"Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Lorraine Adams’s intrigue-stuffed second novel, The Room and the Chair (Knopf), moves swiftly between Washington, Iran, and Afghanistan to illuminate an era of labyrinthine global conflict—and probe the mysterious crash of a female fighter pilot over the Potomac."
An astonishingly original new novel by the award-winning author of Harbor (“Captivating”—The New York Times Book Review; “A great, gutsy novel … Outstanding” —Entertainment Weekly)that moves from a newsroom in the American capital to a cockpit over Afghanistan, from an Iranian cemetery to a military intelligence office in suburban Washington, as itexplores a world of entwined conflicts and the way narratives about violence are told, twisted, hidden, or forgotten.
Here are fine-drawn, empathetic portraits of the often overlooked actors of America’s infinite global war: the ridiculed night editor of a prestigious newspaper, an overburdened nuclear engineer, a duty-bound female fighter pilot, a religiously impassioned novice reporter, a sergeant major thrust into the responsibilities of a secretive command. Their longings and loyalties take us, in the course of one shattering year, from a forested city park where child whores set up business to a Dubai hotel where a desperate man tries to disappear, from the nighttime corridors of Walter Reed Hospital to the snow-thickened mountains of the Hindu Kush.
Told in language as stunning for its beauty as for its verisimilitude, The Room and the Chair dazzlingly bends the conventions of literary suspense to create an unforgettable, groundbreaking chronicle of today’s dangerous world.
Praise for The Room and the Chair
"Lorraine Adams is a singular and important American writer. "The Room and the Chair" establishes this without question: It is remarkable for its ambitions and its achievements..."
“Lorraine Adams is a singular and important American writer. “The Room and the Chair” establishes this without question: It is remarkable for its ambitions and its achievements. It’s a war novel, a reporter’s novel and a psychological thriller. It encompasses the broadest outlines of our world…It’s a trippy book that begins with a plane crash and Air Force pilot Mary Goodwin hanging wounded from a tree in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. From there, it moves through the snows of Hindu Kush to Bagram Air Base, with a detour to the 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. It takes place in the desert and in the mountains and in the city. But its center is the room of the title, which is the newsroom of a newspaper not so loosely based on the Washington Post, where Adams used to work. This territory is so accurately and perceptively portrayed that anyone who’s spent time in a newsroom, especially in the era of print under siege, will recognize the unsavory, nauseating mash-up of romance, hatred, rivalry, corruption and (at the same time) the almost saintly quest for truth. For newbie reporter Vera Hastings, who’s trying to make sense of Mary’s plane crash, there are uncomfortable feelings as she tries to figure out what is at play in a big story (even the reporters often cannot know).There are all kinds of influences at work on this book: One feels the hand (but, gratefully, not the style) of Henry James, of Joan Didion, of Ward Just, of all the novelists who’ve written Washington books ( Gore Vidal too). Also in the mix are John le Carré and Norman Mailer. (Have they ever been mentioned together before?)…Indeed, one of the triumphs of this book is that it’s a war novel that’s mostly about women: Mary, Mabel and Baby as well as Vera, the reporter and truth seeker. Though often unwitting tools and even more often thwarted, they are the fulcrum of the book, lifting what might otherwise be a dazzling thriller into the realm of literature.”
"Like “Harbor,” this new novel is filled with memorable set pieces and remarkable dialogue. Adams is particularly good at capturing the rivalries, power struggles and pecking order in the newsroom, a milieu she knows intimately....As Adams demonstrated in her first novel, she also has a gift for imagining subcultures beyond her immediate ken. With perfect pitch, she evokes the shadow world of intelligence operatives, as well as the macho banter and bravado of fighter pilots."
"There is the familiar pleasure of reading a really good novel, and then there is the greater thrill of reading a novel both topical and important in that way that usually only journalism gets to be."
“There is the familiar pleasure of reading a really good novel, and then there is the greater thrill of reading a novel both topical and important in that way that usually only journalism gets to be. Lorraine Adams’ The Room and the Chair is suspenseful and transporting—fine, many good novels are—but it is also that rarer thing: part of the conversation about our seemingly endless War on Terror…The varied settings, intricate plot, and deep cast of characters suggests a cross between Syriana and the fifth season of The Wire—but Adams’ novel is subtler than both. And more deeply felt. Through a roving, omniscient point of view, Adams manages to convey the all-too-human fears and desires of even the more minor players in her drama. This is the great advantage of fiction: It accommodates, more naturally than journalism, the dimension of feeling behind current events.”
