Yannick Murphy’s splendid and boisterous new novel is called Here They Come. At the center of the book is a 13-year-old girl — we never get her name — who lives in a tumbledown New York apartment with her mother, a couple sisters (I think there are just two, but they feel like a multitude: they seem to coalesce around the narrator like cats in the dark), an older brother who plays guitar in clubs at night and smokes pot while lounging around in a blue silk robe by day, several pets including a pack of cats and an amazing dog, as well as other city wildlife: maggots, cockroaches, etc. It’s the ‘70s — the city is electric, hot, brewing — the girl’s father has split and is living uptown with “a short blonde he found on a set, porno or not, we don’t know,” and there is no money in the house.
If you’ve come within my radius in the past couple months, I’ve probably pressed Here They Come upon you. And I was delighted to nominate it here as an opportunity to exponentially extend the radius of who I'm urging to read this odd, chancy novel.
We’ll be discussing the book more fully here next month, but I wanted to mention a thing or two now about its narrator. She is brash and shrewd, she says “fuck” all the time (firing it off at about the same frequency as her French mother says “merde”). She is a little older but for me she fell in a great tradition of characters like Dido Twite, Scout, and Philip Pullman’s Lyra: young girls who are almost feral in their affections and not above pulling a con, who look at what's before them with a level gaze and report on it with a stellar lack of bullshit. (So the narrator of Here They Come has associated herself with a hotdog vendor named John whom she allows to caress her tits in exchange for hotdogs and Hershey kisses. Their relationship is reported in an unflappable deadpan way, and the beauty of the novel is not that we like or dislike John by the end of it but that we get to see him so clearly — an otherwise anonymous hogdog vendor on the corner — through the narrator’s gaze.)
There’s a wonderful description of what it’s like to be a girl around this age — 12, 13ish — in Ali Smith’s The Accidental, when 12-year-old Astrid is viewed by her mother as, “Dark round the eyes. Kicky and impatient, blind as a kitten stupefied by all the knowing and the not-knowing. The animality of it was repulsive.” It’s a right-on description but the narrator of Here They Comegets it said quicker. Five words: “I grow one tit first.”
An excerpt from the novel:
New neighbors have moved in. A fat older woman and a younger skinny red-haired man. We try not to imagine them as lovers.
“It must be accord,” our mother says. We can always hear the fat woman. Our house shakes when she walks across her floor. We can always smell the red-haired man. In the elevator going up or going down, we hold our hands to our noses. Our mother tells us red-haired people smell, they just do and she doesn’t know why.
Their roaches become our roaches when they bomb. Even our cats are annoyed and flick angry tails when they try to sleep and the roaches climb their fur. We send their roaches back with our own bombs. This works for a week and then their roaches are bombed back to us, so many that there are albinos and ones with deformities, two heads and missing legs.
The fat woman welds. She works at night downtown somewhere on the docks. She wears her helmet with the plastic face shield home, saying more than once it has saved her life more than once. Gang boys with nunchucks have flown at her on late subway rides and they’re thrown metal stars so hard they stuck into her plastic face shield and she had to pull them out with pliers. Our dog and cats attack her when she comes to our house. The cats hang from her clothes hissing and the dog dips at her rear. She comes through without knocking on our door. She comes and she sits down on our couch in her dirty coveralls and her mask and we stare at her shoes and wonder how she gets her feet into them and we wonder if the skinny red-haired man helps puts her clothes on and is that what our mother means by their accord?
Join us for a discussion of Here They Come beginning May 22 (after BEA) as well as a Bat Segundo podcast with Yannick Murphy.