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rituals-of-restlessness-cover-photoSimple. Engineer Kamran Khosravi would die in a car accident. Easy, done. He finished smoking his cigarette with chilling calm, so that for the first time in all the years he had smoked, he could enjoy lighting one cigarette with another and, without wetting his palate, not taste the foul tang in his mouth.

“Does the smoke bother you?” He rolled down the car window.

“No, sir.” The man’s sharp Mongol eyes were darting from side to side, unable to remain fixed on anything. Just like the way he talked, with all those annoying questions.

“Where are we going, sir?” “We have work to do.” “What kind of work?”

He felt less anxious when he talked. He did not want to stay quiet for even one second. Just to talk, about anything. It did not matter what.

beneathcoyotehills_cover-copyI had a normal childhood until Pop lost his job and took up the bottle. Mom became depressed soon after. My brother Zack and I would arrive home from school to find her lying glumly on the couch watching TV in her nightgown, too blue to greet us. Still, I got good grades, made the junior high varsity baseball team, was popular enough. Though nothing compared to my brother Zachariah: two years older, first in the state in the 440 yard dash, class president, ladies’ man. Zack was still big brotherly in those days; he showed me the correct way to slide into base, advised me on my swing, helped me with algebra. He seemed to know everything, born like a computer with many gigabytes of information pre-stored in his brain.

summer-she-was-under-water-front-only-for-screenSam’s parents leave early the next morning to float down to the marina and fill up the newly repaired motorboat with gas. From the screened porch Sam and Eve drink coffee after their breakfast and watch the older Pinskis take their positions on board. Sam’s father turns on the motor and fiddles with the choke, a cigarette limp and unlit in his mouth. Pat and Karl Pinski seem to operate from some unspoken code, one in which the past is never mentioned, one’s current desires are never articulated, and allusions to the future are always vague but predictable. The only reason Sam can think of as to why someone would want to live in a minefield after a war is that they’d know where all the remaining mines are buried.

bertrand-courtRIPE

Phil Scott, January 20, 2005

 

I’m hungry. But that’s not why I’m standing in front of the McDonald’s on Columbia Road at 4:37 on a freezing cold Tuesday afternoon. I’m waiting for Amy Solonsky.

A week ago, I watched her fall on her heart-shaped ass trying to get off the #42. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of years, but I recognized her hair — miles of black curls — and her glasses with the tiny purple rectangular frames. Graphic artists sport hip eyewear as a rule.

I was standing across the street, so I couldn’t help her up. She put her hand on her swollen belly right away and smiled with her eyes closed, as if she’d just heard some good news. She didn’t notice me until she brushed off the tumble and was about to cross the street. I let her decide whether or not to come to me, and I was so glad that she did. “Phil,” she said, and hearing my name coming out of her mouth moved me. Ever since I saw her, I’ve wanted something, but I don’t know what it is, as if I’m kicking back on my couch after a grueling shoot, my bones aching, an ice cold beer in one hand, remote in the other, clicking and clicking, searching for a ball game, an old movie, a Law and Order rerun, anything that will unlatch me from myself.

9781101981207.City Baker's GuideThe night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night dry, cool air drifted in through an open window. It was the 150th anniversary of the club, and Jameson Whitaker, the club’s president, had requested pistachio baked Alaska for the occasion. Since he asked while he was still lying on top of me, under the Italian linen sheets of bedroom 8, I agreed to it—even though I was fairly certain that baked Alaska would not have been on the menu in 1873. But Jamie was a sucker for a spectacle, and his favorite thing on earth was pistachio ice cream, which his wife wouldn’t let him eat at home.

ThisIsNotTheEnd(James has recently learned that he is, for lack of a better term, the Antichrist, and a group of men in Cadillac Escalades just tried to abduct him, though he managed to evade them and sprint home.)

James ran inside the house and spun on his heel, slamming the front door with two hands and all his weight. He flipped the knob lock, jammed home the dead bolt, and ran up to his room. He shoved that door shut and locked it as well. Hands up, barely breathing, James backed away as if they were right behind him, as if the door could burst open any second and the blond man would come rushing in. His hands shook, and his breath felt ragged in his throat.

Help.

We're All Damaged coverIt’s scary how many details I remember about the night Karen left.

That’s the thing I hate most about my brain, the way it stores and catalogs things, all this dumb shit on a giant hard drive in my head, so I’m forced to obsess over it all like a crazy person.

