On adolescence, pen pals, and the Manson girls.
On adolescence, pen pals, and the Manson girls.
A 1950s summer romance, imagined by an agonized, metafictional narrator.
"At some point during the evening he walked Rebecca home. She lived on Lake Shore Drive, a wide road that skirted the beach and ran parallel to the small river that flowed into Lake Minnehaha. Lake Ramapo? Lake Tomahawk. Lake O-shi-wa-noh? Lake Sunburst. Leaning against her father’s powder-blue Buick convertible, lost, in the indigo night, the creamy stars, sound of crickets, they kissed. They fell in love."
A disfigured man's encounter with maladjusted teens.
"Coming back around the side of the store to the parking lot, I saw some teenagers hanging out in the bed of a white Toyota pickup. They must have pulled up while I was inside. They were smoking cigarettes in the deliberate self-conscious way of smoking teenagers: two of them, long-hairs. They were also openly watching me as I carried my bag toward the car. People like me prefer teenagers to other people. They are not afraid to stare."
Girlhood in the 1970s. An excerpt from Steinke's forthcoming novel, Sister Golden Hair.
"I crossed my arms in front of my chest and angled my head. From practising, I knew the pose I wanted to present when I stepped on the bus. My chin had to have a delicate look and my lips had to be relaxed and slightly parted. I wanted to look mysterious like a Victorian heroine, with pale cheeks and sunken, glittering eyes. In Philadelphia I’d blown the first day of sixth grade by acting friendly and wearing a shirt I’d tried to sew myself out of calico fabric. I swore I would never let that happen again. I had a new persona I’d been planning to introduce the first day of school: a girl wise beyond her years who was not at all nerdy or spastic or prone to crying jags."
Teens struggle to find their bearings in both their fantasy lives and their real ones.
"He sits behind his screen, which he’s ordered us never to touch. We never do, not even when he's at detention. He shuffles some papershis maps and grids. Dice click in his stubby hand. Behind him, on the wall, hang Dr. Varelli's diplomas. The diplomas say that he’s a child psychiatrist, but he never brings patients here, and I’m not sure he ever leaves the house."
Young people consider changes to their personalities, and to their relationships.
"When I moved from Kansai to Tokyo to start college, I spent the whole bullet-train ride mentally reviewing my eighteen years and realized that almost everything that had happened to me was pretty embarrassing. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t want to remember any of it—it was so pathetic. The more I thought about my life up to then, the more I hated myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a few good memoriesI did. A handful of happy experiences. But, if you added them up, the shameful, painful memories far outnumbered the others. When I thought of how I’d been living, how I’d been approaching life, it was all so trite, so miserably pointless. Unimaginative middle-class rubbish, and I wanted to gather it all up and stuff it away in some drawer. Or else light it on fire and watch it go up in smoke (though what kind of smoke it would emit I had no idea). Anyway, I wanted to get rid of it all and start a new life in Tokyo as a brand-new person. Jettisoning Kansai dialect was a practical (as well as symbolic) method of accomplishing this. Because, in the final analysis, the language we speak constitutes who we are as people. At least that’s the way it seemed to me at eighteen."
An Arizona family unwittingly approaches the cusp of tragedy.
"He looks up at me quick and decides to be pleased. Usually he won’t look at a person direct. He says eye contact is counterproductive to comprehension and communication. He’s got any number of ways to justify himself, that’s for sure."
An adolescent girl weeps and sweats blood. Part of the ongoing Tabloid Fiction series.
"Momma told me when I came out of her I was covered in blood and I just kept being that way. She said she used to find me in the crib, crying and slicked with red. She said my daddy couldn’t take it and left. She didn’t blame me, though. She said the holy spirit was faint in him."
Young love in an rural American town is beset by ominous setbacks.
"The only person he could make out was Reverend Kelly, a traveling preacher from England. He sat by a lamp, which illuminated his sharp cheekbones and pointy nose, his sagging mouth formed into a smirk. And those beady eyes. Willie didn’t like the way he’d seen those eyes following Lena around earlier in the night."
An island house; a series of apparations, dreams, and mysteries.
"Sara put trances on Leigh in the middle of the night, while Leigh was sleeping. Leigh knew but didn't tell Mum or say anything about it to Sara. All three had terrible secrets they kept safe. They kept them safe for so long and so devotedly that they were no longer secrets—they were alternate ways of navigating the world."
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."
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)."
Men working in penal servitude develop a fascination with a sixteen-year-old seamstress.
"Life was stuffy and tight in a stone box under a low heavy ceiling, coated in soot and cobweb. It was hard and sickening in thick walls, spotted in dirt and mold. We rose at 5:00 AM, unrested, and dull, indifferent by 6:00 we were making kringles from dough our comrades made while we slept. And all day at a table from morning to ten at night, shaping elastic dough and rocking to and fro so as to not go numb, while others kneaded flour with water. All day sadly purred boiling water in the pot where kringles cooked; on the stove the baker's shovel hit fast and angrily, flinging slippery boiled dough on hot brick. Morning to night wood burned in the oven and flared, reflecting red flame on the workshop wall, as if silently laughing at us."
Boys and girls showcase themselves on opposite sides of an anatomical river.
"It only takes a split second for all of my cells to light up with horror-shock, a split second before I start gagging. The river is full of thighs, pushing along like fish, huge as bass, moving downstream. The thighs bump up against each other, create awkward waves, a strange flood of lone limbs in water, it is a tide of skins."
