‘Give My Love to the Savages’: Featured Fiction from Chris Stuck

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In today’s edition of featured fiction, curated by our own Carolyn Quimby, we present an excerpt—a portion of the short story “Lake No Negro”—from Chris Stuck’s debut story collection, Give My Love to the Savages.
The book earned praise from the likes of Victor LaValle, who described the collection as “Black satire with bite,” and Publishers Weekly, which said, “Stuck brings uncompromising humor and judicious characterizations, offering piercing insights on the complexity of his characters’ experiences. The author’s perfect balance of absurdism and realism makes these stories shine.”
Andre had never been with a white woman, an older woman, a conventionally beautiful woman, much less one he’d just met. But here he was. Her name was Farrah, and they’d stumbled onto each other in the beginner class at the Rock and Rope, a large indoor rock-climbing gym in the southeast part of town. Their instructor randomly paired them up, and for an hour, they scaled a three-story modular wall called the Slab. It was a good partnership. Andre and Farrah picked their way up the climbing holds like spiders up a web. But every time they reached the top, Andre found her giving him a high five or a hug, holding on to him, he noticed, a little longer than she needed to.

She was in her early forties, Andre guessed, and not hurting in the cash department. She possessed the grooming and physique of someone with a salon and trainer at her beck and call. In Portland, so many people were scribbled with tattoos, looking so eccentric and pasty, that Farrah’s mainstream glow made her unusual. She didn’t look at all like the lead singer of some shaggy folk band. Quite the contrary. She looked like a perky blond aerobics instructor.

As she showered, he lay in bed, sex drunk. He reclined against his wad of pillows and fell into a parade of dreams he never used to have back east. In one, he was an ironclad warrior atop a powerful white steed. In another, he was the commander of an army of soldiers. When he opened his eyes after a fourth little dream, he found she was gone. On the pillow next to him was a note, though. It said, “Dinner. My place. Saturday. 6pm.” Underneath she’d written the address, some town in the suburbs called Lake Oswego.
* * *
Andre was twenty-six and from DC. He’d journeyed west to spice up his life. Farrah was from Northern California, but she hadn’t said why she’d relocated or what she did for a living. Andre didn’t push. Over his six months in Portland, he’d learned that this city lacked the irony or speed found in most American cities. The place was so strange and carefree that he incorrectly assumed no one there was employed or even aspired to be. He figured Farrah was, in all likelihood, one of “those Californians” vilified by Portland’s liberals, those wealthy Californians who bought up the cheap real estate and spit it back on the market at a profit, something Andre wasn’t that invested in.

That Saturday, he prepared for his dinner date by renting an electric car and whizzing down to the Pearl District to buy some dress clothes at a shop called the Social Ladder. He checked himself out in the store’s three-way mirror and suddenly thought of his old life. Just a year before, he’d been the definition of metrosexual. He was an up-and-coming yet

bored financial analyst who’d amassed a pretty decent savings. He got his hair cut weekly. He clipped his fingernails every Sunday night and often tended to his closet of expensive suits and coats.

Since he’d come to Portland, however, he’d let himself go. His hair was in naps. He shaved infrequently. And what clothes he had, he lugged down to a Laundromat in a trash bag once

every two weeks, washing them without separating the colors from the whites, something his ex, Nina, used to do that drove him nuts. “You’re so uptight,” she used to always say. “Why do you have to be so weird?”

He missed the tidiness of his old life as well as those designer clothes he’d given to the Goodwill like a dope before he’d moved. Andre imagined a homeless person living on the DC streets, looking like Denzel Washington with all his nice threads, while he was across the country looking like a bohemian. He ran his fingers over his naps, took out his phone, and found one of the few Black barbershops in Portland. He had his head shaved to the scalp, his goatee cut off like a tumor. At home, he dressed and doused himself in cologne, and since he’d recently started smoking weed again, he took a quick bong hit to ease his mind.
* * *
As he traversed the city, fairly zooted, he got introspective. He didn’t know why, but memories of Nina had been clamping down on him from out of nowhere. She was partly why he’d moved west, to forget about her even if she’d already forgotten about him. As he neared Lake Oswego, he had a vision of his last night in DC, when he’d made the Titanic-size boo-boo of calling her one last time.

When she answered, the endeavor showed promise. Her voice was bubbly, happy, like how it used to be. When she realized it was him, though, she sounded like a bored customer-service rep. He waded through the awkward salutations, which yielded some info: She was well. She was active. And she was living with her parents, a fact he was pleased to hear since it made her sound a little pitiful.

“Are you working?” he said.

“Sure. My writing and pottery are going really well.”

“No. I mean actual employment. Something that, you know, makes money.”

She simply said yes. She was a barista.

He laughed when she flamboyantly rolled the “r” in “barista.” “Isn’t that just a pretentious way of saying you pour coffee?”

“If you think Italian is pretentious, then yes,” she said. “My boyfriend owns the shop.”

That was the first blow. Boyfriend. And it was just like her to throw it in when he wasn’t expecting it. He didn’t say anything for what seemed like minutes and tried to recover by asking the guy’s name.


That was the second blow. The name was so blue blood, so Caucasian, that he didn’t know whether to die laughing or curl up in a ball and weep. Andre imagined a towheaded cricket player, someone with an accent, someone related to the British royal family. Instantly, he wanted to murder him, but he thought he did a good job hiding that. “Well, great. I’m glad for you. I guess you’ve finally made it.”

“Why?” she said. “Because he’s white?”

“That’s not what I meant.” He should’ve stopped there, purely out of embarrassment. This conversation was going to get around to everyone they knew. But he was a little drunk at the time. What honest-to-goodness whiskey drinker would quit now? Forge on, the liquor told him. Break new ground. “Let me ask you this. Does he call you ‘Lovie’ when you fuck? Do you guys have cucumber sandwiches afterward?”

She just sighed.

“Tell the truth. When you guys get married, he’ll want you to wear a tiara, won’t he?” He heard himself squeal in delight.

“You know what? Unlike your weird ass, he’s extremely sensitive and caring and loving and brilliant. He’s a poet.”

