The Secret Society of Demolition Writers

Overview

If no one knew who you were, what would you say? Twelve best-selling, critically acclaimed authors answer this question with an anonymous collection of no-holds-barred, entirely original stories.

The Secret Society of Demolition Writers is the literary equivalent of a whodunit, featuring an eclectic group of fictional characters. The cast includes a delusional schizophrenic narrator, an egg donor with second thoughts about her decision, a pharmacist who forms a weird crush on a ...

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Overview

If no one knew who you were, what would you say? Twelve best-selling, critically acclaimed authors answer this question with an anonymous collection of no-holds-barred, entirely original stories.

The Secret Society of Demolition Writers is the literary equivalent of a whodunit, featuring an eclectic group of fictional characters. The cast includes a delusional schizophrenic narrator, an egg donor with second thoughts about her decision, a pharmacist who forms a weird crush on a woman who beat both of her parents to death, and a little girl who understands that an old safe is the threshold to another, ghostly world.

Equally diverse and surprising are the authors themselves: Aimee Bender, Benjamin Cheever, Michael Connelly, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth McCracken, Rosie O'Donnell, Chris Offutt, Anna Quindlen, John Burnham Schwartz, Alice Sebold, Lauren Slater, and Marc Parent, the editor of the collection. Taking a cue from a demolition derby Parent visits every summer, he realized that if a group of talented writers could approach their work with the same anonymous abandon that the derby racers drove with, they could create works of fiction they've always dreamed of. Without the weight of reputation—-with no names attached to their work—-the writers are free explore and improvise. The result of Parent's idea is a group of reckless, smashing stories that have never been published before—-the stories these writers have always wanted to tell.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Instead of whodunit, this anthology of 12 anonymously penned short stories asks "who wrote it?" Parent gathers tales by well-known authors (including Aimee Bender, Michael Connelly, Sebastian Junger, Elizabeth McCracken, Anna Quindlen, Alice Sebold and himself) under the premise that freedom from reputation and byline leads to exciting storytelling. The device is intriguing-like a blind taste test-but potentially frustrating: the fun of the blind taste test, after all, is when you learn the name of your favorite flavor. And though many pieces deal with dark subjects, it's difficult to feel that anonymity has encouraged much authorial risk. A man falls in love with a women who's killed her parents; a father-to-be unleashes a ghost into the world; two young travelers are caught in a West African war. The finest story in the collection, "Wonderland," centers on a fashion magazine editor-"a fash-mag hag"-recalling a college affair with a custodian that led to unexpected consequences. The quality of the stories varies, but overall is high: why doesn't everyone just slap their names on what they wrote? Maybe because then it'd be just another anthology. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Writers of serious literature must often struggle with the expectations imposed on them by the reading public, the demands of the marketplace, and their own reputations. With this accomplished and intriguing collection, Parent (Turning Stones) set out to provide a moment of liberation. He invited a small group of well-known contemporary writers (including Aimee Bender, Benjamin Cheever, and Alice Sebold) to contribute anonymously to this book-to see what might happen if they could write fearlessly, as if they had "nothing to lose." We know the names of all the contributors but not who wrote what; the results are fascinating. As a group, these stories are beautifully realized, deeply satisfying in their variety, and powerful in their cumulative impact. They deal mostly with serious moments of human connection, disconnection, and hard-won personal clarity-and they do not shrink from confronting pain, loneliness, and confusion. Much more than a charming literary experiment, this is, indeed, literature at its most compelling and fearless. Enthusiastically recommended.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400101788
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2005
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 6 CDs, 7 hrs. 30 min.
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Aimee Bender is the author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, which was a New York Times Notable Book, and Willful Creatures, which was nominated by the Believer as one of the best books of the year.

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A former Los Angeles Times crime reporter, Michael Connelly is the author of over twenty novels and nonfiction books, including the bestselling series of mysteries featuring dark detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch.

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Alan Sklar is the winner of several AudioFile Earphones Awards and a multiple finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award. Named a Best Voice of 2009 by AudioFile magazine, his work has twice earned him a Booklist Editors' Choice Award, a Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award, and Audiobook of the Year by ForeWord magazine.

