From the author of Tuck Everlasting comes a powerful, multi-layered story about a man who never felt complete, the family he is unable to fully love, and the fabulous amusement park that he created.
Everyone in town knows Herbert Rowbarge as the wealthy creator of the Rowbarge Pleasure Dome, a fantastic amusement park. But his past is murky. Even his twin daughters believe that their father has led a lonely but prosperous life, inheriting his wealth from various deceased relatives.
What the town doesn’t know is that Herbert was born a penniless orphan, sustained only by his desire to create something beautiful: An amusement park with a carousel featuring pairs of identical animals. Everything he’s achieved has been a product of that single-minded determination.
What Herbert himself doesn’t know is that he is a twin. All he knows is that he has never felt complete. When he gazes into the mirror, he glimpses some lost part of himself. When he looks at his twin daughters, he feels a stab of something like jealousy.
Told from the point of view of Herbert and his daughters, this is a family story about how people can long for a part of themselves that they never knew they lost. Natalie Babbitt is at her best in this stunning novel for adults.
"Herbert Rowbarge has . . . an almost folktale-like tone and plot. Never mind that it contains its share of Buicks and bridge parties; it still possesses the hushed, concentrated, stripped quality of a legend. And like a legend, it draws us in. It’s spellbinding.” —Anne Tyler, The New York Times Book Review
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||198 KB|
About the Author
Artist and writer Natalie Babbitt (1932–2016) is the award-winning author of the modern classic Tuck Everlasting and many other brilliantly original books for young people. As the mother of three small children, she began her career in 1966 by illustrating The Forty-Ninth Magician, written by her husband, Samuel Babbitt. She soon tried her own hand at writing, publishing two picture books in verse. Her first novel, The Search for Delicious, was published in 1969 and established her reputation for creating magical tales with profound meaning. Kneeknock Rise earned Babbitt a Newbery Honor in 1971, and she went on to write—and often illustrate—many more picture books, story collections, and novels. She also illustrated the five volumes in the Small Poems series by Valerie Worth. In 2002, Tuck Everlasting was adapted into a major motion picture, and in 2016 a musical version premiered on Broadway. Born and raised in Ohio, Natalie Babbitt lived her adult life in the Northeast.
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, May 20, 1952
Much has been made of the fact that there have never, in ten times ten thousand winters, been two snowflakes exactly alike. This is considered one of Nature's miracles, and even so much as a single identical pair discovered in even so remote and therefore pointless a place as Igloolik or Murmansk would ruin the whole thing. Yet here, in northwestern Ohio, for everyone with half an eye to see, are Babe and Louisa Rowbarge, sitting face to face at a table in the President McKinley Tea Room, and they are exactly alike down to the last tooth and zipper, and nothing at all is ruined thereby.
And yet there is a marvel here, if not a miracle. All that can be seen with half an eye is two figures dressed alike, plainly unwed, unbedded, undiscovered at nearly forty-five, plumped on the tea room's little chairs like pillows on a sofa. Too much physical ease, too many buttered rolls, have feathered theminto a soft and boneless-looking middle age: in height neither short nor tall, their hips wide, their shoulders round, their carton-colored hair sheared and seared monthly into rigid curls around the corner at Miriam's House of Beauty. They are so dime-a-dozen that, instead of exclaiming on their twin-ship, it seems more logical to wonder idly where the other ten might be — still in the box, perhaps, under a counter, not yet priced and ready for display.
So that's not the marvel, what's available to half an eye. The marvel takes more study and, after a period, will begin to reveal itself: their faces, their expressions, are different from other people's. Elsewhere — in the tea room, outside in Mussel Point, abroad in the go-to-hell world — are faces young and old, wrinkled up or stretched or drooping with the effort to be understood, and loved in spite of it. Not so with the faces of these two. Their eyes are calm as puddles, their cheeks and foreheads are smooth. For no matter what one of them does or says, the other always knows the reason and approves.
Nobody else cares a fig about them — not their father, Herbert Rowbarge; not their dead mother's sister, Aunt Opal Loose; not Walter Loose, their cousin — and this is sometimes a misery, but not as bad as it might have been otherwise.
There's more, not a marvel, maybe, but almost as potent: their father is the owner and creator of the Rowbarge Pleasure Dome. This is not to be sneezed at, and the waitress at the President McKinley Tea Room knows it. She has given them extra butter for their muffins and made quite sure the knives to spread it with are free of flotsam. For without Herbert Rowbarge, there would be no Pleasure Dome, no crowds in the summers, no tea room, nothing — just an untouched, quiet lake the way it was before, and Mussel Point a town of no importance. There would also, of course, be no Babe and Louisa.
