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

Him: [his face going into his phone] Hang on. We need to call your mother.

Her: We have a sofa kind of like this. So what do you do?

Him: Oh, I'm in ag.

Her: [having no idea what that is, resuming the nod] Cool.

[Silence. Nodding continues.]

Even his TV looked old-fashioned to her. She'd never had a TV. All her screens had been computers of various sizes and shapes. She felt like she'd slipped through time to find her father and he'd turned out to be from a Smithsonian diorama, so obsolete as to be almost futuristic. And worse, he looked like he was dying to get away, shut out whatever was happening in the vicinity. He'd had about as much audience as he could handle in a day. This wasn't going like it was supposed to.

Him: You said you wanted a beer?

Her: I'm fifteen.

Him: Right. I'll call your mother. [pressing button] It's ringing. [raising finger] Hey, she's here ... yeah ... yeah ... [glance up at Janey] Uh, I don't think so ... okay ... [holding phone out] She wants to talk to you.

The last thing Janey had said to her mother in her screaming tantrum after her mother delivered the news that she knew who her father was, and after Janey had demanded to know how her mother could have lied all these years, how she could have kept her away from the man who never even got the chance to be her father, how who on earth would do such a thing unless they were a horrible person, after all that, she screamed, "I'm never speaking to you again! " (little did she know), and the next morning she'd said into her phone, "How do I get to Iowa from here cheap?"

Now, sitting on her father's (?) sofa, she crossed her arms and looked defiant. She didn't want her mother to even hear her voice. Him: [returning the phone to his ear] Uh, I'll have her call you back.

He put down the phone. "Your mother says you need to eat." He rocked off the sofa and padded into the kitchen.

Not to mention, that's why her sperm donor was white—because her mother had had sex with him, not because she selected white on a form. Janey's grandfather had been from Mexico, and Janey and her mother shared his name. Flores. Why didn't you pick Latino? she'd always nagged. This really explained so much.

"You want a pop?" he called from the kitchen. "She always told me you'd come find me someday. If you'd waited a bit longer, I would have been better situated."

"No," she fluttered back, about to launch into a show of appreciation for ... for ... "No, this is nice. This is ..." She looked around for some household object to compliment. She slowed.

"Wait, what?" she said. "When?"

He was back in the room with a generic orange can. "When what?"

"When did she always tell you?"

"Tell me? Yesterday." Her head began to buzz. "No, when did she tell you I existed?" He looked confused. "She always told me you existed. Since you existed."

Janey felt a sudden sickening. It occurred to her for the first time: her mother hadn't precisely said he hadn't known. The buzz in her head grew louder. She couldn't breathe. She found she was needing her full mental capacity to keep from crying. She managed, "And you didn't want to come find me someday?"

He cleared his throat. "Well, I ..."

A unit of air somewhere in there clicked on.

That's when she saw it in a flash, the past, and a premonition of the future, the gravity of her error, her series of errors, her miscalculations, that: (1) He didn't want her here. (2) He'd been dreading all these years the day she'd come find him. (3) He was scared of her, his daughter, was scared of all things female. He was one of those, her father. (4) This apartment was way worse than her apartment, and this town was way worse than her city. (5) She wasn't going to know how to love, or like, or even how to know this stranger, (6) who was her father. (7) She was so hurt, angry, (8) (and yes, ashamed), (9) she wasn't going to know how to go home.

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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