A new neighbor's arrival highlights old and quiet problems.
A trip to the country turns into nightmare beset by mysterious creatures and body transformations.
"When we went over to look at the creature, it was mostly flattened. It looked like a crow, except the feathers had fallen off its back. Underneath, the flesh was scaly and pink. The exposed skin was split in half by a row of translucent spikes. The spikes were moving slightly, pointing first in this direction, then in that. The smell made me wrinkle my nose. It was an oddly sweet smell to find outdoors, like an open vat of lollipop flavoring."
The mysteries and dreams of life and rural living.
"I leaned back into my chair. I thought of the abandoned houses, of the wasteland I could no longer see from the window of the plane because we were too far up. It occurred to me that somewhere along the line I had to have chosen to nestle in that ruin, whether to perpetuate my wounds of abandonment, or to deal with them once and for all. Then I thought of cows pasturing in the fields alongside highways. Then my neighbor pointed out the page in the magazine he was laughing about."
Family relationships and the complexities of childhood imagination.
"Out the side door and into the yard. Plastic table, plastic sandbox in the shape of a turtle, two plastic chairs blown over. An empty birdfeeder. Ella had no idea why Blanket would be out here. This was why adventures needed preparation: because once they were underway they were always disappointments. In her backpack the string was unused, the flashlight unlit. She took the fork out just to feel like she had packed more wisely than she did."
David Hosack attends to a mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton.
"Hosack felt a hitching panic build, his instincts wound too tightly, overtaxed, a clockwork spring about to snap. Only Hamilton could do this to him. The frame prone before him was frail, narrow, woman-small. His coat, waistcoat, shirt, underclothes sopping him up, holding him together. Delicate embroidery sodden, delicate fingers cold with the loss of blood. Hosack had seen this man’s blood before, and the blood and vomit and delirious fever-dreams of his wife, his children. But this was—Hosack sickened, the scene before him tilting. Three years before—Hamilton’s son, Phillip, bleeding out after his own duel on the same Weehawken site. Their faces so alike, their mangled bodies. Their right sides."
A girl's interaction before her Coming Out dance.
"I had no idea about myself, whether I was pretty or different or what. That I had not yet attracted a boyfriend was a failure that weighed on my mind. If I was pretty, I figured, I would have one already. But if I was different, a fresh idea for me, that would explain the problem, for I thought that boys didn’t like girls who weren’t the same as every other girl they knew. I didn’t play varsity sports and look like it, and I wasn’t fey, I didn’t play an instrument or go in for the arts. I was smart, though. “Boys are intimidated by your intellect,” my married sister once told me, meaning it as a compliment. But I didn’t act nearly as smart as I was, so I couldn’t believe that was true."
A convergence of sex, fears, and family drama.
"Beside the bed the baby monitor flashed, as it had been doing all night, a blue light racing up and down to accompany the sounds: breathing, snoring, faint clicking, the mewl of one or another of the cats. If Angela held it to her ear she would also hear the ticking of the mantel clock. These new monitors! So much more sophisticated than those of yore. Nineteen years ago, when last she’d tuned into one, the monitor would occasionally pick up the cell phone call of some stranger in a passing car, some weird adult voice suddenly blaring from the baby’s room."
A pizza deliverer/calculus whiz becomes involved in the lives of two unstable college students.
"I licked my thumb, outside, by the car, and ran it over the suction cups, before I slapped the marquee to the top of my cobalt blue Toyota. The pizzas were already sitting in the passenger seat, cardboard mouths smiling. I was conscious, despite Walter’s assertion, that I was operating under the tick of a clock, an invisible, indefinite deadline. Really, we all are. But no one realizes how soon it’s coming."
Secrets, dangers, and murder in a German police state.
"Andreas didn’t know what to say. What he wanted was for her to come and live in the basement of the rectory with him. He could protect her, home-school her, practice English with her, train her as a counsellor for at-risk youth, and be her friend, the way King Lear imagined being friends with Cordelia, following the news of the court from a distance, laughing at who was in, who was out. Maybe in time they’d be a couple, the couple in the basement, leading their own private life."
Troubles and afflictions weigh on counselors and veterans.
"The Fort was actually just an ugly house. Eighteen rooms, two stories. A kitchen, a lavatory, a staircase. One office, one entrance, two exits, thirty-six bunks, four televisions, the mini-library, two footballs, one fútbol, a basketball, and the whole of Big Ben, the biggest backyard in Texas. It housed between twenty-one and thirty-two bodies a year. Most of them stayed a couple months. They found us through each other."
Loss and family in an era of police crime and black protests.
"Guilt racked Lois as she downed the last of her coffee. She had promised Jillian she’d go to church with her whenever the verdict came; they were supposed to mourn together. The thing was, even as they were having the conversation, Lois knew she wasn’t going. Something about the thought felt hollow and wrong. How could she embrace people inside the comforts of stained glass when, outside, folks were fighting a foul battle?"