Excerpt from New People by Danzy Senna, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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New People

by Danzy Senna

New People by Danzy Senna X
New People by Danzy Senna
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Excerpt
New People

She wasn't expecting to see him here tonight. Now, her face feels warm as she watches him step onto the stage and pick up the microphone. He stands like a teenager, slouched and ambivalent, hands shoved in his pockets, as if he's been forced to appear, forced to read his poetry before strangers. Maria first met him several months ago—and now, it seems, he is everywhere she looks. Or maybe she is everywhere he looks. Just last week she ran into him at a restaurant. He was there—sitting at the bar alone, drinking a beer—when she arrived to meet a friend. She stopped to say hello and he said a polite hello back, frowning as if he couldn't remember her name. Afterward, she sat only half listening to her friend rattle on about work, conscious with every breath of his form at the bar.

In the audience, listening to his voice, she realizes that she has been waiting to see him again. She feels uneasy with this awareness. She keeps her eyes fixed on his sneakers, which are dirty and giant. It is too much to look at his face.

Her fiancé, Khalil, sits beside her. Khalil's sister, Lisa, sits on the other side. They flank her. The audience around her, who moments before were laughing and hooting at the last performer, a girl who swung her long hair from side to side, seems to have gone unusually still, alert, as if at the precipice of some new awareness.

Khalil places a hand on Maria's knee and leans in and whispers, This guy's pretty good. She nods, glancing away from the stage toward the back of the club. It is raining outside. Maria thinks she should tell Khalil she feels sick and wants to go home—because in a way, this is true. But she doesn't. She stays seated, her face turned away toward the exit, and when it's all over, she follows Khalil and Lisa to the front of the club; they both want to say hello. She hangs back, listening to them speak. Lisa is saying something about a line she likes from his penultimate poem. That's the word she uses. Penultimate. Khalil is smiling, nodding in agreement.

The poet looks embarrassed by their praise. He keeps scratching his arm as he stares at the floor.

Maria hovers in the background, her fists clenched in her pockets.

The poet's eyes discover her.

You good? he says.

She nods, chokes out the lie: I'm good.

* * *

In her dream that night she is sitting on a blue velvet sofa, reading the pages of a friend's novel. She realizes in the dream that it is a perfect story she is reading. She is miserable that she did not write it. She knows she will never write a book like this. She will never write a work of fiction. She is a scholar; she only works with given materials.

She wakes up hot with envy. She has to remind herself that the novel doesn't exist outside of her dream, nor does the friend who wrote it.

Khalil is asleep beside her. There is a ticking sound coming from the kitchen. Maria closes her eyes, thinking of the poet. She remembers his face and the way he stood halfturned away from the audience. She remembers, with photographic clarity, the slope of his forehead and the small scar cutting through his eyebrow. Warmth and a kind of preemptive grief move through her body.

Khalil looks politely bored in his sleep, as if he's listening to somebody recounting a dream.

Maria is twenty-seven. She is engaged to marry Khalil, who loves her unequivocally. She is the one he has been waiting for his whole life. Maria loves Khalil. She never doubts this. He is the one she needs, the one who can repair her. They met in college on the other coast years ago, so they have, in a sense, grown up together. It is sometimes hard for Maria to see where one of them ends and the other begins. Their favorite song is Al Green's "Simply Beautiful." Their favorite movies are Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Chameleon Street, and Nothin' But a Man. Their favorite novel is Giovanni's Room. Khalil says they make each other complete. Their skin is the same shade of beige. Together, they look like the end of a story.

From New People. Published by Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA (LLC). Copyright © Danzy Senna, 2017.

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