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Excerpt from The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Floating World

by C. Morgan Babst

The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst X
The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2017, 384 pages
    Oct 2018, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

She saw how one might think neurosis could be catching. They used to joke about it in the office — I think you've caught Verlander's kleptomania, Alice— but emotional contagion was a real thing, at least according to Hatfield. Since moving alone with Cora into the Dobies' house, Tess had had to fight not only against the ubiquitous grief but against the urge to sink into the mattress and disappear, as Cora was trying so desperately to do. Tess had to remind herself that Cora had experienced a direct trauma — had seen the storm with her own eyes, had been out in the flood in a pirogue, and to top it off had had the tremendous bad luck to rescue Mrs. Randsell, only to watch her die of a stroke just one week after they'd finally made it to Houston. Still, when Tess tried to be happy that Del was coming today — that in a few hours her healthy daughter would be here with her feet up on the Dobies' coffee table, helping her drink a bottle of chardonnay — she only felt exhausted.

For now, though, she and Cora were going down the stairs. They took one at a time, Cora staring hard at her toes. Her feet were dirty again, God knew why. Again, her dinner tray had not been touched. Again, she smelled oddly of river mud. But they reached the bottom of the stairs without incident —Tess told herself that this was progress.

When she tugged her daughter's nightgown free so that it fell over her legs in a muslin cloud, however, Cora stopped short in the middle of the foyer and, as Tess had feared, refused to budge. But yesterday, they'd gotten as far as the front porch; today they would make it to the hedge."Cora, come on now," Tess said, her hand calm in her daughter's hand. "Your sister's coming today. We need to make things pretty for her."

Cora didn't move.

"We can't let Del see how we've been letting ourselves go, can we?" she asked, offering Cora a chance to agree. "Won't it be nice to just work a little while in the fresh air?"

"Fresh," Cora said, her face full of stubborn sleep, like the face of an awakened child. She shook her head slowly. "No."

Tess could admit that she would have liked to stay in bed. The world out-side was hot and sour, and it was nice to take refuge in the air-conditioning, among the old mahogany furniture she and Joe had rescued from their house on Esplanade. The curtained rooms were quiet, and Laura's ugly high-pile carpets were so soft beneath your feet. But you couldn't just sleep. Already, Tess had cleaned the Dobies' kitchen cabinets with Murphy's Oil, washed the mustiness out of all the sheets, polished the Marylebone silver that had traveled with her to Houston and back again. You couldn't sleep. She had been telling Cora this since Houston, even as she handed over the Ambien. You couldn't just sleep until it was over, even if you were drained beyond your last drop, reamed out like a lemon down to the pith. You couldn't just sleep, even if that was the only thing that felt good. Even if, alone on the Dobies' nice pillow-topped mattress, Joe not in it, Tess slept like a baby. Every morning now, she woke up clutching her pillow, sprawled out and drooling. But she got herself out of bed.

"Come on now — " She reached out her two hands, remained upright, cheerful. Project the affect you would like to see echoed in the patient. "It's like cold storage in here."

Tess turned and opened the front door, let a rectangle of yellow sun swoon across the bargeboards, but Cora backed away.

"Cora," Tess said, in the same calm, conspiring voice.

Cora's eyes, ringed in dark circles like the city's flooded houses, were blank.

"Cora," she said again, more forcefully now.

But Cora just stared straight ahead as though she knew no one by that name.

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Excerpted from The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst. Copyright © 2017 by C. Morgan Babst. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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