The Best People in the World: A Novel

The Best People in the World: A Novel

by Justin Tussing


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In Paducah, Kentucky, high floodwalls confine the current of the mighty Ohio, and for seventeen-year-old Thomas, the small town he has known all his life is full of limits that have left him feeling as reined in as the river. Things only get worse when his father pulls a few strings to get him a summer job as a subsystems technician at Western Kentucky State Power, and he is given an uninspiring view of what his future may hold.

But the boundaries all disappear when Thomas falls for his new history teacher, Alice, a woman eight years his senior who becomes his first love, and when he meets the town misfit, Shiloh, a vagabond and anarchist who becomes his new role model. With pasts and futures they long to be free of, this unlikely trio flees for rural Vermont, where they live in seclusion, a society of three with no commitments and no rules. Their adventures in freedom and in intimacy come at a price, however, as they discover that a life apart from the world does not ensure a life apart from the past—and for one of them, the past that emerges will threaten tragedy.

With its singular blend of harrowing mystery and subtle humor, The Best People in the World introduces an unusual and compelling new voice. Justin Tussing has written an unforgettable novel about love, redemption, and coming-of-age that masterfully illuminates a moment when everything was perfect—and then, when it wasn't.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060815356
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/23/2007
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Justin Tussing's short fiction has appeared in several publications, including The New Yorker, TriQuarterly, and Third Coast. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and he lives in Portland, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

The Best People in the World

A Novel
By Justin Tussing

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Justin Tussing
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060815337

Chapter One

Two Men

They had a tiny rental car and accordion-style foldout maps.

They reached the house of the girl who cried glass tears. This was in Brazil. The cardinal met them in a dirt-floored front room. He had shaky, liver-spotted hands. He unfolded a handkerchief to show them the colorless gems. The older of the two men tucked the handkerchief into the breast pocket of his suit. He kissed the cardinal's hand. Where was the girl? She was resting in a back bedroom. They asked if they could see her.

She owned a plain, suffering face. Mirthless. Was she a virgin? the younger man asked. Unquestionably. And who had discovered the tears? The girl's mother. The men looked around. She was easy to spot, black brocade dress, wooden crucifix around her neck. The rosary would be somewhere nearby. There, on top of the dresser. Where was the husband? At work? Yes. The older man got down on his knees at the bedside of the girl.

"Have you had any visions?" he asked her.

There was a subtle shift. Yes, she'd had visions.

He asked her to tell him what she'd seen.

"She's been visited by the Holy Virgin twice," said the cardinal.

The older man raised a hand and the cardinal took a step backward.

"Twice, the Blessed Virgin," said the girl.

"Allow me," said the older man. He reached up and touched her eyes. Beside her tear ducts he found knots of hard scar tissue.

He leaned over and kissed her on her forehead. He stood up. "Please," he said, "I must be alone with the girl." The mother lingered, but when the younger man took her arm, she submitted. The older man shut the door so he was alone with the girl. He went back to her bedside. He stroked her arm.

"Do you know why I'm here?"

"You're here to see the miracle."

He nodded his head. "Please," he said. He got himself a chair and set it beside her. "When you are ready."

The girl watched him for an instant. Then, almost imperceptibly, her lids descended. It appeared as though she were having a dream. Her eyeballs traced shapes on the backs of her eyelids. A dew of sweat bloomed on the pale hairs of the girl's upper lip. Then an indelicate lump appeared in the corner of her right eye. With his thumbnail the older man coaxed it out, a piece of glass, as large as a kernel of corn.

"Thank you," said the man. "Can you do it again?"

It took a few minutes, but soon another piece of glass appeared. The old man gently harvested it.

The girl's scalp was damp. It shone beneath her hair.

"Can you do that a third time?"

The girl nodded her head. She bit her lip. It took a very long time. Snot ran from her nose. But, eventually, a third piece of glass was produced.

"Extraordinary," said the man. He handed the girl her tears. "You can put them back now."

She shook her head.

"Your mother put them in for you?"

The girl gave him the smallest signal. It was enough.

He made the cross on her forehead.

When he left the room, the girl was soaking herself with tears.

The two men got back in their car, the younger man behind the wheel.

"I had hope at first," said the younger man.

"Her face was much more convincing than the tears," said the older man. "It was not easy for me to dismiss it. It would be a great burden to be a saint. But what we thought we saw was just the shape of her shame." He rolled the window down, took the handkerchief from his pocket, and shook it outside the car.

They continued toward the capital.


I looked up and saw my father standing at the foot of my bed. "Get up," said Fran. "Rise and shine." He went to the window and lifted the shade. He had a fragile-looking nose, which was my nose. "Do you have to wear your bangs so long?" Fran asked.

I walked over to the dresser, where the clothes I'd set out the night before waited on the red enamel top.

"Now we're talking," said Fran. "Now we're making some progress." "Are you going to do this every day?" I asked.

"Every day? Come on. Be fair."

I got my clothes on.

Fran said, "Say good-bye to your mother."

I poked my head in their darkened bedroom. Mary turned toward me, but couldn't force her eyes to open. "Have fun," she said.

"I wish I was still mowing lawns," I said.

Fran wouldn't permit me to duck into the bathroom. They had a bathroom where we were headed.

A moment later I found myself behind the wheel of my father's cornmeal yellow Buick. It was important I know how to drive when tired, Fran believed. I backed us down the driveway and into the road. "You didn't look first," said Fran. He was right. "Well, forget it. Look next time." Fran didn't want the little things to impede the larger mission. He was in the process of introducing me to something momentous. The driving lesson was distinct from the mission. This was a Monday morning late in June. We were on our way to work. Having just completed my sophomore year of high school, I was to begin training for a summer job as a subsystem technician at Western Kentucky State Power. Fran worked as an operations comptroller at the plant. Neither of us had a clue what a subsystem technician did. What we knew was that I would be compensated at a rate slightly below what I had received the summer before. But mowing lawns was not a job. Getting a tan was not a job. Being somewhere on time, doing what was expected of you, not loafing, that was a job.


Excerpted from The Best People in the World by Justin Tussing Copyright © 2006 by Justin Tussing. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This

Ron Hansen

“Filled with surprise, recklessness, melancholy, headlong romance, and hilarity. Justin Tussing is the real thing. It doesn’t happen that often.”

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

“[A] beautiful, fearless novel... By turns comic and mysterious and wild, ultimately this is a heartbreaking book.”

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