The Inhabited World

The Inhabited World

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by David Long

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The eighth book from an award-winning and acclaimed author, The Inhabited World is Long's most gripping and profound work.

Evan Molloy—a son, husband, and stepfather—fatally shot himself but doesn’t know why. He is stuck in a state of purgatory in the house in Washington State where he lived and died. The woman who now lives there, Maureen

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The eighth book from an award-winning and acclaimed author, The Inhabited World is Long's most gripping and profound work.

Evan Molloy—a son, husband, and stepfather—fatally shot himself but doesn’t know why. He is stuck in a state of purgatory in the house in Washington State where he lived and died. The woman who now lives there, Maureen Keniston, is in her late thirties and is trying to restart her life after breaking off a long affair with a married man. The novel deftly moves back and forth between the story of Evan's troubled life and Maureen's efforts to emerge from her own purgatory. In watching Maureen's struggles and ultimate triumph, Evan comes to see his own life and death in a completely new way.

Part psychological drama, part absorbing mystery, The Inhabited World paints a stirring portrait of a man caught between this world and the next and a woman who unwittingly offers him a sort of redemption he never could have predicted.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gripping...meticulous...The Inhabited World reads like the most intelligent mystery you'll ever pick up."—Pete Fromm, author of "As Cool As I Am" and "How All This Started"

"This is a terrific novel, and you can't help thinking, from time to time, that in a better world David Long would be a famous writer. But, as the book makes pretty clear, there is no better world; just this one. And when the words are right, even this world is sweet enough." -The New York Times Book Review

"(B)eautifully considered, with a crystalline calm at its center." -The Boston Globe Boston Globe

"Long is a lovely craftsman, with alternating sharpness and gentleness to his style. His portraits of relationship breakups are snapshot clean, often devastating." - The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times

"Long has a keen and sympathetic eye for observing the daily business of living."—Barbara Lloyd McMichael Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer

"Luminous . . . lovely . . . This is a terrific novel."—Terrence Rafferty The New York Times Book Review

"Poignant and haunting."—Brad Zellar Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Terrence Rafferty
This is a terrific novel, and you can�t help thinking, from time to time, that in a better world David Long would be a famous writer. But, as the book makes pretty clear, there is no better world; just this one. And when the words are right, even this world is sweet enough.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A voyeuristic ghost examines his life and his reasons for ending it in this intriguing but slight psychological drama from Long (The Falling Boy). Evan Malloy has haunted his Seattle-area home since his suicide in 1992, but it isn't until the summer of 2002, when single 30-something Maureen Keniston moves in, that Evan discovers the purpose of his restless afterlife. As Maureen tries to end a two-year affair with a married doctor, Evan reflects on his own infidelities and failed marriage. Despite the one-sided relationship between the haunter and haunted-Evan remains undetectable to the world of the living-Long manages to build suspense as Evan recounts the events that took him from happily married man to suicidal failure. Evan's and Maureen's hunt for the strength and wisdom to escape their "conditions" anchors this ghost story in the simple tale of two lost souls figuring out what they need from this world. Nevertheless, Long's languid prose gives a fairy tale quality to his protagonists' domestic crises and emphasizes their shared babe-in-the-woods innocence, making them difficult to identify with and easy to forget about. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A ghost recalls his life, which culminated in suicide, in this low-key novel from Long (The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux, 2000, etc.). It's 2002, ten years since narrator Evan Molloy shot himself at age 42, and only now are all his memories becoming clear. Evan had a house in Seattle; as a ghost, he is confined to the house and yard. He cannot manifest himself to the living, or intervene on their behalf, though he would like to help the current occupant, a single woman having difficulty ending an affair with a demanding married man (her story runs parallel with Evan's). His feebleness in death mirrors the feebleness of his life, which he takes us through, ploddingly. He always lived in the Seattle area and had an okay childhood, though his mother split for Africa. His first job was as a business consultant. His first love, Claudia, became his wife; they were wildly happy at first, but after three years, Evan is unfaithful to her, with Frannie, a coworker. Why? He can't explain it. Sex must have been part of the reason, but Long won't write sex, which only matters here because it plays such a central role. Evan ends his affair (again, we don't know why) at the exact moment Claudia learns of it. She leaves him. More than a decade later, they re-marry, Claudia bringing with her Janey, the difficult child of her failed second marriage. Once again, a happy marriage falls apart, and it's all Evan's fault. He gets angry for no reason. Claudia and Janey move out; his boss gives him a leave of absence. Evan's optional suicide ("mine was a surmountable despair") has no trigger; it is not artistically satisfying. How very different from a classic suicide novel such as O'Hara's Appointment inSamarra, where the drama flows from the gathering inevitability of the act. If Evan had taken the right meds (he'd been on antidepressants), we might have had a happy ending. Evan is a dull protagonist, his decisions left unilluminated.

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

Evan Patrick Molloy

When he looks at his hand, he sees the hand he remembers—ropy branching veins, a ridge of waxy skin on the inside of the wrist where he fumbled a glowing iron rod at his father’s forge one afternoon in 1966. When he looks at his legs in their rumpled khakis or their attenuated shadows crossing the ground, when he looks in a mirror, it’s his own long angular face he sees, palpable enough, a three-day beard, the familiar blue-gray eyes with lush black lashes (often mentioned by women: Swear to god, Evan, if I had lashes like yours), the same sandy hair, a decent haircut grown out, and under it the skull, walled city of the brain, miraculously intact.

