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

He glanced up, then back at the TV.

She was inexplicably enraged. She grabbed his phone off the table, first as a gesture of invasion of privacy, then, when she realized she didn't know his password, as a threat. She ran over to the sink, turned on the water, and held his phone an inch from the stream. "Give that back," he roared. He jumped up and, in a rare fit of retaliation, went for her phone on the coffee table, dropped it to the floor, his foot raised above it. They paused, horrified. She dunked. He stomped.

He had no landline, so neither one had a phone anymore.

He turned off the TV that night and they slinked phoneless through the quiet rooms, more alone together than ever. The sound of cicadas came in through the panes under the long breath out of the air conditioner. Janey sat on the sofa, arms wrapped around her legs. He went into his bedroom and shut the door.

The next morning she was still waiting for him on the sofa when he came out. She followed him into the kitchen, taunting, "You can't believe I'm still here, can you? You have no idea how to run me off. Not as easy as running out, right?"

"I wish I knew how to run you off!" he said finally, his arms raised around his head in protection. "I've got a wild animal loose in my apartment. Why don't you just go home?"

She stopped. Through it all, he'd never asked her to leave. That one sentence left unuttered she'd thought proof of something, however thin, but here it was at last. Go. I never wanted you. "Guess what!" she screamed back. "You'll never run me off!" (Little did she know.) She slammed out the door.

She sprinted at first, then slowed. She wanted her mother so badly she could almost touch her. She could see her mother's retreating figure.

Her mother! Without a phone she hadn't heard her voice since yesterday. How Janey must have hurt her by leaving, by not returning her calls, by being the worst daughter one could have given birth and devoted one's life to. Her mother had been right to leave this town, Janey growing inside her, brave to set off across the country the opposite way Janey had come. She'd been a child, not much older than Janey then, and she'd left out of love, for Janey, while Janey had left out of rage, at her mother.

Janey ran to the Shop Stop and called her mother from the 20 last pay phone on the planet. (Of course it would be here in this crap town.) She got change for a few crinkled bills. (How had it come to this? She didn't even have a phone anymore? And she'd gone through all her savings?) Her mother didn't pick up and Janey left a voice mail. "Hey, it's me." She leveled her voice, steadied it, didn't want to sound too desperate, some sliver of pride still not sloughed off. "Call me as soon as you get this." She left the number of the pay phone.

She hung up and sat on a cement parking divider a few feet from the phone and waited in the summer sun. She'd seen all she wanted. She'd made her point a few times over. She was done. She wanted to go home. Her mother would buy her a plane ticket, leaving in a few hours, and Janey wouldn't even stop by the apartment for her bag. She'd go home without a stick that she'd come with but the clothes on her body. She'd walk, if she had to, to the airport, take off, fly over the land, and she'd never see that asshole, her father, again. She waited. The phone rang. It hadn't been twenty minutes. She lunged for it.

"Janey?" a woman who wasn't her mother said.

"Judy?" said Janey. Judy, her mother's friend, the neighbor.

"Judy, where's my mom?"

"Janey, thank God. We've been trying to reach you and your father all morning. We were about to call the police."

"Our phones broke."

"Both of them?"

"I ..."

"Janey, listen. There's been an accident. Where are you?"

"An accident?" said Janey.

Her mother had died instantly. No one in the other vehicle was hurt.

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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