Authors: Kem Nunn
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Literary
“A compelling little crucible of evil and nascent love, succeeding on the strength of its characters, the velocity of the plot, its location on
and the terrific surfing back story. . . . Nunn infuses the formula with enough energy, intelligence, and indignation to drive us to the last page in a single sitting. . . . The Miltonian arc of Nunn’s prose, the heroic metaphors, the vertiginous plunge of his sentences—long, dark, syntactical labyrinths—make
thrilling to read. Clearly, part of the pleasure of this book is watching Nunn construct the story, so that when you’re a little more than halfway through and the characters are nearly upon one another, he puts a careful distance between them, driving expectations and anxiety higher. Like an uncut diamond,
is all the more beautiful for its slight imperfections. . . . While Nunn obviously knows the landscape of lost dreams, his writing and storytelling stay well above the fray, so that in the end, when he creates moments so satisfying and wonderful, you’re left to hope that this book is being read out loud—by firelight or flashlight—somewhere on an open beach.”
Los Angeles Times
“If there is a literature of surfing,
is surely one of its classics.”
The Washington Post Book World
is darkly funny and deeply moving, horrifying and lyrical, profane and almost biblical.”
Fort Myers News-Press
is an uncommonly thoughtful thriller whose outrage over the environmental pillaging of the California coastline gives it a wicked undertow . . . a terrifically atmospheric chunk of prose, with any good writer’s panopticon gift for swooping in on a large event’s most visual traces.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Kem Nunn is an immensely talented writer whose baroque prose style [is] at times reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Kem Nunn is an accomplished storyteller and a first-rate writer. In
he has sounded depths that are all too real; his quietly lyrical, terrifying, and utterly absorbing novel is a classic examination of people clinging to one of the world’s most potent frontiers, the darkly promising, often treacherous intersection of Mexico, California, and the Pacific Ocean. Nunn knows the subcultures and strategies through which people there survive and he has wrought a harrowing and moving story of unforgettable characters living, literally, on the edges.”
“His characters may be in dire straits, but his readers are comfortable in the hands of an exciting novelist working with fascinating material.”
The Sunday Oregonian
“Nunn has a weird genius for villains. Like a great surfboard, form follows function in Kem Nunn’s book. As hell comes to the valley, the language follows.”
The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Nunn is a different sort of artist altogether.”
The Orange County Register
“Nunn lays down a crime-thriller plot and charges it with grisly violence, doomed love, an obsession with sin and redemption, and of course, the swell of the decade. . . . Nunn’s voice has become overtly literary; he’s clearly schooled himself in the more violent strains of American literature. . . . Add the SoCal surf lore and a satisfying dose of natural history and you’ve got a truly strange amalgam of a book, at once a heart-pounding gorefest and a disturbing look at the dark side of the California dream.”
“Nunn shares with Carl Hiaasen a deep moral outrage and a flair for creating, in surrealistic fashion, exaggeratedly malevolent villains amid a stewing, toxic landscape. . . . There’s no denying his talent, and it comes shining through in the novel’s best passages—the climactic pulse-pounding race through the dunes, the near-mystical surfing scenes.”
Thank you for downloading this Scribner eBook.
Join our mailing list and get updates on new releases, deals, bonus content and other great books from Scribner and Simon & Schuster.
or visit us online to sign up at
For Lisa Marks, with love
In the margins of the community, at the gates of the cities, there stretched great zones . . . soliciting with strange incantations a new incarnation of evil . . .