Babe stirs sugar into her tea and says, "How's Daddy today?"
"Well," says Louisa, "it seemed to me this morning he was acting kind of funny."
"That's just it," says Louisa. "I've been thinking about it and I can't quite put my finger on it."
They do not live together any more, haven't lived together for the last five years. One stays at home with their father and sees to his needs, while the other stays with Aunt Opal and sees to hers. And on the first of every month they change places. Living apart is terrible for them, but everyone else is delighted, especially their father, Herbert Rowbarge.
"He was all right in April," says Babe.
"Most of this month, too," says Louisa, "but this morning he was — I don't know. Like I say, I just can't put my finger on it."
"You worry about him too much," says Babe, patting her sister's hand.
"I suppose so," says Louisa. They smile at each other, and for a while they sip their tea in silence.
Outside — beyond the tea room's concrete path laid out between two truck tires painted white and planted neatly to petunias — beyond the sidewalk — across the quiet road — the public gates to the Rowbarge Pleasure Dome are shut and locked. But the work gate far around the fence is open and the bustle inside is intense. Brooms scratch the back of the boardwalk end to end. Paint, like an ointment, soothes away a winter's worth of parching. Fresh oil and grease are lavished on cams, gears, axles, levers — everything that moves; and everything does move at the Rowbarge Pleasure Dome. It is the best small amusement park in the state, and always getting better: at the farthest end a new ride, a Tunnel of Love, is in its final stages and will open with the park on Memorial Day, just ten days off.
While Babe and Louisa have their tea, their cousin and Aunt Opal's son, Walter Loose, who is manager of the park and someday to be owner, is busy overseeing the installment of ten little swan boats which will cruise the twisting dark of the Tunnel of Love past dim-lit dioramas where cupids, pink and chubby, lean down — hang down, on wires — from wooden moons to draw their bows; neutered babies all, with gauze around their groins. For as such things go, or could go, this ride is rather tame. The little boats will trace their route a short four yards apart, eliminating privacy. And the tour will only take five minutes — too short a time for serious arousal of the blood. Still, it is titillating in its way, and Walter likes it. Walter is forty-two and, like his cousins, unmarried, but, unlike them, no virgin. If it weren't for the fact that he is son to his now-dead father, Dr. Stuart Loose, and nephew to his uncle, Herbert Rowbarge — in other words, if Walter weren't as rich as he is and due to get richer — the town would long ago have written him off for a wolf, and worse. But things being what they are, he is instead admired and indulged, especially by his mother and the waitress at the President McKinley Tea Room.
"Everything all right?" says the waitress to Babe and Louisa.
"Oh, yes," they say. "Just lovely."
"Anyway, Babe," says Louisa, "we'd better get cracking on some birthday plans. It's only three weeks off."
"I know," says Babe. "Poor Daddy. He always hates his birthdays."
"But if we didn't do something, don't you think he'd be hurt?"
"Well, yes, I do think so, probably. But let's do something different this year. A surprise party, maybe. You know — get everyone together and have a nice dinner at the Inn."
"But, Babe," Louisa reminds her, "the park'll be open by then and the Inn'll be jammed."
"Oh, shoot," says Babe, "I forgot about that. Well, maybe Aunt Opal could do it."
"That would be better, if you can talk her into it. But whatever we do, it ought to be simple, and quiet, I think. I really am kind of worried about him."
Babe looks skeptical. "It doesn't sound to me as if you've got much reason," she says.
Louisa dampens a fingertip and thoughtfully attempts to capture the final crumbs from the napkin flopped open in the muffin basket. "It's just — well, for one thing, he was so crabby this morning," she says at last.
"He's always crabby," says Babe.
"Yes, but he seemed really tired, too. I mean, all pale and exhausted. And then he kept squinting with one eye."
"Well," says Babe, "it's probably nothing. After all, he's not a young man any more. Did he go down to the park?"
"Of course. He was there all morning. And he brought Walter back for lunch so they could talk business. I wish he'd slow down, really retire. But he won't."
"Not till he drops," says Babe.
Louisa peers into her cup, sees a last sweet bead of tea, and tips it to her lips. But the bead — like Herbert Rowbarge, perhaps — is too stubborn to let go. It clings to the bottom, bulging, and refuses to slide. She gives up the effort with a sigh and returns the cup to its saucer. "Poor Daddy," she says. "He's always been so alone."