Here’s a perfect example.

Our waiter had a button stuck to his apron that said “Ask Me about Bacon Time!” Why in the hell would I remember that? He had to have been wearing, like, thirty buttons—they always do—but that’s the one I remember. He brought us our food, I saw the button, and I wondered if he was ever tempted to wear it outside of work, like with jeans and a T-shirt, just hanging out with his friends.

Hey, everybody—you guys—ask me about Bacon Time!

TroubleLexie.BlondieThe problem wasn’t so much that Lexie had taken the Klonopin. And it wasn’t even that she had stolen them. At thirty generic pills for ten dollars, the theft of a handful (two down the gullet, the rest down her bra) had to be less than . . . seven bucks? The problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin. And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

“Miss James?” Jen Waite said. Her dyed hair was blonder than Lexie’s and her pale face looked prettier than Lexie remembered from their single meeting at Parents’ Weekend—brow furrowed now, head tilted with concern.

Lexie looked down at herself. Her fitted red dress was scrunched up to her hips and she wasn’t wearing underwear. A shadow of hair trailed from crotch to mid-thigh. Lexie tried to yank the dress down but her brain-hand-body coordination was off and she couldn’t manage the required butt-lift.

51KRen5JVcL._SX331_BO1204203200_-275x413Flash

Faunsdale, Alabama 1838

 

The knockin’s always there behind the wall in Momma’s room. I call it Momma’s music. My sister Hazel calls it Momma’s tired tune, a shrill note sucked and blown from a stiff reed.

Hazel’s the closest thing I got to a good daddy so she never beat me for misbehaving, never leaves me long, and never tries to touch me the wrong way. She keeps me safe in this world, keeps me safe from the knockin.

We sit in the back of our dark two-room shack, huddled under a blanket together. She’s trying to drown out Momma’s song with her hand cupped over my ear, fogging it up with her whispering, telling me we gon’ play a game called, “Let’s see who can fall asleep the fastest.” But after ten minutes of trying, even the late of midnight cain’t shake my eyelids free so now me and Hazel gon’ play a new game. It’s called “Who can be the quietest the longest.”

Adobe Photoshop PDFThe Venice headquarters of advertising agency Nicaida & Knight occupies a campus of wood plank buildings that once served as a cooperative dairy. Now, the white barns from the 1910s have pegged maple floors, halogen lights, and conference rooms with Aeron chairs. But the sun still flashes through the barns’ clanking rooftop vents, like it did when Los Angeles was home to spotted cows.

Luke parks in his reserved space at Nicaida & Knight and heads for his office. Though the day has barely started, the pace inside is already rushed. Still, Luke comes to work with a sense of relief—his return to employment has been a difficult climb, and he is grateful for good luck.

Even better, he’s being given his due. And it looks like he’ll be able to promote his assistant into accounts. However, Stacy is out until mid-morning on a personal matter and won’t be around to hear the good news.

Taking a moment with his coffee, Luke reflects on his most recent work—storyboard mock-ups tacked to the wall. Luke mastered the campaigns and pleased difficult clients—a big win for all. Only, Luke’s thoughts turn dark and suddenly, he’s remembering the dreams that tricked him into The Bubble.

The_Large_Glass_Cover_PhotoCuriously, the protagonists of the last book that I have published, feel satisfied with the work. I think that they come across quite poorly, but they don’t seem to notice that they are the characters. I think that they perhaps possess an infinite ingenuity or that they don’t usually read books as one should. I arrive at the house where they live and its owner receives me, flanked by the two dogs she owns. They are gigantic hairless specimens. Their backs resemble a mantle of glossy leather. I was ignorant of that woman’s fondness for that type of specimen. When I point it out she is surprised. She adds that, somehow, I had been the driving force behind that interest. It does not cease to be true. It had been more than fifteen years since I had dedicated myself to the promotion of raising dogs of this breed. I have spoken more than once about its benefits. Apart from their intelligence and extreme loyalty, they don’t typically carry pests or balls of fuzz that float in the air. They are quite hygienic pets. At seeing clearly the dogs that accompany the woman, I believe I recognize the larger one. It’s Lato, the animal that a very close friend’s father bought at my insistence five years earlier. It is quite a ferocious beast. It is calm only with whomever is his owner at the moment. With everyone else it is a true beast. Perhaps that is the reason that it has lived in several houses. On a certain occasion, my friend’s father had to flee the country in an inopportune departure. At determining that it would be impossible to leave the dog with anyone else, they took it to an animal park, where it escaped from its cage that very night. It then spent more than a week traversing the city from one side to the other, until it could find his original house. No one knows how it managed to orient himself, but despite the great achievement the dog was not welcomed back. The father had already departed and his son, my friend, now alone in the family house, thought that the solu­tion might be to take it to a veterinarian so that they could inject it with some type of poison.

