The Borrower

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9780099538127: The Borrower

"Rarely is a first novel as smart and engaging and learned and funny and moving as The Borrower." —Richard Russo, author of Pulitzer Prize–winning Empire Falls

Lucy Hull, a children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favorite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. Ian needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly antigay classes. Desperate to save him from the Drakes, Lucy allows herself to be hijacked by Ian when she finds him camped out in the library after hours, and the odd pair embarks on a crazy road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

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About the Author:

Rebecca Makkai’s stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008, 2009, and 2010, and have appeared in Tin House, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, and on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Makkai teaches elementary school and lives north of Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

Story Hour

Every Friday at 4:30, they gathered cross-legged on the brown shag rug, picked at its crust of mud and glitter and Elmer’s glue, and leaned against the picture book shelves.

I had five regulars, and a couple of them would have come seven days a week if they could. Ian Drake came with chicken pox, and with a broken leg. He came even when he knew it had been canceled that week, and sat there reading aloud to himself. And then each week there were two or three extras whose parents happened to need a babysitter. They’d squirm through chapters 8 and 9 of a book they couldn’t follow, pulling strings from their socks and then flossing their teeth with them.

That fall, five years ago, we were halfway through Matilda. Ian came galloping up to me before reading time, our fourth week into the book.

“I told my mom we’re reading Little House in the Big Woods again. I don’t think she’d be a fan of Matilda too much. She didn’t  even like Fantastic Mr. Fox.” He forked his fingers through his hair. “Are we capisce?”

I nodded. “We don’t want your mom to worry.” We hadn’t gotten to the magic part yet, but Ian had read it before, secretly, crouched on the floor by the Roald Dahl shelf. He knew what was coming.

He skipped off down the biography aisle, then wandered back up through science, his head tilted sideways to read the spines.

Loraine came up beside me—Loraine Best, the head librarian, who thank God hadn’t heard our collusions—and watched the first few children gather on the rug. She came downstairs some Fridays just to smile and nod at the mothers as they dropped them off, as if she had some hand in Chapter Book Hour. As if her reading three minutes ofGreen Eggs and Ham wouldn’t make half the children cry and the others raise their hands to ask if she was a good witch or a bad witch.

Ian disappeared again, then walked up through American History, touching each book in the top right-hand row. “He practically lives here, doesn’t he?” Loraine whispered. “That little homosexual boy.”

“He’s ten years old!” I said. “I doubt he’s anything-sexual.”

“Well I’m sorry, Lucy, I have nothing against him, but that child is a gay.” She said it with the same tone of pleasure at her own imagined magnanimity that my father used every time he referred to “Ophelia, my black secretary.”

Over in fiction now, Ian stood on tiptoes to pull a large green book from a high shelf. A mystery: the blue sticker-man with his magnifying glass peered from the spine. Ian sat on the floor and started in on the first page as if it indeed contained all the mysteries of the world, as if everything in the universe could be solved by page 132. His glasses caught the fluorescent light, two yellow disks  over the pages. He didn’t move until the other children began gathering and Loraine bent down beside him and said, “Everyone’s waiting for you.” We weren’t—Tony didn’t even have his coat off yet—but Ian scooted on his rear all the way across the floor to join us, without ever looking up from the book.

We had five listeners that day, all regulars.

“All right,” I said, hoping Loraine would make her exit now, “where did we leave off?”

“Miss Trunchbull yelled because they didn’t know their math,” said Melissa.

“And she yelled at Miss Honey.”

“And they were learning their threes.”

Ian sighed loudly and held up his hand.

“Yes?”

“That was all two weeks ago. BUT, when last we left our heroine, she was learning of Miss Trunchbull’s history as a hammer thrower, and also we were learning of the many torture devices she kept in her office.”

“Thank you, Ian.” He grinned at me. Loraine rolled her eyes—whether at me or Ian, I wasn’t sure—and tottered back to the stairs. I almost always had to cut Ian off, but he didn’t mind. Short of burning down the library there was nothing I could do that would push him away. I was keeping Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing behind the desk to sneak to him whenever he came without his babysitter. Almost every afternoon for the past week he had run downstairs and stuck his head over my desk, panting.

Back then, before that long winter, Ian reminded me most of a helium balloon. Not just his voice, but the way he’d look straight up when he talked and bounce around on his toes as if he were struggling not to take off.

(Did he have a predecessor? asks Humbert.

No. No, he didn’t. I’d never met anyone like him in my life.)

Whenever he couldn’t find a book he liked, he’d come lean on the desk. “What should I read?”

“How to Stop Whining,” I’d say, or “An Introduction to the Computer Catalogue,” but he knew I was kidding. He knew it was my favorite question in the world. Then I’d pick something for him—D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths one time, The Wheel on the School another. He usually liked what I picked, and the D’Aulaires’ launched him on a mythology spree that lasted a good two months.

