The Night Gwen Stacy Died

( 5 )

Overview

An offbeat love story about the adventures and mutual rescue of a young woman out of place in her hometown and a mysterious stranger who calls himself Peter Parker (and begins to cast her in the role of Spider-Man’s first sweetheart), The Night Gwen Stacy Died is about first loss, first love, and finding our real identities.

"A dreamy world where comic book characters and psychic visions are as real as teenage boredom and young love, Bruni's debut is a magical story, a ...

See more details below
Paperback
$11.97
BN.com price
(Save 19%)$14.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (34) from $1.99   
  • New (15) from $7.34   
  • Used (19) from $1.99   
The Night Gwen Stacy Died

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$10.99
BN.com price
(Save 26%)$14.95 List Price

Overview

An offbeat love story about the adventures and mutual rescue of a young woman out of place in her hometown and a mysterious stranger who calls himself Peter Parker (and begins to cast her in the role of Spider-Man’s first sweetheart), The Night Gwen Stacy Died is about first loss, first love, and finding our real identities.

"A dreamy world where comic book characters and psychic visions are as real as teenage boredom and young love, Bruni's debut is a magical story, a white-knuckle thrill ride." —Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire

"The perspective shifts, slippery identities, and lurking weirdness in this book recall the peak moments of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Lynch. But to describe it in cinematic terms would risk slighting that bighearted, sneakily exhilarating voice that can finally be only the work of a masterful writer." —Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

"Bruni’s fiercely smart and delectably unpredictable first novel delivers again and again that most sought-after shiver up the spine, the chill that comes when you realize the world you thought you knew and understood is newer and stranger than you ever dared imagine. A genuine page-turner." —Kathryn Davis, author of The Thin Place

"Mixed into this novel’s blustery atmosphere are gusts of contemporary masters, like Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore, Kelly Link, and Michael Chabon. This gave me the sort of reading experience I always hope for but almost never find: a world that somehow both resembles the one in which I live and is also unlike any other I've ever seen or read." —Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting

"A brave and bold new voice, Bruni takes us on an unexpected adventure of love and loss, of beginnings and ends, all the while showing us what it really means to be a hero." —Alison Espach, author of The Adults

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Julie Sarkissian
…sweetly eccentric…The voice carrying the novel is witty, observant and hypnotic…The charm is turned on high throughout, but it doesn't get in the way of the excitement as Peter and Gwen search for identity and redemption.
Publishers Weekly
In Bruni’s engaging debut, 17-year-old Sheila is bored by her life in smalltown Iowa, her only ambition a vague plan to escape to Paris when she has saved enough money from her job as a cashier at the local Sinclair gas station. A local cab driver who refers to himself as Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s alias outside the red-and-blue tights) offers a strange plan: he’ll rob the gas station, pretending to kidnap her in the process, and they’ll take the money and run away together. Sheila accepts, and flees with Peter to Chicago, where they begin a relationship and where Sheila takes on the name of Spider-Man’s first love, Gwen Stacy. But Peter has secrets that don’t relate to his chosen name: his grief over the death of his older brother, and his disturbing premonitory nightmares. Burdened by what the dreams portend, Peter feels responsible for saving the people in them, as Spider-Man felt responsible for Gwen Stacy. Despite an oddly swampy ending, the novel’s quirky tone and accessible themes of rescue and recovery make for a likeable read. Agent: Susan Golomb, the Susan Golomb Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
"Sweetly eccentric."—New York Times Book Review

"THE NIGHT GWEN STACY DIED uses Spider-Man lore to tell the tale of two loners and improbable lawbreakers from Iowa, a high-school student and a taxi-driver, who embark on a mission of escape to Chicago. Staged, at first, as an abduction—gun, robbery, kidnapping—their adventure quickly begins to resemble a surreal love story. Bruni's book superbly explores the part fiction plays in our search for identity." -Bookforum.com

"Superbly suspenseful first novel ...Bruni does a masterful job evoking their world, equal parts fantasy and reality and further skewed by a downtown Chicago that’s been invaded by coyotes...She keeps readers guessing as the plot twists and turns. Bruni writes dark passages and playful moments with equal aplomb. The world is her oyster." - Kirkus, starred

