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Not for Nothing

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Overview

"My hat is off to Stephen Graham Jones, because he is the kind of author that makes the frustrated writer inside every book reviewer cringe with self-doubt."—PopMatters

A novel written in second person. The town is Stanton, Texas, population three thousand; the private investigator is disgraced Midland homicide detective Nicholas Bruiseman, who's so down on his luck that he's forced to take a job as a live-in security guard for the town's lone storage facility. This is his new ...

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Overview

"My hat is off to Stephen Graham Jones, because he is the kind of author that makes the frustrated writer inside every book reviewer cringe with self-doubt."—PopMatters

A novel written in second person. The town is Stanton, Texas, population three thousand; the private investigator is disgraced Midland homicide detective Nicholas Bruiseman, who's so down on his luck that he's forced to take a job as a live-in security guard for the town's lone storage facility. This is his new life—starting over with nothing in the town he grew up in.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
06/01/2014
A live-in security guard at a storage facility in his tiny Texas hometown, disgraced homicide detective Nicholas Bruiseman is a pariah. But then former cheerleader-type Gwen asks him for some unlicensed protection, which leads to a lot of trouble and a dead body. VERDICT The plot is Big Sleep-complicated, the atmosphere edgy, and the narration intriguingly second person. For readers of literary fiction and mystery fans willing to take a dare.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781938604539
  • Publisher: Dzanc Books
  • Publication date: 3/18/2014
  • Pages: 298
  • Sales rank: 419,127
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Stephen Graham Jones is the author of ten novels, three collections, and one novella. He is a full professor at The University of Colorado at Boulder, and in the low-residency program for University of California Riverside -- Palm Desert. Stephen is forty-one, and married with children.
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Read an Excerpt

NOT for NOTHING


By Stephen Graham Jones

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 2014 Stephen Graham Jones
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-9356-8


CHAPTER 1

SHE'LL BE WAITING for you when you walk back from the water station next door. And of course you'll have the tip of your thumb in your mouth, will only realize it after you've stopped walking, when you're standing there like some animated character trying to blow his flattened hand back up. All that's left to do then is waggle your fingers before your face in "Hello," your eyes kind of squinted. Not so much against the glare coming off the storage units, but in apology. For being who you are.

It's an apology you make more often than you'd care to admit.

Instead of smiling with you, making this easy, she'll just stare at you through her alligator print sunglasses. Trying to classify you, place you in her country club world. When you obviously don't fit, she'll shrug, re-cross her legs, one slingback heel riding down the sole of her foot an inch. She'll lower her hand, guide that shoe back up. It pulls her eyes away from you just long enough for you to drop your hand from your face, hide it behind your neck. Or what you think's long enough.

But be honest with yourself here, if you can. Your mouth's still half-open, you're wearing the same clothes you have been for a few days now—easy to lose track—and, really, there's no delicate way to explain what you were doing when you rounded the corner: using the ridge of your lower teeth to dislodge the barbecue sauce packed under your thumbnail. You're not even sure if it's from just now—chopped beef at the water station—or from your lunch there yesterday.

In your other hand is a gimme calendar from the John Deere house. You raise it against the sun to see this woman better, tease her apart from the shadows, and for a moment your throat catches with recognition, some rush of nostalgia you can't quite follow all the way back to a memory. It has to do with the way she's sitting, her hands at her bare knees. Or, no: it's the knees themselves.

You know her, don't you? Probably should already have said her name.

Think, think.

She sits on the edge of the bench you've liberated from one of the storage units it's your job to guard. The bench you've liberated from 4B, to be specific. Your vague plan is to use it as a couch. It's from an International truck, you're pretty sure, like the one up on blocks at the closed-down Exxon up the street.

"Your secretary let me in," she says.

It's hard not to smile, here.

Not only do you not have a girl working the desk, but, unless you count the wooden spool you've been swatting flies into for six weeks now, you don't even have a desk. Your "office"—that's how she would say it, if it were important enough to say—is just an empty storage unit, a one-car garage, pretty much. There's a single bare light bulb at exactly forehead level, unpainted cinderblock on three sides and a door you left rolled up all morning because the bench seat hasn't been smelling too good. You're thinking about giving it back to 4B, really.

And you have to say something to her now.

Luckily you've been drinking all morning.

