One of PureWow's "20 Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018" and "Books to Read in April" • One of InStyle UK's "Best New Books to Read in 2018" • One of LitHub's 20 Books You Should Read This April • One of Bustle's "5 Gripping Memoirs Under 300 Pages To Read In One Weekend"
A memoir of growing up on the run—and what happens when it comes to a stop.
"Lucid, tender, exquisitely re-imagined, and compulsively readable." —Jessica Nelson, author of If Only You People Could Follow Directions
"In this wondrous and richly detailed coming of age story, Tyler Wetherall follows the breadcrumbs of her childhood to discover a family home that is unlike any other." —Katy Lederer, author of Poker Face
Tyler had lived in thirteen houses and five countries by the time she was nine. A willful and curious child, she never questioned her strange upbringing, that is, until Scotland Yard showed up outside her ramshackle English home, and she discovered her family had been living a lie: Her father was a fugitive and her name was not her own.
In sunny California, ten years earlier, her father’s criminal organization first came to the FBI’s attention. Soon after her parents were forced on the run taking their three young children with them, and they spent the following years fleeing through Europe, assuming different identities and hiding out in a series of far-flung places. Now her father was attempting one final escape—except this time, he couldn’t take her with him.
In this emotionally compelling and gripping memoir, Tyler Wetherall brings to life her fugitive childhood, following the threads that tie a family together through hardship, from her parents’ first meeting in 1960s New York to her present life as a restless writer unpacking the secrets of her past. No Way Home is about love, loss, and learning to tell the story of our lives.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Tyler Wetherall is a writer and journalist living in New York. She has written for The Guardian, The Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review, and others.
Tyler is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run.
Read an Excerpt
I'm nine years old, and I know nothing about Caribbean islands, or fake identities, or Scotland Yard, or that my father has gone by any name other than Dad. My name is Tyler Kane, and as far as I know that's all I've ever been called. My family lives in Bradford on Avon in the West Country of England, a place of cobblestone lanes and huddled houses, a place where the past feels present again. We watch the river run through the wide arches of the ancient town bridge playing Poohsticks to pass the time: dropping a stick into the water upstream and rushing to the other side to see whose stick made it under first.
Our home is on a quiet cul-de-sac called Barton Orchard, set beneath the main street like a secret hidden down a winding stairway, the stone steps worn away to polished black glass from centuries of footfalls. This is my thirteenth house. Thirteen houses, five countries, and two continents, and I'm not yet ten years old. I know this is strange by the way people look at me when I tell them, but I like that strangeness. "Is your father in the Forces?" another child's mother asks. "No, he's a businessman," I announce, as if that explains it.
My big brother Evan has seven years on me and at least four more houses, taking his tally up to nineteen, more by now, of course. Evan has two fathers — his papa and our dad — which is one more thing to keep track of. He can remember as far back as the Yellow House in California, where I was born, and he would carry me around, a fat baby cradled firmly in his seven-year-old arms.
We don't count Dad's houses after the divorce, because we only stayed weekends and holidays, and what makes a home anyway? Mom said home can be wherever you put your bags down, but then it means nothing at all. Mom kept us moving long after we had any reason to, like some internal screw tightened inside, and the only thing to relieve it was upping sticks and moving on. Even then it only bought us a year, maybe two, before the screw began to tighten again.
House #13 was a project. All the houses were projects, but Barton Orchard seemed to stand by force of habit alone. It was a nonsensical building, with dark back passages and twisted staircases. Originally a Georgian townhouse, an extension was tacked on in the nineteenth century and another one was added on the other side in the 1950s, making it a shambolic time machine falling apart at the seams.
There were two different entrances to every room, except for Caitlin's. She lived at the top in a turret of her own with a wood pigeon, which sheltered on her windowsill. She learned to coo by blowing between her thumbs, and over time the wood pigeon cooed back. We thought of the wood pigeon when we had to leave and how he would return each day, waiting for her to coo.
There were holes in the ceilings, spiders in the corners, and rotting floorboards. The whole building wept for its once-glorious past, leaving damp brown stains on the walls. We were constantly painting, and this chemical perfume permeated our lives. Mom's leggings always had holes in the knees, and splatters of white dappled her hands and face like Caitlin's freckles.
The top step on the back stairs was missing so we had to leap over the hole to get to the second floor, and the ceiling in Evan's room caved in one day, a warning. The house was trying to tell us something, but we didn't listen.
We gutted its innards. We found a trapdoor, underneath the carpet in the living room, which Mom yanked open with a rusty scream from its iron hinges. Against my better judgment — to let alone things that live in dark places — she lowered a ladder and descended while Cait held a flashlight. Peering down into the abyss, we heard a muffled squeal, and Mom's dusty hand emerged wielding a giant tooth, yellowed and fierce. The underworld of our house was full of old bones. (For the sake of a good story, we chose to ignore the fact that it was also full of farming equipment.)
