A heartfelt, vital collection; the debut of an exciting new talent already hailed as one of George Saunders' "favorite young American writers"
In Patrick Dacey's stunning debut, we meet longtime neighbors and friends--citizens of working-class Wequaquet--right when the ground beneath their feet has shifted in ways they don't yet understand. Here, after more than a decade of boom and bust, love and pride are closely twinned and dangerously deployed: a lonely woman attacks a memorial to a neighbor's veteran son; a dissatisfied housewife goes overboard with cosmetic surgery on national television; a young father walks away from one of the few jobs left in town, a soldier writes home to a mother who is becoming increasingly unhinged. We've Already Gone This Far takes us to a town like many towns in America, a place where people are searching for what is now an almost out-of-reach version of the American Dream
Story by story, Dacey draws us into the secret lives of recognizable strangers and reminds us that life's strange intensity and occasional magic is all around us, especially in the everyday. With a skewering insight and real warmth of spirit, Dacey delivers that rare and wonderful thing in American fiction: a deeply-felt, deeply-imagined book about where we've been and how far we have to go.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
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We've Already Gone This Far
By Patrick Dacey
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Patrick Dacey
All rights reserved.
During the war, most of us in Wequaquet hung up a flag to support the troops, though it was clear some of us did it because others were doing it. We pulled out our flags from the last war or went to Hal's and bought a new one. Hal sold out pretty fast, and good for Hal, because usually no one goes to Hal's anymore, the way he charges, though he says he has no choice if he wants to compete with MegaWorld.
Donna Baker went the extra mile. I didn't mind the oversize flag snapping in the wind from the holder beside her door so much as I minded having to look across the street at all the little flags stuck in the lawn and in the light holders on the garage and on the antenna of her Subaru.
After a strong wind or rain, I'd see her out there picking up those little flags and then pushing them back in the dirt or snow and packing the dirt or snow around the little sticks. I would watch her do this while I had my breakfast, and, I'll admit, I timed my breakfast for when she did this.
Then one day, when I saw Donna driving off in her stupid Subaru, I went right across the street and took one of the flags out of the ground and buried it in my backyard. I don't know why. I respected her patriotic pride. Really, I did. Her son, Justin, was over there, and that must've been hard, but no harder than your son fixing city bridges or removing asbestos or driving a stock car. Actually, the most dangerous job in the world is cutting timber. I looked it up. And when Donna got back, she was carrying a bag of groceries in her arms, looking over the flags in her yard, counting each and every one of them. She put down her groceries and stood there for a half hour, counting and recounting and scratching her head. She went next door to the Putters' house, but I guess she forgot they both have jobs and no one would be home. He teaches history at the high school and she's a hairstylist — actually a haircutter. She works at Uppercuts, and what they did to my hair once was not styling.
Then Donna Baker walked across the street to my house and knocked on the door. I didn't answer. Then I heard her knocking on my back sliding door. She was standing on my porch and we saw each other and I made like I was cleaning up some mess behind the couch and gave her the "I'll be there in a second" finger. Then I let her in. She said, "You think those hoodlums are back?" and I thought, the last time we had hoodlums was when her son and a couple of his friends ripped out every mailbox on our street and tore down street signs and stole doghouses and dismantled a billboard and spray-painted Welcome to Fuck World on it and put it in Barry Park and that Sunday kids were all asking their parents, "What's Fuck World?" and I thought to say we haven't had any criminal activity around here since your son, you know, but I didn't, and I shrugged and said, "Would you like some coffee, Donna?"
We talked for a while. She was upset about the new standardized testing at the schools and I mentioned a movie I wanted to see that she hadn't seen, either, and so we made a casual plan to go see it but never did. And then she said, "You know, if I had to do it all over again, I'd live close to the water," and I agreed. Then she left and drove off in her Subaru and came back later with another little flag and put it right in the same spot where I'd taken her other one.
