The New York Times
Ten Thousand Saintsby Eleanor Henderson
In the roiling, electrified streets of New York City in the 1980s, Eliza, Jude, and Johnny each show up wanting a place to hide—from everything that has gone wrong, big and small, in their short lives. These three, thrown together by their parents’ mistakes and their own, and by the accidental death of a teenage boy, find their regrets transformed into… See more details below
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In the roiling, electrified streets of New York City in the 1980s, Eliza, Jude, and Johnny each show up wanting a place to hide—from everything that has gone wrong, big and small, in their short lives. These three, thrown together by their parents’ mistakes and their own, and by the accidental death of a teenage boy, find their regrets transformed into a single, covert mission. Possibility shines from every neglected, graffitied surface. Possibility rings in the hardcore music and seething energy of the city’s underground scene. But as they pursue the intoxicating promise of redemption and new life, their secret threatens to crush their alliance with its impossibly heavy burden.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
Screwed-up parents beget screwed-up kids. So it's no surprise that an ill-omened teen pregnancy is the centerpiece of this bold debut, a heady witches' brew.
Teddy and Jude, best friends in their mid-teens, have big problems. Jude was adopted at birth, possibly suffering from fetal-alcohol effects. His adoptive parents, Les and Harriet, are feckless potheads, Les growing pot, Harriet making drug paraphernalia. When Jude turns nine, Harriet evicts Les for cheating on her; Jude hasn't seen him since. As for Teddy, his Indian father is supposedly dead; his white mother, a sloppy drunk, has just split. The boys skateboard through their Vermont town, getting high and shoplifting at will. On this last day of 1987, they have a date with Eliza, a total stranger but the daughter of Les' girlfriend. At 15, she's already a cokehead and sexually promiscuous. They gatecrash a party. Eliza gives Teddy cocaine before they have sex in a bathroom and she returns to New York. Back out in the cold, Jude's idea that they inhale Freon is a step too far; he almost dies and Teddy does die, but he will haunt the novel, for he has made Eliza pregnant. All this could be depressing, but it's not, thanks to the barbed language and fast pacing. And Henderson's just getting started. Les shows up to remove Jude to Alphabet City, the ravaged Manhattan neighborhood where he lives. A near neighbor is Teddy's 18-year-old half brother Johnny, whose role becomes increasingly prominent. Johnny is a tattoo artist and musician, as well as a straight-edge hardcore punk (no booze, no drugs). Although a closeted gay, he chivalrously offers to marry Eliza and claim paternity to thwart Eliza's mother, who's pushing for adoption. This is where Henderson loses the thread, wobbling uncertainly between Jude, Johnny and Eliza while doing double duty as a counterculture guide to the straight-edge scene. Context overwhelms characters, the unwieldy cast now including Johnny's AIDS-stricken lover and Teddy's Indian father.
Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that's missing is discipline.
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Ten Thousand Saints
By Eleanor Henderson
EccoCopyright © 2012 Eleanor Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIs it dreamed?" Jude asked Teddy. "Or dreamt?"
Beneath the stadium seats of the football field, on the last
morning of 1987 and the last morning of Teddy's life, the
two boys lay side by side, a pair of snow angels bundled in
thrift store parkas. If you were to spy them from above, between the
slats of the bleachers - or smoking behind the school gym, or sliding
their skateboards down the stone wall by the lake - you might
confuse one for the other. But Teddy was the dark haired one, Jude
the redhead. Teddy wore opalescent, fat-tongued Air Jordans, both
toes bandaged with duct tape, and dangling from a cord around his
neck, a New York City subway token, like a golden quarter. Jude
was the one in Converse high-tops, the stars Magic Markered into
pentagrams, and he wore his red hair in a devil lockshort in the
back and long in the front, in a fin that sliced between his eyes to
his chin. Unless you'd heard of the Misfits, not the Marilyn Monroe
movie but the horror-rock/glam-punk band, and if you were living
in Lintonburg, Vermont, in 1987, you probably hadn't, you'd never
seen anything like it.
"Either," said Teddy.
They were celebrating Jude's sixteenth birthday with the dregs
of last night's bowl. Jude leaned over and tapped the crushed soda
can against Teddy's elbow, and Teddy sat up to take his turn. His
eyes were glassy, and a maple leaf, brittle and threadbare from its
months spent under the snow, clung to his hair. Since Jude had
known him Teddy had worn an immense pair of bronze frames with
lenses as thick as windowpanes and, for good measure, a second bar
across the top. But last week Teddy had spent all his savings on a
pair of contact lenses, and now Jude thought he looked mole-eyed
and barefaced, exposed, as Jude's father had the time he'd made the
mistake of shaving his beard.
With one hand Teddy balanced the bud on the indentation of
the can, over the perforations Jude had made with a paper clip, lit
it with the other, and like a player of some barnyard instrument, he
put his lips to the mouth of the can and inhaled. Across his face,
across the shadowed expanse of snow stubbled grass, bars of sunlight
brightened and then paled. "It's done," he announced and
tossed the can aside.
