Everyday People

Everyday People

by Stewart O'Nan

Paperback(1ST PBK)

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Stewart O'Nan's critically acclaimed novel Everyday People brings together the stories of the people of an African-American Pittsburgh neighborhood during one fateful week in the early fall of 1998. Vibrant, poignant, and brilliantly rendered, Everyday People is a lush, dramatic portrait that vividly captures the experience of the day-to-day struggle that is life in urban America. "A unique and tantalizing novel that celebrates the lives of everyday people in an extraordinary way." — Mike Maiello, San Francisco Chronicle "An important book ... Beautiful, heartbreaking, haunting." — Manuel Luis Martinez, Chicago Tribune

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802138835
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 04/28/2002
Edition description: 1ST PBK
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,281,911
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

In 1996, the literary magazine Granta named Stewart O'Nan one of America's best young novelists -- an honor he has continued to justify in an impressive body of complex and stylistically diverse fiction.


Avon, CT

Date of Birth:

February 4, 1961

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, PA


B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Boston University, 1983; M.F.A., Cornell University, 1992

Read an Excerpt



EAST LIBERTY DOESN'T need the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It's for the commuters who come in every day from Penn Hills and sit in front, hiding behind their Post-Gazettes, their briefcases balanced across their knees. When you get on, their eyes brush up against you, then dart off like scared little fish. They might notice your suit is just as fine as theirs — probably even more styling — but then they look away, and you aren't there anymore. No one saying a mumbling word. Seats all taken like they got on in twos, driver switched them in like a herd of turkeys can't think a lick for themselves. Goddamn. 1998, and you're back in the back of the bus, seats underneath you hot from the big diesel, lump of nasty duct tape grabbing at your slacks.

What East Liberty wanted was a new community center with a clinic. The old one's small and falling apart and just lost its funding. What we need is a good clean place to take the babies, some after-school programs for the young people. But that got voted down in city council. The ballots fell by color lines, paper said — not a surprise, especially the way they said it. A Black thing, all your fault, like you were asking for something no one else has. It was predictable, that's the sad thing; even the good Jewish liberals in Squirrel Hill are pinching their pennies these days. Taxes this and welfare that, like they gonna starve or something. Let's not even talk about them simple crackers out past that.

There still had to be some way to get some money into the community. That must have been what Martin Robinson was thinking. You voted for him — have your whole life — so who are you supposed to blame? And the money would come in. Half the contracts were supposed to go to local businesses, and Martin made sure that happened. That's the good news.

The bad news is that the Martin Robinson Express Busway basically stops all traffic — white and black and otherwise — from coming through the business district. The way the city council and their planners drew up the project, the busway effectively cuts East Liberty off from the rest of Pittsburgh. State money but they made a deal, took his own bill out of Martin's hands. Two busy bridges had to go (crowds gathered to count down the perfect explosions), and South Highland had to be rerouted around the business district (meaning the dead Sears there, you understand). So if you ever wanted whitefolks to leave you alone, you ought to be happy now.

Probably would be if it wasn't for the money. And the services too, you know. It'll take that much longer for an ambulance to get over here, and you think that's a mistake? Fire engine, police when you need them, gas and electric in winter.

And then they name the thing after him. Good man, Martin Robinson, not one of those sorry-ass Al Sharpton, greasy-hair-wearing, no 'count jackleg preachers with five Cadillacs and ten rings on his fingers and twenty lawyers playing games. Martin's got thirty years in the state house, might be the best man to come out of East Liberty, definitely the one who's done the most for the people. Come up on Spofford, regular people, raised right. You ask Miss Fisk, she'll tell you. Old Mayor Barr who called out the Guard on us in '67, he got a tunnel named after him, and Dick Caligiuri, the poor man who died of that terrible disease, he got the county courthouse. Martin Robinson deserves the new stadium, or maybe that community center we need, something positive, not some raggedy-ass busway. It's plain disrespectful.

