The Preservationist

The Preservationist

by Justin Kramon

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A love triangle takes a sinister turn in this terrifying novel of psychological suspense and “unbearable foreboding” (Booklist).

To Sam Blount, meeting Julia is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Working at the local college and unsuccessful in his previous relationships, he’d been feeling troubled about his approaching fortieth birthday, “a great beast of a birthday,” as he sees it, but being with Julia makes him feel young and hopeful. Julia Stilwell, a freshman trying to come to terms with a recent tragedy that has stripped her of her greatest talent, is flattered by Sam’s attention. But their relationship is tested by a shy young man with a secret, Marcus Broley, who is also infatuated with Julia.
Told in alternating points of view, The Preservationist is the riveting tale of Julia and Sam’s relationship, which begins to unravel as the threat of violence approaches and Julia becomes less and less sure whom to trust. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480447394
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Justin Kramon is the author of the novel Finny. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Boulevard, Fence, TriQuarterly, and Alaska Quarterly Review. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers’ Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation. He has taught undergraduate and graduate fiction writing courses at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, Haverford College, the University of Iowa, and Arcadia University. He lives in Philadelphia.

Read an Excerpt

The Preservationist

By Justin Kramon


Copyright © 2013 Justin Kramon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4739-4



Of all the places Julia Stilwell thought she might be on a September afternoon, less than a year after the accident, this was the last she would have imagined. College. A freshman headed out on a first date. It was too normal. She felt like she'd snuck into the wrong movie, like any minute a guy in a little hat would come running up the aisle, shine a flashlight in her eyes, and ask to see her ticket.

But here she was, ten minutes to two, fixing her hair, getting her shoes on, smiling at her reflection so she could paint blush on her cheeks, going back and forth in her mind about whether to bring a backpack or a purse. It was all the usual stuff girls do before dates, but to Julia it felt like a test, a set of pictures she had to line up in the right order. Wrong answer sends you back to go. It was a blessing her roommate, Leanette, was in class and not around to witness the chaos of these final preparations. Leanette had dates every weekend and went to all the parties, and Julia was sure this fussing would have seemed amateur to her, like a kid playing with an adult's makeup kit.

In the end, Julia decided on a messenger bag. She slung it over her shoulder, flipped the lights off, and left the room.

Outside, it was gorgeous. Cloudless and warm, the air felt like a shirt just out of the dryer. Julia lived in an off-campus dorm, and though the building was musty, with cinder-block walls and a dull gray carpet that gave off a smell like boiled milk, there was a pretty courtyard out here, a cement bench, a trellis wrapped with vines and bright flowers. She took a long breath, enjoying the weather and her anticipation, perched for a moment on the fragile edge of happiness.

Julia was headed to campus, and she decided to take the path through the woods. She could have gone through town, but didn't know whom she'd run into, and whether they'd ask what she was up to. The date with Marcus didn't have to be a secret, but for some reason she wanted to keep it to herself, like a note in her pocket.

Before the accident, it would have been different. Julia would have had to tell Danny and Shana about how Marcus had asked her out, making little jokes to play it down. They wouldn't have let her get away with the secrecy. In high school, when she wasn't practicing the trumpet, Julia had spent most of her free time with these friends. She knew everything about them, from what they'd gotten on their last history tests to what their boyfriends had whispered in their ears the first times they'd had sex.

Julia had always been a bit of an oddball, with her quirky sense of humor, the flat way she delivered jokes that caught people off guard and sometimes made them smile, sometimes give her confused looks. She was never a star in the classroom, and didn't go in for all the primping and social striving most of the girls did. She didn't need it; her music and her plans for the future had been enough. They'd given her distance, kept her insulated from the storms of teenage social life. When her friends were worked up over a boy or a conflict with parents, Julia was always the first to jump in with a silly line to relieve the tension. She wore thrift store T-shirts and frayed corduroys and didn't try to be the prettiest or the smartest or the most popular, just didn't care that much about it.

But all of that was gone, that old life. She didn't talk to any of those people anymore. She'd gotten rid of her cell phone, tossed it into a lake, actually. Burial at sea.

