novel excerpts

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Abandoned children make a home in a hollowed-out school bus.

"The dead squirrel lies shocked on the floor, spun down by lightning last night, claw-up and crusted. The little girl uses a knife to split the thing down its belly and starts peeling. Lucky, she says to her brother. You’re lucky I’ll share with you. Aunt Helen brushes their hair, one by one, picks insects and sticker vine from their legs. A night like all nights: She leaves through the front door without saying goodbye. The children blow kisses. They pray for their mother. They sleep."

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A narrator's philosophical observations on travel.

"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of all the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excruciating pamphlets and brochures—even the elevator buttons!—are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment, whenever they open their mouths. They must have to write things down in special codes. Wherever they are, people have unlimited access to them—they are accessible to everyone and everything! I heard there are plans in the works to get them some little language of their own, one of those dead ones no one else is using anyway, just so that for once they can have something just for themselves."

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Sex and communication in experimental fragments.

"We are in your white bed full of light drinking white wine and it is dark. I balance the base of the glass on the side of my naked hip and look at the marble spa tub in the bathroom. There is a flushed gleam bouncing off the mirror, fainting exhaling ebbing back into the room and I ghost the smoke a reprise a remorse of sighing and feeling nothing but beam."

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An account of Chinese residents in a future, dystopian city once known as Baltimore; excerpted from Lee's latest novel.

"Maybe Charters can easily forget what it's like out there, but we B-Mors and others in similar settlements should be aware of the possibilities. We shouldn't take for granted the security and comfort of our neighborhoods, we shouldn't think that always leaving our windows open and our doors unlocked means that we're beyond an encroachment. We may believe our gates are insurmountable and that we're armored by routines, but can't we be touched by chance or fate, plucked up like a mouse foraging along his well-worn trail? Before you know it, you're looking down at the last faint print of your claws in the dirt."

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An attempt to clean out a vacant room instigates an existential crisis, in this new translation of the opening of Lispector's 1964 novel.

"And though I’d gone into the room, I seemed to have gone into nothing. Even once inside it, I was still somehow outside. As if the room weren’t deep enough to hold me and I had to leave pieces of myself in the hallway, in the worst rejection to which I’d ever fallen victim: I didn’t fit."

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Two friends commiserate and reflect on their single lives.

"This was the first time she’d ever asked a man out on a date. She was from a small Midwestern town and had been brought up very old-school, very he holds the door open, he comes in to meet the parents, he makes the requisite phone call. But five years of liberal education—essays by Adrienne Rich, press conferences about Anita Hill, dormitories full of post–Gloria Steinem girls who spoke out loud about equality and in secret waited by their telephones—well, it had all confused the issue, for better or worse, and she crossed her fingers in her mittens. What would he say, what would he say?"

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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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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)."

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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."

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A woman starts a new job with a massive, all-knowing social media company; an excerpt from Eggers' The Circle, coming in October.

"Mae looked at the time. It was 6 o’clock. She had plenty of hours to improve, there and then, so she embarked on a flurry of activity, sending 4 zings and 32 comments and 88 smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by 8, after joining and posting in 11 discussion groups, sending another 12 zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for 67 more feeds, she’d done it. She was at 6,872, and she turned to her InnerCircle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to 70 or so messages, RSVPing to 11 events on campus, signing nine petitions and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta."

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An experimental story of travel, quotations, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

"Two scenes intervene between Cypress Point and San Juan Bautista: one in Midge’s apartment, when Midge reveals her self-portrait-as-”Portrait of Carlotta” to Scottie, and, following it, a scene in Scottie’s apartment, “early dawn” the following day, when Madeleine comes to visit him to tell him about her dream. One scene attempts to conceal what it in actuality reveals, the other conceals that which it is supposed to reveal; Midge’s feelings for Scottie are clearest here, where her gesture is meant to be seen as ironic, and Madeleine’s are most calculated in the scene following it, just when she is supposed to be at her most vulnerable (“supposed to” according to her script, that is, the one written by Elster)."

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A child's uneasy participation in a hunting party; an excerpt from Jackson's forthcoming novel Mira Corpora.

"A bearded man orders the children to circle up and divide into groups. A brother and sister pull my ears and claim me. They say that I’m their lucky charm. The siblings are pale with spindly legs, denim shorts, floppy hiking boots. We set off into the heart of the woods. The boy’s crew cut ends in a braided rat’s tail. He flicks it back and forth across his shoulders. They both have beady eyes and big noses. There’s something else on their faces, but it’s not clear yet."

