Home Alone

How do you escape from one existence into another? In this excerpt from Dana Spiotta’s novel liberation first comes in the form of a tumbledown house.


One way to understand what had happened to her (what she had made happen, what she had insisted upon): It began with the house. It was the particular house, but it also was where the house was and where she discovered she wanted to be. It was a run-down, abandoned Arts and Crafts cottage in a neglected, once-vibrant neighborho­od in the city of Syracuse.

The house sat high on a tiny lot on Highland Street, which ran atop a hill that bordered a long expanse of grass and trees. It looked like a small, sloping park, but it was actually a cemetery, the old graves clustered in the southwest corner. Unless you were squeamish about graves—Sam wasn’t—the sloping green hill was quite pretty. Highland itself offered a wide view of downtown. You could see the steeples of churches, and you could see how the small city was in a valley surrounded by hills. You could even see the kidney shape of Onondaga Lake, although it was often partly obscured by low-hanging clouds. If you turned your head to the left, or if you looked out the side windows of the house, you could see Syracuse University up on another hill. You would locate it by the quilted low white bubble of the Carrier Dome (named for the nearly absent Carrier Corporatio­n—all that remained were a handful of jobs, the dome, and Carrier Circle, a treacherou­s traffic roundabout that Sam hated). Soon after you spotted the dome you would notice the various spired and turreted campus buildings.

The decision to leave her husband—the act of leaving, really—began the moment she made an offer on the house. It was a Sunday; Sam woke up at 5 a.m. She attributed this unnecessar­ily early waking to the approach of menopause. Her period still came each month, but odd things had started changing in her body, even her brain. One of which was suddenly becoming awake at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, her mind shaking off sleep with unnegotiab­le clarity, as if she had already drunk a cup of coffee. And just as with coffee, she felt alert, an adrenal burst, but she could also feel the fatigue underneath it all, the weariness. That morning the wood floor was cold against her bare feet, but she couldn’t find her slippers. It was still dark. She tried not to wake her husband. She used her phone to illuminate the way to the bathroom. She peed, flushed, washed. She brushed her teeth without looking in the mirror. She pushed up the blinds to peek outside. The sky was gradually lightening with the

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