The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac

4.4 9
by Kris D'Agostino

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In the spirit of novels by Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta, a smart, funny debut about a disillusioned young man whose fledgling leap from postadolescence to adulthood lands him back in an already overburdened family nest.

Calvin Moretti can’t believe how much his life sucks. He’s a twenty-four-year-old film school dropout living at home again and


In the spirit of novels by Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta, a smart, funny debut about a disillusioned young man whose fledgling leap from postadolescence to adulthood lands him back in an already overburdened family nest.

Calvin Moretti can’t believe how much his life sucks. He’s a twenty-four-year-old film school dropout living at home again and working as an assistant teacher at a preschool for autistic kids. His insufferable go-getter older brother is also living at home, as is his kid sister, who’s still in high school and has just confided to Cal that she’s pregnant. What’s more, Calvin’s father, a career pilot, is temporarily grounded and obsessed with his own mortality. and his ever-stalwart mother is now crumbling under the pressure of mounting bills and the imminent loss of their Sleepy Hollow, New York, home: the only thing keeping the Morettis moored. Can things get worse? Oh, yes, they can.

Which makes it all the more amazing that The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac is not only buoyantly fun but often very, very funny. In this debut novel, Kris D’Agostino has crafted an engrossing contemporary tale of a loopy but loving family, and in Calvin Moretti, he’s created an oddball antihero who really wants to do the right thing—if he can just figure out what it is.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Calvin Moretti is plagued with suburban angst. He still lives at home, works as an assistant at a school for autistic kids, and hasn’t finished graduate school, for which he’s now saddled with debt. Despite being fortunate enough to live in a million-dollar home in upstate New York’s tony Sleepy Hollow, he can’t stand his loving-if-irksome family: the successful older brother, Chip; the beleaguered but devoted mother; the infuriating, depressed father recovering from cancer after expensive treatment. Thankfully, Calvin is human enough to tolerate his pregnant 17-year old sister, Elissa, and a host of childhood stoner friends. Apathetic to the core and wildly frustrating, Calvin is a difficult character to like but also brutally honest about his flaws, which makes him heartbreakingly human, more like his father than he realizes and kinder than he wants to be. D’Agostino’s narrator wants to “know how it feels to be passionate about something” and his keen observations about family expose the worst in him. Wickedly funny and as often beautiful as it is meandering, this debut novel reads much like Calvin’s life: bursts of activity followed by long periods of idleness and deep thought. Agent: Ethan Bassoff, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“In his hilarious and heartbreaking novel, D’Agostino has given us a sharp and poignant sketch of a generation searching for self-definition in a new century.” —David Gates, author of Jernigan and Preston Falls

“A singularly funny, bitter, bold book about what it’s like to resemble people you want badly to be better than. This is a remarkable book about a remarkable family with disturbingly familiar problems.”
—Brock Clarke, author of Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England

Library Journal
Twenty-four-year-old Calvin Moretti still lives at home with his quirky parents and siblings. He is angry about his situation—employed only because his mother requires it, and he has no money saved up to move out. In addition, his father has been diagnosed with cancer, his teenage sister is pregnant, the family is about to lose their home in Sleepy Hollow, NY, to foreclosure, and Calvin just wants to escape it all. He gradually realizes that his options are either to move out and allow his family to struggle alone or to force himself to grow up so he can emotionally and financially help the people he loves. VERDICT In this sometimes amusing, sometimes heartbreaking debut coming-of-age story, Calvin's initial self-absorption and self-pity will be off-putting to readers; however, as he struggles to make the hard decisions that will shape his present and future, they will soon root for him to make the right decisions to keep his family afloat. D'Agostino's style will appeal to Michael Chabon fans and readers who enjoy novels about dysfunctional but lovable families.—Katie Wernz, Powell, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Cancer. An overdue mortgage. An unexpected pregnancy. All weigh upon Calvin Moretti, film-major graduate, special-education teacher assistant and vaguely guilty semi-slacker. Cal actually is responsible for none of these troubles. He has dropped out of grad school and taken work as a teacher's assistant in a school for autistic children, a job he's good at but disengaged from. But he does live at home, where his father copes with cancer, bemoans his loss of his flying career and obsesses about death. Meantime Cal's harried mother stretches disability benefits to cover bills and­ stave off foreclosure on their suburban New York City home. Cal's older brother, Chip, also residing at home, brings a substantial paycheck home from the city, but neither Chip nor Cal are ready to assume responsibility, financial or otherwise. That doesn't dissuade Cal's younger sister Elissa, a high-school senior, from confiding in him that she's pregnant. Therein lies D'Agostino's narrative arc. Mired in ennui, Cal watches independent and self-aware Elissa struggle with her decision to keep her child-to-be even while reaching out to empathize with her father. Cal soon experiences a series of convoluted self-realizations suggesting he can accept that life and love carry responsibilities, to family and self. The book is modern realism, eavesdropping on a family big on hugs, vocal expressions of love and lacing casual conversations with the F-word as they live a life less perfect with sardonic humor and fatalism. D'Agostino sketches a memorable turning point in a scene involving a wedding and a gunshot, an occasion that blasts Cal out of the boredom generated by a world of unearned comfort toward an existentialist awareness. Cal's character is well-defined, one that grows in likability. Surprisingly, so does the self-centered Chip. Elissa is more foil than central to the narrative, but the older Morettis mirror modern woes that cast shadows upon the American dream. D'Agostino's fiction debut winningly describes the millennial generation exploring the borders of love and responsibility.