Marcus had suggested they meet at two thirty, since the snack bar would be less crowded then, between lunch and dinner. As usual, Julia was early. She couldn't help it. She'd always been the type to arrive ten minutes before a meeting, and none of the tricks she pulled to delay herself ever seemed to work. If she were ever sentenced to execution, she'd probably arrive ten minutes early for that, just to get a good seat.

She tried to slow down, scraping her shoe soles on the dirt and rocks in the woods.

As a way to distract herself, she started thinking about how the date had come about. "You have this way about you," Marcus had said that night in the library, when they were working on the counterpoint project. "It's like you live in your own self-contained world. I've been wanting to know what's going on in there since the first time I saw you." After he said it, he smiled in a teasing way, and she wasn't sure if he was being genuine. She almost made a quick joke back, her habit. Nothing going on in here. My world's in a budget crisis. But then she noticed he was blushing, all the way from his ears down to the base of his neck. There was something reassuring about his discomfort. Seeing it, she'd felt a protective tenderness for him, the way you might watching a child pedal a bike up a steep hill.

"You want to get lunch on Thursday in the snack bar?" he'd said after that, so casually anyone listening would have thought he'd just tossed out the offer, not even caring what her answer would be. But he'd given a specific day. He'd mentioned the snack bar, as if an off- campus date would have been too much to ask.

"I'd love to," Julia had said. "But are you going to be there?"

And Marcus had smiled.

When she got to the top of the hill, where the woods ended, Julia heard a train clacking away from the station at the base of campus. She checked her watch: ten minutes early. Of course. She walked onto the train platform, into the warm, bright sunshine.

That was when it happened, suddenly, in the midst of all that sparkling weather. It was as if someone had pulled the plug on the day, and all the excitement just drained out, like water from a tub.

She knew what it was, this feeling. She'd told El Doctor about it, these aftershocks, as she thought of them, reminders of events she couldn't change, events she would have preferred to snip out of the cloth of her memory. She closed her eyes, and there it was again, her brother's face, pale with shock at what he was witnessing, his lips opening and closing, making no sound, until finally he'd asked, "Is that mine?"

But she couldn't do this now, couldn't let herself get dragged under. If you want to move forward, you have to stop looking back. Positive thinking, positive results. She stood straight, pushed her shoulders back, breathed, fixed the strap of the messenger bag like a seat belt across her chest, and continued across the tracks, up the tree-lined path to campus.

Inside the snack bar, Julia couldn't spot Marcus. She looked around at all the tables and booths. Most were empty. At one table, two women in suits were smiling over something one of them had said, then they got up to leave, carrying stacks of paper. Inside a booth, three muscular-looking boys sat talking over empty plates and balled napkins.

They made Julia nervous, these people. The way they moved and talked and smiled seemed foreign, like they were all doing a dance she'd never learned. The thought surfaced again that maybe she wasn't fit to be here, at a college, so soon, no matter what El Doctor said.

But it's best not to overthink things. That's how you get yourself into trouble. When you stop and think about how vulnerable you are, or how strange the world is, it's easy to end up feeling confused and lonely.

In the corner, next to the doors where people walked in to order their sandwiches, a man in a red shirt and white apron was standing beside a trash can. Julia recognized him as the guy who usually made her sandwiches. She remembered thinking more than once that he was cute. He had shaggy brown hair, and could have passed for a student if he were a couple years younger. He always smiled when he saw Julia, and offered her an extra handful of chips or a second spear of pickle with her order. She didn't know if he did that for other girls, but it was such a simple and plainly sweet gesture that it charmed her. A pickle for your thoughts, my dear.

When she looked at him, though, smiling, ready to wave, he looked down, like he was embarrassed. She wasn't sure if maybe he didn't recognize her, or was surprised at meeting her without the lunch counter between them, or if he was just socially awkward, but whatever it was, she felt disappointed. She wanted to give him a signal that it was okay to be friendly, wave to her when she came in. I won't bite.