Because Loraine warned me early on about Ian’s mother, I made sure he read books with innocuous titles and pleasant covers. Nothing scary-looking, no Egypt Game. When he was eight, he came with a babysitter and borrowedTheater Shoes. He returned it the next day and told me he was only allowed to read “boy books.”

Fortunately, his mother didn’t seem to have a great knowledge of children’s literature. So My Side of the Mountain crept under the radar, and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Both books about running away, I realized later, though I swear at the time it never crossed my mind.

We finished two chapters and then I stalled until 5:30, when half the mothers would bounce down the stairs in their tennis skirts and the other half would emerge with their toddlers from the picture book pit. “Who is the hero of this book?” I asked. This was easy. It was always the main character. In children’s books, there is rarely an antihero, an unreliable narrator.

Aaron sounded like he’d been practicing his answer for days: “Matilda is really the hero, but Miss Honey is kind of a hero, too, because she’s very nice.”

“Who’s the villain?”

“Mrs. Crunchable!” shouted Tessa. “Even though she’s the princibal! And princibals are usually nice!”

“Yes,” I said, “I think you’re right.” Even when the bad guy isn’t a man in a black mask, they have a fairly good sense of villainy. A few bright ones understand how broad the category can be.

“Because a villain could be anyone, like a bunny in your garden,” Tessa said.

“Could it even be someone’s parents?” I asked. I wanted them to think about Matilda’s wretched, TV-addicted mother and father, the book’s other antagonists.

“Yeah,” said Tony, “like if your mom has a gun.”

These were wise, modern children, and they knew: a mother could be a witch, a child could be a criminal. A librarian could be a thief.

Let’s call the scene of the crime Hannibal, Missouri. (Of course there’s a real Hannibal out there minding its own business, living on Twain tourism and river water. I only ask to borrow its name.) This Hannibal had no river, but it had a highway straight through town, and if you drove past and saw only the McDonald’s, the Citgo, the grime and corn and car fumes, you’d never know the hedged lawns, the schools with untattered flags, the big houses to the west and the smaller ones east with their gravel drives and shiny mailboxes.

And there was the library, right off the main road, its unfortunate’70s brick architecture masked by Fall Fest banners and three waist-high iron squirrels. Noble squirrels, their heads in the air, they stood sentry to the book drop and public entrance. Before pushing open the heavy front doors, every child felt compelled to touch each one, or to brush the snow off the tails, or even to climb  up and perch on the tallest squirrel’s head. Every child somehow believed these acts forbidden. Thundering down the stairs to the basement, the children’s cheeks were red. They passed my desk in bright, puffed-up parkas. Some smiled, some practically shouted their greetings, some avoided my eyes completely.

At twenty-six I was the head children’s librarian only because I was willing to work more hours than the other two (much older) women, Sarah-Ann and Irene, who seemed to see the library as some kind of volunteer work, like a soup kitchen.

“We’re so lucky they give us their time,” said Loraine. Which was true, as they were often busy remodeling entire rooms.

I was four years out of college, had started biting my nails again, and was down to two adult friends. I lived alone in an apartment two towns over. A simple maiden lady librarian.

Observe, for the record, my genetic makeup, indicating a slight predisposition for criminal behavior, a hereditary proclivity for running away, and the chromosomal guarantor for lifelong self-flagellation.

Things Inherited from my Father:

• Taste for mud-thick coffee.

• Two bony knots on my forehead, one above each eye, just below the hairline. (No trauma at birth, no drop to the floor, just confused nurses rubbing my brow, my father baring his own in explanation. If we two are not the villains of the story, why these family horns?)

• A revolutionary temperament, dating far past my great-grandfather the Bolshevik.

• Half a family name, Hulkinov shortened to Hull by a New York judge, the joke lost on my father’s immigrant ears as he stood in his refugee shoes, a hull of his Russian self.

• Pale Russian hair, the color of absolutely nothing.

• The family crest my father brought all the way from Moscow on a thick gold ring, with its carving of a man—book in right hand, severed head on pike in left. (This most famous Hulkinov was a seventeenth-century scholar-warrior, a man who heard the distant trumpets, left his careful books, fought for justice or freedom or honor. And here I am, the end of the line: twenty-first-century librarian-felon.)

• Deep Russian guilt.

Things Inherited from my Mother:

• Mile-thick American Jewish guilt.

These are the setting and main characters. We are nestled into our beanbags: let us begin.

(“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern.)

2

Trouble, Right Here in River City

A woman came down the stairs alone one afternoon early in October, in slacks and heels and a brown silk blouse. Obviously a parent, not a bedraggled teacher or nanny or tutor. Beautiful, with red hair in a ponytail that didn’t taper sadly like mine, but ended straight and thick like an actual horse’s tail. She put a book on the counter. Her silver earrings swung in sync. I’d never seen her before.