"Part tangled love story and part love affair with comics, this debut novel centers on that tenuous bit of time between childhood and adulthood , when anything seems possible and so many decisions seem inevitable. Rough with dark psychology, rich with introspection and emotion , this beautifully written book will appeal to fans of Spider-Man comics as well as coming-of-age fiction."
Library Journal

"Engaging… The novel’s quirky tone and accessible themes of rescue and recovery make for a likeable read." – Publishers Weekly

"Bruni drops us into a dreamy world where comic book characters and psychic visions are as real as teenage boredom and young love. Strange, funny, sexy, and full of insights you'll want to revisit , Bruni's debut is a magical story, a white-knuckle thrill ride ."
—Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire and Skinny

"Sarah Bruni’s fiercely smart and delectably unpredictable first novel delivers again and again that most sought-after shiver up the spine, the chill that comes when you realize the world you thought you knew and understood is newer and stranger than you ever dared imagine. The Night Gwen Stacy Died is a genuine page-turner."
—Kathryn Davis, author of The Walking Tour



"Mixed into the blustery atmosphere of The Night Gwen Stacy Died are gusts of contemporary masters, like Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore, Kelly Link, and Michael Chabon. But, like the heroes of her story, Bruni is too spirited to be confined by the voices and tales of others. The magic in the air, it turns out, is Bruni's singular voice, a spell that so easily carried me away. Bruni's debut novel gave me the sort of reading experience I always hope for but almost never find: a world that somehow both resembles the one in which I live and is also unlike any other I've ever seen or read."
—Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Story of Forgetting

"In this sterling debut, a pseudo Bonnie and Clyde with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy delusions go on the lam in Iowa and hide out in Chicago, but the pleasures here go far beyond the propulsive narrative. The prose is blade-sharp, the eerie love story is leavened with moments of unforced wit, and the nuanced observations are utterly idiosyncratic. It's as if Lorrie Moore wrote a taut thriller—not an updated Western, but a modern Midwestern."
—Teddy Wayne , author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

"Sarah Bruni is a brave and bold new voice. This thrilling novel is as wise and intelligent as it is young at heart. With humor and grace, Bruni takes us on an unexpected adventure of love and loss, of beginnings and ends, all the while showing us what it really means to be a hero."
—Alison Espach, author of The Adults

"The perspective shifts, slippery identities, and lurking weirdness in this book recall the peak moments of Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Lynch; Sarah Bruni even choreographs her production with the easy verve and keen eye of a great director. But to describe The Night Gwen Stacy Died in cinematic terms would risk slighting the patience and generosity and grace of Bruni’s language, and it’s that bighearted, sneakily exhilarating voice that can finally be only the work of a masterful writer."
—Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

