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Meet the Author: Maura Cheeks
Meet the Author: Maura Cheeks 02:38

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"Acts of Forgiveness" is this month's book for #ClubCalvi

The CBS New York Book Club has a new "Readers' Choice." After days of voting, you selected "Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks as our next book. It's her fiction debut. 

You can read more about the novel, including an excerpt, below. Get your copy and read along with us by joining our Facebook group by clicking the link above. 

The CBS New York Book Club focuses on fiction with plots and/or authors based in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut.  These books may have adult themes. 

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"Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks 

Ballantine Books

From the publisher: The country waits to see whether the first female president will pass the Forgiveness Act. The bill would allow Black families to claim up to $175,000 if they can prove they are the descendants of slaves, and for ambitious single mother Willie Revel the bill could be a long-awaited form of redemption. Willie gave up her burgeoning journalism career to help run her father's struggling construction company in Philadelphia and she has reluctantly put family first, without being able to forget who she might have become. Now she's back living with her parents and her young daughter while trying to keep her family from going into bankruptcy. Could the Forgiveness Act uncover her forgotten roots while also helping save their beloved home and her father's life's work?

Maura Cheeks lives in New York City.

"Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks (Hardcover) $27

"Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks (Kindle) $14

Excerpt: "Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks 


Marcus Revel was willing to trade the illusion of his sanity to keep his home. The day before, neighbors found signs taped lopsidedly to telephone poles, slid under their front doors, and swirling around the playground:

Last Chance Yard Sale,

237 Hortter Street

Saturday, 6 am–??

Come for the food, stay for the history you make

Beautiful antiques, funky knickknacks

Help me get my house back

The signs had appeared overnight, scribbled in what appeared to be red crayon on the backs of paper bags, but that wasn't what startled the neighbors. No, the signs were confusing because everyone knew Marcus Revel didn't own his house. Like most of them, he had traded his life savings and his John Hancock for a promise. So, Marcus Revel drew a large crowd in part because his neighbors wanted to see what the signs really meant and in part because the signs were wholly out of character for the quiet, respectable man they knew Marcus Revel to be. The Marcus Revel they knew hid signs of indignity beneath clean clothes and a well-maintained beard. Not tacked onto public spaces.

By ten a.m., the small audience in front of Marcus's house looked like the type of crowd one might see when firemen talk a man off a ledge. The old folks gripped coffee mugs while staring wide-eyed at the lawn, the melodrama adding color to their cheeks. Mrs. Solomon squeezed the hand of the five-year-old daughter she had just adopted from Macon, Georgia. A follower of Father Divine offered to lead a prayer session. Marcus's best friend, Al, tried to get people off the sidewalk and into the yard to make a purchase or two, while Marcus's eight-year-old son, Max, strutted around the yard, fingering old toys like an underpaid store clerk. The entire scene was buttressed by the smell of Marcus's piquant barbecue, wafting under the noses of his neighbors, as Marcus focused his attention on the baby back ribs that needed slathering. As much slathering as it would take for him to forget how low he had sunk.

Mrs. Solomon clicked her tongue. "Imagine, ribs at this hour. What could Marcus be thinking?" But still, she didn't move, and neither did anyone else.

Al attempted to persuade Marcus to abandon the grill and say something to the crowd.

"They want to know why they are here, Marcus. They want to know what the hell is going on."

Marcus hated public speaking, but he hated the idea of being homeless more. He walked from the grill to the edge of his manicured lawn and wiped his hands on his apron.

"I want to thank you all for coming out here so early and spending your Saturday morning with me," he said, looking at no one in particular. Marcus paused. "I am behind on my payment to Mr. Friedrich," he said, touching his short black beard and clearing his throat. "I owe him three hundred dollars, and he said he will take my house from me if I don't get it to him by Monday. Please understand I am a proud man, and this is not easy. But all I want is to provide a home for my son, and so here I am, offering what I can."

