All the Dead Yale Men: A Novelby Craig Nova
Originally published in 1982 to wide acclaim, The Good Son remains Craig Nova’s undisputed masterpiece. This classic explored the complicated entanglements of fathers and sons expressed in the story of nouvue-riche father Pop Mackinnon, who used his wealth to manipulate his son Chip into the right’ kind of marriage upon the young man’s return from World War II.
Chip eventually gave up the love of his life and married to secure his future and what were the consequences of that decision? All the Dead Yale Men answers that question in telling the story of Frank Mackinnon, son of Chip, a prosecutor in Boston with a happy marriage and a daughter set to follow his footsteps into law school. Chip’s death throws Frank into his family’s legacy, where he must contend with the inheritance of the Mackinnon’s beloved land and a bevy of secrets that dates back three generations. And when Frank’s daughter Pia falls under the sway of local bad boy Aurlon Miller, his grief over his father’s death triggers the family legacy of social standing and manipulation to begin anew, leading Frank to the darkest edges of what a father will do to protect the ones he loves.
All the Dead Yale Men examines the end of an era, how privilege and inheritance often crumble in the face of the modern world, a story enriched by the setting and mythology of Boston and its surroundings. The novel not only moves the Mackinnon’s story forward but will recast historical elements of the classic novel as well, heralding the arrival of a new American classic.
Praise for All the Dead Yale Men:
“Nova’s career-defining 1982 novel The Good Son explored the relationship between a domineering, social-climbing father, Pop Mackinnon, and his loyal but restless son Chip, a World War II veteran who returns home to an arranged marriage. This equally impressive sequel follows Chip’s son Frank, now happily married and a Boston prosecutor, after his father’s death by stroke unleashes long-buried family secrets and resentments Nova’s scenic evocation of Boston is spot-on, as is his emotional detailing of the fragile intricacies of family.” Publishers Weekly (Starred and Boxed)
“’Long-awaited’ is an overused phrase in publishers’ promotional blurbs, but Nova’s follow-up to his acclaimed 1982 novel The Good Son merits that description as much as any recent fiction, and it has been well worth the lengthy wait. Nova now brings forward more than one full generation his account of the Mackinnon family [their] roots are in a richly described Delaware Valley, but this dark saga is also set in a seamy New England familiar to readers of George V. Higgins’ classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle or Geoffrey Wolff’s Providence. It is told with comparable verve, wit, horror, and beautyeven when vulgar, even repellentand with images and set pieces that will haunt the reader long after they've put the book down. This gripping and intelligent chronicle of love, legacy, and betrayal (the title may suggest a genre mystery, which this surely isn’t) captures a complex clan entangled in a questionable moral universe. Nova’s Mackinnons, both here and in The Good Son, leave their edgy mark on the modern American literary landscape.” Booklist (Starred)
“The Good Son was a wonderful meditation on ambitions, love, and parenthood. All the Dead Yale Men takes up those themes at the beginning of the new century, when it's as hard as it has ever been to be father Nova is especially adept at drawing dark characters, and having their darkness creep up and catch you by surprise. He creates a vivid portrait of well-off New England and the Delaware River Valley, with often-moving descriptions of the natural world. Then Nova fills these backdrops with seemingly normal and successful people who become, from one moment to the next, desperate, manipulative and self-destructive fans of The Good Son will enjoy seeing the Mackinnon family's obsessions play out in the noir landscape of the early 21st century.” The Los Angeles Times
“There’s a genuinely classical grandeur to Nova’s tales of erotic derailment and titanic family conflict. There’s also a sense of life as an absurdist pageant, where the ridiculous is so closely linked to the deadly serious that they seem like two facets of the same thing . In Nova’s world, nature like this novel is a real piece of work.” The Seattle Times
"A great novel by one of our great novelists. A pleasure on every page." Dennis Lehane
Praise for The Constant Heart:
“Superb in prose and its evocations of character and nature, The Constant Heart is a wonderful novel by a writer whose range continues to dazzle me. As a writer, I marveled at the pure scope of Nova's gifts as a storyteller. As a reader, I simply enjoyed my ride through the emotional heart of this affecting novel.” Oscar Hijuelos
“ An evocative family yarn Nova has again produced expertly drawn characters and carefully measured, suspenseful prose with some surprises, all with undertones orbiting around Einstein’s cosmological constant theory of relativity.” Publishers Weekly (Starred)
"[A] meditative, philosophical, and beautifully realized novel about the nature of embattled American manhood. Both Jake and his father are deeply sympathetic characters, and Nova celebrates perhaps most fundamentally here the compassionate and honorable way they treat the women in their lives discussions of Einstein's theory of relativity are interspersed throughout the novel, providing a fascinating thematic element related to the search for something constant in a world defined by change and instability. This is a novel of deep maturity and thoughtfulness.” Library Journal
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Read an Excerpt
All the Dead Yale MenA Novel
By Craig Nova
CounterpointCopyright © 2013 Craig Nova
All right reserved.
The odd thing is that when I looked into how I was being cheated, not because of the money but because of the principal of the thing (fathers shouldn’t cheat sons), I discovered things about my family, and my grandmother in particular, that I never dreamed possible. Dark indeed are the secrets in a family that never quite disappear.
Of course, everyone thought my father, Chip Mackinnon, was a spook. They confirmed this suspicion by the number of spooks who showed up at his funeral. I knew more definitely than that, since he was cheating me, and I wanted to find out not only why, but how, too. It wasn’t hard to catch him at the spy part. He wasn’t a very good spy, but then this ease of catching him explains why the CIA is such a bunch of fuck ups and incompetents.
The cheating was another matter.
I was going to bring up the fact that he was cheating me on the day he died, which began with what would have been a high speed chase and crash on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That is, it would have been a high speed chase if the cops had been around to see it. I was going to mention the cheating as leverage, since I needed advice, and the kind of advice that only my father could give. He may have been a fuck up, but he was good in a bad spot. And since I was in a bad spot, who else could help?
But he was a good man in a bad spot, and this was the trouble: he had been in so many bad spots that he couldn’t take ordinary life too seriously.
And what is real trouble? Well, my father had been a pursuit pilot in the Second World War. He trained in Texas and was shipped across the Atlantic on an aircraft carrier, from which he took off and flew over Africa with the green canopy of the jungle below and the perfect circle made by the blur of the propeller. He ended up in North Africa, and there he was shot down as he tried to bomb Rommel’s headquarters. Then it was three years in a prison camp in Poland, but when the war was ending, he and the other men in his camp were marched back to Germany. This was in the winter of 1945. It was snowing, and the men walked along the road, their jackets thin and worn, and often they only had rags tied to their feet for boots, which were black here and there where the bleeding sores from frost bite oozed through the cloth. The woods were mostly pine, dark trunks topped by an evergreen shimmer. The men walked toward Germany. They ate what they could, bark, leather from belts, anything that would give them the illusion of food. A good friend of my father’s, a man named Bob Walters, sat down at the side of the road, in a brown ditch, the color of chocolate in the snow. A guard told him to get up, and when Bob Walters shook his head, too hungry to go on, the guard shot him in the head. The other men trudged toward the west, not even looking at that corpse in the ditch. Many others sat down and died, their eyes, my father said, looking at someplace infinitely far away, or not any place at all.
My father, who had learned German in the camp, took a guard by the sleeve and jerked him around.
We’re starving,” said my father.
The guard shrugged.
We know you are losing the war,” he said. And when it’s over, there are going to be some trials. You understand? I’ll make sure they know about you. That is, unless you get us some food and blankets. Right. Now.”
The guard, in his long leather coat, which was lined with fleece, in his warm boots, his winter hat, reached to his belt and removed his pistol. After all, wasn’t that the way to settle this? The snow began to fall again, big flakes like soap suds, and the cool tick of them on my father’s face, he said, was like the most gentle touch, a reminder of all the delicacy of life, those moments that existed, I imagine, like the thrill of being in bed with a woman you loved, the surprise of some lovely moment, a kiss, say, when you least expected it. The feet of the marching men made that odd, almost muddy sound in the snow. The guard looked into my father’s eyes and my father looked back. It might as well have been just the two of them, separate from everyone else in the world. So they hung there, feeling that snow, the gentle flakes of which fluttered down to touch them on the nose and cheeks. My father told me he was drawn to the bore of the guard’s pistol, the intensity of it like the night sky, or the skin of the blackest snake imaginable: the emptiness of that small hole was the place that made him think of absolutely nothing, of a kind of exhausted entropy. This is what he had left after three years of being hungry and scared. And, my father said, the darkness was all familiar, since the odor of gun oil, from the deer hunts he had been on as a kid, seemed familiar, too. The scent was almost reassuring. The guard nodded and put the pistol against my father’s forehead. Black birds squawked in the woods. A soldier squatted in the snow with dysentery: the farting, gassy noise hung there like a cry of despair. The guard put the pistol away. The blankets and food appeared.
Of course, given what I faced, the threats, the possibility for disaster, I wanted advice from the man who could stand up to a German guard and who understood what it was like to be at the edge, where it was possible to vanish. He could stop on a snowy road in Poland and see the way things were and take action, too, and precise action at that. He told me he wasn’t scared. The time for that was long since past.
And, as for his being a spy, well, you can make out of this what you want. My grandfather, a hard-drinking man with a love of mint juleps, and whose nose was covered with a web of veins the color of a radish, had set up a trust that paid me three hundred dollars a month. When my wife, Alexandra, and I began to have children after I had finished at Yale, just like my father, and Harvard Law, just like my father, and when I had become not a practicing lawyer but a district attorney, I needed a little extra money. So, I figured it was time to ask my father just what the hell he had been doing with the money. I had been paid three hundred a month for close to fifteen years, even though the stock market had increased a couple of thousand percent. As I say, it wasn’t the money, but the principle.
The house where my father lived, alone then after his second wife had died, was off a small street in Cambridge: only four blocks long, but yet it still had a vista, or was long enough to suggest the road tapering off into the distance, and in the summer time it was shaded by trees that were so old they made a tunnel over the road.
In those days my father was a professor at the Fleishman School of International Relations, a breeding ground for spooks if there ever was one.
Even then, the hall of my father’s house had a lingering scent of mold, as though a leak hadn’t been fixed. The walls were a sort of sickly green, and the pictures on the wall had come from my grandfather’s house: schmaltzy scenes, mostly, of huntsmen and hounds, water stained, too. So, I waited in the dowdy scent. I didn’t think my father would take too long with his student. They were together in the living room.
My father wore a blazer and a blue shirt and a pair of gray pants, his bald head shining like a Christmas tree ornament, his hands on an open folder. He was far too intent on the paper and his conversation to notice me. On the other side of the table, Faro, one of his Latin American students, sat with the last of a Negroni in his hand, which had such short, soft fingers. This was my father’s favorite drink. Vermouth and Campari. With some gin added for, as my father said, Wallop.” Faro wore clothes that must have been bought in Argentina, knock offs of American blue jeans and sneakers. A sweater that was ten years out of date. A cardigan.
So,” said my father. The base you saw on your last visit home was one from Grupo de Caza or Grupo Técnico?”
Grupo de Caza,” said Faro. A fighter group.”
Hmpf,” said my father. Good. Good. And I wonder if you could see the airplanes?”
Yes,” said Faro. I saw them.”
You know there’s a difference between the Mirage III interceptor and the IAI Dagger,” said my father.
I know the difference,” said Faro. I think these were Mirage IIIs. But maybe a couple of Daggers were there, too. They are transitioning, aren’t they?”
I shifted my weight from one foot to another, and the floor boards squeaked, the sound like an animal in a trap.
Let me take a note,” my father said. Hey, is that you Frank? Well, go to the kitchen and get yourself a drink.”
Something smells funny,” I said.
A leak in the cellar,” said my father. Faro and I were just talking about his thesis. The movement of Argentinean capital in crisis years ”
Oh,” I said. I’ll get a drink. You want me to call a plumber?”
That’s OK,” said my father. He closed the folder. I’ll do it.”
In the kitchen, the voices sounded like a fly buzzing against a window, or two flies, one bigger than another. What kind of answer was I going to get about the money, given the nature of the discussion in the other room? The truth? Was I such a child as to expect that?
In the living room, Faro and my father sat back now, business done, Faro telling a story about a woman who was cutting a swath” through Buenos Ares.
I’ll catch you another time,” I said.
It’s best to call first,” said my father. You know. We have a lot of students writing a thesis at this time of the year.”
Sure, sure,” I said. Good to see you Faro.”
It’s always an honor, Frank,” said Faro. He stood up and bowed. Or did he click his heels?
This, of course, took place years ago, as I said, when my daughter, Pia, was just a kid, but my father kept at it right along. Now she is graduating from Yale and she came in to see me recently with a thick letter from Harvard Law. This part of the family seems hardwired, although, to be honest, that was where my trouble started. I tried to keep the hardwired part of it going.
Excerpted from All the Dead Yale Men by Craig Nova Copyright © 2013 by Craig Nova. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Craig Nova is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one autobiography. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among others. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of the Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005 he was named Class of 1949 Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
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