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac

a novel
By Kris D'Agostino


Copyright © 2012 Kris D'Agostino
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-951-1

Chapter One

I work with retards.

This is fact in more ways than one. It is fact because I am a teaching assistant at a preschool for autistic kids. It is fact because family, friends, and most of the people who populate my life are idiots.

"Peepee," Arham says. He is smiling in a very unnatural way.

"No peepee," I tell him. I grab the small chair on which he sits and pull it closer to me. "You just went," I add under my breath. Arham continues to smile. He's a cute kid, Middle Eastern, Pakistani, or something. His hair smells like peanuts, cumin.

I'm not a preschool teacher. The road that led me here was long and circuitous, fraught with disappointment and regret. My job title is, as stated on my paychecks, "Teaching Assistant." My mother basically thrust the whole thing upon me—under threat of losing the free bed and board I have been exploiting since moving back to my parents' house last year. Although I'm not particularly happy with this job, I haven't been able to summon the proper motivation to do anything about it. I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing with myself. I have no money. I spend what little I make on weed, student loans, LPs, and the laundry list of bills I've racked up. Life is basically standing still. Stalled out. Or something along those lines. It has made me angry. I am angry all the time. And the fact that I can't focus that anger on any one thing, any one person, other than myself, makes me that much more dispirited.

There is a lap desk resting on my thighs. I sit with one of these for hours, every day. I'm not sure why I can't have a table, but I try not to ask too many questions around here. I shift from one cheek to the other to keep my ass from getting numb and check the clock on the wall: 3:20. Ten more minutes and the school day will be over. Ten more minutes and I will be holding Arham's hand, leading him across the grass to bus number 52. The bus that takes him home.

I shuffle a stack of twenty index cards, all laminated, all displaying various colored polygons. It's shape time for Arham, one of the many programs I attempt to teach him on a daily basis. I place two of the cards on the lap desk. One shows a red star, the other a blue circle. I couldn't get the printer to work properly, so the star looks like a melting pinecone.

I take a breath and check the clock again. Still 3:20.

"Point to the star," I say.

Arham's smile widens.

I have been using bits of cookie all afternoon as small rewards when he behaves well. By this point, a dark circle of brownish muck has built up around his lips. I get paper towels to clean him off. When I return to my seat, he has a look of mischief on his face. He says, "Peepee," then falls out of his chair onto the floor. What little patience I arrived with at eight this morning is gone. I lunge after him. The lap desk falls. Index cards scatter. Arham is excited because I have reacted to him. He has successfully gotten me down to his level. Arham has the attention span of a fourteen-month-old. He's on the spectrum. Autistic, special, slow, handicapped, disabled, annoying, possessing intellectual qualities on par with my grandmother's – whatever you want to call it.

He lies on his back, giggling that high-pitched girlish giggle I've been listening to since the school year began. I grab his miniature frame by the shoulders and attempt to hoist him to his feet. The fucking kid weighs maybe twenty-five pounds.

