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Best People in the World
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Best People in the World

3.0 2
by Justin Tussing

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In Paducah, Kentucky, seventeen-year-old Thomas feels as reined in as the mighty Ohio, a river confined by high floodwalls protecting his small Southern hometown. But all boundaries vanish when Thomas experiences first love with Alice, his new history teacher, a woman eight years his senior—and when he meets Shiloh, a misfit vagabond and anarchist who becomes


In Paducah, Kentucky, seventeen-year-old Thomas feels as reined in as the mighty Ohio, a river confined by high floodwalls protecting his small Southern hometown. But all boundaries vanish when Thomas experiences first love with Alice, his new history teacher, a woman eight years his senior—and when he meets Shiloh, a misfit vagabond and anarchist who becomes his new role model. Fleeing to rural Vermont, this unlikely trio boldly pursues freedom, intimacy, and seclusion, unfettered by commitments and rules. But a life apart from the world does not ensure a life apart from the past—and for one of them, the past that emerges will threaten tragedy.

Editorial Reviews

Dan Chiasson
At his best, Tussing is a kind of Wacko-Thoreau, and The Best People in the World is one bright book of exuberant American life.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
What might have been the stuff of boyish fantasies-an affair with a teacher, running away from home, living off the land-goes frighteningly awry in this unsettling but bleakly beautiful debut novel. It's 1972 in Paducah, Ky., and quiet 17-year-old Thomas Mahey falls into an intense affair with his 25-year-old history teacher, Alice Lowe. Independently, they both befriend Shiloh Tanager, a wily, good-hearted local anarchist, and the three hit the road for rural Vermont, determined to live "off the grid." No sooner does the trio settle into an abandoned house than things begin to unravel. Thomas is torn between loyalty to Shiloh and an all-consuming love for Alice, and riddled with guilt for wordlessly leaving his parents. Meanwhile, the homesteaders' efforts at growing food fail. When an unwelcome visitor from Shiloh's past appears, he brings to a head the increasingly desperate atmosphere of secrets and resentment that their idyll has become. Tussing skillfully crafts simultaneously visionary and demented characters (chapters following two men who investigate "miracles" for the Catholic Church punctuate the trio's story), and when an element of the supernatural infiltrates the narrative it seems normal for the deliberately off-kilter people who inhabit this odd but honest, appealing American story. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A more appropriate title for Tussing's unusual first novel might be "Some Very Aimless People from Paducah." The book opens promisingly as 17-year-old Thomas escapes his tedious teenage existence in Paducah, KY, by beginning a romance with his teacher, Alice, eight years his senior. Then a flood inundates the streets of Paducah and Thomas frightens his parents to a near panic by not reporting to the city's safety shelter. Evidently enjoying this minor bit of rebellion, Thomas decides to rebel in a very major way by fleeing with Alice and his eccentric new middle-aged friend, Shiloh Tanager, to Vermont, where they live in poverty as squatters in an abandoned house. All of these events take place early in the book, with the rest of the novel containing little semblance of a plot and even less characterization. Aside from Shiloh's suspicious past, not much is revealed about the characters and Tussing's abrupt, unexplained transitions can be frustrating. Unfortunately, he seems more interested in plopping three people into a Thoreau-like existence and studying an atypical social dynamic, but he doesn't properly construct their purpose for being there. Moderately recommended for general fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/05.]-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Crazy young love on a mountain in Vermont, from debut novelist Tussing. It's 1972. Narrator Thomas Mahey is a 17-year-old high-school student in Paducah, Ky., when Alice Lowe enters his life. Thomas lives in a cocoon spun by loving parents, but when Alice, a newly certified teacher, reveals she's being threatened by her ex-husband, Thomas is ready to break out to protect the woman he's dating. In other words, he's smitten. They make a dawn getaway, along with Shiloh Tanager, the town's most conspicuous hippie and Alice's unlikely roommate. After stopping at a hippie drug factory in the Bronx for directions, they travel to a commune in Vermont populated by scantily clad back-to-the-earth types. No vacancies there, so the trio move on to an abandoned house on a mountain. Shiloh proves to be an excellent handyman; as for the lovebirds, they have each other. After a good start, Tussing's debut stalls. Its remaining two-thirds are filled with incidents, including Shiloh's failed suicide attempt and Alice's pregnancy (a false alarm). Questions of character loom large: It is perhaps understandable that teenager Thomas, in the careless rapture of first love, would not contact his folks, but why does it take four months for enigmatic Alice to have him call home? As secrets leak, it is Shiloh we get to know best. The novel's five sections open with bewildering teasers involving two Vatican emissaries checking out reports of religious miracles. Their connection to the main storyline at last becomes clear in a gothic twist that involves Shiloh's dead lover. Meanwhile, a snowy winter has set in and the freezing, starving friends will barely make it off the mountain. A smart new writer loses his way ashis tale of romantic love yields to improbable intrigue and melodrama.
Boston Magazine
"Tussing is a fine writer with a flair for imagery, and he’s crafted a melancholy, resonant story."
Ron Hansen
“Filled with surprise, recklessness, melancholy, headlong romance, and hilarity. Justin Tussing is the real thing. It doesn’t happen that often.”
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
“[A] beautiful, fearless novel... By turns comic and mysterious and wild, ultimately this is a heartbreaking book.”
Boston Sunday Globe
“A significant literary feat... Announces the arrival of a talented young voice on the contemporary fiction scene.”
Christian Science Monitor
“A rewarding read... Witty, well paced, and inventive... Tussing writes beautifully.”
“Marks the arrival of a compelling novelist with the gifts to enhance the contemporary literary landscape.”
Washington Post Book World
“[A] lovely novel . . . Tussing is a witty, affecting writer.”
Chicago Tribune
“This novel is rich in character, and it offers scene after scene of crackling, revelatory dialogue among lovers and friends.”
“Plaintive and powerful imagery... Breathtaking... A hauntingly atmospheric ode to love’s enigmatic and labyrinthine nature.”
Portland Oregonian
“A self-assured debut that lovingly depicts how the past never stops revisiting us, even if we can’t revisit it.”
“It is very rare to find a novel so lovingly, deliberately and perfectly written . . . Read it. Now.”
“Undeniably original imagination . . . An impressive work of fiction by a writer blessed with a distinctive voice.”
Boston magazine
“Tussing is a fine writer with a flair for imagery, and he’s crafted a melancholy, resonant story.”
“A richly complicated and very wonderful novel . . . Ambitious and mesmerizing.”
USA Today
“An engrossing tale . . . The novel ultimately succeeds because of the original voice of the narrator.”
New York Times Book Review
“One bright book of exuberant American life . . . Tussing has a real gift.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A strong work... Tussing’s take on the irrevocability of adolescent whim and heady self-determination is chillingly real.”
Pittsburgh Tribune Review
“Defies categorization... The twists and turns are never predictable, and the open-ended denouement will leave readers wanting more.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Inventive . . . Eloquent in capturing what it’s like to be alien in your own hometown.
Des Moines Register
“A fresh, original voice . . . Tussing fashions a sophisticated exploration of the allure of love.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Best People in the World