A comical imagining of a teenager's story about teenager drama.
"Arnold, a shy sophomore, was a real loser. Everyone hated him, even his guidance counselor; meanwhile, he was crazy for Julie, a senior cheerleader whose father drank and whose mother was having an affair with a dairy farmer. But since Julie was the most popular senior in the school, no one knew about her crummy home life except her best friend Suzie, who everyone in school hated because she was the most popular girl’s best friend and therefore thought she was all that."
Family faults, loss, and discontent arise when a widower watches his grandson during a summer in Florida.
"In the calm that follows his tears, Fowler sees clearly how Mary, in dying, not only took herself away from him, but also widened the gap between he and his daughter and his grandson. Fowler would have to take on his wife’s best qualities — her patience, her unconditional love for people despite their flaws — in order to stop that gap from widening. This realization terrifies him — he doesn’t have that kind of strength — and as his heart beats fast with that fear, he notices the boy’s socks on the floor near the bed. He picks one of them up and uses it to wipe at his eyes. He blows his nose into the sock, breathes in the fabric’s sour scent."
A young adolescent goes to IHOP with her nihilistic older sister in the middle of the night.
"She got into the car next to her sister. Tabitha lit a cigarette, a tulip of fire surrounded by the black petals of her painted nails. Against the light her eyes were red at the edges. She turned the key."
Escalating competitions between two boys take an unexpected turn.
"Most of my losses, though, were at the hands of the son, Jimmy Knockwood Jr. Two years older than me, Jimmy wore a hint of Iroquois aristocracy in his cheekbones, and some part of his body was usually sheathed in a dirty plaster cast. He beat me at every sport we had equipment for. At 13, he had arms like a man and could throw a baseball with such force that after playing catch with him you couldn't turn a doorknob. Once, when we were wrestling, he put me in a choke hold that made my vision go white. I cursed Jimmy's mother, and he rubbed a toad into my teeth. Seeing me in tears afterward, my father asked why I put myself through the disgrace of playing with Jimmy. He had forgotten the infatuation a boy has no choice but to feel for a peer who is good at everything."
Adolescent desires and yearnings permeate the memories of an all-boys academy.
"At school, we were allowed to wear costumes but were not allowed to bring treats. So we'd made the most of it -- we wore our costumes, we overcrowded the hallways with streams of sleepy ghosts. And often, through the punctured eyeholes of our masks, we tried to imagine how things might be if only we had girls. We envisioned an influx of princesses, maybe a witch or two or three positioned by the lockers. But we were an academy, an all-boys academy, and the possibility of both girls and treats were, in Principal Foster's eyes, completely out of the question."
A troubled mother and daughter spend their first day in Los Angeles.
"I wonder what we looked like then, that day we drove over into California. My mother could probably still tell you what we wore. We were driving to California from Bay City, Wisconsin, just the two of us, so I could be a television star. We'd taken Ted's Mobile Credit Card and stayed in motels, charging gasoline and Cokes on the bills. We dug up to our shoulders in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch. We'd stolen vegetables all across America, anything we could eat without cooking. My mother spotted the trucks."
Two troubled high school friends cope with their families and depressions.
"A half-an-hour later, Bambi slipped through her front door, hoping to sneak upstairs unnoticed by the mass of humanity that lived at her house. She shared her space with four younger brothers who’d been born so close together that they all resembled the same kid in a different stage of metamorphosis. So much testosterone flowed through the house that she had gotten lost in the shuffle. Her dad really didn’t know quite what to do with her and tried to avoid the discomfort of female emotional interaction. He focused on the easy rapport he had with her brothers and spent most of his free time talking sports or taking them fishing. Her mom was usually frazzled and easily irritated. She was starting her cocktail hour a bit earlier every day and was usually comfortably anesthetized by dinner time. She seemed to have slipped into a complacency that bordered on being in a coma."
A story about a young woman's history of drug addiction.
"They had met just before the holidays. She was still shaky from rehab, having jagged days, nightmares, humongous cravings. She hadn't felt that bad in years, not since after the accident, when she was sixteen and went through the windshield near dawn after a long foggy night at the clubs on Sunset. Then she had stayed in a coma for weeks. (Her mother always talked about it in this dramatic voice, 'Arabella was in a coma for weeks, she came back from the dead.') It was cozy enough for her, she was feeling no pain, just morphine and voices and a sense of almost being where she belonged. In a coma was fine with her. Coming out of it was a bitch."
Friendship between two quirky outsiders turns into a tumultuous love.
"He got her screenname from one of the other members of the group and started sending her jokes and one-liners, nothing too creepy or personal. Nothing threatening. He told her that he was part of their little group. He told her to guess who he was. There was no fear in this. Norm was a true original. He’d been locked away so long that he had no real sense of how others viewed him."
A high school couple discuss their future in a wave of public lust.
"The laugh echoed in Missy’s ears as she stuck her tongue in JP’s mouth. JP’s mouth was the best place she’d ever been. It was like falling asleep and waking up. Could there be a room in the dream house that would feel like JP’s mouth? Oh wait, she could just kiss JP in any of the rooms."
Three girls and a checkout boy, up against authority in a New England summer.
"You know, it's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach, where what with the glare nobody can look at each other much anyway, and another thing in the cool of the A P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor."