9780060929091

Already Dead: A California Gothic

by
  • ISBN13:

    9780060929091

  • ISBN10:

    006092909X

  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-09-11
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Summary

A contemporary noir, Already Dead is the tangled story of Nelson Fairchild Jr., disenfranchised scion to a northern California land fortune. A relentless failure, Nelson has botched nearly every scheme he's attempted to pull off. Now his future lies in a potentially profitable marijuana patch hidden in the lush old-growth redwoods on the family land. Nelson has some serious problems. His marriage has fallen apart, and he may lose his land, cash and crop in the divorce. What's more, in need of some quick cash, he had foolishly agreed to smuggle $90,000 worth of cocaine through customs for Harry Lally, a major player in a drug syndicate. Chickening out just before bringing the drugs through, he flushed the powder. Now Lally wants him dead, and two goons are hot on his trail. Desperate, terrified and alone, for Nelson, there may be only one way out. This is Denis Johnson's biggest and most complex book to date, and it perfectly showcases his signature themes of fate, redemption and the unraveling of the fabric of today's society. Already Dead, with its masterful narrative of overlapping and entwined stories, will further fuel the acclaim that surrounds one of today's most fascinating writers.

Excerpts

Already Dead
A California Gothic

Chapter One

August 7, 1990

Van Ness felt a gladness and wonder as he drove past the small isolatedtowns along U.S. 101 in Northern California, a certain interest, a yearning,because he sensed they were places a person could disappear into. They feltlike little naps you might never wake up from--you might throw a tire andhike to a gas station and stumble unexpectedly onto the rest of your life,the people who would finally mean something to you, a woman, an immortalfriend, a saving fellowship in the religion of some obscure church. Butsuch a thing as a small detour into deep and permanent changes, at the time,anyway, that he was travelling down the coast from Seattle into MendocinoCounty, wasn't even to be dreamt of in Van Ness's world.

The side trip he took off 101 into Humboldt County only proved it. He desertedhis route at Redway, went five miles west to Briceland and from there ahalf dozen miles to the Mattole River and past an invisible town (he sawonly a one-room school in the corner of a field) called Ettersburg, andthen switched back and forth along mountainous terrain another few milesto a dirt road that cut through the King Range National Forest.

Bucking slowly in his Volvo down the steep zigzag track among dusty redwoods,Van Ness glimpsed the sky above the sea but not the sea. He stopped fortwo minutes at an elbow of the road overlooking the decline and ate a packof cheese-flavored crackers and whisked the crumbs from his long mustache--handlebarsarcing down into a monstrous Fu Manchu and serving, along with thick rimlessspectacles, almost to obliterate any personality from his face. The crackerswere the last of his food. He tossed the wrapper onto the floorboard anddrove on.

Vaguely he wanted to accomplish some small cleansing of himself in thisremote area known as "The Lost Coast," wanted to fast beside thePacific and lie on his back all night within hearing of the ocean's detonationsand look up at a meteor storm: between ten and thirty-five stars were expectedto fall every minute that night, according to the weather report on hisradio.

But when he reached the shores of the Pacific, he realized he'd only managedto find the back way into a place called Shelter Cove, a vast failed housingdevelopment on the isolated coast, hundreds of tiny empty lots set amongasphalt streets with green signs on poles--Clam Avenue, Beach Drive, andso on--shaken and speckled by the sandy wind. Half a dozen actual homesfronted the beach, and a few overturned runabouts, and a delicatessen, butreally almost nobody had ever lived here. The sea burned in its heartlessblueness while overhead flew helicopters filled, according to news flasheson his radio, with National Guardsmen and agents of the federal governmentconducting a massive raid on the marijuana patches in the unpeopled hillshe'd just driven through. Van Ness bought his lunch in the deli and complainedsilently to himself about the weak coffee and the gull droppings on thepicnic table. The only person he talked to was a pretty woman who sworeat him because, as he walked past her table to the trash can, she droppedher sunglasses, and he stepped on them. The glasses were unsalvageable.He gave her fifteen dollars, although she claimed they'd cost twice that.Van Ness was back on the main highway again just a few hours after leavingit. He'd circled back to the town of Redway, the point where he'd turnedoff. The whole pointless excursion had a way of sealing his mind even furtheragainst any notion that great changes might beset him unexpectedly. Andyet later he encountered the woman, Winona Fairchild, again, more than once;and eventually these encounters forced him to acknowledge the reality offate, and the truth inherent in things of the imagination.

A California Highway Patrolman pulled him over on a stretch of 101 he hadto travel before he would reach Leggett and turn west again toward the coast.Van Ness knew he'd been speeding; he did it habitually, compulsively. Hecarried a passenger at the time, a teenaged girl dressed after the styleof Lithuanian peasants, in a long skirt, bright scarf, and sharply pointedpurple shoes, her name a poetic creation possibly designating a flavor ora scent, like Rainbow Day or Temple Jasmine, but it had escaped his memoryeven as she'd said it. Except for the introductions, she and Van Ness hadn'ttraded ten words since he'd picked her up hitchhiking by the Texaco in Redway,at which time he'd said to her, "Welcome, Fantasy Lady."

Now he wished he hadn't said it. When the young patrolman stooped down besidethe driver's window to peer within and ask for the license, the hippie girlleaned toward him over Van Ness's lap: "Is it about another ten milesto Leggett?"

"Yes, ma'am, little over eight miles," the patrolman said.

"He's really scaring me," she revealed suddenly.

"Who?" the patrolman said.

"This man," she said. "He made remarks. He touched my thigh."

"When?" asked Van Ness. "When I was reaching to the radio?That was an accident."

The policeman concentrated intensely, irrelevantly, on Van Ness's license."Are you friends, you two people?"

Van Ness said, "No," and the girl said, "I was hitching."

"Go stand beside my car," the patrolman told the young woman.

Van Ness turned off the ignition. "I feel sick about this," hetold the officer as they watched the girl walk, slightly pigeon-toed, towardthe spinning lights of the squad car in her purple shoes. "I reallyfeel confused. I didn't do a thing. Look, I know I'm no Casanova."

"Were you watching your rate of speed?"

"Yes, yes--I mean," Van Ness agreed, "I was definitely speeding,yes, sure. But this? No."

Already Dead
A California Gothic
. Copyright © by Denis Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.


Excerpted from Already Dead: A California Gothic by Denis Johnson
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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