Precious One (de los Santos)

The Precious One 
Marisa de los Santos, 2015
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061670916

A captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love.

In all her life, Eustacia 'Taisy' Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary—professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter, Willow, only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister—a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices—Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings—The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—August 12, 1966
Where—Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Education—B.A., University of Virginia; M.F.A., Sarah Lawrence College; Ph.D., University
   of Houston
Currently—lives in Wilmington, Delaware

Marisa de los Santos achieved her earliest success as an award-winning poet, and her work has been published in several literary journals. In 2000, her debut collection, From the Bones Out, appeared as part of the James Dickey Contemporary Poetry Series.

De los Santos made her first foray into fiction in 2005 with the surprise bestseller Love Walked In. Optioned almost immediately for the movies, this elegant "literary romance" introduced Cornelia Brown, a diminutive, 30-something Philadelphian with a passion for classic film and an unshakable belief in the triumph of true love.

In her 2008 sequel, Belong to Me, de los Santos revisited Cornelia, now a married woman, newly relocated to the suburbs, and struggling to forge friendships with the women in her new hometown.

Her third novel, Falling Together, released in 2011, recounts the reunion of three college friends, whose friendships dissolve as everything they believed about themselves and each other is brought into question.

The Precious One, published in 2015, follows the two half-sisters who meet for the first time as they struggle to please their narcissistic, domineering father.

From a 2008 Barnes & Noble interview:

• De los Santos' love affair with books began at a young age. She claims to have risked life and limb as a child by insisting on combining reading with such incompatible activities as skating, turning cartwheels, and descending stairs.

• I'm addicted to ballet, completely head-over-heels for it. I did it as a little kid, but took about a thirty year hiatus before starting adult classes. I do it as many times a week as I can, but if I could, I'd do it every day! In my next life, I'm definitely going to be a ballerina.

• I'm terrible with plants, outdoor plants, indoor plants, annuals, perennials. I kill them off in record time. I adore fresh flowers and keep them all over my house all year round because they're beautiful and already dead, but you won't find a single potted plant in my house. So many nice people in the world and in books are growers and gardeners, but the sad truth is that I'll never be one of them.

• I'm an awful sleeper, and the thing that helps me fall asleep or fall back to sleep is reading books from my childhood. Elizabeth Enright's Melendy series and her two Gone Away Lake books, all of the Anne of Green Gables books, Little Women, The Secret Garden, the Narnia books, and a bunch of others. I have probably read some of these books twenty, maybe thirty times. I read them to pieces, literally, and then have to buy new ones.

• I am crazy-scared of sharks and almost never swim in the ocean. Yes, I know it's silly, I know my chances of getting bitten by a shark are about the same as my chances of becoming president of the United States, but I can't help it.

• My favorite way to spend an evening is eating a meal with good friends. The cheese plate, the red wine, the clink of forks, a passel of kids dancing to The Jonas Brothers and laughing their heads off in the next room, food that either I or someone else has cooked with care and love, and warm, lively conversation-give me all this and I'm happy as a clam.

• I adore black and white movies, particularly romantic comedies from the thirties and forties. I love them for the dialogue and for the whip smart, fascinating, fast-talking, funny women.

When asked what book that most influenced her career as a writer, here is her response:

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was ten, I can't count how many times I've read it since, and every single time, I am utterly pulled in. I don't read it; I live it. I'm with Scout on Boo Radley's porch and in the colored courtroom balcony, and my heart breaks with hers at Tom Robinson's fate. Over and over, the book lifts me up and sets me down into her shoes. I remember the wonder I felt the first time it happened, the sudden, jarring illumination: every person is the center of his or her life the way I am the center of mine. It changed everything. I know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. That empathy is the greatest gift fiction gives us, and it's the biggest reason I write. (Author bio and interview adapted from Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
With talent as keen as a new razor and generosity born of a humane heart, de los Santos offers an affecting story, brilliantly conceived characters and arresting prose.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

Two sisters struggle to please their smart, manipulative, and narcissistic father.... The slow fracturing of each sister’s perception of the other and the strong three-dimensional characters are exceptionally well crafted. And the predictability of the ending is more than made up for by the fact that de los Santos’s characters’ journeys are perfectly paced.
Publishers Weekly

Despite some modern melodrama, the author writes engagingly and creates complex and lovable characters who carry the story. Readers of character-based fiction with heartwarming, hopeful endings (e.g., books by authors such as Elizabeth Berg or Ann Hood) will love this one, too. —Melanie Kindrachuk, Stratford P.L., Ont.
Library Journal

(Starred review.) Emotionally potent, painfully honest, and, at times, delightfully funny, de los Santos’s latest is a must for fans of intelligent, thoughtful women’s fiction.

Half sisters who don't really know each other are brought together by their emotionally domineering father for reasons of his own... Despite intellectual pretentions, including lots of references to Middlemarch, de los Santos offers a comfort-food story in which men are either predators or perfect and women are both beautiful and brilliant.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Taisy is summoned to visit with her estranged father, Wilson, and charged with writing his autobiography. Were you surprised with her decision to stay and do the project? Do you think it was more for her own benefit than for Wilson’s?

2. Taisy refers to her half-sister, Willow, as "the precious one" early on in the novel. Why do you think the author chose that as the title?

3. Willow has been home-schooled her entire life and is now beginning to attend the local high school. How does this sheltered existence inform her character? What are your thoughts on home- schooling?

4. There are many storylines going on within The Precious One. Did having the story told from two points of view help you to know the characters more fully?

5. When Wilson reveals his horrible upbringing, it’s quite a surprise to everyone. Do you think that should excuse his past behavior?

6. In proposing the book project to Taisy, Wilson reflects on his recent heart attack: "It causes one to look at one’s life in a way that one has perhaps not looked at it before." Do you think he had ulterior motives in asking Taisy to be his ghostwriter?

7. Taisy’s twin brother, Marcus, still maintains strong feelings about their estranged father. His "anger stayed red-hot for years before it cooled to something hard and shiny and black." Why do you think it was harder to forgive for Marcus than for Taisy?

8. Caro seems to be encouraging of Taisy being around. Why do you think she didn’t try to reach out before? Do you think it’s because she was another woman under his powerful sway? Why do you think Wilson has such a hold over the people in his life?

9. In addition to navigating the treacherous waters of high school for the first time, Willow also experiences attention from certain men and boys. Do you think Willow handled herself well in relation to the Mr. Insley situation? How could she have handled it differently? Were you surprised when Luka revealed his small part in it?

10. Even after realizing her teacher’s attention was inappropriate, Willow still tries to understand Mr. Insley: "It could break your heart: people becoming, in the blink of an eye, so dreadfully human." Can you recall a situation where someone disappointed you with their faults or human frailties?

11. Were you surprised about Ben’s reticence about getting back into a relationship with Taisy? Do you think she had any choice to do things differently back when they were teenagers?

12. Was there one storyline that grabbed you more than another, and why? Why do you think complicated family stories are so riveting to read?

13. Have you read any of Marisa de los Santos’ novels? After now reading The Precious One, are you intrigued to read her other titles

(We'll add specific questions if and when they're made available by the publisher.)

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