Excerpt from Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Back Roads

by Tawni O'Dell

Back Roads
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2000, 338 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2001, 416 pages

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Another time we promised him a box of Little Debbie Star Crunches if he would let us tie up his feet and hands and lay him on the railroad tracks but they were freight tracks -- the same ones that run by the old mine -- and we all knew a train hadn't been down them since before we were born. Donny got bored waiting to die and started wriggling toward home on his belly.

Our most ingenious plan was probably the time we put a pack of Dolly Madison Zingers beneath the open garage door, and we hid out with the garage door opener and clicked it on when Donny sat down to eat. He didn't notice or didn't care about the heavy door grinding down toward his skull. We watched in amazement, unable to believe we were finally going to succeed, but I lost my nerve and ran and yanked him to safety. I saved him. I can't seem to make the police understand what this says about my character.

"That's the closest I ever came to murder," I explain, "up until my dad..."

The sheriff interrupts me. He doesn't want me to go into that again. He knows all about my mom and dad. Everybody does. It was in the papers and all over TV. He was the one who was there, he reminds me. Not me. I wasn't even home. He was the one who walked in and found my mom with a bucket of red sudsy water calmly scrubbing the stains off her kitchen wallpaper while her husband lay a foot away stuck to the tile in a pool of tarry blood staring right at her with hunting trophy eyes. He was the one who found my baby sister huddled in one of the doghouses with vomit all over her because she had cried so hard she made herself throw up; and Jody never even liked Dad. He was the one who watched Dad get zipped into a body bag. Not me. I never got to see him again. It was a closed casket funeral. I'm not sure why. Mom shot him in the back.

It's been almost two years now, the sheriff reminds me. No one cares anymore. It's not RELEVANT.

"Define relevant," I say.

The deputy who keeps hitting me grabs me by the front of my dad's camouflage hunting jacket and pulls me out of my chair. He has big sweat stains under his armpits. Eighty-five today. Hot for the first week of June.

"Tell us about the woman," he shouts at me.

I don't know why they won't say her name. I guess they're waiting for me to say it. For me to admit I knew her. Well, of course, I did. They know I did.

He drops me back into my chair, and TRIED AS AN ADULT appears in front of my eyes bright and buzzing like neon. I don't know why I can't talk about her. Each time I open my mouth something about Skip comes out, and he's not even my friend anymore.

I always knew Skip would leave. His constant scheming never seemed a part of these quiet, wounded hills the way Donny's blind love of snack cakes did. Donny will be here forever. I see him every morning on my way to work at the Shop Rite waiting on the side of the road for the school bus like a stump.

"Skip's away at college now," I say.

I'm still staring at the words so I don't see the fist coming. I feel the warmth of blood gush down my chin before I feel the pain. Bright red droplets spatter onto the front of Dad's coat where her blood has already dried into a brown crust. They keep trying to make me take off the coat. People are always trying to make me.

I hear the sheriff say, "Jesus Christ, Bill, did you have to do that?"

I think the sheriff's up for reelection next year. I guess I'll be old enough to vote then if I want. VOTE AS AN ADULT. I think I would probably vote against him though. It's not that I dislike the guy, and I don't know anything about his stands on law enforcement issues so I can't say I disagree with him. My vote would be based solely on smell.

I touch my smashed nose and decide to tell them the TRUTH. Who's to blame. Who's at fault. Who should be locked up. I have nothing to be afraid of anymore. What will I be giving up by losing my freedom? What will the world be giving up by losing me?

Reprinted from Back Roads by Tawni O'Dell by permission of Viking Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Tawni O'Dell. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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