"Nonsense," says Babe. "He's always had us."
"No, but you know what I mean," says Louisa.
They talk about it often, their father's parents' death in a train wreck, his adoption by a wealthy Cincinnati aunt, her death and his inheriting all her money, all this long before they were born. They never can decide whether it's a sad story or a lucky one. It doesn't occur to them that it might be neither of these but, rather, a genuine story — a tissue, a passel, a whole wide tapestry of lies.
The waitress says, "Can I get you ladies anything else?"
Louisa shakes her head. "We're fine," she says.
They lie, themselves, a little, from time to time.
The beginning for Herbert Rowbarge was unusual compared to that of most of us. The process itself was no different, of course; we are told that a substance called oxytocin, manufactured in the pituitary gland, is nearly always responsible for that, bringing on as it does the uterine contractions commonly known as labor, and there is nothing unusual about a pituitary secretion. But there were other features to Herbert's birth which, when viewed from a kindly distance, did give it a suggestion of novelty.
To start with, the blessed event took place in a moldy room upstairs over a riverside saloon, a little after midnight, so that his mother's groans, his very birth cry, were drowned out by the noise of high living from the floor below. The thin, resentful piping of Herbert Rowbarge, newest addition to the human race, was no match for the roar of the world which received him. His arrival went unnoticed except by the immediate participants.
In the second place, the mother of Herbert Rowbarge, a woman of thirty-five with wide hips and a narrow view of the blessings of maternity, was scarcely affected at all by his emergence. Her overriding emotion was one of relief, as one might be relieved by the lancing of a boil. "Thank God that's over," she said when the thing was accomplished. "I'll be up and outa here in no time." At this, the midwife presiding at the birth, a certain Mrs. Mink, pursed her lips but held her peace. Mrs. Mink was a large, suspicious woman with chapped and pendulous upper arms, the legal wife of the saloonkeeper presiding on the floor below. Whereas the mother of Herbert Rowbarge was the legal wife of no one at all, nor did she wish to be. What she did wish to be was off on the next train down along the river to Cincinnati.
In the third place, Herbert Rowbarge was not the only baby to be born at that hour in that place. He had been preceded into the open air by another infant, a brother, whose luminous purple complexion and general appearance of decay he matched in every particular. For nine long months they had swayed together, cheek by jowl, sharing their tight, wet void in perfect if soundless harmony. Now that it was over, they lay again, cheek by jowl, wrapped in blankets and looking anything but new — Herbert the younger by five minutes, but both of them looking old — old and feeble and peevish. They were exactly alike. They were, to speak plainly, identical twins.
The mother of these two rose up on one elbow and looked at them. Mrs. Mink, rolling down her sleeves, looked at them also. "I'll be damned," said the mother at last. Somewhere deep among the buried inner pleatings of her brain, a sense of wonder tried vaguely for the surface, failed, and sank back into limbo. Thus spared from reflection, the mother lay down again and stroked her flattened belly happily.
"What you gonna call 'em?" asked Mrs. Mink.
"Well, lemme see now," said the mother, real interest roused for the first time. "I met a coupla fellas once when I was working the dance halls down to Louisville. I had a little pile saved from my — uh — earnings, so's I could head out for New Orleans, but them two yeggs sweet-talked me into giving every cent of it to them. They was gonna invest it for me in a gold mine. A gold mine! Can you beat that? God, I was dumb in them days. Anyways, they slipped out and left me flat, just like these two. So let's call 'em Herbert and Otto, same as them first two hooligans." She giggled, yawned, closed her eyes, and went instantly to sleep.
Mrs. Mink stretched her mouth into a thin line of disapproval and shook her head. Then she took away the lamp and returned to her duties at the bar.
At dawn, the wailing of the babies brought her again to the birth room, full of instructions for a first feeding. But the mother had taken her milk and vanished, picked up and gone forever without so much as tidying the bed that had cushioned her labor.
In this way was Herbert Rowbarge, and his brother Otto, left alone in the wide, uncaring world. The place was Gaitsburg, on the southeastern edge of Ohio. The year was 1880. The day was June 11, under — what else? — the sign of Gemini.
Mrs. Mink never for a moment considered the possibility that she might keep Herbert and Otto and raise them as her own. It was not so much that she believed there was bad blood in their tiny veins — though of course she did believe it — as it was the fact that Mrs. Mink, though conscientious, was not at all softhearted. She had brought other babies into the world under the same conditions and, except for there being twins this time around, it was an old story and the ending never varied. She merely put on her hat, gathered up the luckless pair, climbed into her buggy, and drove a mile out of town to the Gaits County Children's Home.
