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Bestselling author of The Dress Lodger

Cutting through the landscape, connecting small towns to the world at large, the Long Island Expressway (the L.I.E.) has many exits–and each one tells a story. It’s the late eighties in Long Island, New York, and eighteen-year-old Harlan ...

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2001 Trade paperback New. No dust jacket as issued. Never read, no remainder marks. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 256 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Bestselling author of The Dress Lodger

Cutting through the landscape, connecting small towns to the world at large, the Long Island Expressway (the L.I.E.) has many exits–and each one tells a story. It’s the late eighties in Long Island, New York, and eighteen-year-old Harlan Kessler plays in a band, parties with friends, and struggles with a family that offers anything but a Kodak moment. The one ray of hope in Harlan’s life is Sarah DeRosa. With her by his side, Harlan just might make the right choices between love and aggression, intimacy and absence, finding himself and losing his mind. . . .

“[AN] ENGAGING DEBUT . . . If we feel we’ve heard enough about the land at malls and cloverleafs, we’re wrong: it’s probably the most authentically American experience there is, a point that Hollander makes in a blur of concrete, exit signs, and self-deprecating hilarity.”
–Los Angeles Times

“REMARKABLE . . . COMPELLING . . . POWERFUL . . . A young man’s head-on collision with the failed American Dream . . . What makes this book one of note is Hollander’s unique storytelling style. . . . You’ll be richly rewarded by an original, edgy experience.”
–Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An entertaining coming-of-age story set in one of America’s legendary weird suburbs . . . Hollander is an inventive writer who manages simultaneously to romanticize and to parody his own experience.”
–The Washington Post

“The landscape of Long Island is a critical presence in the book, and Hollander portrays it with as much vitality and detail as the human characters. . . . One of the best aspects of L.I.E. is that is can be read on several different levels. Sufficiently lighthearted and amusing for casual readers, it contains enough emotional complexity and even tragedy to suit those who long for deeper reading. Those who seek challenge and profundity will find plenty of food for thought in Harlan’s existential dilemma. . . . This unconventional novel [is] a rewarding and entertaining experience.”
–The Wellesley News

“Hollander displays a keen eye for the ordinary, capturing teenage discontent and suburban malaise without pretense.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dissolution, love and sexual frustration are the driving themes of this debut novel, set on blue-collar Long Island, or "Wrong Island," as its denizens here refer to it. Spanning the last two years of the '80s amid several dead-end towns in Suffolk County, the novel disjointedly follows the painful maturation of Harlan Kessler, a long-haired, guitar-picking 18-year-old who's searching for his life's direction but would settle for losing his virginity. A hilarious opening sequence sets the stage for his fragmented, slapstick journey: the moment before Harlan rids himself of his innocence, his entire family walks in on the teen couple en flagrante. The plot expands to include Harlan's scary brothers and adulterous parents, his loser friends and their dysfunctional families. Harlan's pal, drummer Todd Slatsky, has wild parties at which he plays home movies featuring his father beating up his mother. Harlan's eventual romantic interest, Sarah, is terrified of her mother's new husband, a sleazy coke dealer who supplies the drugs that fuel the mental breakdown of Harlan's friend Beedy. Harlan is the center of this series of increasingly odd episodes, which progress from the depressingly plausible sexual bunglings to scenes of death, destruction and depravity. In an utterly bizarre one-act play set in the middle of the book, the fragmentation of Harlan's brain mirrors the disintegration of his family. The story of Harlan's sad life is rife with the wry asides, ironic italics and narrative tricks much better left to the skills of Dave Eggers, and the novel's conclusion is deeply, unsatisfyingly ambiguous. Hollander's debut is set against a backdrop so bleak that it undermines his otherwise formidable talent for tragic irony and cinematic vision. (Sept.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A male coming-of-age novel isn't all that rare, but we don't often find one that presents its main character's growing maturity with such insight and sensitivity. At the onset, protagonist Harlan Kessler is in high school on Long Island in the 1980s (the eponymous L.I.E. stands for Long Island Expressway), where his concerns are limited to sports and losing his virginity. In the early chapters, Hollander makes liberal use of italics to demonstrate youthful exuberance, but his narrative voice quickly sobers as Harlan stumbles his way into adulthood. Harlan's middle-class Long Island is an American dream gone wrong--an endless sprawl of bedroom communities populated with disconnected people. Harlan sees his friends scatter or get caught up in drugs, suicide, or dead-end jobs. Meanwhile, he pins his hopes on a rock guitarist career, a choice destined to keep him stuck in his job as an IRS clerk. Hollander experiments with some stylistic tricks and in the end waxes surrealistic, but the novel's true strength is its realistic depiction of hollow, suburban life. Highly recommended for first-novel collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/00.]--Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
Formal innovations are the most interesting features of this rangy first novel, which assembles ten interrelated stories and a brief coda to trace the uneasy maturing of a Long Island teenager.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345441003
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/27/2001
  • Edition description: FIRST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.53 (d)

Meet the Author

David Hollander grew up in Suffolk County, Long Island. A graduate of the State University of New York at Purchase and the Sarah Lawrence College writing program, he lives in Brooklyn.