“Oh, well, of course he is. Only a poet deserves so many adjectives bestowed upon him.” Andre stopped to laugh again. He was astounded she hadn’t hung up on him yet. He would’ve hung up on himself by then. Of course, that was exactly when she did.
* * *
As Andre entered Lake Oswego, he was drenched in that jealousy again. He thought his feelings for Nina had faded. He thought he’d forgotten all about Alastair and his great poetry. He hadn’t even had the chance to tell her he was leaving town. Just the idea of them and the snooty kids they’d have made Andre want to go back to his apartment and sulk.

But according to his GPS, he was almost to Farrah’s, close enough that it would’ve been stupid to turn back. Perhaps getting blackout drunk in front of total strangers would take his mind off things. Then he could pack his crap and move to LA or Seattle, or to DC to get his job back.

Remarkably, though, as he escaped the throughways and drove deeper into the woods, Andre found his fog burning off. The avenues turned twisty and lush. Just driving them made his high come back. He’d heard Lake Oswego had been nicknamed Lake No Negro, but no one ever told him if it was because the town, like the rest of Portland, was just really white or if it was really white and anti-Black. Every section of town had a strange nickname anyway. So, who knew? There was no one on the street, white or otherwise. Andre expected to see mansions and topiaries and wrought iron gates everywhere. Instead, the houses were vague structures shrouded in overgrown vegetation, the homes of wealthy people who didn’t trim their hedges.

Andre wound over to South Shore Boulevard, gliding until his GPS said he’d arrived. His electric car sat silent as he assessed the residence from the street. It was ultramodern and white, more a structure than a house. It sat below street level on a lakefront property, looking like those Frank Lloyd Wright homes Nina talked about. Andre coasted down the gravel drive and passed a cedar-clad carport with a Jaguar, an SUV, and Farrah’s Mercedes parked inside.

He walked up to the door with some carnations and a bottle of Champagne, the real kind, from the Champagne region of France. It was a piece of knowledge Nina had pounded into his brain after he’d once brought home a case of Korbel thinking it was the good shit. He’d picked this bottle, a blanc de noir that set him back a chilly one-fifty, simply to impress but also because he liked the name. The French guy in the wine shop said it meant “white from black grapes,” which had a sense of transformation about it, like “water into wine” and “lemons into lemonade.”

Andre rang the doorbell, and it produced a classical tune that lasted a minute. Just as it reached its final note, the door was snatched open by a young Asian woman who stood there in a gray sweatshirt with the neck cut out. Andre introduced himself and said he was there for dinner, but she just sized him up, after which she crossed her arms and screamed, “Farrah, your stupid friend’s here!”

Andre thought of cracking a joke, but the way she thinned her eyes at him made him decide against it.

The interior of the house was a collection of marble and concrete, stainless steel and wood. Andre felt like he was walking into an issue of Architectural Digest. The foyer’s ceiling was a huge sheet of glass, a window to the sky. As he stood there, a large chandelier exploded with light, and there was Farrah, gliding down the wooden staircase in a kimono. She greeted him with outstretched arms, the way rich people did on TV.

She said she was glad he’d arrived, surveying him with a smile and evidently approving. “You clean up good.” She petted his shaved head and face. “I’m glad you got rid of the goatee. It didn’t suit you. You look like a little boy now.”

Andre didn’t know how to take that. And he was still a little high. “Thanks.” He looked at the Asian woman, who was looking back at him like a repulsed teenager.

Farrah then startled him by rubbing her nose against his, and the Asian woman said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” under her breath.

That was when an older white guy emerged atop the staircase, tucking his dress shirt into his slacks. He looked to be in his midsixties, the distinguished air of a politician radiating from every pore. He jogged down the steps obligingly, his knees cracking. “Tanya,” he said to the Asian woman. “Shouldn’t you be getting dressed?”

Like a chastened child, she said, “All right,” stomping down the hallway to the back of the house and blowing through the patio doors.

When Andre turned back to Farrah, he found her and the old guy studying him. The guy was as tan as Farrah. His silver hair swooped back from his forehead in a perfect wave. “I’m Dennis.” He reached out his meaty hand. “You must be Andre.”

It was at that moment that everything aligned. He looked from Farrah to Dennis, who now stood behind her with his hand on her shoulder, his lips pinched in a half smile, as if to say, “You got it, buddy. I’m the father.” Andre thought he could even see a resemblance.

“I didn’t know this was a family dinner.” Farrah looked at Dennis and smiled. “Well, that’s what we are. One big happy family.”

“Come on in.” Dennis guided him down the hallway, which dropped them into a recessed great room. To the left was a stainless steel kitchen that looked like a small factory. To the right was a living room, sunken even lower, with numerous African masks on the wall. When Andre first moved to town, some drunk guy in a bar told him, “Tip numero uno, bro. Don’t ever go to the suburbs. People are weird out there.”

Standing in that sparkling room now, though, Andre couldn’t quite believe that.

Excerpt from Give My Love to the Savages: Stories by Chris Stuck. Published by Amistad. Copyright © 2021 HarperCollins.

Panel Mania: ‘Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts’


Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martinez is a riveting combination of graphic memoir and inspirational scholarship.

An attorney frustrated by repeated encounters with sexism and racism in the criminal justice system, Hall returned to pursue a PhD in history, in a personal search for women warriors lost to history and with a larger scholarly goal of documenting women-led slave revolts during the colonial slave trade.

In this eight-page excerpt Hall’s dogged efforts to research a slave revolt in 1712 in New York City send her on a passionate academic quest to the vast and sometimes restricted 18th-century slave trade archives in New York City, London, and Liverpool.

Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts will be published by Simon & Schuster in June.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Save It For Later’


Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest by Nate Powell—the artist for John Lewis’s acclaimed Civil Rights graphic memoir,  March—is a deeply felt collection of comics essays exploring the conflicts and emotional scars of living through the Trump era while raising two young daughters. The book also explores the need to embrace some form of activist resistance that makes sense and makes a difference.

In this eight-page excerpt, National Book Award-winner Powell surveys life in a liberal college town surrounded by white supremacist activity, sundown towns, and local fascists.

Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest by Nate Powell is out now from Abrams ComicArts.

Bonus Link:
An Anti-Racist Graphic Novel Reading List

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘Embodied’


Embodied: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology is being published to coincide with International Women’s Health Month in May, and a portion of the proceeds from its sale will go to the International Women’s Health Coalition.

