? Contents COVER PAGE TITLE PAGE DEDICATION EPIGRAPH AUTHOR’S NOTE PROLOGUE ? CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN
CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE ? ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ABOUT THE AUTHOR BOOKS BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN A READER’S GUIDE A NOTE TO THE READER QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION COPYRIGHT
For Rose Mary Muench
and in memory of Frederick Muench (1929–2004)
“Oh, I know who Pauline Kael is,” he said. “I wasn’t born homeless, you know.”
—NICK HORNBY,A Long Way Down
THIS NOVEL HAD ITS ORIGINS IN DECEMBER 2003, when Rita Markley, the executive director ofBurlington, Vermont’s, Committee on Temporary Shelter, shared with me the contents of a box ofold photographs. The black-and-white images had been taken by a once-homeless man who had diedin the studio apartment her organization had found for him. His name was Bob “Soupy”Campbell.
The photos were remarkable, both because of the man’s evident talent and because of thesubject matter. I recognized the performers—musicians, comedians, actors—and newsmakers inmany of them. Most of the photos were at least forty years old. We were all mystified as to howCampbell had gone from photographing luminaries from the 1950s and 1960s to winding up at ahomeless shelter in northern Vermont. He had no surviving family we were aware of that we couldask.
The reality, of course, is that Campbell probably wound up homeless for any one of the myriadreasons that most transients wind up on the streets: Mental illness. Substance abuse. Bad luck.
We tend to stigmatize the homeless and blame them for their plight. We are oblivious to thefact that most had lives as serious as our own before everything fell apart. The photographs inthis book are a testimony to that reality: They were taken by Campbell before he wound up atransient in Vermont.
Consequently, I am grateful to Burlington’s Committee on Temporary Shelter for allowing me touse these photographs in this story. Obviously, Bobbie Crocker, the homeless photographer inthis novel, is fictitious. But the photographs you will see in this book are real.
LAUREL ESTABROOK was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college. Quite likely shewas nearly murdered that autumn. This was no date-rape disaster with a handsome, entitled UVMfrat boy after the two of them had spent too much time flirting beside the bulbous steel of abeer keg; this was one of those violent, sinister attacks involving masked men—yes, men,plural, and they actually were wearing wool ski masks that shielded all but their eyes and thesnarling rifts of their mouths—that one presumes only happens to other women in distantstates. To victims whose faces appear on the morning news programs, and whose devastated,forever-wrecked mothers are interviewed by strikingly beautiful anchorwomen.
She was biking on a wooded dirt road twenty miles northeast of the college in a town with aname that was both ominous and oxymoronic: Underhill. In all fairness, the girl did not findthe name Underhill menacing before she was assaulted. But she also did not return there for anyreason in the years after the attack. It was somewhere around six-thirty on a Sunday evening,and this was the third Sunday in a row that she had packed her well-traveled mountain bike intothe back of her roommate Talia’s station wagon and driven to Underhill to ride for miles andmiles along the logging roads that snaked through the nearby forest. At the time, it struck heras beautiful country: a fairy-tale wood more Lewis than Grimm, the maples not yet the color ofclaret. It was all new growth, a third-generation tangle of maple and oak and ash, the remnantsof stone walls still visible in the understory not far from the paths. It was nothing like theLong Island suburbs where she had grown up, a world of expensive homes with manicured lawnsonly blocks from a long neon-lit swath of fast-food restaurants, foreign car dealers, andweight-loss clinics in strip malls.
After the attack, of course, her memories of that patch of Vermont woods were transformed, justas the name of the nearby town gained a different, darker resonance. Later, when she recalledthose roads and hills—some seeming too steep to bike, but bike them she did—she would thinkinstead of the washboard ruts that had jangled her body and her overriding sense that the greatcanopy of leaves from the trees shielded too much of the view and made the woods too thick tobe pretty. Sometimes, even many years later, when she would be trying to fight her way to sleepthrough the flurries of wakefulness, she would see those woods after the leaves had fallen, andvisualize only the long finger grips of the skeletal birches.
By six-thirty that evening the sun had just about set and the air was growing moist and chilly.But she wasn’t worried about the dark because she had parked her friend’s wagon in a gravelpull-off beside a paved road that was no more than three miles distant. There was a housebeside the pull-off with a single window above an attached garage, a Cyclops visage in shingleand glass. She would be there in ten or fifteen minutes, and as she rode she was aware of thethick-lipped whistle of the breeze in the trees. She was wearing a pair of black bike shortsand a jersey with an image of a yellow tequila bottle that looked phosphorescent printed on thefront. She didn’t feel especially vulnerable. She felt, if anything, lithe and athletic andstrong. She was nineteen.
Then a brown van passed her. Not a minivan, a real van. The sort of van that, when harmless, isfilled with plumbing and electrical supplies, and when not harmless is packed with the deviantaccoutrements of serial rapists and violent killers. Its only windows were small portholes highabove the rear tires, and she had noticed as it passed that the window on the passenger sidehad been curtained off with black fabric. When the van stopped with a sudden squeal forty yardsahead of her, she knew enough to be scared. How could she not? She had grown up on LongIsland—once a dinosaur swampland at the edge of a towering range of mountains, now a giantsandbar in the shape of a salmon—the almost preternaturally strange petri dish that spawnedJoel Rifkin (serial killer of seventeen women), Colin Ferguson (the LIRR slaughter), CherylPierson (arranged to have her high school classmate murder her father), Richard Angelo (GoodSamaritan Hospital’s Angel of Death), Robert Golub (mutilated a thirteen-year-old neighbor),George Wilson (shot Jay Gatsby as he floated aimlessly in his swimming pool), John Esposito