by Claudia Dey


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525511731
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/21/2018
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 194,648
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Claudia Dey is the author of Stunt, a Globe and Mail and Quill & Quire Book of the Year. Her plays have been produced internationally and nominated for the Governor General’s Award and Trillium Book Award. Dey’s writing has appeared in many publications, including The Paris Review and The Believer. She has also worked as a horror film actress and a cook in lumber camps across northern Canada, and is co-designer of Horses Atelier. Claudia Dey lives in Toronto. Heartbreaker is her American debut.

Read an Excerpt

This is what I know: she left last night. My mother, Billie Jean Fontaine, stood in our front hallway with a stale cigarette in one hand and her truck keys in the other. The light in our hallway was broken or dying so it flickered above her head, throwing shadows across her face. I don’t know how long she was standing there watching me.

I was only feet away on the couch in my nightpants trying to arrange my body like the woman in that Whitesnake video. It was not going well. The television was on, and I had our telephone receiver pressed hard against my left ear. My ear had gone numb listening to Lana on the other end breathing heavily, which made me picture, unfairly, Lana’s dog, a dog, unlike our dog, of low intelligence. Together in silence, we watched Teen Psychic. The show was already at the love line, making it close to seven o’clock, and 1985, and late October. Teen Stewardess was on next, and for this, I felt deep excitement.

I had my outerwear smoothed flat on my lap. With a black permanent marker, I was filling in the cap letters I had written across the back. I would debut and copyright these later at the bonfire. Note there is no such thing as permanent. Especially in a marker you find in a snowdrift. I also found my camo outerwear in said snowdrift, the snowdrift that borders the north highway outside Neon Dean’s pink bungalow, which on Free Day can be a bonanza. A few other things to keep in mind at this moment: I had almost a hundred dollars in small denominations hidden inside the album covers in my bedroom, twelve jerry cans of gasoline stashed in the woods behind our house, hair to my tailbone I had recently tried to self-feather, and my mother had not come downstairs for two months.

“I am going into town.” My mother spoke this astonishing sentence not to me but to the cold air around me. She had not left our bungalow since the end of July, and it was now almost three months later. Winter had set in. Outside, the trees were skeletal, and the hunters were urinating on their hands to warm them. The men called this dicking the hands. I dicked my hands to turn my keys. Same. Dicked my hands right there on my front porch. Same. Had to dick my hands to cock my rifle. This was the kind of talk you might hear if you went into Drink-Mart for some homemade alcohol. There, under a half-busted chandelier, listening to Air Supply, the men of the territory gathered to clean their rifles with their wives’ old tan pantyhose while being stared at by a wall covered with the beautiful heads of our animals.

Air Supply. A band name none of us wanted to read into.

I joined my mother in the hallway. I had not seen her upright for weeks and now looked down at her scalp, the hair broken in places. Beauty, what is beauty? Beauty is cheap. Beauty is common. Beauty is luck. My father, The Heavy--known for many things but mostly his severe facial issues--loved to say when he first laid eyes on my mother, it was not like the stories you hear about beauty. A man struck down by a woman’s beauty. Taken by a woman’s beauty. No. Not at all. My father liked to say when he first laid eyes on my mother, he had never seen anyone quite so alive.

She was wearing her indoor tracksuit. It hung from her frame and was the color of dirty water. I knew not to touch her, and this was difficult, so I pushed my hands into the large pockets of my nightpants. I had done my bloodwork that morning and was still feeling a bit faint. Moving quickly from the couch to the doorway, I was seeing sparks, and the strobe-light effect of the dying bulb above us was not helping, so I tilted my head down slightly and leaned against the wall, looking but not feeling casual. Of late, I had become a fainter, and this was a most useful quality as it meant instant departure to a dark and neutral space. When my mother and I used to talk, we agreed that HELP was a flawless word. That even if you reordered the letters, people would still completely get your meaning. PHLE.