"Peepee," he blurts out. This time it's accompanied by a volley of spit and chewed cookie bits. A large glob lands just below the neckline of his Looney Tunes T-shirt. Another splatters on my forearm.

I look over at Angela and her student, future Stanford-Binet all-star Hendrick Ramirez. Hendrick is Puerto Rican, three years old, the same age as Arham. Hendrick isn't autistic. He is merely crippled by massive behavior and attention problems. As if this is somehow better.

Angela and I are employees of the John W. Manley School in Sleepy Hollow, New York. There are forty or so kids here, shipped in from various parts of the county. We work with them in semi-isolation, one kid per teacher, two kids per room, so as not to overwhelm anyone. Angela and I share a front room with two large floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on a very green, very long sloping hill. For normal people this would be nice, these large windows. But Arham has a thing with birds and clouds and trees. He wants to eat them. To stop him from constantly banging his head on the glass, I have been forced to hang sheets of colored craft paper over the windows, blocking his view. The paper is thin, though, and creates an uncanny kaleidoscope effect on the floors and walls. I don't mind this.

Spring break is two days away. I just need to make it to the end of the week.

I take a deep breath. Arham continues to dribble mushy discharge onto my arm. I grab the front of his shirt and wipe some cookie-spit paste across Daffy Duck's beak.

Little Hendrick Ramirez is now standing on his chair, demanding I stop manhandling Arham.

"No!" he tells me, pointing a tiny finger in my direction. His accent stretches the o and for a second he reminds me of those guys I see camped out on the sidewalks in Port Chester playing dominoes, eating chicken feet. Hendrick is wearing a shiny plastic fireman's hat, which makes him much less mysterious.

"No, yourself," I say.

Angela has put her pen down and is looking at me. I mouth Sorry, like it's not my fault. Arham's giggling increases as he tries to squirm away from me. He keeps talking about his desire to make peepee.

I yank him harder than I should and force him back into his seat. His smile is still there, but behind it I can see he's confused. He struggles to get up and I pin his arms to his sides. Tiny veins, so small they look drawn on, pop out along his neck and he scrunches his eyes to little slits, won't look at me.

"Pee. Pee," he says, more of a breath than a word, pushing himself off his chair as far as he can.

"Yeah, yeah," I say.

Hendrick seizes the moment and disappears behind me, grabbing my plastic container of treats. I'm forked. Either I have to let Arham go, at which point he'll fall back onto the floor, or I can let Hendrick help himself to as many Gummi-Bears, M&M's, and Cheetos as he can cram into his mouth before Angela gets to him.

I drop Arham, which apparently he wasn't expecting, because for a moment, as he sails through the air, his smile vanishes and he looks completely baffled. He hits the deck, banging his head on the lap desk.

"Ouch. Ouch," he says, rubbing his temple.

Hendrick sees me coming and tosses the container into the air. Gummi-Bears disperse across the carpet. M&M's scatter. Hendrick takes off his fireman's hat and stands giving me the evil eye. I reach down to start picking up the mess, and as I do, Hendrick winds up and hits my hand as hard as he can with the helmet.

"Broccoli!" he yells, rolling the r with a look of profound ecstasy on his face. Broccoli is his favorite word.

If I had a gun, I would shoot everyone in the room, including myself.

My supervisor, Ceci, appears in the doorway. I imagine we've been making a racket.

"Is everything all right in here?" she asks. She is wearing her hair up in a ponytail today.

I sit on the floor, holding my throbbing hand, red and blue and green light from the craft paper spilling across my body. Ceci straddles the safety gate we use to keep the retards con- fined like barnyard animals.

She bends over and starts to help gather the fallen candy and snacks. I see through her cotton skirt that she's wearing a thong.

ARHAM IS GONE. Hendrick is gone. My fingers hurt.

I'm sitting outside at a picnic table. I'm sweating without really moving. My hair is matted all around my head. I refuse to cut it, mainly because it pisses my mother off.

The John W. Manley School employee handbook dictates that no one is allowed to clock out until four on the dot. Our supervisors are very clear about this at weekly staff meetings. In nonviolent protest I have begun staging sit-ins at the picnic table, silently letting the final ten minutes of the day expire.