Thing has been bad luck from the jump. Martin passed this bill so they had to build walkways over top it so the kids can still get to the park. City council said they had to be covered so no one could throw nothing at the buses — concrete blocks or whatever. While they were building them, at night the kids would climb up there and spraypaint their names. It was a game with them. I'm not saying it's right, but kids will do that kind of mess, that's just the way they are. What happens is one night these two youngbloods get up there in the dark and everything half built and something goes wrong, way wrong, and it ends up they fall off, right smack down in the middle of the busway, and one of them dies. Miss Fisk's grandson, it was, so it hit everybody the way something like that does. Seventeen years old. Other child ends up in a wheelchair, for life they say. Another young black prince. Just a little blip in the paper, not even on TV.

And that's nobody's fault, I'm not saying that, but damn, it seems like that kind of thing happens around here all the time. Here's two kids who just needed a place to do their thing, and we don't get that, so there they go doing something foolish and it all turns out wrong.

I don't know, I just don't see the dedication of this busway as something to celebrate. I understand everyone wants to represent, you know, and show love for Martin. I got more love for Martin than anybody, but all this drama, I don't know. The thing's a month away. It's like those people get all excited about Christmas when it's not even Halloween.

I understand. It's a big day for East Liberty, all the TV stations will be here. Put a good face on. I'll be there, you know I will, cuz, but I'm just being straight with you, it's not all gravy, this thing. Everything comes with a price, and too many times that price is us. I'm getting real tired of paying it, know what I'm saying?



GETS DARK, CREST unplugs his chair and heads outside. Been charging all day, both him and Brother Sony. Got to, you know? It's Wednesday, and everyone comes around for Voyager. Captain Janeway and shit. Got that voice like she always got a cold.

"Mr. Tupac," Bean used to say, "beam us out this motherfucker." Someone chasing them, Bean used to crack Crest up so bad it'd be killing him to run. Lungs busting like they're doing nitrous, dizzy whip-cream hits. Bunch of one-fifty-nine Krylons dinging in his pack, some Poindexter pocket-protector brother in a lumberyard apron chasing them cause they tagged the back of the fence by the busway. CREST in six-foot wildstyle, BEAN and his crazy Egyptian shit waking up the Bradys rolling in from Penn Hills. Look up from the Post-Gazette and get it right in their sleepy white eye before they can make downtown and pretend East Liberty doesn't exist. Woo-hah, I got you all in check. Yeah.

And speaking of sleeping, there's Pops crashed on the couch in front of some white-chick comedy on NBC — Suzie in the City or some shit, where they're all rich and skinny, which Pops definitely isn't — all the time smelling like a whole truckload of Ritz Bits and Chips Ahoy, like a time card and hard work over Nabisco, barn door open, hands in his pants like he's trying to hold down his pitiful old Jurassic Park jimmy in his sleep. Sure ain't my fucking problem, Crest thinks, and sees Vanessa getting dressed and leaving that last time, hauling on her bra, giving up on him, then can't stop Moms from breaking in, throwing the spoon from her ice cream at Pops the other night.

"Why are you here?" she's screaming. "Why don't you just go then?"

And Pops saying nothing, taking his paper out on the stoop, sitting there monking, smoking his stogie and going through the batting averages till she went to bed. Now she's out, working at Mellon Bank downtown in the checkroom, counting other people's money. The place is quiet but it's a quiet he doesn't like. It'll all change when she gets home at eleven. Pops will hang in for a while, then say he's taking a walk like he's afraid of her. Crest doesn't want to think what that means about him and Vanessa. The doctor says there's nothing physically wrong, that everything should work like before. Yeah, well you fucking try it then. He goes out in the hall and rolls sideways up to the elevator so he can reach the button. A lot of being in the chair is just waiting around.

The dude that chased them that time, skinny yellow buckethead dude, freckles all over his nose. Was it just bombing or were they on a mission, some interplanetary shit, putting up one of their boys? NOT FORGOTTEN. They did a big one with everyone from East Liberty: Baconman, T-Pop, Marcus. It's hard to tell now, Crest so mellow doing his two painkillers three times a day all week long, world without end amen. That's how the summer got past him so fast — laid back coasting with U's big fan going over him, Brother Sony bringing all of Hollywood, even free pay-per-view. September now, everyone back in school, the block quiet all day, fall coming on. Not many more nights like this, and he'll miss it.