Mrs. Solomon cast her eyes downward. Others felt cherry pits in their throats. The old folks shook their heads. They didn't want to see Marcus Revel pleading on his front lawn to keep a house that wasn't even his.

"Who is that?" Lourdes Solomon whispered, pointing at Marcus during his speech.

"That is Mr. Marcus Revel," Mrs. Solomon answered her new daughter. "And please don't point," she admonished, folding Lourdes's finger back into her palm.

"Is he crazy?"

"No, baby. Just sad and desperate is all."

Marcus had been the olive branch on the stunted Revel family tree. While the other boys drank the fear of war away with cheap beer, Marcus handed out see-you-laters instead of goodbyes, talking about how great his life would be when he got back.

"I'm going to be a doctor, and I'll open up a family clinic right over there," he used to say, nodding toward the abandoned blue row home on the corner.

And the war didn't break him, but the way the country treated him afterward did.

After the war, he went to a bar once a week to drink beers with two friends from the army. One evening his friend Ron, a stout bald man with translucent skin whose life Marcus had once saved in the Serchio River Valley, handed the bartender a ball of crumpled dollars. "I'm buying the first round," he said, beaming. He told them the government was paying for his engineering degree and had backed his mortgage on a house in South Philly.

The next week, Curtis appeared with his own bold headline. The local Veterans Affairs office had backed his mortgage on a house in Wayne. Curtis's monthly payment would be cheaper than Marcus's parents' rent.

Early one morning, feeling hopeful and not without proof of concept, Marcus put on his best suit, kissed his wife and toddler goodbye, and caught the trolley into the city to meet with the local officer in charge of benefits.

He arrived at a nondescript office building on Chestnut Street, walking up to the third floor, skipping every other step. There were ten men ahead of him. Marcus sat down in the last folding chair, spreading his legs apart and bending at forty-five degrees to rest his elbows on his kneecaps. He was a tall man, and the chairs seemed built for short men too squirrelly to put up a fight. When a plump secretary in a red skirt called, "Next," and no one else remained, Marcus walked into the office, his suit jacket swung over his right arm to stanch the sweat dancing down his spine.

The officer gestured reluctantly at a chair and then looked back down at his yellow Rite in the Rain notebook.

Marcus sat wide-kneed in the black leather chair across from the officer's desk. "Good morning, sir," he said. "My name is Marcus Revel. I fought in the Ninety-second Infantry Division." The man didn't look up. Marcus spoke louder. "I'm looking for information on tuition reimbursement and mortgage-loan guaran- tees."

"Only get one or the other. Can't get both."

"Well. I'd like to learn more about getting the VA to cosign a mortgage. I'm looking to buy a house."

"What area you looking in?"

"East Germantown, sir. Hoping to stay close to family."

"I can tell you now, we won't be able to guarantee a loan there."

The officer was sketching what appeared to be his name in large block letters. SCOTT. A smiley face filled the O and he had shaded around the T's to make them look three-dimensional. Marcus wondered whether it was the officer's first or last name.

"I can be flexible," Marcus said. "Where can you guarantee a loan, then?"

SCOTT glanced up, looking through Marcus, as if trying to see if it were possible for a suit without a face to speak. "I'm going to be honest with you," SCOTT said, placing his pen down slowly. "The VA is not going to guarantee your loan. I suggest you investigate alternative methods."

"Excuse me." Marcus cleared his throat. "I don't want to over- step, but I know a few people who have received these benefits." SCOTT stared at him for what felt like minutes but must have only been moments. "No, you excuse me. I've got some other business to attend to."

Marcus looked at the officer and the stack of paper on the man's desk. He thought about the papers' sharp edges and their ability to slice a thin, clean cut into his fingertips. How even the most innocent objects can be used to draw blood.

Excerpted from "Acts of Forgiveness" by Maura Cheeks. Copyright © 2024 by Maura Cheeks. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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