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Once Upon a Day: A Novel Hardcover – April 11, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Tucker's outstanding novel (after Shout Down the Moon) is as structurally dextrous as it is emotionally satisfying, boasting a chorus of extraordinary voices and assured parallel plot lines separated by four decades. In the present day, 23-year-old Dorothea has left her overprotective father's secluded 35-acre New Mexico estate, called the Sanctuary, where she and her brother, Jimmy, had been sheltered from current news and all modern-day innovations. Searching for her runaway brother in St. Louis, Dorothea meets a recently widowed doctor-turned-cabbie, who introduces her to the vibrant outside world he's been trying to escape. A parallel tale set in the 1970s follows the budding romance between a successful film director and the waif who becomes his muse, his wife and the object of his obsessive control. The tour de force resolution that ties both stories together is a lyrically poignant reminder of the necessity of hope. An exceptionally empathetic storyteller, Tucker has created a haunting, gripping novel that brims with graceful writing and fragile characters. This should be catnip for book clubs, whether they devour it as a page-turner about parenting and family or discuss its subtle meditations on fate and coincidence, wealth and poverty, freedom and safety, fairy tales and American dreams.
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From Booklist

In what may well be her breakout book, after Shout Down the Moon (2004), the gifted Tucker tells a compelling love story with uncommon empathy and grace. Stephen Spaulding loses his family in a freak accident and with them any hope that his actions can make a difference. He gives up his medical practice and begins driving a cab. That's how he meets 23-year-old Dorothea, who seems to be dressed like a throwback to the 1950s, complete with saddle shoes. She's looking for her brother, who has run away from their New Mexico ranch. Stephen helps Dorothea track down the brother and, at the same time, learn why her father fled Hollywood, changing his children's names and keeping them completely isolated from the outside world. The plotline of the Hollywood story is, appropriately enough, over the top, but that detracts from the genuinely moving love story that develops between the wounded Stephen and the heartbreakingly naive Dorothea. Here's hoping the talented Tucker will rein in the melodrama the next time out. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Atria; First Edition edition (April 11, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743492773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743492775
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,952,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on July 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Wow! Lisa Tucker has written a story of a family history and interpersonal drama which will consume the reader from the first chapter. I usually juggle a few books at once, but this one made me drop all others, and stay up late at night, devouring the story.

No plot summary can do this novel justice. Essentially, we have a family living in seclusion on a New Mexico estate. Dad Charles has raised his two children, now in their early twenties, with no contact with the outside world, in 1950's-style clothing, and they worship him and fear the outside world. All is well until the older brother, Jimmy, escapes on a quest to find their supposedly-dead mother, and his sister Dorothea follows him out into the world. I'm sure you've figured out the early-on twist by now--Mom isn't dead, and Dad kidnapped his kids two decades ago.

The story involves both the present time and flashbacks of the dissolution of marriage between Charles and Lucy, leading to his fanatic escape into desert seclusion with their two children. Charles, a famous actor and director, is an unbalanced and controlling man who smothers his family with love and protection. He actively ruins his young wife's acting career out of his fear and paranoia, which he sees as "love." One can only assume that Tucker started working on this novel well before the current famous Hollywood couple that pairs an older man (with infamous religious values) with a younger actress who seems to be cut off from family and friends (TC and KH), but the parallels are eerie. In fact, when I was absorbed in this story, I had to keep reminding myself that this isn't a true Hollywood story. It's larger than life, sure, but not hard to imagine as a factual memoir.
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Format: Hardcover
I am grappling for the right adjectives for a fair critique of this well-plotted, effectively narrated novel. I keep coming back to the fact that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone -- and I can't seem to articulate to myself why, except that there are simply too many wonderful books out there and life is too short to read unspectacular novels. I wouldn't insult this one by calling it mediocre, because Lisa Tucker clearly possesses plenty of skill as a novelist; and yet there was just nothing terrific about it. If an unpublished author handed me the raw manuscript, I'd be really impressed, because it is free of the kinds of errors that most aspiring writers make, and yet...as gripping and carefully woven as the plot is and as compelling as the characters are, I'm left with a big shrug. It just didn't sparkle for me at all. An earlier review called it "catnip for book groups," and I would have to say exactly the opposite. There just wouldn't be anything to debate; there's no nuance to grab hold of. On the plus side, it would be fair to say that the author wrapped up everything tidily in terms of plot -- it all fit together neatly and satisfyingly in the end. On the other side, when I finish reading a great novel I keep thinking about the characters, wondering what might have happened to them after the novel ended, etc.... and that's not happening for me with this one. It feels over-and-done. Even the theme of "everything can change in a day": as another Amazon reviewer essentially said (I'm paraphrasing from memory here), "I think we can all agree with that." Exactly: no one would disagree with that premise, but I find myself merely saying "True enough" and moving on. I don't think a great novel can be constructed on a theme which is essentially nothing more than a truism.
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Format: Hardcover
I consider the novel a marginal four-star. Lisa Tucker has an interesting premise, where a dysfunctional family disintegrates, with one part living in a bubble in New Mexico. When the bubble bursts, Ms. Tucker has plenty of opportunity to unfold an interesting story.

She avoids too much of the "fish out of water" premise or "country bumpkin meets the city" that could have caused the story to descend into predictable gags or stale ideas. Instead, the thread with Dorothea and Stephen is easily the core of the novel, even though at its root the premise is highly unrealistic. I credit an author who can take an idea that seems very improbable and turn it into something that drives the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

I was less interested in the sections that focus on Charles and Lucy, with their relationship again based on a highly improbable beginning. That's ok, of course, because the first meeting of Charles and Lucy is less important than Lucy's humble origins and their effect on her psyche and the resulting family dysfunction. We also eventually get more insight into why Charles developed into the controlling man obsessed with safety.

The two characters were too annoying for my tastes, which muted the pleasure of the novel. That may be my own issue, as it's kind of funny that I don't have a problem in novels with bad guys and creeps - it's the annoying people.

Of course, Ms. Tucker needed them to be annoying but not evil, given that their children turned out reasonably OK and to set up the last section of the novel that moved toward a relatively unsurprising ending. The very ending (the last scene) with two of the main characters was a nice touch.

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