Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Ballad of Black Tom"
An excerpt from LaValle's novel about a black man in a Lovecraftian universe.
An excerpt from LaValle's novel about a black man in a Lovecraftian universe.
An excerpt from the winner of the Man Booker Prize.
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."
A young boy, a pack of cigarettes, a looming summer.
"But he had found them. They were his, and he was going to smoke one or maybe three or four if that’s what he decided. And plus by himself, as in totally alone. And no one could stop him, no one, for that matter, would even know. He looked around again and saw the same—lazy cars and robins, the willow with its doves, an old man down the street, that was it, and sun and sky and breeze."
A man arrives in the US from Hong Kong in search of his mistress; family and medical complications arise.
"At sixty, Boss Yeung had completed what the ancients deemed a full span of life. Now the cycle would start over, and he’d be born again in time to guide his heir, who would conquer China and then the world. He had outlived his father, his grandfather, possibly every male in the long line of ancestors that had led to him. Against his protests, his eldest daughter, Viann, was planning a lavish celebration in Hong Kong, with longevity peach cakes gilded in twenty-four-carat gold flakes and fireworks over the harbor. He wasn’t eager to publicize his age, to give off the impression that he was close to retiring and no longer possessed the fire that had lit the ambitions of his youth."
On the way to a reading, an academic stumbles into a mysterious infrastructure.
"For some reason he couldn’t put his finger on he was feeling happy. Naturally it had been a relief to come in out of the rain—though this particular brand of happiness seemed unrelated to anything as simple as relief. No, there was something about being in the tunnel that was making him feel very happy, almost ecstatically so. Against the wall just inside the door someone had arranged cleaning implements—several brooms, a bucket with a mop in it, a pile of rags—but other than that the tunnel was empty. The walls at this end had been painted with the green, glossy paint beloved of institutions the world over, the paint having been applied in what seemed like a spirit of gay abandon. The smooth concrete floor was splashed with it, and it depended in hardened drips from a series of thin pipes running lengthwise along the ceiling."
Survivors of a shipwreck have their endurance tested, and their story concludes on Thanksgiving Day; an excerpt from Jo's Boys.
"The other boats were out of danger and all lingered to watch the splendid yet awesome spectacle of the burning ship alone on the wide sea, reddening the night and casting a lurid glare upon the water, where floated the frail boats filled with pale faces, all turned for a last look at the fated Brenda, slowly settling to her watery grave. No one saw the end, however, for the gale soon swept the watchers far away and separated them, some never to meet again till the sea gives up its dead."
Baby Girl and Perry, two small town partners in crime; from Hunter's forthcoming debut novel.
"The Estates was a ritzy-ass neighborhood with a gate at the front and open sidewalks on either side. Perry and Baby Girl had hit the neighborhood before, strolled right in. Those sidewalks were an in- vitation: Come on in, and steal some stuff while you’re at it. Perry had started to think if rich people weren’t afraid of their stuff being taken, they wouldn’t feel so rich."
An anthropologist's log from field work in Papua New Guinea; an excerpt from the Kirkus Review prize winner.
"I am tired tonight. Trying to learn another language—3rd one in 18 months—probing a new set of people who but for the matches & razors would rather be left alone—it has never felt more daunting to me before. What was it B said? Something about how all we’re watching is natives toadying to the white man. Glimpses of how it really was before us are rare, if not impossible. He despairs at the deepest level that this work has no meaning. Does it? Have I been deluding myself? Are these wasted years?"
An excerpt from All the Light We Cannot See, announced as a nominee for the National Book Award.
"Her fingers travel back to the cathedral spire. South to the Gate of Dinan. All evening she has been marching her fingers around the model, waiting for her great-uncle Etienne, who owns this house, who went out the previous night while she slept, and who has not returned. And now it is night again, another revolution of the clock, and the whole block is quiet, and she cannot sleep."
A series of memories and addictions from various years.
