Hayley Jo Zimmerman is gone. Taken. And the people of small-town Twisted Tree must come to terms with this terrible event—their loss, their place in it, and the secrets they all carry.
In this brilliantly written novel, one girl’s story unfolds through the stories of those who knew her. Among them, a supermarket clerk recalls an encounter with a disturbingly thin Hayley Jo. An ex-priest remembers baptizing Hayley Jo and seeing her with her best friend, Laura, whose mother the priest once loved. And Laura berates herself for all the running they did, how it fed her friend’s addiction, and how there were so many secrets she didn’t see. And so, Hayley Jo’s absence recasts the lives of others and connects them, her death rooting itself into the community in astonishingly violent and tender ways.
Solidly in the company of Aryn Kyle, Kent Haruf, and Peter Matthiessen, Kent Meyers is one of the best contemporary writers on the American West. Here he also takes us into the complexity of community regardless of landscape, and offers a tribute to the powerful effect one person's life can have on everyone she knew.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
KENT MEYERS is the author of The Work of Wolves, Light in the Crossing, The River Warren, and The Witness of Combines. He is a recipient of an ALA Alex Award, two Minnesota Book Awards, and a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association Award. His work has been included in the New York Times list of Notable Books and is published in a wide array of prestigious magazines.
Read an Excerpt
THE FASTER HE DRIVES, the thinner the freeway's painted lines become. He thinks, If I went fast enough I could reduce them to threads. In science fiction movies, he loves that moment before warp when even the stars thin to streaks and disappear. Insects had swarmed around him, obese with light, when he filled the Continental with gas above the Missouri River at Chamberlain. Now, as he accelerates down the ramp, they streak like meteors out of the night and fatten against his windshield. He floors the accelerator, the car downshifts, he feels his weight pushed back against the seat. But when the speedometer reaches seventy-seven miles an hour, he pokes the cruise control and sinks into the anonymity of ordinary traffic, barely breaking the law.
His headlights dilute to a broth in the borrow pit, speeding through dry grass and brittle weeds. When he reaches the broad lake of the dammed river, they disappear into the emptiness. He imagines a man in a boat in the blackness seeing his headlights pass on the bridge: his hand in the water, a dark spread of ripples. Then his tires quit booming, he's off the bridge, passing Oacoma and the painted, oversize cement buffalo at Al's Oasis. A mosquito whines in his ear. He lets the sound rise in pitch, hears it stop, waits for the piercing of his earlobe. Then, knowing the insect is trapped by its gorging, he lifts his hand and without hurry crushes it. He holds his palm near the dashboard: the smear of blood blackened by the green light, the crooked, hairlike legs and skewed, transparent wings. He fumbles in his back pocket for a Kleenex, daintily wipes his palm, and thinks of his Rapid City Ana.
He finds his Anas everywhere (their name a sigh, wind in a leafless tree), but his Missoula Ana was the best, and ever since he's dreamed of them in bookstores — their dark eyes gazing out of skulls under stringy hair, their polite, shy offers of help, and colored titles on thin spines flickering as he follows them, the barest elegance of light. It reminded him (when he followed his Missoula Ana) of the smears of color on his fingertips when as a child he caught butterflies, such patient, almost breathless stalking, all of summer suspended waiting for his finger and thumb to close and clasp, and then the faraway, membranous struggle, the feeble legs disjointed in the air. When he rolled his thumb and finger together the tissue wings turned to colored dust. He dropped the crippled things, watched their stick legs pump mechanically as they crawled away. Up and down the legs went stupidly over the grass, dragging the shreds of wings. They were very small. He rubbed the dust stains on his fingers off onto his pants, then wiped his pants with his palms and his palms on the grass until he didn't know whether the stain was gone or had permeated everything.
The Missoula Ana's fingers moved in her brittle hair as she turned to him with a book in her hand like an offering. He began the small talk, he has to draw them out, they are so focused on their devastating god. But he knows so much about them — it might be roses, origami, running, in Missoula it was cuckoo clocks, their delicate knocking and exquisite gears, their little ticks so brief they have no beginning and no end. He spoke of these things to the Missoula Ana and held the book, she enthralled by his interest in her interest, thinking it chance, and all of it behind shelves where no one watched, with the smell of ink and paper and coffee.
