Thursday, October 24

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The Master Conjurer

A media firestorm circles around a lucky amateur magician.

"By now, the actual doing of the spell—the Clean Casting—felt like a weird dream that Peter had concocted after too many drinks. The more people made a fuss about it, the more he felt like he’d made the whole thing up. But he could still picture it. He’d gotten one of the stone spellcasting bowls they sold on late-night cable TV, and little baggies of all the ingredients, with rejected prog rock band names like Prudenceroot or Womanheart, and sprinkled pinches of them in, while chanting the nonsense syllables and thinking of his desired aim."

Tuesday, October 22

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The Goldfinch [Excerpt 2]

An act of terror at an art museum.

"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."

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The Goldfinch [Excerpt 1]

A mother and son wander around an art museum; an excerpt from Tartt's latest novel, available tomorrow.

"For me – a city kid, always confined by apartment walls – the museum was interesting mainly because of its immense size, a palace where the rooms went on forever and grew more and more deserted the farther in you went. Some of the neglected bedchambers and roped-off drawing rooms in the depths of European Decorating felt bound-up in deep enchantment, as if no one had set foot in them for hundreds of years. Ever since I’d started riding the train by myself I’d loved to go there alone and roam around until I got lost, wandering deeper and deeper in the maze of galleries until sometimes I found myself in forgotten halls of armour and porcelain that I’d never seen before (and, occasionally, was unable to find again)."

Friday, October 18

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The Dance Contest [Excerpt]

Intrigues within a Thai prison.

"'My friends,' he says, 'I hope all of you are having a mellow and productive day. Perhaps you feel surprised that I say "friends." Well, you deserve to be called by that word. Three months ago, I came to you seeking assistance with several problems. Inmates doing bodily harm to each other was a problem. Drug casualties were a problem. Another problem was videos filmed on contraband phones, videos which referenced conduct that is unbecoming to you and unbecoming to this institution. One more problem was some chattering birds who told false stories to the BBC about conditions in our facility. Three months ago, I asked for your help with these problems, and there has been no trouble since.'"

Thursday, October 17

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The Interloper

A young assistant causes strain and conflict between a writer and a painter.

"We took her with us when we went out. It was startling when a waitress at the Forest Diner mistook Evvie for our daughter. I had just turned 38 that fall, and Colin was 46. We were both on our second marriages, and had both agreed that children would get in the way of our art. Colin was old enough for a 22-year-old daughter—I certainly wasn’t. It was something like having a child, though, without the trouble of rearing one. Evvie was devoted to Colin. If she’d been more attractive, I might have felt threatened, but I didn’t. She was almost a daughter, in those early months."

Wednesday, October 16

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Necropolis

An animal's corpse disrupts a humdrum workday in this early story from Eleanor Catton, the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize.

"Sharon was upstairs cleaning out the tearoom when the van arrived. I ran out into the carpark to greet them properly, before anyone else got the chance. The delegate was a youngish girl with short hair and leather cuffs around her wrists. 'Let's see this headless dog, then," she said, and she rubbed her palms together and clapped them twice.'"

Tuesday, October 15

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The Daughters Of the Moon

Women are swayed by the moon's pull in a world dominated by consumerism.

"It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce."

Monday, October 14

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On the Far Side Of the Sea

A long, philosophical courtship between a wealthy man and an intelligent woman.

"She looked up. Man and manservant were circling the property. They picked their way slowly, gazing down, grimly. She had not seen anyone move like this; it was the walk of people in a graveyard who knew all the buried. He was wrong. For him it was a test of devotion. Her devotion had nothing to do with it. She craved that man’s face and hands, her sweetest concern was what he would say next, the air she liked best had the damp of his breath in it."

Friday, October 11

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Monochrome

Two artistic teenagers create art and mysteries in a cabin.

"When the sky was blue Andi hooked sheets over the windows. She cooked meat until it was black. While Shot slept she powdered his cheeks with fireplace ash. When they walked about the cabin they looked like subjects in pencil sketch flipbooks, skin brushed gray over a monochrome background. Sometimes Shot would track in mud or some paint would flake, and Andi would be there with a can to police the evidence."

Thursday, October 10

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Gravel

Two sisters struggle to adjust to changing family circumstances.

"When we got outside, the first thing we did was loosen and let trail the scarves our mother had wrapped around our necks. (The fact was, though we may not have put the two things together, the deeper she got into her pregnancy the more she slipped back into behaving like an ordinary mother, at least when it was a matter of scarves we didn’t need or regular meals. There was not so much championing of wild ways as there had been in the fall.) Caro asked me what I wanted to do, and I said I didn’t know. This was a formality on her part but the honest truth on mine. We let the dog lead us, anyway, and Blitzee’s idea was to go and look at the gravel pit. The wind was whipping the water up into little waves, and very soon we got cold, so we wound our scarves back around our necks."

Wednesday, October 9

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Pafko At the Wall [Excerpt]

The beginning of Don DeLillo's Underworld, in memory of Andy Pafko.

"Pafko is out of paper range by now, jogging toward the clubhouse. But the paper keeps falling. If the early paper waves were slightly hostile and mocking, and the middle waves a form of fan commonality, then this last demonstration has a softness, a selfness. It is coming down from all points, laundry tickets, envelopes swiped from the office, there are crushed cigarette packs and sticky wrap from ice-cream sandwiches, pages from memo pads and pocket calendars, they are throwing faded dollar bills, snapshots torn to pieces, ruffled paper swaddles for cupcakes, they are tearing up letters they've been carrying around for years pressed into their wallets, the residue of love affairs and college friendships, it is happy garbage now, the fans' intimate wish to be connected to the event, unendably, in the form of pocket litter, personal waste, a thing that carries a shadow of identity -- rolls of toilet tissue unbolting lyrically in streamers."

Tuesday, October 8

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In Evil Hour [Excerpt]

Gossip embroils a set of small-town characters: a mayor, a priest, a doctor, and two widows. An excerpt from García Márquez's 1979 novel.

"Together they went to a vacant lot behind the movie theater, where they’d begun to raise the tent. Taciturn-looking men and women were taking cloths and bright colors out of the enormous trucks plated with fancy tinwork. As he followed the impresario through the crush of human beings and odds and ends, shaking everybody’s hand, the mayor felt as if he were in the midst of a shipwreck."