"I come here after my shift at the record store and sit around at picnic tables outside, scribbling into notebooks while drinking shitty coffee and waiting for my girlfriend, Velvet, to get off work so we can go get high. The crowd here is varied: AA people alongside art people and punks alongside dirty Deadheads and downtown casualties. There are many open mic poetry events, usually outdoors at dusk. One night I decide to read. I go to the mic and drop weapons. I go to the mic and read about Kuwait City and southern Iraq. I go to the mic and read about prostitutes and hashish and drinking homemade wine made out of grape juice in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I go to the mic and curse over and over again. Nobody claps. Nobody moves. I am not asked to read again."
An excerpt from Goebel's novel: a man's strange world of peyote, addiction, family, and conflicting identities.
"I dropped tobacco from a cig I took apart and kept the loose stuff in my palm, and I circled the tree counter clockwise, like the turn of the earth, and dropped the tobacco staring up in the tree and praying, like an old wide-faced (I)ndian showed me to do in rehab in the snow in Minnesota around a big oak tree, horses in the field of night, snowflakes falling like drunks, like a dream, stars holy above, and as I finished dropping the last speck, finishing a circle around the ponderosa, praying for the old man in the Upper East Side to have, there it was, standing up in a rich grass, by its quill, right out of the ground. Get it? EAGLE FEATHER. This is a wild trip."
An excerpt from Rombes' forthcoming novel: on memories of a destroyed lost film.
"And with her Aimee — that was her name, not Rachel or Raquel — brought several pages of her grandmother’s notes for the film, notes suggesting that it was not nearly complete, and that its ending would involve an apocalypse the likes of which had never been rendered on screen before. Aimee turned out to be a real chatterbox, which surprised me, except when it came to the topic of Maya’s notes for the calamitous ending, which she talked about in hushed tones as if not to arouse the curiosity of some invisible butcher towering just behind her there in the cafeteria, in a sort of transparent region of space that loomed behind her and that I could almost make out. And she wouldn’t allow me to examine her grandmother’s notes in front of her, forbidding me to so much as look at them in her presence."
A meeting of men interested in underground grindhouse and fetish films.
"Tanasco had introduced the group to GrindTube, a video sharing service created by unknown users that was similar to some of the cheap porn tube channels. Eddie had never heard of it before. Categorically, GrindTube allowed viewers to choose from a wide variety of links, from ‘slasher’ to ‘animal’ to ‘body fluid’ to ‘cadaver.’ Registered users could upload videos up to twenty-five minutes in length to the server. Unregistered users could watch videos freely, but one had to register in order to upload and share. Since many videos on GrindTube contained potentially offensive content, the splash page greeted users with a warning label that they should be at least 18 years old before entering. The video quality was average to good, but not high definition."
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."
Scenes from a scary faith healing session.
"The one to be delivered shook at the apostle’s touch, recoiled from his voice. His boots stamped the floor, wrung more sweat free from his jumping body. It was darkest bluest winter and the one was dressed for the weather, had kept his coat on the whole dance. The look in his eyes, the exhaustion, the fear, his and not his. He named some of his demons at sentence length, readying his voice for story, but the apostle stopped him."
An excerpt from Luna's as-of-now unpublished novel: a look at discontentment in Portland.
"I wasn't sleeping well, is the thing. I would go to bed at midnight where Tom was nearly always already asleep, and I'd lie awake until one or so when I'd finally fall asleep, only to wake up at 5 a.m.—always five am, like a bell clanging—seized with some unnamed panic. Panic gripping my throat, tightening my chest. Like waking up mid-heart attack morning after morning. I would get up, pull on my clothes, get out. Our apartment got so small and close like that, the walls closing in on me and I would need to get out. Just to breathe, to settle myself down some. Miles I would walk, winding my way past rain-faded hulking warehouses and auto shops and lumber yards and then I'd push past them, just me and the trucks and the highway sounds and the river."
The life of a conflicted IT worker from Iowa.
</blockquote><p>“Roger Jeffries is given to bouts of fantasy in which he speculates the possibilities suppressed by his current set of circumstances: that, indeed, he could have, if he had chosen to make the effort, packed a moving truck full of his stuff and left UNI for more cultivated frontiers. The Twin Cities, maybe, or Chicago, or back East to New York. Westward to the Pacific, perhaps, a destiny realized in Los Angeles. At any rate, he frequently imagines a young self packing up his stuff and driving for days—regardless of how close this destination might actually have been to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of the UNI Panthers, he always envisions driving for days, young, stubbled, over-caffeinated and chain smoking—to some more prestigious or renowned place.”</p></blockquote>
A sergeant of the British Army, stationed on an island, observes the behavior of a local boy.
