Excerpt from Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Before You Know Kindness

By Chris Bohjalian

Before You Know Kindness
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2004,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2005,
    448 pages.

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"Good. Walter was a lot of work, wasn't he?"

"A lot of work," Marguerite agreed.

Across the kitchen, the deep black circles around the outer edges of the loofah sponge pancakes were spreading into the centers, and the acrid smell of badly burned batter was starting to waft through the house. Quickly Nan said good-bye and hung up. She flipped the pancakes, telling herself that if she scraped the creosote-like sludge off the bottom and served each one with the undercooked side up the girls would never know the difference. She didn't believe this for a second, but she wasn't about to waste all that good leftover batter.

WHILE THE GIRLS were picking apart their grandmother's pancakes with their forks—each curious in her own way as to exactly how the edges of the pancakes could appear charbroiled while the insides were the consistency of mayonnaise—Charlotte's father, Spencer, was standing before 150 executives and middle managers from the American Association of Meat Substitutes in the Ticonderoga Room in a conference center in Westchester County. The Ticonderoga Room was the largest of a series of meeting rooms in this wing of the building, all of which seemed to have been named after regional Revolutionary War landmarks (the Saratoga, the Delaware, the Yorktown Heights), though Spencer had yet to see anything anywhere in the conference center that in the slightest way reflected a colonial motif. Not so much as a bellhop in knickers and a tricornered hat, or a plugged-up wrought-iron cannon and hitching post along the exteriors.

Spencer was asked to speak here this morning both to provide the group with some light breakfast entertainment and to inspire them in their ongoing efforts to garner more (and more) refrigerator and freezer case space in the nation's mainstream supermarkets for their garden burgers and faux sausages, their Fakin Bacon and Foney Baloney, their ground round made from seaweed and soy protein.

In today's speech, before he got to his routine slides of the slaughterhouse in North Carolina that sent thirty-two thousand desperately frightened, squealing hogs to their death every single day (many of them dunked by mistake in vats of scalding water while still half-alive), he played a television commercial on the room's three large TV monitors. The ad was for a more individualized torture chamber called the Microwave Home Lobster Steamer. He chose this particular commercial to warm up the crowd—get them good and indignant before they had even finished their bagels and muffins and vegan granola—because this morning he was beginning his speech with his own restaurant experiences when he was nineteen, his very first summer in Sugar Hill. He guessed he was choosing this part of his life because he and Catherine would be flying to New Hampshire tomorrow for their annual summer vacation.

He had already told the crowd of the restaurant's snappish dying lobsters, those behemoth earwigs on steroids, and then of the busloads of senior citizens in their thin plastic bibs who came to the Steer by the Shore to devour them. They would come for dinner after gazing upon the craggy visage of the Old Man of the Mountain in nearby Franconia Notch—a curmudgeon who had since slid down the side of the cliff—someone inevitably observing that the natural granite bust indeed had a certain Daniel Webster-like resemblance from the side but from the front looked like nothing more than an outcropping of shale and rock.

"No one could cleaver a live lobster as quickly as I could," he said now, segueing from his well-practiced Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step confessional tone into what he considered his Baptist preacher's crescendo. "That's not hyperbole, that's not immodesty. That's fact. I could kill two in a minute. One night I killed sixty-four in half an hour and change—enough for the whole bus! That evening every single man and woman on the tour ordered the restaurant's signature meal, the baked stuffed one-and-one-quarter-pound Maine lobster, and—honest to God, I am not exaggerating—I might have split even more if the restaurant's ovens had been larger, because there were three buddies from Texas on that sightseeing jaunt with their wives, and each of them volunteered his belief that the only thing better than twenty ounces of baked stuffed Maine lobster... was forty!"

Excerpted from Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian Bestselling author of Midwives Copyright© 2004 by Chris Bohjalian. Excerpted by permission of Shaye Areheart Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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