The Third Brother

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The highly anticipated second novel from the author of the internationally best-selling Twelve

Nick McDonell's Twelve created a sensation around the world, establishing its seventeen-year-old author as one of the new and important voices of his generation. The book sold over 300,000 copies, was published in twenty-four countries, and was hailed by The New York Times as "fast as speed, relentless as acid." The Third Brother is his highly anticipated second novel.

"The story is ...

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The Third Brother: A Novel

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The highly anticipated second novel from the author of the internationally best-selling Twelve

Nick McDonell's Twelve created a sensation around the world, establishing its seventeen-year-old author as one of the new and important voices of his generation. The book sold over 300,000 copies, was published in twenty-four countries, and was hailed by The New York Times as "fast as speed, relentless as acid." The Third Brother is his highly anticipated second novel.

"The story is backpacker kids going to Bangkok to do ecstasy," Analect says. "Just don't get arrested." Mike is interning in Hong Kong when his editor, a friend of his father's, gives him the assignment, and a mission: find Christopher Dorr, a brilliant journalist gone AWOL. So begins a propulsive journey that will take a young man grasping after his identity headlong through fast nights in Thailand, into the grip of family tragedy, and into the heart of September 11, 2001. Along the way he encounters a kaleidoscope of characters-the Flying Circus, a hard-living band of journalists trying to expose the Thai government's murderous repression of drug dealers; Tweety, an inexplicably alluring prostitute hungry to leave her world of poverty and desperation; and the third brother, a mysterious, imaginary sibling created by Mike's haunted older brother.