Ellen Archer is an acclaimed audiobook narrator and winner of a coveted Audie Award for For the Love of a Dog (available from Tantor).

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Read an Excerpt

The Secret Society of Demolition Writers


By Edited by Marc Parent

Random House

Edited by Marc Parent
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400062640


Chapter One

Chapter 1

It seemed the sun never sank that summer. All day long the air was thick and the river running through our town was just a dead gray snake with a sulfurous smell. Without wind, the tops of the trees drooped and when you fanned your face, the air was like a wall of water barely moving over you. People complained. Air-conditioning units banged, and the ice from a Slurpee was cool blue heaven before it melted on the pad of your tongue.

I didn't want to get a job selling Slurpees, the way so many others my age did. I certainly didn't want to be a lifeguard, hoisted high in one of those chairs with an emergency cross blazing at my back. I look eh in a bathing suit. I'm twenty-one, sun sensitive, my skin as white as milk in a blue china cup. I am the kind of person who seeks shady places and books; I like any book that has to do with houses and their insides. I like the old books about Boston houses--Edith Wharton and a man named James write about those--and I like the new books you get in the paperback rack in the drugstore, books where living rooms have velvet drapes and people are in love for two seconds tops. I've been in love a few times, but nothing worth noting here.

I live with my mother. In our town, most of us do. We go to the high school, a big industrial brick building with rows and rows of slick red lockers, and then we graduate up to the community college where huge elms shade the campus and there's an archway you have to drive through that says something important and Latin on it. At the community college, most of us major in physician's assistant training programs, which means you learn to draw a lot of blood and read pressure. Others do something with software architecture. I knew right from the start these career paths were not for me. I knew, and always have, that I wanted to do interior design, to make homes as beautiful as they possibly could be, to understand the subtle but serious distinction between mauve and merlot, or how to bring light to a row of wavy glass windows, to choose a carpet that complements the color of wood that soaks up the shine from the beaded chandelier, the one I chose, swinging from its root in the freshly spackled ceiling.

The summer of heat, the summer before my junior college year, my mother's cancer returned, after ten years' remission. My father left us a long time ago, for Florida. At first my mother felt just a small ache in her bones and then the ache turned into a limp and she finally had to admit the pain grinding and grinding at her hip was not arthritis. The doctor confirmed it with a CAT scan. He showed us the recurrence, there on films so gray they looked covered with cobwebs, there on the furniture of my mother's bones, her architecture all wrong, chips and calcifications, black stains where the malignancy was. The body is a house. Make no mistake about it. The body is a house and the organs are the plush parts and the bones are the scaffolding and bed frames and bookshelves on which you hold your memories, your disappointments.

We came out of the doctor's office, into a blast of heat. My mother waved a rolled-up patient information sheet in front of her face, perspiration lining her lip. "I'll do the chemo," she said. I wanted to put my arm around her, draw her in close, oh mom, but it's not that way between us. We get along, but if you were to give us a personality test, you'd get opposite results. She's loopy and eccentric and has little sense of style. She wears bedroom slippers a lot. I shop at all the outlets for Joan and David shoes and Talbot's clothes. My mother has a knot in her hair, and instead of combing it, she just lets it get bigger and bigger until at last the lady at the salon just has to cut it out. She lives off my father's alimony and spends her days reading horoscope charts and smoking cigarettes until the ash gets so long it drops off onto the carpet. Frankly, I have higher aspirations. A woman should. I'd like, for instance, to accumulate some wealth. I say to my mother, "Don't you need a retirement plan?" and she takes a deep suck off her cigarette, her cheeks collapsing inward and says, "Whoop de doo, I'll be gone before then." I say to my mother, "Don't you want to dye that gray in your hair?" and she says, "Gray tells the truth, Cynthia." Standing close to her, I can smell decay, the same way I can smell that river that runs through our town, odiferous vapors rising up, singing tunes of sinking things and wretched things and houses taken by torpedoes.

