A few weeks back, on a sunny spring afternoon, I had the pleasure of grabbing espresso with local author Alexandra Salmon in Boston’s historic North End neighborhood.
While the world shut down over the last year, Alex took the down time and isolation to redo her debut novel, which included -among other things- a new cover and title: Can’t Turn Back.
“I felt like it could be better,” she tells me in between sips of coffee at The Thinking Cup on Hanover Street, explaining the makeover. “So I changed some things around.”
After all: “I figured if Dickens wasn’t above improving Great Expectations, then I wasn’t above trying to improve either.”
Improvements and all, Can’t Turn Back is a fascinating read that follows a Massachusetts family as they flirt with -and try to ultimately escape- dangers from their past. A modern day thriller, Alex procures a true page-turner with Can’t Turn Back which will have you longing for more by novel’s end!
Perhaps somewhat symbolic, whatever it is we all went through over this last year, it’s time we all move forward. We can’t turn back.
And how better to do so, than with a good book by our side!
Here is an excerpt from the first two chapters of Alexandra Salmon’s Can’t Turn Back:
Andrew received his dorm and roommate assignment in the middle of the summer. He’d be living in Keough Hall with a guy named Will Lassiter, a tall, lanky guy from Colby, Wisconsin. While he didn’t immediately become obsessed with Will, as most of the girls he’d graduated with seemed to do with their new roommates, they did chat on the phone shortly after the assignment was made, and Andrew liked him as far as he could tell.
“I figured you were some kind of weirdo when I couldn’t find you on social media,” Will confessed to Andrew somewhere between talking about getting a futon and him already owning a mini-fridge.
“Yeah, I’m just not into that stuff really,” Andrew told him. Will seemed to accept that explanation, as he never brought it up again.
Pat was the first of Andrew’s friends to leave town, and the only one whose departure inspired him to sit in his room by himself for a few hours after he’d left. The day before Pat went off to school, he’d arranged for six or seven of his old Ranger teammates, including Andrew, to join him on Lake Michigan for the afternoon and for dinner at the Party Lounge. His leaving the next day never came up; he made sure they kept laughing, throwing the football around on the beach, or pushing guys in the water, still frigid in late August. He was grinning broadly the next morning when he stopped his Durango, filled to the brim with clothes and dorm supplies, at the Harlows’ house.
“You’re gonna come party with me, like, the first week after you get to South Bend” he said to Andrew. “Sure the football games are awesome, but what else are you gonna do when everyone’s sitting around studying all the time?”
“Dude, I’m gonna have to study too. This isn’t gonna be like high school.” Pat was planning to major in Recreation, which Andrew thought was perfect for how much time he’d actually seen Pat studying.
“Yeah alright, if you want to spend the next four years at the library,” Pat teased him. He gave Andrew a hug, patting him on the back as they embraced. “See you soon!” he yelled cheerfully out the window as he drove away.
Andrew left two weeks later, both his parents taking him to South Bend, Indiana, to Notre Dame. They had stopped at Keough Hall, to meet Will and his parents in person, before making several trips to Bed Bath & Beyond to outfit his side of the dorm room. Andrew let Liz pick out most of his things. Just as he’d expected, she began to tear up when it was time for them to go back to Manton. To anyone watching them say their good-byes outside of Keough Hall, they looked like any other family dropping their son off at college for the first time.
“Remember to eat salad at dinner,” she told him. “I know the dining hall is gonna have unhealthy food all hours of the day.”
“I will,” he lied. He hugged both of them.
“I’m so proud of you,” Jed said to him. “I know you’re gonna do great.” Andrew watched as they piled back into their car and drove away.
He found Notre Dame’s campus to be even more beautiful as a student than on the campus tour and through photographs, which he hadn’t even thought possible. His roommate was a nice enough guy, though they had little in common. Will didn’t seem to care much for going to classes –he was always sleeping during the day and off to another party at night. He loved to hunt and fish, and figured Andrew would too when he’d heard his roommate was from northern Michigan. He was surprised to learn Andrew had actually spent most of his life in southern New Hampshire, and never so much as held a gun in his life.
“What, they don’t hunt up in New England?” he’d asked.
“No, people do. I just never got into it,” Andrew told him. It wasn’t just with Will that things like that were a problem. He’d introduce himself to people and tell them he was from a small town outside of Traverse City, using his right hand as a map of Michigan and pointing to the crook under his ring finger. After all, he was listed in the student directory as “Andrew Harlow, Manton, MI.” But he wasn’t really from Manton, he had just been living there for the past couple of years.