Edited by the book’s publishers, Wendy Chin-Tanner and Tyler Chin-Tanner, Embodied offers 23 poems focused on gender, identity, and the body by an impressive selection of contemporary cis female, trans, and non-binary poets, adapted into comics narratives drawn, colored, and lettered by non-cis male artists.

From the book’s introduction: “Our vision with this book is to provide a platform for poets and artists of marginalized genders and identities to tell their own stories, at a time when they are most under siege.”

The comics poem featured in this excerpt is “Tapestry” by Khaty Xiong with art by Morgan Beem.

Embodied: An Intersectional Feminist Comics Poetry Anthology will be published by A Wave Blue World on May 18.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘We Are Bridges’: Featured Nonfiction from Cassandra Lane


In the latest edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Cassandra Lane’s memoir, We Are Bridges.
The book, which won the 2020 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, explores Lane’s ancestral history in order to give her future child a family history. Weaving the story of her great-grandparent’s lives in the rural South and her life in current-day Los Angeles, Lane explores the ways the past informs the present—and how to beautifully reclaim it.

I AM LEARNING that no matter how much you want to divorce yourself from your past—or from one of your parents—both are intrinsically part and parcel of you for the rest of your life.

My father’s ways colored my sister’s ways and mine long after Mama left him and reentered the home and culture of her youth.

On my mother’s side, we were a black and sanctified people who believed in hard work and God. While secular music was forbidden in our home, its beats surrounded Dena and me every time we stepped outside our house, and those beats felt as though they had always been a part of my blood and marrow. 

Our school bus driver, Mr. St. Romaine, blasted R&B over the speakers on the way to and from school. He raised the volume to drown out the students’ noise. His music eased his scowl. I got lost in the lyrics and rhythm of the Isley Brother’s “Insatiable Woman.” I didn’t exactly know what the song meant, but my body responded to its suggestiveness.

We were late bloomers, Dena and I. We were well into our teens before any sign of womanhood began to peek through our stick bodies and before what the world would deem as desirable began to flower.

In the afternoons, we would sneak on MTV and VH1 whenever we could, watching Janet Jackson move her hips and flip her hair over her eyes. On Saturdays, Mama would drop us off at the washateria before she drove off toward more errands or to return home to rest. There was a jukebox inside the laundry mat, and we relished opportunities to listen to the latest R&B and pop hits on blast. We especially loved Klymaxx’s “Meeting in the Ladies Room” and all of Jodi Whatley’s hits. Dena swore she was Jodi Whatley. She teased and sprayed her hair, donned enormous hoop earrings, and (when liberated from our family’s watchful eyes) painted her lips red.

When Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” came on, we lost it. After a few Saturdays of getting our routine down, we ran outside to the concrete walkway in front of the washateria one day, dancing away all semblance of shyness. We bent our knees and gyrated our hips. Left, right. Right, left.

Mama would have fainted. Then promptly risen and whipped our behinds.

We had never seen our mother dance, nor our grandparents, although Grandmama was prone to a sudden foot shout now and then to a gospel song at church, on the record player,

or one locked in her head.

To what were Dena and I grinding? Why did our bodies yearn to move despite what we had been taught? How had our pelvises known how to move?

We are our father’s daughters.

As we blossomed into teenagers, Mama tried to prepare us for impending romantic heartache. Her prophesies were as doomful as the ones Uncle Junior handed down in church about the end times.

“Men will use you up and throw you away,” she would say.

We had seen her attempt to date since leaving our father in the late seventies; we had seen her left high and dry and pregnant when those men threw her away. To make matters worse, she said, black men always want white women or the next best thing: a combination of big breasts, long flowing hair, and light skin. The lighter the better.

I had none of that.

My skin was the color of maple syrup, my breasts shaped like small cones, and my hair coarse and slow to grow.

Still, when I got ready for love, I was determined to prove Mama wrong. There are great black men out there, I thought, and I would find my black knight. I would not be like her, choosing the wrong man over and over. I had to believe I was as worthy, as sexy, and as beautiful as the women I looked nothing like. And I had to believe there were men who would appreciate me the way I was. More than that, I had to believe that there was one who would make me, as the group Midnight Star sang, the object of desire.

I LOVE MEN, but I had seen my mother and other women broken too many times by the men they loved. But while a part of me fought against those narratives and held out hope and belief that true love and true fidelity between a black man and a black woman were possible—yes, like in Mama’s romance novels but with our own twist—I still had something to prove. I wanted to demolish every single lie that black men had ever told themselves about me, about black women; I wanted to get inside that lie, to the belly of that lie, which means I have had to get inside the man, inside his head and heart and trust because the surefire, most effective way to uproot what has had time to nest is to dig down to the beginning of the network of roots. I wanted to get into the center of the lies and plant dynamite and then crawl back out to safety and watch the devastating lies explode and burn and turn to ash and die. The lies I want to destroy are that we, black women, are strong enough to withstand their bullshit and weak enough to take them back; that we are too much while simultaneously not enough; that we are backward and gullible, stubborn and difficult; and that we will always be there no matter what, even if they leave.

I’ve wanted loyalty, but what is loyalty to me? I am willing to love black men as hard as they love me, for as long or as short as that fuse burns; when it goes out, I have no clue how to light it back.

WITH WIDE SWATHS of years existing between the moments my father and I communicate, I have been, mostly, able to forget about him, to forget I have a father, and perhaps this ability to shut off a valve in my heart colors my relationships with men. And yet when out of the blue my father does reappear in my life—through a letter or Facebook message—I find it hard to breathe. The closed-off valve in my heart pumps again, waiting for him to redeem himself, to declare his undying love, to say, “I’m sorry.”

That has never happened, and I am left with the task of closing the valve back up again and packing it with ice. Yet as I carried my child, his grandchild, in my body, I realized I no longer hated my father. Trying to protect my child from ancestral trauma outside of my control might have been an impossible feat, but what I could control, I believed, was the effect of my father’s baggage on my parenting.

