Debut novelist JM Tohline can’t wait to finally introduce readers to the girl who’s captured his heart for the last two years–and with just two days to go until The Great Lenore‘s June 16th release date, he won’t have to much longer. But for those who’d like to dip their toes into his mesmerizing world of East Coast wealth and whiskey a tad early, we’re happy to share this excerpt from Chapter 1. Whether you’re joining our narrator Richard from your own Nantucket villa or amusing yourself on your lunch hour, go on and whet your whistle for a story that, as one reviewer put it, “[m]ore often than [The Great] Gatsby, took my breath away, sneaked up behind me and coolly turned what I thought I knew about the story on its head.” Happy reading.
On Wednesday afternoon—now halfway through my third full day on Nantucket—I sat at the desk in the downstairs study and drank whiskey while I stared at my computer. Nothing came to me, no matter how long I waited.
The doorbell rang.
I continued to stare at my computer, as if something would somehow change.
The doorbell rang again.
I slammed my computer shut.
I took a gulp of my whiskey.
I banged the glass down onto the table.
The doorbell rang a third time.
I stood from my chair and stood still for a moment to make certain I had my balance and I made my way to the foyer with the gracious help of the walls. I pulled the door open. I peered out into the world.
Standing there on my own front porch and looking endlessly uncomfortable was the hulking brute from the next house over.
“Hey,” he said.
“I, uh . . . ” he looked to his right, at the house from which he’d just come. “I’m Chas. Maxwell’s brother.” He held out his
hand. I gripped it tight. Looked him in his eyes. “You mind if I come in?”
Allow me to interject an admission about myself—and I admit this, largely, because this might save me trouble in the future if you and I ever have the (cough) fortune of running into one another: I judge most people the moment I meet them. And most often, I don’t like what I see.
It’s a flaw of mine, I know.
On that day on Nantucket, I stood in the darkness of the foyer wearing jeans and a sweater and an old fedora I had picked up at a thrift store five years earlier, and I faced this handsome, overly-buff young man standing in the sun with a CEO’s haircut and slacks and a dress shirt, and he had asked me: ‘You mind if I come in?’
Inside my head, I said, “Yes, I do mind. Of course I mind! Look, I don’t really like you. I just met you, and I don’t really like
But out loud: “Oh, sure. Sure, come on in.”
I kept my hand on the wall again and tried to walk steady, and I led Chas to the living room and sat down in the salmon-colored chair by the window. I offered him a seat.
He didn’t take it.
He stood there with his hands in his pockets and his eyes wandering all over the room. “I just came over to see if you’d
like to join us tomorrow, for Thanksgiving. When—” He cleared his throat. “Sorry. Um . . . oh, yes—when Mamma found out you were over here by yourself, she couldn’t stand the thought.”
“Mmm, oh. Yeah?” My tongue felt thick inside my mouth.
“Yes,” he said, and his eyes continued to wander all over the room. “It’s important to her that you come.”
“Mmm . . . ”
Chas left, and I stood in the doorway and watched him. He strode all the way up the driveway of Banucci Manor and along the road until he reached the driveway of The Palace, then he descended upon its absurd luxuriousness from above, as if it
would have been too terribly mundane and common to have tramped across the grass.
I shook my head.
I returned to my desk and opened my computer and stared at my computer. I set my hands on the keyboard, then I sipped my drink and returned my hands to the keyboard and continued to watch the screen.
“Dammit,” I said. I closed the computer again.
I sat on the back patio and watched the ocean—which continued to do the same thing it had been doing for the last three days—and I continued to sip my whiskey and to let my mind wander.
My mind came around to some sort of opalescent memory. Boston—I could very nearly see it. Boston, the morning after Sandy and Maxwell and I drank too much and wandered hooligan-like around the city Popping Dates.
Sandy and Maxwell and I sat by the window of a sidewalk cafe´, playing around with plates full of food. I still felt drunk from the previous night’s escapades of excess, and Sandy and Maxwell talked.
“How’s your brother doing?” Sandy said. He was looking at no one, but Maxwell answered.
“My brother? He’s still a royal asshole, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“That’s what I figured,” Sandy said. He laughed. “What’s the deal with him, anyway?”
“What do I . . . I don’t know what I mean. Ha, I’m sort of stoned.”
“Yeah, brother—me too.”
Sandy laughed again.
Both guys looked at me and raised their eyebrows. Their faces asked if I was stoned also.
I shook my head.
They turned back to one another.
“Is your brother still dating that one girl?” Sandy asked.
He picked up his sandwich and set it back down.
“He—is he still dating her? He married her.”
“No—no, not . . . Lenore. I was at that wedding, remember? I don’t mean Lenore. I mean the girl he’s dating.”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
People walked past the window, on the sidewalk. I remember I watched the people. I ate my sandwich, and I listened to Sandy and Maxwell.
“You don’t know?” Sandy said.
“No. I try and stay out of all that. I try and just—you know—ignore.”
“I hear you. She’s damn good-looking. What’s her name?”
“The girl who Chas is dating.”
“Oh, her. Yeah, her name is Lily.”
“Lily, that’s right. Lily. She’s damn good-looking,” Sandy said.
“It’s Chas,” Maxwell said. He scratched his face. “Of course she’s good-looking.”
Sandy stared into his sandwich as though it held some sort of secret. When he looked back up he asked for a cigarette. Maxwell handed him one. “Yeah,” Sandy said. He lit the cigarette. “Ol’ Chas.” He blew out smoke. “What a royal asshole . . .”
I continued to sit outside on the back patio of Banucci Manor, thinking about this and eventually thinking about other things instead. I stood only periodically, only to stumble inside and refill my drink or relieve myself in the bathroom.
