About the Author

Russell Banks

Books by this Author
Lost Memory of Skin
Excerpt

It isn’t like the Kid is locally famous for doing a good or a bad thing and even if people knew his real name it wouldn’t change how they treat him unless they looked it up online which is not something he wants to encourage. He himself like most of the men living under the Causeway is legally prohibited from going online but nonetheless one afternoon biking back from work at the Mirador he strolls into the branch library down on Regis Road like he has every legal right to be there.
 
The Kid isn’t sure how to get this done. He’s never been inside a library before. The librarian is a fizzy lady—ginger-colored hair glowing around her head like a bug light, pink lipstick, freckles— wearing a floral print blouse and khaki slacks. She’s a few inches taller than the Kid, a small person above the waist but wide in the hips like she’d be hard to tip over. The sign on the counter in front of her says Reference Librarian, Gloria . . . something—the Kid is too nervous to register her last name. She smiles without showing her teeth and asks if she can help him.
 
Yeah. I mean, I guess so. I dunno, actually.
 
What are you looking for?
 
You’re like the reference lady, right?
 
Right. Do you need to look up something in particular?
 
The air-conditioning is cranked and the place feels about ten degrees cooler now than it did when the Kid came through the door and he suddenly realizes he’s shivering. But the Kid’s not cold, he’s scared. He’s pretty sure he shouldn’t be inside a public library even though he can’t remember there being any rules specifically against entering one as long as he’s not loitering and it’s not a school library and there’s no playground or school nearby. At least none that he’s aware of. You can never be sure though. Playgrounds and schools are pretty much lurking everywhere. And children and teenagers probably come in here all the time this late in the day to pretend they’re doing homework or just to hang out.
 
He looks around the large fluorescent-lit room, scans the long rows of floor-to-ceiling book-lined shelves—it’s like a huge supermarket with nothing on the shelves but books. It smells like paper and glue, a little moldy and damp. Except for a geeky-looking black guy with glasses and a huge Adam’s apple and big wind-catching ears sitting at a table with half-a-dozen thick books and no pictures opened in front of him like he’s trying to look up his ancestors there’s no other customers in the library.
 
A customer—that’s what he is. He’s not here to ask this lady for a job or looking to rent an apartment from her and he’s not panhandling her and he’s for sure not going to hit on her—she’s way too old, probably forty or fifty at least and pretty low on the hotness scale. No, the Kid’s a legitimate legal customer who’s strolled into the library to get some information because libraries are where the information is.
 
So why is he shaking and his arms all covered with goose bumps like he’s standing naked inside a meat locker? It’s not just because he’s never actually been inside a library before even when he was in high school and it was sort of required. He’s shivering because he’s afraid of the answer to the question that drove him here even though he already knows it.
 
Listen, can I ask you something? It’s kinda personal, I guess.
 Of course.
 
Well, see, I live out in the north end and the people in my neighborhood, my neighbors, they’re all like telling me that there might be like a convicted sex offender living there. In the neighborhood. And they tell me that you can just go online to this site that tells you where he’s living and all and they asked me if I’d check it out for them. For the neighborhood. Is it true? Is what true? You know, that you can just like go online and it’ll tell you where the sex offender lives even if you don’t know his name or anything.
 
Well, let’s go see, she says like he asked her what’s the capital of Vermont and leads the Kid across the room to a long table where six computers are lined up side by side and no one is using them. She sits down in front of one and does a quick Google search under convicted sex offenders and up pops the National Sex Offender Registry which links straight to www.familywatchdog.us. The Kid stands at a forward tilt behind her shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He thinks he should run now, get out of here fast before she clicks again but something he can’t resist, something he knows is coming that is both scary and familiar keeps him staring over the librarian’s shoulder at the screen the same way he used to get held to the screen when cruising pornography sites. The librarian clicks find offenders and then on the new menu hits by location and another menu jumps up and asks for the address.
 
You’re from Calusa, right? What’s your neighborhood’s zip code?
 
It’s . . . ah . . . 33135.
 
Any particular street you want to look up?
 
He gives her the name of the street where his mother lives and he used to live and she types it in and hits search. A pale green map of his street and the surrounding twenty or so blocks appears on the screen. Small red, green, and orange squares are scattered across the neighborhood like bits of confetti.
 
Any particular block?
 
