We Are All Crew

We Are All Crew

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Overview

"This eye-popping page turner hits on all levels and will keep you up way past your bedtime...A coming of age thriller with imagination, guts, and soul."
EcoLit Books

"Here we have a Huck Finn for our environmentally damaged age, lost on a river, and moving downstream with humane monsters and monstrous humans. We Are All Crew is hilarious and sad, slapstick and grotesque, fantastical, phantasmagorical, but never, ever just child's play."
Marlon James, author of A Brief History of Seven Killings

"Two fourteen-year-old boys embark on a cross-country boat trip that becomes a romp through social anthropology in this hilarious, picaresque novel. But don’t be fooled. Landauer’s observations are as searing as they are funny, and each new twisted and isolated archipelago of a community they encounter resonates in its absurdity like a vision of the near future. We Are All Crew is a coming-of-age story for the boys, but perhaps, if we can channel Landauer’s camouflaged optimism and his biting humor, for America as well.”
Tim McLoughlin, author of Heart of the Old Country

"The conjuration of an articulate risk taker has spun a tale and created a world infused with politics, 'correctness,' and irony that is witty and intelligent. Taking on serious subjects—environment, deforestation, global warming, and partisan hypocrisy—while addressing the various social networks, apps, video games, and rock-star super-shows, is a lot to handle. But Bill Landauer rises to the task to create a wonderful read. Just sit back and enjoy."
Rashidah Ismaili, author of Autobiography of the Lower East Side

Two fourteen-year-old runaways hell-bent on reaching California end up aboard the Tamzene, a mysterious riverboat that runs on alternative fuel. Piloted by the enigmatic Dr. Seabrook, the Tamzene travels the waterways of a bizarre, fun-house image of the US. This is a satire that questions the sanity of our basic principles, as Gulliver's Travels did for eighteenth-century England.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617753565
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 02/03/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

As veteran journalist of nearly two decades, Bill Landauer has covered the upper echelons of the federal government in Washington, DC, and towns of less than 200 people. He's flown in military helicopters and rubbed elbows with murderers, lawyers, and Christian Scientists. Once, at the White House, a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor told him to get out of her chair. He's even written about cat-shaving. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. We Are All Crew is his first novel.

Kaylie Jones is the award-winning author of five novels and a memoir. She teaches writing at two MFA programs and lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

the trees

The trees tried to murder the boys.

They'd tracked them for a day and a half. Through the ends of their branches and within the folds of their barks they'd sensed a dozen or so boys and a few adults cleaving the rush of the stream and blotting out the birdsongs with their talking. They spread the word downstream through their interconnecting webwork of root systems, sapling to sapling, Methuselah pine to oak.

Intruders among us.

They did nothing, not even when the boys stacked their limbs and lit them ablaze. The yearlings seethed. In their midst, boys audaciously danced and cackled before a pyre of the trees' dead kinsmen. Some of the boys decorated themselves with orbs, knickknacks, and baubles made of plastic, a material forged by fire that caused poisonous rain to fall upon the trees' heads.

If only we could move, the younger trees said. We could scoop up the boys and impale them with our branches. We could beckon the boys deeper into our midst, into the places where we blot out the sun. Then it would be a different story.

At midday, the trees got their chance. Two of the smaller boys broke from the herd. They climbed out of the river, scrambled over the rocks and through the soft vegetation at the water's edge, and plunged into the trees, deep into their darkest recesses.

Vengeance.

trees suck

In the real-time wilderness, trees want to kill you.

They're nothing like the trees in Heckenluber, this video game I played to train for this mission. In that game, trees are part of the background — big gray-and-jade blocks off of which the hero (I always select Klaus, the archer) bounces harmlessly. Back home in Philly, trees are either fingers trapped in circles of sidewalk or green stuff on hillsides you never think about.

But along the river, they're monsters. With claws. When we first abandoned our canoe, they scraped me and ripped the sleeve of my best black turtleneck. While Arthur scrambled ahead of me, I stopped and looked at the long, red scratch snaking down from my shoulder to my elbow. For a second I was back at the jungle gym behind my house, and I'd scraped my knee and wanted the Moms to spray on a little Bactine and tell me it was going to be all right. And that gave me bleary eyes and shaky hands until the scratch on my arm looked like this jagged mouth grinning at me, the way this kid from school, Burton Trotsky, grins at me when I'm being a little wuss boy.

Wimp, the mouth said.