Through it all, Mike must come to terms with the legacies of his troubled family and privileged upbringing. "He knew that if you grow up with money, you don't think about being rich and that the same is probably true of courage. But if you grow up with lies, you find out that some lies become true. Mike knew this and so did not lie. Except to himself, about his parents." The Third Brother moves with the speed and purpose of a bullet through the complexities of life in a Third-World capital of illicit hedonism, to the unspeakable horror of 9/11, and to the polished life of academia, offering a devastating portrait of a family caught between love and turmoil, and of a young man stretching to come to terms with his past and to find his future.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Mr. McDonell writes best about the precise dynamics of class, loneliness and spiritual decay.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
McDonell's first novel, published when he was 17, was an acclaimed 300,000-copy bestseller--a daunting achievement for this emotionally intricate but iffy sophomore effort to match. The author of Twelve, now 21, is a bit too experienced to be a boy wonder, but he's not quite a mature writer, a 'twixt phase that bedevils this novel about tragic family secrets, sibling madness and the abrupt onset of adult responsibility. Part one of the rat-a-tat-tat tale--most chapters are two or three pages--is set in Thailand, where Mike, a well-bred Harvard freshman interning for the summer at a Hong Kong magazine, is researching a story on stoned Western travelers. Part two takes place back in Manhattan as September 11, 2001, nears: Mike's quarrelsome parents are dead in a house fire and his revered older brother, perhaps responsible for the blaze, is prone to paralyzing hallucinations. McDonnell has a knack for capturing place with sharp-eyed, vivid prose: scenes set in Bangkok's whirl of sex and drugs, and his evocation of 9/11 disbelief and horror are both charged with a reality that's reportorial in its authenticity. But the two halves of the novel, linked loosely by Mike's search for the truth about his family, don't quite gel. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Mike, a summer intern for a Hong Kong newspaper, uncovers startling news about his family and about himself while on assignment in Thailand. This is the second book written by teenage novelist, Nick McDonell, but should not be mistaken for a book intended for teens. McDonell's main character Mike encounters a world of hedonistic pleasure and nihilistic despair in the streets of Bangkok and all-too-enthusiastically dives in. His fun is ruined when the realities of that lifestyle become dangerously apparent. Amidst this disillusionment, he receives news from back home of a family tragedy and steps from the despair and ruin of one world, into the pain and confusion of another. The problem with all of this angst is that when all is said and done, the reader could care less, mainly because the characters are unlikable. Mike is totally devoid of principles. He is neither ambitious nor faithful, so when his world falls apart we feel little for his plight. The only other characters are just faceless drug pushers and haphazardly drawn journalists interested in nothing more than sex and drugs. Even Mike's family, who plays a vital roll in this tedious character study, is devoid of any virtues. In the end, this American tragedy thinks itself edgy but is really quite ridiculous and vulgar. 2005, Grove Press, Ages 16 up.
—Tom Jones
Library Journal
After receiving a tremendous amount of attention for his first novel, Twelve, which he wrote at the tender age of 17, McDonell, now 21, has followed it with a more meditative effort that reflects a more sophisticated, experienced outlook on life. Mike's well-connected father has helped him land an internship with a magazine in Hong Kong. The work primarily consists of tedious Internet research until Mike's editor, an old college friend of Mike's father, sends him on an assignment to Bangkok both to help a veteran reporter on a story and to find an award-winning journalist from the magazine who hasn't been heard from in months. As Mike searches for the reporter, while also experiencing the licentiousness of Bangkok life, McDonell intersperses the narrative with flashbacks to Mike's privileged but troubling childhood and his close relationship with his older brother. McDonell's authorial confidence borders on audaciousness when he includes the events of 9/11 in the book's denouement; there are still signs of his youthfulness-for example, one hopes that he will eventually expand his average chapter length to more than a few pages. Still, McDonell's prodigious talent is without question, and his current development is evident throughout this work. Recommended for most general fiction collections.-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Having delivered his first critically acclaimed novel, Twelve (Grove/Atlantic, 2002), when he was still a teenager, McDonell shows that his talent is substantial as he turns to a different scene and character type. Mike, demonstrably sensitive and insightful, is a college student who grew up wealthy and is vaguely haunted by the mythologies of his parents' generation. He spends the first half of the book working as a journalism intern in Thailand, self-conscious of his role in the Bangkok of student tourists and expatriates, some of whom may once have known his parents in their own youth. He tries to live up to his ambition to investigate, not perpetuate, the Western fantasies of the Far East any more than is necessary to get both the story about backpackers and some personal info about his parents' college days. Back in the United States, the story takes an unexpected turn: Mike's parents have died in a house fire and his older brother has been released only recently from a psychiatric facility. The story begins again, in Manhattan, on September 11, 2001. While Mike disintegrates psychologically as these plotlines cross, McDonell offers a realistic bit of hope for his hero in the form of a faith assertion that older adolescents frequently find in the face of crisis. Teens who like the independence of Holden Caulfield will appreciate Mike.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
McDonell, who at 17 made a splash with his debut, Twelve (2002), delivers an assured and heartfelt second. The narrator, Mike, 19 when we first meet him, works as an intern for an English language news magazine in Hong Kong. It's a job he got because managing editor Elliot Analect is an old Harvard friend of his fathers's. It's a job that pretty much bores Mike silly, so that he jumps at the chance to go to Bangkok to help research a story on back-packing kids and their drugs of choice. " 'Just don't get arrested,' " his boss tells him. He almost does, and on one occasion he's almost killed. Much that happens to him in Thailand is unsettling, nightmarish even, but what calls him home is worse. Mike's is a family on the far side of dysfunctional-both parents alcoholics, a brother whose hold on emotional equilibrium is tentative to say the least. And yet he loves them, and when they can, they love him back. Rich, talented, charming-he thinks of them as a "catalog people, handsome and expensive"-they have made his growing up both pain- and pleasure-filled. He returns from Asia because tragedy has struck, forcing him into a complex and unwelcome role-his older brother's keeper. Most of Part Two is devoted to the horror of 9/11, understatedly but brilliantly reported, as Mike, fearing that Lyle, his brother, might be one of those trapped, works his way toward a devastated downtown. Part Three is a kind of coda, a squaring up, as Mike, now 21, attempts to come to terms with life's savagery. Engrossing, with indelible scenes and a protagonist to care about.
From the Publisher
"Gifted narrator...William Dufris...creates colorful individuals we can imagine and remember." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802142672
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,061,863
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick McDonell was born in 1984 in New York City.

William Dufris has been nominated nine times as a finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award and has garnered tweny-one Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which also named him one of the Best Voices at the End of the Century.

