Excerpt from The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Feral Detective

A Novel

by Jonathan Lethem

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem X
The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 336 pages
    Aug 2019, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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Print Excerpt

A girl, maybe thirteen or fourteen, I guessed. Her black hair was lank to her shoulders and looked as though it had been cut with the nail clippers no one had taught her to use on her raw-bitten fingers. She wrapped her elbows around her knees and watched me sidelong, not turning her almond-shaped head completely in my direction. She wore a tubelike black sundress over the leggings. Her bare arms were deeply tanned, and lightly furred with sun-bleached hair contrasting with the black sprigs at both armpits.

"It's okay," said Heist. He talked past me, to the girl. "She isn't looking for you."

She sat that way, quivering slightly, pursing one corner of her mouth.

"She thought you might be an emissary of the courts," he explained. It was nice he felt compelled to account to me at all, I suppose. I'd half risen from my chair. I sat again.

"Go ahead," said Heist.

The girl scurried up and into the mound of blankets on the low bed. She took the same position beneath them, huddled around her knees, her eyes poking from the top as if from an anthill.

Was it a message to me, that I should remember some lost don't wish to be found?

Heist lowered Jean gently back into her drawer and slid it shut. "This is Phoebe," he said to the girl. "She's looking for someone else, someone who ran away. We're going to help her." We? I might cry now. Did the girl ride on Jean when they searched together? No, she'd need a bigger animal, a wolf or goat. Or maybe the detective carried her under his free arm, the

one that wasn't holding the opossum.

"I'll find you at the Doubletree," he said to me now. It wasn't curt or rude, but I was being dismissed. I felt as though a trap door had opened under the chair.

"You sure I can't go along?" I heard myself nearly pleading. "I'd like to get the lay of the land, actually. I'm only here for one reason."

"Maybe after I make a few inquiries."

"Great," I said, then added lamely, "I'll work things from my end in the meantime." The words we exchanged seemed credible enough, if they'd been spoken in a credible atmosphere. Here, they seemed a tinny rehearsal, something having no bearing on what was actually being enacted in this room, a thing I couldn't have named and in which I was an unwilling player.

Could I ask him for the passport back? I didn't. The girl watched me as I went for the door, opened it to the blinding glare. For the first time, I noticed the water dish and food bowl in the corner—Jean's meal station. Or maybe the furry girl's. It occurred to me that Heist had introduced the opossum by name, but not the girl. I felt demented with despair, having come here. My radical gesture, to quit my privileged cage and go intrepid. Take the role of rescuer. Yet it was as though I'd been willingly reduced, exposed as nothing more than that opossum, or the girl in the blanket. My mission had defaulted to another surrender to male authority, the same wheezy script that ran the whole world I'd fled. All the lost girls, waiting for their detectives. Me, I'd be waiting at the Doubletree, to contemplate all the comforts I'd forsaken. And yet I felt also the utter inadequacy of the authority to whom I'd defaulted, he with not even a gun or a bottle of Scotch or a broken heart in his drawer, only a marsupial with a urinary tract infection. I was confused, to say the least. I got out of there.

Excerpt from The Feral Detectiveby Jonathan Lethem. Copyright 2018 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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