In this interview I once saw, Fang, the lead singer of the Red Grizzlies, said he took all the fear and pain he'd ever experienced and shoved it deep down into this big reservoir in his belly. Then he used it in his music. I've been practicing Fang's method for a year now, and I've got to say, I'm getting some major tunes out of it. Once Trotsky and the other guys and I launch our own musical campaign in Trotsky's garage, they will rock hardcore.

The Grizzlies are why Arthur and I ran away. Just a few hours ago, we ditched Godspeed Summer Camp — a gaggle of dorky Boys' Life marshmallow cookers singing "Kumbaya," paddling down the Allwyn River in central Pennsylvania — for the Grizzlies' only North American stop on their worldwide tour: San Francisco, California. In ten days.

the french

The trees knew people had died here before.

A couple of hundred years earlier, three French trappers had camped along the riverbed. It was late fall and cold, so they chopped down one of the trees and built a fire. A cougar attacked them in the night: it ate one of the trappers, and another suffered a slash to his belly and a broken leg. He had tried to make it downstream but fell and bled to death on the rocks. The third trapper drowned. Their fire went out, and weeds grew up through its charred remains. A new tree grew where the tree that the trappers had chopped for their fire once stood. The rotting corpses were eaten by animals, and their bones turned to meal, a fragment of which became lodged in the shoe tread of the one called Winthrop.

Nobody knew about it except for the trees, and since they wanted to kill the boys, they would not tell.

arthur

Anyway, I shove Wimp Winthrop — my nickname for the wimpy part of myself — deep down inside my songwriting reservoir and focus on Arthur. Arthur is stumbling, his chewed Nike running shoes getting caught in the rocks. Arthur is a gangly, freckled kid with a big tower of curls and sunken eyes. Attached to his chest is a loudspeaker welded to a tan metal box. From its side, a wire runs behind his back and clips to his T-shirt. I've seen two of these mad big things — PA systems; the one he's wearing now has a waterproof plastic shell.

He hasn't said a word in more than an hour. He's walking slower. I'm sure he's crying. That worries me, so I lay this on him: "When the lightning flashes and the thunder rolls, I will not yield. I will stand fast and resolute."

I've been jamming to that one on the mental iPhone, since the Jesus freaks back at Godspeed Summer Camp stole my real-time phone. When you listen to that cut off the Red Grizzlies' Journeys album, the sounds fill even the shadowy parts of your head you hadn't known were there before. I sing it out loud because I think it'll give Arthur a kick. Instead, it disappears into the trees.

These monster trees are everywhere. You can't see a house, a road, or any other sign of human life.

It's getting darker; the orange beach ball is dipping below the mountains. The woods look more horrorshow by the minute, but it's not just the darkness. Evil things are glowing: sometimes eyes, sometimes fireflies going off like tracer fire.

In that movie Zombie Cannibals, the teenaged co-ed zombie bait went in circles for days and couldn't find their car ...

Wimp, says the voice. I shove my fear back down.

Arthur lists from side to side.

"Yeah," I say, practically yelling. "Going over these rocks is probably tough for the average dude, but my sensei back home told me I have the most catlike balance in my dojo. I could take ninjitsu if I really wanted to."

You took one karate class when you were six years old, wimp, the voice says, and Moms had to carry you out bawling like a nancy boy because you got scared when they yelled.

"You know who said that?" I repeat.

Arthur marches on.

"My sensei," I say, and now I'm mentally kicking my own ass for making shit up.

I stare at my Timberlands. I bought them because the blond, sky-eyed twenty-something wearing them in the online ad looked like the sort of guy for whom a girl would remove all her clothing. I wore them because they were ghetto and functional, but after walking through the river and then over the hard rocks and roots, brown thread is sprouting from the leather. Slime covers my Prada shorts. Hopefully our rescuers won't be ladies.

Arthur is freaking me out. I had my eye on the kid since the first day of camp, when a black BMW zipped into the Godspeed Summer Camp compound and he emerged from the rear. He'd squinted in the sunlight beneath the big welcoming banner they'd strung across the entrance with the motto Conquering Nature written across it in blue script. A man and a woman disembarked from the front. She was wearing a navy suit and lunged at the boy the minute his Nikes touched the gravel, dabbed his face with a silk handkerchief and made cooing noises. The man wore pastel Ralph Laurens and kept his ear glued to his cell phone and eyes glued to his Rolex until it was time to go, which I heard him say wasn't soon enough.