"The boy's English was self-taught and uneven, peppered with guest appearances from movies and TV, from online games whose players were in America, Europe and China. When he spoke he could shift in one moment from the manner of a too-serious Harvard freshman to that of a teenaged Shanghai gold-farmer sweating in a vast warehouse of machines."
Tender, sad interactions between old friends; an excerpt from Worthington's forthcoming book from Civil Coping Mechanisms.
"He was looking at the television across from him, above and between two of the tables. I was looking at the television behind the bartender, in front of the kitchen. It was the first time we had seen each other in two years. We didn’t have anything in common to talk about except for the Browns. I didn’t even really care about the Browns anymore. I glanced over at him, and he looked down at his drink, picked it up, took a sip. He returned his gaze to the screen. I often feel violently angry when people are not able to communicate effectively with me, but, at that moment, I didn’t. I took a sip of my drink."
In honor of Bloomsday, an excerpt from Joyce's masterpiece.
"A warm shock of air heat of mustard hanched on Mr Bloom’s heart. He raised his eyes and met the stare of a bilious clock. Two. Pub clock five minutes fast. Time going on. Hands moving. Two. Not yet."
A lonely man creates a female avatar in a video game.
"Frank took Sophia’s hand. This was not an agreed upon action so much as he *took hold of her hand.* Rob was unsure how to analyze this action. Girls had taken his hand before, after drinks at the bar or during movies, and the entire time Rob was uncomfortable. He had sweaty hands and spent the whole experience worrying about his date’s perception of this moisture. He always thought about letting go, but felt that it was his duty, as the girls seemed to, to hold their hands on these occasions and that to let go would be a greater violation than his sweat. Sophia’s hands were not sweaty, as pixels could not sweat. Her hands were not something embarrassing. They had no hair and if looked at closely, the nails would be carefully manicured. But what were her obligations to hold hands with Frank? She was not his girlfriend. They had just met and Frank, the king, was touching Sophia’s hand as if it was his own hand."
Parents, children, and complications convene at a vacation home; an excerpt from Fierro's debut novel, out this week.
"Michael pulled her into his lap, and she stayed, even though it made her feel small, and these were surely not people who appreciated PDAs. Tiffany had learned quickly that the urban sophisticates admired subtlety over all else. Anything loud, lewd, or lascivious should be filtered through irony or irreverence."
An early excerpt in honor of this week's publication of An Untamed State (Grove Atlantic), Gay's debut novel.
"Most of the city was asleep or laying low. I ran down a dark, unfamiliar street, my bare feet slapping against the pavement. I ran to find my way back to my happily ever after. It was dark and hot and still. I ran over shards of broken glass, felt my skin come neatly apart. I bled. My feet were slickly wet. I did not stop running. The Commander told me to run until I could not run anymore so that is what I did. My thighs burned. It felt strange to be able to move so freely, to breathe fresher air. I wanted someone to find me. I wanted to stop. I kept running. When I passed people standing in their doorways or ambling down the street, I stiffened, knew they could not be trusted, so still, I ran. I saw a cross rising into the sky, reaching up. A church would be a safe place. I hoped."
Memories surface after an old friend reappears; an excerpt from Rahman's forthcoming novel.
All the same, it is not guilt alone that brings me to my desk to put pen to paper and reckon with Zafar’s story, my role and our friendship. Rather, it is something that no single word can begin to describe but which, I hope, will take form as I carry on. All this is quite fitting really – how it ought to be – when I call to mind the subject of my friend’s long-standing obsession. Described as the greatest mathematical discovery of the last century, it is a theorem with the simple message that the farthest reaches of what we can ever know fall short of the limits of what is true, even in mathematics. In a sense, then, I have sat down to venture somewhere undiscovered, without the certainty that it is discoverable."