It was the best, but he won't repeat a bookstore. He refuses to be controlled, even by himself. He won't make things that predictable. There is no shortage of Anas. He will find them waitressing, even, transparent as the steam off the plates they carry. He imagines their fragile arms breaking under the weight of ceramic, carrots, mashed potatoes. He likes to stop them — Excuse me, Miss — and as they turn to him lift a forkful of potatoes to his mouth and pretend he can't talk, holding them mesmerized, with his fork describing little circles in the air. They watch him chew and swallow. They feel superior, proud, removed. But he knows them: birds who will come to his hand cocking their shy heads, tripping over their frail legs.
When he reaches Rapid City, he pays cash for a motel. The next morning he visits a pawnshop. Outside on the sidewalk, he touches the door, bows his head, breathes deeply, then pulls it open. The proprietor, leaning over a glassed-in counter under which hundreds of rings glitter, stares at him. He tells him he's a collector of western memorabilia, he's looking for anything to do with ranches or rodeo. The proprietor grunts. People don't bring in old branding irons, he says. You want to see that kind of thing, drive out to Wall Drug.
Rodeo, he repeats. How about rodeo stuff?
The proprietor spreads his hands in a gesture of helplessness. But he can see it: the man remembers. Has he sold it already? No — it's here, he doesn't want to sell. But why would he care? For a moment the world wobbles. Then he sees the proprietor's eyes cut to the wall.
I'll take a look around, he says.
And sure enough, he finds it concealed behind a couple of dusty golf bags, hanging on a low pegboard hook. He holds it up: a gaudy belt buckle with the words FIRST PLACE, BARRELS engraved in a pretense of silver. He traces the words with his fingers, then takes the buckle to the counter.
It's perfect, he says. Just what I'm looking for. He pays the asking price, then requests a receipt, to rub in the victory of finding it against the proprietor's will. Before getting into his car, he opens his fingers and lets the wind blow the receipt away.
That afternoon he drives to the Rushmore Mall. In the store where he knows she works, he spots her, her hair cut short, her blouse as loosely hung from the slats of her shoulders as those, draped on wire hangers, that she stands among. From a distance he watches. It had been so hard to tease her out. He'd sensed her lurking, a virgin Ana, unadmitted, and tapped in questions.
When he first discovered the pro-Ana sites, he loved how they talked of protecting their Anas against the world. He heard Paul, Jeremiah, the Desert Fathers: the thorns of the flesh. He understood. He began to wander a wilderness between transcendence and shame, a prophet in a land of thistles and honey, where Ana spoke in the wind. Sacrifice as passion, saints risen up on denial. He understood. He understood it all: the more they controlled their flesh and sculpted their bodies, the more the irreducible bones emerged to shame them. Bones cannot be thinned or changed. Bones only become (he knows) more brittle: mandible, clavicle; radius, ulna; tibia, fibula; femur, humerus — liquid, chanting names for things so breakable. And, best of all, the scapulas rising under the skin, creating mounds of light, havens of shadow.
He moves through the racks of clothes, brushing the fabric, the hair on his arms erect with electricity, and as she retreats, swanlike, before him, he feels immense, swollen, towering, the flowing dresses banks of clouds. Then she recovers and steps toward him on thin ankles (he can see her tarsi shaped beneath her socks) and stops him in his tracks. He imagines the anvil bone in her foot, her bare weight over it. He becomes aware of his belt's indentation in his sweaty flesh.
Can I help you? she asks.
The first spoken words. A sacred moment. It devastates him. Amazes and charms. He doesn't answer, holding the words' shape, texture, intonation, pitch. He will hang them in his memory, preserve them there forever.
To this Ana he was Mary, though he's been Emily and Josephine and Edwina. The avatars shape themselves out of conversation, seeded and entwined in the Anas' individual needs, until they emerge fully formed, revealed. He loves them. They surprise him. They are the Anas' avatars as much as they are his. Edwina was elvish, otherworldly, an Ana alien and exotic, but Mary is calm and quiet, Mary has maintained her Ana for years, becoming wise and imperturbable, a guide to show the possible. He'd given Mary a few gray hairs. He'd given her some wrinkles. But kept her beautiful. Made her glow. He loves the manipulation, the freedom to present a face that isn't, and then harden it into truth — the great divide of Enter, the veil of Send, the judgment seat of Save. In residential areas he finds home networks unsecured, and he has programs that bounce messages to a dozen different nodes in random order. While he sits, fingers moving, in midnight calm behind the Continental's darkened glass, within the shadow of protective trees, he imagines the words pulsing through their electronic darkness, banging off the rails of the Internet before dropping into his screen, the softest, pocketed light before his eyes.