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Read an Excerpt

The Third Brother

A novel
By Nick McDonell

Grove Press

Copyright © 2005 Nick McDonell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-1802-X

Chapter One

The summer is dragging for Mike as he rises, by escalator, out of the cool subway into the Hong Kong heat. He is too tall, out of place as he crosses the jammed street to Taikoo Tower, where he has been working for six weeks. Seems like a year. The tower looms over him, silent workers and pulsing technology, a kingdom of itself above the Hong Kong streets. Mike doesn't like the skyscraper-it has become predictable-but he is grateful for the air-conditioning. Everything inside the tower works. Outside, not. His job, his internship, is at a news magazine that he had never read until the twenty-two-hour flight from New York.

Mike has several bosses at the magazine, but the reason he has the job is that the managing editor, Elliot Analect, is a friend of his father. Analect even looks like his father, Mike realized when they shook hands. All of those guys look alike, all tall, clean, white guys who have known one another for decades. They were in the same club at Harvard, wore the same ties. And then they went to Vietnam and almost all of them came hack. Growing up, Mike didn't see his father's friends much but he had the sense they were in touch. So when it was time for his first internship, the summer after his freshman year, Mike was not surprised that he ended up working for Analect. He was glad, at least, that the job was in Hong Kong and not in midtown Manhattan.

As a summer intern, Mike seldom gets out of the office, spends his days wading the Internet. He is doing research, mostly for Thomas Bishop, one of the magazine's correspondents. Mike has a view of Analect's office and sometimes watches his father's old friend through the smoked-glass walls, but they have had little contact since that initial welcome handshake. And the most excitement Mike has had was when Analect abruptly spoke with him in the hallway, promising to take him out to lunch at the end of the summer. Strange, Mike thinks, and wishes there was more for him to do. As he surfs the Internet he thinks about fathers and sons, and how friendship does not necessarily pass down. Mike has already seen this often among his friends and their fathers.

So Mike is glad when the assignment comes, even though he is very surprised. He had been watching again, and Analect had been standing in conversation with Bishop for nearly ten minutes. Mike had been looking closely through the glass-he sensed the men were angry with one another-when Bishop suddenly turned and opened the door. Mike feared he was caught, but then Bishop waved him into the office and Analect asked if he wanted to go to Bangkok. "Help Tommy with some reporting," as he put it.

Bishop nods slightly at Mike. Bishop is a small man, with fat features and prematurely graying black hair.

"The story, is backpacker kids going to Bangkok to do ecstasy," Analect says. "Just don't get arrested."

"He doesn't want to have to retrieve you," Bishop says.

"It's really just a travel story, is another way to look at it," Analect goes on.

"Just a travel story," Bishop repeats, chuckling.

"You're their age," Analect continues, "the backpackers'. You'll be good at talking to them. Ask questions. It can be your story too. And one other thing I've already explained to Tommy ..."

Mike catches Bishop rolling his eyes.

"... I want you to find Christopher Dorr."

Mike can't place the name.

"He used to do a lot of the investigative pieces Tommy does now," Analect says, looking straight at him, seeming almost to ignore Bishop. "He's been in Bangkok for a while, I think. It'd be good for someone from the magazine to look him up."

Mike tries to decode this and can't. Analect tells him again to stay out of trouble and that Bishop will take care of him. It seems to Mike that Bishop is pleased to have the help, but that there is more to it. When they are leaving the office, Analect tells Mike to wait for a moment, and when they are alone, he tells Mike that Dorr had been a friend of Mike's father, years ago. That they had all been good friends, actually, the three of them practically brothers, and that Mike's father would be glad for news of Dorr.

Mike looks out the window. He notices for the first time how really extraordinary the view from Analect's office is. Mike can see the whole city, enormous and smogged and throbbing. For a moment he can't believe the sound of it doesn't blow in the windows. But Analect's office sits quietly above it all, humming coolly. Mike is suddenly uneasy, with only the inch of glass between the two of them and the loud, empty space above the city. He looks back at Analect, who is frowning.

"Dorr and your father were sparring partners, when they boxed back in college," says Analect.

