The Pleasure Was Mine A Novel

Tommy Hays

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Prate Marshbanks proposed to his future wife on a muggy July night at Pete's Drive-in back in '52. "She said yes to me between bites of a slaw burger all-the-way." A college graduate and daughter of a prominent lawyer, Irene was an unlikely match for Prate, a high school dropout. He lived his married life aware of the question on people's minds: How in the world did a tall, thin, fair-skinned beauty and one of the most respected high school English teachers in all of Greenville County, in all of South Carolina for that matter, wind up married to a short, dark, fat-faced, jug-eared house painter? That their marriage not only survived for fifty years, but flourished, is a source of constant wonder to Prate. Now he faces a new challenge with Irene.

The Pleasure Was Mine takes place during a critical summer in the life of Prate Marshbanks, when he retires to care for his wife, who is gradually slipping away. To complicate things, Prate's son, Newell, a recently widowed single father, asks Prate to keep nine-year-old Jackson for the summer. Though Prate is irritated by the presence of his moody grandson, Jackson helps tend his grandmother, and grandfather and grandson form a bond. As Irene's memory fades, Prate, a hardworking man who has kept to himself most of his life, has little choice but to get to know his family.

With elegance and skillful economy of language, Tommy Hays renders an unforgettable character in Prate Marshbanks. The Pleasure Was Mine is at once a portrayal of grief, of romantic love, and of the resilience of family.


Praise for The Pleasure Was Mine

"This beautifully written, bitter-sweet story is quintessentially Southern, but, like the best of Southern fiction, speaks to the heart of the human condition."—Walter Edgar, South Carolina Public Radio

"[A] folksy, heartfelt paean to the deep love of a long marriage."—Sara Isaac, The Orlando Sentinel

"Tommy Hays writes beautifully. Better yet, he is heart-true . . . His subject matter, his sense of the South and Southerners, his ability to reflect on the deep in the ordinary are reminiscent of James Agee's A Death in the Family and Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding."—Claudia Smith Brinson, The State (Columbia, South Carolina)

"Most notable of all is the love with which Hays weaves his tale. Many of his characters create art to find affirmation of life in the face of devastating pain. Hays, who has lost a loved one to Alzheimer's himself, has surely done the same with this lovely novel."—Frank Reiss, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"[C]aptivating, wise and even romantic . . . This deceptively simple story aptly reminds us that love and family can endure and carry people through difficult times . . . Read this novel; the pleasure will be yours."—Linda Brinson, The Winston-Salem Journal

"So many of us have experienced the slow loss of a family member to Alzheimer's. We've yearned for help in preserving the dignity of our afflicted loved one. We've needed a book that tells our story with respect and love. Tommy Hays has written that book for us in The Pleasure Was Mine."—D.G. Martin, Bookwatch, UNC-TV

"Prate grapples doggedly with the daily heartaches and frustrations of a caregiver desperately trying to do it all before it's too late . . . Prate's widowed son, Newell; solemn young grandson, Jackson; and neighbor, Billie—each of them with their own emptiness to overcome—help transform Prate's life, and the broken group recasts itself into a new whole, molded by Irene's tragedy and their own love and resilience."—Janet Pittard, Our State

"[Q]uietly elegant and touching . . . [A] moving story of the way that love shifts and grows and finds new ways to express itself, even in loss."—Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, The Book Show, Northeast Public Radio

"[T]he story of family relationships, how they are formed and how they grow, what they mean to us all. In spite of the sadness of the situation, the reader is left with the light of hope and the warmth of love."—Reese Danley-Kilgo, The Huntsville Times

"The Pleasure Was Mine serves to remind us that what we often perceive as the end of something can be the beginning of something else . . . Prate begins his story thinking that his own story is at its end…yet throughout the story we witness him awakening again to life, finding strength in his memories of his earlier life with Irene, discovering an unexpected source of deep affection in his regard for his sad little grandson, and arriving at a better understanding of his son."—Jeff Minick, Smoky Mountain News

"Hays is a fantastically gifted writer, one who can portray beauty in the midst of almost unbearable pain . . . The Pleasure Was Mine is an incredible book that is destined to become a classic."—Susan Farrington, The Sanford Herald

"The Pleasure Was Mine is a completely engaging, authentic portrayal of a family's encounter with Alzheimer's disease. Beautifully crafted, poignantly funny, and astonishingly insightful, it navigates through a journey that will become increasingly common for our aging population. Tommy Hays probes the meaning of memory and its impact upon our most intimate relationships and leaves us hopeful, inspired, and wiser for the reading."—Margaret A. Noel, M.D., Director of MemoryCare

"Irene's early changes are described with poignant accuracy, but it is Prate's resilience, steadfast confidence in what he learns through experience and delightful capacity to surprise himself that is the soul of this story. Prate's extraordinary ordinariness allows him to tell an authentic Alzheimer's family story almost lyrically."—Lisa P. Gwyther, Bryan Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Duke University Medical School

"The Pleasure Was Mine is enriched by a depth of lightly-worn wisdom and unexpected wit as it surveys the grave problems that can face enduring marriages and can complicate the relations of children with their aging parents . . . I learned more than most novels tell me; and I was profoundly moved."—Reynolds Price