She didn't have a chance to do anything, though, because just as she was considering it, Marcus walked in.



Although he was careful not to be vain about his appearance, Sam Blount didn't see a problem with being aware of it. In fact, at thirty-nine years old, it seemed perfectly natural to take a little extra time in the mornings. Who didn't want to keep a good thing going as long as he could?

Sam had light-brown hair, which he washed daily in a moisturizing shampoo and kept long, parted in the middle and feathered over his ears, in the style of so many of the boys on campus. Mornings he put in a good thirty minutes, shaving and moisturizing his face and combing his scalp for gray hairs, plucking them out at the roots. The gray hairs had cropped up after his mother's death, over a decade ago now, though in some ways it felt like it had hardly been a month. Loss worked on a different timetable than the rest of life, Sam knew, and there was no way to predict when it would come knocking on your door.

Sam lived in Marshallville, the town just south of Stradler College, where he worked. Despite the students' joking about Marshallville (which included lines about "martial law," "Stradler's welfare cousin," and even the title "Badler"), so far it had been a decent place to live. He had a private entrance to his apartment, up a set of damp-smelling, gray-carpeted steps. Below him lived a retired construction worker named Vic who never left his apartment and was so deaf he wouldn't know if the house were collapsing. The front porch of the house sagged, and paint chipped off the siding, but the neighborhood was quiet enough. No one had hassled Sam or stolen from him. He kept the van on the street—he couldn't bear to get rid of it, he'd gotten such a good bargain—and it hadn't even had a window broken.

After all, the apartment would need to last him a couple years at most. Sam wasn't the type to stay in a place for long. He had an itch for motion, action. He thought of himself as a wanderer, like Augie March, a spirit cut loose by circumstances and the desire to see the world. In the past eight years, he'd lived in California, Maryland, Iowa, Massachusetts, and now Pennsylvania. He held jobs for a year or two, rarely more, then moved on.

Since the previous summer, Sam had worked in the snack bar at Stradler. He'd had experience in food service, and he always tried to work in places frequented by college students. It was a great way to meet people, see what was going on in an area, and he found the students' energy and optimism sustaining. He'd never had the chance to go to college himself, but he liked books and would have enjoyed the chance to study them; this proximity was the next best thing. He wouldn't have wanted to be packed away in some stuffy restaurant folding cloth napkins and asking old people if they wanted another gin and tonic, even if it had paid double what he was making now.

Walking through the campus, Sam gave the impression of a man who smiled easily, was hesitant to disturb anyone, always apologized first whenever he bumped into another person in a crowded path. His boyish haircut and loose clothes suggested the good-natured ease of someone who didn't expect overly much from life. Only when he was alone did a certain restless intensity, usually hidden, emerge. But this shadowed part of himself, these darker thoughts, were aspects of his personality he chose not to share with the world. It was easy enough to grin and slam the door on that room of his mind.

Today, a humid morning at the end of September, Sam's workday started at five thirty, as it did most days, with a cup of herbal tea and a dry bagel left over from the night before, which he ate while sitting on an overturned milk crate in the snack bar's driveway. The light was gray, the sky beginning to brighten, like a movie screen before the film starts rolling. A breeze ruffled the tops of trees. The campus of this school was an arboretum, and everywhere you looked there were trees, tall and sturdy, short and spindly, smooth or furrowed, tasseled with pine needles or sleeved in fat, green leaves. This was the most attractive place he'd ever worked, and surrounded by this abundant beauty, Sam couldn't help but feel that something special was waiting for him here.

After breakfast, he got to work, sweeping the floors and wiping the counters. He restocked the refrigerator cases, the cereal shelves, the racks of potato chips, keeping a tally of the empty spaces so he didn't have to run up and down the stairs a dozen times. He took all these chores seriously, and it meant a lot to him when his manager noticed. "Spotless," Horacio had marveled last week, turning a juice glass under the light. "You're the only one who does it," he'd told Sam, almost tearfully, referring to the way Sam wiped out the glasses with a cloth after they came out of the dishwasher, to eliminate streaks.