The sun set behind me, and the titanic house blocked the sun so that twilight swirled around me for a while and made the world look soft. The ocean looked pale. The ocean kept moving and making noise, and I sipped my drink and lulled down inside of everything and time slipped past me, warm and fluent.
Maxwell stalked across the grass that night and hailed me from too far away for me to hear what he said.
I looked up. I watched him walk toward me.
When he reached the back patio, he sat. He grabbed my whiskey and took a big gulp. He set the glass down and thanked me.
I said: “Yup.”
Maxwell said: “Yeah . . . ”
Both of us said nothing.
The sky was clear that night—clear and cold. An ocean sky. A New England sky. Maxwell and I continued to say nothing,
and finally he pulled out a joint, and we started to smoke it in silence.
“Good God,” Maxwell said finally, and he held the smoke in his lungs. “Where’s the dynamite, huh?”
My arm moved away from me, slooowly. I grabbed the joint from Maxwell and searched for my mouth.
“Damn,” Maxwell said.
I said nothing.
The joint disappeared from my fingers and floated. Smoke escaped my mouth. I took a sip of whiskey.
“What time . . . are . . . you coming over tomorrow anyway?”
I didn’t answer.
“Duuude,” Maxwell said.
I pinched the joint between my fingers, careful not to burn my skin.
“Hey,” Maxwell said. “Hey, heeey. Dude, hey. How much of a bitch is my brother, huh? Man, what a bitch. You know.” He pointed the joint at me. He finished it. Killed it beneath his foot. “I really don’t know how he got Lenore. Boy, that boggles my mind, brother. My mind.” Maxwell pointed at his mind.
I listened to the water.
Neither of us spoke. Neither of us needed to. We waited for absolutely nothing.
“Hey,” Maxwell said. I looked at him. “You wanna smoke another one?”
Maxwell and I either smoked another joint or we didn’t—I don’t remember—and then we moved inside. I sat in the salmon-colored chair by the window, and Maxwell laid across the couch that I’d offered to his brother earlier in the day.
Somewhere, a clock ticked. Somewhere, time disappeared. Both of us stared at separate spots on the wall and swam through the morass of our drug-addled brains, and we sat so close to one another, and we drifted through worlds that were so far apart.
I dozed off for a bit.
Maxwell woke me with this:
“What the hell was she thinking?”
I sat there slumped in the chair. I said nothing, but Maxwell said nothing also, so finally I just said, “Who knows.”
“My brother is such a prick,” he told the wall. “Such a prick. Like, I mean. He doesn’t even care about her. I’m not saying I care. I don’t. You know?”
“Of course not.”
“But I’m just saying.” He reached for his drink. “Say,” he said, “what’d he say to you this afternoon?”
“Nothing.” I closed my eyes and opened them again. It took effort. “He didn’t say much,” I said. “He just . . . stopped by,
really. Said he hates your rotten guts.”
Maxwell’s drink spurted out of his mouth in a spray of laughter. “He probably did, man—he probably did say that. I’m not kidding, ha!” Somewhere, a clock ticked. Somewhere, time disappeared, building a mountain beneath us like so many grains of sand. A mountain on which we all stand, which is always growing, always growing higher. A mountain down the side of which no one will ever descend. “He tell you to come over tomorrow?”
“He told me that your mom couldn’t staaand the thought of me being here all alone.”
Maxwell laughed again, and more alcohol was wasted. “Wait’ll you meet my mom, man. Hey, hey.” He leaned over the edge of the couch, and his fingers brushed the ground. He looked at me—or, at least, he tried to. “Wanna know what my mom’s gonna say, huh? The moment you meet her?”
“The moment you meet her—I’m not kidding, ’kay? I absolutely promise—the moment you meet her and say, whatever, say ‘Hi Mrs. Montana, nice to make your acquaintance,’ or whatever the hell it is that someone like you’ll say, she’ll shake your hand all jolly-like, and she’ll smile real big and go, ‘Oh, dear, I’m just thrilled to meet you. Call me Mamma, okay? That’s what they all call me, Mamma Montana.’ I swear to it, man. It’s the way it goes every damn time. The
corniest thing you ever saw.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad!” Maxwell tried to sit. He gave up after a couple seconds and his head lolled back down onto the
cushions. He fidgeted his fingers. “Doesn’t sound so bad, huh? Hmph. It’s all a big act, man. That’s all it is. I bet . . . man, I bet they even planned it, even. That’s what I think. Like, for business and all. Dad plays the stoic gentleman, and Mom plays the matronly . . . wife. The matronly mother, whatever.” His voice began to trail off, as if he thought about something else. “And it works, man. That’s the crazy damn thing—it absolutely works. For years it has. Anytime anyone comes home to the house, Dad’s all the strong big boss. Whatever. And she’s all ‘Mamma Montana.’ Hell,” he said. He looked at the floor. His words became thinner. “I’m surprised she didn’t go and put on about a hundred pounds to make herself look like Old Mother Hen. Some shit like that. I guess she couldn’t go that far, though. You
know. She also’s gotta look the part of The Rich Executive’s Wife. Or whatever.”
“It doesn’t sound so bad,” I said again.
“Believe me,” he said. “It is.”
He rolled back over. Buried his face in the couch.
If I had to guess, I would tell you this: Maxwell probably was no longer in that room with me at all. He probably had his eyes closed, and he was thinking about Lenore.
About the Author
JM Tohline grew up in a small town just north of Boston and lives in a quiet house on the edge of the Great Plains with his cat, The Old Man And The Sea. He is 26 years old and he loves literature more than he loves breathing. The Great Lenore is his first novel.