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396 pages, Hardcover
First published May 2, 2017
Junior year of high school, he had seen a Chinese woman in the Littletown Mall. Thin, with permed hair, gripping plastic bags with the handles twisted around each other. She'd honed in; there was no hiding his face, and when she spoke he understood her Mandarin. She was lost. Could he help? She needed to make a phone call, find a bus. Her face was scared and anxious. Two teenage boys, pale and gangly, had watched and mimicked her accent, and Daniel had said, in English, "I can't speak Chinese." Afterwards, he tried to forget the woman, because when he did think of her, he felt a deep, cavernous loneliness.
"I promise I'll never leave you."
You could play it one way and play it another, the same note sounding different depending on how you decided to hear it. You could try to do all the right things and still feel wrong inside.
It was a funny thing, forgiveness. You could spend years being angry with someone and then realize you no longer felt the same, that your usual mode of thinking had slipped away when you weren’t noticing.
Everyone had stories they told themselves to get through the days.
Daniel preferred disorder to order, liked the trees in the spaces between buildings, leaves touching the low roofs of older homes. The city looked like it was trying to build itself up but would never fully succeed. This was an underdog’s city, ambitious and messily hungry, so haphazard it could collapse one night and be reassembled by the following morning.
"We can’t make ourselves miserable because we think it’ll make them happy. That’s a screwed up way to live.”
Over the years, he had thought about what his life would have been like if Mama and Leon hadn’t left, if Vivian hadn’t taken him to the foster care agency. It was like watching water spread across dry pavement, lines going in all directions. …. But today he could only see himself where he was right now, the particular set of circumstances that had trickled down to this particular life, that would keep trickling in new directions. .... All this time, he’d been waiting for his real life to begin: Once he was accepted by Roland’s friends and the band made it big. Once he found his mother. Then, things would change. But his life had been happening all along.