Echo from Mount Royal by Dave Riese
Imagine you are 18 and fall in love with a handsome, wealthy young man. Your romantic dreams have come true – except his family hates you!
Montreal, 1951. Rebecca Wiseman, 18, a bright college student, lives with her working-class parents. At a local dance, she meets a handsome young man but has little hope of seeing him again. When Sol Gottesman asks her on a date, her joy mingles with disbelief when she learns he is the son of a wealthy businessman.
Sol takes her in his family’s chauffeured Rolls-Royce to the most expensive restaurant in the city, introducing Rebecca to a world of upper-class wealth and privilege. Rebecca is head over heels in love and believes her life is perfect.
But despite Sol’s outward charm, he lacks self-confidence and trust. He reveals the simmering conflicts in his family and his fears that his brother will drive him out of the family business. Rebecca, headstrong but naïve; wants to protect Sol and help him to stand up to the pressure from his family. Their engagement fulfills her romantic dreams, but his family ‘s resistance and the revelation of a shocking sexual secret threaten to tear them apart. Rebecca tries to convince Sol that her love and support is all he needs. A late-night telephone call threatens to change her life forever.
An absorbing romantic book spiced with family secrets and shocking revelations. Online Book Club.org
Vivid descriptions, crisp dialogue and a headstrong female protagonist. Contemporary-Books.com
Winner in the General Fiction/Novel category 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Award
Targeted Age Group:: Adult Audience Only
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Before going to work, I’d often meet an elderly Jewish woman in the coffee shop downstairs from my office. We talked ‘books,’ sharing a similar taste in fiction. When she learned that I was a writer, she told me many stories about her experiences growing up in Montreal before and after WWII.
Her story about her engagement as an 18-year-old girl astounded me. She invited me to ‘write it up,’ thinking it would make an interesting short story. Over the next ten months, I gave her chapters to read. When the 300-page manuscript was finished, she hefted the pages laughing, “This weighs more than a short story!”
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Having written three short stories with these characters before starting the book, I had a head start. New characters were Sol, the fiancé, his overbearing parents, and his treacherous brother Ezra. These characters are loosely based on real people but have been changed dramatically. The existing and new characters required creating their past experiences, their motivations, and their responses to the actions of other characters.
When I sit down to write, I often imagine that I am going to visit friends and spend the day with them. At first I will take control of the visit to get things started, but eventually the characters exert their influence and I am content to become an observer.
As I write, I watch them acting out the scene and listen to what they say. I often feel the ideas go from my subconscious directly onto the page. Things happen that I never imagined. The characters may begin to act out one of my own experiences. They say things I wish I had said at the time. While in this semi-unconscious zone, I let them do what they want and only rein them in when they risk going off the plot’s cliff.
I met Sol at a Young Men’s Hebrew Association dance on a Saturday night in early October 1951. My older brother insisted that he’d introduced us, but I’d had my eye on Sol long before Robert showed up at the dance on his way into Montreal. Later, who-said-what-when didn’t matter.
Whoever scheduled the dance for that evening hadn’t checked the sports pages. The Montreal Canadiens were playing the Boston Bruins at the Forum – the sold-out second game of the season. One thing you must know about Montreal: we’re crazy for hockey. ‘Rocket’ Richard and ‘Boom-Boom’ Geoffrion were our heroes.
At the dance, those of us who couldn’t get a ticket to the game grouped together to commiserate. Jackie, my best friend, had a fate worse than death: trapped at home babysitting her sister Eva. She’d been desperate to attend the dance. “Where else am I going to meet boys?” she wailed. “My parents never consider my social life.” I planned to tell a white lie when I called her the next day to say she hadn’t missed a thing. Since grade school, we’d always shared our grievances and secrets. When one of us was sad, the other did the cheering up. We balanced each other, although it seemed like our lives, at times, were lived on a seesaw.
