Tumbling After: A Novel

Tumbling After: A Novel

by Paul Witcover


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The long-awaited second novel by Paul Witcover, acclaimed author of the remarkable Waking Beauty, is a stunning and provocative masterwork ofingenious imagination — part-coming-of-age story, part contemporary fairy tale, part technological nightmare, and a brilliant dark vision of dystopia.

Twelve-year-old twins Jack and Jilly Doone are closer than most siblings — uncannily linked, sharing thoughts, sensations, and emotions as if one person — as they enjoy a mostly parentless August at the Delaware shore. But in the fury of an onrushing hurricane, a frighteningly close brush with death awakens an awesome power in Jack that changes everything ...

On an alternate Earth — transformed centuries earlier by the Viral Wars into a savage battleground where the "normal" followers of the emperor Pluribus Unum clash unceasingly with warriors of five mutated elemental races — a young aerie named Kestrel sets out into the perilous Waste with four companions, trusting their fates to the great and powerful Odds. Taking the next all-important step in every "mute's" odyssey to adulthood and duty, Kestrel dreams of glory and sacrifice, and of single-handedly bringing about the total extermination of the hated "norm" enemy. But even his ability to soar high above his world will not help him escape the treachery of those he dares not trust, and his psionic powers over the winds cannot blow away the strange and shattering destiny that awaits him at journey's end.

A different yet oddly synchronistic fate looms for Jack Doone in this endgame summer of frightening discovery and forbidden experimentation. Suddenly cursed with the uncontrollable power to alter reality — to "do over" events and change the flow of his life and the lives of those around him — his day-to-day existence has become a twisted version of the "Mutes and Norms" role-playing game devised and orchestrated by his uncle Jimmy. And now the twins' survival may come down to a single roll of the cosmic dice, as Jack finds himself devastatingly alone for the first time, his cherished Jilly's protector in a terrifying battle to determine the real, armed with no weapon but memory.

A staggeringly original work that blurs the lines between reality and the fantastic, between the accepted and the taboo, between fantasy and science fiction, Paul Witcover's Tumbling After is proof positive that intelligence and invention still reign supreme in the thrilling literature of speculation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061053641
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/08/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

The author of Waking Beauty, Paul Witcover has also written a biography of Zora Neale Hurston and numerous short stories. He is the co-creator, with Elizabeth Hand, of the cult comic book series Anima and has served as the curator of the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series. His work has also appeared on HBO. He lives and writes in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Tumbling After
A Novel

Chapter One

Jack and Jill

I caught it! he thinks. I actually caught it!

As the wave swells beneath him, Jack looks out over the windswept, all-but-deserted beach (where his sister Jilly stands watching, dwindled to doll size) and surrenders to the same mix of elation and terror that makes roller coasters irresistible. The cry that bursts from his lips is the primordial cry of the ocean: raw, fierce, and proud. Jack's up so high that he can see over the crest of the dunes to the houses beyond -- even to his own house, where the antlike figures of his father, Bill, his older sister, Ellen, and Uncle Jimmy are hard at work taking down the porch screens. It seems entirely possible that he might fly to them, joining the gulls angling through the air on the knife-edge gusts and thrusts of wind preceding Belle like the outriders of an advancing army. Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird; it's a plane; no, it's Super Jack!

The ocean yaws and pitches. The next thing he knows, he's falling. The surf is miles below. He screams, desperately trying to right himself, or the world. At the same time, he catches sight of Jilly. She's up to her waist in the surf, arms rigid at her sides, gazing at him with an expression of fearful excitement, her mouth open as if she's shouting at the top of her lungs. But he can't hear her. Then he can't see her anymore either, because the wave curls behind him and slaps him down. There's no time to register the pain of striking the surface in the pummeling he receives beneath it as the wave rolls him toward shore. Jack tumbles like a sneaker in a washing machine, slammed into the bottom again and again until his body is numb and all sense of direction fled. His lungs burn with the need for air. A directionless roar envelops him.

He struggles against the current, but the incoming surge passes him off smoothly to the outgoing tide, which drags him back the way he'd come ... or a different way, he can't tell. At last he goes limp, thinking to conserve his strength. He's wishing he hadn't come down to the beach with Jilly to look at the storm-tossed surf; more than anything, he's wishing he hadn't accepted her dare to ride one of the enormous waves. "In or else, Jack," she'd taunted. "You're not chicken, are ya?"

When will he learn? Why does he let her talk him into these things? Bill's going to kill him ... assuming the ocean doesn't do the job first. He'd give anything to go back and change the moment when he'd pulled off his shirt and run headlong into the water. It seems like ages ago; another life altogether. Pinpricks of light are flaring and dying in the dark of his inner vision, illuminating shapes he doesn't want to see: immense, unmoving forms that also take notice of him somehow, as if the flashes by which he sees them are lighting him up as well, bringing him fitfully, like a flickering ghost, across some invisible threshold and into the range of their perceptions. He senses a sluggish stirring in the depths and imagines a scaly arm or tentacle reaching for him as he might reach to swat a fly. He strikes out blindly.

The current falls away as if grown weary of the game. With the last of his hoarded strength, Jack kicks and claws his way toward what he hopes is the surface.

All at once, there's air to breathe ... if you call it breathing. Sputtering, half-blinded by spume and spray, he flounders, legs churning, arms splashing. Shards of leaden sky shatter across his eyes, but no glimpse of shore obtrudes to guide him, no hint of where he is in relation to the land. For all he knows, he's been swept miles out to sea. His straining toes brush no bottom. Wherever he turns, a wave is waiting to slap him in the face. He wants nothing more than to strike back, bursting with a rage that rises up in him like the wave he'd caught, or that had caught him, and, like it, crashes down. It pours through and out of him, leaving him drained, empty, tossed about like a cork. It's all he can do to keep his head above water.

Dazed and half-drowned, Jack finds himself recalling the expression on Jilly's face, the naked avidity with which, having set these events in motion, she'd watched them take their course, her insatiable eyes drinking in his spill like she thirsted for it, and it's this memory, rather than his current predicament, that swings open, wider than ever, the floodgates of his fear: his deepest, most secret and spectacular fear. Not of dying. No, it's the prospect of losing Jilly that truly terrifies him.

But that can't happen. He won't let it. He opens his mouth to call her name. Water rushes in. He swallows it like a stone. With a last, stinging slap, the ocean slams over his head, severing his sight from the sky. Sinking into those sisterless depths, he feels himself breaking apart, all the bits and pieces of Jack Doone dispersing in different directions like minnows fleeing a predatory darkness.

Tumbling After
A Novel
. Copyright © by Paul Witcover. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Tumbling After 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paul Witcover's reality bending tale is a period piece, the period being adolescence. The primary world is attached to the secondary world via the umbilicus of Uncle Jimmy's role playing game: a mutated fusion of reality, online gaming, tech creep, Big Brother, global media, conflict, and intrigue. This story of Jack and Jilly Doone could work for any generation, but is thankfully written for mine. Witcover marries the themes of pre-adolescent and adolsecent coming of age, and of self discovery, in two separate (or are they?) realities. He interlaces humor and detail in his unique, wryly twisted brand of narrative. Why is the book so refreshing? You can't predict what is beyond the borders of the next page, and the story is both surprising and fulfilling without succumbing to phone book dimensions. Thank you, Mr Witcover, for a well brewed story. You will hopefully have driven many down the road to read speculative fiction, and at least *someone* has written to thank you.