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.indd“It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all the violence of action and passion. . . . Never were desperate doings so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel.”  — Henry James, “Within the Rim”

The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. Standing at the tall French windows, Hugh Grange held his breath in a vain attempt to suspend the moment in time as he used to do when he was a little boy, in this same, slightly shabby drawing room, and the lighting of the lamps had been the signal for his aunt to send him to bed. He smiled now to think of how long and late those summer evenings had run and how he had always complained bitterly until he was allowed to stay up well beyond bedtime. Small boys, he now knew, were inveterate fraudsters and begged, pleaded, and cajoled for added rights and treats with innocent eyes and black hearts.

SWFinalThis is how they get you: your whole life they fill you with stories about princes and poison apples and kindly dwarves and animals that chitter secrets in your ear and bunion-inducing glass slippers and just-right ruby slippers and needles that prick and the frog prince and a nice girl falling in love with a beast and, next thing you know, you’re in the back seat of a Monte Carlo with him pushing into you and all you’re doing is looking out the back windshield, into the blackness above the hilltop, wondering what’s next. Not what’s next after he pulls out, but what’s next? What’s really next, you know? Next for you because, as you’ve been thinking for an awfully long time, you’ve gotta get out of here. As that thought hits you full force, his torso pounding against the backs of your thighs and him asking, begging, really, “Can you, can you, can you?” and you not even listening to or, for that matter, feeling him, because the promise of something bigger than his football player love—bigger than this whole town—fills you with possibility and hope and you push his sweaty body off, climb through the bucket seats, pop open the door, and dance naked into the starless night.

PROLOGUE TWO                   POP!_Cover

PORCELAIN GOD

The dudes who remodeled my mom’s master bathroom forgot to take away the old pink toilet. So there it stood, in the middle of our front yard—a constant amidst the turning, falling leaves of autumn.

We figured they’d be back for it, the toilet. After a week or so of rousing suspicion among the other residents of Green Street, the unspoken realization hit us: that pink throne was our problem now.

One crisp November afternoon, my mom and brother and I all found ourselves standing around the thing with steaming cups of coffee in our hands. My mug had a chip and read: “Nobody’s Perfect.”

“How heavy is it?” My brother tried his best to surmise the toilet’s heft with his mind then tilted it with his free hand.

599105446454460d9c53a7721746d9af_xe8j5tIt was a typical, two-story frame house, the kind of colonial one saw all across the Corn Hill section of Utica, a small white house with a green roof, green shutters, a green door, a wide front porch with a swing and a couple of white rocking chairs and a view onto the street, the goings-on of the neighborhood. When Max imagined, as he occasionally did, what it might be like to have a family of his own, he saw them in such a house, on such a porch, in such a swing. Leading up to it was a walkway of gray paved stones lined by hedges. The hedges were expertly trimmed, never overgrown, curving gently into the front yard in which Irene and Abe had long-ago planted a peach tree that now towered almost to the second story windows and dropped its soft fruit onto the porch every July. The fruit never rotted there or went to waste. Irene swept it up into her apron, ushered it into her kitchen with its white counter tops scoured daily, covered in matching canister sets, its drawers full of egg whiskers and potatoes mashers, a cozy breakfast nook in the corner and coffee percolating besides the stove. It was a house with everything a man could want or ask for, a house with not just the basics a person needed to survive —heat, plumbing, a roof to block out the elements— but all the small comforts that made it a place that drew a person in, invited him back. Max looked up at the Auer home, at the sun hammering at the windows, the peach tree swaying lightly in the breeze, the white nubs of a dogwood overhanging the porch like little bells. And on the porch, the person who brought it all into being, a beautiful brunette planting flowers in a window box. Abe Auer had come to this country with nothing; now he had all this. Yet still he worried. Max stood a moment, dizzy in the drinkable summer air, trying to make the disjointed ends meet, and then he remembered why he’d come, that it wasn’t his job to solve all the human mysteries of the world. He stepped forward, waved hello to Irene Auer.