By six thirty, the others were arriving. Horacio greeted Sam in his formal way. "Good morning, Sam. How are you?" Sam shook his manager's thick-fingered hand, their daily routine.

Downstairs, Lonnie was playing his metal music on the boom box.

"Same shit, different day, huh?" Lonnie said to Sam when they were putting on their aprons in the storage room.

" 'S not so bad," Sam said.

"Fuck you."

"Maybe later."

Lonnie was grinning. His was a hard way of talking, a way that stamped out all the nuance and grace in the world. Sam didn't enjoy it much, but he was familiar enough with that way of seeing things to be able to answer back to people like Lonnie in the kitchens where he worked. If you don't adapt to your environment, people will single you out, give you trouble.

"Language, Lonnie," said Megan, the cashier, a single mother who'd lost a husband to a younger woman and found religion. She had the echo of a former prettiness in her features. Tall and broad in the hips, with heavy breasts, she was pined after by the men, though Sam couldn't fathom the appeal. To him she looked worn, with her colored hair, tired eyes ringed with makeup. He preferred a fresher look.

"I just can't heeeelp myself," Lonnie crooned.

"You're going to have to, if you want to be the cook here."


"Don't flatter yourself."

"Hey." Lonnie held up his palms, suddenly serious. "I'm the chef, and if you don't give me the proper respect, I'll stick my dick in the soup before you can say boo."

This was the refuge to which all of Lonnie's arguments fled. He looked around, satisfied with the point he'd made.

Megan shook her head. "You're the only sane one here," she said to Sam, and he offered a vague smile in return.

Breakfast was slow—maybe the warm weather—but lunch picked up. Sam worked the counter, taking orders and preparing sandwiches, jumping back to the grill when things got heavy on Lonnie.

"Slow down," Horacio told Sam, chuckling at his own joke. As he passed behind the counter, he placed a hand on Sam's shoulder in what seemed a fatherly gesture.

The line for sandwiches extended out the door, a typical lunchtime rush. Most of the people waiting were students, and Sam loved the snatches of conversation he overheard.

"What the hell was that question about angles?" a boy said, raising his palms and widening his eyes to emphasize the strangeness of the question about angles.

Another conversation picked up between two girls: "He really said that. I'm not even kidding. Right after he finished."

"You around next Friday, man?" a boy in line asked Sam, handing him a yellow flyer. "We're having some people over. You should come by."

"Sounds good," Sam said, stuffing the flyer in his apron. It was something that happened from time to time, getting invited to student parties, to smoke in their rooms, shoot baskets in the gym. The invitations were flattering, as if they considered Sam a member of their team, and Sam always showed up.

"What can I get you?" he asked the boy who'd given him the flyer, riding the wave of goodwill that swelled beneath him.

After the rush, the snack bar drained of people, giving Sam time to help the custodians sweep around the tables, toss out trash, straighten chairs. It was when he was changing the trash by the door to the dining area that he saw her, the girl.


Excerpted from The Preservationist by Justin Kramon. Copyright © 2013 Justin Kramon. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS CRIME.
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.

Table of Contents


Part One: Orientation,
Part Two: Trouble on Campus,
Part Three: The Cabin,
Part Four: The World Ahead,
Reading Group Guide,