We'd been there about an hour when the jockstraps started in on him. One kid stopped Arthur and grabbed the horn of his PA system between his bear claws. It was the guy who'd already established himself as the camp leader and probably the only one who'd get laid. He had this iron-colored 'do that just seemed to lay effortlessly in the coolest Abercrombie way, and wore off-the-rack clothes like he didn't even need to try. I hated him. I buy designer black-on-black stuff because it makes me look badass, but this kid didn't even need to try to have a style because he had a body underneath his Old Navys. I'm a skinny runt. Style is the refuge of a runt.

"Darth Vader," the kid said, hanging onto Arthur's bullhorn like it was a trophy they give to popular kids. The group of sheep he'd already pulled in with his cool tractor beam thought that was a howler.

Behind the canoe where I was hiding, I stifled a laugh. I hated myself for it. Two minutes earlier, the same guys had labeled me Eddie Munster and made fun of me for the way I talk. Totes. Like the word bling isn't the bomb, yo. My Oxford Edition American Street Lingo dictionary lists "bling" as the No. 2 most-used slang word on the streets, next to "the bomb." And Eddie Munster? Real freaking original, guys. Like I haven't heard that one before. I mean, hello? The average height of a fourteen-year- old is five feet and I'm four foot eleven.

The big kid swung Arthur around by his bullhorn. Arthur's arms and legs flailed. His eyes filled with tears, and his mouth trembled. Counselors shooed the big boys away.

Arthur sat down on a bench and trembled for a while. Then he wiped his eyes, jammed his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a pocketknife and a piece of wood. He started whittling.

By then, I'd already decided I needed a partner to escape from camp, a conspirator to help me ditch the canoe once the flotilla started down the Allwyn the next day, a lookout, a bag carrier, and a friend.

This kid needed lessons in how to be cool.

This kid needed me more than I needed him.

"That's quite a piece of artwork you've got there," I said, sitting next to him.

Arthur stiffened. He peered at me out of the corner of his eye and stuck his teeth out in what I took for a smile.

Click. "THANK YOU."

"From the looks of things, I'd say that's a dinosaur?"

Click. Whistle. "AN ALLOSAURAUS, ACTUALLY."

"What's that?"

Click. "BIPEDAL CARNIVOROUS THEROPOD FROM THE LATE JURASSIC PERIOD. VIRTUALLY DISAPPEARED WHEN THE (whistle) TYRANNOSAUR APPEARED IN THE CRETACEOUS PERIOD."

"Interesting."

We sat there quietly for a minute. Arthur looked at his whittling and sliced off a thick band of wood around what might have been a leg.

"Interesting," I repeated. "Listen, does that thing have a volume control?"

Click. "IT'S ON LOW NOW, I'M AFRAID."

"Why, may I ask, do you have to use that?

Click. "IT IS A BIRTH DEFECT THAT HAS PARTIALLY PARALYZED MY VOCAL CHORDS. I CAN SPEAK, BUT ONLY SOFTLY."

"Interesting."

Arthur stuck his teeth out again. "IT MAKES POLITE CONVERSATION SOMEWHAT, WELL ... bzzz crrck bzzz ... PROBLEMATIC."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I can hear you just fine with it."

Click. "THANK YOU."

We slipped back into silence once again.

"Are you, by chance, a fan of The Greatest Band on Earth?" I blurted.

Click. "I LOVE THE GRIZZLIES!" He was wicked excited. I could tell I had him. Arthur was probably in my grade, but he looked like a gangly version of a little kid. Dinky blue eyes darted at the breeze. Washes of freckles speckled his cheeks and forearms. Not even my friends would have sat with him at lunch.

"Did you catch any of their shows this season?"

Click. "THEY'RE ALL OVERSEAS, I'M AFRAID. EXCEPT THAT ONE SHOW IN SAN FRAN."

"I was so tempted to cross the pond."

For two days the counselors taught us how to row and steer, how to make flotation devices out of our pants should we capsize. The other seven boys hit on the four chicks. Arthur and I schemed.

He was a member of my caste. At the end of the previous school year, we'd studied India's caste system, and if I'm realistic I'm most likely a harijan, one of the untouchables who live outside the city walls. Within the harijan, however, there are hierarchies. I am the Kung Fu Master, the A No. 1 King of the harijan at Primrose School, and Arthur is definitely a bottom-runger. He has no style. His gravestone of hair is more like an epidermis problem than a style. He wears a dorky skintight T-shirt tucked into jorts. Moving up within one's caste isn't impossible, and I'm sure with the right moves, the right coaching, and Fang's never-fail method of pain and fear stockpiling, Arthur can be totally cool. I need a friend, and I want my friend to be at least a little cool — but certainly not cooler than me.

