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9780399173394_large_The_Life_and_Death_of_Sophie_StarkThis excerpt comes a few pages into the second chapter — Sophie Stark is making a film based on an exaggerated story her new girlfriend Allison told about her life, starring Allison herself. Bean and Stacey are characters in the story. Allison narrates this section.

I was still working at the bar then, and Sophie did all the casting without me. So I didn’t meet the guy she picked for Bean until our first day of shooting. He hadn’t come to the read-through—Sophie’s assistant director, a stuck-up girl named Susan who I already didn’t like, read his part in a schoolteachery voice. But there he was the first day, at the community center that was supposed to be my high school, wearing a white T-shirt that looked like it had been dipped in pee.

The Children's Crusade by Ann PackerAll afternoon the children avoided their mother: moving from room to room, or from indoors to outdoors, a step or two ahead of her. They joined together occasionally, all except Robert, but they didn’t gather again until their father returned. By then it was late afternoon; when they stood on the driveway, their shadows stretched from their feet nearly to the house. Robert’s stomach hurt most when he stood up straight, so he walked bent over at the waist, hobbling like an old man. Their father had eight bags of ice, and they each took one from the trunk of his car and carried it to the deep freeze in the garage—each except James, who ran from one sibling to another, touching the bags of ice and yipping with something that wasn’t quite shock and wasn’t quite laughter.

The Chapel_FINALBlue.

Had Mitchell, my dead husband, been standing beside me, where he belonged, he would have whispered, First impression?

My first and enduring impression of the chapel was blue.

The ceiling was a deep azure evening sky flecked with golden stars. The residents of the heavens were provided with golden portholes on either end, and from the smaller of these windows on the world bearded saints and patriarchs looked down approvingly. The bigger, central lookout above the altar end was occupied by Jesus in his middle age, and near the original entrance, above the Last Judgment, the Virgin Mary held her infant son for all to see.

LoveMapsThe funeral parlor is indeed in a strip mall. A single-story stucco with a shoe store attached to one side and an office-supply place on the other. Sarah parks the car and sits behind the wheel, staring at the double doors of the funeral parlor, not wanting to go in. Twenty percent to Tori. Twenty percent to this Philip Clark. Sixty percent to Conningsby’s biological family. What does any of that mean? As if you can prove your claim by the mass of ash you carry around. She imagines the funeral director standing by a table, and on the table is a scale—an old-fashioned, double-plated one, like the scales of justice. He’s wearing a butcher’s apron over his undertaker’s black, and he’s scooping Conningsby’s ashes onto the plate, his glasses halfway down his nose, frowning, shaking his head in holy disgust.

1426784423085Day 9

 

Russell drove us up 65th to Phinney Ridge, his white stomach stuffed behind the wheel of the quick blue convertible Porsche. He accelerated over the cross streets, and Alice, who’d flagged us down outside her parents’ house, made girlish sounds as she floated, momentarily, above the tiny back seat while Russell leered at her in the rearview mirror. He’d shown up unannounced that morning, had simply pulled up and honked out front until I came to the door. Two minutes later I’d been convinced to “see something.” We crested Phinney, dodged left, and leapt into the air on our way down the other side.

“Are we in a hurry?” I asked.

“Try to be alive,” he shouted over the buzz of the car’s high revving engine. “You will be dead soon enough!”

This sounded familiar. I tried to remember who’d said it, and watched Green Lake disappear behind the trees as we fell back to its level.

“I’m fine here,” said Alice, and the car stopped more quickly than I would have thought possible.

ThievesCoverIn 1953, when he was 28 years old and already an established author, Gore Vidal wrote a pulp crime novel — Thieves Fall Out — under the name “Cameron Kay”. The novel was lost, never reprinted, and Vidal went on to become one of America’s greatest and most controversial authors, winning a National Book Award in 1993. Now, more than 60 years later, the book has been published under the author’s real name for the first time by Hard Case Crime.

Thieves Fall Out follows Pete Wells, a down-on-his-luck American, in a Cairo that is on the cusp of revolution. Wells is hired to smuggle an ancient relic out of the city, where he soon finds himself the target of killers and femme fatales. The following excerpt is from the opening of the novel, where the reader meets Mr. Wells for the first time.

Thirlwell, Adam (c) Peter Marlow (for L&C)So what you’re saying is: it’s never you?

Exactly.

 

As soon as you say I in a novel, it’s always someone else?

What I mean is: perhaps to the outside world this might seem strange, where I am interviewed by my double –

 

Well exactly –

But what I want to say is: how different is this to what happens every day when someone writes a novel? Or even: when someone reads a novel? Always you have this blurring of identities. Or not so much blurring as separation.

L&C 4_cvr.inddEverything was happening hyperfast. Hiro was pointing the gun at the woman behind the cash register and demanding on the one hand that she should not move, because if anyone touched a phone then he would not hesitate to shoot, and on the other hand she should move, but very slowly, in order to open the cash register and deliver all its money. I suppose these things just happen because you’ve seen them happen, I mean in the usual miniseries.

Fine Art FINAL Cover 4.15I am sitting behind my desk watching the downpour when I catch the scent of bacon.

