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Dan ChiassonAt 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
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...
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.
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.
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Posted February 11, 2006
Posted December 24, 2005
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.