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Addison Schact and his best friend Digger become obsessed with investigating the murder of a classmate as they travel through Washington DC’s underworld in this “thoughtful coming-of-age story and engaging teenage noir” (The New York Times).
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Ansel Elgort!
High school senior Addison Schacht is taking the prompt for his college entry essay to the University of Chicago to heart: What are your best and worst qualities? He begins to look back on his life so far and considers what getting into college, selling some pot to his classmates, his relationship with his best friend—not girlfriend—Digger, Virgil’s Aeneid, and his growing obsession with the murder of a classmate, Kevin Broadus, all mean. The more he digs into his own past, the farther he stumbles into the middle of the murder investigation.
Filled with classic adolescent reflection and an intriguing mystery, The November Criminals is “one of the funniest, most heartfelt novels in recent memory—a book every bit as worthy of Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger” (The Chicago Tribune).
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Sam Munson’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Literary Supplement, among other venues. He is the former online editor of Commentary magazine, and he graduated from the University of Chicago in 2003. He lives in New York City.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I. You've asked me to explain what my best and worst qualities are. So let me begin by saying that it's hard, ladies and gentlemen, for me to consider myself a bad person. I mean, I experience qualms, sometimes more serious and sometimes less. Everyone, evena real champion of immorality, sees himself as good. Or as working for the good, no matter if his actions--looked at one by one--are transparently self-serving, murderous, etc. Kind of a strong argument against the value of terms like good or bad. People feelthis way even now, in 1999, when we're all supposed to be repenting and wailing and gnashing our teeth. But you can't go through life without making any distinctions. And selling small-to-medium amounts of weed to safe, calm rich kids (which I spent much ofmy spare time these past four years doing) is not a behavior worth agonizing over. That would make it seem too important, you know? I don't even need the money.
Nonetheless--judged by my actions--I am a bad person. Let's get that clear, so you don't have any misconceptions. For more than one-fifth of my life to date, I was a drug dealer, albeit a minor one, and a client of more successful, higher-volume drug dealers,who are in turn clients of bigger firms, and so on and so on until infinity. Grim, right? Human, but grim. I owned a digital pharmacy scale. An expensive black safe, which at the peak of my prosperity contained $12,380 in four shoe boxes, the cash organizedin bundles by denomination. (How lame is that!) A gun, although that was a later acquisition. A suspicious supply of Biggie-brand plastic bags. A pager. All the sordid, dead-giveaway equipment.
I am eighteen years and five days old. I live in a tree-heavy upper-middle-class neighborhood in Washington, D.C., with my father, who makes clay pots. He also teaches classes at our city's semi-renowned art academy, the Cochrane Institute. Classes abouthow to make clay pots. My name is Addison Schacht, if you can believe it: my dead mother's dead father was named Addison. Because I am an unknown quantity, I am unpopular, even now, my last year, in my class at John F. Kennedy Senior High School. How unknown,you ask? I could not, under pain of death, tell you where a single member of my class wants to attend college, that's how little I have to do with them. I have no extracurricular activities beyond the study of Latin and the collection of offensive jokes aboutthe Holocaust. I live on X Street, on the Xth floor, I weigh X pounds. What do you want? An index of my soul? My dick measurements? I could give them; I'm not ashamed or anything. But would they help you understand? This whole involved and stupefying story has been gnawing away at me, though. Which is why I'm writing it. To like unburden myself. I've wasted enoughtime. And I'm not unintelligent; don't think that. On every practice test I took, my scores were identical to what I ended up getting on the real SAT: 770 verbal and 650 math. This is from three sets of results. How's that for precision? On my battery of AdvancedPlacement tests, I scored three fives and two fours. I've got nothing else. Except for one silver and one gold medal on the National Latin Exam. Latin literature is devoid of most human feeling, but I'm still proud of my medals: my teachers have been a goddamnembarrassment.
Selling weed did not figure in my list of permanent plans when I started four years ago, right after I arrived at Kennedy. Just a little, at first. But it was easy, and more challenging than my classwork. It also gave me a foothold in the school's ecology,which I wouldn't otherwise have discovered. I didn't think overmuch about it. People wanted it, they came to expect I could provide it, and then I found myself the proprietor of a small but flourishing business. I promised myself that I'd stop when I graduated.Just for practical reasons. And I did manage to stop doing it, even before my target date. This was not out of volition. Circumstance played its usual forceful role, in the form of a classmate of mine named Kevin Broadus.
