Deborah Goodrich Royce’s debut novel Finding Mrs. Ford (Post Hill Press) stars two young women who routinely make astonishingly bad choices while the reader cringes, hoping for the best despite the odds.
Susan is the sensible one of the two, but she is beguiled by the beautiful, willful, capricious, and uninhibited Annie who talks her friend into one sketchy situation after another. Susan even goes on one fool’s errand in the middle of the night dressed in her nightgown (Put on some pants, girl.) Guns and drugs and thugs are involved.
We know none of this when the book begins, however, on a quiet morning in Watch Hill, a comfortably moneyed coastal town in Rhode Island. Here, Susan, all grown up now, lives with her dogs and the household help in a big house where she can hear the ringing of halyards and the sound of waves breaking on the rocks. Tourists come to gawk at the fine houses. Susan lives the privileged life that the tourists dream of.
We only have a few pages of this idyllic scenario before the FBI shows up and tilts Susan’s world. By page 11, she’s already told her first lie.
Finding Mrs. Ford shifts back and forth between two summers thirty-five years and some 800 miles apart: Watch Hill in 2014 and Detroit in 1979. The author does a first-rate job of making each of these locations alive for her readers. We have the smell of the sea versus the hot concrete of Detroit, the bucolic Watch Hill seaside versus the colorless brick of a bad neighborhood where bad guys in shiny suits deal drugs and lure clueless young women into bed.
In 2014, Susan seesaws between the palatial home in Watch Hill and a Manhattan apartment in the Sherry Netherlands, overlooking Central Park; but it is the Susan of 1979 that fascinates. She and her flighty friend Annie quit their respectable jobs at an upscale ladies wear shop to go to work as barmaids at Frankie’s, a grimy disco run by some shady Italian types. Drugs are served up along with the drinks.
Annie falls for Frankie himself; Susan falls in love with a Chaldean named Sammy Fakhouri, one of the thousands of Iraqi Christians who came to the U.S. for jobs in the auto industry and a better life. Mostly abandoned today, the stretch along Seven Mile Road between Woodward and John R was once a neighborhood called Chaldea Town, so connected to their homeland that then-Mayor Coleman Young awarded the Key of the City of Detroit to Saddam Hussein in appreciation for donations to Chaldean churches. This was Susan’s Detroit in 1979 riddled with crime; the middle-class taxpayers who fled to the suburbs were replaced by powerful drug-dealing gangs, culture wars, and murder.
But what of the Susan of Watch Hill? The FBI agents nod when Susan trots out her lie: “Mr. Fakhouri… I’m certain I don’t know anyone by that name.” When they leave, she slumps against the door and slides to the floor.
What took her breath away?
Royce has done a sterling job of incorporating all the things our mothers warned us about so that during that summer in 1979, characters are picked off like targets in a carnival shooting gallery – drug-dealing is dangerous business, after all – but somehow we’ve got to sort out where the survivors have ended up.
Which is where the title of the book comes in. Don’t think you know who’s at the door, what’s in the envelope, or who’s been sleeping with whom until all the players have been accounted for.
Finding Mrs. Ford is now available.
About Deborah Goodrich Royce
Deborah Goodrich Royce launched her acting career in 1982 in the lead role of Silver Kane (sister of the legendary Erica Kane) on ABC’s All My Children. She went on to star in dozens of feature films, television series, and TV movies. In the ’90s, Deborah was the story editor at Miramax Films, overseeing readers, manuscript acquisitions, and script development; editing such notable screenplays as Emma by Doug McGrath. Deborah and a writing partner won a grant from the Massachusetts Arts Council in 2002 to develop and workshop their screenplay, Susan Taft Has Run Amok.
With her husband, Chuck, Deborah restored the 1939 Avon Theatre in Stamford, CT. Under her leadership, the Avon hosts an ongoing series of speakers, most recently, Marcus Zusak, Richard Gere and Chloe Sevigny. Deborah serves on the governing boards of the New York Botanical Garden, the Greenwich Historical Society, and the PRASAD Project, and the advisory boards of the American Film Institute, the Greenwich International Film Festival, the Preservation Society of Newport, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.
Deborah and Chuck have also restored the Ocean House Hotel, the Weekpaug Inn, and the Deer Mountain Inn. They have a growing tribe of children, stepchildren, grandchildren and animals.
Finding Mrs. Ford is her first novel.