The Last Boyby Robert H. Lieberman
Robert Lieberman, the bestselling author of Baby, as well as six other novels, has been called a "talented storyteller" by Kirkus Reviews. Now, Robert joins Sourcebooks Landmark with his stunning new novel, The Last Boy.
A spiritual thriller, this utterly compelling novel tells the story of Danny Driscoll, a huggable, enchanting five-year-old boy who one day
Robert Lieberman, the bestselling author of Baby, as well as six other novels, has been called a "talented storyteller" by Kirkus Reviews. Now, Robert joins Sourcebooks Landmark with his stunning new novel, The Last Boy.
A spiritual thriller, this utterly compelling novel tells the story of Danny Driscoll, a huggable, enchanting five-year-old boy who one day disappears from his nursery school in Ithaca, New York. Molly, his distraught single mother, begins the feverish search for her missing son. She is aided by Lou Tripoli, a divorced, street-wise cop, with whom she begins to fall in love.
As the search stretches on for months, and hope begins to fade, a miracle occurs as little Danny Driscoll comes marching down the streets of his hometown. However, he comes back changed, mature and wise in a way that seems almost impossible for his young age. As Molly and Tripoli search for answers, the townspeople begin to notice a change in Danny, and soon discover that he returns with a message-one that offers a new hope for all of mankind.
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Read an Excerpt
In Ithaca, New York, traffic signals are controlled by a central computer that usually keeps traffic flowing. Local and state police agencies are linked by fiber-optic networks, and news travels at the speed of light.
A small boy walks up the north side of Green Street past the photo store and Diamond's Indian Restaurant. Though the afternoon is chilly, in fact downright cold for October, the child seems skimpily dressed in his red flannel shirt with blue and yellow lines, bib jeans, and sneakers. Perhaps because he is so short, a little kid of four or five, no one appears to notice him. He walks with a determined stride as if he knows where he's going, has done this beforethough neither is true. Reaching the safety of the sidewalk, the child wends his way through a small cluster of shoppers leaving the Woolworth's department store.
A frail old woman, with her once fine coat buttoned up against the wind, is standing on the sidewalk in front of the store, staring aimlessly at the sky. She lowers her gaze to watch the little boy as he darts diagonally across the busy intersection, the traffic swirling around him. Clutching her thin coat tighter to her throat, the old woman continues to peer at the child as he progresses up the street. Her skin stretches taut on the bones of her face, tissue thin, revealing the blueness of the veins that course just below the surface. She, too, appears to be out of place amidst the driving bustle of people on the street. And only she seems to notice the incongruity of the little boy's solitary presence.
Shoppers and workers rush past,hurrying to catch the bus that has just pulled up, nearly knocking the child over. Where's his mother? the old woman wonders. Her children would never be out alone like this, not at his age. She briefly tries to remember how old her children are, but becomes muddled as the memories wash over her. She knows they are a bit older. Maybe a lot older. Maybe not.
As he nears, she steps forward to meet him, her gait a little unsteady.
"Aren't you a little young to be crossing streets by yourself, young man?" she inquires as she tries to block his path.
"Huh?" says the little boy, looking up at her warily. His nose is running.
"What's your name?"
"Danny Driscoll." He starts to edge around her.
"Does your mother know where you are, Danny?"
"I'm okay," he says, wiping his nose with his sleeve and continuing his march up the street.
"Wait a minute!" The old woman calls after the little boy. She attempts to keep pace with him, but quickly tires and abandons the effort. She steps back to lean against the store's wall and catch her breath. A jet descending toward the Ithaca airport skims by overhead, the whine of its engines piercing the snowy clouds. It captures the old woman's attention and her eyes shift skyward. When at last she again looks up the street, the little boy is gone and she has already forgotten her purpose. Suddenly she remembers: "My little Mary is forty-six ... no ... forty-eight," she murmurs under her breath. The sky broke open for an instant, yielding a chink of blue in the sea of heavy gray. Then the sun, half buried behind the western hills above the lake, suddenly burst through the gloom. The sunlight flooded the valley with a final but fading flare, causing the maples behind the magazine's office to flame a spectacular red and splashing a blazing shaft of golden yellow against Molly's computer screen.
Molly Driscoll hadn't realized how late it was until that final flash of sun caught her attention. She had been so absorbed in work, putting out fires as Larry called it, that the day had just slipped by. The office was often a madhouse, but Molly loved it, thrived on it, fed on the excitement. Had Doreen not reminded her, she might have forgotten lunch. It was almost three before she had stopped for a quick sandwich. That was the way it was in this new job. Larry Pierce was the kind of guy who made you want to give everything.
