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The End of the Day

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Following his acclaimed New York Times bestseller Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg returns with a “delicate, deeply observed, and deftly crafted” (Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs) second novel about the complicated bonds and breaking points of friendship, the corrosive forces of secrets, the heartbeat of longing, and the redemption found in forgiveness.

A retired widow in rural Connecticut wakes to an unexpected visit from her childhood best friend whom she hasn’t seen in forty-nine years.

A man arrives at a Pennsylvania hotel to introduce his estranged father to his newborn daughter and finds him collapsed on the floor of the lobby.

A sixty-seven-year-old taxi driver in Kauai receives a phone call from the mainland that jars her back to a traumatic past.

These seemingly disconnected lives come together as half-century-old secrets begin to surface. It is in this moment that Bill Clegg reminds us how choices—to connect, to betray, to protect—become our legacy.

“Written in lyrical, beautiful prose that makes even waking up seem like a poetic event” (Good Morning America), this novel is a feat of storytelling, capturing sixty years within the framework of one fateful day.

1. Dana Dana
The tapping at the door is so faint and tentative it’s easy to pretend it’s not happening. The words that follow are whispered just as softly, but too audibly to ignore. Mrs. Dana, good morning. It’s after seven o’clock. The car is downstairs. Hello?

Brisk footfalls pad away. Dana has been dressed and ready to leave for more than an hour but is not yet prepared to face Marcella who begins flipping on light switches and emptying the dishwasher every morning at six-thirty. Marcella is an excellent cook and keeps the house in order, but it galls Dana how patronizing she can be, often speaking to her like she imagines someone addressing an imbecile—crossed arms, tilted head, exaggerated care—with words that to a stranger might sound respectful, even kind, but Dana hears disdain behind every syllable.

It’s time, Mrs. Dana, Marcella singsongs from behind the door, as if coaxing a child to eat vegetables. Time to go.

Another voice, higher-pitched and less sure, follows. Yes, hello? Miss Goss, are you awake? Marcella’s right. It is time.

Cristina. Marcella has brought her as back-up, Dana thinks, eyeing the door as a chess player anticipates her opponent’s next move.

The driver called to say he’s parked outside. It’s Philip. The one you like… not one of the old ones.

Cristina is less annoying, but she can be manipulative, too, when Marcella puts enough pressure on her. She’s younger than Marcella, who’s in her early sixties, though to Dana hardly looks fifty. The olive skin, she thinks. And the extra weight. Dana remembers something her grandmother told her when she was in high school: When you get older you choose your fanny or your face—one or the other, but never both Just look at your Aunt Lee, she looks young and adorable, for her age, but she absolutely can’t wear clothes. She looks like an Irish nanny with good jewelry.

Looking in the mirror across the room from where she sits on the bed, Dana reports joylessly, Grandmother, today I choose my fanny. She runs her hands across her flat stomach to remind herself why she has allowed her face to thin the way it has. She loved her Aunt Lee when she was alive, but agreed with her grandmother: size two and scary was better than size ten and adorable.

Good morning. Hello? Are you awake?

Cristina again. What Dana appreciates most about Cristina is that she doesn’t exude disapproval the way Marcella does; does not presume to know what is best, nor register impatience when she refuses to finish the meals Marcella has prepared, or when she does not respond right away when called to wake up. Unlike Marcella, who lives in Washington Heights with her husband, daughter and granddaughter, Cristina has no children, no husband, and lives in a room behind the gym in the basement of Dana’s townhouse. She is nearby, and more useful, though lately has frequently been called away to tend to her mother’s ill health.

Cristina’s mother was one of the maids in the apartment Dana grew up in on the Upper East Side. Her name was Ada and she’d come with her parents from Florida, and Mexico before that, to work for Dana’s family when she was a girl. Ada had already dropped out of high school by then, but her younger sister, Lupita, was only nine, one year younger than Dana. Their mother, Maria, had been in charge of everything inside the apartment in the city as well as at Edgeweather, the estate in Connecticut that had been in her father’s family since the Civil War. Maria’s husband, Joe, took care of the house and grounds, and lived there year-round with Lupita, while Maria and Ada stayed in the city during the week and came up to Edgeweather with Dana’s family most weekends.