Squeezed around the kitchen table we drank tea, ate crumpets, and made up tales of mad dogs and old monks ravaged while fleeing the Reformation. Like all the best stories, it grew in layers each time it was told, with the more gory bits coming from the builders, who permanently resided with us (only their names and faces changed). They told us that at night you could still hear the sound of the dog's chains rattling beneath the house, and I couldn't sleep for weeks.
There was an overgrown garden, which Mom coaxed back into life, allowing the sunflowers to grow up tall beyond our reach and digging a pond where fish would teach us important life lessons about death and cannibalism. A narrow alley ran along the back of the house, where we would gather with children of a similar size. There were no cars here to run us over and the only strangers who came we called "grockles," the word the locals used for people not from around there. It was all so sweet we became sick on it, because it was just icing without the cake.
I didn't love Barton Orchard; at least I didn't love it until we had to leave. Houses are like people. You grow into loving them, and when you leave them behind, they slowly fade away, disappearing into the place forgotten things go, along with odd socks and hairpins.
My favorite house was called Canna, house #10. I don't remember my bedroom there, just scraps of torn floral wallpaper and chicken pox quarantine. I only remember the tree in the garden, as tall as the house. We named it Tree. Sitting beneath Tree's giant boughs, Mom used to read us a story called The Giving Tree, about a boy who loved a tree. The tree loved the boy back so much he gave him his apples to eat, his leaves to burn, and his branches to build a boat, until eventually he could only offer his stump for the now-old boy to rest his weary head, waiting to die. We all cried together: Mom, Evan, Caitlin, Tree, and I.
Cait and Evan didn't seem to mind moving house, but I wanted to kick and scream and refuse to move again. I had tried that but it didn't make a difference. The bigger I grew the more of me there was to leave behind. When we'd moved to Bradford on Avon from London a year previously, we had to leave Mango the cat, who meowed his own name ("mang, mang"), and dozens of uncontrollably shagging gerbils, whom Dad took to the pet store for snake food. I had to leave my best friend Jessica, who gave me a purple Quality Street as a goodbye present. I kept the wrapper in my box of precious things, along with old house keys and all of my baby teeth. I left a school where everyone knew my name to go to a new school where no one did, and worst of all we left behind Dad, as if he belonged with the dead houseplants and half-finished jars of marmalade.
"If in doubt, chuck it out!" was Mom's motto. Each time we packed up our lives, deciding what should come with us and what should not, if I hesitated for a moment, she plucked the item out of my hands and hurled it on the pile for the Kurds. I didn't know who the Kurds were or why they wanted my too-small sequined party dresses. She said it was important not to get too attached to things. She had left home at sixteen with nothing but a pair of dancing shoes strapped to her bag and train fare in her pocket. She'd eloped to Glasgow with a thirty-seven-year-old American playwright (husband #1), though this wasn't something we were meant to know about.
Mom had been a model in the 1960s, and for her birthday one year we made a scrapbook of her pictures from a box we had found during the last move. Cait and I sifted through her cuttings, selecting our favorites. I could spend hours looking at her photos. There were stacks of them all chucked in together, as if they didn't matter to her in the least. Mom on the pages of Mademoiselle or Glamour, high cheekbones and big kohl-lined batting blue eyes, or film stills from her role as the lovely daughter in Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, perfectly coiffured beside a pie-faced British boy band. In a book called The Six Nymphets, full of arty black-and-white photographs of women lying prone or cavorting through grass. Topless on Waterloo Bridge at dawn, unabashed with her tiny waist and egg-timer hips, suspended on these towering long legs. Mom's past seemed a terribly glamorous place.
That's how we found out about husband #1, in a yellowed newspaper clipping with a photo of Mom lying on her front smiling at the camera, daring you to judge. Beside her is Norman Thaddeus Vane, looking sinister, old, and bald. "Sarah, 16, writes home: Sorry, I'm Married" was the headline. It was a scandal at the time.
She moved to New York City a year later, having signed to Ford Models, which is where she met our dad. He was living in an apartment on the Upper East Side with our Crazy Uncle Rick, who isn't really our uncle, not that it matters. They kissed the first night they met lying beneath the coffee table as a game of Scrabble was played above. She thought Dad was the most exotic-looking man she'd ever seen, like Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia, covered in constellations of freckles with a dark mustache and an aura of calm confidence. Really he was just a New York Jew, but for an English boarding-school girl in the 1960s, that was pretty exotic. After three dates Mom had walked out on Norman — taking his color TV in lieu of a divorce settlement — and moved in with Dad and Uncle Rick.
