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Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and chosen by David Sedaris as his recommended book for his Fall 2016 tour. So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes-a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back. This is the story of how I disappeared. The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father's caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys' prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father's messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings. Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen's story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature. From the Hardcover edition.
Penguin LCC US
1964 I looked like a girl you'd expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special. It's easy for me to imagine this girl, a strange, young and mousy version of me, carrying an anonymous leather purse or eating from a small package of peanuts, rolling each one between her gloved fingers, sucking in her cheeks, staring anxiously out the window. The sunlight in the morning illuminated the thin down on my face, which I tried to cover with pressed powder, a shade too pink for my wan complexion. I was thin, my figure was jagged, my movements pointy and hesitant, my posture stiff. The terrain of my face was heavy with soft, rumbling acne scars blurring whatever delight or madness lay beneath that cold and deadly New England exterior. If I'd worn glasses I could have passed for smart, but I was too impatient to be truly smart. You'd have expected me to enjoy the stillness of closed rooms, take comfort in dull silence, my gaze moving slowly across paper, walls, heavy curtains, thoughts never shifting from what my eyes identified-book, desk, tree, person. But I deplored silence. I deplored stillness. I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time. I tried to control myself, and that only made me more awkward, unhappier, and angrier. I was like Joan of Arc, or Hamlet, but born into the wrong life-the life of a nobody, a waif, invisible. There's no better way to say it: I was not myself back then. I was someone else. I was Eileen. And back then-this was fifty years ago-I was a prude. Just look at me. I wore heavy wool skirts that fell past my knees, thick stockings. I always buttoned my jackets and blouses as high as they could go. I wasn't a girl who turned heads. But there was nothing really so wrong or terrible about my appearance. I was young and fine, average, I guess. But at the time I thought I was the worst-ugly, disgusting, unfit for the world. In such a state it seemed ridiculous to call attention to myself. I rarely wore jewelry, never perfume, and I didn't paint my nails. For a while I did wear a ring with a little ruby in it. It had belonged to my mother. My last days as that angry little Eileen took place in late December, in the brutal cold town where I was born and raised. The snow had fallen for the winter, a good three or four feet of it. It sat staunchly in every front yard, rolled out at the lip of every first-floor windowsill like a flood. During the day, the top layer of snow melted and the slush in the gutters loosened a bit and you remembered that life was joyful from time to time, that the sun did shine. But by afternoon, the sun had disappeared and everything froze all over again, building a glaze on the snow so thick at night it could hold the weight of a full-grown man. Each morning, I threw salt from the bucket by the front door down the narrow path from the porch to the street. Icicles hung from the rafter over the front door, and I stood there imagining them cracking and darting through my breasts, slicing through the thick gristle of my shoulder like bullets or cleaving my brain into pieces. The sidewalk had been shoveled by the next-door neighbors, a family my father distrusted because they were Lutheran and he was Catholic. But he distrusted everyone. He was fearful and crazy the way old drunks get. Those Lutheran neighbors had left a white wicker basket of cellophane-wrapped waxed apples, a box of chocolates, and a bottle of sherry by the front door for Christmas. I remember the card read,
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