I don't remember ever being close to my mother. I don't remember ever holding her hand or sitting in her lap. She invited me, over and over again, and I refused. I can be distant and scared. In our high school class there was once a girl named Leah Kowalski. Leah had a bad lisp and a gimp leg that ended in a prosthesis. Sometimes she'd take the prosthesis off, unbuckling the leather-and-steel contraption, removing it from where it nestled on the knee, and I'd see what was beneath. I'd see the sheen of amputation, the skin and spoke of bone, and I'd want to touch her there. Right there. Of course I never dared.

In the summers, in my town, most of us flip burgers or bag groceries or work in the hospital gift shop, but these things aren't for me. I wanted to make some money. My mother's cancer had returned, a boy was abducted while he walked home from the mall, his murdered body found in the weedy woods, and I dreamt of Leah Kowalski; she was saying operator, operator and coming towards me in an old-fashioned black dress with gorgeous buttons of pure pearl. I'd wake up shaking, the tree shadows fingering out across my bedroom wall, the occasional car swooshing by in the street outside, the heat just building like a bomb. I was in Gerry's one day, ordering a low-cal soda, when I saw the sign. It was pinned on the community bulletin board, right next to the sectional sofa for sale. egg donors needed the sign said. generous compensation. 21-34. Call . . . and it gave a toll free number. Now, first off, I have always loved dialing toll free numbers. Sometimes I do it just for the thrill of reaching all the way across the country, to a voice in Texas, or Louisiana, or maybe even France, for free. But it was more than that. Generous compensation. I thought here might be a way to get wealthy. Here might be a way to stockpile some cash, start a serious savings plan, and move my way up and out of this tiny town of two-room houses and poor cable reception. I'd like to live in a place with just a bit of panache. I'd like to live in a house that has a foyer. I'd like a bathroom where the tiles are white floor to ceiling, except for the thin floral band that belts the midsection, beaded with water when I shower.

So I called. We are talking, here, the difference between a $5.61 summer wage, and a generous compensation. Who knew what it would be. I was thinking, maybe a couple of hundred? I had no idea. When I say that I mean that absolutely. I had no idea at all.

He was a lawyer. He said to come on in. We made an appointment for the next day. While I was waiting for the next day, I sat on my mother's porch swing and sipped some soda. My friend Alice called and said she'd kissed a trumpet player; he had an incredible lip. My friend Marie called and said mud was good for your face. These girls I am close to, but not by much. I have always been dreamy and inward. I am always building places inside my head, rooms where quilts hang on antique racks, hallways with ceramic hands cupping candles on the walls. This world, that world, my world, where it is perfect and lonely both.

The next day, I went in to see him. He had a 1-800 number but an office just two bus rides away. I live in Troy, a tiny town; he was in Albany, big city, far but not far, if you see what I mean. His office was in a high-rise with one thousand windows. The elevator doors parted soundlessly, and I whooshed upwards, stepping into a silent hall, and then a waiting room of utter white, a carmine couch, a sleek telephone on the glass side table. He called me in. He was handsome as hell, or heaven. He said his name was Ike. Ike Devin. He had one of those faces that descend like ledges, and bead blue eyes. He wore chinos, perfectly pressed, and an excellent Oxford shirt that showed the little trigger of his Adam's apple. "Sit down," he said, and I did. "I have hundreds upon hundreds of couples," he said, and he told me the tale, the women too old to make good eggs, the couples late thirtyish, always in love. They were looking for donors "like you," Ike said, "healthy and smart," and I could feel myself beginning to beam. Of course, like me. "A young woman like you," Ike said, "has probably thousands upon thousands of genetically sound egg cells," and when he said that I thought of my mother, her genetically unsound cells, and then I thought of my stomach, its flat pale plane, the little wink where the belly button was, the way Ike looked at me, approving, a small smile on his face. "You think I'd be a candidate?" I said.

"Quite possibly," he said.

"Which couple would get my egg?" I said.

"It's what we call a reciprocal process," Ike said. "You choose them and they choose you, a partnership." Then Ike pulled out a file drawer and riffled through it. "Here are all the profiles," he said. "Here are all the couples who might want your genetic material."

"How much?" I said.

"Five thousand," Ike said.

