Named one of Amazon’s Best Short Story Collections of 2014
One of Atlanta Journal Constitution’s 9 Best Books of 2014
Best Short Story Collection of the Year, Tweed's Magazine
Winner of GLCA New Writers Award for Fiction
2014 LA Times Book Prize Finalist
Winner of the Florida Book Awards Silver Medal for Fiction
Nominated for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction
In each of the stories in this remarkable debut, award-winning writer David James Poissant explores the tenuous bonds of family—fathers and sons, husbands and wives—as they are tested by the sometimes brutal power of love.
His strikingly true-to-life characters have reached a precipice, chased there by troubles of their own making. Standing at the brink, each must make a choice: Leap, or look away? Pulitzer Prize finalist Lee Martin writes that Poissant forces us “to face the people we are when we’re alone in the dark.”
From two friends racing to save the life of an alligator in “Lizard Man” to a girl helping her boyfriend face his greatest fears in “The End of Aaron,” from a man who stalks death on an Atlanta street corner to a brother’s surprise at the surreal, improbable beauty of a late night encounter with a wolf, Poissant creates worlds that shine with honesty and dark complexity, but also with a profound compassion. These are stories hell-bent on hope.
Fresh, smart, lively, and wickedly funny, The Heaven of Animals is startlingly original and compulsively readable. As bestselling author Kevin Wilson puts it, “Poissant is a writer who knows us with such clarity that we wonder how he found his way so easily into our hearts and souls.”
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
David James Poissant’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Playboy, One Story, The Southern Review, Glimmer Train, and in the New Stories from the South and Best New American Voices anthologies. His writing has been awarded the Matt Clark Prize, the RopeWalk Fiction Chapbook Prize, the George Garrett Fiction Award, and the Alice White Reeves Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts & Letters, as well as awards from the Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic, and Playboy. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Florida and lives in Orlando with his wife and daughters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I rattle into the driveway around sunup and Cam’s on my front stoop with his boy, Bobby. Cam stands. He’s a huge man, thick and muscled from a decade of work in construction. Sleeves of green dragons run armpit to wrist. He claims there’s a pair of naked ladies tattooed into all those scales if you look close enough.
When Crystal left him, Cam got the boy, which tells you what kind of mother Crystal was. Cam’s my last friend. He’s a saint when he’s sober, and he hasn’t touched liquor in ten years.
He puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder, but Bobby spins from his grip and charges. He meets me at the truck, grabs my leg and hugs it with his whole body. I head toward Cam. Bobby bounces and laughs with every step.
We shake hands, but Cam’s expression is no-nonsense.
“Graveyard again?” he says. My apron, rolled into a tan tube, hangs from my front pocket and I reek of kitchen grease.
“Yeah,” I say. I haven’t told Cam how I lost my temper and yelled at a customer, how apparently some people don’t know what over easy means, how my agreement to work the ten-to-six shift is the only thing keeping my electricity on and the water running.
“Bobby,” Cam says, “go play for a minute, okay?”
Bobby lets go of my leg and stares at his father, skeptical.
“Don’t make me tell you twice,” Cam says.
The boy runs to my mailbox, drops to the lawn, cross-legged, and scowls.
“Keep going,” Cam says, and slowly, deliberately, Bobby stands and sulks toward their house.
“What is it?” I say. “What’s wrong?”
Cam shakes his head. “Red’s dead,” he says.
Red is Cam’s dad. “Bastard used to beat the fuck out of me,” Cam said one night back when we both drank too much and swapped sad stories. When he turned eighteen, Cam enlisted and left for the first Gulf War. The last time he saw his father, the man was staggering, drunk, across the lawn. “Go then!” he screamed. “Go die for your fucking country!” Bobby never knew he had a grandfather.
I don’t know whether Cam is upset or relieved, and I don’t know what to say. Cam must see this because he says: “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
“How’d it happen?” I ask.
“He was drinking,” Cam says. “Bartender said one minute Red was laughing, the next his face was on the bar. When they went to shake him awake, he was dead.”