A Novel
By Justin Tussing

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Justin Tussing
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060815337

Chapter One

Two Men

They had a tiny rental car and accordion-style foldout maps.

They reached the house of the girl who cried glass tears. This was in Brazil. The cardinal met them in a dirt-floored front room. He had shaky, liver-spotted hands. He unfolded a handkerchief to show them the colorless gems. The older of the two men tucked the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his suit. He kissed the cardinal's hand. Where was the girl? She was resting in a back bedroom. They asked if they could see her.

She owned a plain, suffering face. Mirthless. Was she a virgin? the younger man asked. Unquestionably. And who had discovered the tears? The girl's mother. The men looked around. She was easy to spot, black brocade dress, wooden crucifix around her neck. The rosary would be somewhere nearby. There, on top of the dresser. Where was the husband? At work? Yes. The older man got down on his knees at the bedside of the girl.

"Have you had any visions?" he asked her.

There was a subtle shift. Yes, she'd had visions.

He asked her to tell him what she'd seen.

"She's been visited by the Holy Virgin twice," said the cardinal.

The older man raised a hand and the cardinal took a step backward.

"Twice, the Blessed Virgin," said the girl.

"Allow me," said the older man. He reached up and touched her eyes. Beside her tear ducts he found knots of hard scar tissue.

He leaned over and kissed her on her forehead. He stood up. "Please," he said, "I must be alone with the girl." The mother lingered, but when the younger man took her arm, she submitted. The older man shut the door so he was alone with the girl. He went back to her bedside. He stroked her arm.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

"You're here to see the miracle."