I felt my eyes pop out like a pug dog's. "Five thousand?" I said.

"Per retrieval," Ike said. "If you do it more than once, then of course you get five thousand again. It can be lucrative," Ike said. "And for a girl your age, you have a lot to give."

I had to sign on many dotted lines. I had to sign away my rights to the future child, which was not a problem, because in my mind I was not giving away a child, just an egg, and there's a difference. I had to prove who I was, birth certificate, doctor checkups, health histories, school report cards, where I've always been straight A. Three weeks later, Ike called. "You're approved," he said. I went back to his office and he fanned out the files before me. It was like picking parents. Each couple had their history, their likes and dislikes, their golfing styles, their pet status, their gardens and careers. I knew I wanted my egg to go to a certain sort of woman, one who had, say, a circular lawn, and underground sprinklers, the kind that work on an automatic timer and rain upwards just as the summer sun sinks, giving the air a lavender smell. I wanted the woman to have a lawn and a walk-in California closet and most definitely a career; she should have earned these things herself, and she should like dogs. I picked her, Janice. We would never meet, but then again, we would. I would be buried in her. She would grow me all over again. I would be born from her, born into her house, which she described as contemporary colonial, with two staircases and a shag carpet the color of cream. In the kitchen, I pictured fresh peppers hung in copper baskets; I pictured a small room painted a beautiful pale green, where the crib would be. I pictured the baby opening its eyes to see the lacquered blond spindles and the walls and a face bending over it, all shadow and jasmine scent. Janice. In her house, I would sleep in Neiman Marcus sheets. In her house, touch would be safe, mouth to cheek, finger to wrist, the skin always moist and fresh.

I thought the procedure would be relatively easy, my mistake. They can't, it turns out, just go in there with lobster tongs and pick out an egg or two. I had to take a lot of drugs and this did not appeal to me, given that, unlike my mother, who eats meat, I am a vegetarian with insides as bright as sunny corridors. So I wasn't happy about the drug part, but the fertility doctor at the clinic, where Ike referred me, said it was absolutely necessary. The goal was to ramp up my ovaries so they spit out eggs like silver pinballs, so doctors could harvest as many as ten at a time, all for Janice. I went in for ultrasounds. The technician squirted warmed goop on my belly and said, "There they are," but when I looked on the screen all I saw were shadows and clouds. Now, at night, I dreamt of Janice. She was my mother, my sister, my friend. I could be close to her; we could be like blood relations with none of the liabilities this usually imposed. We did not share disease or death or even difference. We were just a pure blood-bond, and she came to me in my dreams, this Janice did, her skirt a spiral of color. She held my hand. I felt I had come home.

Meanwhile, my mother's cancer was doing the cancer thing. Once a recurrence happens, and once that recurrence goes to the bone, well, you can imagine. If you have a cancer in your breast, which is where hers started, you have it limited, because there are only two breasts on the body. But when cancer gets to the bone it has a whole sewer system to work through because bones are everywhere, and they are not durable. My mother was in pain. She knocked on a door one day and shattered her porous knuckle. She drank her chemo down. The chemo was red as Batman's cape, and left a stain on her lip. Ten years ago, when my father left her for a woman in high high heels, my mother's already graying hair finished its transformation. Her veins are very purple in her high thighs, a little like mashed grape. "I'm my own woman Cynthia," my mother tells me, has always told me. "I don't care what anyone thinks of how I look or live and it's a shame you do." She says this to me in her bedroom slippers, as she sucks on her mentholated sticks. The smoke is snarled and yarnlike. I can't believe I came out of her vagina. Sometimes I have a weird belief that the doctors never completely washed me off, so I still smell like her and what is this smell, my mother's oils, the substance beneath the stone, where the worms are?


Excerpted from The Secret Society of Demolition Writers by Edited by Marc Parent Excerpted by permission.
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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Table of Contents

Eggs 1
There is no palindrome of palindrome 19
The safe man 45
Sweet 83
Deck 99
Wonderland 113
Ashes 143
An eye for an eye 153
The choking pearl 163
Modern times 175
Good sport 201
A country like no other 217
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