The Kid reaches down to the screen and touches the map on the block where he lived his entire life until he enlisted in the army and where he lived again after he was discharged. A red piece of confetti covers his mother’s bungalow and the backyard where he pitched his tent and built Iggy the iguana’s outdoor cage.
 
The librarian clicks onto the tiny square and suddenly the Kid is looking at his mug shot—his forlorn bewildered face—and he feels all over again the shame and humiliation of the night he was booked. There’s his full name, first, last, and middle, date of birth, height, weight, his race, color of his eyes and hair, and the details of his crime and conviction.
 
Slowly the librarian turns in her chair and looks up at the Kid’s real face, then back at the computerized version.
 
That’s . . . you. Isn’t it?
 
I gotta go, he whispers. I gotta leave. He backs away from the woman who appears both stunned and saddened but not at all afraid which surprises him and for a few seconds he considers trying to explain how his face and his description and criminal record got there on the computer screen. But there’s no way he can explain it to someone like her, a normal person, a lady reference librarian who helps people look up the whereabouts and crimes of people like him.
 
Wait. Don’t leave.
 
I gotta go. I’m sorry. No kidding, I’m really sorry.
 
Don’t be sorry.
 
No, I’m prob’ly not even supposed to be here, he says. In the library, I mean. He turns and walks stiff-legged away and then as he nears the door he breaks into a run and the Kid doesn’t stop running until he’s back up on his bike heading for the Causeway.

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The Angel on the Roof

The Angel on the Roof

The Stories of Russell Banks
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

Dancing With My Eyes Closed

When I began writing nearly forty years ago, I wanted to be a poet, but had not the gift and fell in love instead with the short story, the form in prose closest to lyric poetry. Unable to court successfully the queen of the arts, I turned my attention to her lady-in-waiting. This is not a rare form of abandonment (as Faulkner famously observed, "All fiction writers are failed poets"), but in any event, it's clear enough to me why I abandoned poetry early, almost too early to have failed at it, for the short story. Too many of my close friends at college and shortly afterwards obviously had the gifts (of language, wit, personal charm, good looks--whatever it took to woo and win the favors of the queen's main muse), and by unavoidable comparison to poetry-writing friends like William Matthews, James Tate, and Charles Simic, I was tongue-tied, humorless, bad-mannered, and homely. No wonder I turned to prose fiction.

Before leaving, however, I did publish a fair number of those early poems in obscure--but not obscure enough- literary magazines and journals and published two chapbooks of poetry in small--but not small enough--editions. They show up now and then in the hands of collectors at book-signings, and it's all I can do to keep from tearing the book from the collector's hands and starting an auto-da-fe with it right there in the store. I'm not so much ashamed of those poor poems as embarrassed by the vanity of my youthful ambition, by its evident (to me, now) transparency, and am comforted a bit only by calling to mind Nathaniel Howthorne's first book, an absolutely awful bodice- ripper entitled Fanshawe, self-published in an edition of perhaps 500 copies that he spent his life afterwards quietly seeking out, purchasing, and destroying by fire, in the process (since he got all but a handful of copies) making it one of the rarest, most expensive books in American literature.

Unable to cohabit with lyric poetry, I, like my illustrious ancestor, took up temporary residence instead with her nearest neighbor, the short story, and only later moved across town as he did, to settle more or less permanently, I thought, with the novel. In the intervening years, though I've written a dozen or so novels and remain faithful to the form and its power, it's nonetheless the story form that thrills me. It invites me today, still, as it did those many years ago, to behave on the page in a way that is more reckless, more sharply painful, and more stylistically elaborate that is allowed by the steady, slow, bourgeois respectability of the novel, which, like a good marriage, demands long-term commitment, tolerance, and compromise. The novel, in order to exist at all, accrues, accretes, and accumulates itself in small increments, like a coral reef, and through that process invites from its creator leisurely exploration and slow growth. By contrast, stories are like a perfect wave, if one is a surfer; or a love affair, if one is a lover. They forgive one's mercurial nature, reward one's longing for ecstasy, and make of one's short memory a virtue. They keep an old man or woman young, so to speak.