Mike looks back out over the city. He knew about the boxing, but his father had never mentioned Dorr. It all surprises him, but maybe it's just seeing his own features reflected in the glass, and the long drop to Hong Kong from fifty stories up.

Chapter Two

When Mike was a small boy, his parents often entertained. In New York City in their world, they were famous for the dinners they gave in their big beach house at the end of Long Island, especially Thanksgiving. Mike remembered the candlelight and gluey cranberry sauce, which he would wipe off his hands into his hair. His older brother, Lyle, remembered the same things. There were servants, who disciplined Mike when his parents did not. One Filipino lady in particular boxed his ears. When he was older he remembered how it hurt but not her name. Their parents gave these dinners several years in a row. There were mostly the same guests, adults who would tousle Mike's fine but cranberried hair, and their children, a crew of beautiful, spoiled playmates whom Mike assumed he would know forever. He still saw some of them, at parties and dinners of their own on school breaks. At hearing that one or two of them had slid into addiction, Mike would remember chasing them through his mother's busy kitchen. His mother was never in the kitchen, of course, but it was definitely hers. Small paintings of vegetables and an antique mirror hung on its walls.

When dinner started, the children would go to the playroom and eat with the nannies. They lounged on overstuffed couches, watching movies until they fell asleep and the nannies went outside for cigarettes. Lyle especially loved these dinners and made a point of talking to everybody, lingering in the dining room rather than watching movies with the other children. He loved listening to adults talk. So did Mike, but he knew he didn't understand the way his older brother did.

The adults sat and drank wine and laughed and smiled at one another in the fall candlelight. Many of them had started families late or had been married once before and had only recently started new ones. Jobs were interesting; there was much travel. There was a lot to talk about, and the subtext was that they were lucky to have the lives they had. Mike remembered everyone being very happy.

Before one of these dinners, Lyle decided that he and Mike would be spies. Lyle had gotten a small tape recorder, only a toy really, for his birthday earlier that fall. Their plan was to hide it in the dining room to record the dinner conversation. While the sets, ants were setting up, and Mike's mother was upstairs dressing and Mike's father was out walking along the ocean, Lyle and Mike secured the tape recorder under the table with duct tape.

As the guests arrived and had drinks, the boys slid between them and crawled under the table and switched on the recorder. They were very excited all through dinner, but they didn't tell any of the other children what they were up to. By dessert, Mike couldn't wait any longer. He wanted to go get the recorder. No, said Lyle, they'll be there for a long time. Let's just look.

When they peeked around the dining room door, Elliot Analect saw them and held up the tape recorder, which he must have found much earlier, maybe when he first sat down. Analect wasn't a regular guest at these dinners. He was usually abroad somewhere. At that point he was a correspondent in East Asia, and Mike's father was especially glad to have him for Thanksgiving. Mike's mother didn't like Analect. Mike didn't know this the way Lyle did, but he had a sense of it too.

When Analect held up the recorder Mike knew instantly they would be in trouble. He saw the way the adults laughed but didn't think it was funny. One of them, drunker than the rest and not a very good friend of Mike's parents, was even a little angry. Mike remembered that he worked for one of the networks. Their mother was embarrassed and that always made her cross as well. Mike's father called the boys over and tried to set things right by giving them a talk, in front of everyone, that was both funny and serious. Analect removed the tape from the recorder and put it in his pocket.

Chapter Three

On the flight from HKI to BKK, Mike asks Bishop about Christopher Dorr.

"A crazy fuck," Bishop tells him. "Won awards. Then just stopped filing, so the magazine stopped paying him. I won't bullshit you, I never liked the guy much."

Mike doesn't know what to say.

"Analect's the one that lost him," Bishop goes on. "He should check in on Dorr himself."

Mike looks out the window at the flat turquoise sea below. He wonders if Analect has spoken to his father since he arrived in Hong Kong. No, or his father would have said something. But then they haven't talked much since Mike left. Mike knows there were some things his father never talked about. His life before his children wasn't a secret; it just never came up. Mike always thought that maybe this was because his father hadn't wanted to end up in banking but did anyway. Mike thinks if he talks to Dorr he'll know a lot more about that.