"Adams has crafted a blunt response to the American government's amateurish imperialism and ass-covering acrobatics, and to the ways that self-serving journalistic elites treat the country's vengeful obsessions as intrigue while letting harsher truths go unreported. By the book's final scene, which finds Mary inhabiting a much different kind of room with its own type of chair, looking away is no longer an option."
“The West’s post-9/11 preference for information-boggle over truth-telling gets a blunt reckoning in The Room and the Chair, Lorraine Adams’s forceful follow-up to her well-received 2004 novel, Harbor. Adams sidesteps individual blame for this systemic moral torpor…in favor of a collective study of an impressively sprawling, prodigiously flawed ensemble. Indeed, The Room and the Chair makes a compelling case that the deteriorating state of reality-based America is a collective effort—and that few of us can realistically disavow membership from the group…Adopting the propulsion and framework of an intricately plotted political thriller, The Room and the Chair mercilessly critiques our addiction to narratives of Western exceptionalism even as it compels us to turn its pages. This gives the novel drive, but the plot’s bleakness can make for tough going, and the heartbreaking climax, in which Goodwin and Holmes converge in Iran for a secret operation that ends in multiple betrayals, has the quality of a car wreck you can’t tear your eyes away from. Adams’s flair for language mitigates the despair, though: Doggedly full yet lean in effect (note the enigmatic, sublimely passive title), she’s especially good at imparting the sloppy reasoning to which her characters so readily default—the verbal confusion of Mabel’s drunken reveries and Adam’s incessant, elliptical internal stature-tallies are especially masterly. There are moments of high comedy, too, including the editorial meeting in which Vera’s story dies the death of a thousand cuts, and even a tiny measure of hope in the evolved, matter-of-fact media savviness of Baby and her crew. It’s small comfort, but The Room and the Chair’s wrenching frankness feels necessary. Adams has crafted a blunt response to the American government’s amateurish imperialism and ass-covering acrobatics, and to the ways that self-serving journalistic elites treat the country’s vengeful obsessions as intrigue while letting harsher truths go unreported. By the book’s final scene, which finds Mary inhabiting a much different kind of room with its own type of chair, looking away is no longer an option.”
"Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Lorraine Adams’s intrigue-stuffed second novel, The Room and the Chair (Knopf), moves swiftly between Washington, Iran, and Afghanistan to illuminate an era of labyrinthine global conflict—and probe the mysterious crash of a female fighter pilot over the Potomac."
"The talented Lorraine Adams’ debut novel, Harbor, was an absolute tour-de-force...The Room And the Chair is a worthy successor..... Her writing is as crisp and intelligent as ever....With its depiction of current-day government subterfuge and media collusion, Adams once again proves she has her finger firmly on the pulse of our complicated current events."
"The Room and the Chair is a vivid exploration of newspapers and the intelligence community in the age of terrorism, and is filled with fully-realized characters who haunt long after the novel is finished."
"Adams evokes the treacherous, starkly beautiful terrain of war-torn Afghanistan and the lurid glitter of Dubai with the dexterity of a champion foreign correspondent channeling Bruce Chatwin. But Adams’s real genius resides in her ability to show at close hand how a dozen-odd, tenuously linked lives play out across the globe. Then, too, there is her vivisection of life inside the newsroom—“The Room”—of a Washington paper: nothing less than a minor miracle of social anthropology."
"Adams' prose elevates this from a spy novel to a truly striking work. She plays with rhythm like a poet, moving from staccato to slowness as needed. While told in third person, the language changes, too...Adams’ book is a dense and evocative look at very modern lives in a very modern war."
The Room and the Chair is structured like a thriller, with the need for resolution propelling the audience through. But what makes Adams’ second novel so compelling are its larger ruminations on what “truth” in 21st century wartime even means. There are no villains in this piece, though characters do horrible things. Rather, nearly every actor is motivated by the sense that he or she is in the service of something larger, and that lies are sometimes a way of serving a greater truth. What Adams also makes clear is that the times, they are a-changin’. Just as the nature of war has evolved from trench to guerilla to satellite strikes, the entities tasked with covering it have transformed as well. The writers in the Room (no spoilers on what the Chair is) are newspaper journalists for a major Washington paper, and their way of life, they’ve been told, is dying. The specters of television and the Internet loom heavy over the busy Room, which is as informed by the legend of the past as the events of the present. It’s possible, through Adams’ prose, to see the ghosts of typewriters, cigarette smoke, flashbulbs and footwork—the good ol’ days of investigative journalism of the ’70s, now usurped by minute-to-minute updates and short attention spans.All of this returns to the questions of what truth is, and who controls it. Who decides what the real story is, what should emerge, what should be reported? How many truths have died paper deaths, shredded in a power play between ego-bruised writers? What is killed because it’s too complex to be covered quickly? How much is there we still do not know? In that way, it tells the truth—or one version of it, at least.
