Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. vii

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My Name Is Stephen Mann

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pp. 1-12

Aboard a troopship from Calais to New York, after the Great War, my grandfather Arthur said he’d made up his mind to get rich. “Got it stuck in my nut to get rich. Alaska.” In the lunar landscape of Mormon Utah, Arthur hailed his father, but Johann refused to stake a northern search for mere gold—earthly gold—though he offered Arthur, his youngest, a ...

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Quotidian

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pp. 13-16

1. You are an Egyptian merchant on holiday on the Nile. There is an explosion in the bow of your ship and the stored fuel ignites. In an attempt to save your life, you strip then leap into the water, but it is spring and the Nile is high and muddy, and the crocodiles hunt. ...

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Wonder Bread

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pp. 17-38

In the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts were sculpted slices of bread, a leather valise, still lifes of pickup trucks and semis, and a canvas which faked a four-by-eight-foot panel of construction-grade plywood hammered to the wall. Across the gallery was a seated naked woman. Red-Haired Woman, Green Velvet Chair refocused your attention from the artist’s ...

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The Art of Fiction

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pp. 39-41

1. Take in a museum series of a woman’s face: six photos. In each enlarged black-and-white, the woman’s face (a slip away from plainness) lures, broaches, transfixes, pricks. Beneath each view of the face, in this sequence, in the artist’s pencil cursive: Mother, Father, Sex, God, Death, Self. And to introduce the photos: ...

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Weather

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pp. 42-47

My father, who like his father before him had worked gold claims in Alaska, had lost his trust in machines in the cold. Stranded once, my father had forfeited parts of fingers and toes and sported a crater on his nose where the metal frame of his eyeglasses had welded to flesh and torn a hole when he’d pulled to remove them. ...

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Scaling Ice

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pp. 48-49

Mush yourself to the North or South Pole, either icecap. Chip from a glacier for your drink. (You have brought, certainly, a tumbler?) Add gin, room-temperature tonic. The air escaping the cleaving ice is unpolluted. Give pause and ear to the whisper—vaunted—of the ages: a gassy tale ten thousand years told. Inhale. You could ask a question now, but what? Is what you ...

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Would You Feel Better?

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pp. 50-53

Two weeks ago from Utah, Andrew, Suzanne’s husband, on the phone: You son of a bitch, I know about you. Don’t think I don’t. And, yesterday: her. Suzanne wanted this, her call, to be final. Let’s settle this on the phone. Suzanne said she wanted to put Andrew on the bedroom extension. Anything you have to say to me now he should hear. ...

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Bliss

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pp. 54-55

You rise to light, drumming rain. These dawns you run alone, trying new routes, and it’s bliss. You slow as you come upon a woman in her nightclothes. She faces away, standing in her yard, crying. You think at first for birds, for she holds birdseed in her hands, thrusting at the world like a statue or saint. But her sounds are unbirdy. Is it she cries ...

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Barrie Hooper’s Dead

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pp. 56-72

I sit in Poor Richard’s restaurant and used book store—Poor Richard’s Read & Feed—which has just reopened after months of repair. Someone tried to burn the place, setting three spaced, internal fires. Mrs. Hooper has returned letters I’d sent her daughter. But the mother has marked those private words with hers: notes to herself? ...

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Twenty Ways to Look at Fire

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pp. 73-77

fire, one of man’s essential tools, control of which helped start him on the path toward civilization. Peking man, living about 500,000 b.c., is the first confirmed fire user, though he was, no doubt, a fire tender, rather than fire maker—the first fires undoubtedly the effect of lightning. It took a half million years ...

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Fire Road

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pp. 78-97

The winter Alexandra was in her second year of high school and newly possessed of a driving permit, a heater hose in the old Datsun burst. Twenty years, and I’m stuck with that part of that day. Sky looks greasy, pressured for storm. Air like suet. 4 p.m. Cold. Alex had expected to drive to safeway, been headed for the ...

