the practice rooms. Their acquaintance was only weeks old, but it was clear that she could never expect more than friendship from the violinist. Her native universe – anatomy cadavers, soybeans, and solid Swedish parents – was far too ordinary. Before coming to Stanford, she had gone only once a week to study with a former great concert pianist in Madison, Wisconsin.
Then, Jules was looking at her, and she felt the color flooding her face. For a moment the spell of the music held, and then they were just Jules and Annalisse again. He scowled.
“Sorry,” she said. “The door was open, you know.”
Without speaking, he stowed his violin reverently in its case. It was the only possession he treated properly.
“What’s happening?” he asked finally, with the vague air of one returning from a long journey.
She nodded. She had been lost for hours at the piano next door, struggling with her Rachmaninoff. Jules had set her the task, claiming that she needed to stretch herself with a Russian composer. The music was beyond difficult, but a rare, unknown flower of feeling had begun to unfurl just below her breastbone. She had never known it was there. It possessed the mystery and sweetness of a secret. A secret Annalisse.
Together they walked out into the wet afternoon. A mass of students milled around the plaza between the union and the post office, dressed in a variety of garb – sombreros, berets, army surplus fatigues, frayed work shirts, sandals, cowboy boots – pervading the area with the smell of wet wool and leather. Above the long-haired throng, Stanford’s fountain, Memorial Claw, displayed its barbs like some malevolent goddess.
“Want to go to the beach?” she asked suddenly.
Jules looked at her for a second as though she were deranged." In the rain?"
“It’s only a mist.”
For just an instant, his eyes softened, and then there, right in front of the post office, he gave her his first kiss – long, lingering, and hot. Cupping the back of her head with his hand, he said, “You’re adorable.”
“Me?” she felt giddy as her heart did flips. Jules never used words like “adorable.” And he certainly never kissed her.
“But crazy as a loon.”
Annalisse studied her dirty hands with their chipped, begrimed fingernails. Once, they had played a concert grand for hours each day. Since then she had thrust music, along with Jules, to the most distant place in her personally universe. The flower inside her was dormant now. Bare and barbed with thorns she wouldn’t go near.
Her hands had found other occupations – wiping baby bottoms, planting gardens, canning beans. But there, somewhere amid the tendons she could see beneath her skin, was a magical chemistry, a memory of muscle, linked to a banished part of her brain-life. Would the connection still work? Did she even want it to? Would she dare to open Pandora’s box?
Hesitantly, she put her work-soiled hands on the smooth ivory keys and began awkwardly to play one of the pieces of Paris.
by Heather - reviewed on October 05, 2010
Every marriage is a web of complication with many aspects that go into weaving the fine interlocking threads. Our genetic makeup as well as our childhood years and past relationships combine to create the role we play in the give and take of a marital relationship. When we first meet our spouses-to-be, we might be wearing rose-colored glasses so to speak. We might fall in love with the person we “think” they are. We might share our backgrounds, including our past relationships, but none of our personal history matters much to the person we are in love with. We have connected. We have become soul mates. And everything from this point on it just about us, just about our two-person universe, and nothing from the past can ever intrude. Until the flashbacks start. Annalisse has been married for several years to Dennis. They have a young boy and another child on the way. When Annalisse met Dennis, she saw him as her saving anchor to root her into a stable reality, opposite of her previous stormy relationship. She clings to him as a boat in stormy waters relies on its anchor. She wants a change—a massive change, and that includes locking her past away. Dennis knows he’s met someone unique and special when he is set up with Annalisse. A past relationship has broken his heart, but Annalisse is vastly different. She is stoic, she is trustworthy, and she is everything he needs to heal his heart. There is no question that they are meant to be together and Annalisse will always be his one and only. Their relationship collides when Annalisse starts to experience painful flashbacks into her past, crippling her from being content with her current married life. The pain is so intense, it threatens to pull Annalisse from all that she loves. She is too afraid to confide in her husband—sure that it will destroy their relationship. While Dennis is trying to understand his wife’s changed behavior, he is fighting against an industrial firm that is trying to cover up a toxic waste dump. GG Vandagriff once again explores the intensity of human emotion, delivering a powerful story of second chances, the gift of forgiveness, and the depth of true love. This well-crafted story is absorbing from page one and the characters powerful and relatable. Pieces of Paris is a literary symphony, a cacophony of words that delves into the hearts of all of us, as Annalisse and Denni fight to reestablish the rhythm of their marriage. An emotionally-engaging and unforgettable journey
Fire and Ice
by Heather - reviewed on September 29, 2010
