Excerpt from Lowboy by John Wray, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by John Wray

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 272 pages
    Feb 2010, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Derek Brown

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Print Excerpt

He turned toward the Sikh and nodded sadly.

“I get off at the next stop,” he said. He coughed into his sleeve and looked around him until the people who’d been watching looked away. “Next stop!” he repeated, for the benefit of all present.

“So soon?” said the Sikh. “I haven’t even asked—”

“William,” said Lowboy. He gave him his bankteller’s smile. “William Amritsar.”

“William?” the Sikh said quaveringly. He pronounced it Well-yoom. “But people call me Lowboy. They prefer it.”

A long moment went by. “Pleased to meet you, William. My name is—”

“Because I get moody,” Lowboy said, raising his voice. “Also because I like trains.”

The Sikh said nothing. He looked Lowboy over and ran two birdlike fingers through his beard. Trying to make sense of me, Lowboy decided. The idea made him feel like a hermit at the top of a cliff.

“Underground trains,” he said. “Subways. Low in the ground.” He felt his voice go quiet. “Does that make sense to you?”

The train started braking and Lowboy got to his feet, still keeping his eyes on the Sikh. The Sikh kept motionless, propped up straight in his seat like a nearsighted little old lady on a bus.

“You’re not a doctor, are you?” Lowboy said, squinting down at him. “An MD? A PhD? A DDS?”

The Sikh looked surprised. “A doctor, William? Why on earth—”

“Can you prove to me that you’re not with the school?”

The Sikh gave a dry laugh. “I’m past eighty, William. I once was an electrical engineer.”  

“Bullshit,” Lowboy said, shaking his head. “Balls.”

Everyone in the car was looking at him now. There were times when he was practically invisible, monochrome and flat, and there were others when he gave off a faint greenish glow, like teeth held up to a blacklight. When that happened his voice got very loud very fast and the only thing he could do was keep his mouth shut. The air outside the glass got darker. There were things he wanted to explain to the Sikh, to apprise him of, but he held his breath and pressed his lips together. He could keep himself from talking when he had to. It was one of the first things that he’d learned to do at school.

“Who was that chasing you?” said the Sikh, propping his elbows on his beautiful sticklike legs. “Were they truancy officers?”

Lowboy shook his head fiercely. “Not sent by the school. Sent by—” He caught himself at the last moment. “By a federal agency. To frighten me. To try and make me follow their itinerary.” He looked at the place on his wrist where his watch should have been, but there was nothing there, not even a paleness. He wondered if he’d ever had a watch.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said. He turned measuredly around to face the doors. It was too warm in the car for sudden movements.

The train seemed to hesitate as it came into the light. Its ventilators went quiet and its mercury striplights flickered and it rolled into the station at a crawl. The station was a main junction: six lines came together there. Its tiles were square and unbeveled, lacquered and white, like the tiles on a urinal wall. The only person on the platform was a transit guard who looked ready to fall down and die of boredom any minute. Lowboy frowned and bit down on the knuckle of his thumb. There was no good reason for the platform to be empty at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning.

The guard watched the train pull in out of his left eyecorner, careful not to seem too interested. The old school trick. Lowboy thought of the last glimpse he’d had of Bones, pounding on the glass and shouting at the conductor. He thought about Skull running alongside the train and making panicked circles with his arms. He looked at the transit guard again. Something was clipped to the inside of his collar and he held his head cocked toward it, moving his lips absently, like someone reading from a complicated book. Watching him made Lowboy want to lie down on the floor.

Excerpted from Lowboy by John Wray, published in March 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2009 by John Wray. All rights reserved.

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