My mother wasn’t wearing her sport socks or her house sandals, the usual combination for a territory woman who finds herself indoors at home at night, which is always. Her feet were bare and marbled. Her toenails had yellowed, and her shins looked sharp and blue, as if they could slice through wood. In my bedroom, I liked to listen to hot men sing about hot women while studying the images of disease. We had very few books in the territory, but we did have one thick volume that contained nothing except pictures and descriptions of diseases. It didn’t even pretend to offer advice or remedies--just gory, vivid photos of people from the neck down with their various inflammations, and their identities protected. The book gave me solace, and some basic Latin.

Though she wasn’t moving, my mother appeared to be in a rush. She gripped the truck keys, making her knuckles white as chalk. I wanted to write birth across one set and death across the other. She studied my collarbone. You made this collarbone, I wanted to remind her, though I knew not to speak to her. She was in the middle of something and could not be interrupted. Or so she’d told me. In our last conversation. If you could call it a conversation.

I slid down to the floor and closed my eyes to steady myself. I knew my mother was still there because she had taken on a new smell. It was a mineral smell.

This past summer, shortly before she stopped leaving our bungalow, when she still went into town for Delivery Day and her shifts at the Banquet Hall, but it was clear something had come over her, I watched my father dig another man’s grave. Poor, dead Wishbone. The women of the territory had gone to pay their respects to Wishbone’s widow. Get her mind off it. Fashion her hair. Bleach her freezer. Put on the Rod Stewart. My mother had not. She stayed in her bed. She didn’t turn to face us when she asked my father and me to please leave her there. She wasn’t up for it. Wasn’t feeling herself. I had just turned fifteen and was finally at the age where I could go with my mother to these sorts of events. Instead, I ended up with the men at the graveyard. My father was incredible with a shovel, and the men had to tell him when to stop digging, he had gone down far enough, there was plenty of space for a casket. For ten caskets. Jesus, The Heavy, the men said to my father chest-deep in the grave, pulling the shovel from his hands. Take a load off, the men said. The high mound of fresh dirt beside us, and then under our boots as we made our way back to our truck, identically hunched and with our arms touching. My father and I sat in the front seat for a long time. I had been trying to tan my face though it was becoming clear I was allergic to the sun. So far, this is not the best day of my life, I wanted to say to The Heavy. What has come over her? I wanted to ask him. Do you even know?

All around us, the men in the graveyard wore mirrored sunglasses. Some were shirtless and looked barbecued in the July heat. They would alternate the positioning of their hands on their shovels so their musculature would be even. My father did none of these things. Sitting in the driver’s seat, he was an uneven man blinded by the sun. I looked through the front windshield to the sky, which was such a bright blue, I felt embarrassed by it. Strategies for happiness. My mother had said it was important to try to come up with these. I pictured a supply plane dropping nets filled with useless, shiny things like mesh bathing suits and white leather furniture. I wanted a headlamp that worked. I wanted a Camaro. I wanted a Le in front of my name. Pony Darlene Fontaine. Le Pony Darlene Fontaine. Le Pony. That’s what everyone will have to call me from this day forward, I said to no one.

Eventually, my father turned the key in the ignition, and Van Halen came on. It was the tape with the angel on it who even as a baby you could tell would be a future convict. I loved that tape. It was all my mother had been listening to for months. I would watch her in our unfinished driveway, staring into the middle distance in her winter coat while the truck shook with the music.

My father wrenched the tape from the player. He threw it into our backseat. I don’t even know, his face seemed to say, I don’t even know. I made a visor out of my hand and put it above his eyes. He drove home like it was an emergency.

This was the smell my mother was giving off now in our front hallway--an unfinished space, an open body cavity, an open grave. Our dog came bounding down the stairs and wound herself between my mother’s legs. I worried the force of her would knock my mother down. I watched my mother’s heart lift the threadbare fabric of her tracksuit. I searched for the Latin translation of cancer of the dreams. I pulled myself to standing. Our dog sat at my mother’s exposed feet, taking my place. Our dog had perfect posture. She did not want your companionship. She wanted your throat and your hot parts. She loved only my mother. She was too old to be alive. All around us, the men and women of the territory chased after and screamed for their dogs. Our dog had never run away. Our dog had never barked. Not once.