This is the first book I have read by G.G. Vandagriff though I've met her briefly a couple of times at Authorpalooza events. So first off, special thanks to her and Shadow Mountain for letting me take a sneak peek at her newest novel for women. Told through the eyes of a married couple and from two alternate points of view, Pieces of Paris opens with Annalisse, a woman in her twenties, living on a farm in the Ozarks. She is pregnant with her second child and suddenly finds herself being haunted by the past. Her stable life with husband Dennis, a local lawyer, begins to crumble as she can't shake memories that come in the way of flashbacks. Meanwhile, Dennis is battling with a case which stirs up controversy and puts their family in danger. His lifelong dream of an escape to Eden and a peaceful life are threatened by Annalisse's sudden change in behavior and the hot bed of unrest in his town. The two of them pull apart for the first time as a couple and both begin to wonder if their marriage is not at all what they wanted or expected. Can Annalisse salvage the passion and talent she once felt without losing herself to the past? Can Dennis love her as she really is? Pieces of Paris does a masterful job of weaving a captivating story with real life issues like manic depression and the true definition of love. It's a book that is likely to evoke strong emotions for anyone with experience with mental illness or PTSD. She pushes buttons on some hot topics: racism and environmental clean up as well as small town politics. The book has some very tough and graphic moments as Annalisse learns she has to move through the pain or her past in order to overcome it. However, in the end the overall message is one of hope and finding a center that can't be lost. It was evident from the detail in Pieces of Paris that Ms. Vandagriff is a highly intelligent, cultured person with a deep knowledge of psychology. (We're excited to interview her soon!) 25 years in the making, Pieces of Paris is a glimpse of her talent. Visit her website at http://ggvandagriffblog.com/ to learn about her other published works, view her author interview with us and see and upcoming events. See our full review at http://fireandicephoto.blogspot.com/2010/09/pieces-of-paris-by-gg-vandagriff.html
Multi-layered and compelling!
by Stephanie - reviewed on October 13, 2010
GG Vandagriff is a skilled and talented writer. The main characters, Annalise and Dennis, are both deep, rounded characters. They both have problems. They both have pasts. They are both good people facing painful challenges, and they both struggle and grow. Great character development! I didn’t get much done the morning when I was finishing the book because I was eager to find out how it ended. Pieces of Paris is a compelling, multi-layered novel.
by Michele - reviewed on October 18, 2010
Once I started this book I couldn't put it down. GG Vandagriff manages to dig deep into the heart and soul of her characters and reveal struggles and flaws that reveal their complicated pasts and complex feelings. The colliding emotions of pain and passion, love and loss, create a story layered with memories, suspense and desperation. Beautifully and powerfully written, this book will linger in your thoughts long after you've put it down.
A fascinating and captivating read!
by Michele - reviewed on October 20, 2010
Weaving together powerful gospel truths and psychologically driven fiction, GG Vandagriff’s, Pieces of Pieces, takes readers on a emotional ride that winds through the darkest recesses of painful memories, plunges into unexpected realities, then climbs to breathtaking vistas of understanding, forgiveness and love. In Pieces of Paris we see the unraveling of Annalisse, a woman who seems to have everything until dark memories she’s kept deeply buried for years claw their way to the surface, threatening to destroy everything she holds dear. The story opens with Annalisse, a woman in her twenties, living a quiet, normal life on a farm in the Ozarks. She is expecting her second child and is mom to three and a half year old son, Jordan. But after four and a half years of bliss she suddenly finds herself being haunted by the past. Her predictable but seemingly happy life with husband Dennis, an attorney, begins to crumble. The first paragraph of the book reads: It was the simple things that undid her, Annalisse had discovered. Something as ordinary as the scent of lilacs when the air was heavy, a brief measure of Tchaikovsky, or a dream. A dream like the one she’d awakened from last night – so real she could smell the Paris Metro in it. Any of these things could revive in a moment the memories she’d spent the last six years burying. They crept under the leaden shield around her heart and found the small, secret place where she still had feeling. So begins Annalisse’s journey of facing a past she’d blocked from her reality until piece by piece, the fragments began to fit together, forcing her to face the pain she’d thought she’d covered . . . until now. Leaving another life behind, Annaliese finds refuge and safety in the arms of her beloved, idealistic, husband, Dennis. He is her anchor, her strength, and she puts her past behind her to be with him, and that includes moving to his idea of the Garden of Eden . . . the Ozarks. When he meets Annalisse, Dennis knows she is someone unique and special. Dealing with pain from his own past and a broken heart, he focuses on this beautiful woman, vastly different from his past relationship, Annalisse immediately appears to be the perfect person to heal his disillusionment and he knows they are meant to be together. When the flashbacks begin, Annalisse keeps them to herself—certain that telling Dennis will destroy their relationship. At the same time Dennis is battling with a controversial legal case, fighting against an industrial firm that is trying to cover up a toxic waste dump, a case that has put his family in danger. As each challenge grows and pushes them apart, Dennis and Annalisse both begin to wonder if their marriage is what they really wanted or expected and if the person they are with now is anything like the person they thought they married. Vandagriff has a true gift of words and paints glorious scenes and intense emotion in this well-paced, gripping drama. This powerful story of second chances, the gift of forgiveness, and the depth of truth will resonate with readers of all ages and stations in life.
