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The Best People in the World (P.S.)by Justin Tussing
"Tussing is a witty, affecting writer with a melancholy streak and a determination not to give too much away....Tussing's tardy efforts to connect all the dots after spacing them so far apart will satisfy only the most tolerant (or inattentive) readers. Too often, we're left like those Vatican emissaries searching futilely for explanations....That's not a bad metaphor for this lovely novel as it drifts along its erratic, perplexing course." Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
In Paducah, Kentucky, high floodwalls confine the current of the mighty Ohio, and for seventeen-year-old Thomas, the small town he has known all his life is full of limits that have left him feeling as reined in as the river. Things only get worse when his father pulls a few strings to get him a summer job as a subsystems technician at Western Kentucky State Power, and he is given an uninspiring view of what his future may hold.
But the boundaries all disappear when Thomas falls for his new history teacher, Alice, a woman eight years his senior who becomes his first love, and when he meets the town misfit, Shiloh, a vagabond and anarchist who becomes his new role model. With pasts and futures they long to be free of, this unlikely trio flees for rural Vermont, where they live in seclusion, a society of three with no commitments and no rules. Their adventures in freedom and in intimacy come at a price, however, as they discover that a life apart from the world does not ensure a life apart from the past — and for one of them, the past that emerges will threaten tragedy.
With its singular blend of harrowing mystery and subtle humor, The Best People in the World introduces an unusual and compelling new voice. Justin Tussing has written an unforgettable novel about love, redemption, and coming-of-age that masterfully illuminates a moment when everything was perfect — and then, when it wasn't.
"What might have been the stuff of boyish fantasies — an affair with a teacher, running away from home, living off the land — goes frighteningly awry in this unsettling but bleakly beautiful debut novel. It's 1972 in Paducah, Ky., and quiet 17-year-old Thomas Mahey falls into an intense affair with his 25-year-old history teacher, Alice Lowe. Independently, they both befriend Shiloh Tanager, a wily, good-hearted local anarchist, and the three hit the road for rural Vermont, determined to live 'off the grid.' No sooner does the trio settle into an abandoned house than things begin to unravel. Thomas is torn between loyalty to Shiloh and an all-consuming love for Alice, and riddled with guilt for wordlessly leaving his parents. Meanwhile, the homesteaders' efforts at growing food fail. When an unwelcome visitor from Shiloh's past appears, he brings to a head the increasingly desperate atmosphere of secrets and resentment that their idyll has become. Tussing skillfully crafts simultaneously visionary and demented characters (chapters following two men who investigate 'miracles' for the Catholic Church punctuate the trio's story), and when an element of the supernatural infiltrates the narrative it seems normal for the deliberately off-kilter people who inhabit this odd but honest, appealing American story." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This novel is rich in character, and it offers scene after scene of crackling, revelatory dialogue....There are hints of the wry, wise comedy of Jean Thompson in these pages. There are echoes of Charles Baxter's poignant whimsy." Chicago Tribune
"[A] self-assured debut that lovingly depicts how the past never stops revisiting us, even if we can't revisit it." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"This inventive but flawed slice of gothic Americana begins with an imaginative flourish but is ultimately unable to sustain its interesting premise....
"A smart new writer loses his way as his tale of romantic love yields to improbable intrigue and melodrama." Kirkus Reviews
"At his best, Tussing is a kind of Wacko-Thoreau, and The Best People in the World is one bright book of exuberant American life." Dan Chiasson, The New York Times Book Review
"Tussing is a witty, affecting writer with a melancholy streak....The whole plot finally descends into a kinder, gentler version of Sam Shepard's Buried Child — a gothic tragedy seen through the scrim of Tussing's lovely, if slightly overwrought prose." Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"Tussing's got oodles of promise, but this book — with its obvious efforts at seeming spiritual and mysterious, yet grounded in the good-smelling earth of Americana — is a bit of a mess. (Grade: B-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] breathtaking debut novel....A hauntingly atmospheric ode to love's enigmatic and labyrinthine nature." Booklist
"In his debut novel...Justin Tussing achieves a significant literary feat, managing to keep the reader engaged while portraying lives characterized largely by idleness and inertia." Boston Globe
"Filled with surprise, recklessness, melancholy, headlong romance, and hilarity. Justin Tussing is the real thing. It doesn?t happen that often." Ron Hansen, author of Mariette in Ecstasy
"An engrossing tale....The novel ultimately succeeds because of the original voice of the narrator." USA Today
In Paducah, Kentucky, seventeen-year-old Thomas feels as reined in as the mighty Ohio, a river confined by high floodwalls protecting his small Southern hometown. But all boundaries vanish when Thomas experiences first love with Alice, his new history teacher, a woman eight years his senior—and when he meets Shiloh, a misfit vagabond and anarchist who becomes his new role model. Fleeing to rural Vermont, this unlikely trio boldly pursues freedom, intimacy, and seclusion, unfettered by commitments and rules. But a life apart from the world does not ensure a life apart from the past—and for one of them, the past that emerges will threaten tragedy.
About the Author
Justin Tussing's short fiction has appeared in several publications, including the New Yorker, TriQuarterly, and Third Coast. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was also a Teaching/Writing Fellow, he has received fellowships from the James A. Michener/Copernicus Society of America (in support of this novel) and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. He is a former director of the Iowa Young Writers' Studio and, from 2001 to 2004, he was Writing Coordinator at the Fine Arts Work Center. Justin Tussing lives in Portland, Oregon. This is his first novel.
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