My mother went for our front door. She had to kick things out of the way to get to it, agitation like a shock. There was a blue tarp in our living room, hanging behind our television set, where Teen Stewardess had just begun, and through it I could see my father’s shape. LHEP. A high whine. He was sawing through lumber. He would have his hearing protection and snowmobile goggles on. He was adding a room to our bungalow that would be a room just for my mother. Where nothing would be asked of her. Where she could return to her thinking, to what she called her native thinking.

My mother pulled the front door open with her sure grip, her athlete’s grip, and the northwest wind came hurtling in at us. It was a wind that could carry tires and shatter glass. You had to walk with your back into the northwest wind. There was a partial moon, and you could see the snow was blowing sideways. Our dog paced at my mother’s feet, lush and frantic. It had been months since she had truly felt the weather. She had braids all through her coat. My mother, looking ahead and then back, her mouth moving slowly, but sounding like herself for a moment, said with tenderness, “I had forgotten all about you.” I told myself she was speaking to me. At last, she was speaking to me.

My mother came to this place as a stranger. Now I feared she was retracing her steps out. Returning to a world she had refused to describe to me. Billie Jean Fontaine. Billie Jean. Was that even my mother’s real name?

We live on a large tract of land called the territory. When the Leader and his followers first laid claim to it some fifty years ago, they called it Upper Big Territory. Now, it’s just the territory. The descriptors were redundant. Aerial view: two thousand square miles of forest. Population: 391. We started as a single busload searching for the end of the world. Now, look at us.

We didn’t spread out.

The north highway cuts a straight line through town, and this is where you will find most of our local businesses. The residential streets branch off from the north highway in a grid. They are not named. In the territory, we go by bungalow number. Lana’s is 2. Neon Dean’s is 17. Ours is 88. Guess how many bungalows are in the territory? Exactly. One of my favorite jokes is to pretend I’m lost. I will be riding my ten-speed in my mother’s powder-blue workdress, her purse strapped across my body and her ATV helmet on, and I’ll see someone at the edge of their property, and I’ll flag them down and say, Yeah, so, hey, there I was on the north highway, made a couple of turns, and now I am just all spun around. Just totally lost. Cannot seem to find my way back home.

Bungalow after bungalow, built all at once when the territory began. Small cement porches. Snowmobiles and swing sets in the yards, and the girls with show hair long like their mothers’, long like their dogs’, and the men and boys shaved to near bald. Let me give you the lay of the land. The men love to start a lecture this way. Our dogs are white here, and there are no leashes. It is acceptable to make a leash-like mechanism for your children, but not for your dog. Your dog is an animal and to forget her nature is to forget your own. If you would like to see a dog on a leash, turn on your television. We will barbecue under a tarpaulin for our dogs in the dead of winter, but we will not give them names. You. Come. Here. Get. Names are for our people not our dogs. If you would like to see a dog with a name, watch Lassie. It’s on at four. Duct tape in medicine cabinets. Radios with batteries carried from room to room. Always the sound of a truck in the distance. Knowing the trucks by sound. Who is approaching. Who is not going home. Deadbolts on garage doors. A bear on your property after the thaw. Motion-detector light. Gunshot. Beards a sign of mental damage. Gunshot. Tanning beds in our sunken dens, and many of our people the shade of anger. Smelling like coconut oil in line at Value Smoke and Grocer. None of the men going by their birth names. Wishbone, Sexeteria, Hot Dollar, Fur Thumb, Visible Thinker, Traps. The Heavy. Let me give you the lay of the land: men, women, children, loaded rifles. Hearts stop. Dogs, trucks, winter, fucking. Hearts break.


Excerpted from "Heartbreaker"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Claudia Dey.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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.

Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Claudia Dey chose to structure the novel in three voices? Would the outcome have changed if HEARTBREAKER had instead been told from a single perspective? Were all three voices needed to arrive at the truth of the ending?

2. The people of the territory are the descendants of a cult. How does the cult still determine the lives and fates of the residents in the territory? Can you think of a dangerous and legendary “John” operating in the world today?

3. The epigraph of the novel is a line from an Alice Notley poem. It is also a line from Anaïs Nin’s diaries. In full, it reads: “In love there is no because, no reason, no explanation, no solutions.” An epigraph often functions as the writer’s way of guiding the reader into a certain way of thinking about the book. Where do you see this feeling of love––in its senselessness––at work in the novel? Is this a theme throughout HEARTBREAKER?