Library Journal
Iowa doesn't suit Sheila, not from where she is standing at the edge of everything, dreaming in French and planning her future with a taxidermied coyote as a confidant. It is a good thing she has plans for after high school: she is going to get out of this small town she does not understand and where she is not understood and head to Paris. The random element introduced to disrupt Sheila's carefully planned schedule is Peter, the only one who is as much an outsider as she is. She will become Gwen Stacy to his Peter Parker—they will fall in love, they will be reckless, and their world will change. VERDICT Part tangled love story and part love affair with comics, this debut novel centers on that tenuous bit of time between childhood and adulthood, when anything seems possible and so many decisions seem inevitable. Rough with dark psychology, rich with introspection and emotion, this beautifully written book will appeal to fans of Spider-Man comics as well as coming-of-age fiction.—April Steenburgh, George F. Johnson Memorial Lib., Endwell, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Spider-Man lore is one layer of this superbly suspenseful first novel about two loners, improbable lawbreakers, on a mission to Chicago. How do you get out of Iowa? Sheila Gower would love to know. Bored silly by her family and hometown, the high school senior fantasizes about immigrating to Paris before her French teacher discourages her. The solution is one of the regulars at the gas station where she works the swing shift. Peter Parker (Spider-Man's "real" name) is a cabdriver in his mid-20s and is clearly attracted to her. Sheila learns from her research that Spider-Man was unable to save his first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, from the villainous Green Goblin. But when Peter shows her a gun at the station, suggesting they fake a kidnapping, empty the cash register and drive to Chicago, daredevil Sheila is up for it. Peter's story reveals him as more victim than creep. He was only 6 when his much older brother committed suicide, an overdose. Seeking escape, Peter immersed himself in the Spider-Man books; his mother, sensing his trauma, let him assume Spider-Man's name. Peter's not crazy; he knows he lacks superhuman powers, but he does have premonitions in his dreams, and when a recurrent dream features the gas-station girl, a gun (found in his mother's underwear drawer) and Chicago, he swings into action. Bruni does a masterful job evoking their world, equal parts fantasy and reality and further skewed by a downtown Chicago that's been invaded by coyotes. Their chemistry changes as they become mutually dependent lovers and Sheila, no dummy, realizes that Peter's plan--to rescue a man haunting his dreams--is no plan at all. When push comes to shove, and the fugitives are in danger of exposure, it is Sheila/Gwen's quick thinking that saves them. Is Bruni steering us toward Gwen's rendezvous with destiny or something more reality-based? She keeps readers guessing as the plot twists and turns. Bruni writes dark passages and playful moments with equal aplomb. The world is her oyster.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Sarah Bruni's debut novel is about small towns, sex, coyotes, and 1970s superhero comics. It is also about how girls and boys create their identities (secret and otherwise), escape small towns (via fantasy, car, crime), and write themselves into and out of stories in which, at first glance, they appear to be only minor characters.

On the cusp of eighteen, Sheila Gower has one friend ("she had always preferred the company of intense and loyal outsiders"), no plans to go to college (having grown up near one of the "more modestly sized Big Ten universities in the Midwest," she "felt she had already been to college and she really hadn't thought much of the experience"), and works nights in a gas station, where she studies French and plans to escape small-town Iowa for Paris. In walks a slightly older boy with an I.D. (fake, she presumes) proclaiming himself to be Peter Parker, the alter ego of Spider Man. After her French teacher dashes her illusions of Paris, telling her that French people also have Burger Kings and thunderstorms and bills to pay, Peter offers her a chance to participate in his fantasy instead. Sheila thinks, "maybe this was one way to leave a place, with a boy and a gun" and agrees to roadtrip to Chicago, playing Bonnie to his Clyde.

Once on the road, Sheila discovers, to no one's surprise, that she has been cast as Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's first love. She runs with it, embracing Gwen and Peter, in name, dress, and as a real- life romantic super-duo. Her lover-abductor has reasons of his own, stretching back to his boyhood, for choosing this particular plot. Being both too young and of a different gender than those typically obsessed with seventies-era Spidey comics, the lady playing his heroine doesn't know, at first, what any teenage comics geek does: Gwen Stacy will die.

But Gwen-Sheila is not Gwen Stacy. She seems to genuinely fall in love with Peter and finds that he makes her world bigger ("Peter made her want to talk to strangers. He made her think there was something to talk about — even in Iowa"). "Gwen Stacy never had a chance," writes Bruni. "She could never do anything but react to the elements of the story that befell her." But Sheila insists on an equal role in their story, telling Peter, "This thing we are together — you don't own it." She improvises her lines, takes action, and rewrites the script. As she is told by a pack of possibly mystical and occasionally articulate coyotes who dog her throughout the story, "If you are reading the signs, you are writing the signs — they say what you see in them." From the elements of retro boyhood camp, teenage girlhood and love vigilantes, Bruni forges a modern, subversive, original story of her own.

Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.