That was the first time they got together, but after three years, she walked out on Dad too, because the world was too big and she was too young not to go gallivanting in it. She went on to marry Papa (husband #2) and had Evan, and then went full circle and got back together with our dad (husband #3).
We didn't dare ask Mom for the details about Norman, but we imagined he was Good-for-Nothing, because most men were Good-for- Nothing, according to Mom. We were sometimes Good-for-Nothing too, but we knew she didn't mean it.
We worried she might be angry with us for rifling through her box, pawing over her secrets like sweets. She said she liked the scrapbook we gave her very much and flicked through its pages, telling us anecdotes about the other models or the film stills, but we never saw it again. Mom doesn't dwell on history.
Through all the moving, she's kept her piano, a wedding gift from Dad, which she would play as we were going to sleep. There's a Victorian school bench, which informed us of the hierarchy in our family because we would never be allowed to keep something so cumbersome. And there's her bed. The bed in which I was born, which must carry me in its fibers to this day. That bed is never-ending. Super-king size. We've traveled around the whole world together on that bed, our magic carpet, congregating every Saturday morning with papers and cookies and every Christmas day to open our stockings, playing games that only end in tears. There's a hierarchy of pillow and space distribution, but we still jostle for position, chatting and laughing while Mom rolls her eyes and tells us to be quiet and not spill our tea. We did all our living in that bed, and I suspect one day we'll do some dying in it too.
The piano, the Victorian school bench, the never-ending bed, and boxes labeled #1 to #26 would be stacked in a van and sent ahead. I would stand forlornly on the doorstep watching them disappear and then go back inside one last time to whisper farewell to the walls and scratch messages on hidden floorboards like Braille for the future children who followed in my wake. As the youngest, I had no one else to hand-me- down to.
Just before we left I kissed the letter box goodbye. This was my pièce de résistance. I didn't know what that meant, but I suspected it had something to do with resisting change. I had performed this ritual on every move from the first — dragging my blanket behind me in the close Californian night — to the last — weeping for Arabella Caterpillar, my sweet pea plant, forgotten on the doorstep (and no, you never go back, not even for sweet pea plants).
Every other weekend we visited Dad in London. He lived in a tall white townhouse on Perrymead Street, with the attic converted into a playroom for us. In between visits, the playroom remained untouched, our games and Sylvanian civilizations as we had left them. In the evenings, we ordered in pizza, watched back-to-back Simpsons, drank Coca- Cola and Fox's U-bet chocolate milk, and stayed up past our bedtime. He took us to his Italian restaurant in Kensington where the waiters would treat us to free bowls of gelato. He took us to his fancy Riverside gym where the ladies smiled and cooed over us. He snuck us into the hot tub (over-14s only!), and when the lifeguards walked past he would dunk us under the bubbling water. He could swim the whole breadth of the pool with Cait and me standing on his back like surfers.
And then we were returned, and when we refused to go to sleep, still on a sugar high from the soda, Mom phoned Dad, furious with him for undoing her hard work and making her out to be the bad guy. Meanwhile, I wished on every eyelash and every birthday candle that they would get back together and everything would go back to how it ought to be. Not how it used to be, but how it ought to be, because life had, as of yet, never fully subscribed to my exacting nine-year-old standards.
After living in Barton Orchard for one year, I had reluctantly accepted that we weren't moving back to London; that my brother now went to a boarding school and my sister went to a coed, even though I wasn't allowed; that the girls at my school were never going to like me and there was nothing I could do about it; and that we could only see Dad every other weekend. But just as these things were starting to feel normal, Two Strangers appeared in our front room one autumn afternoon in 1993, and everything changed all over again.
* * *
The sun was low in the sky by the time Cait and I made our way home. We spiraled down the path to Barton Orchard, our feet making crunch-crunch-crunch sounds on the cold gravel and our shadows two spindly giants looming ahead. We walked up the stone stairs one big step at a time. We passed the too-tall sunflowers, now withered and half dead, their heads sagging heavily on their chests like a row of sorry children. We passed the grand front door that we never used, and that's when we saw them. Two Strangers. Illuminated in the warm orange glow of our living room against the autumn twilight in which we stood. They wore long, draping coats, which fell about them like black wings. Two ominous specters distorted through the glass.
Mom spotted us outside, and we saw her excuse herself. She moved quickly out of the room to meet us at the back door. I saw their black wings rise and fall with menacing calm.
She opened the door. The skin around her eyes and jaw seemed taut. She was struggling for composure, because she did not want to show us she was scared. She didn't want them to see us here; she didn't want them to speak to us, because we didn't know which lies to tell or which to keep secret. Back then we didn't know there were lies or secrets to be told or kept.
"Go to Jacky's," she said. "Stay there until you hear from me."
She looked behind her. Then, with some urgency, "Go on!"