Madness and Civilization
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
appeared with the first light, struggling across the dunes, a figure from the Revelation. Fahey saw her from the beach. There was a pack of feral dogs loose in the valley and Fahey had been hunting them for the better part of three days, without success. To complicate matters, he’d attempted to work behind a little crystal meth and it had left him in a bad place. He supposed that buying in the parking lot of the Palm Avenue 7-Eleven from a kid with a head shaped like a peanut and a hoop through his nose had not been the best of ideas. He watched as the figure crested a dune then disappeared from sight, still too distant to be properly identified as a woman. From the beach she appeared as little more than a hole in the dawn, a spidery black cutout in the faint yellow light just now beginning to seep from the summit of Cerro Colorado on the Mexican side of the fence that cut the valley into halves, and Fahey took her for one more clueless pilgrim stumbling toward the
river that would most likely mark the end of the road. She might weep in bewilderment upon its banks or drown in its toxic waters. In either case there was little he could do, for he’d accepted as his charge the protection of certain migratory birds, most notably the western snowy plover and light-footed clapper rail, and within this jurisdiction the ubiquitous pilgrim was hardly a concern. Still, on the morning in question, Fahey found his obduracy mitigated by a kind of relief. It was, he believed, helpful to share the dawn with someone whose prospects were at least as fucked up as his own.
As if on cue, Fahey’s heart resumed hammering at an absurd rate. Earlier, at about that point when it was becoming clear the bargain-basement chemical intended to do him wrong, he’d considered seeking help. The thought, however, of actually presenting himself in the emergency room in San Ysidro, along with such theaters of humiliation as were bound to follow, was so appalling he’d abandoned the idea almost at once. One might, after all, have expected more from a man of Fahey’s age. But then one would have been disappointed.
Fahey put the pilgrim from his mind and knelt to examine the tracks. To his great disappointment, the prints were diamond-shaped and spaced to suggest the short, even gait of coyotes as opposed to dogs. The dogs’ tracks would be rounder and farther apart. There would also be more of them. There were four dogs in the pack Fahey was hunting. He guessed the impressions before him to have been made by no more than two animals. He rose unsteadily in the soft sand. He’d glimpsed the tracks in his headlights from the opposite bank, then driven around for a closer look, slow going in the old valley’s predawn Stygian gloom, his clutch beginning to smoke as the truck churned through the long beach in approach to the mouth of the river. He stared after the tracks as
they veered into the dunes before losing themselves in shadow. Fahey considered himself a competent tracker. That he had been chasing the same four dogs for the better part of a week did not speak positively for his state of mind or, by extension of that logic, portend well for the future.
He walked the short distance to his truck, a battered 1981 Toyota, nearly half as old as Fahey himself, of indiscernible color. The bed was a jumble of poorly maintained tools, a variety of traps, nets, and poles, remnants of a time when these sorts of outings had been what he’d done to earn a living. His preferred method of dealing with feral animals had always been to trap them and he’d hoped to catch one or more of the dogs in the same way. He had accordingly run two dozen cages and another half dozen leg holds. The leg hold traps were, strictly speaking, illegal in the state of California but Fahey was not anticipating complaints. The dogs were an unusually bad lot and Fahey could not remember any quite like them. Already they had mauled a border patrolman and wiped out a dozen of the least-tern nests. They had also killed an old female coyote that had managed to snare herself in one of the illegal traps.
Fahey took a bottle of water from the cooler near the tailgate in the bed of his truck. The drug had left his mouth dry as cotton. He uncapped the bottle and drank. At his back the lights of Imperial Beach still flickered above the grasses of the great saltwater estuary that formed the northwest corner of the valley. Before him, across a wide swath of land known as Border Field State Park, were the dark cliffs of the Mexican mesas, the lights of Las Playas de Tijuana, and the great rounded edge of the Tijuana bullring, which might, he thought, in the aqueous coastal airs, have passed for the mother ship of some extraterrestrial and conquering race, settled there to survey its holdings. East lay the bulk of the valley, still dark with shadow. To the west, however, a thundering Pacific had begun to catch fire in the early light as Fahey looked to the sea. He had
begun to think about the coyote he had trapped and was trying not to. He studied glassy swell lines beyond crackling shore break and churning lines of white water, sweeping south toward the fence and the beaches beyond. The animal had tried unsuccessfully to chew off its own foot in an effort to escape its fate. Seeking to drive the image from his mind, Fahey called forth the admonition of Mother Maybelle Carter, to keep on the sunny side of life. Unhappily, his gaze swung south, toward the mesas and their blood-soaked canyons.