It took Mary four months to turn this Ana. She had a friend named Laura Morrison she wouldn't let go of. It was always, But Laura says, to everything Mary advocated. He had to keep ends in mind, project wisdom, stay poetic. He had to show the Ana what she didn't even know herself: awe at who she was, interior seas, horizons beyond which Which is. What is. Who. Turn and turn: inward toward largeness, smaller and smaller toward infinity, the dark core lightening, growing. Through, through, through. And then the revelation, the turning inside out, the opening up: the Is of Ana, the Am.
What does Laura know of Ana? Mary wrote. Oh, Hayley Jo, don't you see? You're becoming someone else through Ana. Someone new. Of course Laura's hurt. She doesn't understand. But you can't allow yourself to be held back, not by your body or your friends. You're going inward, to a place you feel already. Don't you? Don't you feel it already?
He felt the words wrapping the Ana up like arms, moving over and through her. The boundaries of his own body dissolved, lost shape. He sent. Finally Laura was defeated. The Ana deleted all references to Laura on her profiles. Like blown flour. Gone. And when she confirmed by giving up the rodeo belt (You have to, Mary wrote. Your old life has passed away), that night he ate a good meal, toasted himself with a bottle of wine, told the waitress he was meeting an old friend the next day (he fingered the wineglass, looked at the waitress's bland, incurious face, imagined its change if he told her who he was), and put himself on I-90 again, the green-and-white signs for all those noplace, puffed-up towns rising out of the distance like something pulled on a conveyor belt, and falling behind him: Rochester, Albert Lea, Blue Earth, Jackson, Worthington, Windom, Luverne, Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Kimball, Chamberlain (of the meteoric insects), Presho, Vivian, Draper, Murdo, Frontier Village (with its skeletal silhouette of a leashed dinosaur, and the bony man who leads it), Okaton (abandoned, eaten away), Kadoka (somewhere beyond it Twisted Tree, his Ana's hometown, and Wounded Knee beyond that, where Hotchkiss barrels had turned, he's read about it, no place too small for greatness, the machine gun first used against civilians, the precursor of Ludlow, Jallianwalla Bagh, Izalco, Guernica, Babi Yar, No Gun Ri, My Lai, Tlatelolco, Tiananmen, all contained, all imagined, at tiny Wounded Knee), and then Wall (another dinosaur), Wasta, New Underwood, Box Elder, Rapid City.
He savors his own first spoken word to her, how his breath goes out to speak it, how it connects them, how her eyes shift slightly when it strikes her ear.
Yes, he repeats. I could use your help. My daughter's birthday is this week. She's about your age. Your height. And —
He raises his hands, getting the uncertainty right, the little bit of helplessness. He stares at the clothes surrounding him; he could be lost at sea.
What do young women wear these days? He sighs.
She almost smiles, and together they move into the racks, lifting dresses, conjecturing whether or not the nonexistent daughter who connects them would like certain styles. He mentions that he owns a small ranch near Newell (how useful the Net is: he speaks of dry streambeds there, particular hills), and then he mentions horses.
My daughter's been riding since she was this tall, he says. First thing I told her when she got on a horse was, Watch the ears. Horses'll telegraph their movements with their ears.
This is it: the rush, the flow, the sinking in. He could be a hundred people, a thousand. Sometimes he feels he's not even making it up. It's who he is. There is no bifurcation. It's like splitting yourself and not knowing which you is you. Amoeba — no: shape shifter, god. Tongues of flame, the Metamorphoses.
That's so true, the girl says.
She goes still. It's like in Missoula when he spoke of the interior workings of cuckoo clocks, how time ratchets woodenly within them, and the Missoula Ana was his. You can open their pasts like envelopes and unfold them like letters. A horse's ears: the smallest thing, telling her what she'd told Mary. She forgets the sundress she's been showing him. It's limp in front of her. He imagines buying it and, when everything is over, discarding it in some small town park. He takes the dress from her, noticing how her fingers open to release it, her nails reflecting small half-moons of light like tired pearls. He feels its bare weight in his hands as it floats toward him, its hem delayed, until it clings around his knees.
