Here’s an exclusive excerpt from American Family by Catherine Marshall-Smith, which is being released June 13!
About ‘American Family’ by Catherine Marshall-Smith
Richard and Michael, both three years sober, have just decided to celebrate their love by moving in together when Richard ― driven by the desire to do the right thing for his ten-year-old-daughter, Brady, whom he has never met ― impulsively calls his former father-in-law to connect with her.
With that phone call, he jeopardizes the one good thing he has ― his relationship with Michael ― and also threatens the world of the fundamentalist Christian grandparents who love Brady and see her as payback from God for the alcohol-related death of her mother. Unable to reach an agreement, the two parties hire lawyers who have agendas far beyond the interests of the families ― and Brady is initially trusted into Richard and Michael’s care.
But when the judge learns that the young girl was present when a questionable act took place while in their custody, she returns Brady to her grandparents. Ultimately, it’s not until further tragedy strikes that both families are finally motivated to actually act in the “best interests of the child.”
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‘American Family’ by debut-author Catherine Marshall-Smith exclusive excerpt:
Ever since the phone call from her father, Brady’s grandparents had looked at her like she was dying. She really wanted them to stop. She wasn’t going anywhere. She would see her father, and then life would go on the way it always had. So when she heard Grandpa Frank yell up the stairs this morning that she’d better hurry or she’d be late for school, she was actually happy. Finally, he wasn’t tiptoeing around her. Finally, he was acting normal again. She lugged the huge cage that housed her class’s two hamsters, Bear and Whacko, and started down the stairs. Wobbling under the weight of the cage, she tried not to scrape the walls, but in the process she knocked a bunch of books off the bookcases built into the stairwell. Finally she handed it off to Grandpa Frank at the base of the stairs.
“You be careful, now!” Grandma shook her finger at Grandpa. Grandpa had had a heart attack earlier in the year, but he continued working at the ranch. Sometimes Brady worried that he did it to pay for her private school, but she also knew he hated being lazy and never went on a vacation, so what else was he going to do anyway? Grandma talked a lot about healthy eating, and for her that meant switching to decaffeinated coffee and from butter to margarine. Brady heard Grandpa say to Grandma that making these changes made him want to die before God called him, which he was pretty sure was a sin. Brady could tell this made Grandma mad and she never mentioned food again. It seemed to Brady that Grandpa wanted to die working. Brady could tell this scared Grandma, so Brady felt guilty when Grandpa lugged the heavy cage past her fuming grandmother. Brady watched Grandpa move his arthritic knees stiffly and brace his jaws to keep the pain from showing on his face. She followed him out and shoved her backpack onto the floor in front of her seat as Grandpa lowered the cage into the bed of the weathered white truck. She peaked through the bars of the cage.
“You know, I didn’t find a single snail on Nana’s lettuce this morning.” Grandpa swept his eyes off the rearview mirror and down to Brady. “There were so many yesterday,” he continued.
“I collected the snails,” Brady said. “I didn’t think you’d care, and I wanted them to live because everyone, even snails, is part of God’s plan and if they’re killed, they can’t do what God wants.” Brady studied Grandpa from the side.
He stared at her sidelong. “How many snails did you get out of the garden?”
“As many as I could find. I don’t know—thirty-seven or something.” Brady shrugged. “Are you mad?”
“Why would I be mad? If you’re willing to cart them out of the garden, I don’t care what you do with them. What in the world are you doing with them?”
“I put them behind the school, where they can eat the garbage that the cafeteria ladies throw out. I think this may be God’s plan. Nana’s lettuce and basil are safe, and so are the snails, who are eating the garbage.” Brady waited for Grandpa to say something. Grandfather laughed and touched the tip of her nose gently. “You have created the Underground Railroad for snails. You are the Joan of Arc for escargot. The Mollusk Resistance Movement. The Invertebrate Liberation Front. And without doubt the kindest, sweetest soul I know.”
“How come you don’t want my dad to go to Disneyland with me?” She held her breath.
Grandpa shook his head. “There are things you don’t know,
“Like what?” Brady so hated the silence that followed. “I know he was drunk a lot,” she said quickly. “And I know he was in the hospital for it. But he just wants to see me.” She stole a glance at her grandfather. She knew very little about her mother and father because she sensed that the memories were painful for her Grandma and Grandpa. She had stopped praying for her father to come back, but she had never stopped hoping. She wasn’t unhappy with her grandparents. But she did want to be like everyone else and have a dad to make a card for on Father’s Day or coach her in soccer. She even felt a pang when a kid said to her, “My Dad grounded me for not turning in my work.”
“We’ll see,” Grandpa said, and he stared through the bug-spattered windshield. Brady knew better than to push it. This wasn’t asking for ice cream after school or having a friend over. There was something big about this that scared them.
About debut-author Catherine Marshall-Smith
Catherine Marshall-Smith teaches writing and history to 6th graders, runs long-distance, is married to the love of her life, mother to three adult children, has two grand dogs and one dachshund with a very straight nose.
In the process of writing American Family, she observed in Family Court, interviewed lawyers and a judge and read the Supreme Court ruling on grandparents’ rights with a lawyer. She has her bachelor’s degree in English from University of California at Berkeley and earned a Creative Writing Certificate from the writing program at UCLA where she was short listed for the James Kirkwood Award for Fiction 2012.