A year ago, last winter, after a decade and a half of writing only novels--four of them, actually, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone and Cloudsplitter- arduous years uninterrupted by my usual, earlier practice of following a novel with a wild and crazy year or two of short-story writing (as a respite, I suppose, but also merely to release my brain from the sort of obsessional thinking that goes with novel-writing), I finally sat down and over the course of the next six months wrote nine new stories. I felt almost wanton and promiscuous. My delight, however, was tinged mysteriously with guilt. Maybe I'd been having too much fun, or perhaps, as if dancing wildly with my eyes closed, I had inadvertently made a fool of myself in public, revealed too much of my secret, subconscious self. Troubled and intrigued, I decided to examine and evaluate earlier instances of this reckless behavior and went back and, for the first time in many years, re-read my four previously published collections of stories, Searching for Survivors, The New World, Trailerpark, and Success Stories, a group of nearly one hundred stories in all.

Many of them, most of them, were terrible, as bad as my poems, and evoked in me the same embarrassment and shame as had the poems--for the vanity of my youthful (and in many cases not-so-youthful) ambition and its ability to cloud my mind and warp my judgement. Why, I wondered, had I even published them? Why couldn't I have made such terrible mistakes in private? It was a depressing and humbling read. Not that they were technically inept. In general, the stories were skillfully executed, stylish in the several popular modes of the 1960's and 1970's--minimalist after Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, meta-fictional after Barthelme, Barth, Gass, and Coover, sometimes braiding the two formalist tendencies in a single story, as if the tendencies were not, as their respective adherents claimed, opposed to one another.

No, what depressed and humbled me was what I saw lurking behind the surface of the story--the personality and character of the author himself, the young writer whose all-too-evident rage, pride, and insecurity were sabotaging his attempts to write stories that stood a chance of outliving him. Obviously, I knew a great deal about him already, his difficult childhood, his turbulent adolescence, his failed (as he viewed them) first and second marriages, and so on; but it was the stories themselves that gave him away. So many of them, it seemed, had been written to obscure the degree to which their author had no idea of who he was or what he was doing or whether he was any good at it. Preoccupied with the self, rather than with the world, they were the work of a young man who too often judged his characters, especially the characters who most closely resembled the author himself; and when he did not judge them, he idealized them, hovering like a custodial parent above the same character he'd just condemned, the one resembling the author. His characters were stand-ins for his shifting, unreliable opinions of himself. Thus his reliance on fashion, on the popular story-telling modes of the time.

A few of the stories, once I gave them a second look, did not embarrass me. Quite the opposite. They were the real thing, freed, it seemed to me, from the authorial vanity and literary self-consciousness. And I could see that, with a snip here, and a tuck there, if I sucked in their stomachs and adjusted the lighting a bit, they might, even to me, seem capable of successfully courting the nearest relative of the queen of the arts. These were, for the most part, stories about single mothers, blue-collar working men and women, elderly people, a retired army colonel, a gay bank clerk, and so on-characters who did not much resemble their neurotic young author. The few whose demographic profile did match the author's portrayed him only as a child or adolescent, twenty or more years earlier, beyond judgement, beyond idealization, no longer subject to his rage, pride, or insecurity. Forgiven.

Of the nearly one hundred stories previously published in book form, I selected twenty-two that I wanted to revise and keep into my old age. The rest I decided could and should be consigned to the dustbin of juvenilia, even though some of them had been written when I was in my forties. With those twenty-two revised early stories and the nine new ones now in hand--and ample, mixed bouquet displayed in my publisher's handsome yet unpretentious vase--I might knock at the muse's door and be let in. I might be almost-a-poet yet.

In June when this new book is published, I will have just turned sixty. And while re-reading, rejecting and finally revising the best of them has been a little like visiting with my past and all-but-forgotten selves, re-acquainting myself with the man I was in my twenties, thirties, forties, and so on, it has also revealed to me the man I was not. Not then, anyhow, and maybe not now or ever. Unsurprisingly, the kid in his twenties who wrote "Searching for Survivors," one of the earliest stories included, a somewhat melancholy, dreamy, self-dramatizing fellow with a lyrical impulse running through his every perception, turns out to be not significantly different than the more ironic, bemused, and plain-spoken, late-middle-aged man who at the age of fifty-nine wrote the most recent stories in the collection. I have come to see that most of the stories I left behind, like my earlier selves, were failed experiments which at the time of their composition were necessary for me to have attempted, for I would not have learned my craft if I had not written them. And while I now wish that I had not afterwards submitted them for publication, I nonetheless must admit that had I not published them, first in magazines and later in books, I doubt that I'd be able today to recognize them as failures. If I'd tossed them out while they were still in manuscript form, if I'd strangled my darlings in their beds, as Flannery O'Connor advised young writers to do, I would not have learned from them as much as I have. In cold print, in black and white, wildly dancing eyes-closed in public for all to see, those experiments, like my early poems, like my early selves, taught me what I have no talent for and, in the end, no abiding interest in.

