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Dogfight, A Love Story

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Dogfight, A Love Story

A Novel
What Jonathan Lethem did for Brooklyn, Matt Burgess does for Queens in this exuberant and brilliant debut novel about a young drug dealer having a very bad weekend. Alfredo Batista has some worries....
What Jonathan Lethem did for Brooklyn, Matt Burgess does for Queens in this exuberant and brilliant debut novel about a young drug dealer having a very bad weekend. Alfredo Batista has some worries....
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Description-
  • What Jonathan Lethem did for Brooklyn, Matt Burgess does for Queens in this exuberant and brilliant debut novel about a young drug dealer having a very bad weekend.

    Alfredo Batista has some worries. Okay, a lot of worries. His older brother, Jose--sorry, Tariq--is returning from a stretch in prison after an unsuccessful robbery, a burglary that Alfredo was supposed to be part of. So now everyone thinks Alfredo snitched on his brother, which may have something to do with the fact that Alfredo is now dating Tariq's ex-girlfriend, Isabel, who is eight months pregnant. Tariq's violent streak is probably #1 worry on Alfredo's list.

    Also, he needs to steal a pit bull. For the homecoming dogfight.

    Burgess brings to life the rich and vivid milieu of his hometown native Queens in all its glorious variety. Here is the real New York, a place where Pakistanis, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, An ­glos, African Americans, and West Indians scrap and mingle and love. But the real star here is Burgess's incredible ear for language--the voices of his characters leap off the page in riotous, spot-on dialogue. The outer boroughs have their own language, where a polite greeting is fraught with menace, and an insult can be the expression of the most tender love.

    With a story as intricately plotted as a Shakespearean comedy--or revenge tragedy, for that matter--and an electrically colloquial prose style, Dogfight, a Love Story establishes Matt Burgess as an exuberant new voice in contemporary literature. The great Queens novel has arrived.

    From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpts-
  • Chapter Two

    Burgess: DOGFIGHT, A LOVE STORY

    Part One

    1

    Little Round Pills

    In the middle of Alfredo Batista's brain there is a tall gray filing cabinet, frequently opened. The drawers are deep, the folders fattened with a lifetime of regrettable moments. There is, tucked away toward the back, a list of women whose phone numbers he never asked for. There are the debts accrued. In the bottom drawer, in separate folders, there are the things he never learned to do: drive an automobile, throw a knuckleball, tie a knot in a cherry stem using only his tongue. What else? In the top drawer, there is a file recounting the evening he left the Mets game early, thinking the run deficit insurmountable. There is the why-didn't-I-wear-a-condom folder. There is--this one's surprisingly thin--the crimes-against-my-brother folder. Alfredo is only nineteen years old, and already his cabinet overflows with files, none of them collecting dust, each one routinely inspected. All it takes is a random word, a face in passing, and a memory blooms, a cabinet drawer slides open. An intracranial research librarian--Alfredo imagines him bespectacled, with frayed pant cuffs and dandruff on his shoulders--waddles over to the open drawer, plucks out the appropriate file, and passes it on to the brain's well-staffed and efficiently run Department of Regret. Here, unable to help himself, Alfredo scrutinizes the folder. He re-creates the event's sensory details. He goes over, with sick and meticulous precision, exactly what was said and, of course, what was not said. He relinks the chain of events.

    A new folder is to be added. It will be labeled with today's date, June 14, 2002, and above that, in blocky capital letters, a name: SHIFRIN, VLADIMIR.

    "Who's Vladimir Shifrin?" Alfredo says.

    Winston--a dark-skinned Haitian with long, delicate fingers--pulls down on the brim of his Spider-Man hat. He looks over his shoulder. Drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "From what I understand," he says, "Vladimir is a drug dealer."

    "This is why you call me?" Alfredo says. "Why you wake me up? Drag me over here?"

    They sit close together on a wood-slatted bench in Jackson Heights' Travers Park. There are other parks in Queens--like Astoria Park or Flushing Meadows--where you can snooze under a tree or stick your nose in trumpet-shaped flowers. These parks are pastoral, as the guidebooks might say. They've got grass you can yank right out of the ground. But here in Jackson Heights, the parks, like Travers, are asphalt parks, blacktop playgrounds. There aren't any flowers or butterflies, and that keeps exactly nobody away.

    It's two o'clock in the afternoon right now--it's a nice, unseasonably cool, late-spring Friday--and Travers is packed. Everyone is out. Everyone and their mother is out. There are games of soccer, handball, freeze tag, skilo, and skully. Look around. Shirtless men play netless basketball. A father snaps pictures of his little girl, while a Chinese woman dances to the water-like rhythms of tai chi, while teenagers bum cigarettes off the neighborhood schizo, while bees, drunk with pleasure, swarm the bottoms of trash cans. The swings squeak. An old Jewish man--Max Marshmallow, Alfredo's friend--checkmates another old Jewish man whose body deflates like a popped bag of potato chips. A little white boy, oddly calm, has his head stuck between the vertical bars of a fence, and Alfredo can't help but think of his own brother, the newly named Tariq, spending his last hours up at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. On Travers's softball field, Pakistanis play cricket. On a bench in the sun, the Mexicans who didn't get picked up by this morning's work...

About the Author-
  • MATT BURGESS, a twenty-seven-year-old graduate of Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota's MFA pro­gram, grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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