Excerpt from Invisible City by Julia Dahl, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Invisible City

A Rebekah Roberts Novel

by Julia Dahl

Invisible City by Julia Dahl X
Invisible City by Julia Dahl
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  • First Published:
    May 2014, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2015, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


Active crime scenes are different. At an active crime scene, I have a role. I’m not staff at the Trib—I’m a stringer. I work a shift every day but have no job security or benefits. Every morning I call in, get an assignment, and run. I work alone, unless a photographer is assigned to the same story, and answer to a rotating assortment of editors and rewrite people whom I’ve usually never met. I have a laminated Tribune badge that identifies me as a player on the stage. I get shit about the Trib from cops sometimes—they complain about how we played some story, or the editorial page bias—and I can’t always get the same access as reporters with the official press card. But I’m in a much better position at a crime scene or official event than someone from one of the news Web sites that most of the cops have never heard of, or even worse the bloggers—who get nothing but shit.

At a crime scene, the cops secure the area. The reporters arrive. The cops inspect the body and the scene, then occasionally relay some of what they’ve found to another cop, the spokesman cop: DCPI. DCPI, when he feels like it, saunters across the street to the reporters busying themselves getting neighbor quotes (“I never heard them fighting” or “This building is usually so safe”) and checking their e-mail on their phones. Crime scenes are a relief for a new reporter. You just follow the herd.

The Indian-looking man at the counter leans on his forearms, watching the scene outside the windows. I approach him.

“Do you know what’s going on?” I ask.

He doesn’t answer, but I think he understands what I’ve said.

“I’m from the Tribune,” I say. “They found a body in the scrap yard.”

He nods.

“A woman they say.”

This is a surprise. “A woman? No.”

I nod.

“Terrible,” he says. He is probably in his thirties, but the ashy brown skin beneath his eyes could belong to a man twice his age. He hasn’t shaved in a few days.

The men in the back of the store stop whispering and march toward the boy in the black coat. The tall one says something and they rush out, leaving the boy behind. They walk swiftly toward the scrap yard. I assume they won’t talk to me, so I don’t bother trying to ask a question. I should follow, but I just can’t brave that wind again quite yet. If it were warm, I’d tag along a little behind, nose toward the scrap yard, try to get some detail to give the desk. Before I got anywhere near anything good, of course, I’d be told to get back. Get back with press, they’d say. I guess I’m a better reporter in the summertime. It was never once this cold in Florida, and even under all these layers I feel painfully exposed by the temperature. My bones feel like brittle aluminum rods, barely holding me up, scraping together, sucking up the cold and keeping it. One poke and I’ll crumble to the ground.

The boy takes his hands out of his pockets and carefully places them around the glass of the decaf pot. After a moment he brings his hands to his face, cupping his cheeks with his hot little palms.

“That’s smart,” I say.

He looks up at me, surprised.

“I use my cup,” I say, and lift my coffee. “And it keeps me warm on the inside.”

He nods.

“You work for the newspaper?” he asks.

I look at the man behind the counter. Kids hear everything.

“I do,” I say. I point to the wire newspaper basket by the door. “The Trib.

“My mommy reads the newspaper.”

“Oh?” I say. “Do you?”

The boy shakes his head. His mouth is a thin line. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so serious a child. But, of course, I’ve never seen a Hasid—man, woman, or child—not look serious. My mother was Hasidic. She fell in love with my dad—a goy—during a period of teenage rebellion. They had me, named me after my mom’s dead sister, and then she split—back to the black-coated cult in Brooklyn. There aren’t really any ultra-Orthodox Jews where I grew up in Florida, but now that I’ve moved to New York, I see them every day. They live and work and shop and commute inside the biggest melting pot in the world, but they don’t seem to interact with it at all. But for the costume they wear, they might as well be invisible. The men look hostile, wrapped like undertakers in their hats and coats all year long, their untended beards and dandruff-dusted shoulders like a middle finger to anyone forced against them on the subway at rush hour. The women look simultaneously sexless and fecund in aggressively flat shoes, thick flesh-colored stockings, and shapeless clothing, but always surrounded by children. I picture their homes dark and stale, with thick carpet and yellowing linoleum and low foam ceilings and thin towels. Are the little boys allowed action figures and race cars? Does somebody make a knockoff Hasidic Barbie for little girls? Barbie pushing a baby carriage and walking behind Ken. Barbie who leaves her kid.

Excerpted from Invisible City by Julia Dahl. Copyright © 2014 by Julia Dahl. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Minotaur. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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