That was some running. Old Poindexter boy musta run track at Peabody. Crest kept looking back thinking they were free but that orange apron just kept on coming. Cooking past the old Original Hot Dog with its dead windows soaped, number on it no one ever gonna call, all those famous pictures inside gone — dead John F. Kennedy, dead Martin Luther King eating black-and-white all-beef weenies, shaking hands with some Greek dude in a pussy hat like Smooth used to wear when he worked there. Booking past the post office with its barbwire and its rows of old Jeeps, good target practice on a Friday night behind a 40 of Eight-Ball, lobbing up chunks of old Simonton Street, falling out when metal went cronk or — Kordell looking deep! — glass smashed. Hit the fence where Fats broke out the wire cutters and it rings the way a chain net drains a swish, past the busted-up garages no one's stupid enough to use, and finally Mr. Stockboy from over Homewood can't keep up, doesn't know the back alleys, the yards and their dogs, sounding like they're hungry for some nice juicy booty. Back on the block Bean's capping on him. "Crest, you slower than dirt and uglier than Patrick Ewing." Crest just trying to get his breath, throat like a washboard. Never could run for shit — or bunt; no infield hits — thrown out at home so many times he can't remember. One hop and the catcher stick that mitt up your nose so you smell it all the way home. But Bean, now my boy could scoot.

Yeah, Bean.

Not forgotten. That's right, Crest thinks, ever get a chance I'ma do one for you.

Yeah, boy, right on the bridge. Right there, big as old BooBoo's up on the water tower — stupid big, somewhere everyone gonna peep it.

But just as he's dreaming this the elevator comes and goddamn if it's not one inch too high — fucking Mr. Linney, I'll kick his dumb ugly ass he don't fix this — and he has to try three times before he rolls over the bump, arms burning like when he's lifting in rehab, veins sticking out like highways. Makes him sweat, and he wanted to look good tonight. Voyager, everybody be there, maybe even Vanessa come back to say she's sorry, she's wrong. He'd like to see Rashaan. Why lie — he'd like to see Vanessa give him another try, let him forget about the chair a little bit, just for one minute. Be a man. When she put that bra on, there was nowhere to look but the floor, and he felt beaten, couldn't hardly breathe. He seriously thought right then about giving it up, going permanently on the injured reserve, just locking the bathroom door and scarfing down the whole bottle. He's still not sure.

But there's nothing wrong, the doctor says. In your head, that's where it's at.

Punches a button. Panel's all scratched up, spots of gum on the floor. Bean liked grape, used to blow bubbles so the whole bus smelled.

BEAN. Where would he throw it up? Kenny already did a piece on the bridge for both of them, like Crest is dead. Weak shit too, an easy hit, belt-high. He ought to get up there and cross that five-and-ten-cent clown out, slash that shit bigtime. I'm alive, that's what it'd say.

"Shit," Crest says, alone and going down, the cables singing like knives. "Fucking fly first."

He looks up at the light, round as an angel's halo, the halide sun above an operating table. Nothing wrong.

Yeah, Bean, beam me out this motherfucker.

Elevator hits bottom and the door rolls open, but there's no one to hold it. Never long enough, and he's got to fight it, rubber part banging against his wheel grip, door jumping back and then bumping him again, stupid fucking thing.

"Hold up," U says, "I got you," and stops it with one hand holding his Bible, all dog-eared and full of Post-it notes. He's got his hearing suit on cause he's just coming back from his meeting. Shoes with tassels like little leather flowers, handkerchief in his pocket making three sails, clipper ship. Since he's been out he wants everyone to call him Eugene, like he's different now. And he is, Crest thinks. He once saw U thump on Nene with an aluminum bat. Put a dent in it so it hit funny, and Nene was one of his boys, his partner even. It made Crest proud, U being crazy like that; all the way growing up, it kept him protected. When it was just letters, Crest could make fun of the Jesus stuff. Now that U's out, Crest doesn't know how to talk to him. It's like they say, God will mess a brother up.

"U," Crest says, and thanks him with a nod.

"S'all right. Voyager tonight, right?" U says it like he's proud he remembered.

"You coming down?"

"Gotta hit it." He pats his Bible and gets in. "I'll come down round ten and check you out."

"Yeah, all right," Crest says, busting, cause he never does.