"You get caught up in [The Room and the Chair], and what you see in a spy story is that same old, grand theme that Faulkner talked about: the human heart in conflict with itself."
“The book opens in the skies above Washington, D. C., when a female jet pilot on a training mission discovers that her plane has lost all its power. And after she ejects herself from the failing airplane, the scene shifts to the newsroom of a newspaper much like the [Washington] Post, with all of its intrigues and agendas and power plays. That’s the room of the book’s title… . You get caught up in this story, that takes you beneath the news of the day and sideways to the news and ahead of the news into secret government conspiracies, the main one headed by an agent known as ‘The Chair.’ And then on to the plains of war, and black light becomes sunlight, and what you see in a spy story is that same old, grand theme that Faulkner talked about: the human heart in conflict with itself.”
"For too long, these types of voices, those Muslims who stand for individual freedom, debate, creativity, and compassion, have been ignored. But if we are ever to defeat the extremists, the counter narratives they provide to the distorted version of Islam needs to be heard loud and clear."
“This is a work of fiction,” reads the small-print legal boilerplate just after the title page. “Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.”
This is easily the most fictional part of any novel. Writers are as much a prisoner of their history as anyone else and maybe even more inclined to take prisoners themselves. In Lorraine Adams’s new novel, we meet a famous reporter named Don Grady, whose editing career was derailed by the Janet Cooke scandal and who salvaged his reputation with books about national security built on his “unimpeachable access to power’s highest balconies.” And who has developed a habit of hoarding scoops for his own purposes.
And who, yeah, broke the Watergate scandal.
And he’s not Bernstein.
Bob Woodward is, in fact, just one of the real-life figures who may or may not be receiving earthly justice at the hands of Lorraine Adams. Is the Georgetown salon hostess meant to be a caricature of columnist Sally Quinn? Could the stiff, unimaginative chief editor be a slap at former Post honcho Len Downie? And what about that passing snipe about “the book-review section, what was left of it”? Could that be … ?
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Adams toiled for more than a decade in the Post trenches (her last piece for The Post was published in 2005). And while the newsroom of her title (does anyone really call it “The Room”?) ostensibly belongs to something called the Washington Spectator, we can be pretty certain where it resides. The rest is mostly guesswork – and also, it must be said, a disservice to this strange and compelling novel, which certainly has scores to settle but which grows into something more lasting than a roman à clef. Lorraine Adams, as readers of her first novel, “Harbor,” can attest, is a real writer, with a story to tell.
The book begins with an apparent accident: A Viper aircraft veers out of control and crashes into the Potomac River, not far from the Watergate. Why did the plane crash? What happened to its pilot? Why is the White House chief of staff telling the newspaper’s executive editor to sit on the story? And why doesn’t the editor tell him to stuff it?
Good gray establishment guy that he is, the editor is too happy to oblige, limiting his paper’s coverage to a few thin follow-ups. But a night editor and his idealistic young reporter smell the lies and set about finding the truth for themselves, and even as I type it, my brain seethes with a thousand political melodramas. Or as one of Adams’s characters catechizes the genre: “mailbox drops, trench coats on a bench at the Lincoln, parking-garage meetings, one foxy assassin.”
Adams lives up to her end of the bargain by spinning the action between geopolitical hot spots and by introducing, yes, a top-secret military program operating outside government boundaries. What becomes clearer, though, as the book goes along is that Adams isn’t playing by all the hackneyed rules. Indeed, she is almost perverse in denying us the genre’s received pleasures: sexual consummations, First Amendment triumphs, evil held at arm’s length. No readers will rejoice at this story’s conclusion, and no A-list actors will be clamoring to play any of its compromised people.