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The Angel On The Roof
Excerpt

Dancing With My Eyes Closed

When I began writing nearly forty years ago, I wanted to be a poet, but had not the gift and fell in love instead with the short story, the form in prose closest to lyric poetry. Unable to court successfully the queen of the arts, I turned my attention to her lady-in-waiting. This is not a rare form of abandonment (as Faulkner famously observed, "All fiction writers are failed poets"), but in any event, it's clear enough to me why I abandoned poetry early, almost too early to have failed at it, for the short story. Too many of my close friends at college and shortly afterwards obviously had the gifts (of language, wit, personal charm, good looks--whatever it took to woo and win the favors of the queen's main muse), and by unavoidable comparison to poetry-writing friends like William Matthews, James Tate, and Charles Simic, I was tongue-tied, humorless, bad-mannered, and homely. No wonder I turned to prose fiction.

Before leaving, however, I did publish a fair number of those early poems in obscure--but not obscure enough- literary magazines and journals and published two chapbooks of poetry in small--but not small enough--editions. They show up now and then in the hands of collectors at book-signings, and it's all I can do to keep from tearing the book from the collector's hands and starting an auto-da-fe with it right there in the store. I'm not so much ashamed of those poor poems as embarrassed by the vanity of my youthful ambition, by its evident (to me, now) transparency, and am comforted a bit only by calling to mind Nathaniel Howthorne's first book, an absolutely awful bodice- ripper entitled Fanshawe, self-published in an edition of perhaps 500 copies that he spent his life afterwards quietly seeking out, purchasing, and destroying by fire, in the process (since he got all but a handful of copies) making it one of the rarest, most expensive books in American literature.

Unable to cohabit with lyric poetry, I, like my illustrious ancestor, took up temporary residence instead with her nearest neighbor, the short story, and only later moved across town as he did, to settle more or less permanently, I thought, with the novel. In the intervening years, though I've written a dozen or so novels and remain faithful to the form and its power, it's nonetheless the story form that thrills me. It invites me today, still, as it did those many years ago, to behave on the page in a way that is more reckless, more sharply painful, and more stylistically elaborate that is allowed by the steady, slow, bourgeois respectability of the novel, which, like a good marriage, demands long-term commitment, tolerance, and compromise. The novel, in order to exist at all, accrues, accretes, and accumulates itself in small increments, like a coral reef, and through that process invites from its creator leisurely exploration and slow growth. By contrast, stories are like a perfect wave, if one is a surfer; or a love affair, if one is a lover. They forgive one's mercurial nature, reward one's longing for ecstasy, and make of one's short memory a virtue. They keep an old man or woman young, so to speak.

A year ago, last winter, after a decade and a half of writing only novels--four of them, actually, Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, Rule of the Bone and Cloudsplitter- arduous years uninterrupted by my usual, earlier practice of following a novel with a wild and crazy year or two of short-story writing (as a respite, I suppose, but also merely to release my brain from the sort of obsessional thinking that goes with novel-writing), I finally sat down and over the course of the next six months wrote nine new stories. I felt almost wanton and promiscuous. My delight, however, was tinged mysteriously with guilt. Maybe I'd been having too much fun, or perhaps, as if dancing wildly with my eyes closed, I had inadvertently made a fool of myself in public, revealed too much of my secret, subconscious self. Troubled and intrigued, I decided to examine and evaluate earlier instances of this reckless behavior and went back and, for the first time in many years, re-read my four previously published collections of stories, Searching for Survivors, The New World, Trailerpark, and Success Stories, a group of nearly one hundred stories in all.

Many of them, most of them, were terrible, as bad as my poems, and evoked in me the same embarrassment and shame as had the poems--for the vanity of my youthful (and in many cases not-so-youthful) ambition and its ability to cloud my mind and warp my judgement. Why, I wondered, had I even published them? Why couldn't I have made such terrible mistakes in private? It was a depressing and humbling read. Not that they were technically inept. In general, the stories were skillfully executed, stylish in the several popular modes of the 1960's and 1970's--minimalist after Raymond Carver and Ann Beattie, meta-fictional after Barthelme, Barth, Gass, and Coover, sometimes braiding the two formalist tendencies in a single story, as if the tendencies were not, as their respective adherents claimed, opposed to one another.