She turned her back on us and shut the door. We stood for a moment, looking at the closed back door of unlucky house #13, feeling lost and confused. I shivered, as if my body sensed this was the start of something, or the end.
Then we walked away.
The Two Strangers turned to look but did not see beyond their own reflection, our departure insulated by the dark outside.
Jacky lived up the road. I shared a car pool to school with her children, Polly, Bertie, and Jo, and our families were on their way to becoming lifelong friends. She answered the door, curling one eyebrow inquisitively at our reappearance.
"Mom sent us back," I said, knowing it didn't make sense, Jacky having only recently dropped me off.
"Well, all right then."
She let us in under her arm with a quizzical smile, knowing our family was a little strange and liking us nonetheless. We joined Polly and Bertie and slouched in front of the TV like nothing had happened.
Inside our heads we opened the box of things-not-to-be-discussed and tried to squeeze in the Two Strangers. Their black wings flapped frantically and refused to keep still. Some things were harder to fit in the box than others. Things that flap, especially.
Excerpted from "No Way Home"
Copyright © 2018 Tyler Wetherall.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
There were many occasions when Tyler’s father was nearly caught – when Scotland Yard turned up at his house in London; on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; and in Saint Lucia – would it have been better for the family if he had been caught on any of these occasions?
At some point in the story, Tyler describes her father as “blessed with good fortune”. Would you say he was a lucky man? Was his life fortunate? How do you define good fortune?
Each of the houses Tyler lives in as a child has a different character. How do the events that take place in a home change our memory of them? Do the houses become characters in their own right?
In the opening pages of the book, Tyler and her sister Caitlin remember an important scene from their childhood differently. Tyler remembers saying farewell to her father in a cornfield and Caitlin remembers it as a banana field. Tyler opts for her sister’s version of events. Is Tyler a reliable narrator? And in what ways does the unreliability of memory play a part in the story?
Tyler and her sister spend much of the book side by side. How would you describe their relationship and how does her sister’s reaction to the events of their childhood differ to Tyler’s?
Tyler’s brother Evan, seven years older, is more removed from the events of the story. What is his role in the family? Tyler writes that we “practice ourselves with our family, falling back on stock phrases and phobias like talismans through which we return to who we once were.” As individuals are our roles in the family fixed and do we choose them or are they chosen for us?
Tyler’s family names their houses and their cars, and rename themselves on multiple occasions. What is the importance of names in the story and, in a wider sense, for our sense of identity?
Tyler’s mother chooses to support her ex-husband when he goes on the run, helping the children to visit him in secret and not giving away his whereabouts. Do you think she made the right choice? What would you do in the same situation?
Tyler describes the activities her dad created for the children – the adventure playgrounds and late night movie watching – and the things he spent time teaching them – how to ski, ride bikes, do back dives. And yet, the decisions he made took him away from his children, first through his fugitive status and then through incarceration. Would you say he was a good father? What makes a good father?
Ben Glaser’s criminal life began in the lax administration of Jimmy Carter and ended during Reagan’s crackdown on drug trafficking. What did you learn about the American judicial system during the course of the book? Did it make you reflect on whether the system is fair and proportionate?
Tyler writes about the ghost who haunted her childhood home. What do think the ghost signifies to the family and in the story?
Tyler spends her childhood keeping secrets. What impact did this secrecy have on her childhood and on her future relationships?
In one scene Tyler imagines all the possible scenarios in which her father might be arrested. How do children use imagination and make believe to understand the world around them?
There have been many stories of drug smugglers told through the point of view of the kingpin himself. Tyler chose to tell the story through her eye’s, from a daughter’s perspective. How did this change your view of the world of pot smuggling?
Tyler imagines the girl she might have been had her father never got in trouble. In many ways this book is populated by versions of herself she never became. What other versions of yourself populate your imagination and what is your relationship to them?
Tyler uses her diaries, photographs, and her families’ stories to build up the narrative, especially of times before she could remember. In what ways is this problematic? If she didn’t experience these scenes first hand, and is projecting herself into other people’s memories, is this still the territory of “memoir”? How far can a memoir stray into memories that are not the author’s own? Where is the line between fact and fiction?
Tyler starts experimenting with drugs early. How do you think her relationship with drugs was changed by her parent’s lives? Do you think an open dialogue about drugs is beneficial or detrimental to adolescents?
In chapter 29, Tyler talks about how writing your life story “erases your past too, replacing your memories with the words you make on the page.” Is memoir writing always a form of memorializing? Can it also be a form of forgetting? Does telling the story of your life help you come to terms with the past? And if so, in what ways?
This book is a search for home and what it means in all its guises. What does “home” mean to you? How does the question “where are you from?” mean something different to the question, “Where is your home?”