The Inhabited World

The Inhabited World

by David Long


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Part psychological drama, part mystery, part modern ghost story, The Inhabited World is a deeply affecting novel of love, loss, and longing. Evan Molloy has been dead for nearly ten years when the mysterious, fragile Maureen moves into the bungalow near Puget Sound where he once lived. Caught between this world and the next, Evan cannot remember the events that led to his death, but in Maureen’s presence he begins to recall his life more clearly. As Maureen tries valiantly to restart her life after a recently ended love affair, she unknowingly offers her otherworldly housemate a sort of redemption he never could have predicted.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618872367
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 07/02/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

DAVID LONG is the author of Blue Spruce, The Falling Boy, and The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, Story, and numerous other publications, and has earned him an O. Henry Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Rosenthal Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and many other honors.

Read an Excerpt

Evan Patrick Molloy

When he looks at his hand, he sees the hand he remembers—ropy branching veins, a ridge of waxy skin on the inside of the wrist where he fumbled a glowing iron rod at his father’s forge one afternoon in 1966. When he looks at his legs in their rumpled khakis or their attenuated shadows crossing the ground, when he looks in a mirror, it’s his own long angular face he sees, palpable enough, a three-day beard, the familiar blue-gray eyes with lush black lashes (often mentioned by women: Swear to god, Evan, if I had lashes like yours), the same sandy hair, a decent haircut grown out, and under it the skull, walled city of the brain, miraculously intact.

Day and night, he navigates around the house and yard, seeing what there is to see, taking stock. As often as he’s made this circuit, he’s not sick of it; being sick of things is no longer in his repertoire—it’s as if the exact site of boredom in his brain has been drilled out. When he reaches the property line, he stops. Why not keep walking, another step, shoe on gravel? But a force like gravity keeps him here—the farther he gets from the house, the weaker his resolve to leave it. And he doesn’t exactly take steps now. It’s more like he’s in one spot, then another. Not so different from the way he used to move in dreams, the constant pummeling dislocations: this, this, this. Except now it’s not jarring and requires no more effort than progressing from one frame of film to the next. Which also explains how he can sit in a chair, or for that matter stand on solid ground, yet pass through walls and floors. The answer: He doesn’t pass through anything, just (though the mechanics of it elude him) places himself on the other side.

The year is 2002; it’s a summer’s day, breezy and cloudless. Shielding his eyes, Evan stands in the rutted lane that marks the far edge of this irregular lot he once owned. He looks out across the snarls of blackberry vine where the hill drops away, over the tiled roofs and chimney caps and glinting antennas. Puget Sound is slate blue, crowned in whitecaps. He watches the silent progression of tankers and container ships—Maersk, Hanjin. People at work. Gulls sail past, whisked sideways by the wind. He takes his hand from his eyes, buries it in his pocket, moves along.
The fact is, he can no more remember the gunshot than he can his birth. It was a rainy afternoon in February. Ten years ago, 1992. That’s all he can say. The day itself is mostly blank, a stubborn gap in the record. It’s the same for the gray weeks leading him there, a chain of minor actions and omissions, cramped thoughts, sickness. Now and then a new fact works free and bubbles up, a new image to wonder at, teasing him, telling him that what he craves to know is not altogether lost, only out of reach; more will come in due time. What’s “due time” to a man in his position? When he’s ready, it must mean.

What he does remember is the constant rain, water ringing in the downspout, a metallic sound that might’ve been hypnotic and soothing, but wasn’t. Sleep had become a pool so shallow it barely covered him. He’d undress and lie down, exhausted, but wouldn’t have taken more than a few dozen unencumbered breaths before it began to drain, exposing him to consciousness again. Afraid of disturbing Claudia, he’d started using a daybed downstairs in the room he called his office. Only later, after she and her daughter had left, did he methodically seal its one tall window with tinfoil and begin twisting pink paraffin plugs into his ears before bed: sounds bored into him, background noise wouldn’t stay in the background. He didn’t so much wake as finally admit that he’d been awake, hours maybe—no longer was there much of a dividing line between what he dreamed and thoughts he’d ground away at, semiconscious. He’d been given sleeping pills—they worked at first, then didn’t. If he multiplied the dose, he woke late but unrefreshed, with all the ambition of a Raggedy Andy. There was another kind that messed up his inner ear, and one that wore off at four in the morning.