It was only in the late afternoon that Molly began to think about Danny. They had both overslept that morningthe alarm had failed to go off, and she had had to yank Danny out of bed, frantically throwing on her own clothes while getting him dressed, too. She had packed a lunch and then stood over Danny in the kitchen of their trailer, rushing him through his oatmeal.
"Come on, Honey. You can eat in the carwe've got to run."
"It's too hot. I can't eat it!" he complained as she shepherded him to the old Chevy. She had run back to the trailer to pour on more milk to cool it. The runny cereal kept dribbling down his sleepy chin as they drove to town.
Shortly into the ride, Danny had a coughing fit and put down the half-eaten bowl. At first Molly thought that he was choking on the cereal, but then suspected that he was coming down with another cold. He always seemed to be picking things up at Kute Kids. A couple of weeks before, Danny had gotten a stomach bug and she had taken the entire day off. Last week her wreck of a Chevy wouldn't start and she lost half the morning. Well, she thought grimly, unless Danny had a fever he had to go to daycare. The crew at the Upstater magazine pulled together as a team and she couldn't leave them in the lurch yet again. And these days, jobs in an Ithaca of darkened and emptied downtown stores were scarce. Especially decent-paying ones with a promising future. Day jobs. And working at the magazine was a hell of a lot more stimulatingnot to say more respectablethan her nights cocktail waitressing at the Ramada where the construction workers from the new bypass on Route 13 stared down her top as she served them drinks.
The publication was a small operation. Larry ran it with three editors, two editorial assistants, and the newest additionMolly. She was essentially the secretarywith a fancier titlebut the job came with the promise of advancement to assistant, then, maybe, some day, to full editor. A dream job. People like Doreen and Sandy and Ben could come and go as they pleased, sometimes even work at home if they wanted to.
Now, as the sun sank behind the hills, it was nearly 5:30, and Molly was eager to leave but didn't dare until Larry started packing up or gave her the nod. Her boss was a tall man, somewhere in his forties, she guessed, an exuberant, entrepreneurial type with a head of dark, curly hair and strong, chiseled featuresthe kind of man who knew how to get things done. Before coming to Ithaca, he apparently had been a hotshot executive at New York Magazine. All it took was a call from him and he had a guy like Danny DeVito in town visiting the local wineries and generating a piece in the Upstater.
Molly thought him a bit vain: he worked out to keep himself trim and always had a bright-colored handkerchief folded into the breast pocket of his suit. She had seen him around town with a number of different women. Some of them were married. Ostensibly it was for business, but Molly wonderednot that it was any of her concern. "He's a dandy," she often thought to herself with a half smile. The kind of guys who had always attracted her were more rough and tumble, men who were a bit on the outs with society. Like her ex.
Now the office was empty, silent except for the sound of Larry's voice. He was still on the phone. Molly was about to call Kute Kids to let them know she'd be a little late, but an important fax came in and she got distracted. Then the other lines started ringing. A writer in Vermont hadn't received his check. An artist was still missing two photos that he needed to retouch. Panic. Panic.
Once it passed 5:30, Molly started getting anxious. She really needed to pick up Danny by six when they closed Kute Kids. If parents came late, they were fined. And the fines were hefty$15 for the first fifteen minutes, $25 for every ten minutes thereafter. Mrs. Oltz, the director, was usually pretty pissed about it, too, thought Molly with a rising sense of panic.
Molly finally stuck her head into Larry's office and raised a finger. He covered the mouthpiece and mouthed, "Five more minutes."
Molly busied herself, though her eyes kept darting to the clock. Quarter to six. If she drove at breakneck speed, she could still make itif traffic wasn't bad. When Larry got off the line, she sneaked a peek into his office, hoping to find him packing up his briefcase. He was reaching again for the phonedidn't even notice her.
While Molly waited for her chance to finally leave the office, she kept thinking about Danny, about bedtime, the way he always wanted her to crawl under the covers with him, cuddle him and tell him stories. Sitting at her desk, Molly closed her eyes and summoned his image; now she could feel him, smell the scent of his hair, sweet and clean, hear his voice, high and excited, his words tumbling into each other. Danny.
Molly made good time down the highway. Curving down from the eastern heights, she skimmed the edge of the lake, on her right Stewart Park with its tall willows arching gracefully over the shore. She'd be late for Danny's pickupbut not that late. Once she reached the edge of town, however, it seemed every stoplight and intersection conspired against her. Then she hit the construction on Route 13. The downtown traffic was snarled. The air was rife with choking dust as commuters heading home through the hub of town were slowed to a crawl. Then Molly's lane came to a complete stop as men with red flags waved the oncoming traffic around a swirl of dump trucks and graders.
"Come on. Come on," she said, banging her hands futilely on the steering wheel.