Reviewer: Amy Benfer

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547898162
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 7/2/2013
  • Pages: 278
  • Sales rank: 545,615
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 7.88 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Bruni is a graduate of the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Washington University in St. Louis and holds a degree in English Literature from the Univeristity of Iowa. Since growing up in and around Chicago, she has taught creative writing in St. Louis, volunteered as a writing and English tutor with youth in San Francisco and Montevideo, Uruguay, and currently lives in Brooklyn. The Night Gwen Stacy Died is her first novel.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Seasonal change was descending in its temperamental, plague-like way in fits and spurts on the middle of the country. There was a false sense to the air, all the wrong smells. That spring, Sheila bought herself a single-speed bicycle from the outdoor auction along Interstate 80. She rode it down the Coralville strip to work. She pedaled fast, as if to keep up with traffic — an exercise in futility — and swallowed the air in gulps. When she reached the Sinclair station, Sheila felt faintly dazed, like someone about to pass out. Sometimes she saw black spots where the white line of road was supposed to be. “You all right? Miss?” Motorists would lean their heads out windows when Sheila stopped on the shoulder of the highway to catch her breath. Or sometimes: “Lady, get out of the road!” This was Iowa; no one rode bikes along the highway. Bicycling was a nice hobby for children but not a reliable mode of transportation. For Sheila, this was the most exhilarating part of the day. This was the only exhilarating part of the day.
   It was the spring of the year that coyote sightings started garnering national attention. The headlines sounded like a string of bad jokes: coyote walks into a bar. coyote caught sleeping in mattress shop. pack of coyotes causes delays at o’hare. The scientific community insisted there was nothing to worry about, that the species was extremely adaptable, that they mostly traveled at night, that they rarely ate domestic pets without provocation. Yet, people couldn’t help but notice how stealthily the coyotes seemed to be infiltrating the small towns and cities. Morning joggers complained of coyotes crouched behind trees along public parks. The presence of the animals often wasn’t witnessed firsthand by more than a few early risers. But hearing of such sightings was enough — also knowing they were out there at night, outsmarting the rats, sleeping in the alleys.
   It felt as if entire ecosystems had become confused. That fall, two whales had dragged their giant bellies onto dry land. The whales seemed determined to beach themselves despite rescuers’ efforts to return them to the water. Strange symbiotic relationships were popping up everywhere, often involving the abandoned offspring of one species adopting an unlikely surrogate parent. A lion cub might choose a lizard as its mother and receive a five-minute slot on the evening news, curbing coverage of the latest political corruption scandal or plane crash.
   There were other things too. Even in the Midwest, anyone could tell that the whole planet was out of whack. It had been too warm for snow until well after New Year’s. The salt truck drivers were mad as hell. Shovel sales were way down. It was months later that all that hovering precipitation finally found its way to street level. March came in like a lion, went out like a lamb being devoured by a coyote. Which is to say that it warmed up, but in a sneaky, violent way that made everyone slow to pull out their lighter clothes, so as not to look gullible at a time when everything felt like a fluke.
   You could feel all this in the air, riding to work each day. Sheila was a gas station attendant right now, and she was a model employee. Four days a week she biked along the strip, straight from school to the station. She never missed a shift. She never called in sick. She was saving up. She had a year’s worth of deposits in the bank — all from working at the Sinclair station — and when that growing fund hit a certain number, she was leaving the country for an undetermined length of time. She was buying a plane ticket to Paris, and anyone who had a problem with that could shove it. “France?” her father said when Sheila told him her destination. When he said it, the whole country sounded like an adolescent stunt, a dog in a plaid coat and socks. “Remind me again what’s wrong with your own country? Are you hearing this?” he’d ask Sheila’s mother, who would shake her head or shrug. Her sister, Andrea, and her sister’s fiancé, Donny, thought it was a frivolous way to spend money. They were saving to open a restaurant. Andrea was watching prices for lots on the west side of town. There was a business plan. It was going to be called Donny’s Grill. The two of them were a little too entrepreneurial for Sheila’s taste.
   “But you do all the cooking,” Sheila had protested.
   “Yeah, well, it’s a team thing. We’re a team, okay? Teamwork? Does that mean anything to you?” asked Andrea. “Think about it. Would you eat at a place called Donny and Andrea’s Grill?”
