Her Father's Coat

A precocious girl attempts to make sense of her troubled father.

"It wasn’t that Lucy loved him, exactly. He was her father and she was obligated, she knew, to respect him for that reason alone—but it wasn’t love. She remembered how he’d give her his coat when she was young and how it’d make her whole body smell like him, a mix of cologne and cigarettes. She’d ask to wear it even if she wasn’t cold just to breathe in the smell and curl up into it during car rides to the hunting cabin he and his brothers shared. She might have loved him then, in her youth, wrapped up in his coat and drowsy. But now the feeling she had for him was more confusing than that. She was seventeen and the thought of his coat on her—the smell and the weight of it—made her feel gritty. Now she saw her father as something pitiful, maybe. Someone who didn’t have enough time to both put his own business in order at home and still put on a good face to the people around him."

Topology of a Paranoid Critical Town

A daycare pickup becomes a surreal look into nature and human development.

"In the middle of the landscape, a pile of toys rises from the earth to form a tower. Children approach it in a perpetual stream, grabbing toys, as many as they can carry. They run off with their arms full, toys spilling from their tiny ravenous bodies. The pile keeps growing and growing. The father remembers seeing the President on television once, back when television was still a toy. When I grew up during the Depression, the President told the Nation, my only toy was a wood plank full of rusty nails, which I had to share with sixty-six brothers. Bullshit. What politician ever knew how to share? The father watches as a group of children forms a circle around the base of the pile, holding hands. They are wearing nothing but loincloths."

Coming Sun. Mon. Tues.

An accelerated overview of a couple's life together.

"They are in his small room drinking wine. Her eyes are lovely. The boy is talking. He is being bitter about something. Eventually it becomes clear. It’s the world. He is being bitter about the world. He chain-smokes and drinks a lot of wine."

All That

A child's difficult obsession with a toy cement mixer.

It was a simple toy—no batteries. It had a colored rope, with a yellow handle, and you held the handle and walked pulling the cement mixer behind you—rather like a wagon, although it was nowhere near the size of a wagon. For Christmas, I'm positive it was. It was when I was the age where you can, as they say, 'hear voices' without worrying that something is wrong with you. I 'heard voices' all the time as a small child. I was either five or six, I believe. (I’m not very good with numbers.)

Find the Bad Guy

An estranged husband recaps his odd marriage to a German woman.

"Back then, though, we weren’t sleeping together. That didn’t happen till later. In order to pretend to be my fiancée, and then my bride, Johanna had to spend time with me, getting to know me. She’s from Bavaria, Johanna is. She had herself a theory that Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. People in Bavaria are more conservative than your normal European leftist. They’re Catholic, if not exactly God-fearing. Plus, they like to wear leather jackets and such. Johanna wanted to know everything about Texas, and I was just the man to teach her. I took her to SXSW, which wasn’t the cattle call it is today. And oh my Lord if Johanna didn’t look good in a pair of bluejeans and cowboy boots."

Finding Your Place

The observations and fears of a stepmother.

"Evie runs to you to get a drink of water, and you hand her the squeeze bottle you keep in your purse. Your purse—just three years ago, it had beauty magazines and lipstick in it. If someone took an inventory now, they’d find toys from the quarter machines, small notes or drawings Evie gave you, plastic animals. It’s like you are a different person now: the person you always wanted to be when you grew up. And Evie is the kid you hoped you’d have."

The White Envelope

A father and daughter face complicated sexual dynamics; NSFW.

"Back home, he is watching Formula One on television and bingeing on my mother’s homemade apricot sorbet. Ayrton Senna is on pole position. I’m going through a L.L. Bean catalog, seated right next to him on the couch, turned sideways toward him, knees to my chest so that when I wriggle my toes, I can almost feel the rough fabric of his pants. His eyes are riveted on the screen. He leans forward to place the empty bowl ice cream bowl on the coffee table. The moment he sinks back into his seat, I jump on his lap knees first, like a puppy on its master, wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the mouth. He pushes me away. I lose my balance and fall from the sofa to the floor, bumping my head against the solid wood coffee table. The fake silver spoon trembles inside the empty bowl, a lingering echo mocking my collapse."

Wonder Woman Underoos

A mother's illness through the eyes of a child; from the author of Hill William, forthcoming from Tyrant Books.

"The next day Mom and Dad were getting ready to go someplace. Before they left, my mother sat at the kitchen table. Ruby stood at the sink washing Styrofoam plates, bragging about how many preserves she put up or how many potatoes she was going to plant this year. My dad told her it wasn’t healthy to wash Styrofoam plates and use them again. Grandma whispered, 'Shit.'"

The Goldfinch [Excerpt 1]

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)."

Mold Wall

A dead son's markings appear in household mold, thus beginning a new form of Butler's surreal, creepy family dramas.