The only real strike against him in my book is his height. Truth be told, people, he's probably a foot taller than me. I assured myself it would serve a purpose and hoped that whatever ladies we encountered would understand who was the teacher and who was the student.

He agreed to my plan without hesitation. I think he would have just as soon taken on the evil Sith in Star Wars than stick around the jockstraps in that camp for a whole week of torment on a backwoods Pennsylvania creek bed.

But now that we're alone, walking along the river without an adult in sight, he's wigging. I'm honestly not far from it either, even with Fang's methodology.

If only we could get clear of these monster trees. Why would anybody ever want to save the forest? There's this handful of Birkenstock- wearing glue sniffers back at school — the kinds of people my father, His Eminence, refers to as tree huggers or, when he's really mad, spotted owl fuckers — who used to hand out fliers and give book reports about saving tree-covered places like this from logging companies. Why? Plow the monsters under and pave it all, I say. At least that way I'd be able to see a house or a road or a way to California.

the car

The young ones stopped to rest at a pile of charred metal that sat at the edge of the river. Had they thought about it, they would have realized it had been a car.

The car had belonged to a man who had once lived in a house about three miles away. The man did not like the car because it had cost him more money than he could afford to keep it filled with gasoline, but he could not afford a new car. So one day he drove the car through the woods. He ran over a family of rabbits, killing most of them, and knocked over saplings until he reached the Allwyn. He set the car on fire and watched it burn. Then he went back to his house, called his insurance company, and reported the car stolen. The insurance company bought him a replacement that used less gasoline. By then, however, the price of gasoline had risen so high that his employer could no longer afford to pay him and the man could no longer afford to live in his house. He never told anyone about the car, and nobody ever found out about it — except for the rabbits, the trees, and the river, and they were not telling.

arthur climbs a tree

Click. "THE BATTERIES ON THIS THING ARE ONLY GOOD FOR TWENTY-FOUR HOURS," Arthur says through his speaker system. "I NEED TO RECHARGE. I HOPE WE FIND SOMETHING SOON."

His Eminence would call Arthur a weak choice. I disagree. He's a Grizzlies fan. He has a great sense of humor — I can tell because he laughs at all my jokes. He'll make up for what he lacks in the confidence department once he starts his own pain and fear reservoir. I'm certain I can turn Arthur into a badass friend.

We're looking at these trees all wrong. We need to get up on top of them, way up there, and then we'll be able to check out the scene for miles.

People climb trees all the time — in old movies, dads built kids little playrooms up in the treetops in the backyards. (Not my father. The most His Eminence ever did for me was commission his IT staff to assemble a security camera in my room.) But how do they climb them? Out here in the sticks, there are probably millions of feral monkey-kids who can scale a tree in seconds, but I'm wicked stumped. I try, but most of the branches I can reach are so freaking brittle they break off in my palms. This one big branch hangs low enough for me to reach, but the most I can do is strain against it until it scrapes my forearms and I tumble back, flushed and sweaty.

I coax Arthur into giving it a go. He loops a long arm over the same branch, lassoing it. Then he plants a Nike on the trunk and walks up it, throws a leg across the limb, and swings himself around it until he's riding it like a horse. He works his way up the tree, stretching out his long, skinny frame until it looks like it might snap, then grabbing a limb, wrestling up to his chin, and pulling himself up.

I order him along. "That's it. No, that branch is too skinny, Arthur. Cool. Now ..."

Soon I lose him in the white Xs of limbs. The tree shivers. I can hear his bullhorn scraping the branches.

I give him a few minutes and then ask what he sees. I'm hoping the PA system will announce that he's spotted Route 81 or whatever highway I limoed in on, or at least that he sees a hint of macadam a couple clicks away that we can walk toward.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "We Are All Crew"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Salar Abdoh.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dedication,
Author's Note,
Part One: Crazy-Ass Boat,
Part Three: The Evil Lobster,
Part Four: Megapixels,
Part Five: Survival of the Fittest,
Endnotes,
Signs,
Acknowledgments,
About Bill Landauer,
Copyright & Credits,
About Kaylie Jones Books,
About Akashic Books,

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