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Excerpt from Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Disappearing Earth

by Julia Phillips
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  •  Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
  • May 14, 2019
  • Paperback:
  • Apr 2020
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Print Excerpt

October

"We forgot the tent," Max said, turning to Katya. The beam of her flashlight flattened his features. His face was a white mask of distress. The forest around them was black, because they'd left Petropavlovsk so late—his last-minute packing, his bad directions. His fault.

In the harsh light, he was nearly not beautiful anymore. Cheekbones erased, chin cleft illuminated, lips parted, he looked wide-eyed into the glare. Katya and Max had been together since August and as of September were officially in love. Yet the tent. Disgust rippled through her. "You're not serious," she said. She caught the tail of her repulsion before it passed; she had to hold on to it, a snake in the hand, otherwise she would forgive him too soon.

"It's not here."

Katya handed him the flashlight and started to dig through the trunk. Shadows lengthened and contracted against their things: sacks of food, sleeping bags, two foam mats. A folded tarp to line the tent floor. Loose towels for the hot springs, a couple folding chairs, rolled trash bags that unraveled as she shoved them. Katya should have packed the car herself, instead of watching his body flex in the rear-view mirror this evening. Pots clanked somewhere deep in the mess.

"Max!" she said. "How!"

"We can sleep outside," he said. "It's not that cold." She stared back at his outline above the circle of light. "We can sleep in the car," he said.

"Magnificent." We forgot, he said, we, as if they together kept one tent in one closet of one shared home. As if they jointly made these mishaps. As if she had not needed to leave the port early this afternoon, drive twenty minutes south through the city to shower and change at her own place, drive thirty-five minutes north to get to his apartment complex on time, then wait eighteen long minutes in his parking lot for him to come out.

He'd told her earlier in the week he would bring his tent. His car, a dinky Nissan, didn't have four-wheel drive, so they were taking hers, and he had loaded such a stack of stuff into the trunk—enough to merit a second run up to his apartment, a return trip with his arms full—that Katya told herself he had it handled. Instead of checking she tuned her car radio to local news of a shop robbery, an approaching cyclone, another call for those two little girls. She gripped her steering wheel. Once Max finally climbed into the passenger seat, she said, "That's everything?"

Nodding, he leaned to kiss her. "Let's get going. Take me away," he said then. She checked the time (forty-one minutes late) and shifted into reverse.

Now they were going to spend the night in her mini SUV. Dependable as the Suzuki was, bringing them these four hours north of the city over roads that turned from asphalt to gravel to dirt, it made terrible sleeping quarters. Two doors, two narrow rows of seats, no legroom. The gearshift would separate them from each other. Neither of them would have space to lie down.

Katya sighed and Max's shoulders bowed in response. She wanted to touch those shoulders. "It's okay," she said. Her disgust slithered off to wait for his next error. "It's all right, bear cub, it happens. Would you gather us some wood?"

Once the flashlight was off bobbing between trees, Katya moved her car over the flattened patch of weeds where a tent was meant to be staked. The mistake had been hers in not asking earlier ... next time they'd do better. Max was simply the sort of person, like so many others, whom she had to supervise.

Soil shifted under her tires. She didn't turn the headlights back on. Slowly, her eyes were adjusting to the dark. She had visited these woods as a child, and though she must be seeing two decades of growth, the birch trees in the starlight looked to her exactly as they had when she was a girl: aged and grand and magical. The world outside had steadily warped, become less predictable and more dangerous, while spots like this were protected. Here, there was no radio news, no city stresses, no schedule to disrupt. The tent had served as the last opportunity for disappointment. There was no reason left to get worked up. Katya had to remember that.

Excerpted from Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips. Copyright © 2019 by Julia Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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