Excerpt from The Darling by Russell Banks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Darling

by Russell Banks

The Darling
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 384 pages
    Oct 2005, 416 pages

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For a few moments, as I always do, I stood by the window and watched the dogs. They are Border collies, father and daughter, Baylor and Winnie, and when they have done their business, the first thing they do every morning is patrol the property, reclaiming their territory and making sure that during the night nothing untoward has happened. Usually I watch them work and think of them as working for me. But this morning they looked weirdly different to me, as if during the night one of us, they or I, had changed allegiances. They looked like ghost dogs, moving swiftly across the side yard in the gray pre-dawn light, disappearing into shadows cast by the house and oak trees, darting low to the ground into the garage, then reappearing and moving on. Today they worked for no one but themselves; that's how I saw them. Their gait was halfway between a trot and a run -- fast, effortless, smooth, and silent, their ears cocked forward, plumed tails straight back -- and they seemed more like small wolves than carefully trained and utterly domesticated herding animals.

For a moment they scared me. I saw the primeval wildness in them, their radical independence and selfishness, the ferocity of their strictly canine needs. Perhaps it was the thin, silvery half-light and that I viewed them mostly in silhouette as they zigged and zagged across the yard, and when they'd checked the garage, an open shed, actually, where I park the pickup truck and my Honda, they moved on to the barn and from there to the henhouse, where the rooster crowed, and then loped all the way to the pond in the front field, where they woke the ducks and geese, never stopping, running in tandem, a pair of single-minded predators sifting their territory at peak efficiency.

In their mix of wildness and control, they were beautiful. In their silence and indistinct, shape-changing fluidity, they frightened me. Five minutes ago they had been under my control, curled in my bed, crowding me to one side of it like a pair of human children. And now they were wild dogs, the kind of beasts the ancient people glimpsed slipping through the brush at dawn between the campsite and the forest.

They had not changed overnight, of course. But maybe, because of my dream of Africa and the chimps, I had, and the dogs were sensing it, as if I had somehow betrayed them. Then when Anthea drove in along the lane from the road, headlights bobbing like heavy fruit on a tree as her beat-up Jimmie pickup passed along the ruts, the dogs ran to her truck as they do every day, and when she stepped out they greeted her with their usual yipping commotion and followed her to the side porch. But when they entered the kitchen behind her, they slipped quickly into the living room, then furtively circled through the dining room to the kitchen again and made for the door and scratched at it to be let back out.

Anthea yanked off her cap and ruffled her auburn curls with one hand and watched the dogs. She screwed up her face and said, "What’s with them doggies?"

"I don’t know," I said. "Maybe something spooked them."

She opened the door, and the dogs bolted across the yard and out of sight. "Must be you that’s spooking them, Hannah." She laughed and filled her mug with coffee, sighed heavily, and sat down at the table.

"Maybe it’s the moon. I had strange dreams all night. You?"

"Nope. Slept like a hibernated bear. Full moon’s not for another three days anyhow." Anthea is impish and winking, a large woman, strong; if she were a man you’d call her burly. She has a broad, flat face the shape and color of a raspberry, a peasant face, some might say, and probably a lot of the summer people have. But if you look, you can tell at once that she’s good humored and hard working and possesses an abundance of mother wit. Everything about her expresses intelligent energy.

From The Darling by Russell Banks. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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