Excerpt from The Killing Lessons by Saul Black, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Killing Lessons

by Saul Black

The Killing Lessons by Saul Black X
The Killing Lessons by Saul Black
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 400 pages

    Aug 2016, 432 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Print Excerpt

The memory of the two women had made him hard. Which was exactly what the guitar tutorial had been supposed to avoid. He didn't want to have to jerk off. The feeling he got afterwards depressed him. A heaviness and boredom in his hands and face that put him in a lousy mood and made him snap at Nell and his mom.

He forced himself back to "The Rain Song." The track had baffled him, until the Internet told him it wasn't played in standard tuning. Once he retuned (D-G-C-G-C-D), the whole thing had opened out to him. There were a couple of tricky bastard reaches between chords in the intro, but that was just practice. In another week, he'd have it nailed.

* * *

Nell Cooper wasn't on the porch. She was at the edge of the forest in deep snow, watching a mule deer not twenty feet away. An adult female. Those big black eyes and the long lashes that looked fake. Twenty feet was about as close as you could get. Nell had been feeding this one for a couple of weeks, tossing it saved apple cores and handfuls of nuts and raisins sneaked from her mom's baking cupboard. It knew her. She hadn't named it. She didn't talk to it. She preferred these quiet intense encounters. She took her gloves off and went into her pocket for a half-eaten apple. Snow light winked on the bracelet her mother had given her when she turned ten in May. A silver chain with a thin golden hare, running, in profile. It had been her great-grandmother's, then her grandmother's, then her mother's, now hers. Rowena's distant family on her maternal side had come out of Romania.

Ancestral lore said there had been a whiff of witchcraft, far back, and that the hare was a charm for safe travel. Nell had always loved it. One of her earliest memories was of turning it on her mother's wrist, sunlight glinting. The hare had a faraway life of its own, though its eye was nothing more than an almond-shaped hole in the gold. Nell wasn't expecting it, but on the evening of her birthday, long after the other gifts had been unwrapped, her mom came into her room and fastened it around her left wrist. You're old enough now, she'd said. I've had the chain shortened. Wear it on your left so it won't get in the way when you're drawing. And not for school, OK? I don't want you to lose it. Keep it for weekends and holidays. It had surprised Nell with a stab of love and sadness, her mother saying "you're old enough." It had made her mother seem old. And alone. It had, for both of them, brought Nell's father's absence back sharply. The moment had filled Nell with tenderness for her mother, who she realized with a terrible understanding had to do all the ordinary things-drive her and Josh to school, shop, cook dinner-with a sort of lonely bravery, because Nell's father was gone.

It made her sad now, to think of it. She resolved to be more help around the house. She would try her best to do things without being asked.

The doe took a few dainty steps, nosed the spot where Nell's apple core had landed-then lifted its head, suddenly alert, the too-big ears (they were called mule deer because of the ears) twitching with a whir like a bird's wing. Whatever the animal had heard, Nell hadn't. To her, the forest remained a big, soft, silent presence. (A neutral presence. Some things were on your side, some things were against you, some things were neither. The word isneutral, Josh had told her. And in any case, you're wrong: things are just things. They don't have feelings. They don't even know you exist. Josh had started coming out with this stuff lately, though Nell didn't for one minute believe he really meant it. Part of him was going away from her. Or rather he was forcing a part of himself to go away from her. Her mom had said: Just be patient with him, honey. It's a puberty thing. Another few years, you'll probably be worse than him.) The doe was tense, listening for something. Nell wondered if it was Old Mystery Guy from the cabin across the ravine.

Excerpted from The Killing Lessons by Saul Black. Copyright © 2015 by Saul Black. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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