Title: Close Enough to Touch
Author: Colleen Oakley
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction
One time a boy kissed me and I almost died…
And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world–and the people in it–that she’s been hiding from.
One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad–and man–he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition…
Close Enough to Touch is an evocative, poignant, and heartrending exploration of the power and possibilities of the human heart.
Say Hello to author Colleen Oakley!
Colleen Oakley’s debut novel Before I Go was a People Best New Book Pick, an Us Weekly “Must” Pick, a Publisher’s Lunch Buzz Book, a Library Journal Big Fiction Debut, and an Indie Next List Pick. Formerly the senior editor of Marie Claire and editor-in-chief of Women’s Health & Fitness, Colleen’s articles, essays, and interviews have been featured in The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, four kids, and the world’s biggest lapdog, Bailey. Her second novel, Close Enough to Touch is out March 7.
What are you reading right now?
The Mischling, by Affinity Konar.
If you’re a TV watcher, what are you addicted to?
Too many shows— Westworld, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, The Americans, Homeland, The Crown, Orange is the New Black, This is Us and of course— The Bachelor
Where are you most inspired?
I’m most inspired when I’m in the shower, or running or doing anything where my mind is free to just drift (which as the mother of four kids isn’t often). I’ve been known, when I’m really stuck on a scene, to shut my computer and mow the lawn or replant the flowers at the mailbox, and inevitably when I’m done, I’ve worked out the knots in my plot.
Coffee, Wine or something else?
Wine! And more wine.
What kind of writer are you when beginning a new story – pantster, planner or something entirely different?
I usually toy with the characters, plots and scenes in my mind for months before I ever write a single word. So I do have an idea of where I’m going and who I’m writing about when I start. But then I’m a pantser all the way. Outlines give me hives.
What’s been your favorite line in a review of one of your books?
“I found it difficult to categorize this book because it fits into so many different categories.” This is a huge compliment to me, because I hate being pigeon-holed as just one genre-type writer. I also love the reviews where people say they cried buckets. Not because I like to make people cry (I don’t think), but because my favorite books are the ones that make me feel every emotion of the main character, so if a reader is crying, I feel like I’ve done my job.
We all know authors shouldn’t read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, do you?
I do, but typically only in the beginning— the first 50 or so. I just want to get an overall feel of how the book is being received. Then I do my best not to look (and usually fail).
Do you have a book you read as a child or teen that has stuck with you through adulthood?
There are so, so many, and truly one of my favorite parts of being a parent is sharing those children’s books that I’ve loved my entire life with my own kids. The most recent one that I read to them is Charlotte’s Web. E.B White’s writing is so crisp and her story-telling so vivid and emotional that I just get lost in the story each time (and yes, we all needed tissues at the end).
You get to have lunch with anyone from the past, who do you choose and why?
Pat Conroy. I met him once, and instead of telling him how much he had inspired me and my writing, I clammed up, got sweaty and just said “hi.” I wish I had the chance to remedy that.
One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died.
I realize that can easily be dismissed as a melodramatic teenager-ism, said in a high-pitched voice bookended by squeals. But I’m not a teenager. And I mean it in the most literal sense. If it were a sequence of events it would go like this:
A boy kissed me.
My lips started tingling.
My tongue swelled to fill my mouth.
My throat closed; I couldn’t breathe.
Everything went black.
It’s humiliating enough to pass out just after experiencing your first kiss, but even more so, when you find out that the boy kissed you on a dare. A bet. That my lips are so inherently unkissable, it took $50 to persuade him to put his mouth on mine.
And here’s the kicker: I knew it could kill me. At least, in theory.
When I was six, I was diagnosed with Type IV contact dermatitis to foreign human skin cells. That’s medical terminology for: I’m allergic to other people. Yes, people. And yes, it’s rare, as in: I’m only one of a handful of people in the history of the world who has it. Basically, I explode in welts and hives when someone else’s skin touches mine. The doctor who finally diagnosed me also theorized that my severe reactions—the anaphylactic episodes I’d experienced—were either from my body over-reacting to prolonged skin contact, or oral contact, like drinking after someone getting their saliva in my mouth. No more sharing food, drinks. No hugs. No touching. No kissing. You could die, he said. But I was a sweaty- palmed, weak-kneed seventeen-year-old girl inches away from the lips of Donovan Kingsley, and consequences weren’t the fi thing on my mind—even if the consequences were deadly. In the moment—the actual breathless seconds of his lips on mine—I daresay it almost seemed worth it.