Stunning and Moving
by Alana - reviewed on September 20, 2010
G.G. Vandagriff does not disappoint at all in her most recent book "Pieces of Paris" Once again, she transports us into a world of today's reality in people, places and politics. Her characters Analisse and Dennis are beautifully written and tug at the heartstrings, leaving the reader wanting nothing but the best that life can provide for them and wanting them to be in the end of the novel in a world of happily ever-after. Ghosts from the past that haunt the minds of the characters and the smooth transitions between the past and the here and now ties the story together. Beautifully written with great thought to details. Thank you G.G. for another touching novel.
Pieces of Paris captivates and delivers.
by susan - reviewed on October 14, 2010
From the first paragraph Pieces of Paris gripped me. The story, by G.G. Vandagriff, didn’t matter then, the writing had enchanted. And then, I realized, the story did matter. Very much. I was carrying this book around with me everywhere I went. Annalisse lived a life of music, Europe, and love that she never told her husband about. Because when that life crashed around her, in pain and horror, she shut it away and locked up her memories. “She had baked oatmeal cookies and resolutely shunned her piano and the road not taken.” Dennis, the idealist, embraced lost causes, but unable to face reality when his efforts didn’t produce the end he envisioned, he always moved on. “There had been so many disillusionments, but in spite of them all, hadn’t he always been convinced that the promised land still awaited him somewhere?” When Dennis finds his “Eden,” he gathers up his family and moves them to a farm in the Ozarks. Together they must face the crisis of Annalisse’s flashbacks that are dragging her back into the pain of her past while Dennis’ Eden is sinking into a toxic mire. Today’s society too often would suggest that Dennis and Annalisse separate to face individually those things that are trying to destroy them. “But he was bound to Annalisse by vows and to Jordan and Bronwyn by love and responsibility.” I rejoiced in that line. Pieces of Paris is about environmental abuses, narrow-mindedness, narcissism, bigotry, tragic memories, loyalty, vindication, rediscovered faith, love, resolution, and peace. It’s about a husband and wife, who learn that the best way to resolve the challenges of life is with each other. And with God. Perhaps he had missed the significance of the shepherd entirely. Life wasn’t about avoiding death, avoiding pain. It never had been. That was why the Shepherd was necessary. I recommend this book. I would suggest it to a book group. There are multiple ideas that could be explored. My own thoughts about Latinos fall somewhere between Annalisses’ and the bigotry of the Cherokee County Republican Women. I loved her description of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss: “chaste, but far more erotic than his nudes. . .The painting showed a once-in-a-lifetime love.” Her descriptions of Chopin had me racing to the tinny sounds in my computer and mourning that I didn’t have a live pianist before me. “For a while, they only walked in silence, their arms around each others waists. Couple embraced against the ramparts, cooing French words of love. In the distance, Annalisse heard a barge hooting and the klaxon of a police siren amidst muted car horns. But then they walked into a mystical fog and entered their own private world—a fairy tale place behind a scrim that protected them from the sudden turns of fate that were occurring all over Paris this night.” Isn’t this why we read?
by Dena - reviewed on November 07, 2010
Pieces of Paris was a quick enjoyable read. Oddly enough, what others liked about the book was the one thing I disliked about it. I felt she over embellished the adjectives. Caused more of a disruption in the reading for me. Overall, her development of the characters was really good. I enjoyed the pull between the past and present time line. Vandagriff did an excellent job with the interjection of flashbacks during the story.
by Annika - reviewed on September 16, 2010
Written beautifully, and richly descriptive. Pieces of Paris takes you on a breathtaking journey of a woman suddenly lost in her long buried past, a past she has kept completely hidden from her husband. Her husband not only is forced to uncover his wife's mystery, but another endangering the entire town. G.G. takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster, revealing Annalisse's past in tantalizing snippets, making this poignant story difficult to put down to the very end. Well done GG!