She switched on the radio. It was already well into the local news. She listened to some mindless babble about sports, then the recap: something about a Conrail tanker car derailing alongside a trout stream just south of town. Seven thousand gallons of diesel fuel had spilled out. The plume was now in the fast-flowing waters of the inlet and heading toward the lake, killing all the fish and aquatic life in its path. There was mention of development plans for the Westend. Sales figures for new and existing homes. Though the economy in the rest of the country was vibrant, the sales figures for last month were still sharply down. Molly listened but couldn't quite concentrate. She put on an easy listening station, but it just irritated her. She peered up at the distant sky; in the waning light she could see a fresh line of dark, menacing clouds moving in from the west.
Traffic started to move again. She checked her watch. Twenty after six! There goes a chunk of today's pay to fines, thought Molly, and could feel her stomach wrench into knots. By now all the other children were certainly picked up and Molly could envision Danny waiting just inside the door, his jacket on, his little lunch box clutched in his hand. He always looked so desperate when she was latethough he never uttered a complaint; he just looked at her with that hurt look.
Molly took a quick left on Green Street, passing the dilapidated houses caught between the commercial and residential, up past the fire station where they were hosing down an engine, another left on Albany Street to West State.
The daycare was housed in an austere building, built of concrete block with big plate glass windows looking out on the busy street. It had gone through many incarnations. Molly could remember when it had been an auto body shop, then a human body shop where college kids and yuppies pedaled bicycles that didn't go anywhere. She thought about the incongruity of people trying to burn up calories while other folks downtown or in their shacks out in the hills were going hungry; subsistence farmers eking out an existence on their hard scrabble land.
As Molly pulled up to the curb, she saw one of the new women from Kute Kids at the front door. Her back was to the street and it looked like she was locking up.
"Hello!" Molly called out as she trotted up the walk in her heels.
The woman started, then turned, her wide flat face turning puzzled as she recognized Molly. Molly had seen her only two or three times before, and ruefully noted that she looked barely out of high school. Only the wire-rimmed glasses over her unlined face gave any suggestion of age.
"Whew! I'm sorry to be late," Molly could feel a rivulet of sweat trickling down her side. "Where's?"
"Huh?" said the girl. Her dark hair was clipped as short as a boy's, and she had a big gold stud in her nose. Her coat was open revealing a peasant blouse with embroidered border.
"My son," explained Molly, catching her breath. "Danny. Danny Driscoll." Molly's smile suddenly felt pasted on her face.
"Danny," echoed the girl. She look confused.
"I'm sorry, they've all been picked up," she said flatly.
"What are you talking about?" Molly's hands were trembling and suddenly her knees felt weak. "I just came to get my"
"Maybe your husband picked him up?"
"I don't have one! What the hell are you talking about?"
"But your boy's not here," she said plaintively.
"Did Danny go home with another child?" she asked with strained voice. Molly's throat felt like it was closing, choking her. "Is that it?"
The girl didn't answer.
"Where's Mrs. Oltz?" Molly pushed her aside and opened the door. "Mrs. Oltz?" She called out as she stepped in.
The place was dark. Empty. In the faint light from the street Molly could see the little chairs upside down on the children's tables. Toys had been cleared away and floors were still wet from being mopped. Under the odor of cleanser lingered the smell of urine and mold. Molly fought the swell of panic threatening to overtake her.
"Mrs. Oltz!" Her voice echoed through the empty rooms. The only returning sound was a refrigerator. It came on with a clank and then whirred. Maybe Mrs. Oltz was in the kitchen? Certainly she would know where Danny was. "Mrs. Oltz!"
"Mrs. Oltz left," came the voice of the girl from the dimness behind her. "She had to go to the dentist. She had to get a tooth pulled and"
"So where's my child?" Molly spun around to confront the girl. "You know, my boy? Danny! The little guy with blond curly hair? Hey, get some lights on here!"
The lights came on and Molly squinted in the sudden brightness. Illuminated, the room seemed even more deserted. The girl looked pale and frightened.
"I'm new and ..." she tried to explain, but Molly didn't want to hear it.
"He had bib jeans on and a red plaid shirt," Molly said, prowling around the room. "You remember?"
The girl looked at her dumbly and Molly's mind felt like it was spinning out of control. Desperately she fought to calm herself. Maybe they had sent him home with someone else? They weren't supposed to do that, but ... if she could just get hold of Mrs. Oltz. She'd know. Of course!
Molly turned on the girl. "When did Mrs. Oltz leave?"
"She was sick and didn't come in today."
"And Louella?" Molly's eyes kept darting around, instinctively checking the doors and windows.
"She just comes in mornings and stays till lunch."
"You mean you've been alone here with all the kids since two?"