"Surprised she found the time," you tell her about the secretary. "All I can do to get her to answer the phone, most days."

The woman who should really have a name by now doesn't laugh. This makes you feel better about not remembering her.

"Ringing off the hook, is it?" she says.

You give her your best pleasant smile then shrug your way in out of the sun, looking both ways first.

"I know you, don't I?"

This is funny to her.

In the stillness of the storage unit, her lipstick bending up into a smile is still wet enough to make a sound. Meaning she just put it on. For you. Before you're even all the way aware of it, you're wiping your mouth on the back of your forearm for any pecan pie crumbs you might have missed. This is the first time in weeks your appearance has come close to mattering. Now, though. That she's even sitting on that bench seat has you interested in her. And the amount of leg she's showing. The amount of leg that she knows she's showing, that she catches you climbing.

Instead of admitting she's caught you, you stumble ahead, say the obvious: "So that'd be your Town Car out there, yeah?"

She shrugs, her shoulders bored, as if to suggest that this is common knowledge. And maybe it is; you've only been back in town for a couple of months. Less if you don't count all the nights you already don't remember.

"Don't worry," she adds, tilting her head at the idea of the water station. "I didn't park on Sherilita's precious parking lot, officer."

The cool thing to do now would be to recite her license plate back to her. Say something about the air pressure in that back tire. How you already have the maroon-black paint, chrome spokes, and tinted back glass of her Lincoln filed away. Just like the homicide detective you used to be.

Except of course you don't even know enough about the plates to be sure the car's local.

"Mind?" she says, threading a Winston 100 up from her purse.

"Careful," you tell her. It's the opening of a line you heard a lawyer use once.

"Careful?" she says back.

You stall a bit to be sure you have it right then deliver it at just the right speed: "You can get addicted to that, I mean. To asking permission."

She shakes her head, rolls the wheel back on her lighter, and you pretend not to watch her lips take the cigarette. There's a place on the cinderblock wall you were going to put a nail. To hang your calendar on. So you can keep up with the days.

Look there instead of at her mouth.

The idea she's supposed to get from this is that you have other things to do here. But you are who you are, too. When you come back to her face with what you were gambling was going to be an innocent, accidental snapshot of a glance, she's already watching you, has been holding her smoke in just so you can get caught up in her exhale.

You swallow, the saliva loud in your ears.

How long has it been since you've been this close to a woman? One who was even remotely interested in you?

The answer comes before you want it to: two months. Except that woman was a judge.

She was very interested.

The exhaled smoke rises to the top of the storage unit, goes all paisley around the yellow bulb, and it's then that the woman you know you should know says your name. The one nobody's called you since grammar school.

You track back down to her, suddenly unsure if you've had four beers or fourteen. Hours before you're ready, minutes too late, she pulls her sunglasses off eye by eye, lowering her face to do it, and looks up at you all at once, from twenty years ago.

Gwen Tracy.

You rub the loud skin around your mouth, try not to let her see all the muscles in your face wanting to smile.

As apology, maybe, or in sympathy, she offers you the 100, and you take it as casually as you can, breathe the cherry deep red. When the nicotine hits the capillaries of your brain, you almost laugh in your throat but catch it just in time.

Instead of taking the 100 back like you offer, she slaps you hard across the face.

It's Gwen all right.

"That why you came by?" you ask, rubbing the heat of her hand deeper into your cheek.

Her answer is to pinch the 100 away from you, flick it out the wide door. The orange sparks go spastic in the caliche dust, looking for a new home.

"Can't believe you're back," she says.

You shrug, are kind of surprised at how it's all turned out as well.

"Instead of jail," she tacks on.

"Guess they thought this was bad enough," you say, meaning Stanton, Texas, in July.

She just stares at you about this.

What she gave you once, what for a long time you said had ruined you, was the picture in your mind of the delicate print her hair left against the passenger side window of her father's single-cab Ford. Because there hadn't been enough room on the driver's, with the steering wheel. It had been January. The windows had been fogged with urgency.

That's twenty years gone, though. You should have forgotten about her already, Gwen Tracy. Erased her, replaced her.

But you're kind of sentimental, too.

And she's not here for what you're thinking she's here for anyway. What you're wanting her to be here for. It's probably just the bench seat she's still sitting on that's making you think that. You rub a spot on your forehead so she won't be able to see your face, say in your best fake voice, "Five dollars off a month on the large units. If you pay a year in advance."