On the page, though, they make for good company: Hoseyn, an uxorious Iranian nuclear engineer who stages his own death and then has to keep dying; Mary Goodwin, the pilot of that downed plane, fleeing from one danger zone to the next, realizing too late her that heart belongs to another; the night editor, a mixed-race bachelor passing as white, “dull as foot soles,” and yet somehow the soul of his newspaper.
Adams doesn’t grant the same interiority to the characters she despises – Don Grady, for instance, remains pretty much a cipher. Nor is her poetic diction always precise. (I’ve read the phrase “narrow as pencils in fat, angry oceans” several times, and I’m still not sure what it means.) Nor is her rather literary style always well suited to the rough labor of pushing a thriller plot forward.
The result is a book that can feel both overwritten and underwritten. And yet if “The Room and the Chair” isn’t a complete success, it manages to be more interesting than many genre novels that do succeed because Adams is so smart about how official Washington works and because, like Don DeLillo in “Underworld,” she is so fascinated by how information conceals the world from us.
The big newspapers, she argues, are missing the big stories because all they can see are the words in front of their faces, the “written reports from government men” that constitute “the Room’s preferred language.” “There were pretty much two ways to find out things,” the night editor explains. “People and paper. People … could fudge. Paper, made by government – courts, agencies, committees – was worse. You had to use both, flawed as they were, and find where they met, where there was some kind of coinciding about what might possibly have actually happened. But even that wasn’t enough… . You had to take time to feel your way along the edges back to the center, and to wonder, past the point of patience, what it was you still couldn’t quite believe.”
As Adams must realize, this is an often unattainable ideal for a daily newspaper or, in these direly transitional times, for any mainstream media outlet. We can best read her critique, then, as a testament to her own journey: a journalist running up against the limits of journalism and realizing why fiction exists in the first place – to help us find the “something, somewhere, in some inch of some infinity” that lies hidden.
Excerpt from The Room and the Chair
Water never warms in American harbors. They had told him. Shivering, on the high deck of a groaning tanker, told more. He made out a far field of whitecaps many feet below. By the prow, the wind was pulling back the flags into flat, clear pictures. His beard whipped past his face; his overlong hair flew east. His hands and neck burned from insulation he had torn from a crate in the hold that most likely, he realized, after a few days of scratching skin to bleeding, was asbestos. He willed himself to stop but woke to blood caking his shins, under his nails, ridged in his ears. The cold tightened him into a pain that killed sleep.
Aziz could sense there might be other stowaways. On his second try, one he had befriended turned him over to ship’s security, who beat him with mallets, rowed him from the anchored vessel, and deposited him in the care of the harbor police, who pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness and three weeks in a dirty hospital, where his mother cried at his pillow and his brothers brought armloads of food she had cooked, sheets she had washed, an amazing pair of cotton mittens, soft as new white feathers, for his slowly oozing hands. He never saw the informant again, but his brother told him the miscreant had died, not violently but all on his own. He had disappeared for days until his friends found him dead in an alley. It turned out the betrayer had fallen and hit his head.
Now, on his third try, his eyelids were blistered. Some kind of wet kept coming from his ears, which were stoppered, as if someone had poured india rubber into them. After fifty-two days in the hold, his eyes, so long in dark, had just this moment adjusted to the blaring morning. And so he jumped.
He hurtled down in the air for long seconds to the ocean’s surface, whacking into a cold all his preparation had not prepared him for, plunging what seemed to be too far. He tucked his elbows against his rib cage, kicking, and kicked more and farther, all of him roaring up, up, get up. His head popped into the wind and he opened his eyes, locating the pier. He had not gone too far. Stroking across the surface, his arms wore ice sweaters, mercifully insulated from any feeling. On they went, arms of his, down and back, down and back, heavier, heavier, his arms so heavy he wanted to sleep. So he did. He let himself rest, into the deeper water, feeling the weight of it, hoping for its relief. There was something about the possibility of light that came to him. It was like the lamp his mother read beneath. He saw her bent head.
Someone else had jumped with him. He could feel hands at his neck. Maybe more than one. They were choking him. He fought, and at the surface he gurgled out the water in his lungs and saw he was alone. It was then fear found him. He swam in a screaming whistle of panic. There were no thoughts now, just the pumping of his heart. He had been swimming, he guessed, for three hours, or maybe three minutes. He looked a little—squinted, really—and saw he was nearly at the pier. Once there, a ladder, rubberized steel, was slipping from his hands, but then he realized it was grooved this rubber, or was it rippled steel, and his hands were too numb to think they could hang on. So he imagined that they could, and his hands then obeyed this concept, and up he went, peeking over there and down that way to make sure he was alone.