"I’d always felt my boy would live forever. He seemed strung with a different make of vein. I’d once watched him bang his head hard on a lathe out in my workshop in the midst of chasing moths, and instead of crying, whining for mother, his body shook with hiccupping elation, a brook of blood tracing his cheek down to his diapers. Only months alive he’d had large canines. When I’d let him, in his mother’s absence, he liked pounding nails with the tiny hammer I’d provided. I’d caught him more than once chewing on hunks of dirt or even glass, which he’d swallow grinning as I tried to make him spit. How he could stare straight into a blowtorch, beg for me to lay the hot blue light in his hands and sit like that for as long as I could stand to hold it with him. Three years old and already beyond anything I had imagined in a son."

Close Your Eyes and Think of England

A day in the life of a twelve year-old girl: feminine sacrifice and reversed parenting/gender roles.

"When she's not ricocheting between coasts to spearhead corporate sales and yoga retreats, our mother is skipping off to islands (Cuba, the Canaries, Greenland) and leaving me typed notes that become more and more blunt and encoded. She doesn't spend much time with our father--none of the mothers do--and they have all become so hard and muscular and breastless that you wouldn't want a hug from them even if you were feeling bad."

Brave Bear

A father and son clash over a murdered dog.

"Bear. Who hopped up and wagged his tail at my dad. He thought they were going on a trip. Probably thought they were going hunting up to the last minute. Until my father laid the muzzle of his gun against Bear’s own muzzle, soft. I can imagine Bear sniffing at the gun in curiosity, looking up to my dad, who had fed him and watered him, and for my dad Bear had braved wild pigs, skunks and angry raccoons. I can see him sitting, wagging his tail expectantly, waiting for the command to search, to run."

Catskin

A poisoned witch sets forth a lavish plan for revenge and renewal.

"The inside of the catsuit is soft and a little sticky against Small’s skin. When he puts the hood over his head, the world disappears. He can see only the vivid corners of it through the eyeholes—grass, gold, the cat who sits cross-legged, stitching up her sack of skins—and air seeps in, down at the loosely sewn seam, where the skin droops and sags over his chest and around the gaping buttons. Small holds his tails in his clumsy fingerless paw, like a handful of eels, and swings them back and forth to hear them ring. The sound of the bells and the sooty, cooked smell of the air, the warm stickiness of the suit, the feel of his new fur against the ground: he falls asleep and dreams that hundreds of ants come and lift him and gently carry him off to bed."

The Dumpster

A husband and father throws away old junk and painful memories.

"It's such a relief; I feel so wholesome, so pure, the toxins drained from my blood. I want to find more, so I dig up the shame of getting fired from my first job out of college. It's a nasty gray thing, like an old dried out iguana, hidden in a dark corner. As I pick it up, it begins to flake and crumble in my hands. I throw it into the dumpster like a football and it bangs against the metal wall. Then I find an ugly little puss-filled creature, looks like an over-cooked eggplant, my guilt for losing my temper and smacking my daughter once when she was five. I hold it far in front of me as I carry it out and chuck it in the giant metal bin. I dig up the anxiety about whether I'll make the next round of cuts at my job, the disappointment in myself for being a weak athlete in high school, and the remorse over not having spent more time with my dad toward the end of his battle with cancer, each thing strangely malformed and grotesque. I dump them all."

A Day Like Today

A father attends his son's birthday party, hosted by his ex-wife and her boyfriend.

"Locklin sat next to Will in front of the fireplace. The brick was warm and Locklin put his arm around his boy. He was proud of the way Will had handled it all—he seemed okay, not blaming himself or anything. Will was a lot like he was, though, and that worried him. Once, Locklin had talked to him about how there were two types of people in this world: volcanoes and geysers. 'Volcanoes, like you and me,' he’d said 'sit and brew and stuff all their problems. The thing is, one day, they erupt. You don’t know how or when, but when it happens, it’s ugly. It’s best to be like your mother, a geyser—let it out often and easily. Don’t hold back.' Will had seemingly understood."

The Diner Scene

Over a cup of coffee, an unhappy father examines chance happenings, fate, and accidents.

"It was a game David would play every morning when he woke up and every evening when he got back from work. He was mentally prepared to have to play the game at any moment while he was inside his house. It happened in split seconds; he would fumble the cup he was retrieving from the cabinet in the kitchen and think, If that cup falls on the floor and breaks, I’ll leave my wife. He would bump his car against the side of his overstuffed garage backing out and think, If that bumper just got dented or the taillight just shattered, that’s it. I’m gone. And so on and so forth. No cups ever fell and no car parts were ever damaged, and David was always able to tell himself that the game was just that—a harmless, fun little thing like so many other harmless, fun little things in so many other marriages."