4. The past plays a strong role in the lives of the characters. How are The Heavy and Billie Jean shaped by the past? How do they attempt to reconcile with their own pasts and with each other’s? Do they make peace with their pasts? Do they try to outrun them? Is outrunning the past deemed possible in HEARTBREAKER?

5. After reading HEARTBREAKER and looking back on its world, would you consider it to be a dystopian novel? Or could this society be only a two-thousand-mile drive away and just as real as your own? Do the rules and practices––and the sinister economic resource that allows the territory to survive––feel possible in our current world?

6. How does Claudia Dey write about motherhood and secrets in the novel? Look at the relationships between Pony and Billie, Gena and her mother, Lana and her mother—as well as the role of the “Mother Trick.” What is left unsaid and how do those secrets affect the actions of the characters and the dynamic between them?

7. Adolescence is a period of great change in a person’s life. Look at Pony and Supernatural. How are their worlds different? How are they alike? How are they viewed by the other teenagers of the territory? What gives them a sense of power or powerlessness? Now look at the adults in the novel––are they also in a state of flux? Would they also play the game in the novel called “Wanting”? If so, what might they “want”?

8. The second part of the novel is narrated by a dog. Gena is a confessional and a guard for Billie Jean. Do you believe that we can be more at home, more ourselves, in the presence of an animal than another human being? What is the role of the animal world in HEARTBREAKER?

9. The book is set in 1985. Why do you think the author chose this time period? Discuss the culture that comes with that year––the music, the style, the expressions––as well as the role of time in the novel. Would the story of HEARTBREAKER be possible if it was set post-Internet? With cell phones?

10. There is a line repeated in the novel, “Why can’t a woman be more than one person in a lifetime?” It is spoken by Billie Jean and Debra Marie. Are these women more alike than they appear? They experience a terrible loss––how differently do they respond to their grief?

11. The novel portrays an affair between a married woman and a teenage boy. We traditionally see this story played out with the gender roles reversed. Do you consider HEARTBREAKER a feminist novel? Do the women in the novel––particularly Pony, Billie, and, in her animal way, Gena––demonstrate autonomy and courage in their choices, however destructive the outcomes?

12. It has been said that a title functions as a “spirit guide” for a novel. Is this true of HEARTBREAKER?

13. Was the ending what you expected? Was it the outcome the one that you wanted for these characters? Would you describe it as redemptive? If the book continued for one last section, would Billie Jean or The Heavy narrate it? And what might happen to their foursome?