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Read an Excerpt

Olympic Material

"And then," Harlan continues, "they put me in the four-by-eight, right after I'd run the quarter!"

"The four-by-eight?" his father asks.

"Yeah. Four guys, we each run a half-mile. It's a relay."


"Whenever something starts 'four-by,' that means it's a relay."

They're sitting in the den; the television bathes them in a hypnotizing luminescence. His father is eating what would be Harlan's equivalent of breakfast. It's five p.m., but Dad works the night shift. He's only been up an hour.

"So then what happened?"

"Well, I've really been running well lately," Harlan says.

"So they wanted me to anchor."

"Anchor?" His father takes a bite of a scrambled-egg sandwich. He looks at Harlan briefly, then back at sitcoms.

"Yeah," Harlan says. "That means to go last. The best guy goes last."

"And they wanted you to go last?" With affected pride.

"Yeah. But you know, I was still tired from the other race."

"The quarter."

"Yeah, the quarter."

A breeze blows through the patio door. Beyond the chain-link fence that marks their territory, cars hurtle. Station Road is a place where kids drive fast. Harlan will start driving next year, and he imagines he'll follow local custom.

His father eats quickly, ravenously. He's listening to Harlan; that is,
he wants to listen, but he keeps thinking about the time that Harlan came up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third in the bottom half of the last inning of the Little League championships. He belted a double into the gap in right-center. Was that so long ago? The team had lifted his son onto their shoulders. They'd paraded his boy around the diamond. And he'd called Harlan "Mr. Clutch." "That's what they'll call you from now on, Harlan! Mr. Clutch!" he'd screamed. He'd felt like a father, like it meant something to be a father.

He swallows up the rest of his sandwich. Harlan goes on.

". . . I wouldn't let him pass me though. Bobby Miller, the best half-miler in the state! And I held him off!"

"Wow. That's great, Son. That's terrific, Harlan. Maybe you'll be a track star."

"Well, I don't know about that." He shrugs.

His father carries his plate and coffee cup into the kitchen. The water runs. Harlan doesn't know why he lied, but he knows that he had to. He knows it might not even be a lie. In his head it's very clear, it happened just like he said, he ran anchor, he held off Bobby Miller, it might have happened that way.

That night his father will unleash the story on a co-worker. "My son's a track star, you know. Best relay runner in the state, the whole damn state!"

And years later Harlan will dust it off, in a bar, for a woman who isn't going home with him. "Sure, we've all got a few things that stick with us. Like my sub-two half-mile. I was a real speed demon back then,
Olympic material.

Why's that so hard to believe?"

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Reading Group Guide

1. L.I.E. is Hollander's debut novel, and he writes about an area close to his home and his heart, as many first-time novelists choose to do. Do you often read debut novels? How does this compare with the other first novels you've read? Do you find any similarities—in tone, in subject matter? Why do you think Hollander chose this environment and subject for his first book?

2. Harlan, like most teenagers, is deeply confused and resentful, and considers himself the center of the universe. He displays sarcastic flippancy and even open cowardice at moments. Do you find Harlan sympathetic? What parts of his experience (both physical and emotional) do you identify with? Why does he view his parents with such contempt? What is it about his manner that makes him charismatic to many of the other teens with whom he comes in contact?

3. The immaculately detailed geography of Long Island factors large in Hollander's novelistic landscape. How much did the fine details add to your understanding of the world Harlan and his friends and family inhabit? How distinct do your childhood environs remain in your mind? Have they changed in your memory? Have they changed in reality? If you have children, are you sensitive to how they absorb their environment?

4. In a similar sense, Hollander does a wonderful job of describing how a worldview—particularly an adolescent one—can be circumscribed by overly familiar geography. Why do the characters feel trapped? Why is their longing to escape so visceral? Are there factors other than money that keep the characters perpetually tied to this place? When you were young, did you ever feel trapped or isolated, cut off from a larger world? How did you "escape"?

5. Many of the families in the novel are broken or breaking— one of the parents is having an affair, the parents no longer speak to each other or to their children. Why does Harlan feel untouched by the disintegration of his parents' marriage? Is his emotion true in any way? Why does he project this indifference? Is it a defense mechanism, a survival instinct? Why have his parents become so disaffected and unhappy?