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In this excerpt from the novel Tampa, a pedophile prepares for her first day of teaching middle school; NSFW.

"The early start time of Jefferson Junior High was one of its main allures: seven thirty a.m. The boys would practically be asleep, their bodies still in various stages of lingering nocturnal arousal. From my desk, I'd be able to watch their exposed hands rubbing across their pants beneath the tables, their shame and their half-inflated genitals arm-wrestling for control."

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The opening of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom; the complexities and relationships of a wholly American couple.

"For all queries, Patty Berglund was a resource, a sunny carrier of sociocultural pollen, an affable bee. She was one of the few stay-at-home moms in Ramsey Hill and was famously averse to speaking well of herself or ill of anybody else. She said that she expected to be 'beheaded' someday by one of the windows whose sash chains she’d replaced. Her children were 'probably' dying of trichinosis from pork she’d undercooked. She wondered if her 'addiction' to paint-stripper fumes might be related to her “never” reading books anymore. She confided that she’d been 'forbidden' to fertilize Walter’s flowers after what had happened 'last time.'"

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A fisherman/trapper and his wife, the emergence of a child-like ghost spirit; an excerpt from Matt Bell's In The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods.

"But still I was unsatisfied, still I claimed that the son she had given me was not the son we had made and that somehow she had replaced him with this other, this foundling. Against these claims my wife offered no new defense, would only reassure me again, telling me not to worry, that of course he was my son, that despite the wonders of her voice her songs could not make a life. She said this again and again, against my many multiplying queries, each voiced as I trailed her around the house, following her from chore to chore, until after so many denials she changed her tack, asked quietly, What is a life lived but an array of objects, gathered or else made into being, tumored inside the wall-skin of our still-growing house? What else to make a biography of, if not the contents of these rooms?"

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An evening of drinking and tensions culminates in the revelation of embarrassing childhood memories.

"'What’s in my Memory Palace?' she wondered. A driveway. One with a basketball hoop on a pole. Megan was 11 and playing with her new friends. They grinned at each other and approached her, tied her to the basketball pole with two jump ropes, attached rollerblades to her feet, and then drew penises on her face. Then they dressed her hair with shaving cream."

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Two missionaries share their histories, experiences, and brushes with sin.

"They could walk together and talk without holding anything back. It had been like that since their third week together in school. They were sitting up on the roof of Oldham-Betts, and Samuel said, 'It’s hard to be up here and not smoke a cigarette,' and when Leslie gave him a sideways look, Samuel said, 'Look, I have a past. It’s pretty apparent, right? I’m a good thirteen years older than everybody here. There’s some things I had to walk away from. Can you handle that?' 'Who am I,' Leslie said, 'to judge you. I’ve got my own things to walk away from.' And Leslie—this kid—began to lay out his confessions, chief among them the lust he held in his heart when he looked upon a woman, this guilt he carried around with him daily, along with images he had seen in the magazines his father had kept behind some Time/Life books about World War II."

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In a fictionalized Haiti, a man explains the inner workings of the political landscape and his own shady rise to the role of Prime Minister.

"Yet…deciding to recount the entire tale, the whole historical record, as in order for events to work out as Richard wanted them to, then yes, he’d have to make good on his promise that everything would be made clear, revealed in one fashion or another—it’s probably best if I explain: Jean was once a senator in the Haitian senate, the second-youngest senator in Haiti’s history in fact, and as a senator, he was wildly inept. You can’t really find him totally at fault however, because Jean’s parents bought him his seat when he was fresh from school. I can’t fathom why, but my guess is that they knew he had no head for business and that there was nothing else he’d really be good for, so they had hoped that a career in politics would both keep him busy and allow them to control a portion of the country without too much effort. But well, Jean, Jean bloody fucked all that, what with his reckless politicking and all."

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A wounded soldier is groomed for his media appearances in this setpiece from Abrams' satirical novel.

"Kyle Pilley was one of the best moneymakers the division had seen in the past six months and Harkleroad was practically piddling his pants with glee at the thought of all the goodwill his story would buy them in the mainstream media. He was already laying plans for Pilley to be interviewed, via remote satellite, by the Big Three morning-breakfast news shows (Good Morning America was on board, Today and CBS This Morning were teetering on the brink of a yes), not to mention features in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and, if Harkleroad was really, really lucky, Time and/or Newsweek. Yes, Kyle Pilley was the best thing to happen to Lieutenant Colonel Eustace Harkleroad and the rest of the Shamrock Division since they’d entered Iraq."

