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 X
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 7, 2020, 272 pages

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When she opened the door, her keys chimed in the ignition. She pulled them out and the nighttime rushed in. Bats chirping, insects whirring. Dry leaves brushing against each other at the tops of the trees. Max, far in the woods, cracking branches for their fire. The steady waterfall noise of the hot springs.

Katya cleared her head with the sounds. Max's company left her overstimulated; back in the city, at his apartment, she sometimes excused herself to the bathroom just to sit on the closed toilet lid and cool down. Even having him give directions from the passenger seat overwhelmed. His clumsiness, his sincerity, the shocking symmetry of his flawless face lit her up.

"It's the honeymoon phase," her girlfriends told her. Oksana, who worked with Max at the volcanological institute, said, "He's an idiot. It'll pass." But Katya had been with other men, even lived with one for a while in her twenties, and never gone on this kind of honeymoon. Max activated a new sense in her. Just as the ability to hear lived in her ears, taste in her tongue, touch in her fingertips, a particular sensitivity to Max was now concentrated below her belly button. He reached for her and her guts twinged. Her sixth sense: craving.

He might be an idiot, but it wasn't passing.

Craving him distracted Katya from other things. Like the tent, she reminded herself, as she took her headlamp from the glove compartment. Strapping it on, she got to work—organizing the bags, unpacking their groceries, reclining the front seats as far as they would go.

She stood back to scan them in the thin light of her lamp. Not very far at all.

Max returned to a set-up camp. Peeled potatoes bumped in a pot filled with stream water. Katya had laid half a smoked salmon belly, alongside slices of radish, tomato, and white cheese, on a plastic bag on the hood of her car, so they could snack before dinner. Together, in the brisk air, they built the fire. "I fell out there," he confessed once they had the flames going. He turned to show her a smear of dirt down his back.

She pressed her fingers to his shirt, the heat of his skin underneath. Ripples of muscle. "You're not hurt, are you?"

"Mortally wounded."

She had to laugh at the length of the stain. "You're not much of an outdoorsman, cub."

"I am," he said. "Give me a break, Katyush, it's dark."

"I know," Katya said. Still. Over the fire, the potatoes were boiling. She took her hands away from him to stir the pot.

The firelight painted them both orange and black. Max's chin, his fine bones, the tip of his nose, the knob that ended his jaw. Too handsome. With one boot, Katya nudged a burning log into better position.

The only other weekend Katya and Max had spent away together was the one in August when they first met. Oksana had invited Katya as a plus-one on a work retreat to Nalychevo Park. Katya did not dare refuse; Oksana's terrible summer, spent going through her husband's phone as their marriage crumbled, had hit its low only days before when she managed to walk her dog past the abduction of those little girls. Oksana had spent hours with the police as she tried to describe a kidnapper she hardly remembered. "The only reason I noticed him at all," she told Katya on the drive up to the park that weekend, "was because his car looked so good. I thought, Where does he get that cleaned? My van looks like trash after one turn around the city, while his shone." Oksana checked her mirrors and shifted into the left lane to pass a truck. "I told the officers that when they find this guy, before they cuff him and beat him unconscious, they have to ask him for his best car-wash tips."

"My God," Katya had said. "Are you sure you want to do this right now?" Their route from the city to the Nalychevo cabin forced them to ford six shallow rivers; after they parked, they needed to walk the last half hour of their journey through marsh. Katya found Oksana's commitment to the trip disturbing. If Katya were in the driver's seat, she would have turned the van around.

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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