He nodded his head. "Please," he said. He got himself a chair and set it beside her. "When you are ready."

The girl watched him for an instant. Then, almost imperceptibly, her lids descended. It appeared as though she were having a dream. Her eyeballs traced shapes on the backs of her eyelids. A dew of sweat bloomed on the pale hairs of the girl's upper lip. Then an indelicate lump appeared in the corner of her right eye. With his thumbnail the older man coaxed it out, a piece of glass, as large as a kernel of corn.

"Thank you," said the man. "Can you do it again?"

It took a few minutes, but soon another piece of glass appeared. The old man gently harvested it.

The girl's scalp was damp. It shone beneath her hair.

"Can you do that a third time?"

The girl nodded her head. She bit her lip. It took a very long time. Snot ran from her nose. But, eventually, a third piece of glass was produced.

"Extraordinary," said the man. He handed the girl her tears. "You can put them back now."

She shook her head.

"Your mother put them in for you?"

The girl gave him the smallest signal. It was enough.

He made the cross on her forehead.

When he left the room, the girl was soaking herself with tears.

The two men got back in their car, the younger man behind the wheel.

"I had hope at first," said the younger man.

"Her face was much more convincing than the tears," said the older man. "It was not easy for me to dismiss it. It would be a great burden to be a saint. But what we thought we saw was just the shape of her shame." He rolled the window down, took the handkerchief from his pocket, and shook it outside the car.

They continued toward the capital.


I looked up and saw my father standing at the foot of my bed. "Get up," said Fran. "Rise and shine." He went to the window and lifted the shade. He had a fragile-looking nose, which was my nose. "Do you have to wear your bangs so long?" Fran asked.

I walked over to the dresser, where the clothes I'd set out the night before waited on the red enamel top.

"Now we're talking," said Fran. "Now we're making some progress." "Are you going to do this every day?" I asked.

"Every day? Come on. Be fair."

I got my clothes on.

Fran said, "Say good-bye to your mother."

I poked my head in their darkened bedroom. Mary turned toward me, but couldn't force her eyes to open. "Have fun," she said.

"I wish I was still mowing lawns," I said.

Fran wouldn't permit me to duck into the bathroom. They had a bathroom where we were headed.

A moment later I found myself behind the wheel of my father's cornmeal yellow Buick. It was important I know how to drive when tired, Fran believed. I backed us down the driveway and into the road. "You didn't look first," said Fran. He was right. "Well, forget it. Look next time." Fran didn't want the little things to impede the larger mission. He was in the process of introducing me to something momentous. The driving lesson was distinct from the mission. This was a Monday morning late in June. We were on our way to work. Having just completed my sophomore year of high school, I was to begin training for a summer job as a subsystem technician at Western Kentucky State Power. Fran worked as an operations comptroller at the plant. Neither of us had a clue what a subsystem technician did. What we knew was that I would be compensated at a rate slightly below what I had received the summer before. But mowing lawns was not a job. Getting a tan was not a job. Being somewhere on time, doing what was expected of you, not loafing, that was a job.


Excerpted from The Best People in the World by Justin Tussing Copyright © 2006 by Justin Tussing. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
“[A] beautiful, fearless novel... By turns comic and mysterious and wild, ultimately this is a heartbreaking book.”
Ron Hansen
“Filled with surprise, recklessness, melancholy, headlong romance, and hilarity. Justin Tussing is the real thing. It doesn’t happen that often.”

Meet the Author

Justin Tussing's short fiction has appeared in several publications, including The New Yorker, TriQuarterly, and Third Coast. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and he lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Best People in the World 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic book--it's funny, smart, and original. I stayed up til 3 in the morning to finish it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the one-dimensional characters, who can at best be called dull and directionless, to the limping plotline, this book was a complete disappointment. It was a chore to read, and I wouldn't have finished it if not for wanting to give an honest review. While some of the descriptive images Tussing created were imaginative, many were so self-conscious and grasping that they were laughable. For example, page 87, 'We were like the mind of a suicide who cannot be consoled, impatient even after the bullet is on its way.' The inclustion of the men searching for miracles at the beginning of the chapters would have been more interesting had those parts had any obvious relevance to the rest of the story sooner. At best, this seems to be a work that was not entirely thought out and is far from complete.