Dunbar is in the building again, despite the restraining order.
 I close my eyes as if that might enhance my sense of smell and wonder if Ramona can detect the bacon back in her office. No doubt she’s sitting in her Herman Miller Aeron chair, tucked behind her computer screen, sneakered feet barely reaching the floor, her compact runner’s body folded in half at the waist, not in an attempt to hide or be secretive, but trying to physically burrow into A Beat of the Heart or Under the Sheets or whatever other period-specific, euphemistically risqué bodice-ripper she has open in her lap. I know what’s going on back there. Fantasizing. Role playing. Vicarious pleasure seeking. Page after page of cream-whipped breasts pressing up against bulging pectorals and arrowhead pelts of silky chest hair, heaving women impaling themselves on the swollen brawn of lust-crazed men, “shattering” in any number of adventurous positions and locales.

9781552453056_Alexis_FifteenDogs_cover_RGB_800x1249A Wager

One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was clean-shaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.

They had been drinking, but it wasn’t the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified. In the men’s washroom, Apollo allowed parts of himself to be touched by an older man in a business suit. This pleasure, more intense than any the man had known or would ever know again, cost him eight years of his life.

While at the tavern, the gods began a desultory conversation about the nature of humanity. For amusement, they spoke ancient Greek, and Apollo argued that, as creatures go, humans were neither better nor worse than any other, neither better nor worse than fleas or elephants, say. Humans, said Apollo, have no special merit, though they think themselves superior. Hermes took the opposing view, arguing that, for one thing, the human way of creating and using symbols, is more interesting than, say, the complex dancing done by bees.

Nguyen, SYMPATHIZER jacket artI am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you—that is a hazard, I must confess. But in the month when this confession begins, my way of seeing the world still seemed more of a virtue than a danger, which is how some dangers first appear.

9780670016761_large_The_Poser“There you are! Christ!” Anthony Vandaline, of all people, came waddling up the stairs. “I’m a pilgrim in the dark. I’m searching and searching. And—ah, finally.”

At this late hour, only four men remained at the balcony bar, stoking each other’s laughter with shouted stories. One even bent at the waist, g ripping the back of a chair. Performing for me. Soon, I knew, would come the sharp compliment or offered beer, and I prepared myself by seeming unaware, a man immersed in his life. I stroked Lucy’s hand, doing that thing where I looked from her hands up to her eyes and down again. What she was saying in that low voice, however, the one she risked only when we were alone, I can’t rightly say, for I was listening to the men.

Then Vandaline arrived, and they fell silent. Lucy stood to meet him.

“Ugh, you’re one of those people who’s always heeere,” she said. “It’s like I’m gonna turn around and trip on you.”

“Look, my priest is gonna blush at this thing when I print it in full. All my sins. But I was talking to Max, and he said, and I quote, ‘the heart of his technique is something called’—yeah, here it is—‘the thread.’ ”

A show tune played through the house speakers.

“Now you answer this,” Vandaline said, “and I’m gone. I mean, I walk out the door.”

“It’s a skill you should practice more,” Lucy said.

EscapeFromBaghdad-CoverPromo2[1]A bell at the door then, the Ghazaliya bell, they called it, the knock of rifle butts against splintered wood, the three second grace time before boots and flashlights, lasers and automatic rifle barrels. Better than the Mahdi Army, who didn’t bother to knock, and who had never heard of the three-second rule. Dagr surged towards the front of the house, already sweating, thrusting Kinza back. It was his job to face the American door to doors, because he still looked like a professor, soft jawed, harmless, by some chance the exact composite of the innocent Iraqi these farm boys from Minnesota had come to liberate. And Kinza…with his hollow eyed stare, Kinza would never survive these conversations.

AsGoodasDead_HC_catThe fateful morning—no exaggeration, fateful—that my long- lost friend, Esmé Cole, showed up on our front steps, I was sitting at the desk in the room that I used for a home office. My chair, I remember, made an uneasy perch, all slippery and lopsided because I hadn’t bothered to remove the items that I’d dumped on the seat the night before: a manila folder crammed with information about a job applicant being considered by the English Department; a puke-green envelope holding an entry for a book prize I’d reluctantly agreed to judge; and, then, a three- ring binder of my own writing that creaked whenever I shifted in the chair.

The sky in the window over my desk was a clear blue that morning. The temperature outside would climb into the high eighties as the day progressed, but the room faced north and its exterior wall still held the cold that settled in on desert nights—this was October in Tucson, Arizona—which meant that the ancient space heater at the level of my feet pinged away, giving off a metallic odor that might have been unpleasant to somebody else (I connected it with writing and comfort, and so I liked it).

Esmé Cole Fletcher, I should call my long-lost friend. Esmé Cole—betrayed by me twenty years before—did take the name of the man she married. Once upon a time, she and I had vowed to keep our own names forever, but this is a tale about nothing if not about changes of heart.

OEND Cover FINAL RGBTwo mornings later, I woke to the scream of the wind, shrieking through the gaps in die Hütte, shaking and rattling the roof shingles and sending invisible icy streams across my face. Outside, the noise from the forest was of crashing and whipping, as if the trees were being uprooted and flying through the air. My father stirred beside me, mumbling something but not waking. I squeezed closer into his side and buried my head under my sleeping bag, trying and failing to ignore the sound of the storm. Finally, I wriggled my way out, scrambled over him, and pulled the door open. It was only a chink, but frenzied snow blasted me in the face through the gap. It took the weight of my body to push the door closed. I shook my father’s shoulder; he groaned, although his eyes remained shut.