Last One In

Last One In

by Nicholas Kulish
     
 

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Jimmy Stephens makes the worst mistake of his career as a gossip columnist when he wrongly accuses a big star of cheating on his wife. With lawsuits pending, Jimmy's imperious new editor blackmails him into taking the place of the paper's injured front-line war correspondent. Shipped off to the desert and embedded with a group of foulmouthed but fraternal Marines,

Overview

Jimmy Stephens makes the worst mistake of his career as a gossip columnist when he wrongly accuses a big star of cheating on his wife. With lawsuits pending, Jimmy's imperious new editor blackmails him into taking the place of the paper's injured front-line war correspondent. Shipped off to the desert and embedded with a group of foulmouthed but fraternal Marines, Jimmy provides a bewildered but unfiltered view of the invasion of Iraq that is alternately hair-raising, hilarious, and heartbreaking.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Kulish, a journalist who was embedded with a Marine attack-helicopter unit for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, draws on that experience for this satirical debut novel. Facing dismissal over an erroneous story of celebrity infidelity, New York Daily Heraldgossip reporter Jimmy Stephens is given a second chance. The country is about to go to war in Iraq, and the paper's veteran war correspondent is laid up after being hit by a delivery truck. To save his job, a reluctant and clueless Jimmy assumes the position. In Kuwait, Stephens joins a Marine infantry company and hitches a ride in a Humvee with four typical Marines: profane and irreverent, but thoroughly professional when necessary. The tough Marines, of course, tease the "sissy-ass civilian reporter," but sharing privation and sporadic combat affect Stephens and his Marine companions in unexpected ways. Though the war has changed dramatically since the initial invasion—lending a strangely dated feeling to the narrative—a steady flow of Yossarian-flavored absurdity ("We're the pro-Iraqi forces, and the anti-Iraqi forces are the Iraqis") smoothes out the bumps in Stephens's odyssey. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A compelling first novel uses humor to illuminate the deadly absurdities of war. Though Kulish reported from Iraq as an embedded journalist for the Wall Street Journal (he has since become an editorial writer for the New York Times), this fictional debut extends well beyond his own experience. His protagonist is a young, hapless gossip columnist named Jimmy Stephens, who works for a New York tabloid that is in the midst of repositioning itself to replace fluff with harder news. After bungling a supposed scoop, Stephens is given one last chance to save his job: Go to Iraq on the eve of war and travel with the Marines as an embedded reporter. Why Stephens? In an unfortunate (and unlikely) coincidence, he shares the same name as a distinguished war correspondent who has suffered an accident, and the list of approved embedded reporters permits no substitutions. So, this James Stephens will have to pass for that one, though it becomes immediately apparent that the younger Stephens' fields of expertise-bedding little-known models, exploiting his expense account for impossibly priced sushi, chasing rumors-will do him little good in a war-ravaged desert. Yet Stephens ultimately bonds better with some of the enlisted men who are closer to his age than with the self-important war correspondents and the officers they befriend. And he employs some unconventional methods for using the tools of his trade to gain the access he needs for the stories he writes, which aren't necessarily the stories that his editors back home want to read. Ultimately, Jimmy experiences a number of revelations-about the nature of journalism, about the fraternity of soldiers, about the unpredictability of war, about his ownvalues. He leaves the war a very different reporter. Kulish arrives at a different sort of truth about the war in Iraq than can be found in nonfiction accounts, and shows a deft command of tone-from the slapstick to the tragic-in the process.
Entertainment Weekly
“...a passionate critique of modern warfare disguised as lad lit. This one’ll sneak up on you.” Grade: A-
Washington Post
“The author...has a pitch-perfect ear for the musical crudity of Marine banter.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“...readable and compelling satire...a good romp...that keeps the reader yearning...insightful commentary...”
Time Out New York
“[Kulish] hits his satirical spots and smoothly integrates coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water tropes. ”
New York Post
“Read “Last One In”...Nicholas Kulish’s funny and heartbreaking look at life on the roads of Baghdad.”
The New Yorker
“[A] clever, affecting novel.”
New York Daily News
“Kulish’s fast-paced and funny work of fiction gives the reader a rare window into the lives of the Marines.”
Esquire.com
“The best parts ... illuminate the everyday humor and struggles of war.. . a compelling read.”
Booklist
“Kulish brings the authority of truth to the awful banality of war.”
Washington Times
“...polished writing and countless laugh-out-loud moments....”
Washington City Paper
“...Kulish...has an excellent eye for the...details of Marine life...his dialogue has a great, Strangelove-ian snap.”
Christopher Buckley
“A worthy addition to the curious but indispensable shelf of war satires.”
Paulina Porizkova
“[U]nforgettable...so vivid, I feel like I’ve spent time in a Humvee with four marines heading for Baghdad.”
Hampton Sides
“Kulish’s funny, engaging novel...gets it exactly right.”
Adam Langer
“Like...David O. Russell’s film THREE KINGS, Nicholas Kulish...brings home both the terror and the absurdity of combat...”
Arthur Phillips
“Told with wit and sympathy, sharply written and instantly engaging, it is a very funny book.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061871672
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
File size:
368 KB

Read an Excerpt

Last One In


By Nicholas Kulish

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Nicholas Kulish
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061189395

Chapter One

A small part of Jimmy was offended at the thought ofsomeone eating gold. It was a very small part, and shrinking dangerously fast. But it was still there.

