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Rule of the Bone: A Novel

Rule of the Bone: A Novel

4.2 44
by Russell Banks

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When we first meet him, Chappie is a punked-out teenager living with his mother and abusive stepfather in an upstate New York trailer park. During this time, he slips into drugs and petty crime. Rejected by his parents, out of school and in trouble with the police, he claims for himself a new identity as a permanent outsider; he gets a crossed-bones tattoo on his arm


When we first meet him, Chappie is a punked-out teenager living with his mother and abusive stepfather in an upstate New York trailer park. During this time, he slips into drugs and petty crime. Rejected by his parents, out of school and in trouble with the police, he claims for himself a new identity as a permanent outsider; he gets a crossed-bones tattoo on his arm, and takes the name "Bone."

He finds dangerous refuge with a group of biker-thieves, and then hides in the boarded-up summer house of a professor and his wife. He finally settles in an abandoned schoolbus with Rose, a child he rescues from a fast-talking pedophile. There Bone meets I-Man, an exiled Rastafarian, and together they begin a second adventure that takes the reader from Middle America to the ganja-growing mountains of Jamaica. It is an amazing journey of self-discovery through a world of magic, violence, betrayal and redemption.

Author Biography:

Russell Banks was raised in New Hampshire and eastern Massachusetts. The eldest of four children, he grew up in a working-class environment, which has played a major role in his writing.

Mr. Banks (who was the first in his family to go to college) attended Colgate University for less than a semester, and later graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before he could support himself as a writer, he tried his hand at plumbing, and as a shoe salesman and window trimmer. More recently, he has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence, University of New Hampshire, New England College, New York University and Princeton University.

A prolific writer of fiction,his titles include Searching for Survivors, Family Life, Hamilton Stark, The New World, The Book of Jamaica, Trailerpark, The Relation of My Imprisonment, Continental Drift, Success Stories, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone, and Cloudsplitter. He has also contributed poems, stories and essays to The Boston Globe Magazine, Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, Harper’s, and many other publications.

His works have been widely translated and published in Europe and Asia. Two of his novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (directed by Atom Goyan, winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (directed by Paul Schrader, starring Nick Nolte, Willem Dafoe, Sissy Spacek, and James Coburn). He is the screenwriter of a film adaptation of Continental Drift.

Mr. Banks has won numerous awards and prizes for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, Ingram Merrill Award, The St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, The John Dos Passos Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Continental Drift and Cloudsplitter were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and 1998 respectively. Affliction was short listed for both the PEN/Faulkner Fiction Prize and the Irish International Prize.

He has lived in a variety of places, from New England to Jamaica, which have contributed to the richness of his writing. He is currently living in upstate New York. The Angel On The Roof is his first collection of short stories in fifteen years.

Russell Banks is married to the poet Chase Twichell, and is the father of four grown daughters.

Editorial Reviews

Brad Hooper
In a voice totally authentic to its speaker, Banks narrates in first-person the sad story of a teenage boy whose aimlessness leads him to steal from his mother in order to buy pot; as a result, he is kicked out of the house. As a drifter, he's too young and inexperienced to take advantage of other people--he's taken advantage "of". His need for dope and shelter drives him to consort with types even more disreputable than himself. (The thing is, he's not really so bad, he's just been kicked around too much.) He decides that tracking down his real father in Jamaica is a priority. From that experience, he gains some wisdom that just might help him over the hurdle into responsible adulthood. Banks' previous novels have been eagerly sought, and this one should prove no exception.

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Read an Excerpt

Just Don'tTouch Anything

You'll probably think I'm making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I'm not. Besides, a lot of the things that've happened to me in my life so far which I'll get to pretty soon'll make me sound evil or just plain dumb or the tragic victim of circumstances. Which I know doesn't exactly prove I'm telling the truth but if I wanted to make myself look better than I am or smarter or the master of my own fate so to speak I could. The fact is the truth is more interesting than anything I could make up and that's why I'm telling it in the first place.

Anyhow my life got interesting you might say the summer I turned fourteen and was heavy into weed but I didn't have any money to buy it with so I started looking around the house all the time for things I could sell but therewasn't much. My mother who was still like my best friend then and my stepfather Ken had this decent house that my mother'd got in the divorce from my real father about ten years ago and about that she just says she got a mortgage not a house and about him she doesn't say much at all although my grandmother does. My mom and Ken both had these cheesy jobs and didn't own anything you could rob at least not without them noticing right away it was gone. Ken worked as a maintenance man out at the airbase which is like being a janitor only he said he was a building services technician and my mom was a bookkeeper at the clinic which is also a nothing job looking at a computer screen all day and punching numbers into it.

It actually started with me roaming around the house after school looking for something thatwasn't boring, porn books or videos maybe, or condoms. Anything. Plus who knows, they might have their own little stash of weed. My mom and especially Ken were seriously into alcohol then but maybe they aren't as uptight as they seem, I'm thinking. Anything is possible. The house was small, four rooms and a bathroom, a mobile home on cinderblocks like a regular house only without a basement or garage and no attic and I'd lived there with my mom and my real dad from the time I was three until he left which happened when I was five and after that with my mom and Ken who legally adopted me and became my stepfather up until now, so I knew the place like I knew the inside of my mouth.