* * *
I know some things about Donna Baker. People talk. For instance, I know that her sister has a drug habit and stole all her jewelry and took off to Utah, and I thought, Utah? I also know that Donna drives down to the new development in Spring Creek just to watch the men work. I know she's put on twenty pounds — anyone can see that, but not anyone can see that she sneaks mini-muffins in her car every morning. I also know that she drives twenty miles out to Wareham and sings karaoke at Tenderhearts, because my cousin is a bartender there. He says Donna Baker's a terrible singer.
I'm sure she knows some things about me, too.
She knows, like everyone knows, that my husband ran out on me less than a year ago after they shot a movie here in town and he got a bit part as a short-order cook at a diner with his line "Flapjacks and bacon," which he practiced day and night in the house. The lead, a detective, asks a waitress at the counter for flapjacks and bacon, then the waitress says, "Flapjacks and bacon," and Paul repeats, "Flapjacks and bacon."
They didn't even use his line in the movie. But Paul was passionate. He said it didn't matter how old he was, he was going out to Hollywood to try his hand at it, and if he didn't try his hand at it, then he'd resent himself for the rest of his life and he'd die an angry man. I'll tell you this. If my husband were shot dead, more people would've come over and said how sorry they were.
* * *
When Justin left, Donna Baker stuck a dozen or so yellow-ribbon stickers to the back and sides of her Subaru. We all know the yellow-ribbon sticker is there to support the troops, and who wouldn't? But I'll bet Donna doesn't know that the yellow-ribbon sticker is also a symbol for suicide prevention, bone cancer, and endometriosis. It's true. I looked it up. After Justin died, Donna took down the yellow-ribbon stickers and stuck a white-ribbon sticker to the bumper of her Subaru. It's a symbol of innocence. It represents victims of terrorism. It's also a symbol for retinoblastoma, which makes sense. But it's black from the mud and dirty snow and you can't clean a ribbon sticker, and a black-ribbon sticker is a symbol for gang prevention, which I know Donna Baker supports, too, after all, but I don't think she knows that's what it means now.
* * *
Justin's welcome-home party was not fun like parties should be, like the party Gail Prager threw for her father-in-law when he turned eighty-two. Being around someone that old made you feel good to be where you were in life; it made you feel like you had time left. There was a cake, but Mr. Prager couldn't eat the cake, because he couldn't open his mouth wide enough to take in food, and when Gail's daughter, Francesca, tried to feed him the cake, she ended up just smearing it over Mr. Prager's lips and cheeks, and we all laughed.
That was a feel-good party. It didn't even matter that they were Jewish.
Hard to feel good when someone comes back from a war. You see it on television and you figure the one you know is the one hollering and firing his automatic weapon into the dunes, and, really, how do you react to someone like that?
There wasn't any cake. There wasn't even music. What kind of party doesn't have cake and music? Justin brought a woman with him, Kiki-something. Who names their daughter Kiki? I mean, you might as well set up one of those stripper poles in her bedroom, right? She was so tall, almost another body taller than me. She had a big, round chin and wore gaudy makeup and was dressed in this leopard-print sundress, and we all figured she was a whore. She ate more than anyone at the party. Justin was sitting on a beach chair on the back lawn, rolling cigarettes and smoking and sipping a beer, and some people walked around him and others stood near him and a few shook his hand and asked him questions. His super-tall woman sat down on his lap and at one point I saw them necking and it looked like she was eating him. Calvin Baker grilled hamburgers and hot dogs and brats, because that's Justin's favorite, but Justin didn't eat one and the brats were piled up on a serving plate that Donna Baker gave to George Falachi because the Falachis are poor and she felt bad for them, which I'll tell you is in poor and bad taste to do in front of people at a party.