I searched for the few photos I have of my father and studied them, studied his young face. All of the images are from the early seventies. In one, he is sitting in a gold jacquard-print

armchair. He has on a black, nylon, collared shirt with small white buttons; gray slacks; sheer black socks; and a shiny silver watch with a gold-trimmed face. He had placed the fingers of his left hand on his chin for a kind of contemplative pose. His smile is slight, seeking confidence—glamour even. His short fro is immaculate. His appearance stands out against the stark and sparse background: bare walls, cheap brown carpet, and a large whirring box fan. How hot was it that day, and where was my father going or coming from?

In this photo, he is a new father. I am one year old, and my sister Dena is on the way.

As I stare at the image, it strikes me that I’ve never seen a photograph of my father as a child—vulnerable, hopeful—and that missing image feels vital. Did someone crush his spirit, and if so, at what point? Was it someone he knew and trusted? How did his country put its knee on his black neck and at what point? When he was a teen or younger?

Surely, he was not always a perpetually tormented soul who wreaks havoc on other souls.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, he got my mailing address from Dena and sent me a large brown envelope filled with homemade greeting cards he had drawn and written something he called poetry on. He was in jail.

“Your daddy loves you,” he wrote.

I wondered, Who is the me that he loves? Suddenly, my sense of self was swallowed. Perhaps he knew me in a way that I did not know myself. Perhaps there was some part of me out there being loved by him and the me I knew was completely detached from her. His poetry was candy-cane sweet—the purple-and-yellow candy canes that I once gorged on so much as a kid that the very sight of them today makes my stomach queasy.

I wrote him back, telling him how the pain of his absence had stifled me for years. I told him about my choice not to become a mother.

In his response letter, he laughed at me. He ignored the pain I revealed and laughed. At least, his words, haughty and confident, felt like laughter.

“You will have children,” he wrote. “You will have many children, my daughter.”

I read the lines again and again. Shaken. Furious. Unsure.

ON OUR WAY to Houston once, a man I was dating suggested we stop in Beaumont to see my father. John was from Houston and was taking me to meet his family. He was of the belief that families should be reconciled. He wanted to do the honorable thing and meet my father.

“Maybe he’s changed,” he said, full of empathy for my father: another man.

“Yeah, right,” I said. “I doubt it.”

I was twenty-four, carving out a life for myself, and a part of me wanted my father to see what he had missed in not raising me, not caring. I had graduated from high school and college without him, and I was working my first full-time job as a newspaper reporter. My boyfriend was a pleasant young man who was climbing the corporate ladder. I wanted my father to see all of this and be proud—and ashamed.

But I watched him look at me and see only himself. He brought out shoeboxes of poems and stories and jokes he had written.

“I’ve been writing for years,” he said after I told him that I worked as a journalist at a newspaper. “I could give you a run for your money.”

I never got around to telling him about my larger dreams. He provided no space.

“Maybe you could take some of my stories back with you, show some of your people,” he said. “Baby, your daddy gon’ be famous.”

“I’m so sorry, babe,” my boyfriend said when we were back in the car. “It was a mistake to come here.” His big hands were warm on my face. He kissed my tears and I laughed“I told you,” I said. “You wanted me to come here. Put the past in the past, right?”

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated.

And I was sorry, too, in that moment, as well as a year or so later when I broke John’s heart. His soft words turned to stones that he threw.

“My mama warned me about girls like you. Girls with no daddies,” he spat at me when I told him I was in love with someone else, an older man. Ric.

What is loyalty to me? I have never seen it up close. I hold out hope that Mary and Burt were the epitome of loyalty and love and that all we as a family needed was to be witnesses of that love.

Perhaps my obsession with Burt Bridges really is just a search for a father.

I want a father who is good and great and alive.

I want a love that is good and great and alive.

From We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane. Used with the permission of the Feminist Press. Copyright © 2021 by Cassandra Lane.

Panel Mania: ‘The Thud’ by Mikael Ross


Told with an endearing combination of empathy and humor, Mikael Ross’s The Thud is the story of Noel, a young boy with development disabilities who hears a sound—the thud of the title—and discovers his mother has fallen in the bathroom, hit her head, and is in a coma.
After his mother’s terrible injury, Noel’s secure and loving life with her is upended; he must leave home and is sent to live in a group home that offers him new opportunities for friendship, relationships, and personal growth.
In this excerpt, Noel is comforted by a kindly nurse at the hospital. The Thud by Mikael Ross is out now from Fantagraphics.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Panel Mania: ‘I’m A Wild Seed’


Sharon Lee De La Cruz’s I’m a Wild Seed is a playfully illustrated and thoughtfully conceived graphic memoir that explores her personal experiences accepting life as an intersectional Puerto-Rican/Dominican queer Afro-Latina.
In this engaging account, De La Cruz offers a brisk history the LGBTQ community and the struggle for queer rights, touching on the Stone Wall riots, the nature of toxic masculinity and the history of violent suppression of queer people as she guides the reader through a combination of personal (and often funny) anecdotes that methodically examine the nature of race, gender and sexuality. In this ten-page excerpt De La Cruz begins to tell the story of “how I came into my queerness as an adult.”
I’m a Wild Seed by Sharon Lee De La Cruz will be published in February by Street Noise Books.




















This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

‘The Divines’: Featured Fiction from Ellie Eaton


In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we’re happy to present an excerpt from Ellie Eaton’s debut novel, The Divines.
The book, which Publishers Weekly says “will keep readers riveted,” follows freelance writer Josephine as she reflects on her time at the (now defunct) St John the Divine—an elite English boarding school for girls—and the scandal that changed their community forever. Booklist writes, “At times both sharp and haunting, this novel embodies the awkwardness and regret of adolescence.”

I am Divine.

My mother was Divine and her mother before that, which isn’t uncommon. Though that was at a time when being Divine meant something; it had cachet, as my mother still likes to brag; it opened doors, got you places. Though it’s hard to see specifically where being Divine ever got her, other than married. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

I haven’t spoken to another Divine for fourteen years, maybe more, despite there being ample online opportunities these days to reconnect with my former peers should I so wish. I don’t. Every Christmas and Easter I fly back to England to visit my mother, who, in her sixties now, keeps backdated copies of our Old Girls’ newsletter for me in her downstairs loo, next to Country Living. Births, deaths, marriages, the rare athletic achievement, horses for sale, and, of course, reunions. Endless reunions. Not one of which I have attended. Until, as a newlywed, I take my husband on an impromptu detour from our honeymoon destination, veering off the dual carriageway so unexpectedly at the road sign that he thinks for a heart-stopping moment I might have morning sickness.