"You don't have to worry about Dorr," Bishop is saying. "Just fill your notebook with stony backpacker quotes and we'll have a week in Bangkok. Pretty girls in Bangkok. You'll have a blast."

Mike keeps expecting Bishop to give him specifics about what else he wants for the story but he never does, just sleeps most of the three-hour ride. Mike looks at Bishop and thinks that if you sleep on a plane you could crash and be unsure whether you are dreaming until you are dead. Mike isn't worried about the specifics. He figures he'll get whatever information he needs when the time comes. Bishop has already told him they'd have the place wired because of some friends of his who are based in Bangkok.

"You'll like them," Bishop said, and then called them the "flying circus."

Following Bishop, Mike sails through Bangkok customs on a tourist visa. The room is hot but the lines are short. Customs officials in lizard-colored uniforms slam their stamps, and the pale Europeans and Americans in bright, patterned shirts sweat in line and shuffle through.

As they clear, Bishop tells Mike that in Bangkok it's easier to be a journalist if you're not a journalist. "You'll see what I mean when you meet the flying circus," he says. "They get away with anything."

On the way in from the airport, Bishop tells Mike to take the night off, check out the city. He is going to meet his "best girl" and, in fact, is going to be spending most of his time with her. He needs a break. This is good for Mike because he will get to do most of the reporting. Of course Bishop will write the story, in the end; Mike just has to find the stony quotes. They both get a week in Bangkok and he will make sure they share the byline. "It'll be a good surprise for Analect, but you really have to do it yourself," says Bishop.

Getting out of the cab in front of their hotel, Mike knows that Bishop is going to ditch him. What the hell.

Chapter Four

Mike knew something strange and probably bad had happened that Thanksgiving. Everyone went home earlier than usual. Lyle was miserable, almost in tears, and Mike tried to comfort him. Mike often felt that he did not see problems his older brother saw.

As the two boys lay in their bunks that night, Lyle in the top, they heard the sounds of an argument coming from their parents' room across the hall. Eventually the sounds would become so familiar that Mike never remembered a time when he had not heard them, but this was one of the first times. Lyle climbed down to investigate. Where are you going? Mike asked, watching his brother's legs swing out into dark space. Lyle didn't answer, though, just crept across the hall and listened at his parents' door.

Mike pulled his covers up over his head and tensed his small body. Then he got out of bed and went across the hall too. He saw Lyle there, lying on the floor with his ear to the bottom of the door. Their parents were really yelling now and their voices seemed very loud in the hallway. Mike lay next to his brother and tried to listen, but Lyle pushed him away. Go to bed, Lyle said, in the way their parents often ordered.

Mike wouldn't go. They began to tussle but froze when they heard the argument stop. Their parents had heard them. Lyle grabbed Mike and they ran back to their beds. Their parents opened the door but didn't catch them.

Mike waited until his older brother fell asleep and then went and listened at his parents' door again. He couldn't tell what they were talking about, but he heard Analect's name. After that night he was always a little suspicious of Analect, although he could not say why, exactly.

Chapter Five

The hotel is white with a revolving door. It is jammed in among the hostels on Khao San Road. As he is checking m, Mike overhears a paunchy Brit describing the hotel to his wife as "the best place to see Bangkok from the street." Mike doubts that. His room is on the third floor, small, with a shower and satellite television. A baseball game is on when he walks in. He looks out the window down the length of Khao San Road vibrating in the heat.

Across the street from the hotel is a row of cafes. They are all different, Italian, Thai, American, and so on, but they are really all the same, like everything else on Khao San Road. Mike figures that every, backpacker in Southeast Asia starts and ends here. He sits down at the closest cafe and orders a beer, and a backpacker kid, twirling his dreadlocks around his ringed thumbs at the next table, asks him how it's going and joins him.

"Fine," says Mike, "how about you?"

"Good except the cops are fucking everywhere," says Dreads.


Excerpted from The Third Brother by Nick McDonell Copyright © 2005 by Nick McDonell.
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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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2005


    Not happy with this! Good story but very poorly written.I wish I had waited for paperback

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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