Day and night, he navigates around the house and yard, seeing what there is to see, taking stock. As often as he’s made this circuit, he’s not sick of it; being sick of things is no longer in his repertoire—it’s as if the exact site of boredom in his brain has been drilled out. When he reaches the property line, he stops. Why not keep walking, another step, shoe on gravel? But a force like gravity keeps him here—the farther he gets from the house, the weaker his resolve to leave it. And he doesn’t exactly take steps now. It’s more like he’s in one spot, then another. Not so different from the way he used to move in dreams, the constant pummeling dislocations: this, this, this. Except now it’s not jarring and requires no more effort than progressing from one frame of film to the next. Which also explains how he can sit in a chair, or for that matter stand on solid ground, yet pass through walls and floors. The answer: He doesn’t pass through anything, just (though the mechanics of it elude him) places himself on the other side.

The year is 2002; it’s a summer’s day, breezy and cloudless. Shielding his eyes, Evan stands in the rutted lane that marks the far edge of this irregular lot he once owned. He looks out across the snarls of blackberry vine where the hill drops away, over the tiled roofs and chimney caps and glinting antennas. Puget Sound is slate blue, crowned in whitecaps. He watches the silent progression of tankers and container ships—Maersk, Hanjin. People at work. Gulls sail past, whisked sideways by the wind. He takes his hand from his eyes, buries it in his pocket, moves along.
The fact is, he can no more remember the gunshot than he can his birth. It was a rainy afternoon in February. Ten years ago, 1992. That’s all he can say. The day itself is mostly blank, a stubborn gap in the record. It’s the same for the gray weeks leading him there, a chain of minor actions and omissions, cramped thoughts, sickness. Now and then a new fact works free and bubbles up, a new image to wonder at, teasing him, telling him that what he craves to know is not altogether lost, only out of reach; more will come in due time. What’s “due time” to a man in his position? When he’s ready, it must mean.

What he does remember is the constant rain, water ringing in the downspout, a metallic sound that might’ve been hypnotic and soothing, but wasn’t. Sleep had become a pool so shallow it barely covered him. He’d undress and lie down, exhausted, but wouldn’t have taken more than a few dozen unencumbered breaths before it began to drain, exposing him to consciousness again. Afraid of disturbing Claudia, he’d started using a daybed downstairs in the room he called his office. Only later, after she and her daughter had left, did he methodically seal its one tall window with tinfoil and begin twisting pink paraffin plugs into his ears before bed: sounds bored into him, background noise wouldn’t stay in the background. He didn’t so much wake as finally admit that he’d been awake, hours maybe—no longer was there much of a dividing line between what he dreamed and thoughts he’d ground away at, semiconscious. He’d been given sleeping pills—they worked at first, then didn’t. If he multiplied the dose, he woke late but unrefreshed, with all the ambition of a Raggedy Andy. There was another kind that messed up his inner ear, and one that wore off at four in the morning.

But now when daylight comes, Evan’s waiting in an east-facing dormer or out back in the wet grass. The dread is gone. There’s no more of that Aw, Christ, what time is it—? If the sky’s clear, sunlight spills through the hemlocks and twisty madronas on the ridge. He and Claudia often walked there, the curls of papery madrona bark crackling underfoot. The flies will already be up, spits of shadow against the white shed. The first thermals will stir, the first few songbirds, the first crow. If it’s socked in, he’ll hear the foghorns—long blast, then short, short, rumbling his rib cage, sending flurries of gooseflesh down the insidees of his arms.

He remembers the sore jaw muscles, the sore clenched muscles where his rib cage met his stomach, cramping from hours of unnnnnconscious bearing down, and the cords at the base of his skull—he could almost feel them thrumming like heavy steel cables. He remembers his temper, trivial outbursts, the heel of his hand thumping the car’s steering wheel, the office door rebounding with an almost musical whang. He’d never been hotheaded as a kid—excitable, sure, but no knot of frustration. And his voice, so mopey and self-sick toward the end. Even at the time, though, whining, ripping into Claudia for no reason, he’d known how he sounded—it was as if part of him were listening from backstage, perplexed, wondering what his big gripe was.

He’d love to know if he had put the gun to his mouth more than once. Made a dry run. It would’ve been like him to do that. Or had he meant to go through with it but stalled long enough for part of him to start cajoling like a Good Samaritan, Look, don’t, OK? C’mon, lower your arm? (Funny how he was always talking about parts of himself.) Maybe he had lowered his arm; maybe he’d survived that moment. But whatever he said to himself, or failed to say, he hadn’t rid the house of the gun. He’d let it stay.

Ironically, he’d never owned so much as a cap pistol; after returning from the war in the Pacific, his father would have absolutely nothing to do with firearms. No, the gun had belonged to Claudia, pressed on her by her second husband, who’d worried about her when he traveled and insisted she take instruction at a firing range. She hadn’t minded squeezing off rounds at the paper targets, she told Evan—anything Claudia did, she was driven to do well. But she never liked having a weapon around—felt less safe, if anything. Nonetheless, it had come with her to this house on Madrona Street. Evan is positive they discussed what to do with it, but clearly no decision was reached. In the meantime, the gun had been stored on a high shelf in the cellar, swaddled in a blue T-shirt inside a steel canister, with gnarled picture- frame wire wound again and again through the hasp in lieu of a padlock.

He’d love to see himself going down the stairs to the basement, the look in his eyes. He’d love to know what he’d been doing just before that, what he’d thought as he woke that morning. But there’s no black box, no indestructible tape to rewind. Just memory—impaired, fluky, with a will of its own. What he does know: He’s steeped in aftermath, as changed as steam is from water, as water from ice.

Copyright © 2006 by David Long. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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