He was. He ran. His jumpsuit, stolen by his father to match the uniforms of the crew, was sopping. Again the command went to his body: You are not cold. Again the body conformed with this idea, and his thinking cartwheeled into the next necessity. There it was—near the Boston train tracks—an abandoned signal booth.
He stripped and started wringing out his clothes. The uniform was canvas, rough and punishing to his blue hands. It is nothing, he told his hands. You are here to function this way, for me, for the future. He had gotten the first of the water out when his hands began to bleed. He dropped the uniform. He would die here, asbestos sickened, ears and eyes mortally infected, the cold finishing him. He pictured his body, stiff across the tracks, as if he had died in the act of trying to gain a conductor’s attention. Then he saw them.
Across the tracks flutters of newspaper pages, hundreds of them, touched down and rose up like kites. He ran toward them in his putrefied underwear with his stretched socks flapping at his ankles. There were so many that even the wind could not keep all of them from him. He gathered them in his arms, scooping and diving like a gull. When he thought he had enough, he sprinted back to the booth and carefully put them inside, securing them with a rusted loop of wire in case the wind gusted in through the door. He pulled off the socks and briefs and laid them and the uniform on the gray stones along the tracks. He closed what was left of the door. The window had been broken, but only slightly, and he began pulling the newsprint toward a slant of sun on the floor, where he lay, building a frail tent that eventually settled into layers of his own heat to warm him.
“No, he’s a homeless.”
He heard them. With no English, he didn’t know what they said, but he saw in their faces that he was frightening. Back in the signal booth, he had decided what he would say—or, rather, be. He would say nothing and pretend he was deaf. That is how he acted, that is how he was thinking of himself, and that was how this family he had just passed should see him. There were two toddlers, both boys, and their mother and father, getting out of a car. He had tried to hurry past them, but he had discovered it was impossible; his legs would not accommodate his idea of hurrying, and instead he had to be satisfied with a shuffle.
He moved into the blocks of the city, to the skyscrapers, the corridors of shadows so cold, so mean. The sun was out near the water, but that was not where he could find anyone or anything that might warm him. He imagined he would find a church. That was what he was looking for—they allowed people inside, come what may, and he would sleep there, maybe under the altar, or maybe he would find a heavy silk robe in a back room and wrap himself in it, and a priest would happen on him. He was imagining the priest, kindly and old, a face that beamed and was mostly a face of love. How he needed such a face. As he was constructing its possibilities in his head, someone said “Brother.” And so did another one, this time emphatically: “Brother.” They were speaking Arabic to each other. He stopped. The two men, standing near a cart, a cart selling sweatshirts and mugs that said boston, kept talking. The conversation in his head went silent for the first time since he had said goodbye to his father.
Men who spoke Arabic. He had not anticipated anything even remotely this lucky. It was such a gift, such a wonder, that for a full ten seconds he stood rooted to the street, his coldness receding. It would not be good to be who he really was—that much was easy. Deafness, no, but perhaps down on his luck, unstable, if only slightly. He would not beg, no, something more permanent had to be gotten out of this marvel of two men speaking Arabic.
“Brother,” he said, and was surprised at the sound he made. It was a whisper. “Brother!” he shouted, producing only a speaking voice.
They did not hear him. But then, one of them saw him, out of one eye at an angle, and caught his breath.
The other man turned to see, and when he did, Aziz shouted again. “I am sick, help me! I have lost my home.” But when he looked at them, their faces were made entirely of fear, nothing else. He began to feel their fright welling up inside him and the urge to run was enormous, bigger than he could counter, and as he started, he fell, hard, on the pavement, scraping his bare palms, his elbow, reopening the thin scabs from wringing his ship’s uniform, succeeding in shielding only his cheeks and his eyes, from which tears as hot as tea were spilling.
They wanted to take him to a hospital, but he would not let them. So one of them took him to a mosque. He was Egyptian. He worked in a Radio Shack. He went into the mosque talking on his cell phone and came back with donated sweaters, pants, shoes, and a sparkling aquamarine ski jacket. Then he drove Aziz to an apartment in the suburbs, where a wife accepted him with no expression into a hallway with blush-colored broadloom stretching into rooms with white furniture.