No, what depressed and humbled me was what I saw lurking behind the surface of the story--the personality and character of the author himself, the young writer whose all-too-evident rage, pride, and insecurity were sabotaging his attempts to write stories that stood a chance of outliving him. Obviously, I knew a great deal about him already, his difficult childhood, his turbulent adolescence, his failed (as he viewed them) first and second marriages, and so on; but it was the stories themselves that gave him away. So many of them, it seemed, had been written to obscure the degree to which their author had no idea of who he was or what he was doing or whether he was any good at it. Preoccupied with the self, rather than with the world, they were the work of a young man who too often judged his characters, especially the characters who most closely resembled the author himself; and when he did not judge them, he idealized them, hovering like a custodial parent above the same character he'd just condemned, the one resembling the author. His characters were stand-ins for his shifting, unreliable opinions of himself. Thus his reliance on fashion, on the popular story-telling modes of the time.

A few of the stories, once I gave them a second look, did not embarrass me. Quite the opposite. They were the real thing, freed, it seemed to me, from the authorial vanity and literary self-consciousness. And I could see that, with a snip here, and a tuck there, if I sucked in their stomachs and adjusted the lighting a bit, they might, even to me, seem capable of successfully courting the nearest relative of the queen of the arts. These were, for the most part, stories about single mothers, blue-collar working men and women, elderly people, a retired army colonel, a gay bank clerk, and so on-characters who did not much resemble their neurotic young author. The few whose demographic profile did match the author's portrayed him only as a child or adolescent, twenty or more years earlier, beyond judgement, beyond idealization, no longer subject to his rage, pride, or insecurity. Forgiven.

Of the nearly one hundred stories previously published in book form, I selected twenty-two that I wanted to revise and keep into my old age. The rest I decided could and should be consigned to the dustbin of juvenilia, even though some of them had been written when I was in my forties. With those twenty-two revised early stories and the nine new ones now in hand--and ample, mixed bouquet displayed in my publisher's handsome yet unpretentious vase--I might knock at the muse's door and be let in. I might be almost-a-poet yet.

In June when this new book is published, I will have just turned sixty. And while re-reading, rejecting and finally revising the best of them has been a little like visiting with my past and all-but-forgotten selves, re-acquainting myself with the man I was in my twenties, thirties, forties, and so on, it has also revealed to me the man I was not. Not then, anyhow, and maybe not now or ever. Unsurprisingly, the kid in his twenties who wrote "Searching for Survivors," one of the earliest stories included, a somewhat melancholy, dreamy, self-dramatizing fellow with a lyrical impulse running through his every perception, turns out to be not significantly different than the more ironic, bemused, and plain-spoken, late-middle-aged man who at the age of fifty-nine wrote the most recent stories in the collection. I have come to see that most of the stories I left behind, like my earlier selves, were failed experiments which at the time of their composition were necessary for me to have attempted, for I would not have learned my craft if I had not written them. And while I now wish that I had not afterwards submitted them for publication, I nonetheless must admit that had I not published them, first in magazines and later in books, I doubt that I'd be able today to recognize them as failures. If I'd tossed them out while they were still in manuscript form, if I'd strangled my darlings in their beds, as Flannery O'Connor advised young writers to do, I would not have learned from them as much as I have. In cold print, in black and white, wildly dancing eyes-closed in public for all to see, those experiments, like my early poems, like my early selves, taught me what I have no talent for and, in the end, no abiding interest in.

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The Darling
Excerpt

Chapter One
After many years of believing that I never dream of anything, I dreamed of Africa. It happened on a late-August night here at the farm in Keene Valley, about as far from Africa as I have been able to situate myself. I couldn't recall the dream's story, although I knew that it was in Africa, the country of Liberia, and my home in Monrovia, and that somehow the chimps had played a role, for there were round, brown, masklike faces still afloat in my mind when I awoke, safe in my bed in this old house in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains, and found myself overflowing with the knowledge that I would soon return there.

