Excerpt from Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Barn 8

by Deb Olin Unferth

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth X
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 256 pages

    Mar 2020, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Print Excerpt

Janey was fifteen years and five days old and she had found out five days earlier just where the hell her father had been all these years. Her mother had always plowed her with the old sperm bank story, and Janey had believed her, though really how could she have believed such horseshit? By the time Janey was old enough to count she should have figured out she hadn't come out of a vial. What woman gives up and goes baster at eighteen, the pinnacle year of love and abortion? But Janey had believed her and longed for a father all her life. Then on Janey's fifteenth birthday her mother had sat her down and said that Janey was old enough to know: her father was alive and well and back where Janey's mother had left him when she'd run away pregnant to New York to give her coming daughter a better life, left him back in southern Iowa, a gray land of truck stops, crowded prisons, and monocrop farming. Janey was lucky to have never laid eyes on the place. Her mother explained that Janey must not now develop debilitating parental issues that could bleed into the rest of her life. She was old enough to make a mature decision about meeting him and seeing the town of her conception. Her mother would take Janey herself when school let out.

In other words her mother (the bitch! ) had lied.

School wasn't out for a month and no one should keep a daughter that long from her father. Let alone fifteen years and counting.

Janey walked through the town, down a Main Street of imitation antique lampposts and shut shops, though it was only seven o'clock. She shouldered her duffel like a bandit, followed her phone's glowing map. She found the address beyond the houses and platters of lawn, on one of two identical apartment buildings made of sad tan bricks. No buzzer, she just walked up the stairs to 209 and knocked. "Heyo," she called. She put on her clowning-around voice to cover the quaver. "Anybody got a beer in there?" She was not the sort of person to make stupid remarks but there you go. She did a quick thing with her hair.

The old Janey (the ribbon of road connecting them like a string and two cans, or like a game of telephone, the messages between them garbling, on the verge of losing meaning, dissolving) would be back in Brooklyn right now saying it wasn't her turn to do the dishes. The old Janey's mother would be at the computer saying it was always her turn to do the dishes. The new Janey's mother was calling. Janey could hear the vibration in her bag. She saw the doorknob to 209 turning. The lock clacked, and in the second between that clack and when her father was revealed, the new Janey felt a surge of hope and longing, so familiar and compressed, as if from the innermost parts of her being, an old-Janey ache.

She was startled to see a frightened grimace. She quickly corrected it into a smile.

"Surprise!" she said, lifted her arms. "It's a girl."

He was Fred Flintstone white, had the arms and stance of a bully.

She heard him (her father?) speak: "You're early."

She mock-pouted.

"Was I supposed to wait till I was thirty?"

The new Janey, grinning with the bravado of the old Janey (the old Janey, who'd had the courage to send the new Janey off, pack her bag while her mother was at work, wave goodbye from the apartment window), stepped into the apartment.

Janey sat at one end of a sofa. Her father sat at the other. She felt comically female, even in her tomboy garb, like an invasion of femininity bleeding into this dead-fast male apartment. They were having a conversation that went like this:

Him: [not meeting her eyes] I thought your bus got in at eight.

Her: It's fine. I like to walk.

Him: I was going to come get you.

Her: [nodding manically and looking around] It's cool. So this is where you live?

Him: It's a temporary situation, a stopgap.

Her: Yeah? Where are you going?

Excerpt from Barn 8. Copyright © 2020 by Deb Olin Unferth. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

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