"Yes, but ..."
"Okay. Fine. Then you were here when the parents came to get them, right?"
"Yeah. I think so."
"What the hell do you mean think so?"
"You're confusing me." The girl looked as if she were going to cry. Molly was herself already crying and couldn't help it.
"Please try to think," she pleaded. "You were here, right?"
"And saw Danny todayyou do know the boy I'm talking about, don't you?" Molly was now moving through the building, flipping on lights as she went.
"Yes, yes," said the girl in the tiniest of voices. Her eyes were now flooded with tears and her nose was running.
Molly did a quick check of the kitchen. Then two bathrooms, the kids' and the employees'. Nothing. The girl trailing in her wake kept sniffling. Molly reversed course abruptly, bumping into her. "Did one of the parents take Danny home?" The refrigerator had stopped and Molly could hear the blood pounding in her ears.
"I don't think so."
"Think? Either someone did or they didn't. Come on!"
"No," she shook her head. "No one!"
The exit leading to the play area in the rear was closed. She unlocked it and swung open the door. A blast of cold air rushed in. Outside, the line of deserted swings rocked in the wind. The slides and sandbox were empty. The fence was high. Taller than any adult. "Did you have them outside today?"
Excerpted from THE LAST BOY by Robert H. Lieberman. Copyright © 2002 by Robert H. Lieberman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Robert H. Lieberman is a long-time member of the Physics faculty at Cornell University. Initially, he came to Cornell to study to be a veterinarian, but ended up becoming an electrical engineer and doing research in neurophysiology. He has also been a professor of mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences.
In addition to writing novels, he makes movies. He directed and wrote the newly completed feature film Green Lights, and his documentaries have been shown nationally on PBS. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to lecture at the Academy of Performing Arts and Film in Bratislava. Mr. Lieberman lives on a 120-acre farm in Ithaca, New York, on which he compulsively grows fruits and vegetables and raises fish in his five ponds. His Swedish-born wife is a classical ballet dancer and teacher. His two sons live in San Francisco. They neither farm nor make movies, but do make money, one as an entrepreneur and the other as a corporate counsel at least for the moment.
Mr. Lieberman is presently working on a new novel, creating the screenplay for the film adaptation of The Last Boy, as well as learning how to tap dance.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Well written, and very entertaining. I found difficulty in putting the book down, and my faith in God grew stronger because of the lessons the book taught me, the most important lesson, is to love one another, and do not take for granted the lessons that can be learned by simply listening.
A book that I couldn't wait to get to the end, and very sad when I did. A great book that makes you think about evrything!
This story starts with heart-stopping anticipation and that "holding your breath" type fear of the 'say it ain't so' fashion'. A roller coaster of emotion.......until, well it gets a bit creepy. The characters are well written, enough to need to know what happens even when you've realized you may not be so vested anymore. The overall idea brings attention to the disconnect of humans and the footprints we leave on the earth. A very noble cause, yet presented in such a way that it's a little irritating. The story that begins by drawing you in to a mothers nightmare and overpowering terror when her child disappears, winds it's way ever so oddly into a glorified public service announcement. Kudos to the author and his ablility to draw out the emotion amd empathy of the reader, but a bit too jumbled to leave the reader with any satisfaction.
And a child will lead them.. Robert Lieberman takes us on a journey into the world of Molly Driscoll and her son Danny. When Danny disappears at age 5 a fascinating adventure ensues. The book is fast paced and compelling both as a mystery and a fable of the hidden secrets of nature.
i loved reading this book, i found it extremely hard to put down. i learned alot from it. although the ending made me happy, i was a little surprised.
I enjoyed this books so much. It keeps you wondering what will happen next. It makes you think! A must read!
Inconsistancies, too obvious, didnt like it much.
Storyline was one I wished were true but knew was fiction. Excellent use of grammar made characters believable and easier to picture in your mind. I was sad to see the story end. Excellent read.
Good book from the begining I pay for the full book but from the sample it seems like a pretty good book for middle school reader to learn about a small life in boy
I enjoyed this book so much. From the heartbreak of loss to the joy and tears of reunion. Great story. Definately makes you take note of our eco-footprints.
I did finish it, but I skimmed through a lot.
Well written, keeps you thinking long after you are finished.
This is a page turner with moral core. The story of a child that disappears from daycare and the mother's initial search turns into a book with twists and turns that are utterly unpredictable, especially when the boy walks back into her home and life six months later, changed, utterly transformed. I don't want to give this away, but once you start, you won't be able to stop. Robert H. Lieberman is a scientist at Cornell who is also a novelist and filmmaker and his range as a writer and director is dazzling-- at least I'm a big fan.
I did like the characters and it was strange.