Dana can still remember how ecstatic her mother was when the arrangement had been made to have the Lopez family come from Florida to work for them. She’d overheard her parents discussing it and her father finally agreeing to some kind of legal responsibility having to do with green cards that her mother had been pressing him to commit to. There hadn’t been a full-time staff at Edgeweather since the Deckers, a couple who’d taken care of the place for many years, had to leave because they’d gotten too old. Dana’s mother was also having a bad run with housekeepers and maids in the city at the time and the only person she trusted was Maria Lopez, the part-time maid in their house in Palm Beach. For a while it seemed that Dana’s mother’s entire well-being hinged on whether Dana’s father could manage to deliver Maria and her family to New York. Once he had, Dana remembers hearing him tell a colleague who’d come to their apartment for drinks that not since the days when staff was shipped from Africa had anyone gone to the lengths he’d had to go to in order to employ the Mexican family his wife had become fixated on.

Miss Goss, Cristina pleads from behind the door. You said to make sure you were out the door by seven and it’s already seven-fifteen.

Cristina is on her own now. Smart, Dana thinks with a rival’s respect, imagining Marcella ten steps down the hall, motioning with her fist for Cristina to knock again.

I’m so sorry, she says, beginning to sound defeated, but…

Fine, Dana exhales, shrugging her shoulders like a teenager, as if leaving the apartment on time wasn’t precisely what she’d insisted on the night before. Groaning, she pulls an old briefcase from her bed to her lap. It was a gift her father had given her the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Bryn Mawr, the summer he’d arranged for her to work at the bank with him. The case is the darkest brown, nearly black, made by the same company in England that made her father’s. The brass hardware was now dulled, but in gold her embossed initials, D.I.G., marched crisp and clear and still embarrassing beneath the handle. Dana Isabel Goss. The case was ridiculous. It always had been. Boxy and manly and expensive, and save for her father’s far more preferable initials, G.R.G., an exact copy of the one he carried most days of his life. Dana had held hers only a few times.

As her mother had predicted, Dana didn’t last long at the bank. After two and a half days on the job she withdrew three hundred dollars in cash from the trust her grandmother created, something her nineteenth birthday in March had finally allowed, walked out onto Park Avenue, and with briefcase in hand, hailed a taxi. She remembers feeling simultaneously rebellious and professional, a soon-to-be-fugitive in a tasteful blue blazer and skirt, clothing her mother had insisted on. Wells, Connecticut, she commanded after closing the taxi door, sounding as much like her father as she could. When the driver began to say, Miss, I don’t know… she clicked open the briefcase, pulled out a handful of cash and fanned it in front of her so that he was sure to see it in the rearview mirror. This was something she was sure her father would never, ever, do. Okay, okay, just tell me how to get there, the driver said. Already mortified by her own theatrics, she slumped back in the seat and tried her best to explain how to drive from the city to Litchfield County.

The day was July 3, 1969, a Thursday, one of the only dates Dana remembers. Not because she’d left the bank that morning without telling her father, or even because she’d spent the first money from her trust on a ridiculously expensive taxi ride. She remembers the date because it’s the one that marked the last day of what she would imprecisely call her youth, a period where her actions didn’t yet have consequences, or if they had, they hadn’t mattered very much. At least not to her.

Do you need my help? Cristina calls again from behind the door, louder than before, her tapping escalating to a full-blown knock. I can help, she offers, the manipulation creeping in, Marcella no doubt looming nearby.

Coat on, briefcase held in front of her with both hands at the bottom corners, she gets up from her bed and walks to the door. When Cristina’s knocking finally stops, Dana speaks—just above a whisper, with a trace of acquiescence, as if selflessly agreeing to perform a very difficult task being asked of her. I’m ready, she says, and waits for the door to be opened.
This reading group guide for The End of The Day includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Following his acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg returns with a deeply moving, emotionally resonant second novel about the complicated bonds and breaking points of friendship, the corrosive forces of secrets, the heartbeat of longing, and the redemption found in forgiveness.