The Egyptian took him to the bathroom, where there was a tub that was white, new, and clean. The man explained that there was hot water, right from this handle. Aziz’s parents did not have hot water. Water came in an urn, carried up the hill from the well that everyone shared, and he and his brothers had spent a good deal of their time working out who would be responsible for doing this and who would get excused from it. His mother could have never done it herself, nor would they have ever let her.
The man explained that this was a shower, and he wanted to say, Yes, I know what a shower is; my father managed a hotel for European tourists and I have seen them, I have used them, but he had decided that appearing to be meek and stupid was by far the better course. It also seemed clear that the man did not need to question him too closely to feel an obligation to help him, in however rote a fashion, and that he had little interest in pinning down whether Aziz had jumped off a boat or was a vagrant so imbecilic he could not remember how to bathe.
When the temperature was right, which the man was extremely concerned would be so, putting his hand in and out of the water and turning the handle by bits, he told Aziz to clean himself, to put on the mosque clothes, and that there would be a meal for him in the kitchen. And then he said, “Don’t worry,” and smiled an unaccountably radiant smile that Aziz was entirely unprepared for, and he dropped his head quickly because he did not want this man to see him cry again. When he looked up, the man was gone, the door had closed, and the room was filling with steam. A long high mirror over a pair of sinks was clouding. He walked to it. He looked. He saw a man he knew was himself—of course he knew that—but he was also stained and chapped, almost burned, but he had not been near a fire, he knew, he remembered he had not. He had lobster skin in places, a fearful red on his arms, and then when he looked his elbows were like the wattle of the young roosters his father kept in the back, a glistening crimson he had to keep rubbing the mirror with a towel to see.
He needed to rest on the floor. He could no longer stand. He was crying as quietly as he could, holding himself around his knees on a towel, trying not to spoil the white tile, but he gave up and pulled all the towels he saw in the bathroom down to the floor and lay there on them, watching the water rain in the tub.
He began unbuttoning his uniform, and then he tried to take off one of his socks, and there was his blistered foot, so gelatinous he gasped at the first tug, and then he was shaking. He was faint, and the vertiginous delay in his motions, the slowing of the sound of the shower, finally, finally scared him. He understood that realizing was what was making him weaker than he was. He had to pay attention; he must, above all else, after everything, not let his personhood disintegrate on this bathroom floor in this Egyptian’s apartment. This was what breakdowns were, he said in his own head, enunciating silently, precisely, the sound of his inside voice reminding him of how that voice had been with him in the hold and it was with him now. All a breakdown was was coming up to this kind of a situation, and instead of taking the other sock off the person began howling, or whimpering, or indulged in the real pleasure—for there was no other way to think of it—of feeling how wretched, how lost, how utterly unthinkable and mad everything in his life had been, culminating in a screaming he could not stop and the Egyptian bursting in, while down the hall his children hung anxiously on their playpen bars and the stolid wife pretended she was unconcerned, when inside she was screaming too, something like I am not able to go on, I cannot go on, I will not go on.
He pulled down the uniform and stepped out of it. Then he put one of the towels into the tub, because he did not want to see his clotted bits swirling on the white, and he didn’t want to slip. He put his hand into the rain of water, and it was hot, but not too hot, and the kindness of the Egyptian’s tinkering flooded through him, causing more tears. He put his foot into the tub and on the now-wet towel. He had to grab the side of the tub with his hand and the pain was fierce, but he was no longer shaking and he was only a little dizzy. He forced himself, slowly, because he did not want to shock his system—or he had an idea there might be such a danger after having been cold for so very long—and as he put his shoulder and his neck and part of his back into the falling water, he realized his back was not hurt at all, not the skin, only the muscles were terribly sore. The hot water began to loosen them. He kept his hands out of the water and pushed his head back into the shower and cried, cried and cried as the clarity of the warm sweet water seemed to wash into his brain, not just through his hair. He began to say an old prayer his mother had taught him, his first one. He said it over and over, like a song, while he took the soap and endured the sting it brought. He didn’t look down at what swirled away from the towel in the tub’s bottom. He just washed and washed and rinsed and rinsed. And when the water started to lose some of its warmth, he turned it off and wrapped the towels from off the floor around his head, and his back, and his legs, and he sat there, humming a little, until he heard the Egyptian tap on the door.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Harbor by Lorraine Adams Copyright © 2004 by Lorraine Adams. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.