Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In April, we're reading Colleen Oakley's The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise, an absolute blast of a story about how an underestimated elderly woman and 21-year-old college dropout became the most unlikely of roommates and eventually, partners in crime. Read an excerpt from the book below, then find out how to participate. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
At seven a.m. on the dot Monday morning—her first waking up in Mrs. Wilt’s house—Tanner’s eyes popped open. She knew it was seven, because she counted the chimes of the grandfather clock, just as she had done when they woke her at four, five and six. She had no idea how she slept through the midnight to three a.m. chimes—or how she hadn’t noticed during daylight hours how shockingly loud the metallic strikes were. She couldn’t possibly understand how the neighbors slept through it, much less Mrs. Wilt.
She grabbed the pillow beside her head, jammed it over her face and screamed into it—the only recourse she could think of, aside from taking a hammer to the clock and hitting it repeatedly until it splintered into toothpicks, which of course, is what she really wanted to do.
At home Tanner typically slept until at least ten—though eleven or twelve was preferable, but that was clearly not going to happen here. The trumpeting clock aside, the bed was wildly uncomfortable—hard, yet lumpy. And that was coming from someone who was used to sleeping on a pullout couch. Tanner sat up and rubbed her bleary eyes. She wanted a new mattress. And earplugs. And to not be living in this musty, old house with a musty, old woman.
But as none of those things seemed to be readily possible, she needed coffee. And lots of it. She briefly considered ordering Starbucks on UberEats, but quickly dismissed it after considering all the fees and tip would quickly add up to an expensive cup of coffee. And she was already down twenty dollars for the pizza from the two hundred her mom had given her to tide her over until her first paycheck. She’d have to search the kitchen cabinets and hope she got lucky—and that Louise wouldn’t mind.
Tanner threw the blankets aside and stood, her leg humming with pain. Mornings were always the worst, particularly since she had stopped doing her strengthening band exercises recommended by Dr. Stephens (what was the point?). She crept down the hall, not wanting to disturb Mrs. Wilt. Not so much out of kindness, but because it was awkward enough being in a stranger’s house and even more so being in the same room. Thank God she was able to zone out in her video games, though she would have much preferred to do it in privacy. She walked through the large room that served as a den, sitting area and dining room, and into the kitchen. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw a person out of the corner of her eye, sitting at the table, directing a piece of toast to her mouth.
“Oh!” Tanner said, putting a hand to her chest. “I didn’t think you’d be up yet.” And not only up, but fully dressed in a cardigan (lavender today), tan trousers, and orthopedic shoes, with perfectly coiffed hair and …Tanner looked closer. Pink lipstick! Who applied lipstick before eating breakfast?
“At seven fifteen?” Mrs. Wilt said, in that sharp, cutting way she had that clearly meant seven fifteen was the absolute middle of day and Tanner was a good-for-nothing layabout for sleeping that late. But Tanner was too distracted by the smell of coffee to care.
She eyed the full pot. “Do you mind if I… I can go get more today. I just didn’t bring any—” She was stammering, she knew, but she was desperate, and the woman made her uneasy.
Mrs. Wilt nodded and set down her half-eaten toast on her plate. “Mugs are in the cabinet above. I made extra, just in case.”
“Oh,” Tanner said, caught off guard by this kind gesture. “Thank you.” Tanner poured herself a cup and, after adding the requisite amount of milk and sugar (read: a boatload), leaned back against the counter to take her first full sip. And just when the coffee flooded her with warmth, and Tanner was overcome with gratitude and felt that maybe she had been a little rushed in her judgment of Mrs. Wilt, she felt eyes on her. She glanced back over at the woman—who was glaring intently at her.
“Well, I guess I’ll go back to…” Tanner paused. She wasn’t sure if she should say her room or the guest room. Neither one felt accurate.
Mrs. Wilt nodded, dropping her gaze back to the paper. “Please be ready at nine to leave for my hair appointment. I don’t like to be late.”
The first three days passed in a very Groundhog’s Day fashion. As promised, Tanner drove the woman to the appointed destinations on her calendar in Mrs. Wilt’s fifteen-year-old Mercury Grand Marquis. (Tanner almost laughed when she saw it in the garage. Of course this was the car she would have to drive. It was the quintessential old lady boat. God forbid Mrs. Wilt have something fun.)
When they returned home, sometime in the afternoon, Tanner retrieved a slice of pizza from the fridge and then settled in on the couch to play Horizon Zero Dawn until Louise’s cocktail hour, wherein Mrs. Wilt would sit in silence in the living room nursing a drink. At five, she turned on the local news for precisely one hour. From six to seven she ate dinner in the kitchen, and then she would return to the den and watch some legal or crime drama, the volume of which she turned to FULL, allowing Tanner to make out every single word, even with her door shut. Although Tanner was hard-pressed to say which was more irritating—the television volume or the near constant trilling of the telephone. Who had a landline anymore? Tanner had taken to answering it sometimes, simply because she could reach the phone faster than Mrs. Wilt, thereby cutting off the obnoxious piercing ring. (Which is how she quickly realized they were all junk calls; robotic voices offering zero percent credit card balance transfers or accented English explaining that Louise’s social security benefits had been suspended or that once, she had won a free cruise). At nine, the old woman trudged to her room and presumably, to bed.
In other words, living with Mrs. Wilt was as predictable as the grandfather clock Tanner wanted to smash to bits.
Until it wasn’t.
From THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF TANNER & LOUISE by Colleen Oakley, published by Berkley, an imprint of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Colleen Oakley.
Brooke Knappenberger is the Editorial Fellow at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.
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