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The Preservationist: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
nfmgirl More than 1 year ago
Julia is a freshman in college. She is coming out of an unimaginable year in which she lost her brother, and her life is finally beginning to feel normal once again. Then she meets two men. One man, Marcus, is a young man she met in class. He's cute and seems sweet, and she is comfortable talking with him, bantering lightheartedly. The second man is an older man she met at a cafe on campus, and she feels a shared sympathy with him, as he seems to understand her pain over losing her brother. Sam is intense and almost ingratiatingly easy to get along with. Julia makes her choice between these two men, but then begins to wonder whether she made the right choice. Both men accuse the other of dishonesty and dangerous behavior. At the same time, there are rapes occurring on campus, and both men appear as possible suspects. Could either of them be guilty of such a thing? And then there is a third man thrown into the mix, just to confuse things further. Before you know it, Julia is being consumed with paranoia, trusting no one. She no longer can trust her own judgements, and doubts her own decisions. And then she finds herself in real danger, and doesn't know which way to turn. I think this story was really character-driven. It flits through alternating perspectives, and you are always inside of the head of one of the characters, seeing things through their eyes. You are fed little bits of the story, and it builds slowly. And even though you are in the heads of the characters, you still aren't sure what the truth really is. This is one of those stories that I feel seems to have a moral or lesson to be learned from it, but I'm not really sure what it is. What is to be learned from all of this? I don't know. How NOT to be? Where poor judgement will get you? How foolish the young can be? Perhaps it isn't intended to have a moral to the story, but it has that feeling. The story felt a little choppy at times. There were some things that sort of left off unfinished or vague or simply alluded to. But overall it had a good flow. My final word: This book was very easy to read, and the characters were pretty well developed. I found myself on the edge of my seat for much of it, not sure where it was going to go. There were so many suspicious characters introduced that you just weren’t sure “whodunit”. It was enjoyable, yet left me with a frustratingly disappointed feeling that I can't quite put a finger on. Although I was left with the feeling that the story was somewhat...insubstantial, I found it overall to be a worthwhile read, and I would give the author another go-around.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings CREEPY!  This book was high on the creepy factor, especially thinking about my college years and how many times I put my trust in someone that I hadn't known for a long time.  Julia is a freshman who has come to school with some emotional baggage that she is still dealing with; she must try to concentrate and put herself first.  Marcus is another student who falls quickly for Julia, but is beat out by a man (Sam) who works at the local snack bar who is definitely a fan of coeds.   There were a few moments were I physically cringed and had to put the down for a minute to collect myself - not for the faint of heart.  I was glad to hear the stories from all angles - Julia, Marcus and Sam each have moments where they narrate the story and the reader is given each of their perspectives.  The one that creeped me out the most was Sam - he was nuts.  I enjoyed when Julia was narrating, maybe it is because I am a female that went to a small school, but I liked reading from her point of view the most.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
The Preservationist thunders as a compelling first novel. The shift in voices reminds me of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The setting seems a little obscure, I know the book starts during fall and the big climax happens close to Christmas and in Pennsylvania. The characters are not numerous, therefore the villain can easily be one of three men: Drew, Sam, or Marcus. Kramon spends many pages focusing on Sam and his strange habits and his miserable life, but then Marcus seems to carry a secret about a girl named Tree, and Drew is caught searching Julia's belongings. Which man is the rapist? The other point in the story is how parents handle the loss of a child. Julia's brother is killed in a car accident, and her parents seem to forget her existence. Kramon’s characterization of Julia is not as strong as that of Sam. Julia is not a sympathetic victim. I enjoyed this book and would recommend to other readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a lover of thrillers-especially fond of Mr. Kramons, ability to create in detail and in my mind what each scene truly looks and feels like. I know exactly what the cafeteria, the driveway to the cabin and the cabin look like-down to the fabric and furniture. To me, this is a talent not all writer possess-but Justin Kramon does. I felt the same experience when I read Finny. Bravo Justin! The Preservationist kept my creep meter working - I didn't want to put the book down! Susan S.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
anovelreview_blogspot_com More than 1 year ago
