Modern Ranch Living: A Novel
Mark Jude Poirier
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
"Almost too hot. It had cracked 100 the day before, and the old weatherman on channel four, the guy who Joyce had said was the most accurate but heard was a pervert, had said today would be hotter by a few degrees."
The summer heat in Tucson makes some people dry up and some people boil over. In the dusty, gated desert community of Rancho Sin Vacas (Ranch Without Cattle), a handful of residents are finding that neighborhood life is becoming increasingly bizarre among the crumbling swimming pools, overwatered lawns, and disaffected children.
Sixteen-year-old Kendra obsessively hones her body into a perfectly muscled machine, even as she struggles to master a mounting violent streak. Thomas, her increasingly misanthropic brother, rarely leaves the house, all the while cultivating a disturbing little obsession of his own under the front porch. Down the street, Merv is stuck in a rut, thirty years old and still living at home. Lonely and looking for a way out, he's reaching his breaking point over his insomniac mother, whose oddly compulsive behavior with household appliances threatens to wreak havoc on his life.
When a strung-out, magic marker sniffing teenager disappears from the neighborhood and rumors of murder surface, these malcontents find themselves in an unlikely alliance that will alter the course of one long, sun-baked summerand perhaps their lives.
Funny and disturbing, Modern Ranch Living probes the emptiness of modern American culture, the strange things people do to satisfy their twin hungers for pleasure and oblivion, and the unexpected small acts of kindness they can sometimes perform to ease one another's pain. This delicately deadpan comedy makes brilliantly clear why Mark Jude Poirier was named "the young American writer to watch" by the Times Literary Supplement.
house. She had probably stopped caring a long time ago. Merv pulled a lounge chair over to the edge of the pool deck and watched the Vaccarinos’ house, waited for the meth-heads to leave. How did they get past the gate at the entrance to Rancho Sin Vacas, anyway? Brian would have never allowed them to pass. Probably just cut through the desert, or maybe Brian was asleep, dozing with his head under a magazine like Merv had seen before. Merv’s mother had fallen asleep a few hours earlier, at
pregnant girlfriend right there in the driveway of his boring beige house, right there in the brutal white sun. His girlfriend would be screaming, pulling Kendra’s hair, trying to get her off her boyfriend, whose mouth was gurgling with blood. The car behind her honked and snapped her out of her fantasy. She did look up and see the asshole in the convertible’s license plate: XAM 597. She repeated it over and over, aloud and in her head: X-A-M-5-9-7, X-A-M-5-9-7 … until she reached the front
exposing the cool side, and hugged it. She sighed. “The toy show starts in two hours,” Joyce said. “Get up.” “Get up,” Gene said, “and help her load the van.” “You help her,” Kendra said. “Or Thomas. Make him.” “Thomas has been packing the board games and lunch boxes for over an hour,” Joyce said. “Get up.” “Ten minutes,” Kendra moaned. “I swear.” As Kendra and Joyce walked into the bustling convention center, each carrying a plastic crate of collectible toys, a man approached them. He was
players scored well on their SATs or earned high grades. She imagined for a moment that Thomas would actually be popular at Columbia, the least dorky of the kids in his dorm. She had wanted to, but she didn’t call Crystal again that afternoon. She had hoped that Crystal would call and apologize and maybe suggest that they watch the news and go to a movie together after all, and every time the phone rang, she jumped for it. Kendra’s stomach twisted nervously when a commercial for shampoo and
unicorn on the cover. She barely looked up from it when Merv knocked lightly. “I’m here to meet with Janice Bening,” he said. “She’s in the back, the little brown building next to the Lemon Drop,” the girl said. “Let me stamp your hand.” She put down her paperback. After she stamped his hand, Merv walked through the park, noting its dingy appearance. Bees swarmed around every trash-can he passed. The cans all needed to be emptied. Graffiti, both fresh and faded, covered every bench, and the