“Hernandez, an award-winning poet, turns for the first time to fiction with a beautifully executed, frequently brutal coming-of-age story....The author's imagery, sometimes subtle, sometimes searing, invariably hits its mark.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“From the opening sentence, the writing shocks, then mesmerizes readers....Hernandez’s solid first YA effort will have readers clamoring for his next work.” Kirkus Reviews

“I was so impressed with David Hernandez's beautiful novel. I finished it in two sittings only because I had to walk my dog and eat some food. It deals with the scary mysteries that hover between fathers and sons and brothers with such brutal, unflinching honesty that it feels almost mythical.” —Adam Rapp

“David Hernandez's bottom-dog existential novel Suckerpunch reminds me of a Freud vs. Dostoevsky slap-down. Writing like the poet he is, Hernandez crafts this tale of rivalry and revenge with pitch perfect gritty lyricism. A terrific debut from a real contender.” —Ron Koertge




Chapter 1

At the funeral for Oliver’s father I daydreamed about killing my own. I’d come at him with a switchblade while he was in the garage, the table saw whirring in his hand as it chewed through a 4x4. I’d come at him with a hammer. I’d come at him with a baseball bat, his head splitting open like rotten fruit. With stealth I’d come at him, his back always turned, the way he finally turned his back on us early one morning and drove off to who-knows-where.
     The minister had a comb-over and silver-rimmed glasses. His face was pink as a slice of ham and his lips were thin, almost nonexistent. With his thin lips he spoke highly of Mr. Thompson—what a great father he was to his son, what a great husband—and I remembered thinking, How the hell would you know? Did you have a hidden camera in their bedroom and watch him make Mrs. Thompson come? Were you there when Oliver wiped out on his bike and Mr. Thompson sprayed Bactine on his knee, then ruffled his hair and called him a tough guy even though Oliver was bawling his eyes out?
     I looked over at Oliver, who wasn’t bawling now. He wore a white button-down shirt, black slacks and shoes. He had the pamphlet with his father’s face on the cover rolled up into a paper baton. He slowly turned toward me, his dilated pupils large as dimes, then turned back to the minister, who was going on and on about Jesus and the valley of darkness and the glory of the Lord Almighty.
     Mrs. Thompson wore a black veil and barely moved.
     There is nothing more precious than life, the minister said, other than to do the will of God. And the only thing more powerful than death is the supreme power of Jesus.
     I imagined Jesus with lighting bolts zigzagging out from his palms. I imagined one of those bolts striking my dad through his chest, his eyes rolling back, skin smoldering and foam bubbling out of his mouth. I imagined my dad in the mahogany casket instead of Mr. Thompson.
     After the service, Oliver wanted to know what I had planned for the evening. Even though the sun was right on his face, his pupils were still huge.
     I’ve got nothing going on, I said.
     Want to get wasted?
     My dad left behind a lot of booze.
     How’s your mom doing?
     She’s on Valium. Want any?
     Before I could answer, Mrs. Thompson came out of the wooden doors of the church and walked up to Oliver.
     I know you’re still angry, she said, her voice quivering, watered down. You don’t have to come to the burial if you don’t want to.
     I don’t want to, Oliver said.
     You sure?
     I’m sure.
     It’s something you might regret later on when—
     I won’t regret it, he said, cutting her off.
     Fine, she said.
     Mrs. Thompson glanced at me. Sometimes when I beat off I thought of her sucking me. Now she was standing before me, wrecked. The black roses sewn to her veil looked like flies on a window screen.
     I’m sorry for your loss, I said, which sounded stupid after I said it. As if she’d misplaced her husband. As if he were wedged between the couch cushions. As if she’d opened her purse and Mr. Thompson slipped out and fell through the bars of a grate, and all she could do was watch him glinting down there at the bottom.
     What actually happened was he walked down to the basement with an orange extension cord and hung himself.
     You’re a good boy, Marcus, Mrs. Thompson said to me. Then she squeezed Oliver’s arm lightly and then headed toward the inky black car that waited to take her to the cemetery. She climbed into the backseat and closed the door, her face hidden behind the tinted window reflecting the fat white clouds sailing above us.
     So what time should I pick you up tonight? Oliver wanted to know.
     Any time after eight, I said. Honk when you get to my house.
     My horn stopped working.
     Rev your engine then.
     All right.
     More people spilled out from the church and down the concrete steps. An elderly woman with a back curved like an awning. A man with an eye patch, tapping a cigarette out from a pack. This little girl in a powder blue dress, holding her father’s hand.
     Oliver and I stood there in our black clothes, watching. I didn’t know what to say. I looked over at Oliver, at his large pupils.
     What happens when you try to honk? I finally said.
     Nothing happens, he said. A small wind played with a piece of hair that had fallen across his forehead. Just silence, he said.





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