“Wow.” It’s a stupid thing to say, but I’ve been up all night. My hand still grips an invisible steel spatula. I can feel lard under my nails.
“I need a favor,” Cam says.
“Anything,” I say. When I was in jail, it was Cam who bailed me out. When my wife and son moved to Baton Rouge, it was Cam who knocked down my door, kicked my ass, threw the contents of my liquor cabinet onto the front lawn, set it on fire, and got me a job at his friend’s diner.
“I need a ride to Red’s house,” Cam says.
“Okay,” I say. Cam hasn’t had a car for years. Half the people on our block can’t afford storm shutters, let alone cars, but it’s St. Petersburg, a pedestrian city, and downtown’s only a five-minute walk.
“Well, don’t say okay yet,” Cam says. “It’s in Lee.”
Cam nods. Lee is four hours north, one of the last towns you pass on I-75 before you hit Georgia.
“No problem,” I say, “as long as I’m back before ten tonight.”
“Another graveyard?” Cam asks.
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s go.”
Last year, I threw my son through the family room window. I don’t remember how it happened, not exactly. I remember stepping into the room. I remember seeing Jack, his mouth pressed to the mouth of the other boy, his hands moving fast in the boy’s lap. Then I stood over him in the garden. Lynn ran from the house, screaming. She saw Jack and hit me in the face. She battered my shoulders and my chest. Above us, through the window frame, the other boy stood, staring, shaking, hugging himself with his thin arms. Jack lay on the ground. He didn’t move except for the rise and fall of his chest. The window had broken cleanly and there was no blood, just shards of glass scattered over flowers, but one of Jack’s arms was bent behind his head, as though he’d gone to sleep that way, an elbow for a pillow.
“Call 9-1-1,” Lynn yelled to the boy above.
“No,” I said. Whatever else I didn’t know in that time and that place, I knew we could never afford an ambulance ride. “I’ll take him.”
“No!” Lynn cried. “You’ll kill him!”
“I’m not going to kill him,” I said. “Come here.” I gestured to the boy. He shook his head and stepped back.
“Please,” I said.
Tentatively, the boy stepped over the sill’s jagged edge. He planted his feet on the brick ledge of the front wall, then dropped the few feet to the ground. Glass crunched beneath his sneakers.
“Grab his ankles,” I said. I hooked my hands under Jack’s armpits, and we lifted him. One arm trailed the ground as we walked him to the car. Lynn opened the hatchback. We laid Jack in the back and covered him with a blanket. It seemed like the right thing, what you see on TV.
A few neighbors had come outside to watch. We ignored them.
“I’ll need you with me,” I said to the boy. “When we’re done, I’ll take you home.” The boy was wringing the hem of his shirt in both hands. His eyes brimmed with tears. “I won’t hurt you, if that’s what you think.”
We set off for the hospital, Lynn following in my pickup. The boy sat beside me in the passenger seat, his body pressed to the door, the seatbelt strap clenched in one hand at his waist. With each bump in the road, he turned to look at Jack.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Alan,” he said.
“How old are you, Alan?”
“Seventeen. Seventeen. And have you ever been with a woman, Alan?”
Alan looked at me. His face drained of color. His hand tightened on the seatbelt.
“It’s a simple question, Alan. I’m asking you: Have you been with a woman?”
“No,” Alan said. “No, sir.”
“Then how do you know you’re gay?”
In back, Jack stirred. He moaned, then grew silent. Alan watched him.
“Look at me, Alan,” I said. “I asked you a question. If you’ve never been with a woman, then how do you know you’re gay?”
“I don’t know,” Alan said.
“You mean, you don’t know that you’re gay, or you don’t know how you know?”
“I don’t know how I know,” Alan said. “I just do.”
We passed the bakery, the Laundromat, the supermarket, and entered the city limits. In the distance, the silhouette of the helicopter on the hospital’s roof. Behind us, the steady pursuit of the pickup truck.
“And your parents, do they know about this?” I asked.
“Yes,” Alan said.
“And do they approve?”
