It’s just us now, isn’t it?

James Cowie - Two Schoolgirls, 1934-35

"I was absolutely astounded when I came across this portrait in a book. I’d been working on Tell the Wolves for over a year and my fictional portrait was just that, something that lived in my mind and on the page. To find that something so similar to my own imaginings actually existed felt strange and wonderful. 
The looks on the girls’ faces are so perfect and Cowie’s painting even has a metaphorical ideal male wedged between the two girls." Carol Rifka Brunt

You could try to believe what you wanted, but it never worked. Your brain and your heart decided what you were going to believe and that was that. Whether you liked it or not. (p. 9*)

“Greta,” I said, “you know, it won’t be much longer. With Finn, I mean.”
I needed to make sure she understood the way I understood. My mother said it was like a cassette tape you could never rewind. But it was hard to remember you couldn’t rewind it while you were listening to it. And so you’d forget and fall into the music and listen and then, without you even knowing it, the tape would suddenly end.
(p. 19*)

My parents specialize in doing the books for restaurants. That’s why the Elbus family gets free meals in places all over Westchester. We get a table even when there’s a line to get in. I guess that should make me feel like someone famous, but actually it has the opposite effect. It’s obvious that we’re regular people, so it just looks like we’re jerks who are cutting in front of everyone else. Even Greta thinks it’s embarrassing. And my father. It’s only my mother who likes that little bit of celebrity once in a while. (p. 79*)

I sat there watching the Japanese chef with his high white hat frying our dinner and wondered what would happen to me without Finn. Would I stay stupid for the rest of my life? Who would tell me the truth, the real story that was under what everybody else could see? How do you become someone who knows those things? How do you become someone with X-ray vision? How do you become Finn?
(p. 83*)

Finn seemed to be in such a good mood that day. It reminded me of the way you feel right after you finish one of those huge jigsaw puzzles, the kind that has thousands of tiny pieces that all look almost the same. That’s the kind of happy he seemed that day.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll meet you out there in a sec.”
I stayed with the statue for another minute, looking mostly at the headless Jesus and wondering if there was somebody in the world who had his head. Wondering if Jesus and Mary even wanted to be art. I’ll bet they didn’t. Being art seemed like it might be like having a disease. Suddenly you became some kind of specimen to be discussed, analyzed, speculated on. I didn’t need people staring at me, trying to figure out what I was thinking.
Look at the bigger girl, the one with the braids. Look how obvious it is that she’s in love with the artist. How sad. How pathetic. I didn’t need that at all. (p. 112*)

A portrait is a picture where somebody gets to choose what you look like. How they want to see you. A camera catches whichever you happens to be there when it clicks. (pp. 119-120*)

I closed the door and walked toward the place where the penny had landed. I knew you couldn’t make luck that way, but still I kind of hoped it was heads. I started to run to the spot, but even from a few feet away I could already see it was tails. I bent and picked up the penny anyway. Then I turned to Toby and gave him a smile and the thumbs-up. He didn’t need to know. (p. 123*)

One minute Adam Bell was asking a question about a meteoroid he found in his backyard, and the next Mr. Zerbiak was saying that he was “going a little off topic here, but . . .” and of course everyone was suddenly all interested. If teachers pretended that everything they said was “off topic,” we’d have a whole school full of straight-A students. That’s what I’d do if I ever became a teacher, which I’d seriously consider if the falconry didn’t work out. (p. 140*)

But the sadness stayed with me. Not only sadness because I wasn’t part of Toby and Finn’s world but also because there were things about Finn that weren’t Finn at all. Now my memory of Finn making the butterfly at the restaurant was all wrong. What if everything I loved about Finn had really come from Toby? Maybe that’s why I felt like I’d known Toby for years and years. Maybe all along Toby had been shining right through Finn. (p. 149*)

“I have lots of English friends, June.” He paused. “You know, one of my best friends is English.” He looked at me, like he was hoping I was going to ask him about this friend. And I almost did. That’s the one moment I can think of when I could have found out about Toby. In all of the eight years, that’s the only moment like that. I would have asked and maybe Finn would have spilled everything. But that day was like every other. I didn’t want to think about Finn having other best friends. I wanted to imagine that he was like me. That all we had was each other. So I didn’t ask. I let the moment go. Instead, I rolled my eyes.
“The English aren’t evil
anymore. Of course they’re nice and harmless now.” (p. 151*)