Customer Reviews

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Heartbreaker 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i first read the tittle of this book i was like ewww but now i learned a powerful lesson
Anonymous 7 months ago
There are so many things about this book that I really liked, and most of it is because I never knew where Claudia Dey was taking me. The story starts with a woman who has not left her room for months suddenly grabbing the keys to the family truck and taking off. We then learn that the community is something like a cult, something of a survivalist community, something of a weird little town that has it's own drama. I think that is what is so enthralling about this novel. You really do not know what you are looking at, and once you think that you have it figured out, the picture shifts and becomes something completely different. It is a kaleidoscope like narrative, not like it is jangled fragments but like the more the pages turn, the more the picture changes. Some of it seems kind of normal, everyday things (affairs, bad behavior, and secrets), whereas other parts just leave you scratching your head. And even after this novel is finished, some questions still linger, because the world that she has built is so off, so out of the realm of understanding throughout most of the novel, that you are like, "Wait! What?" This can be off-putting to some readers, but there are others that really enjoy this type of thing. I am in the latter group, and even though some of the questions are not answered, I am okay with that. If I found a genie with three wishes, I might use my third for a prequel to this novel, one that tells the story of the group coming to this remote place, building a life for themselves, and actually modernizing a great deal of their weird, isolated existence (like how did they arrange to have supplies driven in once a week? What company does that?) It is definitely one of those novels that i have thought about quite a bit since I have finished it, not because I want more of the characters but because I want more of the world. As it is, this could be one of the few books that I read more than once. It is that interesting. I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
tchaikovsky More than 1 year ago
A powerful, dark, human, entrancing book. The story is told in a fresh way that transcends the normalcy of most modern books, the reader feels that each sentence is crafted with much thought and care. The lives of each human and animal in this book are filled with love, joy, hate, peace, and realness, their varied perspectives give a wonderful insight into their minds and bodies.
UpAllNightBB More than 1 year ago
3 Stars Review by Amy Late Night Reviewer Up All Night w/ Books Blog Claudia Dey’s Heartbreaker was a one of a kind novel with a witty slant and a deeper meaning. Teenage years can be difficult, and for Pony, they are even stranger. Trying to make it in an unusual commune with a mom who is inconsistent and eccentric brings even more challenges. Billie Jean disappears without a word and her daughter and husband go on a hunt to find her. Trying to put the pieces together, and with a bonus perspective from her dog, things get a little dark and unexpected. Writing the review for this book is a bit challenging for me. The concept was desirable. I love anything with dark secrets, mysteries, vanishing people and weird quirky characters. This seemed to have many of those characteristics, however, it fell a bit short for me. It was written quite abstractly and was difficult to follow. It veered in multiple directions and when the storyline came to light, I really enjoyed it, but there was a lot of deviation from that main storyline that felt unrelatable and distracting. I really wanted to enjoy this one more than I did. While this one wasn’t for me, I think there are others who would really enjoy it. With an apocalypse or other world feel, it presented an unusual perspective. I think if you enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this is a book that may peak your interest. The literary writing and unique cult-style living had a similar parallel that would appeal to those who enjoy this type of prose.
diane92345 More than 1 year ago
Great for fans of kooky science fiction, Heartbreaker is definitely not for most readers. However, if you are looking for something different, you will love this book as much as I do. Pony Darlene was born and raised in a cult. Her mother has run off and her dad’s nickname is the Heavy. What does a fifteen-year-old need to do to score a boyfriend and eventual husband in this cult? And why does the territory draw blood regularly from all the females? Wow, the world building here is awesome incorporating Warren Jeff’s FLDS with the weird physics of Stranger Things. I hate to say more because it is a much better read if you don’t know even the basic plot. However, if you are ready for something different, this is it. I’m happy that a major publisher, Random House, took on such a difficult book to categorize. I can’t even say whether this is science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, horror or literary fiction. Judging by the early reviews, you will either hate or love Heartbreaker. Personally, I loved it. 5 stars! Thanks to the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
suekitty13 More than 1 year ago
A very odd story where the most reliable narrator is the dog A story told in three parts by three different characters, Pony, the dog and Supernatural, this one is definitely in the realm of weird fiction. From the bizarre cult suspended in the 80’s to the hyper-intelligent dog this story in an exercise in mind-bending and suspension of disbelief. It is not a linear, straightforward story as much as a collection of thoughts and feelings. Can someone can please tell me how to rig up my antennae so I only receive broadcasts from 1985? I would be immensely appreciative. If I could just skip the next few years and retreat into The Golden Girls and Wham! that would be ideal. Pony’s section was the most confusing and frustrating. The story didn’t make much sense to me and I really wanted more in depth and concrete information about the cult and their town. I guess as someone who was born and raised in the cult she likely didn’t know anything different and as such likely didn’t put too much thought into things that