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A young woman with Tourette's syndrome spends time with her wayward friends.

"I am secretly hoping that the haloperidol (that Betty stole from my dad’s medicine cabinet) will allow me to feel as free as Betty seems to, moving through the world as a lobster skitters on the ocean floor. Though she is my best friend, I am never free of the suspicion that Betty is unfamiliar with my most basic mindset. I don’t think she’s ever been really depressed or picked at a mosquito bite until it bled or called somebody in the middle of the night and cried inconsolably when they answered. She rarely questions the wisdom or consequences of her impulsiveness, tongue-kissing strangers and spearheading midnight road trips, creating an ongoing mosaic of haphazard worldly heat that never needs revising or regretting."

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Surreal samples from Ohle's latest novel, presented by Ben Marcus: a man's life in a world beset by aliens and their mysterious ways.

"Moe works in a grasshopper mill, a windowless hangar-like building on the outskirts of town. A cavernous, warm room, actually a huge incubator. Thousands of football-sized grasshopper/alien eggs lay row upon row under lights."

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With a mix of danger and empathy, a teenager attempts to save an injured wolf.

"She turned and wheeled away. So quick. He hardly had time to get one heel in front of him in the dirt before she hit the end of the rope. She did a cartwheel and landed on her back and jerked him forward onto his elbows. He scrambled up but she was already off in another direction and when she hit the end of the rope again she almost snatched him off the ground. He turned and dug both heels in and took a turn of the rope around his wrist. She had swung toward the horse now and the horse snorted and set off toward the road at a trot with the reins trailing. She ran at the end of the rope in a circle until she passed the cholla that had first caught the trapchain drag and here the rope brought her around until she stood snubbed and gasping among the thorns."

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Two women explore a mysterious, illogical city.

"We were alone. This was dramatic and strange. But, what was more odd was how hard we found it to take in the city visually. We walked through the gate and almost immediately came upon a wall. The back or side of a building. It was one of those situations where you could not step back to see the height of it. The sky was too low, or too far away, we could not determine."

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An NYU student examines two different relationships: a friendship and a tense love affair.

"I blamed my need for Patrick’s adoration on our undergraduate rivalry. That and our occasional, unbalanced, raucous affair. It became a vendetta. Our disagreements occurred often enough to be not just memorable, but legendary, in both volume and scope. We waged verbal combat with ease, caring neither for our hewn down egos nor dismantled bonds. Other people can afford to be thoughtless; they’re ignorant of the gravity their speech holds. But linguists will devastate if only because we can do so with a well-placed term or phrase. Then it’s the silences that serve as our minions. They scrape at wounds old and new, where apologies dare not tread."

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A depressed, pregnant woman shares a brief conversation with then-Senate candidate Barack Obama; from Chabon's upcoming novel.

" At his remark, the pregnant woman nodded without turning to look at him—there was an elaborate candelabra of a potted cactus behind whose tapered thorns she appeared to be attempting, somewhat punitively, to conceal herself. Obama was running for the United States Senate that summer and had given a wonderful speech last month at the Democratic Convention in Boston. When she did turn to him, her eyes got very wide."

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A sample from Powell's 2009 novel-in-questions.

"Are you happy? Are you given to wondering if others are happy? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Have you seen an animal lighter on its feet than the sporty red fox? Do you cut slack for the crime of passion as opposed to its premeditated cousin? Do you understand why the legal system would? Are you bothered by socks not matching up in subtler respects than color? Is it clear to you what I mean by that? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions?"

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Two under-the-influence friends discuss a history of human violence.

"...for years and years they would do this, it’s all in the Las Casas, and for years and years Spanish soldiers were just like falling over themselves, they couldn’t believe it, just completely climbing over one another, trying to get out of their boats and get to their swords fast enough to get a quick, easy lead-off beheading of a holy tribal king without even thinking that maybe it might violate, oh, I don’t know, the entire Christian moral code or, that whole thing aside, that it might go against just obvious, timeless, and basic human good versus evil restraint, you know, something like that was around even with cavemen, the totally simple idea that maybe needlessly causing excruciating, savage, horrifying, life-ending pain to another being, to a brother, to somebody like yourself, might not be the thing you should do. They found their heaven and they turned it into a hell. On purpose."

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A fictionalized account of a moment in baseball history from a contemporary master of detailed Americana.