But now when daylight comes, Evan’s waiting in an east-facing dormer or out back in the wet grass. The dread is gone. There’s no more of that Aw, Christ, what time is it—? If the sky’s clear, sunlight spills through the hemlocks and twisty madronas on the ridge. He and Claudia often walked there, the curls of papery madrona bark crackling underfoot. The flies will already be up, spits of shadow against the white shed. The first thermals will stir, the first few songbirds, the first crow. If it’s socked in, he’ll hear the foghorns—long blast, then short, short, rumbling his rib cage, sending flurries of gooseflesh down the insidees of his arms.

He remembers the sore jaw muscles, the sore clenched muscles where his rib cage met his stomach, cramping from hours of unnnnnconscious bearing down, and the cords at the base of his skull—he could almost feel them thrumming like heavy steel cables. He remembers his temper, trivial outbursts, the heel of his hand thumping the car’s steering wheel, the office door rebounding with an almost musical whang. He’d never been hotheaded as a kid—excitable, sure, but no knot of frustration. And his voice, so mopey and self-sick toward the end. Even at the time, though, whining, ripping into Claudia for no reason, he’d known how he sounded—it was as if part of him were listening from backstage, perplexed, wondering what his big gripe was.

He’d love to know if he had put the gun to his mouth more than once. Made a dry run. It would’ve been like him to do that. Or had he meant to go through with it but stalled long enough for part of him to start cajoling like a Good Samaritan, Look, don’t, OK? C’mon, lower your arm? (Funny how he was always talking about parts of himself.) Maybe he had lowered his arm; maybe he’d survived that moment. But whatever he said to himself, or failed to say, he hadn’t rid the house of the gun. He’d let it stay.

Ironically, he’d never owned so much as a cap pistol; after returning from the war in the Pacific, his father would have absolutely nothing to do with firearms. No, the gun had belonged to Claudia, pressed on her by her second husband, who’d worried about her when he traveled and insisted she take instruction at a firing range. She hadn’t minded squeezing off rounds at the paper targets, she told Evan—anything Claudia did, she was driven to do well. But she never liked having a weapon around—felt less safe, if anything. Nonetheless, it had come with her to this house on Madrona Street. Evan is positive they discussed what to do with it, but clearly no decision was reached. In the meantime, the gun had been stored on a high shelf in the cellar, swaddled in a blue T-shirt inside a steel canister, with gnarled picture- frame wire wound again and again through the hasp in lieu of a padlock.

He’d love to see himself going down the stairs to the basement, the look in his eyes. He’d love to know what he’d been doing just before that, what he’d thought as he woke that morning. But there’s no black box, no indestructible tape to rewind. Just memory—impaired, fluky, with a will of its own. What he does know: He’s steeped in aftermath, as changed as steam is from water, as water from ice.

Copyright © 2006 by David Long. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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The Inhabited World 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
worldsedge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sigh, yet another novel that starts off with an interesting premise, seemingly interesting characters and then slides downhill to an ending that's deeply unsatisfying. Evan Molloy committed suicide ten years ago and his spirit hangs around his old house. He watches with interest the comings and goings of the various people who lived there after him down to the present, when a woman moves in, escaping an unhappy love affair. Interspersed with various flashbacks of Molloy's life, his afterlife, he watches her try to get her own life together. And that's about it.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite its unlikely premise, that the dead (suicide) hero still inhabits his house, this was really good. He takes us back to his and the new owner of his houses's failed relationships in an engrossing way. I'll have to read more of his stuff.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beautifully crafted modern ghost story. Longs description of what it would be like to be a ghost is interesting and believable. Even though Evan Molloy is dead, he manages to maintain his humanity. The ending is satisfying and and hopeful. I read the Kirkus review and thought the reviewer only read the book in a cursory manner and missed the point entirely. The New York Times Book reviewer seemed to have really read the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's an interesting read, filled with deep insight and something that'll appeal to everyone, but even with its ability to grasp your attention, the book is hollow. A good read for someone who wants something different but also something that doesnt take up too much time...