Suspense Jeff Hobbs The Tourists: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743290951

The Tourists: A Novel

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9780743290951: The Tourists: A Novel

Meet the tourists, former classmates at Yale who, seven years later, must confront the people they've become while forging lives in Manhattan. David, a hedge fund wunderkind who forfeited idealism for wealth, hopes that a more fulfilling life lies ahead in the suburbs. His wife, the beautiful Samona, to whom David returns home nightly with nothing left for her, wonders whether her marriage is stripping away her best years. Ethan, a successful furniture designer with a magnetic sexuality, seeks something darker and more uncertain than the power lunches, needy family, and unsatisfying relationships that comprise his life. Rounding out the group is the story's unnamed narrator, a freelance reporter struggling to stay afloat -- financially, professionally, and emotionally -- who shares complicated histories with each of them.

When Ethan and Samona have a chance encounter at a gallery opening, they meet each other's needs. As our narrator traverses the city and gradually reconstructs the events that underlie the present circumstances, his own mysterious role comes into ever sharper focus. Only later, after David commissions Ethan to design some conference rooms at his firm and a secret triangle is formed, does our narrator begin to tie all the pieces together.

With The Tourists, Jeff Hobbs delivers a striking and stylish debut about the dark and sometimes destructive aspects of physical attraction and love, marital disillusionment, and the inevitable disappointments life can bring.

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About the Author:

Jeff Hobbs graduated with a BA in English language and literature from Yale in 2002, where he was awarded the Willets and Meeker prizes for his writing. Hobbs spent three years in New York and Tanzania while working with the African Rainforest Conservancy. He now lives in Los Angeles with his wife.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

A memory from eight years ago:

It's late spring, our junior year at Yale -- a time when classes are getting easier and one lazy day starts following another until it seems as if winter never really existed -- and about a hundred of us are sitting on a quad lawn where the drama division is performing scenes from Love's Labour's Lost. I'm with Ethan Hoevel and the girl who introduced us earlier this year, and we're all just hanging there taking in the calm, cool night before the parties start and things get out of hand.

The show drags on and the night air grows colder and we're wanting the thing to end so we can go on to the next thing, which is really all we ever want these days no matter where we are. And while an actor is crumpling under his heavy robes, his voice muffled by a white cotton beard, Ethan stops watching the play entirely and instead looks across the stage circle where David Taylor is sitting with Samona Ashley. We both know they're the new couple still in their beginning -- that dreamlike space where they aren't yet daring each other to say the words that might actually have a consequence and instead can just laugh while touching each other's face or steal a kiss in public that still feels intimate and exciting -- which is why it doesn't register with either of them that I've followed Ethan's gaze to David wrapping his arm behind her, his hand on the small of her back, or that I'm studying her face as she leans into his hand and rests her head on his shoulder and props her knee gently over his thigh. My feelings for Samona Ashley don't penetrate the world they're in.

But still, as David takes her chin in his hand to kiss her, I can't help wondering how -- on this night, in this moment -- the dim light from a hundred dorm-room windows can give such an ethereal quality to their being together, and how it can illuminate so clearly their ignorance of all the awful things to come.

When Samona prolongs the kiss by clasping her hands on the back of his neck -- her dark skin standing out sharply against his pale skin; her curly black hair intermingling with his straight auburn hair; her soft curves pressing his lean, angular limbs -- I force myself to turn to Ethan and murmur something vague and meaningless about the incompetent stage direction.

But Ethan's not listening -- he's still watching them with an unsettled gaze.

And even though I'm already aware that for Ethan Hoevel, just like for David Taylor and Samona Ashley, it's the beginning of something -- Ethan will announce that he's gay two weeks after this night in the spring of our junior year -- it will only be much later, after everything ends, when I'll be able to look back and imagine him visiting this moment often in his mind, always remembering this glimpse of David Taylor and Samona Ashley -- two people he doesn't even know -- as the beginning of something that he, Ethan, has ended.

Eight mostly uneventful years passed after the night on the quad, punctuated by four or five address changes, professional stasis, the beginnings and requisite endings of a few minor relationships, and -- near the end -- the onset of that lonely, latent kind of panic which accompanies the realization that you can no longer afford not to know where your life is heading.

And then it was mid-May in New York City: that fleeting window made up of no more than two or three weeks when everyone sheds their black coats in favor of bare skin, still winter-pale. The parks, cafés, boutiques, bars -- all of them were humming with skin seeing its first true daylight in months. It was a good time to teach yourself to live again, to learn all over what it's like to walk on the street with your head up.

Which was why, when Ethan called around nine o'clock, I left my apartment on Tenth Street to go meet him.

The guy who lived one floor below mine was sitting on the stoop, smoking a cigarette, his Doberman pulling on a choke chain as I slipped by, hugging the railing. I headed west past the Second Avenue Deli and St. Mark's Church, where the benches composed the usual gathering of homeless people staking their claim for the night alongside yuppie couples sharing Starbucks fruit salad out of clear plastic containers. A massive woman with hair down to her waist, knotted and dusty, stood in the center of the triangle of benches on grotesquely swollen bare feet. She called out in a honeyed voice: "One man suckin' another man's dick and no one knows what's right," saying it over and over before I hurried out of earshot, crossing diagonally down Stuyvesant to Ninth Street and Third Avenue.