"I ate gold," the young man shouted to anyone who cared to listen. "I ate gold." He was, Jimmy guessed, a prospective intern for one of the investment banks a five-minute cab ride down Greenwich Street. His face was flushed red from hours of drinking.

His group had been hard to miss when they entered, though Jimmy had been paying particular attention. He was seated alone and craned his neck with every cold gust of wind when the front door opened. Each time he searched the entrance for the couple who had kept him waiting for two hours. His disappointment grew, as did the glares from the white-capped sushi chef.

Jimmy's red snapper and spicy tuna rolls did not suffice as rent for this prime stool. Just as his inevitable ejection was nearing, he ordered a sorbet and with it a little more time. If it had not been late on a Monday night and the place already emptying out, they might have politely chucked him anyway.

The young men in suits were the loudest group in the dining area, tucked between the sawed-off trunks of real birch and ash trees and the angled two-by-fours posing as branches to complete the arboreal sculptures. There was an element of the theatrical at Nobu even when itsmost famous patrons were absent. The crowd played its part, and this particular group performed the chorus of boorish bankers admirably. The tasting menu—omakase—came for $80, $100, or $120 per person, with a sly "and up" tucked beside the last figure.

"What's 'and up'?" the one with the deep, resonating voice had asked. The waiter murmured something about resting safely in the chef's hands for the evening, but in practice "and up" resulted in tiny flakes of gold on your rock shrimp tempura.

"And up, bitch," the pale blond banker with the squeaky voice called out. "And up." There followed high fives and shots for all.

By the end of the meal, the young man seemed awestruck. His cheeks flamed a brighter red than the sake alone could generate. He appeared shocked to have ingested a precious metal. The kid would never see the check, which had probably run to several thousand dollars. It would come discreetly shrouded in a black cover, and a regular employee would dispatch it with an expense-account credit card, carried away before the heavy toll could cast a shadow over the boy's evening.

Jimmy reminded himself not to begrudge this kid his fun just because his own reasons for coming were more serious and his visit a complete disappointment. The restaurant was nine years old and predictable to regulars, but for a young man used to Bennigan's and Mom's meat loaf, entering this enchanted forest for a mix of Asian and Latino cuisines in Hollywood-on-Hudson glamour was still a heady trip. And Jimmy felt it was right, somehow, to shout when you ate gold. Things had really gone a step too far when that became mundane.

His own meager feast was the result of a formal warning he had received about his often-royal expense account. That, combined with a spate of firings and rumblings about further layoffs, led Jimmy to pay for this excursion out of his own pocket. He felt like a fraud in his off-the-rack suit, ordering minuscule portions under the scrutiny of the fish swordsmen before him, with the high-rolling financial wizards at his back. Jimmy was only a few years older than the would-be intern and about the same age as the full-timers, clinging in fact to the final year of his twenties. But they wore bespoke suits and ordered without a care, and he sat in discount threads fretting over a seven-dollar sorbet.

Jimmy was there to observe and chronicle the romantic rendezvous of a C-list actress and a B-list actor. As was normal in such cases, the lesser's—that is, the C-lister's—publicist had tipped him off to the encounter. He might have been able to write it up without a personal appearance, but Jimmy took pride in his work. He wanted to confirm that it happened and fill out as many details as possible. If the newspaper gossip columns were to survive the Internet-delivered onslaught of rumors and anonymous reports, they would have to differentiate themselves through quality and consistency.

At that exact moment of pessimism—spoon clinking against the empty ceramic dish—Jimmy would have placed the odds of his career survival pretty low. He rose to perform his final and most demeaning stalling technique. Jimmy passed the wall of thousands of shiny black river rocks that shielded patrons' aesthetic experience from the intrusive reality of the waiters' station and headed for the bathroom.

It was unremarkable for a normal establishment, jarringly basic for a restaurant that seemed ready to host scenes from a Kurosawa movie. There were no bronze Buddhist basins, no waterfalls. All that set it apart was an audio loop of thunder-and-rain sound effects. The black door to one of the stalls was closed, and Jimmy was about to enter the vacant one when something in the gap between the stall door and the tile floor caught his eye.

They were cowboy boots of supple reddish leather. It was the kind of leather that somehow shone with class and expense even in a darkened bathroom stall, the way each slice of fish in the restaurant looked like it had a pedigree and the papers to prove it. Jimmy had a feeling about those boots even before he bent down slightly and saw small letters branded just below the ankle bone. The monogram read "KRB."

Jimmy had written about those boots when their owner received them. They were a gift from the director for playing the lead role in the cowboy movie Ride Like the Lightning. It was a blockbuster, like all . . .



Continues...

Excerpted from Last One In by Nicholas Kulish Copyright © 2007 by Nicholas Kulish. 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

Adam Langer
“Like...David O. Russell’s film THREE KINGS, Nicholas Kulish...brings home both the terror and the absurdity of combat...”
Paulina Porizkova
“[U]nforgettable...so vivid, I feel like I’ve spent time in a Humvee with four marines heading for Baghdad.”
Hampton Sides
“Kulish’s funny, engaging novel...gets it exactly right.”
Christopher Buckley
“A worthy addition to the curious but indispensable shelf of war satires.”

Meet the Author

In 2003, Nicholas Kulish was embedded with a Marine attack-helicopter squadron for the Wall Street Journal. He is an editorial writer at the New York Times and has also written for the Washington Post, Washington Monthly, and ESPN magazine. He lives in New York City.

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