One of the most extravagantly wonderful things about Algonquin Books is that all of the writers seem to really like one another. David Samuel Levinson and I began swapping emails shortly after I read his dazzling new novel, Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, and we got to meet in person, too, on one unbearably sweltering day at the Algonquin Books party--and we became fast friends. David's also the author of Most of Us Are Here Against Our Will, and his new novel is deservedly racking up the raves. The Denver Post calls it, "A fast-paced page turner," Interview Magazine calls it "an intelligent psychological thriller," and Entertainment Weekly makes it one of it's Must Summer reads, and I, personally, nominate this novel as one of the best of the year. I want everyone to love it as much as I do, and I couldn't be more thrilled to provide an excerpt below. I dare you to read it and not want to read more. Thank you David (and thank you Algonquin Books for providing the excerpt.)
In Medias Res
We thought ourselves good people who lived good lives. Some of us had lived in the town for generations and had never considered leaving. Many of us, though, had relocated there from the city, in the process learning what it was like to desert the place we loved, longed for, and hated. Winslow wasn’t a big town and couldn’t offer the charms of Manhattan, nothing as remarkable as the rooftops at twilight or Central Park in the rain. While many of us had grown sick of the city’s neon signs and glass towers, many others of us put up photos to remind ourselves daily of what we missed.
No one came to Winslow looking for variety: we had one museum, the Finch; a community theater, the Vortex; and only a handful of restaurants, outstanding though they were. Two blocks long, Broad Street consisted of Page Turners, the local bookstore; Mayfair Cinema; Custard’s Last Stand; a barbershop; a launderette; and Einstein’s Video & Arcade. Not far from there — nothing was that far — was Breedlove Hardware; College Breads; Maddox Cafe; and Tint, the bar and restaurant connected to the historic Tweed & Twining Arms hotel. Then there was the heart of the town, Winslow College, giving reason to the place, the lure that had drawn many of us there, to teach and to study.
Some who came were either running from combative or cheating spouses, while others were just running. Some ended up staying; others gave it six months or less before the moving trucks arrived and took them away. We saw the trucks and shook our heads. “You haven’t given it enough time,” we said. “One more day!” One more day, though, might become one more year, and those who fled already had grown tired of the things they’d initially come for, the quiet, the cordial hellos in the morning and the good-evenings at night. Those who didn’t last wanted what we didn’t have and could never offer — invisibility.
I knew this only because, once, I had been one of them. I, too, had come there from the city but not to escape the barrage of sirens and chattering crowds — things I’d cherished, at least in memory. I came to Winslow out of love; I followed my heart.
That was years ago now. For the first year, I hated our house and the town and my heart for luring me there. Yes, my life in the city might have been stressful and chaotic, but it had also been blessed. There was spontaneity, and there were friends and dancing and cocktail parties. I liked parties back then, when I was younger. It was an exciting time. I thought about myself as a writer, filled with promise. Promise, though, has a way of never happening, and much of what followed was painful, though not nearly as painful as this story I’m about to tell.
“The action of any good story,” Wyatt used to say, “always begins in the middle.”
This story, my story, however, began long before the events in Winslow, before I met Antonia Lively. It began long before Henry Swallow moved to town. Although it’s my story, it began in 1968, set in motion by two brothers in a cabin in the woods. I didn’t know any of this until later, though. I didn’t know any of this until I’d read Antonia’s novel and gradually wove each individual story together — the brothers Linwood and Royal’s, Henry’s, Antonia’s, Wyatt’s, Catherine’s, mine — into this one, ours.
Wyatt also used to say there weren’t any fixed rules in writing. I know now, though, that you have to learn the rules first before you can break them. Learn about voice, plot, and point of view. Learn about imagery, setting, and character. Learn all of these things — then let the story dictate how it wants to be told, and never get in the way, because it’s not about you, the writer. It’s about the relationship between the story and the reader. Give the reader a good story, and he’ll forgive just about everything else.
spent years reading through Henry’s criticism and Wyatt’s lectures, absorbing and learning these rules of theirs. This story is the result. If I am a writer, it is because I had no other choice. If I tell this story well, if it rings true, it’s because all of our voices that summer and, over time, became one. The reader, though, will be the judge. For now, this story’s as close to the truth as I can get, and that, I’m afraid, will simply have to do.
Copyright 2013 by David Samuel Levinson from Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, published by Algonquin Books.