“No. I bet they don’t, Alan. I’ll bet they do not.”
I glanced in the rearview mirror. Jack hadn’t opened his eyes, but he had a hand to his temple. The other hand, the one attached to the broken arm, lay at his side. The fingers moved, but without purpose, hand spasming from fist to open palm.
“I just have one more question for you, Alan,” I said.
Alan looked like he might be sick. He watched the road unfurl before us. He was afraid of me, afraid to look at Jack.
“What right do you have teaching my son to be gay?”
“I didn’t!” Alan said. “I’m not!”
“You’re not? Then what do you call that? Back there? That business on the couch?”
“Mr. Lawson,” Alan said, and, here, the tone of his voice changed, and I felt as though I were speaking to another man. “With all due respect, sir, Jack came on to me.”
“Jack is not gay,” I said.
“He is. I know it. Jack knows it. Your wife knows it. I don’t know how you couldn’t know it. I don’t see how you’ve missed the signals.”
I tried to imagine what signals, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t recall a thing that would have signaled that I’d wind up here, delivering my son to the hospital with a concussion and a broken arm. What signal might have foretold that, following this day, after two months in a motel and two months in prison, my wife of twenty years would divorce me because, as she put it, I was full of hate?
I pulled up to the emergency room’s entryway, and Alan helped me pull Jack from the car. A nurse with a wheelchair ran out to meet us. We settled Jack into the chair, and she wheeled him away.
I pulled the car into a parking spot and walked back to the entrance. Alan stood on the curb where I’d left him.
“Where’s Lynn?” I said.
“Inside,” Alan said. “Jack’s awake.”
“All right, I’m going in. I suggest you get out of here.”
“But, you said you’d drive me home.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I changed my mind.”
Alan stared at me, dumbfounded. His hands groped the air.
“Hey,” I said, “I got a signal for you.” I gave him a hitchhiker’s thumbs-up and cast it over my shoulder as I entered the hospital.
I wake and Cam’s making his way down back roads, their surfaces cratered with potholes.
“Rise and shine,” he says, “and welcome to Lee.”
It’s nearly noon. The sun is bright and the cab is hot. I wipe gunk from my eyes and drool from the corner of my mouth. Cam watches the road with one eye and studies directions he’s scrawled in black ink on the back of a cereal box. He’s never seen the house where his father spent his last years.
We turn onto a dirt road. The truck lurches into and then out of an enormous, waterlogged hole. Pines line the road. Their needles shiver as we go by. We pass turn after turn, but only half of the roads are marked. Every few miles, we pass a driveway, the house deep in trees and out of sight. It’s a haunted place, and I’m already ready to leave.
Cam says, “I don’t know where the fuck we are.”
We drive some more. I think about Bobby home alone, how Cam gave him six VHS tapes. “By the time you watch all of these,” he said, “I’ll be back.” Then he put in the first movie, something Disney, and we left.
“He’ll be fine,” Cam said. “He’ll never even know we’re gone.”
“We could bring him with us,” I said, but Cam refused.
“There’s no telling what we’ll find there,” he’d said.
Ahead, a child stands by the side of the road. Cam slows the truck to a halt and rolls down the window. The girl steps forward. She looks over her shoulder, then back at us. She’s barefoot and her face is smeared with dirt. She wears a brown dress and a green bow in her hair. A string is looped around her wrist, and from the end of the string floats a blue balloon.
“Hi there,” Cam says. He lean...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New! Multiple Copies Available! We ship daily Monday - Friday!. Bookseller Inventory # 1EY87T00B3J3
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Ships Fast! Satisfaction Guaranteed!. Bookseller Inventory # mon0000539389
Book Description Simon & Schuster 2014-03-11, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. First Edition. 1476729964 Brand new and ships pronto! 100% guarantee. Multiple quantites available. Bookseller Inventory # BOOKS66-9781476729961-11-0871
Book Description Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1476729964 *BRAND NEW* Ships Same Day or Next!. Bookseller Inventory # NATARAJB1FI770157
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M1476729964
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P111476729964