Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 2:
"Cherylee watched his lips move, his tongue undulating behind uneven, recessed teeth, and she fixed her gaze on a tuft of whiskers he'd missed shaving in the curve of his chin. If he let the beard come in, it would be thick and dark, and grow rapidly. His head was shaved to a glistening sheen, and his eyes never wandered from her, though they must have when he wrote, for the notebook on the kitchen table somehow filled itself with scribbling as she sat there, across from him, avoiding his eyes and trying to find in his words, no, not even in his words, but in the very movement of his lips and tongue and teeth, and the tuft of unshaven hair, some meaning, some idea that had anything to do with her-with her children, with her husband. And there was none. He might as easily be a creature from another world who not only didn't speak the same language, but lived in a dimension that had none of the same parameters as hers, as though gravity, or time, or light were incomprehensible, as incomprehensible as his words were to her, as the questions he kept asking.
"'I don't know!' she gurgled through her sobs. Her voice was hoarse, cracked, desperate. She'd already said it so many times. Her cheeks were soaked, but he seemed indifferent, even accusatory, as though she were part of this fantastical story, this lunatic invention that he was spinning around her, web-like, enclosing her house and her kitchen, and her, until she was nearly immobile, with darkness engulfing her and the small gaps of daylight still left in this nightmare that spun wildly all around her closing up, sealing her in. 'Why do you keep asking me about this . . . Peter Howell, or whoever? Idon't know anyone by that name. There must be some mistake. My husband's name is Peter St. John. This is all a mistake!'"
From Chapter 3:
"The idea seemed not only clearer to him last night, but vital, even urgent, and the conversation comes back to him now-how they sat for a long time on a rug beside the coffee table, passing joints and downing beers, while Simon picked the tobacco of filterless cigarettes from his teeth and described his tours in Vietnam-to Peter, to a couple of others nearby, but mostly to Peter-described the sharp, booming explosions of the five-inch guns on the Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin in '64, firing hundreds of rounds into the darkness, hitting what Simon never knew, he said, ammo bunkers, VC, children, water buffalo, maybe Americans. What were we even shooting at? he asked Peter, leaning close, lowering his voice into a sharp whisper, as if Peter might explain it to him, might finally clear this up, and he waited until Peter shrugged helplessly and then continued, There's no sense to any of it, man. No sense! He described his second tour, also, this time on a swift boat in the Mekong, where he saw a stack of rotting bodies on a buffalo path alongside the river, and what it was like to unleash the fifty-cal into a free-fire zone without a clue if they were hitting the enemy or just terrified villagers who had the bad luck to live where the VC wanted to hide. But Peter, these people-the North Vietnamese, the Vietcong-they just want their country back. They want everyone out-the French, the Americans, even the Communists. They're nationalists, Peter. Their country's been overrun by foreigners for decades, for centuries. He squinted, knowing what Peter would say next before he said it, and asked, Did you know that Ho Chi Minh wanted Truman's help against the French before he went to the Communists? No, Peter said, as expected, trying to follow him, trying to piece together the fragments of unfamiliar history in his narrative, trying to listen as people came and went, as laughter and talk surrounded them, as someone strummed a guitar along with a Beethoven symphony booming through the stereo speakers; as he tried to fit classical music into the kaleidescope that whirled around him, and to connect the water buffalo and the North Vietnamese and Truman, searching for a pattern, an image, a story woven into the fabric of Simon's talk."
From Chapter 21:
"He wiped his face with snow, and momentarily refreshed, he climbed atop the rocks that had sheltered him through the night. The formation extended over a long ridge, and the sun gleamed below the horizon in the distance. What he saw was more woods, more trees, and more hills, going on as far as he could see, for miles. A distant ridgeline offered the prospect of a village or town where a plume of smoke drifted upward, perhaps from a factory or power plant, maybe five or ten miles away, but there was nothing else but forest all around him. He was as isolated as he had ever been. Behind him was the old Chevy, the angry pick-up truck driver, and miles and miles from there . . . all that he'd left behind.
When the sun had risen fully, it shown through a blustery sky, riddled with a thousand puffs of clouds but no continuous cloud cover. He rebuilt the fire and ate handfuls of crackers and cereal, listening now for footsteps and voices, wondering if the truck driver and his friends would be looking for him. When they found him, he would accept whatever happened, expecting they'd beat him up before they marched him back to civilization. He'd been beaten up before; he knew how to take a beating. For now, the rock wall sheltered him and the fire warmed him.
During the morning, the puffy clouds gathered and crowded together, darkening, and then rain began, drops here and there, increasing, becoming steady, and then blowing in thick gusts. The wall offered no cover from the rain, and his fire was soon doused. He shrouded himself in the blanket and found a dense pine tree nearby where he could squat at the edge of a snow pack, partly sheltered."