It's like you're sixteen again—awkward, embarrassed, a little bit guilty. Still hiding behind lame jokes. Or trying to, anyway.

She stands, the bench seat rocking behind her.

"You used to be a cop," she says. It's not quite a question, but it's close enough to one that you feel you have to answer.

"You could say that," you tell her, your voice not so fake anymore.

Again she's just staring at you, like she's trying to say things with her eyes. When you don't get it, she finally just comes out with it: "I'm not here for a storage unit, Nicholas."

You tell her that's not your name anymore and set the calendar down on the wooden spool, careful not to let it slap.

"St. Nick?" she corrects.

It's because, in elementary, you were fat.

"Gwen Tracy," you say back. It's all you can come up with.

She cocks her head, turns half away from you, amused. "You have been gone a long time, haven't you?"

She stares at you for longer than you want her to, and just when you're about to touch a spot on your cheek—anything to look away—she says it again, that she's not here for a storage unit.

"Then what?" you say, lifting a beer from the cooler, offering it to her and taking it yourself when she won't. The plan all along, really.

"This was a mistake," she says. "I mean, if you're what I want, then you should know why I'm here."

"You mean if I'm a—" you say, meaning to end with psychic, but cut it off before you can get there. Just to double back, make sure you're hearing what she's saying. As expert cover for this stall, you drink a third of your beer in one long mouthful, and take time to wipe your lips after that.

She doesn't want a psychic. She wants the next best thing.

"My detective days are over," you tell her.

What she says back is "Good," then turns all at once to the open garage door, as if she half-expects somebody to be standing there. Nobody is. Nobody ever is. She watches it for a breath longer anyway, then turns back to you, pinning you with her eyes the same way she used to during pep rallies, when she was leading all the cheers. That way she had of making it feel like she was looking just at you. She still has it. And more, the whole package, and—

That's it.

She's got the whole package, the whole cheerleader package. What you recognized right off from twenty feet away, through the glare of the sun and the aftertaste of water-station barbecue, were her knees. How, a crowd of people stacked up before her, she used to sit with her knees tight together like that, her pompoms framing them.

You never watched the game. Just those knees.

"What?" she says.

"Why 'good?'" you say, a lucky save. "Tell me why it's good for you that I'm not a cop anymore."

"Because the cops can't do anything," she says, shrugging, saying the next part quieter, like a suggestion. "But a private investigator ... could."

You laugh through your nose. "You think that's how it works? That when you stop being a detective they just issue you a PI license, like a consolation prize?"

"Isn't that what you were doing already, though?"

You keep smiling like this doesn't hurt you. It's why you've been keeping a low profile, though: when your career in Homicide had gone into a public tailspin—no murders cleared off your part of the board for twenty months, a Midland PD record—you'd started moonlighting. It had made sense at the time, odd-jobbing in your off-hours, taking pictures, finding dogs, knocking on doors, whatever. Always the shield to hide behind. It had felt like something, anyway. Maybe not like solving a real, official homicide, but close enough for you and the girls you went with.

Until the judge.

But don't think about her.

"Let me explain something to you," you say, picking the calendar up just to keep your hands busy, your eyes safe. "What I do here is provide live-in security for Aardvark Custom Economy Storage. Free room, free board, so long as nobody complains about me taking liberties with their stuff. And, know what?" To show her who you're about to talk about, you tilt your head next door, to the water station. "I let Sherilita's kid's band practice in one of the empty units after dark, and she gives me four chopped beef sandwiches a day. With Fritos. And sweet tea. Pie, if they've got any left over."

When you're done, she's just staring at you.

"Sherilita goes to my church," she says. "Real devout. So what do you do on Sundays?"

"Liquid diet," you tell her, your face so straight it's slack.

"Guess you've really got it made then," she says after a few beats, shaking her head with disgust, digging in her purse for her keys. "Don't need to hear about anybody else's—listen, don't worry about it, Nick. Nice seeing you again. You're a great guy. Real gem. Look you up in twenty more years."

Like every other woman you've ever known, she turns, starts to leave. You nod about it, already telling yourself that it's for the best. That she was trouble, not worth it. Probably would have wanted you to clean your act up anyway.

On the way out, she says, "Get your mail here too?"

You ask it before you can stop yourself, even though you know it's a set-up: "Why?"

