"Anybody who tells you he doesn't have mixed feelings about his mother is either stupid or a liar."
"Real life seldom makes me cry. The only thing that gets to me is
the occasional Kodak commercial."
"Sometimes I feel like Michelangelo, chiseling away at all the crap until nothing is left but the exquisite thing in the middle that no one else sees until it's uncovered for them."
Meet seventeen-year-old Noah York, the hilariously profane, searingly honest, completely engaging narrator of Bart Yates's astonishing debut novel. With a mouth like a truck driver and eyes that see through the lies of the world, Noah is heading into a life that's only getting more complicated by the day.
His dead father is fading into a snapshot memory. His mother, the famous psycho-poet, has relocated them from Chicago to a rural New England town that looks like an advertisement for small-town America-a bad advertisement. He can't seem to start a sentence without using the "f" word. And now, the very house he lives in is coming apart at the seams-literally-torn down bit by bit as he and his mother renovate the old Victorian. But deep within the walls lie secrets from a previous life-mason jars stuffed with bits of clothing, scraps of writing, old photographs-disturbing clues to the mysterious existence of a woman who disappeared decades before. While his mother grows more obsessed and unsettled by the discovery of these homemade reliquaries, Noah fights his own troubling obsession with the boy next door, the enigmatic J.D. It is J.D. who begins to quietly anchor Noah to his new life. J.D., who is hiding terrible, haunting pain behind an easy smile and a carefree attitude.
Part Portnoy, part Holden Caufield, never less than truthful, and always fully human, Noah York is a touching and unforgettable character. His story is one of hope and heartbreak, love and redemption, of holding on to old wounds when new skin is what's needed, and of the power of growing up whole once every secret has been set free.
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April 04, 2004
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Excerpt from Leave Myself Behind by Bart Yates
I've never wanted a different mother. I just want my mother to be different.
Get in line, right?
Anybody who tells you he doesn't have mixed feelings about his mother is either stupid or a liar. Granted, Virginia York is a special case. Living with Virginia is like living with a myth. She's only half-human; the rest is equal parts wolverine, hyena, goddess and rutting goat.
In other words, she's a poet.
But she smells great.
Know the way someone smells when they've been outside on a chilly fall day? That's how Mom smells all the time. Like rain, and wind, and leaf mold, and a faint hint of wood smoke. Hardly the way a woman is supposed to smell, but trust me: if the Glade Air Fresheners people could bottle her scent, you'd have her hanging in your car and your bathroom and your kitchen.
Sorry. I didn't mean to get all Oedipal on you.
Mom and I just moved into this old Victorian house in Oakland, New Hampshire. I grew up in Chicago, but Mom was offered a job at Cassidy College and we decided to get the hell out of Dodge. My dad Frank died last year. The coroner said it was a heart attack but what really happened is a poem got caught in his throat like a chicken bone and he choked to death.
I'm not making this shit up.
He was in his library, listening to Chopin's Nocturnes on the stereo and reading poetry for one of his classes. When Mom found him in his armchair there was a book splayed open upside down on his lap; he'd been reading Herman Melville by W.H. Auden. Dad hated Auden. He called him "an overrated, pretentious queer with a penchant for sentimental excess."
Mom loves Auden. So do I.
The night Dad died I was in my room, painting. Mom was in her study writing. I thought I heard some odd noises coming from the library but I didn't think much about it. Dad seemed himself at dinner. A little tired, maybe, but cheerful and relaxed. He gently teased Mom for picking the olives from her pizza; he laughed at me for wolfing three slices in the time it took him to eat one. When Mom went to tell him she was going to bed, his body was already growing cold. She came to get me. The two of us stood on opposite sides of his chair waiting for the paramedics. I think I was trembling, but neither of us cried. Real life seldom makes us cry. The only thing that gets to Mom and me is the occasional Kodak commercial.
I'm seventeen. My name is Noah. (Don't blame me; Dad had a thing for biblical names. It could have been worse, I suppose--Enoch, or Amalek, for instance.) I'm going to be a senior this September. That's still a month away. I want to get a job, but Mom won't let me until she and I get the house remodeled. She's probably right. The place is a mess. Plaster dust, nails, boards, spackle, paint cans, caulking guns, and a shitload of boxes. We'll be lucky to have it finished by the time school starts. I keep telling her she should hire somebody to do the harder stuff, but she gets pissed and tells me she's "not going to hire some goddamn carpenter and pay him my firstborn son (and that means you, mister, by the way) to do what any idiot with a hammer and the brains of a squirrel can do, so just suck it up and get back to work"
Like I said, Mom has some issues.
I don't really mind working on the house. It's dirty, sweaty work but fun in a sick puritanical kind of way. By the end of each day I'm filthy--my hair is clotted with dust, my clothes stick to me and when I clean my ears the Q-tip comes out black with crud. But I like doing something where you can see your progress. We've finished a lot of the downstairs and it's nearly livable. The hardest part is stripping the woodwork. Some moron painted over every square inch of wood in the house (except for the mahogany banisters), and most of it is oak and maple. Sometimes I feel like Michelangelo, chiseling away at all the crap until nothing is left but the exquisite thing in the middle that no one else sees until it's uncovered for them. Or was it da Vinci who said that was the way he worked? Whatever.
The house is great. When you walk in the front door it's like stepping into another century. There's an ancient chandelier hanging overhead as soon as you're inside, and even though it looks like it's been dipped in dirt it's still something to see, with hundreds of pieces of glass shaped like diamonds and rectangles. There's an old steam radiator next to the door that Moses himself probably in- stalled, and over that is a window facing west, made with some of that thick, leaded glass that has little waves in it. To the left of the entryway is the living room (with a fireplace big enough to roast a goat), to the right is the staircase leading upstairs, and straight ahead and down a short hall is a massive kitchen with a giant ceiling fan. There's a dining room on the other side of the kitchen, with windows facing east and south, and if Mom owned enough china to host a dinner party for twenty people she'd still have no problem storing all the dishes in the colossal wall cabinet in there. Upstairs are four bedrooms and a bathroom, and as if that isn't enough house for the two of us, we've also got a basement and a full-sized attic.
The best part of the house, though, is the wraparound porch. I love sitting out there at night in front of the house, watching the cars go by. (We live right on Main Street, but Main Street in Oakland is just a two-lane brick road.) There's a porch swing, but I prefer sitting on the steps. I like the solid feel of concrete under my ass.
You can separate people into types by what part of a house they like the most. Mom is a kitchen person. Kitchen people like late nights and early mornings, and they spend a lot of time at the sink, staring out the window at nothing while they wash the dishes. They like cooking for people and don't mind a friendly conversation about the weather, but if you ask them a serious question they hop up to take care of the boiling water on the stove or to get a loaf of bread out of the oven, and by the time they sit back down they've forgotten what you asked them. It's like they're always waiting for someone to come home, so they can't pay much attention to anybody already in the house with them because they're too busy listening for footsteps on the front walk.
I'm a porch person. Porch people also love late nights and early mornings, but we're more likely to answer your questions than a kitchen person is, and we don't mind if someone wants to sit on the steps with us as long as he never mentions the weather. We sit with our chins in our hands and our elbows on our knees until we get uncomfortable, then we lay back and put our fingers behind our heads and let the breeze blow over us, tickling the hairs on our legs. I suppose we're also waiting for someone to show up, but we want to know who it is before he gets as far as the door.