“Just to have a look,” I say. “It won’t take long.”

A trip down memory lane, then we’ll be on our way.

I crawl our rental car round the Oxfordshire town, circling closer to where I remember my former school once stood, folding forward over the steering wheel, trying to get my bearings. This is harder than I think it will be. Nothing is as I remember it. Most of the grounds have been flattened. The gym is gone, the maths block, the redbrick science labs, everything except those buildings deemed to hold significant historic value—the Old Hall and a couple of boarding houses, subdivided into flats for young professionals. I park outside the chapel, which is now, by the looks of things, a private dental practice. My husband of two days is bemused. Keen to get some miles under our belt on the long drive to Scotland, he hadn’t factored this pit stop into his calculations.

“This is it?”

“Give me half an hour,” I say, squeezing his hand.

I point him in the direction of the White Horse. When he is gone, I walk into the dentist’s, slipping past a young receptionist into the sanctuary-cum-waiting room, repainted a minty orthodontic green. I sit for some time listening to the ominous clinks and skirls and high metallic whines of the hygienist at work. Along the nave, cubicles have been fashioned from low movable walls decorated with huge toothy faces of smiling children. The wooden bench I am sitting on looks like, perhaps even is, the ex act pew that the robed altar servers slumped on during our Sun day service, obscured by puffs of incense. The organ pipes are still in situ, way back up in the balcony behind the choir stalls, which seem quite small, barely room for a handful of girls. On the immovable stone pulpit where Fat Fran, my headmistress of six years, made her daily proclamations, a series of dental brochures, women’s magazines, food and lifestyle glossies have been stacked, some of which, at one time or another over my career, I have contributed to. I rest my head against stone and look up at the arched ceiling. It is very surreal, the dental nurses padding in and out of the vestry in their soft-soled shoes like nuns. Everything so familiar yet nothing quite as it was.

Behind my head is a sequence of very narrow and long stained glass windows reaching all the way to the beams. What shocks me as I sit there is that—unless I actually sit up and twist my neck to look-I can’t remember what they depict, not even if you put a gun to my head. I spent the entirety of my adolescence facing those windows, staring at them every single morning for close to five years, Saturdays excepted, and don’t remember a single detail, not one saint or disciple or even the big man himself, which only goes to show the astonishing depths of teenage self-obsession. Or maybe, more accurately, it says something about me back then. Or my memory of my school days, selective at best.

As I am sitting on the pew a patient comes out of a booth, her jaw clamped down on wadding, her hand holding her cheek. Unsteady on her high heels, dazed, she is guided to a spot next to me. A dental assistant goes to retrieve something important, a prescription perhaps, and the patient’s eyes roam around the arched ceiling and the fluted ironwork. It is an unnerving set ting for a dental practice—the angels and the pulpit and stained glass-perhaps she thinks she is hallucinating. Blood catenates slowly from her empty socket down the gauze in her hand. We are probably the same age. She could have been a King Edmund. She stares vacantly at the neon exit sign as if she is waiting to be collected. Above the vestry door is the Divine school motto carved into a rectangle of wood.
Remember friends.

“Ha,” I snort out loud.

The patient slowly turns towards me, medicated, her hand still firmly pressed against her cheek. She blinks.

I try to swallow it down, doubling over, in the grip of the kind of stifled laughter that catches you off guard, leaping up your throat during somber moments: funerals, sermons, your fiancé’s art show opening.

My shoulders shake and the pew judders. The patient stands up suddenly, her handbag falling to the floor, its contents spilling.

“Shit, I’m terribly sorry.” I see her lipstick rolling towards the lectern. “Sorry, sorry.”

I put a fist to my chest and thump it. Swallow.


I scramble to pick up her bag, holding it out to her.

“This used to be a school,” I blurt, just to say something. “St. John the Divine.”

The poor woman’s numbed head nods slightly, taking her purse. She looks down at a message illuminated on her phone and then over her shoulder at the door, checking for her lift. I assume she isn’t allowed to drive.

“The private school,” I keep going. “The one that shut down; it was in the papers a long time ago, remember? There was a scandal.”

She stares at my face as if I am slowly coming into focus. Enough years have passed for me not to sound completely Divine. I have lived abroad on and off, my accent is sometimes hard to identify, but still, she looks me up and down and her eyes flash. She knows.

“Yeah,” she says. As she talks her wadding unplugs momentarily, exposing ghoulish bloody gums. “And? My mum worked in the kitchen.” She thumbs behind us in the direction of the old refectory. “Sixteen years scrubbing fucking pans, if you must know.”

The right side of the woman’s lip is drooping; her speech has a drunken slur.

“Bunch of stuck-up fucking toffs.”

She plugs the gauze back in, clamps back down on it, waiting to see what I’ll say next. She’s right, of course. But what does she expect me to do, defend my honor, wrestle her to the floor?

I think about my husband, Jürgen, waiting for me in the pub. Jürgen knows how to let moments like this roll over him. He is a pacifist, not someone who can be easily provoked. Despite the fact he’s the artist in our relationship, things that make me flare up with rage don’t bother him at all. When we met I had just come out of a turbulent, itinerant period of life and, exhausted, I suppose you could say that I found his particular brand of considered quietude seductive. That was what I had fallen in love with. Lately I have been trying hard to adopt some of Jürgen’s sangfroid. Plus we are newlyweds. On our honeymoon. I don’t take the bait.

Thankfully a bald man sticks his head around the chapel door, whistles, and gestures at the woman with his thumb. She departs, her high heels clicking sharply on the tiled floor, marching down the nave, past the vestry, and through the arched door.
I wait a decent amount of time, hovering on a Communion step, then I leave as well. My husband—that word feels so exotic is waiting for me outside, hands in his pockets, resting on the hood of the rental car, chewing slowly. I feel a burst of relief to see him standing there, solid looking and straightforward, not in the least Divine. On our first date he rolled up his sleeves at the sight of the leaking pipe in my kitchen, requesting a wrench. He is a pragmatist, a maker of lists.