6. At Todd Slatsky's party, Todd shows home movies he has found in the attic as a backdrop for their music performance. But he never sees the home movie in which his father hits his mother, and Todd continues to call her a "bitch." How does he mean this? Does Todd know why he feels so strongly about his mother? What has he done with his awful memories of being a young boy and watching his parents' abuse? Have you viewed home movies and discovered things about your parents and past that you had missed in the innocence of youth?

7. How do you feel about these teenagers' drug use and sexual encounters? How do the characters' decisions about what they will or won't do define their personalities? How would you react if these were your own children?

8. Hollander discusses frankly the frantic, fumbling, exciting bloom of adolescent sex. Do you think his sex scenes ring true? Do you feel that he gave due to both the male and female feelings in these situations? Did you hear in those scenes echoes of your own youthful sexual meanderings? Did you laugh or cringe? In the larger picture, how does the sexual exploration of our youth presage our adult relationships?

9. A major theme in the novel is movies and the experience of "cinematic moments." And Harlan, in particular, isn't convinced that he's real; he feels as if he's perpetually being watched. Why does Hollander use this particular motif? Is this an effort to find a lens through which teens see the world? How do you think the metaphor of a "bad movie" relates to the views of the teens? Do you have moments in your own life when you seem to be watching the action from a distance, as if a distinct "scene" were unfolding before you? Why do movies loom so large in our lives? In what sense is Harlan not "real"?

10. When Harlan meets Sarah he experiences his first love and the melodramatic rush of emotion that comes with encountering it for the first time. What makes Sarah different from the other girls Harlan has been involved with? What is it in their interaction that forces Harlan into this new realm of the heart? What does she represent for him? Why does Sarah feel the way she does about Harlan?

11. Hollander dedicates L.I.E. to the author Rick Moody. Are you familiar with Moody's novels—The Ice Storm, Purple America, and his first novel, Garden State, specifically? What echoes of Moody's sensibility do you find in Hollander's work? What stylistic tics? What subject matter?

12. Why does Hollander use stylistic flourishes—the italics, the one-act play, the film terminology? Did this enhance your understanding of the characters' emotional turmoil? Why does he choose to italicize the words and sentences he does?

13. What do you make of the absurdist one-act play? The parents' changing costumes echo the early chapter of the grown-up Halloween party. What is Hollander trying to get at here? How does this deepen your understanding of the Kessler family dynamic? Is it funny? Sad? Cruel? Telling? What do the costumes represent for them? Are there other forms of disguise or misdirection used by characters in the novel?

14. At one point, in describing Todd beating on his drum kit, Hollander includes this passage (p. 65): ". . . the present seems to be missing, everything either ugly, gnawing history, or mythic, impossible promise. 'Now' is a kind of negative space . . ." Do you think that the idea of a "missing present" accurately characterizes the teenagers' attitudes? Why is this so for them? How are the characters not living the fullness of such vivid experiences in the "now"? Is this specific to youth, or is this a lifelong phenomenon?

15. How does Harlan change as he grows older, and why? What events have pushed him toward adulthood? Can you pinpoint definitive events in your own adolescence that helped shape your adult self?

16. The Long Island Expressway threads through the novel like, well, like a long highway with many exits. What does the L.I.E. symbolize in terms of the novel? What does it represent for Harlan? Have you ever had the type of driving reverie Harlan has in the title chapter?

17. What do you think happens to Harlan and Sarah as time moves on beyond that covered in the book? Do you care about their futures? Are they destined for greater happiness in the larger world, or deeper sadness and frustration? Why is their relationship important for Harlan even if they don't stay together? For Sarah?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 10, 2011

    This guy

    Best book ever and a good movoe

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2003


    this may very well be my favorite book. i love the way he captures all the different aspects of life in suburbia by weaving a lot of different people's lives together. i think this is a book any teenager could appreciate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2002

    L.I.E. Rocked My SoX

    I loved the book, the sci-fi twist ending, the greatness of growing up on long island, something i can relate to! i just enjoyed this brand new autors debut book and can't wait for his next work

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2002


    I love this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2000

    Daring Debut

    L.I.E. is a rare treat. They say that first novels tend to be autobiographical, and there's enough detail here about Long Island to show that Hollander knows this setting well. But the book isn't just about the suburbs, at least that's not the way I read it. Harlan Kessler, the main character (sort of), is having very strange things happen to him, that couldn't occur on Long Island or anywhere else for that matter. He's being observed by some kind of reptilian monster, he's being hunted down by mannequins driving limousines, he's hearing his own life story mysteriously recorded on a cassette tape. For me, this is the book's darkest side. Harlan is trying to balance his dead-end life in the suburbs, but what's worse is that his experiences in L.I.E. all point to the fact that his life may not be real, somehow. Although Hollander uses a lot of unnecessary 'experimental' techniques in the book (too many italics!), his strength is in showing the 'unreality' behind his characters' reality. It's a daring debut, and I've gotta give it five stars.

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