And it's like being transported, U pushes a button and he's gone, the motor going in the basement, all that grease covered with dust fuzz. Mr. Linney probably got his door locked, playing his 78s, pretending Mrs. Linney isn't dead. A couple years ago, he and Bean saw Mr. Linney dancing with himself, shuffling around, one hand in the air, singing Darling this, Baby that. Everyone's so fucked up around here.

"You oughta know," Crest says.

Outside a few earlybirds are parked on the stoop, couple of shorties riding their bikes under the streetlight. Across Spofford, two dudes are leaning against the fence, just hanging, splitting a Kool like a J the way he and Bean used to do. Used to, like U knocking Pops through the screen door that time, calling him a Tom. Crest shakes it off; all this memory shit isn't good for him. It's been six months, only two since he's been home. U's been out three, even got a job over Baierl Chevrolet, detailing. Puts on his jumpsuit every morning like he's in the Marines, makes a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, stocks up on the free Wheat Thins Pops brings home Friday night. He's clean, he goes to his meetings. Done is done, Moms always says. Pick it up, clean it up, don't do it again.

A lighter sparks across Spofford and he can see it's just Little Nene and Cardell, probably waiting on him, blunting up before they blast off into space. Warp factor five, Mr. Sulu.

Yeah, it's a good crowd. He can see a clump of girls in front of Miss Fisk's, huddled so no one can scope them. Not Vanessa, none of them that tall yet. He gets up some speed and hits the door. At least Mr. Linney got the ramp right. Ones down Liberty Center so steep they shoot you out in the middle of traffic, bus run your ass down.

Everyone's waiting for him; even the girls turn.

"Showtime!" one of the shorties calls, doing a goofy Dick Vitale. They stick their bikes against the fence.

"Crest," they say, "c'mon, man, get that thing on!" Little Nene and Cardell come wandering across the street like they don't care if they're late. Little knuckleheads fronting hard, want to build up some respect. Two years behind him at Peabody. Got to be sixteen now, both of them shaving every day. Crest used to kick their nappy asses once a week, not bad, just slap-boxing, give them a taste of what's waiting. Since the bridge, they still mess with him, but careful like. He used to groove on playing Little Nene, pop him hard and watch his eyes go psycho. Cardell's always been stronger, but he ain't half as crazy as Little Nene; Little Nene, he'll take his licks and give some back, but he'll never thump like his brother Nene. That's all used to, like eveything else. Now they think they're being respectful and take it easy on him. "Bring it on, suckas," Crest says, but it's just sissy taps, then they dance out of range and profile some styling footwork, show him their new moves. Not little dudes no more. Men.

What is he now?


Fucked up, that's what.

Crowd's waiting, and Crest backs into the corner so the door can't hit him. Hooks up Brother Sony to the juice and reaches under the ivy, spiderwebs grabbing at his hand — and there's the cable, spliced right off the box. He tips the set and plugs the jack in, clicks the knob where he wants it. Brother Sony has a plastic kickstand, and he flips it out and rests the set on top of the wall so everyone on the steps has a good seat. One last look at everyone looking up at him, and — ignition.


Excerpted from "Everyday People"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Stewart O'Nan.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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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Everyday People 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With compassion as his bellwether and acute observance as his compass Stewart O'Nan offers an intense story of people thwarted by poverty and racial prejudice. Set in East Liberty, a wasted Pittsburgh community, the novel's action is compressed to one week in the lives of the Tolbert family. An 18-year-old son, Chris, has been paralyzed by a fall from a freeway overpass. This graffiti writing escapade took the life of his best friend. His older brother, who found religion while in prison, is attempting to save another from the ravages of urban violence. While their father, Harold, is drawn to a homosexual relationship with a younger man. Many of their neighbors stoically bear the vicissitudes wrought simply by their birth while longing for a better life. Mr. O'Nan's ear for street patois is true, bringing authenticity to his spare yet compelling dialogue. As evidenced in his latest work, this author remains a master of minimalist prose blessed with maximum talent.
ilovemycat1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fabulous author. His writing was so authentic, compelling, engrossing. O'Nan seems totally deserving of the numerous awards and praise he has received from the literary community which started with his first book. I look forward to reading more of his work.
zether More than 1 year ago
Great book with terrific characters and a plot that is life like