"Russ wants to believe a thing like this keeps us safe in some undetermined way. This is the thing that will pulse in his brain come old age and double vision and dizzy spells -- the surge sensation, the leap of people already standing, that bolt of noise and joy when the ball went in. This is the people's history and it has flesh and breath that quicken to the force of this old safe game of ours. And fans at the Polo Grounds today will be able to tell their grandchildren -- they'll be gassy old men leaning into the next century and trying to convince anyone willing to listen, pressing in with medicine breath, that they were here when it happened."

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A young girl's relationship with her mother and rural surroundings are told in an experimental dose of stream of conciousness.

"...you ask her what she is doing and she tells you still not opening her eyes nothing, girl only that word does not mean what it means it means something so big and black it can hardly fit into language though she does not say another thing and her lack of saying says more than her saying ever could the sun bit by bit turning itself off and the evening bit by bit turning itself on and the over-sweet summer breeze stirring for maybe fifteen minutes no more without cooling a thing and you go back into the trailer to watch the television trying not to think about all this thinking but after a while you go out again to see and she is still there still sitting in the lawn chair alone precisely as you left her smoking with her head tilted back eyes closed..."

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During a train ride, a man reflects on his past lovers.

"I have not thought of that boy—Joey—for many years; but I see him quite clearly tonight. It was several years ago. I was still in my teens, he was about my age, give or take a year. He was a very nice boy, too, very quick and dark, and always laughing. For a while he was my best friend. Later, the idea that such a person could have been my best friend was proof of some horrifying taint in me. So I forgot him. But I see him very well tonight."

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A poetic support of the downtrodden, and a father's refusal to buy a family dog.

"My dad wouldn't let me have a pal. Who will have to walk that pal, he said. I will. And it's going to be snowing or it's going to be raining and who will be waiting by the vacant lot at the corner in the cold wet wind, waiting for the damn dog to do his business? Not you, Billy boy Christ, you can't even be counted on to bring in the garbage cans or mow the lawn. So no dog."

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A young woman's keen observations and imaginations of cities and unknown people.

"Isabel finds the postcard of Amsterdam on Thursday evening, at her favorite junk store, across from the food carts on Hawthorne. It is a photograph of tall houses on a canal, each painted a different color, pressed together and tilted slightly, like a line of people, arm in arm, peering tentatively into the water. The picture has a Technicolor glow, the colors hovering over the scene rather than inhabiting it."

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A sample from Colson Whitehead's classic debut novel about clashing groups of elevator inspectors.

"The man's lips arch up towards his nose and Lila Mae understands that he's never seen an elevator inspector like her before. Lila Mae has pinpointed a spot as the locus of metropolitan disaffection. A zero-point. It is situated in the heart of the city, on a streetcorner that clots with busy, milling citizens during the day and empties completely at night except for prostitutes and lost encyclopedia salesmen."

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A meeting at a castle is mixed with painful adolescent memories.

"It was one of those views that make you feel like God for a second. The castle walls looked silver under the moon, stretched out over the hill in a wobbly oval the size of a football field. There were round towers every fifty yards or so. Below Danny, inside the walls, it was black-pure, like a lake or outer space. He felt the curve of big sky over his head, full of purplish torn-up clouds. The castle itself was back where Danny had started out: a clump of buildings and towers jumbled together. But the tallest tower stood off on its own, narrow and square with a red light shining in a window near the top."

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In the midst of unspoken emotions, a horseback riding trip goes terribly awry.

"And he was right, it did, but I kept on talking and soon I was telling him about the pain in my mouth and the back of my head and what Billy had done that day in the barn, and the ghosts I carry with me. Blood was coming out with the words and pieces of tooth, and I kept talking till I told him everything, but when I looked at his face I knew all I’d done was make the gap wider with the words I’d picked so carefully that he didn’t want to hear."

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What if science could trigger an out-of-body experience? Alex Shakar probes the question in this excerpt from his new novel, Luminarium

"He’s afraid: fear comes in ripples, emanating from his center. He can feel nothing but these ripples, he realizes, neither the chair beneath him nor the helmet on his head, nor his head itself."

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The grimy despair of drug addiction: Celebrating Banned Books Week 2011.

"The D.S. retches into his handkerchief and points to the door with a limp hand. The Buyer stands up looking at the D.S. dreamily. His body begins to dip like a dowser’s wand. He flows forward..."

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Early novel samples from one of my most influential college teachers.

"[T]o drive along any of the national highways meant you had indeed acquired value, but that your value had absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a unique individual."