Sometimes he would meet people who already knew of him as a big-time high-school football player. But that felt deceitful too. Will was one of only a handful of people who even knew he’d come from New England long before he lived in Manton. Some of the kids he met, he could tell were starting over. Guys who would get blackout drunk every night of the week. One overweight and acne-stricken girl in the dorm next to his who would flash people at every party and was always on the lookout for a guy to bring back to her dorm with her. Overcompensating for experiences they once lacked. But how could he figure out who it was he wanted to be, if he wasn’t even quite sure who he’d been to begin with?
“Did you not really like college at first?” he asked Charlotte over the phone during his first few weeks at Notre Dame.
“I guess I was a little homesick at first, but no I loved it right away. Football, parties…you have that stuff too, so you know how it is,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m not homesick. The tailgates are fun and everything. I don’t know, it’s not really what I expected I guess,” he told her.
“Well, what were you expecting?” she asked him, sounding a little annoyed.
“I don’t know,” he said, detecting her tone but deciding to just talk over it. “It’s just sort of hard to connect with people when you don’t have a whole past to talk about, you know? Like in Manton, it was easy to make friends through football. And Pat. I guess if Pat went here too I’d have no problem.”
“Pat is definitely one-of-a-kind,” Charlotte agreed. “Never met a stranger in his whole life.”
“Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s not me. Like yeah, the past two years I lived in Manton and I played football. But what else do I tell people?”
“You know the drill. New Hampshire, just general New England stuff,” she said, sort of impatiently.
“And beyond that?”
“I don’t know. Listen, I gotta go. Neil’s grilling some steaks for us. His mom’s here too. You’re a smart guy, you’ll figure it out,” she said. He rolled his eyes and hung up without saying goodbye.
It was early April and Major League Baseball had begun in earnest. In many parts of the country, that meant spring had arrived at last, but in Michigan it just meant more cold and rain. The weather was more of that variety when Neil and Charlotte drove down to Detroit to meet his college friends for a long weekend. It was Weston’s birthday, and the whole group had plans to go to the Tigers’ Opening Day and stay at the MGM Grand in the city for some gambling and perhaps even a show.
As usual, the guys went hard the first night, pounding drinks together at one of the casino bars long after their wives and girlfriends, thinking of the Tigers game the next day, had gone to bed. Predictably, all of them were hungover the next morning. Neil and Charlotte were the only ones who had even made it to breakfast. They’d planned to meet up with everyone down in the casino for a bit before walking over to the ballpark for the game. They sat a short ways from the slot machines while waiting for their friends.
“I’m surprised Weston even wants to go to the game. He was puking everywhere,” said Neil, filling Charlotte in on what she’d missed when she’d turned it in for the night. “I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed back at Tap.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t there,” said Charlotte. As soon as she finished her sentence, Neil’s phone rang. “It’s him,” Neil said, before picking it up. “Hey man. Yeah, we’re downstairs. By the slot machines.” Neil paused for several seconds. “What do you mean you don’t see us? We’re right at the tables-“
“Tell him we’re right by the Starbucks,” said Charlotte as Neil listened to him speak. “Hold on. How did you get back to the elevators? We’re nowhere near that,” said Neil. “I’m gonna go find Weston. I’ll be right back,” he told Charlotte, getting up from his chair. He quickly walked into the maze of the casino, still cradling his phone to his ear. Charlotte took her own phone out of her purse, checking work emails as she waited for him.
She figured she could only have been sitting there by herself for a few minutes before she got the feeling somebody was staring at her. She looked up from her phone and discovered she was right. A dark-haired, heavyset girl about her height was standing a few feet away from Charlotte’s table, looking right at her. When Charlotte realized who it was, her heart stopped.
It was McKenzie Davis, and they’d been friends and basketball teammates when they’d gone to Framingham High School together. Charlotte had no idea what to do next. It was too late to run. That might have made it even worse anyway. She wished she hadn’t looked up from her phone and locked eyes with her.
“Claire Hutton?” said McKenzie. Charlotte didn’t reply, although that never seemed to stop the McKenzie she remembered. “Oh my God! I thought that might be you, but I wasn’t sure because of your hair! It looks awesome though! How are you! This is crazy! What are you doing in Detroit?”
Charlotte just looked at her, dumbfounded, still undecided about what to say or do next. Then, what she supposed was instinct kicked in.
“I’m sorry, you must have thought I was somebody else,” she said. “My name is Charlotte.”
With that she quickly got up and walked through the endless rows of slot machines, veering into a few different directions, leaving an awestruck McKenzie behind her. She didn’t dare look back. Her whole body was shaking; she had the slight feeling she may pass out. She wanted to sit, but was terrified to stay still.
Turning into one of the main walkways, she practically ran right into Neil and Weston. “Th-there you are,” she stammered. “I was looking for you.” Neil’s expression turned to alarm as soon as he saw her.
“Wow, you look pretty much how I feel right now,” Weston said. “Are you okay, Char? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost or something,” said Neil.
“I feel sick,” she said. Then she collapsed into his arms.