I'm not one who reads many thrillers, but Justin Kramon's new book THE PRESERVATIONIST really sounded good. The novel definitely starts off with a creepy feeling factor. Julia is just starting off a relationship with Marcus and Marcus seems a little...different. Then she kinda has a thing with Sam, also seems a little creepy! The guy is almost forty and likes being around young college kids. As I first began reading, I really didn't feel any connection to the characters. They seemed flat for awhile. However, as the relationship between Sam and Julia really began to develop Julia begins to open up. She feels safe with him and really begins to share, this seemed to help me to understand her more. Just as their relationship begins to blossom, Julia is hit with a shocking revelation. Everything becomes complicated. A threat takes over the college. And Marcus reappears trying to destroy their relationship. Overall the story itself isn't shocking (though I was taken back by the ending). With that being said, I still found THE PRESERVATIONIST to be enthralling! With each chapter I was further transported into a dark world where someone was always watching. At the end of most chapters, I would stop and  catch my breath, as my heart was racing. I could hardly put the book down! I am highly recommending THE PRESERVATIONIST!
sneps More than 1 year ago
Excellent Psychological Thriller!! I read this book in one very long road trip-17 hours to be exact. Driving from Houston, Tx to a small town in Tennessee…down dark roads, with not much traffic on the way, made for a very scary read!!! This is the perfect book to read, with Halloween fast approaching. However, it can really be read any time throughout the year….just be prepared for some goose bumps along the way! The story centers around Julia and her relationships with two men: Marcus and Sam. I loved that the storyteller alternated between characters, which gave me a bird’s eye view into their mind and ways they reasoned their behavior/actions. Each have their own secrets, their own issues, and their own reasons for doing what they do. Julia could be any young college student, dealing with grief, and feeling quite alone. Sam reminded me of Norman Bates…even with his warped mother issues, although nothing incestuous. Marcus is the typical college student, however he also is dealing with grief. When their worlds collide, the storyline moves quite rapidly. I loved the feeling of being on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen next, and trying to figure out how Julia decides which man to give her heart to….or does she??? This is a very creepy, chilling read that shows the making of a serial killer (who is that?), and how one attempts to escape the clutches of a mad man. Being isolated, Julia finds herself making decisions based on persuasion, rather than instinct, and she finds herself in quite a difficult situation. I loved the book from the beginning to end, and found myself watching the gas station clerks a little more closely, when we’d stop en route to Tennessee! The ending made me cringe. The very last sentence…while some may get warm and fuzzy feelings. I felt the opposite. I’m not sure if that is what the author wanted from the readers, but knowing that a lie was told had me thinking if the cycle would continue in some weird, subconscious way. Either way- it left me thinking…. What I learned: Trust your instinct and never, ever stay in a cabin on a lonely road!! I absolutely loved this book! If you love psychological thrillers, mysteries, and want a great read-then pick up this book! It’s a fantastic story!!-Books in the Burbs
JerseyGirlBookReviews More than 1 year ago
The Preservationist is a heart pounding dark psychological thriller that keeps the reader sitting on the edge of their seats. Set in Pennsylvania, author Justin Kramon weaves a riveting tale that follows the intricate love triangle between Julia Stilwell, Sam Blount, and Marcus Broley. Told in alternating points of view, the readers follows the blossoming relationship between eighteen year old college freshman Julia Stilwell and thirty-nine college snack bar employee Sam Blount, and how the relationship starts to unravel when college student Marcus Broley becomes infatuated with Julia and wants her for himself. This fast paced edgy tale has enough suspenseful twists and turns that keeps the reader on their toes as they try to guess what would happen next. Julia, Sam and Marcus each have issues and dark secrets in their lives that makes their intertwined relationships intriguing as the tension builds and obsession, deception and trust becomes an issue. You can't help but get caught up in this chilling story of obsession as the tangled web that these three people weave becomes destructive. The suspense is palpable and keeps the reader turning the pages until the satisfying yet very twisted ending. The Preservationist has all the elements that psychological thriller fans crave. Author Justin Kramon provides the reader with an intriguing dark tale that takes the reader on one hell of a heart pounding roller coaster ride.
MissBethBC More than 1 year ago
Yes, I lost a perfectly good night's sleep in my quest to read The Preservationist.  This was the surprise read of my year.  I was expecting this to be a love story between archaeologists.    Who else "preserves" things?    I must be narrow minded, thinking like that, huh?   There are different types of preservationists and I well know that now! Words I can describe this read with include captivating, dark, haunting and sad.  The Preservationist is a very well written book.   The characters are very well developed and believable.   Written in differing voices with each chapter, the book "preserved" revelation of who could be trusted until late into the book. For those who enjoy a good psychological thriller, this book is a must read.