Do you ride? he asks.
I used to.
You enjoy it?
Why'd you stop?
Put it behind you, Mary had said. It's like stalking an animal, being right next to it, and it doesn't know you're there, or like playing poker and having an unbeatable hand, but no one knows. He can hardly bear the tension.
The bones of her shoulders move beneath her blouse.
I moved, she says. My bathroom's too small.
To keep a horse in. Makes it hard to shower.
It's so unexpected, he laughs. But he's devastated, too, he never expected her to respond that way, and he thinks of that dopey Huh? and feels like he's losing control.
Well, he says, trying to regain it. Horses do need space. Awful thing, a horse penned up.
All that muscle. That flesh? Beautiful animals.
He wants to keep her teetering way down underneath. He moves on, letting the statement rest with her. He lifts the dress and says, I think this'll do. Can't ride in it, but hey.
Then, as he sees the dress's hem ripple, his conspiring mind sweeps him away. Later he will indulge disgust: You fat fool, control yourself. When are you going to learn? You're so goddamn stupid. But in this moment, with the dress filling his eyes, he thinks again of discarding it and forgets where he is, imagining it dew-drenched and found by a man walking a dog, a Labrador, yes, shining in its blackness, man and dog standing over this dress which he's abandoned: shining black dog, shining wet dress, shining grass, and the man so pale with longing he's two-dimensional, imagining the girl whose body filled this gauzy thing. He looks up, that man does, thinking of the lover the girl removed the dress for, how they'd lain on this grass in darkness, moon silvering her skin (shadows between the ribs) and the grass imprinting her with vegetative, random lines. Then other stories cascade (so many worlds contained) into the man's imagined mind: a rape, or an innocuous falling out of a bag as she hummingly rode a bicycle home from shopping. The man shakes his head to cast away desire, and only the dog, sniffing the dress, knows no body ever filled it. (His, his, his: man and dog who don't exist and the girl who doubly doesn't, and what they know and don't, all his.) The man walks on, disturbed, tugged zigzag, arm extended, looking into the trees lining the park, now imagining himself a savior — finding the girl, offering his coat, covering her: her gratitude. He glances back at the dress once more. The dog sniffs an empty candy bar wrapper.
They are beautiful.
He barely catches what the Ana is saying, his eyes swim to find her, the store swirls, waves of color coalesce into shapes. Is she wistful? Philosophical? What? He's furious at the man with the dog. The hypocrite! Pretending he wants to help that girl! He fights for control, trying to recapture the conversation they'd been having. He stares at the cowboy boots on his feet to keep the Ana from seeing his face. Finally he remembers who he is and what they were talking about.
When he looks back up, the Ana seems to have faded into the racks of dresses, her face a mannequin's, still and dreaming. He ticks off the possibilities of what she might be thinking, like he used to do in grade school before a test. With each tick he feels his control of things solidify: the ranch she left to come here and the creek — Red Medicine — that borders it; her barrel racing; fishing with the neighbor boy; her father, the buffalo rancher. My father's so into those buffalo, she told Mary. OK, fine. I mean, if that's his thing. But he hardly even thinks of anything else. [??] [??] Like he's going to save the world by raising buffalo? lol You bet!
His mind contains so much.
Speaking of cooped up, he says, I've been driving all day. And this place — he nods roundly at the store — gives me claustrophobia.
Memorial Park's close. You could take a walk there, maybe.
Excerpted from "Twisted Tree"
Copyright © 2009 Kent Meyers.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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
A Real Nice Girl,
Losing to Win,
Quitting the Game,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I bought this book because the cover got me when I was browzing. The anguished horse at the wire made me want to read the book without knowing anything about it. It did not fail. This book was fascinating -- I disocvered the events in the rear mirror, through the ruminations of characters about the events, while also revealing their complicated lives in this Dakota town, with its distances, yearnings for the bright lights, and acceptance of the inevitable, with humor the only protection. The book held me and I had to stay up all night reading it. Then I read Work of Wolves, an earlier Meyers book, and thought it wonderful. Now I have to find Combine somewhere (not available through B&N). Anyway, if you like Jim Harrison, you will like Kent Meyers. They have the same long view.
Beautiful, especially the final chapter!