I count the moments till I can leave. I emphasize each second by picking flakes of red paint off the table. After work, I'm meeting a Realtor to look at apartments. I'm anxious, filled with a strong urge to just take the first place I'm shown, anything, as long as it isn't my parents' house. I've been riding the seesaw of false hope and delusion all day: upward swings of happy thoughts about the prospect of once again living life outside that house, followed almost immediately by the dreadful remembrance that it's all a big farce I'm orchestrating because I don't actually have the money to rent my own place. My apartment hunt is nothing more than a waste of this Realtor's time, my time.

Thinking about all of this conjures images of my aunt Corrine. Before she lost her mind (the fate of every Moretti, it seems), Corrine worked in real estate. She was the one who put my parents in their current home. The house where I grew up. The house where I once again find myself living.

Corrine isn't really my aunt. She's my grandmother's cousin, so I don't know what that makes her to me. She's seventy years old and lives down the street from my family. I drive by her house every day on my way to work. She's fond of wearing oversize navy snow boots while watering the same patch of desolate garden in her front yard. I usually smile and wave if she sees me and try to forget that as a child I was made to kiss this woman's cheek on holidays. Aunt Corrine is not well. Of course, from my perspective at least, most people in my family are not well. At a YMCA line-dancing class last weekend, a widower named Stan asked Corrine to be his dancing partner. She called my mother at three o'clock that morning to inform us she was engaged.

Corrine woke many relatives that night, spreading the good news.

Last winter, during my mother's annual Christmas party, I found Corrine standing out in the backyard, shivering. There were tears in her eyes. I asked her what she was doing.

"Looking for Lloyd," she muttered. "Have you seen him?" Lloyd was her husband.

"He's been dead for nine years," I informed her. She blinked at me, confusion welling up in her gaze. "I haven't seen him. Let's check inside." I ushered her back into the house.

She's not well, and her brother Harold (this is a guy who had a new mattress delivered over a year ago and still hasn't carried it inside off his porch) has found a solution to her dementia-related problems. He's gone ahead and secured a new place for her to live, and from what I understand, Aunt Corrine has signed a very long lease. As of this morning, she's a permanent resident of the Four Winds Hospital over in Katonah.

I'm not sure who's going to water Corrine's fallow flowerbeds now that she's been relieved of that duty. In forty-six years I'll be her age. I wonder if I'll bow out of the race in similar fashion.

BACK INSIDE THE SCHOOL, I head to the staff kitchen to get some water. Angela is there, sitting at the table, looking exhausted.

"Sorry about earlier," I say.

"It's okay."

She is slouched forward with one hand propping her head up.

"I shouldn't have let things get out of control."

"Around here, it happens," Angela says. "Don't worry."

I fill a cup with water from the cooler and sit down across the table from her. I check the time. Although I've stopped wearing the watch my grandmother gave me as a college graduation present, my cell phone tells me it's 3:55.

"Can I ask you a question?"

She sits back and looks at me.


"Is this the job you saw for yourself when you left El Salvador?"

She seems to turn the question over for a minute.

"No," she says.

"Is your life better because you left?"

"I have more money here than I could ever have there."

"Is this what you imagined? The John W. Manley School?"

She shakes her head.


"My life looks absolutely nothing like what I thought it would."

Why am I telling this woman these things? Sure, we sit in the same room together for hours every day, but we hardly ever speak more than a few words to each other. The only explanation is that I'm losing it.

"Life doesn't follow the plan you lay out," Angela says.

"Yeah, well, at least you don't have to deal with your family here. My family is killing me."

"Are you kidding? My mother calls five times a day and gets mad when I can't talk for an hour. I send money back, for her, for my father, for his new wife, for my sister and her kids."

"You know where my money goes?" I tell her. "Student loans. I'm broke all the time. I'm angry all the time."

"Bills. Calling cards. Babysitter. Food. Heat," Angela is ticking off her expenses one finger at a time.

"I live with my parents."

"I have two kids. No husband."

"I think this talk is depressing us."

We both laugh at the absurdity of it all.

"Family is family," Angela says. "Sometimes you need them."

"I don't," I say. "I want out."

Angela doesn't respond. Maybe she's right, but at the moment, life just feels like a mountain of frustration. I finish my water and check my cell phone again. Time to go.

