Excerpt from Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Marilou Is Everywhere

A Novel

by Sarah Elaine Smith

Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith X
Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 288 pages
    Jul 2020, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Print Excerpt

Marilou Is Everywhere

I used to think my troubles got legs the summer Jude Vanderjohn disappeared, but now I see how they started much earlier.

Before that summer, the things that happened to me were air and water and just as see-thru. They were real but I didn't care for them much. I did not care for the real. It didn't seem so special to me, whatever communion I could take with the dust spangles, or the snakes that spun in an oiled way along the rotting tractor tires stacked up by the shed, or the stony light that fell in those hills and made the vines and mosses this vivid nightmare green. None of it had a purpose to me. Everything I saw seemed to have been emptied out and left there humming. I watched the cars. I read catalogs, which I collected and which my family called Cindy's magazines. My life was an empty place. From where I stood, it seared on with a blank and merciless light. All dust and no song. Rainbows in oil puddles. Bug bites hatched with a curved X from my fingernails. Donald Duck orange juice in the can. Red mottles on my brother Clinton's puffy hands, otherwise so white they were actually yellow, like hard cheese. The mole on my belly button. You get to know things this way, by looking at yourself. You know the world by the shape of what comes back when you yell.

I had only ever been myself, and found it lacking. Even when the sun was shining, when the world was up, when I was born. And some days, I was really, really born. Most of my day I spent carving little pits in time where I could hide out in a texture of light or an idea. And then, that summer, I made a space between myself and all that. I guess how I could say it is, I began to see the other world, and it was not real and yet I could pull it across the real at will, like a thin cotton curtain. When I stood just far enough outside of it, my life, suddenly the blaring light resolved itself into a huge movie screen blooming out of the dark, a woman's jaw jutting into the abandoning tilt of a kiss. The beginning of romance came from that distance. Black and white, the sparkling velvet dark and always someone else is there in the mind, in the cavern above my head. But a stranger. But it doesn't matter, really. The point is that at that moment in my life, I would kill or die, die or kill, to be anyone else.

I wasn't trying to become Jude. Not exactly. But I wanted to disappear, and she had left a space. When I stepped into that space, I vanished from my senses. It changed me into someone who didn't have my actual mind. The same way it changed Jude, when Virgil called her Marilou as they walked the halls of our high school arm in arm, shining like magazine people you'd never see. She became that other girl, and it lit her up, and that is what I wanted.

Now, I know how that sounds: teenage, teenage. I was, and it brought me to wickedness. Except in wickedness, I loved the world, too, in a way so fierce I assumed no one could imagine. And I love it still. It was, quite simply, how I survived.


Jude Vanderjohn was last seen in the parking lot across from Burchinal's General Store in Gans, just over the West Virginia border, where she had been camping in Coopers Rock State Forest with four other girls from the newly graduated West Greene High School senior class. The quickest way back went through Morgantown, but they had gone instead through Fayette County. When asked why they took the long way, Kayla apparently said that they wanted a prettier drive, they weren't anxious to come back so soon. Then, when Detective Torboli asked again, she admitted they had wanted to smoke a blunt in the car, and Jude had a strict personal law against blunt smoking on interstates. Which did turn out to be true, but it wasn't the real reason either.

Eventually Crystal admitted that they had been followed, and took the other route because they were trying to lose the boys who had been hanging around their campsite. The boys had seemed vaguely related. They all had a similar smudge of mustache and they spoke in a brisk mystery language. At first, Shawn, B.D., and Caleb had loitered in a helpful way, starting the fire and sharing from their thirty racks, showing off places around the margins of Cheat Lake where the fish were so gullible you'd think they wanted to die in your hands.

Excerpted from Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith. Copyright © 2019 by Sarah Elaine Smith. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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