Excerpt from The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The History of Living Forever

A Novel

by Jake Wolff

The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff X
The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 384 pages
    Sep 2020, 384 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Adrienne Pisch
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Print Excerpt

A Contradiction of Sandpipers

"Conrad!" he yelled. "It's time to go."

I'd come to Littlefield, Maine, at the beginning of middle school, after my mother died and my dad drove his car into a tanning salon. He'd blown a 0.12 and made the local news, and since then I'd lived with my aunt. When I first moved in, I had expected Emmett to resent me for a million reasons—here I was, occupying his house, sapping his parents' attention, barging into his grade despite being two years younger. But right away he'd seen the benefits. He asked me for feedback on his drawings and stories, and I helped him pass his tougher classes, which conveniently were my strongest: chemistry, bio—basically anything in a lab.

As I opened the door, he was already walking away. "Your dad is here," he said. "I'll be in the car."

I tried to hurry, but I also needed to look my best. Sammy and I had somehow gone the whole summer without discussing this day—the day we'd return to school, student and teacher, knowing what we'd done. "You're sexy," he once said to me, and it made my heart beat so fast that I had to sit on the edge of his bed while he laid a cold washcloth over my neck. Would he still feel that way when he saw me squeezed into one of those stupid writing desks with my three-subject notebook and my five-color pen? I studied my face in the mirror, disappointed to find only my usual self: handsome enough but goofy looking, like a sidekick. My tawny eyes were too small to be pretty, my Jewish curls always too long or too short. I dyed those curls blond for one week in middle school, and my civics teacher told me I looked like Art Garfunkel. Although I hated to admit it, I saw my father in the mirror, too. When I was little, my mother would say, "You have your dad's nose," and my father would grab his face, panicked. "Give it back!" he'd cry.

I found my dad in the kitchen working on a bowl of Froot Loops. He'd shaved his beard and looked so much like my grandfather he might as well as have been wearing a Halloween mask. His skin hung loose on his face.

"Why are you here?" I asked, searching the cabinets for a granola bar.

He didn't look up. "They do let us out, occasionally."

After his fall, he'd booked into a twelve-week alcohol rehab facility near Forest Lake. He needed to finish the program before he could make it onto the transplant list, but the doctors didn't believe he'd live that long. Even after the car crash, my father maintained that he did not, in fact, have a drinking problem. I wondered without asking whether he'd used my first day of school as an excuse to escape for the morning.

The cereal had stained his milk a radioactive shade of green. "I don't know how you eat that stuff," I said.

He stirred the milk. "You should see the color of my pee."

"Pass." I headed for the door.

He reached for my arm, and I saw the gauntness of his waxen limbs. He'd lost at least forty pounds from his heaviest, at least ten since his fall. He drowned in his denim shirt like a child playing dress-up. His wrists, delicate like bird bones, were visible past the fabric of his sleeves, and I could see his veins, blue and bloated, beneath the vitreous skin of his hands.

"I thought you'd have visited by now," he said.

I'd spent the summer with Sammy working on my science-fair project—an experiment on memory-impaired rats—or curled up in his bed, testing actions and reactions of a different sort. But even when I wasn't with Sammy, I was too busy thinking about him to do much else. Sometimes, as a dare to myself, I'd pretend that I would be the first to lose interest. Sorry, Sammy, but I can't be tied down. Sure, I loved him, but the summer was over. I was a senior, two years ahead of schedule, and soon I'd be applying to college. At this rate, by the time the year ended I'd be forty, with a job and a dog and a fixed-interest mortgage. By the time the year ended, Sammy would be too young for me. He'd be a good story, nothing more. "You won't believe what I did when I was sixteen," I'd tell my dog.

Excerpted from The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff. Copyright © 2019 by Jake Wolff. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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