Excerpt: ‘Vera’

In her new novel, Carol Edgarian re-creates the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

vera, carol edgarian
Scribner

So, you see, I was a special bastard, a not-quite orphan, a Madam’s mistake, a tippler’s charge—provided for but never loved by either mother. And though that fact pained me in my early youth, I came to see my place as unique. I was never trapped by pretty frocks and expectations of home and hearth that plagued the other girls I knew; I was a secret, bound by a secret, and if all that binding kept me apart, it also allowed me a certain freedom. My mind was my sole company, and when the old world ended and the new world began, my mind would have to see us through.

But, oh, what a challenge I was for Morie. She played it corked and tight on that first visit with Rose. But with us, with Pie and me, Morie showed she had many sides. When sober, Morie could be funny, or salty as the pickled herring she forced us to eat. The stern side saw that I was scrubbed proper, and that I knew where to put my fork and napkin. At dinner Morie talked of people and things. A girl was pretty or fair, a woman cultured or not-from-our-side-of-the-street, which is laughable, except in her mouth it was a serious charge; a man had means or he was nothing. She believed in keeping up with the news, and by news, I mean gossip. Thankfully, the San Francisco papers supplied an amplitude of celebrity and scandal. I taught myself to read early, and in the evenings I read the paper to Morie and learned the doings about town. Morie knew I would never be fair and pink, docile or sweet, like Pie. My hair was thick, coarse, dark; theirs was silky flax. I wasn’t given to smile for company. I saw no reason to feign or flatter, as no one had ever flattered me. I would never be a lady but I could be useful. You hear a thing enough, and it is what you believe. I believed that every day I had to work to earn our keep.•

Excerpted from Vera: A Novel by Carol Edgarian. Excerpted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc. Copyright © 2021 by Carol Edgarian.

Edgarian talks Vera with Alta Live.

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Carol Edgarian is the author of the novels Rise the Euphrates and Three Stages of Amazement and a cofounder of Narrative magazine.

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