Many seemingly disconnected lives come together as half-century-old secrets begin to surface. It is in this moment that Bill Clegg reminds us how choices—to connect, to betray, to protect—become our legacy.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. The End of the Day is told through many different perspectives: Dana, Jackie, Lupita, Floyd, Alice, and Hap. Whose voice did you most identify with and why? Did your opinion of any of the characters change throughout the story?

2. When we first meet Dana, she is annoyed by her staff, most particularly by a woman named Marcella, whom she describes as patronizing. Do you think she is? Why do you think Marcella has to approach Dana in this way?

3. Edgeweather is described in many different ways throughout the book, both as a crumbling home with only one tenant and a grand estate. Discuss how the house mirrors the characters’ own personal lives throughout the novel.

4. Jackie’s mother says about Dana and her family that “Those people . . . they don’t treat people the way we do” (pg. 20). Jackie shares this with Dana while mocking her mom, though she admits that it’s partially true. What do you think Jackie’s mother meant by that? Do you think she knew more information about the Goss family than she lets on?

5. Why do you think it took Hap until his father’s death to realize that his family was hiding something? What do you think he did with all the information that Dana tells him?

6. Hap and Gene are childhood friends, who have grown apart. “No longer playing any of the important roles he’d played since they were boys—trusted ally, fierce rival, finisher of sentences, co-creator of secret languages, relentless corruptor, conscience, confessor, penitent, defender, witness, brother” (pg. 133). Why do you think Hap feels loyalty to continue to be friends with Gene? Compare the friendship between Hap and Gene with the friendship between Dana and Jackie.

7. Lupita finds freedom in the feeling of driving Dana’s yellow convertible and even wearing Dana’s clothes without her knowledge. What do you think Lupita found in this experience? How does her relationship change with Dana’s possessions (the car, robe, and her room) throughout the book?

8. When Jackie is reflecting on why she didn’t confront Dana when they were young, she considers the tenuousness of friendships. “No lawyer or judge, mediator or priest needed. Not to make it, nor to unmake it, which requires even less. To end a friendship, it just takes someone willing to throw it away” (pg. 211). What do you think of Jackie’s perspective on friendship? Do you think Jackie and Dana would have remained friends if Floyd hadn’t come between them?

9. Later when Jackie confronts Dana years later, Dana doesn’t correct Jackie’s belief that she slept with Floyd. Dana states, “You’re right . . . I was jealous. And angry . . . I loved you . . .” (pg 256). Why do you think Dana doesn’t mention Lupita?

10. Dana keeps Lupita’s secret from her best friend. Why do you think Dana remained loyal to Lupita? Do you think she had an ulterior motive or was protecting her friend? Why do you think Dana invited Lupita to her Fourth of July picnic?

11. Why do you think Clegg chose to end the story on Lupita’s perspective? What do you think the ship that Lupita finally boards means? Who do you imagine is beside her?

12. The story weaves together characters from very different backgrounds whose lives overlap in various ways. What choices do you think unite characters who are otherwise very dissimilar? Which pairing of characters surprised you most?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The End of the Day shows the many ways that families and friends’ lives can intersect across generations. Create a family tree of the characters in the book. Which relationships do you think are strongest? Which fracture throughout the novel?

2. Lupita flees to Kauai where she finds she is able to rebuild her life far from New York. Why do you think Lupita is drawn to Hawaii in particular? What locations would members in your book club choose to live other than your current one?

3. Through the novel, character make choices (both seemingly small and large) that will affect the course of their lives. Assign each member of your book club a character (Dana, Jackie, Lupita, Floyd, Alice, and Hap) and have them identify what they think is the defining choice in their character’s story. How did their character’s choice impact the rest of the story?
Photograph by Van Scott-Clegg

Bill Clegg is a literary agent in New York and the author of the bestselling memoirs Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man and Ninety Days. The author of the novels Did You Ever Have a Family and The End of the Day, he has written for the New York Times, Lapham’s Quarterly, New York magazine, The Guardian, and Harper’s Bazaar.

More books from this author: Bill Clegg