The Given World

“Nothing, nobody really goes away—not once they’ve infiltrated your life. No matter how many brain cells you drench in rocket fuel and hold your little lit Zippo to.”

Montana in the 60s on an isolated family farm; late nights and early mornings in 70s and 80s San Francisco; an emergent Saigon in the 90s; San Francisco, again, in time for cellphones, stock options and AIDS. And home—wherever that is—at a time and in a condition to be determined. At the heart of this book is a place we mostly identify with a war played out nightly on black and white TV, but it is not about war. It is about surviving immense loss, about a Montana girl and a motley band of co-gypsies, seeking to find, and define, home and family. It is about “bad behavior”—how it starts, and how it ends. What is set in motion by one casualty cascades, over the years, into others.

When she is 13, the army loses Riley’s brother Mick, a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam, and her life goes off the rails. Rescue, in the form of a boy from a nearby reservation, appears, but not for long. Hoping to beat the crappy odds and discover the ocean she’s always dreamt of, Riley heads west to San Francisco, and from there to Saigon. She encounters, sometimes attempts to rescue, and is as often rescued by an itinerant posse of the dispossessed. Taking their pain out mostly on themselves, they line a switch-backed trail that will lead Riley (if she survives them) to something along the lines of redemption.

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  • Shortlisted, William Saroyan International Prize
  • Semifinalist, VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
  • Finalist, Northern California Independent Booksellers Award
  • Longlisted, PEN/Bingham First Novel Prize
  • Kirkus Best Novels, Best Debut, and Best Historical Novels of 2015
  • Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick
  • Indie Next selection