Excerpt from Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Best Boy

by Eli Gottlieb

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb X
Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides
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ONE

Payton LivingCenter was the sixth place in a row Momma had taken me but neither of us knew it was the one where I'd stay forever and ever.

"My darling manzipan, I'm just so sure you're going to be happy here," she said that day with her red mouth that never stopped talking.

Then she started crying. It was raining. We were sitting in the parked car and I touched the glass of the window that was clear as air. Rain was exploding silently on the other side of it and this scared me.

"There's so many things I need to tell you and there's never enough time," she said and then wiped her eyes with her handkerchief.

"Momma," I said, "the rain."

"Please listen to me very carefully," she said. "Life has a song of happiness at the heart of it, but you can only hear that song if you work hard and are always a Best Boy and do exactly what you are told. You'll love it here, and Daddy and I will come on Visiting Day and call you on the weekends, and there's just tons and tons to do."

I said nothing.

"Do you hear me? Toddy?"

She was smiling with her teeth but the water was continuing to fall from her eyes and this confused me because the glass all around us was supposed to keep the water out. I made my upset face.

"Don't cry," she said, making a sound in her throat. "Please don't."

She shut her eyes and wiped them with the handkerchief again and said, "Remember this because it's very important. You are never alone in life. The happy song is always playing deep down if you listen hard enough. It's always playing always, dreamboat."

"I don't wanna go!" I yelled.

She put her hands on my shoulders and slowly stuck her tongue out and pushed her eyes wide open while moving her head around once, fast, in a big circle. I was thirteen years old and I laughed.

"Who knows best?" she said and winked.

"You do."

"And how do I know?"

"Because you're my Momma."

"And how long will I know?"

"Forever and ever."

"And how long is forever?"

"Just past eternity and turn left."

She smiled and hugged me with the warm front of her body and I relaxed like I sometimes did when she did that. But then there was a clicking on the glass by my head. A man in a white smock holding an umbrella over his head was tapping his ring on the window. He showed his teeth and crooked his finger at me to get out of the car and instantly I felt the volts getting ready to burst and sizzle in my head and I began to scream.

The rain that fell that day is now forty-one years old but whenever it rains it's like part of that rain is still falling, it is. "The tears of God," Raykene sometimes calls the rain. Raykene is my favorite daystaff here at Payton. I have several daystaff but she is my Main which means she's the person I spend the most time with. Her skin is brown and her hair has a live-fibered feeling and she's very religious.

"You're doing the Lord's work," she always says, when she sees me doing my chores. Or, "It's the Lord's work," she says, when she reads something bad that happened to people in the paper. Sometimes she takes me to her megachurch where the Lord is so condensed that people faint and shout out loud at how much of the Lord there is. The preacher has a rich yelling voice and when the chorus sings it's like the bang of thunder that comes mixed with lightning.

Until recently, I was very happy at Payton, where I live with the other "villagers" in cottages with painted numbers on them arranged in a circle on a big plate of grass. Staff here called me the "old fox" and the "village elder." They clapped me approvingly on the shoulder and said, "Todd, you're the Rock of Ages." But then several things happened, and I stopped being happy. Then a few more weeks went by and I got even less happy. The unhappiness kept getting larger and larger till finally I was so unhappy that it was raining all the time in my head even in sunshine and wherever I looked all I saw were gray dots of water falling sideways across the view.

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Excerpted from Best Boy: A Novel by Eli Gottlieb. Copyright © 2015 by Eli Gottlieb. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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