she found commonplace. The story doesn’t coalesce into an understandable story-line until the dog takes over as narrator. Yes, you read that correctly. The dog is remarkably coherent and forthcoming about the town and its people and it is in her section that I felt things started to make sense. The last section is from the viewpoint of Supernatural and his knowledge fills in the gaps to make things more comprehensible. I have to admit that while I was reading this book I didn’t enjoy it very much at all but as I let it percolate in my head for a few days I actually like it a lot more. It has grown on me! I still wouldn’t say that I loved it but I have respect for the inventiveness of the author. Thank you to Random House for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey is a highly recommended, quirky, unique character driven novel that is part dystopian, part alternate reality. The territory is an isolated cult/settlement that was founded in the north decades ago. In the territory is it 1985, including the music, TV shows, listening to Walkmans, album covers, shoulder pads, track suits, and more. The narrative is told in three parts from the point-of-view of three different characters: the girl, the dog, and the boy. The girl is fifteen-year-old Pony Darlene Fontaine. Pony is our first introduction to the territory and the one who begins the story of her mother, Billie Jean Fontaine, who has taken the truck and left her family. Billie Jean arrived in the territory seventeen years earlier, married The Heavy, Pony's father, and tried to fit in with the townspeople who never totally accepted her. Now the town is helping to search for her, but never beyond their own borders. Pony is an excellent character who is examining her circumstances, her mother's life, and has a plan. She is also the one who introduces us to a sinister way the territory makes money. The dog is the Fontaines' and brings a unique perspective and keen observations to the story about Billie Jean, the community, and all the characters, while furthering the narrative thread. The boy, named Supernatural, adds additional information and completes the story, allowing a complete picture to emerge. Telling the story only through the first person perspective of these three characters and what they know is utterly extraordinary. I was uncertain about Heartbreaker for almost half the novel and then the story began to emerge and take shape. It increasingly became a compelling, fascinating look at a community, setting aside their isolation and the peculiar features of the cult, through the eyes of three very different, unique characters. The ending was the clincher and increased my assessment of the whole novel. I also keep thinking about the novel based on the ending and want to re-read it someday to catch information and clues I might have missed. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House Group.
NovelLives More than 1 year ago
As requested in the book, I will not post this to my website until the publication date of August 21st. It is already scheduled to post that morning (Novellives.com) I will also post it to goodreads and amazon (if you would like. Heartbreaker is the most character driven book I have read, possibly ever. Here’s the kicker. One of the most essential characters is the setting of the book: The Territory. Turning the setting, remnants of cult in the 1980s, down to one original member, into an essential character of the book is no easy task but Dey does it without skipping a beat. She does it by using the Territory to fill the spaces between heartbeats with a chilling frost that doesn’t let go and keeps you guessing until the end. Three narrators. Three completely different voices that introduce you to each other, other main players and The Territory through unique lenses all their own that sometimes compliment, sometimes contradict and sometimes, you wish, could be held through a panel discussion because it would heal so many hurts. First is, The Girl, Pony. The daughter of one missing mother, Billy Jean and her stoic father, “The Heav”. Pony is realistic, somber, wants more, wants out, had enough, has a plan, it has been too much, this is the reality of the territory mixed with bits of daydreams gone by from her mind, heartbreaks, and hopes she can’t keep away about her mom that keep you guessing, keep you wondering, turning the page for more because there are so many gaps and guesses in what she doesn’t know. Second is The dog of Billie Jean, The Heav and Pony. At once bewildered at being left behind the night Billie Jean disappears, unnervingly certain in her knowledge of the Territory’s origins, prosperity and current state of existence, as well as the crypt keeper of everyone, and everything’s secrets. The dog has managed to be the only thing that has not made or kept any don’t ask, don’t tell vows that bloom throughout the territory. And the dog tells all… of course as you keep reading, you again find, it is through her lens and point of view, which means there is more to come from yet another lens that will shed more light through this intricately woven tapestry. And while she might know secrets of the past and more than most, she has no doesn’t know the one thing everyone is trying to figure out- where did Billy Jean disappear to that October evening? Third is The Boy, Supernatural. The heartthrob of the territory. The boy every girl wants to marry. Mostly he expresses a lot of regret for mistakes he makes with relationships with his family. Throughout Pony and Supernatural’s telling of events there is a protective but distant acquaintance about them. As secrets unravel the Territory’s existence when Billie Jean disappears, and he learns how many secrets were kept from him, even more than the ones he regretted keeping from others, Supernatural starts finding a path to things that were always missing from his life, and filling holes in the lives of others. Together, along with a cast of some charismatic, some helpless and hopeless and some broken they walk you through the Territory as if you just moved in or just got lost and wondered by, introducing you to all the locals... famous or infamous hoping to make it sound more enticing than predatory, hoping to keep you around. Truly there’s no keeping down that creepy void threatening to engulf you with a quickness that is telling you to run. Dey toes the line between clues a