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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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 448 pages
    Aug 2005, 448 pages

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He never went skinny-dipping, even though it was dark and he was alone, because he knew the lake was filled with crayfish, and he felt awfully vulnerable among them when he was naked. Most weren't even as big as his thumb and he didn't believe they would try to exact revenge for the way he slaughtered so many of their saltwater genus kin, but the idea had crossed his mind and so he always wore a suit—just in case.

He didn't tell his audience this part of his story. But even at the podium he recalled those swims vividly.

"I must admit, at nineteen I took no small amount of pride in my abilities as second chef, and I understood that Lobster Boy was a compliment of sorts," he continued. "No one killed lobsters with my supernatural speed, and speed mattered greatly to the waiters—and, yes, to the diners—at the Steer by the Shore."

The fact was that Spencer took pride in most of what he did, even then, whether it was cranking out a five-page essay on Gogol at the last minute—usually between 6 a.m. and the start of class at 9:10—playing pickup basketball at the gym his first spring semester, or butchering live lobsters in the summer that followed. He knew he was intolerant of ineptitude, and he understood that as he grew further into adulthood he would be the sort of person who was easily annoyed by incompetence. He sensed this both because he was impatient and because he viewed his impatience as a virtue. Serene people annoyed him.

"At the end of the summer," he said, lowering his voice once more as he prepared to build toward the particular moment in his life that marked the turning point for the sinner—the carnivore!—that he knew he once was, "I took the bus from New Hampshire to the Port Authority in Manhattan. I lugged my suitcase across town to Grand Central in sweltering, Bombay-like late August heat. At nineteen, it never crossed my mind to take a cab, and the only subways I could find then were those that followed the island's avenues north and south. I met my father at the platform where the 5:57 to Scarsdale was waiting."

By design Spencer did not add that once he and his father had boarded the train, he asked to see pictures of the new house. While Spencer had been having sex with his girlfriend in northern New Hampshire and scuppering lobsters, his parents had decided to move. Again.

"That night at dinner"—in, alas, an unfamiliar dining room in an unfamiliar house—"I realized that something had changed. The lamb—an animal nothing at all like a lobster, I know—made me gag. There I was with my parents and my sister and a serving plate layered with skewers of shish kabob, and I thought I was going to be ill. Really and truly ill. And I knew—I knew!—at precisely that instant that never again was I going to yearn for meat or poultry or fish and that I would always find the slick, rubbery touch of bologna revolting. I might never have nightmares about lobsters, but nor would I ever again dream of meat."

With his thumb he flipped the small button on the remote in his right hand that dimmed the room's overhead lights and then the second one that controlled his PowerPoint presentation slides, and instantly the FERAL logo—an image of lions and tigers and bears and cows and chickens and dogs and goldfish and cats and (at Spencer's insistence) lobsters planted on a grid on a lentil-shaped oval that FERAL's critics insisted was a subliminal hand grenade—filled the screen. 

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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