"I'll have my mother drop you the program from my funeral. She still remembers you."

Instead of leaving, she just stands there, her eyes welling up.

None of this is anything like what you wanted. If she wasn't in the only exit, you might already be gone, even. Mentally if not physically.

Except that she came to you for help.

After all these years.

She came to you for help when, to everyone who reads the papers, you're a leper, a criminal, an embarrassment.

"Open or closed casket?" you say.

"Closed," she says, and you nod, say it, that one word like a gate opening up onto another world: "What?"

Gwen steps through it with you, her arms crossed high on her chest.

"You don't—" she says, her voice soft, as if reconsidering. "I'm a teacher, Nick. English."

"What grade?" you ask, ready to file her answer away with the Town Car. You might even need a little flip-notebook soon, like a real detective. But then, instead of giving you a classification to write down, she says, "Remember how you had that crush on Miss White, in geometry?"

You still think about her every time you see a protractor in the right light.

Gwen closes her eyes, as if making herself say the next part. "Well, I'm Miss White now, I guess. Except the—the student. He's a lot more ... it's not as innocent, I mean."

"You have that effect," you tell her.

"Nick," she says back in her teacher voice.

Not bad.

"Then tell the principal," you say. "Call his parents in for a conference. Fail his narrow ass, Miss Gwen."

She just looks at you.

You breathe out through your nose, chew the inside of your cheek. "You want me to talk to him, right?"

She shakes her head "no" too fast, like she doesn't even have to think about it.

"He's our age," she says, in explanation.

You look to the concrete floor for a way to make this fit, but it doesn't. "What grade do you teach?" you finally ask.

"Tenth," she says. "But this was a special class. In Big Spring."

"Howard College?" It's the only one there, last you checked.

She flashes her eyes up to you. "The prison," she says.

Now you look to the open door. How wide it is. "And you told the cops?"

"They say he hasn't done anything," she says. "Untouchable, as long as he doesn't break his parole, or probation, whatever it is."

You nod, already knew all of that.

"Just to be clear," you say, in case she's wired or has a stenographer around the corner or something, "part of not being a private eye is not being a hit man either. Cool?"

"That's not what I want," she says, touching your arm now, the underside of her long nails cool, a place to hide. "You said you—that you provide security for this place."

You nod once.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from NOT for NOTHING by Stephen Graham Jones. Copyright © 2014 Stephen Graham Jones. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
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.

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  • Posted September 10, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    REVIEWED: Not for Nothing WRITTEN BY: Stephen Graham Jones PUBLI

    REVIEWED: Not for Nothing
    WRITTEN BY: Stephen Graham Jones
    PUBLISHED: March 18, 2014

    Not for Nothing is a gritty, twisting detective tale set in small-town Stanton, Texas, where everyone knows each other and business affairs are conducted by the ghosts of high school cliques. In fact, one of the clever and most successful elements of this story is the yearbook-esque feeling of it; the protagonist, Nick Bruiseman, a disgraced ex-cop and now-drunk security guard fumbles his way through a series of double crosses and murders, and all the time every person he comes in contact with —either friend, enemy, ex-lover, etc.—is from his school or is the child from someone from his school.

    The book is rather slow and leisurely to read, much like life in Stanton. The story is drenched in sadness and dejection, but also in humor and suspense. It has a hundred twists, and not all of them are necessary, but it’s a thrilling ride nonetheless. The narrative seemed a bit choppy at times, but that ties into Nick’s perpetually half-drunk take on the world around him. Then again, this style of writing seems to be a signature of the author, Stephen Graham Jones; reading him is as of someone verbally telling a story, with detours, hiccups, gaps, asides, and all other means of genuine conversation. Rather than polished-smooth, the writing is raw and legitimate and embodies an unfamiliar beauty.

    As a side note, after reading the first couple of pages, my mind slowly recoiled in a double-take of reluctant, dawning horror. This book was written in second person point of view: The audacity! The inhumanity! The dread! It’s a rare-enough feat to pull off a successful short story in this POV, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read a full-length book in this way which has held my interest (excepting childhood Choose-Your-Own-Adventures!), and I was instinctively averse to continue. However, Jones managed to build a story filled with empathy, sadness, humor, insight, that in retrospect seems integral to having been 2nd POV.

    Five out of Five stars

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