I thought I'd poked through every drawer and looked into every closet and searched under every bed and piece of furniture in the place. I'd even pulled out all these old Reader's Digest novels that Ken had found out at the base and brought home to read someday but mainly just to look good in the livingroom and flipped them open one by one looking for one of those secret compartments that you can cut into the pages with a razor and hide things. Nothing. Nothing new, I mean. Except for some old photograph albums of my grandmother's that my mom had that I found in a box on the top shelf of the linen closet. My mom'd showed them to me a few years ago and I'd forgotten probably because they were mostly pictures of people I didn't know like my mom's cousins and aunts and uncles but when I saw them again this time I remembered once looking for pictures of my father from when he was still alive and well and living here in Au Sable and finding only one of him. It was of him and my mom and his car and I'd studied it like it was a secret message because it was the only picture of him I'd ever seen. You'dthought Grandma at least would've kept a few other snaps but no.

There was though this stack of letters tied with a ribbon in the same box as the albums that my father'd written to my mom for a few months after he left us. I'd never read them before and they turned out pretty interesting. The way it sounded my father was defending himself against my mom's accusations that he'd left us for this female named Rosalie who my mom said had been his girlfriend for years but he was claiming that Rosalie'd only been a normal friend of his at work and so on. He had good handwriting, neat and all the letters slanted the same way. Rosalie didn't matter to him anymore, he said. She never had. He said he wanted to come back. I almost felt sorry for him. Except I didn't believe him.

Plus I didn't need the letters my mom'd written to him in order to know her side of the story because even though I was only a little kid when this all happened I've got memories. If he was such a great guy and all how come he split on us and never sent any money or even tried to be in touch with his own son. My grandmother said just don't think about him anymore, he's probably living it up in some foreign country in the Caribbean or in jail for drugs. She goes, You don't have a father, Chappie. Forget him. She was tough, my grandmother, and I used to try and be like her when it came to thinking about my real father. I don't think she knew my mom'd saved my dad's letters. I bet my stepfather didn't know either.

Anyhow this one afternoon I came home from school early because I'd cut the last two periods which was just as well since I didn't have my homework anyhow and both teachers were the kind who boot you out of the class if you come in empty-handed, like it's a punishment that'll make you do better next time. I rummaged around in the fridge and made a bologna and cheese sandwich and drank one of my stepfather's beers and went into the livingroom and watched MTV for a while and played with the cat Willie who got spooked and took off when I accidentally flipped him on his head.

Then I started making my rounds. I really wanted some weed. It had been a couple of days since I'd been high and whenever I went that long I'd get jumpy and restless and kind of irritated at the world, feeling like everything and everyone was out to get me and I was no good and a failure at life which was basically true. A little smoke though and all that irritation and nervousness and my wicked low self-esteem immediately went away. They say weed makes you paranoid but for me it was the opposite.

I'd about given up on finding something in the house that I could rob--a personal possession that could be hocked like the TV or the VCR or the stereo would be instantly noticed when it was gone and all the rest of their stuff was boring household goods that you couldn't sell anyhow like electric blankets and a waffle iron and a clock radio. My mom didn't have any jewels that were worth anything except her wedding ring from my stepfather which she made a big deal out of but it looked like a WalMart's ring to me and besides she always had it on. They didn't even have any decent CDs, all their music was seventies stuff, disco fever and easy listening and suchlike, on cassettes. The only kind of robbing I thought was possible was big time like stealing my stepfather's van while he was asleep for example and I wasn't ready for that.

I was taking one more look into their bedroom closet, down on my hands and knees and groping past my mother's shoes into the darkness when I came to what I'd thought last time was just some folded blankets. But when I felt into the blankets I realized there was something large and hard inside. I pulled out the whole thing and unwrapped what turned out to be these two black briefcases that I'd never seen before.

I sat cross-legged on the floor and put the first briefcase on my lap thinking it was probably locked until it snapped open which surprised me but then the real surprise came when I lifted the lid and saw a .22 automatic rifle broken down into three parts just lying there with a rod and cleaning kit and a box of shells. It wasn't hard to fit the parts together, it even had a scope like an assassin's rifle and pretty soon I was into a Lee Harvey Oswald trip standing by the bedroom window and brushing the curtain away with the tip of the barrel and aiming through the scope at stuff on the street going Pow! Pow! I blasted a couple of dogs and blew away the mailman and nailed the drivers of cars going by for a while.

Then I remembered the other briefcase and went back to the closet and sat down and opened it. Inside are all these Baggies, thirty or forty of them filled with coins, mostly old quarters and Indian head nickels and even some weird-looking pennies with dates from way back in the early 1900s. Excellent discovery. I figure the rifle must belong to Ken and he stashes it in this briefcase on account of my mom always saying she's scared of guns and the coins too, I'm thinking, because if they were my mom's I would've known it since she pretty much told me everything in those days. Besides she wasn't the hobby type. Ken though was definitely the kind of guy who would have a cool gun and never show it to me or even tell me about it, plus he collected things like exotic beer cans and souvenir coffee mugs from the various theme parks they'd gone to and put them out on shelves where anyone could see although he was always telling me not to touch them because I never left things the way they were which is basically true.