The DJ compensated for the low turnout. Who could stand still when he played Tennessee Waltz by the great Patti Page or Glory of Love by the Five Keys? I couldn’t have stopped tapping my feet if my life depended on it. I loved dancing and practiced in my bedroom with my bureau mirror tilted forward so I could watch my feet. I was wearing my felt skirt with poodle appliqués along the hem. I was one of the first girls in high school to have one, my mother making it for me after she saw one in a sewing magazine. I also wore black and white saddle shoes with pink socks, a pink cotton chiffon blouse and a pink ribbon in my curly hair with its poodle cut.
I didn’t know many people at the dance and the pickings looked slim. I wasn’t keen on dancing with a girlfriend. Some girls who danced together pretended not to care if boys ever asked them. No surprise then when the boys didn’t ask. I was relieved when Michel LeClerc waved to me on his way to request a song from the DJ. An excellent dancer, Michel, at six feet, was three inches taller than me and as thin as a stick, but playing hockey made him strong enough to lift and swing me around. The LeClercs lived on the other side of the semi-detached house, and we were more like brother and sister. I guess that was the reason he never asked me to dance when the music was slow. A priest probably told him slow dancing with a sister was sinful. Those days, in Quebec, Catholics still believed everything the priests told them.
Michel asked the DJ to play some boogie-woogie. The minute I heard the Andrews Sisters, I began snapping my fingers and swaying in time to the beat. Michel escorted me to the center of the dance floor. Once we found our rhythm, Michel lifted my arm, so I could twirl in a circle and let my poodle skirt flare out. He signaled when he was ready for me to jump so he could lift me above his shoulder. At the end of the song, I skipped toward him, letting him slide me along the floor between his legs. He stepped over me, and turning around, lifted me back up. We earned a round of applause when the music stopped.
The next song was a slow one. “Let’s get something to drink,” he said, leading me to the refreshment table at the side of the hall. But after a few sips of punch, he said he’d see me later and went over to talk with his friends.
Alone again, I watched the boys standing around, hoping to catch the eye of someone who wanted to dance. Not easy to do when their eyes didn’t want to be caught. I knew some of them from our four years at Strathcona Academy. Others I recognized from college, but when I smiled, they merely nodded and looked away. Maybe they were self-conscious after watching Michel. I couldn’t blame them. I tried to be tolerant of sloppy dancing but wasn’t always successful in hiding my impatience.
I swayed my hips in time to the music, emulating Rita Hayworth, my favorite movie star. Whenever I saw her at the cinema, I studied the way she walked and then practiced at home. When I showed Jackie, she advised me to tone down my hips because ‘You look like a slut-in-training.’ I was becoming bored to the point where I’d dance with anyone who could walk straight and not step on my toes. Of course, I hoped a handsome guy would ask me. A good-looker could have two left feet and limp for all I cared.
That’s when I saw him standing in a group of men on the other side of the dance floor. He looked older, more mature, like he’d already graduated from college. Even from a distance, his good looks stunned me. I don’t remember a thing about the other men.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, tall with blond hair that appeared almost white in the semi-darkness. Listening to the man next to him, he suddenly laughed, his smile boyishly lopsided. His face gleamed in the revolving lights from the ceiling.
A desire to touch his face was so strong, my fingers tingled, and a lethargic numbness crept up my arms. Even if I had the courage to walk over to him, I doubt I could have unstuck my tongue to speak.
At that moment, an eager couple rushing to dance to Mario Lanza singing Be My Love bumped me ‘sideways to Sunday,’ as my mother would say. Regaining my balance, I turned back to find him looking directly at me. I looked away. Has he been watching me all this time? I felt the exciting queasiness I’d experienced reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover last summer. Jackie had found a copy of the banned book hidden under her brother’s bed. He had conveniently broken the binding at the sexiest parts.
When I dared to look up, the man was still staring at me. I smiled, but his expression didn’t change. Instead, he craned his neck, turning his head from side to side as if searching for someone coming in the door. Don’t look over there, I thought. Recognizing someone, he raised his hand. “Dammit!” With my luck, I’d find a beautiful girl waving back. But there was no one, beautiful or otherwise, with her hand in the air.
