An American Tune
Publication Year: 2012
While reluctantly accompanying her husband and daughter to freshman orientation at Indiana University, Nora Quillen hears someone call her name, a name she has not heard in more than 25 years. Not even her husband knows that back in the '60s she was Jane Barth, a student deeply involved in the antiwar movement. An American Tune moves back and forth in time, telling the story of Jane, a girl from a working-class family who fled town after she was complicit in a deadly bombing, and Nora, the woman she became, a wife and mother living a quiet life in northern Michigan. An achingly poignant account of a family crushed under the weight of suppressed truths, An American Tune illuminates the irrevocability of our choices and how those choices come to compose the tune of our lives.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Break Away Books
Title Page, Copyright
Prologue. “Deja Vu”
Nora Quillen sat on a bench in People’s Park, considering what was lost. The Book Nook was gone and, with it, long, rainy afternoons browsing the cluttered shelves, breathing in the smell of paper and ink. The Oxford Shop, Redwood and Ross, the Peddler were gone,...
Part One. The Expensive Moment
1 “Turn, Turn, Turn”
Jane said the name of her dorm and her mother listened, pointing out street signs, as Jane read from the directions that had been included in her housing packet. It was Mrs. Barth’s way not to acknowledge bad behavior but, instead, respond to the rudeness with...
2 “Blowin’ in the Wind”
She had watched them on campus in the fall, secretly fascinated by their intensity: long-haired girls; thin, scraggly-bearded boys in wirerimmed glasses, wearing black turtleneck sweaters and jeans, fatigue jackets, or battered tweeds. Green Army knapsacks heavy with books...
3 “Unchained Melody”
Jane set out for the bus stop every day in the mid-afternoon, the hottest part of the day, carrying a sack lunch and whatever book she was reading. It was a half-hour’s walk, through neatly laid out subdivisions of little square houses like the one she lived in with her family...
4 “Tomorrow Never Knows”
Pete had tacked a hand-painted sign on the porch of the old farmhouse: “Land of a Thousand Dances,” though it was the Beatles’ Revolver that he played over and over again. Right now, it was “Here, There and Everywhere.” Next would be “Yellow Submarine,” Jane...
5 “Bird on a Wire”
Jane was surprised by the change she saw in her brother when she went home for Christmas. The greaser kid was gone, and the unsettling obsequiousness he’d displayed after the accident had been replaced by a quiet sense of purpose that made him seem older, more...
6 “For What It’s Worth”
It was a glorious Saturday afternoon, unseasonably warm for November, and Jane and Bridget lounged on the porch swing, drinking tea, watching Tom wash and wax his MG in the driveway. He wore jeans and a faded blue chambray shirt rolled up at the sleeves. His curly...
7 “White Rabbit”
Sometimes Jane thought it seemed as if Bridget were the one whose brother had died in Vietnam. She was enraged by what had happened to Bobby. The day after they returned from the funeral, she joined Students for a Democratic Society and threw herself into working...
8 “Everybody’s Talkin’”
Jane drove a half-hour each morning in the winter darkness to get to the elementary school where she’d been assigned to do her student teaching–beyond the outskirts of Bloomington into the country, passing farmhouses with lights twinkling inside, a little roadside...
Jane concentrated on the screen: the President in a dark suit, reading from the pages of the speech he held in his hands. “Ten days ago, in my report to the Nation on Vietnam, I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the...
10 “Fortunate Son”
She was back before Thanksgiving. They’d driven west, she told Jane–through the mountains in Colorado, then heading north for Wyoming and Montana, searching for the place Pete had seen in his dream. But no place was right. They’d blown most of her savings by...
11 "Gimme Shelter”
Maybe Tom was right in his belief that they were better off not having any contact with Bridget. He probably was right, Jane thought. She still would have worried, of course, but it would have been a different, abstract kind of worry, not the kind born of some small thing Bridget...
12 “Purple Haze”
When she woke up, he was already gone. He was still mad at her, Jane knew, because there was no note to say what time to expect him back that night. He always left a note since the time, not long after they moved in together, he had decided to go out for a few beers with a...
13 “Paint It Black”
Jane dreamed it for the first time in the motel room with Cam, the night after the bombing: following Bridget out of the icy night into the dark building, the explosion, and Bridget’s terrible, surprised expression in the moment before she fell backwards into the flames,...
Part Two. The Continuous Life
14 “Our House”
She would go through the day, moment by moment, the way she had taught herself to do. Live each moment fully. The sun pouring in through the open kitchen window, catching the prisms dangling among the plants to cast rainbows on the wall. The white bowl of...