Bodies had begun to fill the grandstand above, galoshes and
duck boots filing cautiously down the rows, families of anoraks
eclipsing the meager sun. Jude could hear the patter of their voices,
the faraway din of a sound system testing, testing, the players cleating
through the grass, praying away the snow. Standing on his
wobbly legs, Jude examined their cave. They were fenced in on all
sides - the seats overhead, the football field in front, a concrete wall
behind them. Above the wall, however, was a person-size perimeter
of open space, through which Teddy and Jude had climbed not
long before, first launching their skateboards in ahead of them, then
scaling the scaffoolding on the outside, then tumbling over the wall,
catlike, ten feet into the dirt. They'd done it twenty times before, but
never while people were in the stadium - they'd managed to abstain
from their town's tepid faith in its Division III college football team;
they abstained from all things football, and all things college. They
hadn't expected there to be a game on New Year's Eve.
Now Jude paced under the seats and stopped five or six rows
from the front. Above him, hanging from the edge of one of the
seats, was a pair of blue-jeaned legs. A girl. Jude could see the dirty
heels of her tennis shoes, but not much else. He reached up, the
frozen fingers through his fingerless gloves inches away from her
foot, but instead of enclosing them around the delicate bones of her
ankle, he lifted the yellow umbrella at her feet. He slid it without a
sound across the concrete and down into his arms.
"What are you doing?" whispered Teddy, suddenly at Jude's
elbow. "Why are we stealing an umbrella?"
Jude sprung it open and looked it over. "It's not the umbrella
we're stealing," he whispered back, closing it. Walking into the
shadows a few rows back, he held it over his head, curved handle
up, like a hook. In the bleachers above, there were purses between
feet, saving seats, unguarded, alone, and inside, wallets fat with cash.
Teddy and Jude had no money and no pot and, since this morning,
nothing to smoke it out of but an empty can of Orange Slice.
Last night they'd shared a jug of Carlo Rossi and the pot they'd
found in the glove box of Teddy's mom's car, while they listened
to Metallica's first album, Kill 'Em All, which skipped, and to Teddy's
mom, Queen Bea, who had her own stash of booze, getting
sick in the bathroom, retch, flush, retch, flush. Around midnight,
they'd taken what was left of the pot and skated to Jude's to get
some sleep, but in their daze had left Jude's bong behind. When
they returned to Teddy's in the morning (this was the rhythm of
their days, three rights and a left to Teddy's, a right and three lefts
to Jude's), the bong - the color changing Pyrex bong Jude's mother
had given Jude that morning as an early birthday giftwas gone. So
were Queen Bea's clothes, her car, her toothbrush, her sheets. Jude
and Teddy wandered the house, flipping switches. The lights didn't
work; nothing hummed or blinked. The house was frozen with an
unnatural stillness. Jude, shivering, found a candle and lit it. When
Teddy opened the liquor cabinet, it was also emptythis was the
final, irrefutable clueexcept for a bottle of Liquid Plumerand a film
of dust, in which Teddy wrote with a finger, fuck.
Beatrice McNicholas had run away a few times before. She'd go
out for a six pack and come home a week later, with a new haircut
and old promises. (She was no nester or nurturer; she was Queen
Bea for her royal size.) But she'd never taken her liquor with her, or
anything of Teddy and Jude's.
The boys had stolen enough from her over the years to call it
even. Five dollar bills, maybe tens, that Queen Bea would be too
drunk to miss in the morning, liquor, cigarettes. She was the kind
of unsystematic drunk whose hiding places changed routinely but
remained routinely unimaginative - ten minutes of hunting through
closets and drawers (she cleaned other people's houses, but her own
was a sty) could almost always turn up something. Pot was more
difficult to find at Jude's house - his mom's hippie habits were somewhat
reformed, and though she condoned Jude's experimentation
(an appreciation for a good bong was just about all Harriet and Jude
had in common), occasional flashes of parental guilt drove her to
hide her contraband in snug and impenetrable places that recalled
Russian nesting dolls. In Harriet's studio, Jude had once found a
Ziploc of pot inside a bag of Ricola cough drops inside a jumbo box
of tampons inside a toolbox. While Queen Bea seemed only mildly
aware that teenagers lived in her midst, sweeping them off her porch
like stray cats, Harriet had a sharp eye, a peripheral third lens in her
bifocals that was always ready to probe the threat of fast fingered
boys. So Jude and Teddy stole what was around: a roll of quarters
from her dresser, the box of chocolates Jude's sister, Prudence,
had given her for Mother's Day. They took more pleasure in what
they stole out in the world: magazines and beer from Shop Smart
(Shop Fart), video game cartridges from Sears (Queers), and
cassettes from the Record Room, where Kram O'Connor and Clarence
Delph worked. And half the items in Jude's possession - clothes,
records, homework - were stolen, without discretion, from Teddy.