   “No,” said Sheila.
   “No, you wouldn’t. And you know why? ’Cause it’s too friggin’ long. Besides,” she said, “we’re going to try doing all the cooking together.”
   Andrea had moved out of the house two years ago, which was about how long she had been engaged. She started wearing acrylic fingernails so that the hand with her ring didn’t look so otherwise lonely and unadorned. She favored shades of salmon. As a girl Andrea had been overweight and eager to fall in love. Sheila wanted, of course, to fall in love, but not with someone like Donny. Not with someone from Iowa.
   Sleeping in her parents’ house, Sheila would sometimes wake to the wheels of jeeps screeching around the corner. As they turned near the street, several boys would shout, “Iowa Hawkeye football!” Then they would make animal noises. The real animals that lived nearby were quiet, frantic things that made no sounds. Squirrels that scattered and little sparrows that hopped between the cracks in the sidewalk, scouting out crumbs with an awkward deference. Most of the animals that had been indigenous to the land before the college moved in had been preserved in the Iowa Museum of Natural History on the third floor of Macbride Hall. There, they were stuffed and arranged before paintings of their natural habitats, interacting with predators, feeding their young. Several prairie dog pups curled up close beside their sleeping mother; rabbits and ground birds were positioned as if scurrying at the feet of an elk. A single coyote in a large case did nothing but stare straight ahead, sitting off to the side of the other animals, as if it were too proud to act alive. The plaque outside its case said, “Mountain coyote. Genus and species: Canis latrans lestes. Indigenous to Nevada and California, the species can be found from the Rocky Mountains westward, as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Arizona and New Mexico.”
   The coyote, the sign explained, takes its name from the Spanish word coyote — coyote from coyote! This redundancy struck Sheila as hilarious — but the scientific name was derived from the Latin: barking dog. Coyotes were wilder, noisier cousins of dogs: kept later hours, spanned greater territories. Their hunting was marked by extraordinarily relentless patience. Coyotes were stubborn, though also oddly adaptable. Their communication, described as howls and yips, was most often heard in the spring, but also in the fall, the time of year when young pups leave their families to establish new territories. “You idiot, you could have gone anywhere,” she wanted to say to the coyote in the case, “and you came to Iowa?” But the coyote still seemed young; clearly, it either was the progeny of transients, or it migrated straight to Iowa only to be promptly shot and stuffed.
   The coyote that Sheila visited always regarded her with a look that seemed to say, Well, it’s just you and me here, isn’t it? We might as well say everything. Sheila liked how isolated the coyote seemed to be in the middle of its glass case, staring straight forward as if about to address her, mixed-up in a survival narrative that had nothing to do with other coyotes, a transplant from some other territory. At least once a week Sheila rode her bike to Macbride Hall, pressed her nose to the smooth glass of the display case, and spilled her heart out.
   Sometimes she would ask the coyote questions that she never had the guts to ask anyone alive. The coyote regarded Sheila stiff lipped from inside its case. The last time she had visited, Sheila had pushed her forehead flat against the glass and asked, “How am I ever going to get out of here?”
   The coyote knew things. You could just tell. Sheila wasn’t stupid enough to expect a straight answer to a question posed like this, but she knew how to interpret signs. This was how things were here. People believed in waiting for signs. People believed that things happened for a reason, and Sheila was not above this logic. She fixed her eyes on the still glass eyes of the coyote. The coyote was past the point of escape, but in its eyes was something fleeting that belied a former familiarity with the concept.
When you work in a gas station, people love to assume there’s something wrong with you. That you’re not driven, or you’re lazy, or you didn’t have the grades in high school, or you’re not all there. It makes them feel better about their own lives. This was just a theory that Sheila was harboring. But it was a theory based on research and observation. Behind the counter, she performed sociological experiments. Sometimes, still red faced from her ride in, she’d sit behind the counter, out of breath, and stare into space, sneak an occasional cigarette, or put quarters into the M&M’s dispenser and listen to the stale candy turning around in her mouth like gravel under a wheel. When customers would enter the station and find her gnawing on hard candy by the handful, Sheila would receive cold, disapproving looks, especially from women, many of whom were not that much older than Sheila. “Really?” their looks said, “Isn’t there something sort of pathetic about this?”