I stopped in a bookstore to browse new hardbacks I wanted but couldn't afford, and then on to Astor Place, trying not to stare as I walked around a cluster of spike-haired kids smoking cigarettes and dope, lounging around the big steel cube that sat in the center of the island, wearing T-shirts stained with crude-ironic slogans that I didn't understand. I turned down Lafayette, where the girls were already lining up behind a velvet rope for Wednesday-night karaoke at Pangea in hopes they looked enough like models to make it inside. I took Lafayette all the way down to Grand Street, where I turned west into SoHo, choosing my route more carefully now that I had to weave through couples window-shopping. I went south on West Broadway, hurrying past the chaos of Canal and into Tribeca with its way-past-their-prime rock clubs and new bistros that were never going to last. It was quieter down that way and I slowed my pace. The river was close and it was in the air: spring drifting fresh into the city from way up the Hudson where it was always cool.

I smoked half a cigarette outside Ethan's loft on Warren and Greenwich because I was still feeling a little tense since he called -- he had that effect on me. Even the somber, folksy music coming down from the roof didn't help ease that tension.

The doorman got up from his New York Post (cover: BROOKLYN MAN DROWNS IN PROSPECT PARK TRAGEDY) to punch in the elevator code. Ethan had never given it to me; his way of keeping me at arm's length. The elevator took a full two minutes to reach the ninth floor while I watched the slanting shafts of light crawl down the wall inside the cage. Then the door creaked open into Ethan's loft, which tonight was lit red by a Japanese crepe-paper lamp that sat near a window.

It was the apartment that people in the city aspired to their whole lives: the entire ninth floor, long and wide, whitewashed hardwood, floor-to-ceiling windows looking down onto Warren Street, and filled with sleek furniture Ethan had designed himself. A faux-marble round pod -- half bedroom, half design studio -- occupied the center of the loft. Narrow walkways curved around either side of it past bookshelves and into a stainless-steel kitchen with a glass door refrigerator, inside of which a six-pack of Budweiser was waiting for me. I snatched two, moving around the stacks of cast-iron cookware from all over the world -- mementos of his frequent traveling -- and the exotic spice jars lined up behind the counter. Bay windows looked out over the river and beyond to Jersey City. In the far corner, a spiral staircase led to the roof. The door at the top was open and the music drifted toward me: Ani DiFranco in one of her less angry moods, which seemed okay for this kind of night.

Ethan had his feet up on the wall facing west over the river where the Hoboken ferry was making its way toward the Jersey City lights. A half-full bottle of Domaines Ott sat in his lap next to an empty wineglass, which he filled as I settled in the lounge chair beside him. Ethan was tall, dark, wire-thin, recalling a handsome and much less freakish incarnation of Joey Ramone. It was chilly but there was no wind, so he was only wearing an undershirt and shredded vintage Wranglers.

I pointed to five spotlights interweaving in the black sky above us. "What do you think those are?"

He gazed at the lights and feigned deep concentration before answering, "Either a movie premiere or the warning of another terrorist threat?"

"Moving in patterns...says...premiere?"

He shrugged and sipped his wine and took the cigarette I was offering. I lit it for him casually.

"Haven't heard from you in a while, Ethan."

"I've been busy." He stopped to pour another glass of rosé. He seemed to consider something before adding, "Very busy, in fact."

Then there was more silence until he started humming along with the Ani DiFranco song, which I recognized but couldn't name.

"Busy with work?" I finally asked.

"Not really -- no more than usual."

"Traveling, then?"

He shook his head. "Haven't been wanting to go away for a while. Maybe sometime soon."

"Any...good parties, then?" I was flailing a bit.

"Parties." He sighed. "I'm over it." He started humming again until the song ended. "But you first. What's really going on with you?"

I took a drag to relax before telling him work was slow but steady and the apartment was a mess and I was really looking forward to summer -- the usual -- and I added that the last girl I'd allowed myself to get excited about, Amy, had found someone better -- actually her ex-boyfriend named "Brian something" -- and she'd said good-bye to me over the cell phone about two weeks before.

He nodded and gazed out over the water while I talked. And after I finished -- without turning to me -- he asked, "So how'd she say it?"

"Say what?"

"Good-bye."

"I think it was something like: 'I hope to catch up -- take care.'" Ethan put his smoke out and lit another as I added, "It's one of the last things you hear from a person who never wants to see you again, right?"

"Definitely," he agreed, wincing. "Take care."

"It's so fucking despairing."

The word lingered as the disc changed to U2 and we just drank and took drags as "Where the Streets Have No Name" pulsed across the rooftop, and then we were nodding our heads to the music and didn't need to talk for a while because we'd both been in this place before --...

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