It wasn't a conscious decision to return. More a presentiment is all it was, a foreboding perhaps, advancing from the blackest part of my mind at the same rate as the images of Liberia drifted there and broke and dissolved in those dark waters where I've stored most of my memories of Africa. Memories of Africa and of the terrible years before. When you have kept as many secrets as I have for as long as I have, you end up keeping them from yourself as well. So, yes, into my cache of forgotten memories of Liberia and the years that led me there — that's where the dream went. As if it were someone else's secret and were meant to be kept from me, especially.

And in its place was this knowledge that I would soon be going back — foreknowledge, really, because I didn't make the decision until later that day, when Anthea and I had finished killing the chickens and were wrapping them in paper and plastic bags for delivery and pickup.

It was at the end of summer, the beginning of an early autumn, and though barely a year ago, it feels like a decade, so much was altered in that year. The decade here: now, that seems like a few days and nights is all, because nothing except the same thing has happened here day after day, season after season, year after year.No new or old returning lovers, no marriages or divorces, no births or deaths, at least among the humans. Just the farm and the world that nourishes and sustains it. Timeless, it has seemed.

The farm is a commercial operation, inasmuch as I sell most of what I grow, but in truth it's more like an old-fashioned family farm, and to run it I've had to give over my personal clock. I've had to abandon all my urban ways of measuring time and replace them with the farm's clock, which is marked off by the needs and demands of livestock and the crops, by the requirements of soil and the surge and flux of weather. It's no wonder that farmers in the old days were obsessed with the motions of the planets and the waxing and waning of the moon, as if their farms were the bodies of women. I sometimes think it's because I am a woman — or maybe it's merely because I lived all those years in Liberia, adapted to African time — that I was able to adapt so easily to the pace and patterns and rhythmic repetitions of nature's clock and calendar.

It was as usual, then, on that August morning, with the darkness just beginning to pull back from the broad river valley to the forests and the mountains looming behind the house, that I woke at five-thirty and came downstairs wearing my flannel nightgown and slippers against the pre-dawn chill, with the dogs clattering behind me, checked the temperature by the moon-faced thermometer outside the kitchen window (still no frost,which was good, because we'd neglected to cover the tomatoes), and put the dogs out. I made coffee for Anthea, who comes in at six and says she can't do a thing until after her second cup, and the other girls, who come in at seven. I lingered for a few moments in the kitchen while the coffee brewed, enjoying the dark smell of it. I never drink coffee, having been raised on tea, a habit I took from my father as soon as he'd let me, but I do love the smell of it when it's brewing and buy organic Colombian beans from a mail-order catalogue and grind them freshly for each pot, just for the aroma.

For a few moments, as I always do, I stood by the window and watched the dogs.They are Border collies, father and daughter, Baylor and Winnie, and when they have done their business, the first thing they do every morning is patrol the property, reclaiming their territory and making sure that during the night nothing untoward has happened. Usually I watch them work and think of them as working for me. But this morning they looked weirdly different to me, as if during the night one of us, they or I, had changed allegiances. They looked like ghost dogs,moving swiftly across the side yard in the gray pre-dawn light, disappearing into shadows cast by the house and oak trees, darting low to the ground into the garage, then reappearing and moving on.Today they worked for no one but themselves; that's how I saw them.Their gait was halfway between a trot and a run — fast, effortless, smooth, and silent, their ears cocked forward, plumed tails straight back — and they seemed more like small wolves than carefully trained and utterly domesticated herding animals.

For a moment they scared me. I saw the primeval wildness in them, their radical independence and selfishness, the ferocity of their strictly canine needs. Perhaps it was the thin, silvery half-light and that I viewed them mostly in silhouette as they zigged and zagged across the yard, and when they'd checked the garage, an open shed, actually, where I park the pickup truck and my Honda, they moved on to the barn and from there to the henhouse, where the rooster crowed, and then loped all the way to the pond in the front field, where they woke the ducks and geese, never stopping, running in tandem, a pair of single-minded predators sifting their territory at peak efficiency.

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The Reserve
Excerpt

When finally no one was watching her anymore, the beautiful young woman extracted herself from her parents and their friends and left the living room. She passed through the screened porch and crossed the deck and barefoot walked softly over the pine needles in front of the sprawling log building downhill toward the sheared ledges along the edge of the lake.

