An excerpt from the winner of the Man Booker Prize.
An essay on “how we ignore the long-term effects of violence on children, adults and our communities.”
On America, Christianity, and “ignorance, intolerance, and belligerent nationalism.”
Religious mysteries surround a strange young child.
"'And of course the one book she had arrived with onto the stoop was none other than a New International version of The Holy Bible, which sparked the longest conversation the girl and I ever had. One afternoon while her alleged father was in the basement workshop of his, tinkering. I sat there flipping its pages and heard her clonking down the hall. Now, was I looking for notes or marginalia? Arguments? So I see the souped-up red lights and then there she is, sitting on the floor in front of me with a banana in one hand and a stuffed doll in the other, suspicious narrow eyes. Asking whether I was a Catholic. I am indeed, I told her, which she answered by affirming, me too. Which gave me pause, cautious not to trigger and witness again her version of tears. Well, I said, technically speaking, that isn’t true. Not until you take your first communion. And at this point she stared into my own face in a way I couldn’t describe if you gave me a full week.'"
The author’s long-running relationship with the grotesque.
Three brothers, imprisoned and hunted by a cruel knight.
"Who am I? I do not know how he changed our names. But in this world of lions and giants and the blinding shine of armor, I am called Joyless, as if it were a name."
A fragmented story of a mysterious online networker of "workers" and "clients."
"Worse than the ones who smelt of wool and mould were girls who buffed their skins to marble, reeking of fruit liniments, tripping on tiny stilts, giggling like passive ewe, pretending to be air."
A mini epic of murder, theft, and nature in the Old West.
"He trotted down the steep slope and across the range, passing monuments of salt cedar and sagebrush and croppings of bouldered limestone and sandstone. Everett marched on, glancing back to the pass like clockwork. His vision began to blur and he mistook shadows of dashing clouds overhead as armies of villains bent on doing him harm. He crept on as his headache worsened and soon he forgot his sentried errand. He kept low to the ground and stopped himself twice from collapsing completely, bracing himself on passing man-made edifices of rock and earth. His limp had worsened and he stumbled upon wreckage of some wrecked wagonette and used a long timber from the wagon-bed as a crutch until it snapped in half ten minutes later. The sun was hot and without his hat or coat he felt the full effects of it on the nape of his neck."
Current personal problems are tied to racial issues from years past.
"Helen Conley knew this story: When Maxwell Conley was sixteen and in high school, with a bad attitude like many of us have, two young members of the Black Panther Party saved his life. It happened because a recent veteran of the war in Vietnam woke up one morning believing he was still in the jungle. Adrenaline began pumping through his body at impressive levels. He didn't have a gun, but he found an oak baseball bat in the alley behind his mother's apartment building. He laced up his combat boots. He stormed down the street until he came to the high school. He kicked open the doors of the school, and came through the hallway breathing hard, fists clenched around the bat. It was seventh period. The hallway was quiet. Around the corner came Maxwell Conley, cutting class as was his custom. He was not sober. He was wondering why Kay Svenson wouldn't pay attention to him in art class. He was admiring his long curly hair in the reflection of the fire extinguisher case mounted on the wall. His Converse sneakers flapped open and his unwashed sock came through. The Vietnam veteran, only a few years older than Maxwell Conley, met him in the hallway, and wasted no time."
A Japanese photographer examines the scene of the St. Valentine's Day massacre; a story from the author of The Black Hour.
"Was it the worst I’d seen? I turned to the camera, viewing the scene anew. Four men lay in a row, as though they had been tucked into a large bed. One slept at their feet, face down. The last hunched on his knees at a round-backed wooden chair. Blood ran toward the center of the room. Later that day when I returned to the newsroom, I would release the image from the machine in my hands, like a dragon from a cage. The city would see the blood, black, and no one would remember that someone—call him Togo or call him Fujita, the name will not be printed—had stood in the dust of men’s bones to face the dragon so that they did not have to."
A mysterious stranger in the woods; horrific escalations.
"When we were eleven Billy Jacobs told us he had seen three people standing at the edge of the woods. One was the redheaded man–or someone who from a distance resembled the redheaded man, a sicker, thinner incarnation of him. The three held big glass bottles as they waved to Billy. One let a cigarette fall from his mouth and the others shrieked with laughter. They stumbled away and were gone."
Sex, potential violence, and human awkardness convene on an isolated shore.
"A slight breeze brings slight relief from the heat and a taste of the saltwater lapping against the hard sand. He’s been here many times. Though he has no desire to kill a bird, he loves this place, this lonely beach at the edge of this lonely lake too shallow for boats and too lifeless to attract fishermen. He loves the sand bugs and the sharp edges of the sand grass. Especially he loves the deep shade beneath the willow trees, and the sound of the cicadas’ music in the sun."