Gotham teacher Michael Backus has just seen the release of his novel Double.
It’s about a guy whose life is in tatters—no job, no money, dwindling hope—who wants to put things back together by reconciling with is estranged ten-year-old daughter. The road to redemption involves marijuana, New Mexico, and a childhood trauma. It’s quite a trip.
Here is the prologue and a sampling of the first chapter.
I wasn’t always like this.
For our honeymoon, Philips and I drove 500 miles south and west to a farming town of 300 people where, three days earlier, Annie Steel had killed her four children (Gina, Jenny, Nathan, Fern) and herself. When the paper reported the killings, both of us cut it out and rushed home in anticipation of telling the other and something clicked. We decided on the spot to get married.
I drove the interstate half of the trip. By the time Philips took the wheel for the two-lane highways, we were charged, cutting a dangerous swath through the landscape. When she pushed down on the accelerator, the clouds above seemed to part, the front end of the car lifted, wind noise screamed in our ears, children covered their faces as we passed, a rabbit froze in the road, then darted—too slow!, birds panicked and beat the wind with their wings and pickup trucks skidded sideways to avoid us. I unbuttoned her jeans and lay my cheek on the line where pubic hair meets stomach, she bent down and blew her breath on my face, a smell as familiar as my own, drying the sweat. Her lips brushed my eyelids. It felt like flying.
We blew into that town, which was nothing more than a circular collection of houses—like wagons drawn together for protection—surrounded by corn and soy bean fields, believing we were doing something important, that we were getting at basic truths about why people act the way they do, that we had the courage and the insight to look into the darkest places and come out with knowledge.
And that we had answers; that’s the funny part. When I think back on it now, I’m not sure any of it was real. It’s difficult for me to believe a lot of what I remember. It gets harder all the time to be sure about anything.
Then I lose my job, which I didn’t see coming. Though I suspect it might be for the best, I still make a half-hearted attempt to argue.
“Are you kidding me?” I say to Larry, the owner of the cab company.
“There’ve been complaints lately. A lot of complaints.”
“Country of whiners.”
“I have documentation.”
“Yeah?” I say, against my better judgment. “Tell me one.”
“Mrs. Koppel says you threw dog shit at her.”
“Her dog did it in my cab. What would you do?”
“Clean it up?” he suggests so politely it infuriates me.
“Well, fuck me for being human.”
“A lady out on West Avenue says her teenage daughter came home stoned out of her mind and she claimed the cab driver got her stoned. According to the logs, that driver was you.”
“It was her joint,” I say helplessly. “I was just being friendly.”
“A Mr. Cordova called to tell us you chased him into his house and forced him to give you his wallet.”
“He only had three bucks for a four-dollar fare. That’s procedure.”
“Mugging clients is not procedure.”
“Semantic bullshit. I was retrieving a fare, putting money in your pocket, doing what you want me to do, no matter what the book says.”
“He said you went in his fridge, ate his pickles, drank right from the milk carton and stole a bag of home-made tamales.”
“First off, the tamales were greasy and I tossed them. The pickles were good,” I say, then remember why we’re talking. “I was just, well, you know... I thought of it as a tip.”
But by now, I know it’s hopeless and frankly, I’m shocked by the accumulation of details and by the time I leave, I’m actually grateful he hasn’t brought up several other incidents that no doubt were also reported.
Reprinted by permission of Xynobooks. For details, visit xynobooks.com/2011/11/double/