She knew that shortly the others would notice, not that Vanessa had left her father's party, but that the light in the room had suddenly faded, and though it was still late afternoon and not yet dusk, they would see that the sun, because of the looming proximity of the Great Range, was about to slip behind the mountains. The Second Tamarack Lake was deep and long and narrow, like a Norwegian fiord, scraped by glaciers out of the north- and south-running Great Range of steep, granitic mountains, and the view from the eastern shore of the Second Lake at this hour in high summer was famous. Most of the group would take their freshened drinks in hand and, following Vanessa, would stroll from the living room down to the shore to watch the brassy edges of the clouds turn to molten gold, and then, turning their backs to the sky and lake, to compliment the way the pine and spruce woods on the slopes behind the camp shifted in the dwindling alpenglow from blue-green to rose and from rose to lavender, as if merely observing the phenomenon helped cause it.

After a few moments, when the alpenglow had faded, they would turn again and gaze at the lake and admire in silence the smooth surface of the water shimmering in metallic light reflected off the burnished clouds. Andthen at last they would notice Vanessa Cole standing alone on one of the tipped ledges that slipped into the water just beyond the gravelly beach. With her long, narrow back to her parents and their friends, her fingertips raised and barely touching the sides of her slender, pale, uplifted throat, Vanessa, gazing in dark and lonely Nordic thoughtfulness into the whole vast enclosed space between lake and forest and mountain and sky, would seem to be situated at the exact center of the wilderness, its very locus, the only meaningful point of it. For her parents and their friends, for an interesting moment, the drama of the disappearing sun would be Vanessa Cole's.

There were nine people at the party, Dr. Cole's 1936 annual Fourth of July celebration at the Second Lake — Vanessa and her parents, Carter and Evelyn Cole; Red Ralston and his wife, Adele; Harry and Jennifer Armstrong; and Bunny and Celia Tinsdale. The men had been classmates at Yale, Skull and Bones, class of 1908. Their wives, respectively, had gone to Smith, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Mount Holyoke. All four couples had married young and had in their twenties borne their children, and their children, except for Vanessa, had in turn done the same. During the previous decades the men had made a great deal of money buying and selling stocks and bonds and real estate and from the practice of their professions — Dr. Cole was an internationally renowned, if somewhat controversial, brain surgeon; Red Ralston, Vanessa's godfather, was a corporate lawyer who specialized in bankruptcies; Harry Armstrong owned a company that manufactured automobile tires; Bunny Tinsdale ran his father's steel company — and husbands and wives both were old enough now to have found themselves in the process of inheriting homes and family fortunes from their dying parents. They and their parents and their children and grandchildren had not been much affected by the Great Depression.

Every year on the Fourth of July — other than during the war years, when Dr. Cole and Bunny Tinsdale were army officers stationed in France — the four families gathered together here at Rangeview, the Cole family's Adirondack camp, to drink and fish and hike in rustic splendor and to celebrate their loyalties to one another, to their families, and to their nation. This year, except for Vanessa, all the children and grandchildren were spending the holiday elsewhere—on islands, as someone in the group had noticed, Mount Desert Isle, Long Island's North Shore, Martha's Vineyard — which had somewhat diminished the occasion in importance and intensity, although no one said as much. They acted as if the absence of their offspring were both desired by them and planned and were not, as it appeared, a changing of the guard. The Coles so far had no grandchildren. Their only child, Vanessa, was adopted and at thirty had been married and divorced twice, but had remained childless — "barren," as she put it.

It was nearly silent there by the shore — low waves washing the rocks at Vanessa's feet, a soft wind sifting the tall pines behind her — and she could hear her thoughts clearly, for they were cold and came to her in words and sentences, rather than feelings, as if she were silently reciting a list or a recipe she'd memorized years ago. She was not happy, Vanessa told herself, not one bit, and she wished that she had stayed in Manhattan. It was always the same here, year after year, her mother and father's annual Fourth of July show, and though it was more her father's show than her mother's, that didn't make it any better. Not for her. Everyone had a show, she believed, and this was not hers, not anymore, if it ever had been, when she heard in the distance a low humming sound, a light, intermittent drone that rose and fell, surged and lapsed back almost into silence and then returned and grew louder.

She realized that it was an airplane. She had never before heard or seen an airplane at the Second Lake. Rangeview was the largest of only a half-dozen rough-hewn log camps, a few of which were elaborately luxurious, located in the forty-thousand-acre privately owned wilderness, the Tamarack Wilderness Reserve. Vanessa's grandfather Cole had been . . .

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