“All good?” he checks.

I nod. I turn my back and lean against Jürgen’s chest; he loops his arms around my waist, his chin on my head, and I try to put the incident in the chapel behind me. I should never have come back. I’m embarrassed to have brought him here, to have wasted even an hour of our honeymoon on something so inconsequential. A moment of nostalgia, now gone. We gaze up at the stone statue of King Edmund in the center of the town, close to the bus stop. Five pigeons spar for space on top of his helmet, bobbing and ducking, feather elbows. They flick their shabby gray tails and shit down Edmund’s cloak. An elderly woman tugging a tartan shopping trolley shuffles past us into the market square. Traders hold bananas aloft on hooked fingers, hollering deals. Three old boys in tweed jackets stand outside the bookies smoking. I am acutely aware of how particularly English all this must seem to him, my husband, an Austrian.

Jürgen pulls a piece of fudge from a paper bag and puts it into my mouth.

“Okay. Big drive. Let’s go.”

He checks the fastenings on his bike that is tethered to the boot of our rental car, and as he tugs the frame tight a bald man driving a red Mazda swerves across the road towards us and stops abruptly, blocking traffic. A window hums down, and the woman from the dentist’s leans across the bald man, actually crawling across his lap, the lower half of her face distorted, stiff with pain.

“Hallo there,” my husband says jovially, squatting slightly, “can we help?”

Austrians, particularly country bumpkins like him, are pathologically nice. I’ve seen him dig a car out of the snow for a stranger and drag each of our neighbor’s bins out every week without a word of thanks.

The woman in the Mazda gives him the finger.

She glares at me, her real target, and pokes her swollen head farther out of the window as if there is something urgent she for got to tell me back there in the chapel, her tongue fat and lisping.


“Ha.” I laugh nervously. “Ha ha ha.”

Then she spits at me, her gob landing at my feet, and they speed off.

So, this is the way it is. Fourteen years and nothing has changed. She is a townie. I am Divine.

“My god,” my husband says, “Sephine, who was that?”

Hands on his hips, he looks up the road after the Mazda.

“Was that some kind of joke, my god?”

“Forget it,” I say, humiliated, “let’s go.”

I give him a gentle shove towards the car in case the banshee decides to come back. I don’t want her to jinx our honeymoon Two days ago we were exchanging vows at the town hall, grin ning at each other like imbeciles, euphoric

“But I don’t understand; do you know her?”

“No, nothing like that.”

I slip my hands down his hip, taking the keys from his pocket. I unlock the rental car quickly and get behind the wheel. Jürgen sits in the passenger seat, shaking his head.

“Was she from your school then, an old friend?”

I start the car.

“I don’t have any school friends.”

He frowns, as if he’s only just found this out about me.

“You don’t? Why not?”

I have friends, of course, but the oldest and truest friendships I have are the ones I forged at university or soon after, when an element of choice was introduced to the selection process. Plus my husband’s friends, such as they are, though generally not their wives for some reason. Thanks to his extreme niceness, genial blue Austrian eyes, his obvious likability, Jürgen has always been the social one in our relationship. Though these days he’s just as happy to spend an evening at home, working in his studio or tinkering with his bikes. Occasionally we go to a gallery opening or drive visitors around whatever city we are living in, or meet an old editor of mine for brunch. I can count nearly all these friends on one hand. But not one of them is Divine.

“I don’t know,” I tell him with a shrug and turn the key in the ignition. “I just don’t.”

We break the journey in Yorkshire, spending the night in a bed-and-breakfast where we barely leave our four-poster bed. In the morning we scramble into clothes, unwashed, stumbling into the dining room moments before the end of service. The land lady, a stern matronly looking woman, reminiscent of a former housemistress of mine, stands with her hands on her hips, scowl ing at the clock. We slip sheepishly into our seats, trying not to laugh. Across the room two women, dressed in shorts and walk ing boots, barely glance up from their maps. A middle-aged man butters his mother’s toast. Next to us an elderly couple smile and raise their glasses of orange juice.

“Congratulations,” the wife says, leaning over and patting Jürgen on the back of his hand.

“Is it that obvious?”

The couple smile knowingly at each other.

Jürgen’s T-shirt is inside out, my hair unkempt. As we brush against each other under the table, there’s a stench between my thighs, musky and sour, like overripe fruit. I cringe, thinking of our attic room, the paper-thin walls and creaking bed frame, and bury my head in Jürgen’s shoulder. The landlady slams a teapot on the table in front of us.

Jürgen asks the couple how long they’ve been married.

“Forever,” the old man groans

His wife flaps her napkin at him.

“Fifty-four years this September,” she says.

I can feel Jürgen’s fingers as they weave through mine, how his wedding band grates over my knuckles as he squeezes, causing me to wince.

“Any advice?” Jürgen asks.

The elderly pair gather their room key and newspaper and spectacles from the table. The husband gets up and pulls back his wife’s chair so she can stand.

“Be kind,” the wife says.

They nod at us.

“Good luck.”

During checkout Jürgen stops in front of the landlady and kisses me, a hand slipping down the back of my trousers, and then we pack up the car and are back on the road. I begin to think that the unpleasant incident at St. John’s is forgotten, that the whole ugly scene is behind us. But then, unexpectedly…

“No school friends,” Jürgen says, sliding his hand up and down my thigh as I join the motorway. “That’s interesting, you know?”

I can see that my new husband finds this baffling. I wish I’d never mentioned the word Divine. He can’t let it alone. He taps one finger against the glass as we cross the border into Scotland, staring out at the uneventful landscape, green fields with yellow pocket handkerchiefs of oilseed rape, culs-de-sac, warehouses and roadside cafés, food trucks parked in rest stops. We have another four hours of driving ahead of us to get to Skye, not to mention the ferry.

“Not one?” Jürgen checks, uncharacteristically pushy.


“How come?”