   Other times, Sheila would place her French vocabulary workbook on the counter. She wouldn’t even open it, just let it sit there between herself and whomever she was helping. The effect was remarkable. “What a great job for a student!” the same women would shout. “You must get all your homework done here.” As she counted their change, Sheila would smile in a demure, hard-working way and let them go ahead and think whatever they liked. She was a student; she was a gas station attendant. Student. Gas station attendant. A young woman with promise. A burnout at seventeen. She had observed women around here long enough to see the way they sized one another up like that, always a series of calculations to determine who would amount to something, who would amount to nothing. So she liked to move the French book around and screw up their calculations. Sheila thought the whole town could go to hell.
   Sheila was a decent student, actually. Not great — probably good enough to get herself in to some college, but not enough to get scholarship money. Her father had told her that he could help her out a little, but if she wanted to do college, she was going to need to take out loans. The thing was, Sheila felt like she had a pretty good idea of what college entailed; she had grown up in a town that bordered one of the more modestly sized Big Ten universities in the Midwest. The boys wore white hats, backward, and called each other fag as a term of endearment. The girls carried handbags to class in lieu of backpacks and did not own winter coats. On weekends during snowy weather, girls could be seen in tight black pants and multicolored leotard tops, floundering between bars in hordes to keep warm while buying gyros, safety in numbers against frostbite. By the time she was about eleven, Sheila felt she had already been to college, and she really hadn’t thought much of the experience. Instead, she was saving all her money, and she was going to go somewhere she hadn’t already lived her entire life.
   Most of the teachers in her high school — themselves the products of a liberal arts education — endlessly praised the benefits of applying to college straightaway, but her French teacher was the exception to this rule. “Yes, let’s all rush off to school and waste thousands of dollars before we even know what we care to study or do with our lives!” Ms. Lawrence mocked the conventional wisdom that the guidance counselors were doling out. When speaking in English, Ms. Lawrence had a habit of using the first person plural like this and engaging in arguments with herself. She wore complicated patterned scarves in her hair and had immaculate posture. She had been sighted kissing a man — through the window of a car in the school parking lot — who looked about ten years her junior and whom she referred to as her “boyfriend.” She would come to class on Mondays and say things like, “Did anyone make it to the opening of Mother Courage this weekend at Hancher? My boyfriend and I went on Friday, and it was really exceptional — well, if you’re in the mood for Brecht.” Ms. Lawrence had come to Iowa from Delaware, a place far away enough that it might as well have been France. A humble state, modest in size, that Sheila imagined to be full of lanky women with hairstyles and handwriting as deliberate and meaningful as Ms. Lawrence’s.
   Très bien! Ms. Lawrence would write in the margins of Sheila’s homework. Fantastique. And staring into the neat, narrow letters that Ms. Lawrence’s pen had produced, Sheila felt a temporary relief pass over her like finally here was someone with whom she could actually communicate.
   At the station, Sheila had a few consistent patrons. Ned, a Vietnam vet, came in daily to purchase a pack of Pall Malls with change that he accumulated from bottle returns. Five cents for empties in Iowa. He’d stuff his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans and pull out fistfuls of change — he started with the pennies and stacked them up in tidy piles of ten on the counter. Sometimes Sheila would tire of counting and say, “Ned, they’re on the house today,” but Ned didn’t want her charity.
   There was a guy who bought gas sometimes, or sometimes a pack of Camel straights. The first time Sheila checked his ID — state law for anyone who appeared under twenty-seven, although he hardly did — she barely registered that his name was Peter Parker, but she wondered about it later. Peter Parker didn’t talk much. The first couple of times she offered him the wrong pack of cigarettes he looked away and said, “Straights, no filter.” So she thought he was a bit stuck-up. Once she started getting it right she’d have the pack waiting on the counter for him before he asked for it; sometimes she’d give him the cigarettes for free. She could tell Peter appreciated her generosity, but he never let on. He wouldn’t even say thank you, just sort of tip his head.
   The gas station was on the same highway as the exit for one of the biggest malls in Iowa. Cars would pull off Interstate 80, cars from all over the state. There were vans and minivans and pickup trucks. They were filled with people, kids with faces pressed against the windows in the back seats. The men all came into the station and bought a pack of gum or a soda and asked her how much farther to the mall, just straight ahead, was it? Was it true that the mall had a carousel inside? A movie theater? An ice-skating rink?