The main reason why it wasn't a good party for me was because later, after a few too many gin and tonics and Jimmy Buffett songs, Donna Baker and I got into an argument about the war. She was saying how we were doing great things over there, building schools, establishing a government, letting the people decide what's best for their country, et cetera. And I interrupted, saying how I thought that was all political propaganda, that we couldn't even get that right in this fucking country, how were we going to get it right over there? Right? And she called me a traitor, and I called her a gullible bitch, and she said I was a condescending wacko, and I said she was an unrealistic cunt, and she said that my collection of wind chimes drives her nuts, and I said her collection of flags and ribbons drives me nuts, and she said that the brownies I brought over were dry and you could see nobody wanted them, and I said her potato salad tasted like fucking glue. Then she called for Justin, and everyone stopped and stared at him. Donna Baker said, "Tell her, Justin. Go ahead." And Justin said, "Tell her what?" and Donna Baker said, "Tell her what it's like," and Justin said, "It's like nothing." Then we sort of drifted back to our houses, trying not to upset all the little flags in the yard. Two weeks later, Justin went back, and Donna Baker kept up with her flags and ribbon stickers, and we didn't talk for a while.
* * *
The summer passed. I spent most of my time on the back porch. Sometimes I cried about Paul. Sometimes I broke a dish or a glass. One day Donna Baker came by to warn me that the terror level had been raised to red. I didn't know what that meant. She seemed pretty nervous.
"I doubt they'll come after any of us, Donna," I said.
"You can't be too sure. For my sake, keep your eyes peeled."
She warned everyone in the neighborhood, except for Muslim Joe, who I sometimes think might just be wearing that turban so no one bothers him.
After Labor Day, Nancy Dwyer came over with some gossip. She was all excited, like she gets when bad things happen to one of us, standing in the kitchen with her chest sticking out like two torpedoes that have taken off but won't ever land. She told me she saw Donna's husband, Calvin, out in Falmouth, having coffee with a gorgeous woman at Dunkin' Donuts. I don't know too many gorgeous women that drink coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, and Nancy's a big liar, anyway. (She once told Cindy Putter that the reason I didn't have kids was because I didn't like the way they looked. All kids, mind you. Of course, I don't like how some kids look. Some kids are real ugly. Kids like Cindy Putter's kids. The reason I didn't have kids is because I didn't want kids.) "They're going to split," she said, and she held her hand to her throat as if something were stuck in it. "Can you believe it?"
I thought, hearing that about Calvin, Donna might stop by to ask me what it was like to lose a husband, because, even though I didn't like a lot of things about her, she was still my neighbor. But she didn't stop by, and so I thought, You're on your own, Donna Baker.
Then I heard that Donna was setting up a committee to send parcels and gift boxes over to the soldiers to let them know that we cared over here. Those I had spoken to said they didn't RSVP because of how things turned out at the party. And even though I wasn't invited, I said I didn't RSVP, either. We all agreed that it was better we didn't have it right in our faces anymore. Most of us didn't keep up with the war, and because it was almost football season, our neighborhood was more concerned with what the Red Raiders were going to look like in the fall, rather than any new developments over there.
* * *
In October, Justin was killed by one of his own men. I found out from Nancy, who had read about it at the grocery, and I knew she was telling the truth because she was shivering and crying and she hugged me, and Nancy never hugs. After she told me, I spent the next couple of days looking across the street to see if Donna would come out and then maybe I'd act like I was leaving to get something at the store and could just bump into her and say how sorry I was about her son, because really I was.
But I didn't see her, not until that Saturday, when Calvin Baker showed up. And Donna came out crying and crying, and then Calvin tried to hug her, but Donna stepped away and doubled over, and even though we weren't on speaking terms, I couldn't stand seeing her cry, and I started crying. Then Calvin grabbed her from behind and pulled her into him, and I could see some of my neighbors looking out of their windows, and I figured they were thinking like I was. Thinking what it must've felt like to be Donna Baker just then.
* * *
The funeral was very sad. The biggest, toughest men you've ever seen broke down. Donna Baker took the folded flag and put it on her lap and she let Calvin hold her hand, which was sweet, considering. George Falachi wore sunglasses even though there wasn't any sun that day, and I guessed he was probably stoned. Nancy Dwyer asked me how much I paid for my bouquet at Jane's, and I told her too much. Gail Prager wasn't there and we all noticed that. Cindy Putter and her husband, Leonard, brought their two kids and they ran around the plots, jumping over the buried bones, taking the flags from the ground and playing swords with them.
When the soldiers raised their guns and fired, I flinched.
