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383 pages, Hardcover
First published April 2, 2013
I'm alone at the base of the run, almost too cold to move.
The answer is not coming.
I have to find an arbitrary point inside the spell of waiting, the open absence, and tear myself away.
Leave, with no answer. Move on to the next question.
”The flamethrowers with their twin tanks, and their gas mask were Sandro’s favorite of the assault company dolls. The asbestos sweater and balloon pants and gauntlet gloves you could outfit them with so they could not carbonize when they set a woods on fire. A woods or bunker or enemy machine gun nest, depending. A supply line of trucks or a laddered stack of bodies, depending.
The flamethrowers could have been from a different century, both brutal and ancient and at the same time horribly modern. The flame oil in the twin tanks they carried was five parts tar oil and one part crude, and they had a little canister of carbon dioxide and an automatic igniter and a belt pouch with spare igniters. The flamethrower was never, ever defensive. He was pure offense…a harbinger of death…
But then his father told him the flamethrowers were…cumbersome and heavy and slow-moving targets and if they were ever caught they were shown no mercy. That’s not a thing you want to be, his father said…”
“Difficult to even talk about…I feel changed. Like, say my mind is a sweater. And a loose thread gets tugged at, pulled and pulled until the sweater unravels and there’s only a big fluffy pile of yarn. You can make something with it, that pile of yarn, but it will never be a sweater again. That’s the state of things.”
A taxi pulled up, and Sandro, his cousin, and Didier got out. I glanced at Burdmoore, whose face registered the cousin's beauty. He watched her with interest, but also caution. It was the expression of a man who had handled beautiful women and could still admire them but never wanted to handle them again.
Practically all of Italy had celebrated Mussolini, and then the war had ended and suddenly everyone was an anti-Fascist.... As if the entire problem could be isolated to a few rich families.... Families like the Valeras, whose villa was occupied by Germans. After the war, walking to school in Brera, Sandro and Roberto were pelted with rocks. Their father moved them back up to Bellagio, where the boys were pelted with cow chips, and once misled into a swarm of angry bees that stung and restung them more times than Sandro had thought possible. Was he stung because he lacked natural virtues, ones the children who pushed them into the bee swarm possessed? Had those children stood up to Mussolini? No. Did it matter who possessed natural virtues? No. A blend of good and bad characterized all humans, and to pretend to sort that out was an insult to human complexity. But at the same time, Sandro understood that people only tended to allow their own contradictions, and not those of others. It was okay to be murky to yourself, to know you weren't an angel, but other people had to be more cleanly divided into good and bad.
My mother worked nights, and Bobby was what we had as a parent. Done driving his dump truck, he sat inexplicably nude watching TV and made us operate the dial for him, so he wouldn't have to get up. He'd fix himself a big steak and give us instant noodles. Sometimes he'd take us to a casino, leave us in the parking lot with bottle rockets. Or play chicken with the other cars on I-80, with me and Scott and Andy in the backseat covering our eyes. I come from reckless, unsentimental peopole.