   They would pile their families into the truck and start driving blindly. When they reached the gas station they knew they were on the right track, but the kids had become restless, they needed gum to quiet their running mouths. Their mothers needed a fresh pack of Ultra Light 100s, their fathers needed confirmation that they were almost there.
   “I hear this mall’s got twenty restaurants inside,” they’d say.
   “At least,” said Sheila. “There’s a whole food court.”
   “Just straight ahead, then?”
   “Yep.”
   Peter Parker stood in line once behind one of these families, smirking. When he reached her register he put on a voice. He made his eyes all big and pushed his dark hair off his brow. He said, “I hear this here mall’s got a full casino on a riverboat floating in the basement, and the parking lot is paved with gold.” He leaned into her across the counter, and Sheila felt her stomach rise in her chest as the distance closed between them.
   “Absolutely right,” she said. It was the first time they had spoken more than the few words necessary to exchange money for cigarettes or gasoline.
   “So what time do you get off?” Peter said. “Sit at the blackjack table with me and we’ll throw some cards around. What do you say? We’ll make a killing.”
   “I get off at eight,” Sheila heard herself say.
   In her mind, the slot machines glittered. Coins spilled from them to the floor. People threw up their hands. People raised their glasses. When she closed up the station and started to ride her bike home, she was a little hurt that he hadn’t showed, though obviously he had no intention of doing so from the start. She had to reason with herself on the ride home — that casinos were desperate and lonely places, that she wasn’t even old enough to gamble, and that anyway, the place didn’t exist! — to stop conjuring an image of Peter playing slots alone, to stop thinking of the fact that he hadn’t come back for her.
   But after this day he rarely missed one of her shifts. Peter made it a point to sit with her for a few minutes in the station, long enough for a cigarette and a conversation. After he’d been coming in for a while, Sheila asked Donny if he knew of any Peter Parkers. “Sure I do,” Donny said. “Spider-Man.” No, not Spider-Man, Sheila had explained patiently. Just some guy. “Some guy that thinks he’s fucking Spider-Man,” Donny said. But Peter Parker was just a guy who drove a cab at night and who would stay for five or ten minutes when he came into the gas station if he was between fares. Sheila was supposed to discourage patrons from loitering like this — there were some shady characters who drove up and down the Coralville strip after nine — but she liked Peter Parker. He had nice hair, dark, overgrown, with strange waves that fell into his eyes if he leaned in to look at something closely, like if he was spilling the contents of his pockets on the counter, searching for a five. There was always dirt under his fingernails when he rested his hands on the counter, and his hands were broad and calloused, like maybe they served him in a particular way that had nothing to do with gesticulation or the exchange of money. Donny was probably wrong about Peter Parker. It was a common enough name. Anyone could have it. But it gave Sheila a welcome diversion to reroute her brain in the direction of secret identities and second lives. It seemed a fine way to pass the time to imagine that the dirt under his fingernails was residue from saving the world.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 5 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 5, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    A stellar debut novel! I loved reading this book. The plot unfol

    A stellar debut novel! I loved reading this book. The plot unfolds at the perfect pace. The characters seem real and you easily get invested in them. Highly recommended.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 27, 2013

    Knowing the basics of the Spider-Man universe (and being a comic

    Knowing the basics of the Spider-Man universe (and being a comic book fan myself), the title of this book got me to summary. Hm, a mysterious man claiming he's Spider-Man? Claiming a girl he barely knows as Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's first love? "Uh....?" Well it's a lot more complicated than that, people who are reading this review. It really, really is. Ms. Bruni does an amazing job fleshing out every single character, and I do mean every single character that you encounter reading this book. There's at least one story of each character. And the big huge driving force of the story is, well, the relationship between the main character Shelia and the mysterious Peter Parker. It's believable; they fight, they challenge one another, and they just love each other so fiercely. They can't help but question the "reality" of it sometimes. The ending did make me wish for more, nonetheless, it ended on a hopeful note (despite the circumstances). I don't know what else to say besides read it! Read it! This book deserves more a lot recognition than it’s getting. I definitely want more books out of this author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    I miss gwen

    Omg she diedd

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

    Adain

    Hes at f res 3)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)