"Tragic and funny, The Pleasure Was Mine proves that Tommy Hays knows his way around the human heart. Here, Prate Marshbanks, his grown son Newell, and his grandson Jackson navigate clearly through their respective storms. But in the end, Prate's one-love Irene may prove to be this family's true rudder. The Pleasure Was Mine is a brilliant novel."—George Singleton

"Tommy Hays has the talent and empathy to do what few writers would attempt, much less accomplish—create a novel of wonder and affirmation out of Alzheimer's devastating impact on a family. The Pleasure Was Mine is a work filled with beautiful writing, convincing characters, pathos and humor. My life is enriched from having read this book."—Ron Rash

"A tender and gentle story about long-term love and kinship, The Pleasure Was Mine illuminates one of the toughest challenges a family may face. With his deft touch for humor and a generous sympathy for his characters, Tommy Hays reveals the chance for fresh starts where we thought there were only endings."—Josephine Humphreys

"Tommy Hays tells stories about real people caught up in all the large and small moments of life. He writes with warmth, wit, and deep insight. The Pleasure Was Mine is a moving account of how an irascible man named Prate Marshbanks endures the slow loss of his beloved wife, and finds his way back to life. It is a wonderful story about the meaning of family and the power of love. I was instantly reminded of Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons."—Karl Ackerman

"Once in a blessed while, in this era of edgy, postmodern fiction, you come across a novel that is old-fashioned in the best sense . . . The Pleasure Was Mine is just that sort of novel – charming, unpretentious, easy to read but deeply engaging . . . It's a tender, affecting story, simply but powerfully told."—Polly Paddock, The Charlotte Observer

"'My wife has gone. I can't say that I blame her . . . She had probably had enough of my temper, my dark moods, my foul mouth, my all-around disagreeable self . . . She had probably had enough of what most everybody wondered and some, over the years, were rude enough to ask: How in the world did a tall, thin, fair-skinned beauty and one of the most respected high school English teachers . . . in all of South Carolina . . . wind up married to a short, dark, fat-faced, jug-eared house painter?' That pithy summary sounds like the prelude to a typical novel about divorce and infidelity, but for Hays it serves as a setup for the transformation of a family in which an older man cares for his wife during her descent into Alzheimer's. The transformation begins when Prate Marshbanks, the remarkable, curmudgeonly protagonist, gets a visitor for the summer: his nine-year-old grandson, Jackson, whose mother died in a car accident several years before. But, despite Jackson's grieving presence, Marshbanks remains preoccupied with his own battle to ensure compassionate care for his wife, whom he has had to place in a nursing home. Hays's elegiac, penetrating description of Prate's marriage frames the landscape of this brilliant novel about love, loss, marriage and family. He offers a grim but hopeful treatment of a difficult subject, and his elegant writing and sharp, tender portraits of the Marshbanks make a potent combination."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Second-novelist Hays beautifully captures a husband's grief as he watches his beloved wife slip into Alzheimer's. 'My wife has gone,' ventures narrator Prate Marshbanks in the first sentence, and by this he means that Irene, his companion of 50 years, has begun to forget how to drive, cook, and take care of herself; sometimes she even forgets who her husband is. Prate is 75, a prickly, do-it-yourself house painter in Greenville, South Carolina, who adores his cultured wife, a former teacher, for having chosen him over more promising suitors. Although he initially resists the urgings of her doctor and of their only son, Newell, to put Irene in a nursing home, Prate finally recognizes that he can no longer give her the constant, watchful care she needs. Visiting her for hours daily at Rolling Hills, he learns in dismay that 'the less you could take care of yourself, the less you were taken care of.' Newell, an overworked widower in North Carolina, needs to spend time at an artist colony in order to churn out paintings, so he leaves his reticent, bookish nine-year-old son, Jackson, in his father's care for six weeks. The setup is complete when Billie, the lonely single gal next door, turns out to be an admirer of Newell's work and insinuates herself into the household by helping to entertain Jackson. The plot is driven forward by Irene and Jackson's beneficial impact on each other, and by the predictable progression of Billie and Newell's romance. The crux of this affecting story, however, is the delineation of Prate's love and sorrow as he helplessly witnesses the degeneration of his wife's fine mind. When she fails to recognize their home, for example, he feels 'like a plug had been pulled and our lifetime together was draining away.' Colloquial in tone, braced by its narrator's stoic, plainspoken candor, Hays's latest outing feels timely and true. An intimate, loving portrait of a dreaded disease's devastating effects."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



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My wife has gone. I can't say that I blame her. After fifty years, Irene had probably had enough of keeping up my end of the conversation with family and friends, while I slipped outside to weed the garden or drove over to Pete's for a piece of...

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  • Tommy Hays

  • Tommy Hays is executive director of the Great Smokies Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and creative writing chair for the Academy at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. His novel In The Family Way received the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award in 2000 and was a choice of the Book-of-the-Month Club. He is a graduate of Furman University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and two children.

  • Tommy Hays




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