He spoke to his friends and left them. I had no time to waste if I wanted to reach him. Polite but insistent, I pushed through the crowd. He veered to the left, moving toward the doors of the auditorium. I changed direction so abruptly a man behind me stepped on my shoe. With no time to shuffle my heel back into my shoe, I slid it along with my toes, limping like someone with one leg shorter than the other. Hopeless! I wouldn’t reach him in time. He held his hand out – toward another man? They shook hands like long-time friends, clapping each other on the back. When the newcomer turned around, I saw my brother Robert.
Why is he here? I wondered. Years before, when he entered high school, my brother made it clear I was not to bother him when he was with friends. “Don’t butt in where you’re not wanted.”
I complained to my mother but received no sympathy. “It’s not appropriate for an eight-year-old girl to hang around high school boys.” Dad was no help either.
“Robert? What are you doing here?”
Now it was my brother’s turn to be surprised. Before he could speak, I introduced myself. “I’m Rebecca, his sister.” The man stepped forward. His hand was thin and delicate but strong and warm. “I’m Sol Gottesman. Pleased to meet you.”
He looked into my eyes when he spoke. I noticed his long eyelashes. God, he was handsome. I blushed like I had when a boy picked me up for a high school dance and, with my parents in the hall watching us, fumbled with the corsage. Sol released my hand and stepped back.
“Do you work with my brother in Ottawa?” I asked.
Robert frowned as if asking what I was up to. “Sol works for his father here in Montreal.”
I was about to ask what business that was when Sol said, “Your brother and I shared the same residence at McGill.” His voice was clear and strong. His blond hair fell across his forehead, and I almost reached up to brush it back with my fingers.
“I’m a freshman at Sir George Williams.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Did he even care?
A darkness under each eye made his pale face look long and narrow. I didn’t want him to stop looking at me.
“What curriculum are you taking?” he asked.
“I haven’t decided—”
“She’s a great one for reading,” my brother interrupted. “Carries a book wherever she goes.” I shot him a look: Mind your own business. “Always with her nose in a book,” he scoffed.
Sol grinned. Was he going to tease me too? “She doesn’t have a book now…”
I noticed his teeth, perfectly straight except for a chipped tooth. Ah, Sol isn’t perfect after all, I thought, relieved. What other imperfection is he hiding?
“…you’re an excellent dancer,” he said.
So, he’d been watching me after all. I would have asked him to dance if my brother hadn’t nudged him with his elbow. “Sol, we’d better be going or we’ll be late.”
“Robert, will you give me a ride home?” I asked, hoping my brother would say yes. A short ride home with Sol was better than nothing. I imagined maneuvering Sol away from the front seat and into the back with me. No! Change that. In my fantasy, he chooses to sit beside me. Would I have the courage to touch his hand?
“Sorry, Rebecca, no can do. We’re meeting some other friends and heading downtown.”
“Where are you going?”
My brother laughed. “Aren’t you the curious cat.”
“I suppose you’re going to the Gayety.”
Robert pretended shock. “From the mouths of babes,” he said and turned toward Sol. “Ready? We need to head out.” Then back to me: “You have a ticket for the streetcar, don’t you?” When I said nothing and glared at him, he added, “See you tomorrow.”
“It was nice to meet you, Rebecca.” Sol shook my hand again before turning toward the door.
I heard my brother’s voice in my ear: “What are you up to, little sister?”
“Let me come with you—”
“You’re too innocent for that kind of show. Besides, Mom would kill me if she found out.”
How would she find out? I thought, angry at his dismissal. I followed them outside. Standing at the front door, I watched them leave the parking lot in my father’s car.
I returned inside, but all the excitement – and possibilities – of the dance had drained away in Sol’s absence. I no longer wanted to dance. I no longer wanted to talk to anyone unless they could tell me more about Sol. But everyone looked dull and plain. How would they ever know someone as exciting as Sol? I imagined I was the unhappiest girl at the dance. I found my coat in the cloakroom.
Taking the Van Horne streetcar home and looking out at the couples walking arm-in-arm on the sidewalk, I decided I was the unhappiest girl in Montreal.
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