I WALK INTO my supervisor's office, to where the time sheets are pinned with a thumbtack to the wall. Ceci is on the phone. By the tone of her voice I surmise she's talking to her fiancé.

"That sounds like a great idea," she says. She oohs and aahs. God knows what these two nimrods are discussing. She makes a lovey-dovey face. He can't see you, asshole, I think. She doesn't even look at me as I pull down the time sheet and sign out. I put the time as 4:05.

"You look hot today," I tell her as I tack the folder back to the wall. Ceci cups her hand over the receiver.

"What's that?"

"I said, 'See you tomorrow,' " I call out as I slip through the door.

"Listen, Cal. I'd like you to present a graph next month. It's been a while."

"Sure thing," I say, but really I'm gone. I'm out of her office before she finishes her sentence, past the main doors and down the very long, very green sloping lawn to the parking lot. I climb into my hatchback and turn on the radio. It feels like a British postpunk evening, so I rummage around the garbage littering the floor of the car until I find something to fit that bill. I listen to Entertainment! Angular guitars, tin can drums, chugging, staccato bass lines. It sounds like heaven, and I'm off, shifting into reverse and pulling out of the lot faster than I should. Tires screech and I'm around the corner heading down Route 9 toward Yonkers. When I hit Palmer Avenue, I have a brief moment of guilt. I should really go home and see if my father needs help. I shouldn't be trying to pass myself off as a renter with good credit or savings of any kind. But then again, he always needs help. They're always looking for something from me in that house. It sucks you in. Fuck it.

When the light changes to green, I continue. I'll keep playing out the charade. I'll pretend I'm something I'm not.

Chapter Two

She opens the door. Her blouse comes down just far enough in the front so I don't have to try very hard to imagine what her breasts look like. We step into the apartment. Her name is Pam Kittredge and she immediately tells me about other rentals she has access to. I tell her I wish to see them all.

"What do you do for a living?" she asks as I follow her to the kitchen, which is separated by an island counter from the living room.

"I'm a teacher." It's only half a lie, and it doesn't matter anyway, because my financially crippling student loans and barely existent salary prevent me from having anywhere near the sum needed to sign the lease, which would require me to pay the broker's fee, security deposit, and first month's rent up front.

"That's great," she says. "The landlord is definitely looking for someone responsible."

"I'm that person," I say.

"And what do your parents do?"

"Well, my father is sort of out of work at the moment," I tell her.

"He was laid off?"

"More like disability."

"I see," Pam says. She sees nothing.

I sum up my mother's existence with a vague "She makes sure the bills get paid."

The place is cavernous. Exactly what I had in mind. Giant raw space with exposed piping overhead and colossal paneled windows looking out on an industrial park across the street.

"These lofts are getting popular," Pam tells me. "Like a blank canvas. You can do whatever you want in here."

The previous tenant constructed a corner bedroom with drywall, the sides of which don't quite reach the ceiling.

"The building is full of artists and musicians," Pam says. "All sorts of creative people."


Excerpted from The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D'Agostino Copyright © 2012 by Kris D'Agostino. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL. 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.

Meet the Author

Kris D’Agostino lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in a preschool. This is his first novel.

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The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
RobertDowns More than 1 year ago
From the opening line to the last sentence, Calvin Moretti captured my attention with his unique voice and the interesting way he views the world. He’s not always a likable character, but that’s what I liked about him. He doesn’t try to be something he’s not: he’s genuine. He’s the voice of a generation that hasn’t quite found themselves yet, and I can’t think of a better character to tell the tale. Despite his wayward direction, I found myself standing behind him every step of the way. The story moved at a clipped pace, and I found myself flipping pages to find out what happened next. Although I wouldn’t call it a light read, at times it can be light-hearted. The beginning proved more than memorable, with pockets of humorous scenes filling up the pages, to a more profound middle and end. Like Calvin, this story proves to be much deeper than it appears on the surface. It’s a story and a journey worthy of your attention. I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For anyone who has suffered serious hardship and knows that happy endings rarely occur. A goid uf sometimes nit thought out book about real life. Whether you lke it or not
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Flies in
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jade whirled around, startled, and quickly stopped singin. "Uh... hi."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shoot with your breaths, Lethe.