Until I found out about the bet.
When I got home from the hospital, I went directly to my room. And I didn’t come out, even though there were still two weeks left in my senior year. My diploma was mailed to me later that summer.
Three months later, my mom got married to Lenny, a gas-station-chain owner from Long Island. She packed exactly one suitcase and left.
That was nine years ago. And I haven’t left my house since.
I didn’t wake up one morning and think: “I’m going to become a recluse.” I don’t even like the word recluse. It reminds me of that deadly spider just lying in wait to sink its venom into the next creature that crosses its path.
It’s just that after my first-kiss-near-death experience, I — understandably, I think — didn’t want to leave my house, for fear of running into anyone from school. So I didn’t. I spent that summer in my room, listening to Coldplay on repeat, and reading. I read a lot.
Mom used to make fun of me for it. “Your nose is always stuck in a book,” she’d say, rolling her eyes. It wasn’t just books, though. I’d read magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, anything that was lying around. And I’d retain most of the information, without really trying.
Mom liked that part. She’d have me recite on cue —to friends (which she didn’t have many of) and to boyfriends (which she had too many of) — weird knowledge that I had collected over time. Like the fact that superb fairy wrens are the least faithful species of bird in the world, or that the original pronunciation of Dr. Seuss’s name rhymed with “Joyce” or that Leonardo DaVinci invented scissors (which shouldn’t really surprise anyone, since he invented thousands of things).
Then she’d beam and shrug her shoulders and give her fake smile and say, “I don’t know where she came from.” And I’d always wonder if that maybe was a little bit true, because every time I got the nerve to ask about my father— like, what his name was, for instance — she’d snap and say something like “What’s it matter? He’s not here, is he?”
Basically, I was a freak show growing up. And not just because I didn’t know who my father was or because I could recite random facts. I’m pretty sure neither of those are unique characteristics. It was because of my condition, which is how people referred to it: a condition. And my condition was the reason my desk in elementary school had to be at least eight feet away from the others. And why I had to sit on a bench by myself at recess and watch while kids created trains out of their bodies on the slide and played red rover and swung effortlessly on monkey bars. And why my body was clad in long sleeves and pants and mittens — cloth covering every square-inch of skin on the off-chance that the kids I was kept so far away from accidentally broke the boundaries of my personal bubble. And why I used to stare open-mouthed at mothers who would squeeze their children’s tiny bodies with abandon at pick-up, wondering what that might feel like.
Anyway, combine all the facts: my condition, the-boy-kissing-me-and-almost dying incident, my mother leaving — and voila! — it’s the perfect recipe for becoming a recluse.
Or maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe I just like being alone.
Regardless, here we are.
And now, I fear that I’ve become the Boo Radley of my neighborhood. I’m not pale or sickly looking, but I’m afraid the kids on the street have started to wonder about me. Maybe I stare out the window too much when they’re riding their scooters. I ordered blue panel curtains on and hung them on each window a few months ago, and now I try to stand behind them and peek out, but I’m worried that looks even more creepy, when I’m spotted. I can’t help it. I like watching them play, which I guess does sound creepy when I put it like that. But I enjoy seeing them have fun, bearing witness to a normal childhood.
Once, a kid looked directly into my eyes and then turned to his friend and said something. They both laughed. I couldn’t hear them so I pretended he said something like, “Look, Jimmy, it’s that nice, pretty lady again.” But I’m afraid it was more like, “Look, Jimmy, it’s that crazy lady who eats cats.” For the record, I don’t. Eat cats. But Boo Radley was a nice man, and that’s what everybody said about him.
Thank you, Colleen, for allowing me to feature you and your book Close Enough to Touch, on For the Love of Chick Lit. I love, love, loved the excerpt so I’ll run out and buy this pronto! You all should, too.