The four men that are his best friends all come from the same Salzburg village where he grew up. Andreas, Hansi, Thomas B, Thomas F. Two of them were christened together, they went to the same school, shared their first cigarette in Hansi’s woodshed, stole their grandparents’ schnapps, chased their first girlfriends on Krampusnacht, pretending to be the Christmas devil, masked and growling, nipping their sweethearts’ ankles with leather whips, threatening to carry them to the underworld. They have shed blood together, hunted together, drunk wept at each other’s weddings, actually staggering around the dance floor like bears. They are his family, closer than his actual brothers (one older, one younger, who I have to remind Jürgen to call on their respective birthdays). He is loyal to the core and would do anything for these four men, including jumping on a plane at the drop of a hat, or loaning them money without any expectation of return. A private annoyance of mine.

“Were you bullied?” Jürgen wants to know as we pull over to fill up with petrol.

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Unpopular then?” He pokes me. “Eine Streberin. How do you say, a geek?”


I grip the pump handle, my knuckles blanching.

“So you loved school?”

“Who loves school? It was fine,” I snap, instantly regretting my tone. “I mean, I don’t remember. Can we just drop it?”

Back behind the wheel he curls his hand around the nape of my neck to soothe me, rubbing his thumb up and down below my ear. He has calluses, little circular pads on the base of each finger from cycling that are rough as pumice.

“You don’t know if you liked school or not? You must remember something.”

“Not really,” I say, wriggling out of Jürgen’s grip, flustered, trying to concentrate on the road.

“Try,” he says.

I don’t answer.

Why won’t I talk to him? Is it just that I’m embarrassed? The boarding school education, the implication of wealth and privilege, the Old Girls’ network. When I met Jürgen (a sculptor I was sent to interview for a Sunday supplement, a rising star), he was still sleeping in a tent in his studio, washing in a sink, subsisting on grants and sporadic commissions. A self-made man, the de scendant of mountain people, literal peasants-cattle herders and cheese makers—he described to me during the course of that first meeting how he’d paid his way through art school felling trees and slaughtering goats.

Jürgen turns his whole body to face me.

“Seriously, you’re kidding, right? You won’t tell me this?”

Ashamed, I say nothing.

He can see that I’m not going to budge.

This does it. Silently thunderous, Jürgen takes out his guide book and reads the history of Skye. His stare bores down into one page then the next. We’re not the kind of couple who bicker. I sit behind the wheel, gnawing on the inside of my cheek, trying not to cry.

On the ferry to Armadale we stand apart, his hood up, my scarf wrapped around my head against the spray. He has his cam era around his neck but doesn’t take one photo. When we get to the island, there are midges, huge biblical clouds of gnats. We cover our mouths with our T-shirts and run into the croft house we have rented, cornered together inside the tiny kitchen.

“Oh my god,” I say, looking out at the bugs creeping all over the window frame, trying to find a way in. I try to make a joke about it but it falls flat. Jürgen is still furious with me, his new wife, for keeping secrets. He sits with the map spread on the floor, his precious road bike propped up against the wall. I open the bottle of single malt I bought on the mainland. I may have taken a few swigs already on the crossing. Dutch courage.

My throat warm, I place the whisky dead in the middle of his map. Jürgen barely looks up. I take off my clothes—it is our honeymoon, after all—and straddle Loch Hourn. Legs spread shamelessly. Afterwards, we lie on the floor and drink the rest of the bottle, picking midges from each other’s skin.

“Please, Sephine,” Jürgen begs. “Remember something. For me.”

“Why are you so interested all of a sudden?”

“That woman, she hated you. She called you a cunt.”


“I want to know. I want to know about you back then.”

“No, you don’t.”

I curl under his armpit, press against his warm ribs.

“Liebchen”—he circles the birthmark on my shoulder “please.”

I think of the elderly couple at the bed-and-breakfast. Be kind.

“Fine,” I mutter. I believe, or so I tell myself, in the apotropaic power of marriage. That witch hasn’t jinxed us, we are invincible. Golden even. What harm can it do?

“Memor amici,” I begin.

Remember friends.

Excerpted from the book THE DIVINES: A Novel by Ellie Eaton. Copyright © 2021 by Ellie Eaton. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

‘The Orchard’: Featured Fiction from David Hopen


In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own  Carolyn Quimby—we’re happy to present an excerpt from David Hopen’s debut novel, The Orchard.

The book—a coming-of-age tale about a devout Jewish high school student—received praise from the likes of Susan Choi and Shteyngart, as well as starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, with the latter calling the novel “brilliantly conceived and crafted” and “Unforgettable.”
We were sitting in our living room that evening, after a makeshift dinner of scrambled eggs and several hours unloading boxes, moving furniture, transferring miscellaneous items from one side of the room to the other and back. I was reviewing a page of Talmud with my father when our landline rang. My mother answered; I heard her give loud, exaggerated laughs. Foreign sounds to me.

“Our neighbors,” my mother said, bustling in from the kitchen. “From the house across the street. Cynthia and Eddie Harris—they sound lovely.”

My father stared blankly. “What’d they want?”

“They’ve invited us to a barbecue tomorrow.”

My father’s finger held our place in the Gemara. Damages caused by oxen or by mav’eh are caused by a living spirit. Fire has no living spirit. “And what’d you tell them?”

She looked rosy-cheeked. “That we’d be delighted, of course.”

He nodded slightly, returning his attention to the Talmud. Without another word, we resumed learning.

The barbecue was on a sun-dazzled afternoon. Even in the oppressive Florida heat we dressed as we always did: my father and I in black and white, my mother tzniut in her long sleeves, though I noticed she donned a new floral dress for the occasion.

Timidly, we rang the doorbell and waited for several minutes, admiring the flagstone steps and double-hinged oak doors, my mother elated at the prospect of a social life, my father looking as if he’d prefer to be anywhere else. Eventually, when no one answered, we made our way around the side of the mansion, following the sound of laughter. We opened an iron gate and let ourselves into the party. 

Horror washed over my father’s face as he surveyed the backyard. Wives in short, colorful sundresses, Chardonnay in hand. Men in Burberry polos, gripping beers. Teenage boys and girls thrashing together in the pool, a cardinal sin in our former lives. Dazzlingly alien sights: wealth, charm, hysteria. My stomach turned uneasily.