* * *
After the funeral, I decided to take my wind chimes down. I'm not sure why I started collecting them in the first place. I liked listening to them clatter and ring in uneven tones. It was a nice distraction in the morning and at night. I didn't think; I listened. It's good for me not to be thinking all the time.
As I was taking them down, I heard footsteps behind me and I turned and there was Donna Baker, and she said, "Why don't you leave a few up? I can hear them from across the street. They're pleasant at night."
I said, "Okay, Donna."
Then I felt good. I felt so good that the next day I planned on returning her little flag. I'd put down a bluestone over the hole where I buried the flag, and I'd uncovered the flag and picked up the bluestone to put it in the garage when I saw Donna Baker pushing a cross into her lawn. I thought, This is ridiculous, and really I was going to go over there and pull it right out, but the bluestone fell from my arms and landed on my foot.
* * *
When we got back from the hospital, Donna helped me inside. Then she ran to her house and grabbed an ice pack and set me up on my couch with a pillow underneath my foot and the ice pack wrapped around my toes. She sat down in the chair next to me and we watched the television for a while. She didn't mention the flag.
"How is it?" she said finally. "How's the pain?"
"There's no pain," I said. "It's just numb."
"Oh, look," she said, pointing at the television.
There was Paul, right in front of my eyes like he'd been all those days in the house, except now he was on the screen. Donna turned up the volume. Paul was sitting with two young boys, trying to explain to them the importance of brushing their teeth. Then a big green space alien tore open the roof and came down with a glowing fluorescent tube and a giant toothbrush. He smiled and his teeth blinded Paul and the children with their brightness. Then the kids looked in the mirror and saw that their teeth were as clean and white as the alien's. They cheered and Paul crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head.
"Well, how about that," Donna said. "I can't believe I know someone famous."
"He's not famous," I said. "It's a commercial."
"But, still. Didn't he want to be famous? Isn't that why he left?"
"He left because he didn't want me anymore."
"That's not true."
I sat up on the couch.
"How do you go on like this, Donna? Tell me the secret." My voice was sharp, and Donna pinched her knees together and her shoulders tensed up. "Really, Donna. I'd like to get inside that head of yours and figure you out."
"I don't appreciate the way you're talking to me," she said. "I'm leaving. I hope your foot feels better."
"God damn it," I said.
She stood up and slapped down her skirt, sending out a puff of loose hair and dust.
"I pray to God you don't think it was worth it," I said. "Do you, Donna?"
She turned to me. Her eyes were sharp as cut glass. I thought I saw it in her — she'd been fighting anger for so long. She put her hands out, and her fingertips shook like little Christmas bells. Then her eyes softened, and I could see she was trying to forgive me for what I'd said. I can't say if she did, only that it seemed to me she was trying.
We haven't spoken since then, but I feel closer to Donna Baker than I ever did before. I know she's there, across the street, with her pain and fantasy, and on certain days when I can't find any peace in what I'm doing, I'll pretend to be Donna and imagine what it must be like to live the way she does.CHAPTER 2
TO FEEL AGAIN THE KIND OF LOVE THAT HURTS SOMETHING TERRIBLE
Kenny paced along the driveway, kicking stones, saying to himself, "Finish your milk, finish your homework, finish your prayers."
Huffing, exhausted, he slowly chanted, "Dolphins, dragons, pelicans, trampolines, submarines, jelly beans."
He sat on the lawn with his hands wrapped around his knees and whispered, "Coca-Cola, rock 'n' rolla, supernova ... shit, shit, shit."
He started over, from the beginning. Because it had to be right, or else everything would go wrong.
Excerpted from We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey. Copyright © 2016 Patrick Dacey. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and 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
1. Patriots 1
2. To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible 12
3. Downhill 27
4. Friend of Mine 40
5. Never So Sweet 60
6. Ballad 90
7. The Place You Are Going To 99
8. Mutatis Mutandis 106
9. Acts of Love 128
10. Incoming Mail 139
11. Okay See You Soon Thanks for Coming 162
12. Frieda, Years Later 172
13. Lost Dog 192