I took the rifle apart and put it back in the briefcase and then I took a couple of coins from each of about six Baggies so he wouldn't know any were missing if he happened to check. Afterwards I wrapped the briefcases back in the blanket and put the bundle behind my mother's shoes in the closet where it had come from. Rule of the Bone. Copyright © by Russell Banks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 28, 1940
Place of Birth:
Newton, Massachusetts

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Rule of the Bone: Novel 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Uncanny look inside of the teenage mind with a wild ride to boot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this book right now. Almost done with it. As i was reading this book i couldnt put it down. it kept getting more interesting it was such a great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great! You go alot of places you dont expect to go. Excitin and a view into the battles youths are challenged with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rule of the Bone is an incredible book. We read it in my English class, and I couldn't put it down. I finished it long before the class did and was dissapointed when there was no more to read!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Rule fo the Bone is by far the best book I have ever read. It was interesting while still being somewhat down to earth. It may not be appropiate for everyone, but the profanity and other diversity added to the novel was actually almost unnoticable. I picked up the book because it looked different and I became so interested in it I forgot what was going on around me. From the beginning to the end, Russell Banks kept the story going without a dull moment. Thinking back, he covered just about every topic and ending up in a completely different place with a completely differnet feeling. This was not the typical teen story at all but was still apealing, which is probably why it interested me so much. I have never read a book like it, and probably never will. I also didn't find it 'whiney' in the least. The reviews and summery didn't even begin to cover the emotional and mental aspects. Banks' other novels don't compare ,however, he is now my favorite author and writes so uniquely i forget it's not real. I recommend Rule fo the Bone for anyone who is not interested by many other books, and doesn't mind going places that other writers are afraid to go.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great story. The usaul: coming of age for older teens Not so usual: Unique way in which Banks points out the intelligence and innocene of Chappie, the main character and adventurous nature of the story. Chappie is not whinny, he's real. He's young and Banks portrays this well. As flawed as Chappie is, he's also what many of us should be. Banks creates a character full of contridications, making it possible for us to disagree and dislike Chappie, but unable to deny the fact that he has something that much of this world lacks. It may not always be presented straighforwardly thorugh specific words, but it's there for us all to find. As in any good coming of age story, the character doesn't just go through his or her experiences for the heck of it, they do it to teach us something, to show us something, whether we want to see it or not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books that I have ever read. I thought that anyone over the age of 13 should read this book. It is kinda strong for kids under that age because there are lots of bad things in it. but I recommend reading this book. That kid who said it was bad was definitly wrong, in my opinion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book my freshman year in high school. I hated reading but I chose this book for silent reading in class. I didn't know much about the book by reading the back cover but I thought I could sleep thrugh it and make up a book report because my teacher never read it. Well I was wrong. I couldn't sleep through it because I was to interested in it. This is my favorite book. I could relate to it because I was around Chappies age. When I gave my book report my teacher became so interested due to my enthusiasm about it, she bought herself a copy to read over summer. Great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this book, I really did, but unfortunatly I didn't. The book is supposed to make you empathise with Chappie, but it came off as whining and crying, he might as well have just said: 'Please feel sorry for me'. There was too much self-pity in the character, and not too much to feel sorry for.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is awsome, i likedit alot and i dont even like to read at all. and chappie has a mohawk, thats cool. i think its a great book that shows alot about teenage life and getting into drugs and not having people that understand or at least try to understand what you are going through. it also shows that everyone needs love and when you get close to someone they leave you, it sucks. but the truth of the matter is that 'rule of the bone' is agreat book, that once you begin reading you wont want to put the book down. and i love chappie......you guys out there should sit down and read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a pretty avid reader and usually enjoy whatever it is I read, I'm no critic or literary expert...i tend to read simply for enjoyment and to escape. That being said, this book has had a profound effect on me, I read it in 3 days, and re-read it a week later. It's funny, sad, exciting, and most importantly, real. I strongly suggest this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book pretty much changed how i feel about my life right now, and the search to find i-self. I put myself right in Bone's body and really connected with every emotion that he feels throughout his journey. The character are all so realistic and so amazing. I immediately read the book again it's so bloody brilliant, if you don't read this, you're truly missing out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has just no point to it the plot is weak, the characters are weak, and the story line is weak. At first it seemed like the author was trying to write some thing that could really happen, trying to make a point of something about crime or life, but the book goes of on a bunch of stuff that would never really happen. If you like to read pointless stuff that just talks about pot, some magical truth, and sex then by all means read this book. If you want a book that actually has a point read something else.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rule of the Bone is a great read for the first three-quarters of the book. After that, it almost feels like an entirely different book by a less capable author. This is clearly Banks' attempt at a modern day Huckleberry Finn. Nonetheless, it's worth reading.