In The Weight of This World, David Joy returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past (available March 7, 2017).
A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them is Aiden McCall, loyal to both but unable to hold them together. Connected by bonds of circumstance and duty, friendship and love, these three lives are blown apart when Aiden and Thad witness the accidental death of their drug dealer and a riot of dope and cash drops in their laps. On a meth-fueled journey to nowhere, they will either find the grit to overcome the darkness or be consumed by it.
Aiden McCall was twelve years old the one time he heard I love you. Even then he didn’t so much hear the words as read them on his father’s lips. His mother folded a hamper of whites on the arm of the couch. He sat across from her in a recliner that was permanently locked flat and watched a fuzzy episode of Ren and Stimpy he’d seen a thousand times before. The satellite card was dead, and, even before his father quit paying the bill, the mountains blocked most channels from reaching Little Canada. Every afternoon when Aiden came home from school he watched that VHS tape of the same five episodes over and over. He knew the whole thing by heart.
Aiden was miming the words from the television when his father opened the screen door. The man stood bare-chested on the threshold with a short-nosed revolver clenched in his fist by his side. Aiden’s mother turned to face her husband, rolled a pair of socks in on themselves, but didn’t say a word. His father raised the pistol and blew the top of her head off when he pulled the trigger. There was a flash of light and blood, a short-lived smell of bourbon before the room reeked of burnt gunpowder like Black Cat firecrackers.
His father stared at him with a look in his eyes like he blamed him and him alone for the way life turned sour. Aiden had his fingers jammed in his ears, but it was too late to guard against the gun’s report. His skull hummed. “I love you,” the boy saw his father say just before he shoved that wheel gun into the back of his own throat until he gagged, the metal clanking against his teeth as he pulled his second shot.
Aiden lay in his mother’s blood on the floor piecing pictures in the popcorn ceiling together like connect-the-dots. The blood was sticky on his back. There was even a sound to it when the law finally came and the deputy peeled him off the floor. His father’s eyes still held that same look and there was no chance it would ever change. He would blame his son for eternity, and Aiden would never forget.
He woke sweaty from the same dream every night those first few weeks in the group home. It was a dream that would haunt him the rest of his life. His eyes would pop open and he’d come up gasping for air as if he were about to drown. He’d scan the room for anything familiar and find nothing at all.
The dream was a replaying of the earliest memory the boy knew of this world. He stood on wobbly legs in the kitchen doorway with food smeared sticky across his stomach. He might’ve been three years old, and he watched his father strangle his mother against the edge of the kitchen counter. Aiden remembered how her bare feet slipped and slid against crusty linoleum that rolled like birch bark at the edges, how her upper body flailed, then, seized when her spine could bend no further. She gurgled for breath, while his father screamed something about potatoes. He held Aiden’s face to the red glow of the stove eye when the child wouldn’t stop crying, and threw him where his mother lay sprawled on the floor when that didn’t work. Mother and child kept still after that. But that memory wasn’t what shook him from dream.
What scared him was what he knew in that dream. He seemed to have some unquestionable understanding, something seemingly divine, that insured in time he would become his father. There are things passed down that escape reflections in mirrors, traits that paint the inside. Those were the things that he understood, and those were the things that he feared. What he heard before he shuddered awake each night were the words of God Almighty, the Lord God saying, “In the end, blood always tells.”
From THE WEIGHT OF THIS WORLD by David Joy, published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
Copyright © 2017 by David Joy.
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David Joy’s first novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, debuted to great acclaim and was named an Edgar finalist for Best First Novel. His stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in Drafthorse, Smoky Mountain Living, Wilderness House Literary Review, Pisgah Review, and Flycatcher, and he is the author of the memoir Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey. Joy lives in Webster, North Carolina.