Kevin was this quiet, stocky kid, a marching-band geek. I didn't really know him, except to nod at between classes. And because he was one of the handful of black kids in the Gifted and Talented Program, I was just sort of aware of him. At least untilour junior year, when, about five months before the brutal events occurred that got his name in the papers, Kevin did something that I found . . . admirable is maybe the best word. Or not admirable, because it's presumptuous to admire someone you don't speakto on a regular basis. But uncompromising. It happened in February. Ms. Prather, our English teacher last year, was going on and on in this artificial way about what's called "black history." February, as I'm sure you know, is Black History Month, an occasionof much wariness and nervous self-congratulation among the teachers in the Gifted and Talented Program here at Kennedy. We learn, every year, the same tired story, like a long round in a game: the founders were hypocrites, the Three-Fifths Compromise was bad,the Dred Scott decision was bad, Frederick Douglass good, Booker T. Washington bad, Tuskegee Experiment bad, Tuskegee Airmen good, Langston Hughes good, jazz good, and we're all still racists today. Thanks for playing! It's like this compressed version of Americanhistory, one that fails to do justice to all the complex nonsense that people get up to in political life, and also fails completely to convey any real sense of how awful life must have been (and in a lot of ways still is) in America for slaves and their descendants.It's like a gesture. I don't know how else to describe it.
So: we were talking about Music and Its Relation to African American Literature. And Ms. Prather was in the spitty middle of her oration about how great it was that African American literature was not constrained in the way the other literature of itstime was, how it was filled with a new and vital energy, a rhythmic current. A lot of the kids in my class nodded along, some of them actually convinced. And after she had reached her crescendo, waving her hands and making her voice throb, after she had herlittle like orgasm or whatever, she stopped and looked at Kevin and said, "But let's ask our resident musician. Don't you agree, Mr. Broadus?" I wish I could communicate the hideous empty quiet that followed her remark. Everyone craned around in their woodenchair-desk combo sets to stare at Kevin, who gazed at his hands. The afternoon sun slanted down and blanked out his glasses. And he said, "Not particularly." That's all. Ms. Prather stood with her hands lifted and her mouth open. She looked hurt, wobbly-eyedat Kevin's betrayal. The silence persisted. Then Ms. Prather sighed and said, "Well, it's generally accepted, Kevin." More silence. Kevin spoke again. "Yeah, but if it's accepted, why did you ask me." Someone spluttered a laugh into cupped hands. Ms. Pratherhad literally nothing to say. So she repeated herself. As though Kevin did not exist. And we continued with our lesson. This is the only clear memory I have of Kevin speaking in class. Again, I don't want to presume and call it admirable. But it demonstrated real brassiness of balls, in my opinion. I wantedto congratulate him, but he lost himself among the sighing after-class crowd before I could. It's lucky, I guess: that would have been a kind of presumption, too.
Kennedy is a segregated school, I should mention. Not because black kids are less able or whatever, but because--and I'm theorizing here--because my neighborhood and the other neighborhoods that provide it with its white students are filled with the kindof parents who just love black people--in the abstract. And Kennedy is majority black, by a considerable margin. And they (the neighborhood parents, I mean) all originally wanted their kids to go to private school, anyway. So all these ex-hippie history andEnglish teachers at Kennedy like twenty years ago set up this little 90 percent white school inside Kennedy, the Gifted and Talented Program, and they let in six black kids or so every year to balm their consciences, and set up pantomimes like Black HistoryMonth and Diversity Outreach (which is just as horrifyingly inept as its name suggests). Although if they had consciences would they have set up these internal divisions in the first place? But whatever. Kevin stood out because of all these accidents, thesecircumstances. Through no fault of his own he was visible. He played in the marching band, like I said: baritone saxophone. And he worked after school at Second Mate Stubb's, which is a nationwide chain of coffee shops. Their coffee, their whole scheme, isreliable and mediocre, so the artfucky kids at Kennedy mock Stubb's. Which seems unjust. Reliable mediocrity, I've decided, is the most important thing for the continuation of human existence. We can't get by on Romantic disaster. We would die of exhaustion.
Anyway, it happened at the Stubb's on Wisconsin Avenue, near M Street, where the hump of the avenue dips down toward the soapy-looking grayish water of the Potomac River. Someone came in one night and slaughtered Kevin and the other two people workingthere. One had a memorable name: Turquoise Tull. She was twenty-three. The other was some guy named Brandon Gambuto. The shooter just laid into them: two shots in the manager, Turquoise, one in the other guy, and twelve in Kevin, according to the salivatingarticle. By this "feature writer" (according to his byline) for the Post, Archer B. Sexton. (What kind of a name is that? Its components are interchangeable, and therefore it's nonhuman.) You know the kind of thing I mean: "Kevin Broadus was a model studentat Kennedy High School. Turquoise Tull was a hardworking single mother. Brandon Gambuto was an aspiring musician. All of them died last week in what some are call...
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