15 “Good Day Sunshine”
That night she dreamed of Bridget again. Not the nightmare from long ago that had returned, with different variations, ever since Claire had sent her acceptance to Indiana: Bridget caught in flames, wheeling backwards. But Bridget appearing in the doorway of her dorm...
16 “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
The first week of August, the litany of Claire’s last moments began: last day at work, last volleyball game, last sunset picnic on the beach, last overnight with her high school girlfriends, last cheeseburger at the Friendly. Tonight was the last concert of the season at Interlochen,...
17 “Go Now!”
On Claire’s last morning at home, Nora stood at the window and watched her walk slowly through the meadow, trailing her fingers among the flowers as she went, then slip through the trees onto the lake path, Astro trotting along happily behind her. Later, Claire stood...
18 "Teach Your Children”
It worked sometimes to talk softly to Jo about things that had happened in the past, going back in time to when Charlie was a little boy and then reeling her in toward the present, story by story. But today, Nora did not have the heart for it. The stories would lead to Claire;...
19 “The Long and Winding Road”
Charlie’s mood lightened with October: a series of cool, golden days and Parents Weekend nearing. He started collecting things to take to Claire: fudge from the candy shop in town, a big, fleecy hooded sweatshirt with “Sleeping Bear Dunes” on the front, a bag of the first...
20 “Mercy Mercy Me”
Nora felt strange in her own house after the weekend in Bloomington–not unlike she’d felt on acid all those years ago. Scared, clinging to rational thought in exactly the same way. But the world she’d seen on acid was chemically induced, not real, and in time the images had...
21 “The Things We Said Today”
Do you remember that first Thanksgiving in the house, when Bridget and I cooked the turkey and, carving it, you found we’d left the plastic bag of innards inside? How you just stood there, holding it between your thumb and fingers with this expression on your face that made...
I hate to think how many times I’ve run it all through my head, thinking, what if I hadn’t gone? What if I’d come back that night, like I should have? The only thing I know for sure is that if I’d been there and been the one who woke up and heard Bridget leave, I’d have let...
23 “She’s Not There”
He shrugged but agreed to drive into Traverse City to the Walmart with her, where they bought a table-top tree with tiny, twinkling lights. They picked up, then put down, a box of miniature glass balls–too dangerous–and bought a bag of candy canes to use...
24 “Bridge over Troubled Water”
In the next days, she might as well have been invisible to him. Until Claire came home, he could sit silently through breakfast, take his second cup of coffee out to the clinic rather than drinking it with Nora. He could sit in his easy chair all evening, ignoring her. He could...
Part Three. Unfinished Days
25 “Stand by Me”
The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun shining–warm on Nora’s face, despite the cold air. She came down from the woods, Astro following, and picked up a stone as she did every morning. Light gray, smooth, and egg-shaped, it fit perfectly into the palm of her hand....
26 “Hazy Shade of Winter”
She slept poorly and missed the lake when she woke–knowing it was there, knowing she could step outside and walk across the meadow to the path through the forest that would take her to the shoreline in moments. She missed the sight of Astro, all coiled energy, bursting...
27 “High out of Time”
Tom had bought his house because of the three-and-a-half-car garage, he said–so big it took up most of the backyard. Inside, there was a stereo, cable TV, a little refrigerator full of beer and soda. A workbench, shelves of automotive products. Mechanics toolboxes...
28 “The Sunshine of Your Love”
On a shelf in Tom’s basement there was a box marked “Jane,” filled with the things she’d left behind the night of the bombing. Her birth certificate, her high school yearbooks, her college diploma. The leather ring binder she’d splurged on her freshman year, worn from...
29 “MacArthur Park”
Nora remembered a summer evening, dusk, lightning bugs flickering all around her. She was nine, maybe ten years old, standing in a vacant lot at the edge of her neighborhood, watching cars go by on the interstate, her hand lifted in a wave, imagining that a nice...
30 “Carry On”
They set out, news of the war on the car radio. The bombing had begun; you could hear the rat-tat-tat of gunfire, Baghdad exploding behind the measured voices of reporters describing the city now under siege. Nora felt numb to it, though. She was remembering how she’d...
31 “Get Together”
Diane had planned to close the shop while she and Monique were in Florida; business was slow in March, anyway. But she accepted gratefully when Nora offered to keep it open. It would be good for both of them, Nora said. No customers would be turned away, and she’d have something to do to pass the time, waiting and hoping to...
32 “Let it Be”
Charlie was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee when she came downstairs, his posture erect, both hands gripping the mug as if to ground him there....
33 Here, There and Everywhere”
On the first of May, President Bush had swaggered in full flight regalia from the jet that landed him on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, grinning, giving the thumbs up to the hundreds of sailors lining the flight deck under a banner that proclaimed “Mission Accomplished.”...