But this bold-faced thievery beneath the bleachers embarrassed
Teddy. It was so obvious, so doomed to failure. Sometimes Teddy
thought that was the prize Jude wanted - not the money or the beer
or the cigarettes but the confrontation, the pleasure of testing the
limits. Jude was standing on tiptoe, umbrella still raised like a torch,
eyeing the spilled contents of a lady's bag. His tongue, molluscan
and veined with blue, was wedged in concentration in the cleft
under his nose.
"Hey," said someone.
Teddy tried to stand very still.
A pair of eyes, upside-down, was framed between the seats above
them. It took Teddy a few seconds to grasp their orientation - the
girl was leaning over, her head draped over the ledge. "What are you
doing?" she said.
Jude smiled up at her. "You dropped your umbrella."
"No, I didn't." The girl had her hands cupped around her eyes
now, staring down into the dark. No one else seemed to notice.
"It fell," Jude insisted, hoisting the umbrella up to the girl, his
arm outstretched, letting it tickle one of her fingers.
"Just give it back," said Teddy. It was the way Jude always made
him feeltangled up in some stupid, trivial danger. Teddy closed
his eyes. He didn't have time to mess around; his mother was gone.
He needed money, more money than Jude could pickpocket with
an umbrella. His body clenched with his last memory of her - the
acrid, scotch-y stink of her vomit through the bathroom door; the
blathering hiccups of her sobs. Had she been crying because she
was leaving, or just because she was wasted?
Then the umbrella, the pointy part, speared him in the gut.
"Ow, man." Teddy opened his eyes.
"You were supposed to catch it," said Jude.
Teddy looked up into the bleachers. The girl was gone. But
a moment later, a pair of blue-jeaned legs appeared over the wall
They watched as the girl jumped from the ledge, her jacket parachuting
as she plummeted. She landed feet first and fell forward to
catch her balance, then strutted a slow motion, runway strut in their
direction. She stopped a car length away and stood with her hands
on her hips, inspecting them. Her eyes were shining with disdain.
If you were a girl, Jude Keffy-Horn was a person you looked at,
hard, and then didn't look at again. His blue eyes, set wide apart,
watched the world from under hooded lids, weighed down by
distrust, THC, and a deep, hormonal languor. A passing stranger
would not have guessed them to be the eyes of a hyperactive teenager
with attention deficit disorder, but his mouth, which rarely rested,
betrayed him. He was thin in the lip, fairly broad in the forehead, tall
and flat in the space between mouth and upturned nose, the whole
plane of his face scattered with freckles usurped daily by a lavender
brand of acne. He wore not one but two retainers. He wasn't tall,
but he was built like a tall person, with skinny arms and legs and big
knees and elbows that knocked around when he walked. He wasn't
bad looking. He was good looking enough. He was the kid whose
name you knew only because the teacher kept calling it. Jude. Jude.
Mr. Keffy-Horn, is that a cigarette you're rolling?
Teddy shared Jude's uniform, his half swallowed smirk, but due
to the blood of his Indian father (Queen Bea was purebred white
trash), his hair was the blue-black of comic book villains, his
complexion as dark and smooth as a brown eggshell. By the population
of Ira Allen High School he was rumored halfheartedly to be Jewish,
Arab, Mexican, Greek, and most often, simply "Spanish." When
Jude had asked, Teddy had told him "Indian," then quipped, nearly
indiscernibly, for he was a mumbler, "Gandhi, not Geronimo." With
everyone else, though, he preferred to allow his identity to flourish in
the shadowed domain of myth. Teddy's eyelashes were long, like the
bristles of a paintbrush; through his right eyebrow was an ashen scar
from the time he'd spilled off his skateboard at age ten. Then his face
had been cherubic; now, at fifteen, it had sloughed off the baby fat
and gone angular as a paper airplane. He had a delicate frame; he had
an Adam's apple like a brass knuckle; he had things up the sleeve of
that too big coat - a Chinese star, the wire of a Walkman, a cigarette
for after class, which he was always more careful than Jude to conceal.
What's that kid up to?
That was the way the girl was looking at both of them now, under
the bleachers. "What are you people doing down here?"
Jude stabbed the umbrella into the ground. "Hanging out."
"Are you smoking marijuana?"
"You can't smell it," Jude said. "We're out in the open."
"Can I have my umbrella, please?"
"Why? It's not raining."
"It's supposed to snow, for your information."
"Oh, for my information, okay. It's a snow umbrella." Now he
was pretending that the umbrella was a gun. He held it cocked at his
hip, the metal tip against his cheek, ready to shoot around a corner.
"Jude," Teddy said. "Over here."
He clapped his hands, and Jude obediently, joyfully tossed him
"Motherfucking monkey in the middle!" said Jude.
Teddy walked three paces toward the girl, head down, and
returned it to her.
Excerpted from Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson Copyright © 2012 by Eleanor Henderson. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. 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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Meet the Author
Eleanor Henderson earned her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2005. An associate professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and two sons.
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