“Are you busy?”

I capped my pen and smiled. “Sure. No.”

“I’m Ian’s mommy.”

“I’m sorry?” She was making such insistent eye contact that I couldn’t quite process her words.

“My son is Ian Drake?”

“Oh, Ian. Yes, of course. How can I help you?” I was a little astonished to realize that I’d never encountered this woman before. And to realize that I’d never thought about it, even with  all the discussion of what books his mother would or would not approve. When Ian was younger, he always came with a babysitter. Now he often came alone on his bike, wearing an empty backpack that he could fill with books.

“Well, he brought home this novel, Tuck Everlasting?” She shoved it closer to me, as if I might want to look it over. “And I’m sure this is just a wonderful book for slightly older children, and we so appreciate your suggestions. He’s just a little sensitive.” She laughed lightly and leaned forward. “What Ian really needs right now are books with the breath of God in them.”

“The breath of God.”

“I know you do such a job of nourishing their minds, but of course we also need reading that will nourish our souls. Each one of us.” She smiled, eyebrows raised. “And Ian’s still so young, he needs your help. I’m sure you can do that for me, Sarah-Ann.”

I must have stared with my mouth open, until I saw that I’d left Sarah-Ann’s nameplate on the front of the desk. I was strangely flattered that Ian hadn’t told her my name, that our daily conversations were something he wanted to keep private. I wasn’t about to correct her. If she thought Sarah-Ann Drummond was the one in charge of selecting books with the breath of God, so much the better.

I smiled, making sure she was done. “Actually, since we’re a public library, we don’t censor what any of our patrons access. It’s our job to make everything available. Although parents can certainly choose for their children.” I could have gone on at length, but I found myself holding back. I didn’t want her to spook and tell Ian he couldn’t come to the library anymore, and (as much as I wasn’t normally a fan of unaccompanied children in the library) I didn’t think his reading experience would be enhanced by this particular mother hanging over his shoulder, making sure all the  words Judy Blume wrote were sufficiently God-suffused. So I certainly wasn’t going to mention that he could also check out any of the books upstairs in the adult section and access pretty much any Web site in the world from our computers.

“He really does love the library,” she said. She was missing a rich southern accent, I realized, one of those charming Kentucky belle ones. It would have complemented her perfectly. She pulled a folded piece of notepaper out of her purse, thick cream with the name Janet Marcus Drake in shiny pale blue script at the top. “This is a list of the content matter I’d like him to avoid.” She had abruptly flipped from the southern belle and was now putting on the extremely businesslike air of those perfectionist women who’d only worked in the professional world for two or three years before stopping to have children and were now terrified of not being taken seriously. She handed the list over and waited, as if she expected me to read it aloud. It read:

• Witchcraft/Wizardry

• Magic

• Satanism/Occult Religions, etc.

• Adult Content Matter

• Weaponry

• The Theory of Evolution

• Halloween

• Roald Dahl, Lois Lowry, Harry Potter, and similar authors

“You understand what is meant by adult content matter?”

I managed, somehow, to open my mouth and assure her that I did.

“And I neglected to list it, but I also understand that you have candy available for the children.” She didn’t need to put it so formally. She was staring right at the bowl of Jolly Ranchers on the edge of my desk. “I just don’t want him running around here with a sugar high!” And she laughed again, right back to Scarlett O’Hara on the porch.

Because I couldn’t think of anything nonprofane to say at that moment, I said nothing. It wasn’t so much good manners or restraint as a sort of paralysis of the tongue. I wanted to ask her if she’d ever heard of the First Amendment, if she was aware that Harry Potter was not an author, if she thought we had books about Satanism lying around the children’s section, if she was under the impression that I was Ian’s babysitter, reading tutor, or camp counselor. Instead I took my pen and added another line to her list: “No candy.”

“I’m so glad for your cooperation, Sarah-Ann,” she said.

I wanted to get rid of her, and I wanted to placate her, but I couldn’t si...

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Rebecca Makkai
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Descripción Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Lucy Hull, a young children s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents?. Nº de ref. de la librería AB99780099538127

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Descripción Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Lucy Hull, a young children s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents?. Nº de ref. de la librería AB99780099538127

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Descripción Cornerstone. Paperback. Estado de conservación: new. BRAND NEW, The Borrower, Rebecca Makkai, Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents?. Nº de ref. de la librería B9780099538127

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Descripción Random House UK Ltd Jul 2012, 2012. Taschenbuch. Estado de conservación: Neu. Neuware - Lucy Hull, a young children's librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy's help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents 319 pp. Englisch. Nº de ref. de la librería 9780099538127

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