It was a golden morning, but Mrs. Mink ignored this feature, and so did Herbert and Otto. The latter were preoccupied with hunger, the former with duty, and none of the three was inclined to be distracted. Arriving at the foot of the hill where the Home stood, Mrs. Mink did not pause to look up and admire the sunstruck windows or the slate roof basking in the warmth. She did not pause to remember that it was the handsomest Home in the state, or to grieve for the shabbiness, inside, of furnishings and inmates alike. Instead, she urged her horse firmly up the driveway, reined in at the wide veranda, and, grasping an angry red infant under each arm, marched up the steps to the door. Here, having no hand free to ring the bell, she kicked vigorously at a lower panel with one large, booted foot until at last the door was opened.
A child of eleven, a girl, in a much-mended dress and bare feet, was doing service as butler and downstairs maid that morning. She clutched a feather duster in one grubby hand, and when she saw Herbert and Otto, an expression of deep annoyance crossed her face. She shook the duster and said, emphatically, "Goddamn it!"
"Never mind," said Mrs. Mink. "Where's Matron?"
"She's in her office," said the child, pointing reluctantly. "In there."
Mrs. Mink knew the office well from previous visits. She strode up to its door and, again, having no hand free to knock, kicked, while the girl stood by, scowling at Herbert and Otto.
After a moment the door opened and the matron of the Children's Home emerged.
"Morning, Mrs. Frate," said Mrs. Mink. "Here's two more."
Mrs. Frate was a thin, kindly woman of fifty, pale with the pallor of one who yearns only for peace in this world but, knowing she is unlikely to get any, struggles to be grateful without it. When she saw Herbert and Otto, the struggle intensified. Her face went even paler and she gasped, "Oh, no, Mrs. Mink! We can't!"
"You got to," said Mrs. Mink.
"But we have too many already! And Cook will raise the roof! All that milk to warm and food to mash ..."
"Cook'll manage," said Mrs. Mink. "You don't expect me to keep 'em, do you? Here, take 'em. I got to get back — I got work to do."
The girl standing by said, again, "Goddamn it!"
"Hush, Clarissa," said Mrs. Frate. She received the babies into her own arms, shaking her head resignedly, and asked, "Do they have names?"
"Herbert and Otto," said Mrs. Mink.
"Which is which?"
"It don't matter," said Mrs. Mink. "You can't tell 'em apart anyways. Ugly, ain't they?"
At this point the babies, now seriously hungry, began to wail again, waving purple fists helplessly and exposing wide stretches of gum. Mrs. Mink, raising her voice over the racket, said, "Well, I got to get back." And with a flurry of relief, she disappeared.
Clarissa banged the big front door shut behind her and once more brandished the duster. "We gonna have to take care of 'em?" she demanded.
"It looks that way," said Mrs. Frate. She straightened her shoulders, adjusting the double burden. "It's our duty, Clarissa."
"Goddamn it!" said Clarissa.
One morning in early September, a wagon arrived at the Children's Home, and soon, in Mrs. Frate's sitting room, Herbert and Otto were displayed to Mr. and Mrs. Emil Schwimmbeck, a solemn young farmer and his eager wife.
"This all you got?" said the farmer severely. "They look kinda puny to me."
"Oh, no, Emil!" said his wife. "They're sweet! What are their names?"
"Herbert and Otto," said Mrs. Frate. She laid the pair down side by side on the sofa, where they peered upward vaguely, folding and unfolding fists which were no longer purple but had turned quite pink and normal. They were quiet now, having just been fed by the still-indignant Clarissa. "They're three months old," said Mrs. Frate, with thinly veiled hope, "and very strong and healthy."
Excerpted from "Herbert Rowbarge"
Copyright © 1982 Natalie Babbitt.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Tuesday, May 20, 1952,
Wednesday, May 21, 1952,
Thursday, May 22,1952,
Friday, May 23,1952,
Saturday, May 24, 1952,
Sunday, May 25, 1952,
Monday morning, May 26, 1952,
Monday forenoon, May 26, 1952,
Tuesday, May 27, 1952,
Wednesday afternoon, May 28, 1952,
Wednesday evening, May 28, 1952,
Thursday, May 29, 1952,
Memorial Day, 1952,
Memorial Day, 1952,
Thursday, June 5, 1952,
Books by Natalie Babbitt,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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