“Hello, there,” a hearty voice boomed behind us. A thick man in a crisp white polo clapped my father on the back, startling him. “You must be the Edens!” Ever so slightly, my father stole a look at the top of the man’s gelled hair. No yarmulke. The man extended a beefy hand. “Our new neighbors! You guys know how excited we’ve been to meet you? Wasn’t too much love lost with the people who used to own your house. I mean, nice people, I guess, but kept to themselves too

much. We needed new friends.” He squinted, his eyes sweeping the backyard—incidentally the most impressive backyard I’d ever seen: an enormous pool, a marble bathhouse, a Jacuzzi and bar, a fence bordering a picturesque golf course—and shrugged. “I don’t know where Cynthia went off, she must be inside. Come, I’ll bring you in to meet her. Eddie Harris, by the way. Real pleasure.”

My father gave a thin smile, his hand comically small in Eddie’s. “Yaakov Eden.”

“Thanks for coming, Yaakov,” Eddie said, before offering his hand to my mother.

An awful moment followed, my mother staring blankly, caught between the social necessity of extending her hand and our strict custom of refraining from touching non-family members of the opposite gender. I winced, but Eddie realized his mistake quickly and holstered his handshake. “Shit, my apologies!” he barked. “I didn’t realize, excuse my idiocy . . .”

“No, no,” my mother soothed, red-cheeked with embarrassment. “Please, not to worry.” My father assumed the face one might adopt when passing a kidney stone, but Eddie and my mother both gave awkward smiles. “I’m Leah.”

This would have been considerably more painful, perhaps unsalvageable, with someone else. Yet Eddie released a sonic laugh, diffusing any tension. “Don’t mind me, I’m just a shmuck. Most people here aren’t terribly strict about, er, what do you call it? Shomer negiah, right, that kind of thing. Between us, maybe they ought to be, I’ll show you one couple in particular over there, plenty of rumors, though who am I to judge? So, yeah, that whole no-touching thing isn’t really on my radar. But Cynthia’ll kill me when she hears.” After his laughter, Eddie rested his eyes on me. “And your name, sport?” He had quite the handshake.


“No kidding. That was my old man’s name.”

“Oh yeah?”

“A bona fide tzadik.” He paused, sending thoughts heavenward. “I think you would’ve liked him,” he mumbled to my father.

My father nodded courteously, unconvinced.

He turned back to me. “And how old are you, bud?”


“Seventeen? So you’re a junior or senior?”


“Nice. And you’ll be at the yeshiva in Sunny Isles, I assume? They’re pretty serious folks, let me tell you. I hear they hold mishmar three times a week.”

“I’ll be at Kol Neshama, actually.”

“That other place was much too far of a drive,” my mother said. “Plus, we’re told Kol Neshama is, well, a superior education.”

“Wow, you’re going to the old Voice of the Soul Academy? Who would’ve thought?” He grinned boyishly. “You’ve really got to meet my son, you’re in the same class.” He turned animatedly to my parents. “How great is this?”

They returned his grin politely.

“Noah Harris!” he hollered toward the pool. “Where the heck are you, kid?”

From the water emerged a tall boy with green eyes, long blond locks, an exact replica of his father’s smile and an almost excessive collection of shoulder and abdominal muscles. It was obvious he was an athlete. “Nice to meet you all,” he said, slinging a towel over his shoulders. “I’d shake your hands but I’m sopping.”

“Easy on the shaking,” Eddie said, winking at my mother. “Noah, Ari here will be in your grade at the Academy.”

“No kidding.”

“Yaakov, Leah, what do you say we fix you both stiff drinks, yes? These two don’t need us breathing down their necks.” Eddie slapped my back playfully. “Yaak, you like cigars? No? Well, you do kind of look like a man I could turn into a lover of single malt. I’ve got the perfect thing for you to try. Noah, grab Ari a beer, will you, or a hot dog if he wants? Don’t worry, everything’s kosher.” With that, his large hands took hold of my father, while carefully avoiding contact with my mother, and steered them away.

Noah watched them leave. His arms appeared to flex involuntarily, despite the fact that they hung at ease at his sides. I wondered what it would be like to have such a problem. “Say your name was Ari?”

“Aryeh,” I said. Then, kicking myself: “Ari for short.”

“And you moved from—?”


“Dope. I have friends on Long Island. Know anybody there?”

“Some,” I said noncommittally, certain we’d have zero mutual friends.

“I went to camp with Benji Wertheimer. Know him?” he asked, hopeful for conversation. “No? Fantastic point guard.”

I shook my head.

“What about Efrem Stern? Okay, Naomi Spitz? Shira Haar? She’s from Kings Point. Everyone knows her, throws Hamptons parties, she’s super pretty?” He laughed. “Don’t tell my girlfriend I said that,” he said confidentially, pointing back toward the pool.

“No, I, uh—I won’t.”

“Where’d you go to school?”

“Torah Temimah.”

“Torah Temimah?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling small.

“Never heard of it. New school?”

“No. Not really.”

“One of those frum places, then. The shtetl. We talking black hats?”

Just how out of place I was dawned on me. To Noah, whose life, I suspected, involved athletic glory, beach houses, summer parties, I was some staid rabbinical student who had wandered comically into the wrong world, or at least the wrong backyard. And I was not unaccustomed to living as a stranger. I was a stranger in my previous existence, but one who understood that the rules governing each detail of life—how to marry, how to think, how to tie my shoes—were prescribed, always, by an aspirational morality. Standing before Noah, I was a different breed of stranger, someone attempting to hide in plain sight without any understanding of the overarching rules. Camouflaging here, I realized then, would be harder even than in Brooklyn. “Yes,” I said, itching to leave. “Pretty much.”

From The Orchard by David Hopen. Copyright ©2020 by David Hopen. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 

Panel Mania: ‘Dune: The Graphic Novel’


Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction novel Dune has been adapted into a graphic novel by a creative team that includes Brian Herbert, the author’s son and an acclaimed science-fiction author in his own right, and novelist and comics writer Kevin J. Anderson, with art by Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín. The cover art comes from legendary comics artist Bill Sienkiewicz.
In this nine-page excerpt, Paul Atreides and members of the royal family prepare to travel to—and take control of—the planet Arrakis, the only source of “The Spice,” a rare and valuable substance that extends life and human capabilities.
Dune: The Graphic Novel will be published by Abrams ComicArts in November.

Bonus Link:
Objects of Fear and Worship: The Evolution of Aliens in Literature

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.