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Fathers

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pp. 98-99

His daughter, Alex, is named for a lead in a sixties movie in which the title role is a lying blonde—Alexandra—a kleptomaniac and adulterous woman. Late this birthday, Alex, tonight thirteen, wants facts: “Tell me again,” she calls from her bed. She has tried to contact her mother tonight, by phone. He, the father, snugs her in. “Kleptos are thieves. They steal.” Then: ...

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The Peacock Throne

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pp. 100-116

Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi’s father, Reza Khan, is an iron man. Reza Khan—King of Kings, Shadow of the Almighty, Light of the Aryans, God’s Vicar, Center of the Universe, and Commander in Chief—builds roads, railways, airports, factories, schools, banks. His army herds nomads to the cities, levels mosques, imprisons or murders priests (the mullahs), ...

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The End of Times

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pp. 117-118

A chum in high school: J, short for James, drove an Indian cycle he’d restored and christened Judas, blew sensible sax in the senior jazz band (the Falconaires); spoke in Pentecostal tongues. J wrote things in his school books like The Desolation of Abomination. Or: ...

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Barrie (cont.)

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pp. 119-133

Barrie selects a church, seats herself on the steps that rise to the pulpit, raises a French horn to her lips. Behind her the altar is draped, but bare. During Barrie’s long breaths, I hear shoes scrape on stone steps from the basement. An old priest peers in, sits beside me. The hand he raises in greeting has the look of stripped oak. He and ...

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mav•er•ick

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pp. 134-137

mav.er.ick n. An unbranded or orphaned range calf or colt, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it. “Mav.er.ick” is a reader service of The Montana Standard and will be published whenever volume warrants. ...

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Baby Teeth

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pp. 138-143

On public TV I catch a documentary about a documentary about war. The Israeli army has produced a film to motivate and teach, even induce debate among its troops regarding what’s to be encountered in war. Clear things: Death, Life, Victory, Defeat. And things less distinct: the greasy morality of battle, the issuing of orders, the murky and extended business ...

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Luck

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pp. 144-157

My large intestine burst. I made it to the hospital, where the emergency room diagnosis was kidney stones. But when a nurse administered a morphine injection which caused no effect, it raised some eyebrows. A second injection failing to provide relief, coupled with a plunging blood pressure and a rocketing white blood count, caused a panic that, despite the haze of ...

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Barrie (cont.)

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pp. 158-166

The first time I travel to D.C. after Barrie’s death, the city is annealed, so paralyzed by ice that I’m forced to a hotel in a Virginia suburb near Dulles Airport. The timing of the storm is such that the plane lands, and in the minutes it takes to retrieve my baggage, then hail a cab, a freezing rain has achieved a coating. From the cab, and through the rain, Dulles ...

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sab•o•tage

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pp. 167-174

A 1918 dictionary lists smashing machines, flooding mines, burning wheat, ravaging fruit and provisions, blowing reservoirs and aqueducts, wrecking track, etc., as acts of sabotage. In 1931, the Observer reported that two managers of a dairy were dubbed saboteurs and sentenced to five and two years’ imprisonment for permitting two hundred tons of butter ...

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Accident

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pp. 175-184

I’d started junior high before my father stood at full height to box me. Before that, he kneeled on folded ore bags, canvas sacking he’d brought home from the mines. He used the same two bags to stow the gloves. They were pillow gloves, maybe twenty-ouncers. My father could have tagged me at will, but what he did was ...

Endnotes

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pp. 185-186

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Epilogue

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pp. 187-190

In the East Wing, the first gallery Maryam and I come upon is space arranged for sculptor David Smith. Smith’s steel boxes attach to one another, parallel to the axis of a main support, or perpendicular to it, or set at an angle to it. In the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, on a winter night, with a princess, I see ...

Appendix

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pp. 191-195

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Epilogue (cont.)

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p. 196

My father’s people were Danes; my mother’s, Swedes; and Barrie’s eyes heron blue. “Our children would have been heron eyed.” Virgil has heard, but lets it go. The far-off oaks go deep. So much happens without our help. I have heard her clearly and close my eyes to look, but am forced to open. With my eyes shut tight I experience vertigo. ...