In my lap was the small gift, wrapped in blue butterfly paper. I didn’t open it right away, because it was frightening to open something from a dead person. Especially a dead person you loved. Opening a present from a live person was scary enough. There was always the chance that the gift might be so wrong, so completely not the kind of thing you liked, that you’d realize they didn’t really know you at all. I knew it wouldn’t be like that with this present from Finn. What was scary about this was that I knew it would be perfect—completely, totally perfect. What if nobody ever knew me like that again? What if I went through my whole life getting mediocre gifts—bath sets and boxes of chocolate and bed socks—and never ever found someone who knew me the way Finn did? (p. 153*)

My plan was to ignore it. If I pretended not to have ever read it, then it wouldn’t matter. Who would ever know?
But of course it didn’t work. Once you know a thing you can’t ever unknow it, and the book sat there like a fire in my closet
. (p. 155*)

I was glad I hadn’t brought the book in. It was normal things Greta wanted me to confess to. Boyfriends and sex and crushes. Things we might have in common. All I had was a strange man in the city, and secret trips to Playland, and pleas for help from the dead. (p. 160*)

Toby sat there nodding. He had his hand resting on his knee and I saw how callused his fingers were. “But it was also filthy and dark and there were rats and plague . . .”
“I guess.” I looked down, thinking. Then I looked up at Toby and smiled. “So not so different from New York, then.”
Toby laughed. “Good point.” He nodded to himself again, like he was mulling something over. “Except . . . well, except that we have AIDS instead of the plague.”
It was the first time I’d heard Toby say that word.
AIDS. He glanced away from me when he said it.
“They’re not the same.”
“Well, not exactly, but—”
“Not at all. You couldn’t help it if the plague got you. It was nobody’s fault. It just happened. Nobody was to blame.” The words shot from my mouth before I had a chance to stop them.
(pp. 170-171*)

What’s the one superpower of June Elbus?”
I thought about myself from head to toe. It was like being forced to read the most boring part of the Sears catalog. Like leafing through the bathroom accessories pages. Boring brain. Boring face. No sex appeal. Clumsy hands.
(p. 177*)

I thought that if I was drowning in the ocean, Finn would be like a strong, polished wooden ship with sails that always caught the wind. And Toby? Well, Toby was more like a big yellow rubber raft that might pop at any moment. But maybe he’d still be there. That’s what I was starting to think. (p. 183*)

At first it hadn’t seemed right that some of the things I’d loved about Finn might have come from Toby, but I’d started to think that maybe there was something good about it. Maybe it would work the other way too. If I looked carefully enough, I might be able to catch glimpses of Finn shining right through Toby. (p. 195*)

“How long is not much longer?” (p. 198*)

“It’s just us now, isn’t it?” I said. But even as the words were coming out, I knew it wasn’t really true. Finn was always there. Finn would always be there.
And then I thought something terrible. I thought that if Finn were still alive, Toby and I wouldn’t be friends at all. If Finn hadn’t caught AIDS, I would never even have met Toby. That strange and awful thought swirled around in my buzzy head. Then something else occurred to me. What if it was AIDS that made Finn settle down? What if even before he knew he had it, AIDS was making him slower, pulling him back to his family, making him choose to be my godfather. It was possible that without AIDS I would never have gotten to know Finn or Toby. There would be a big hole filled with nothing in place of all those hours and days I’d spent with them.
(p. 227*)

Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size. You were a boy, and already it was certain you wouldn’t be a mother and it was likely you wouldn’t become a manicurist or a kindergarten teacher. Then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. (p. 245*)

There’s something about picking out clothes for someone else that made me want to choose the things I’d never seen before. Like maybe there was a chance to catch a glimpse of a whole other version of a person buried in the bottom of a dresser drawer. (p. 328*)

* sur ma liseuse
Carol Rifka Brunt - Tell the wolves I'm home (Dial Press, 2012)


  1. Je l'ai lu il y a quelques années à sa sortie .. je l'avais presque oublié, mais là tout me revient !

    1. J'espère au moins que ça te remémore de bons souvenirs de lecture.

    2. oui j'avais beaucoup aimé cette lecture !

  2. Au secours! Je ne comprends rien! Je sais, cependant, qu'il s'agit de "Dites aux loups que je suis chez moi"! Comme quoi, je ne suis pas tant dans le champs que ça! Je reste à l'affût de ton billet... en français!

    1. T'inquiètes : tu es déjà exaucée (cétipabossâaa).
      A quelques rares exceptions près, les extraits sont publiés simultanément avec la chronique ;-)


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