What makes a man an outlaw or a leader.

Once when I was young I slid down the side of a mountain. This was when I lived in Seattle, and I would go up to the mountains with my friends in search of hot springs, one in particular that was small but had a nice series of decks built around it and you could slip easily from a hot-hot pool to a merely hot pool to, finally, a cold pool, when you couldn’t take the heat anymore. Everyone was naked up there year round, even in winter, and it was all very freeing, sitting on the side of a mountain, surrounded by trees, soaking yourself in these baths laced with lithium.

There was a man who called himself the Naked Chef, who was a sort of host for the place. He hiked up there every weekend with pounds of food in his backpack and he would set up a little cooking area and make vegetarian dishes for anyone who wanted them. He’d had some small amount of fame for this and if he was just meeting you for the first time he would eventually offer a binder filled with laminated articles about himself. He had an enormous penis – even flaccid – and it was much darker than the rest of his body. The food was fine, if a bit salty.

We went up there not just to soak in the hot water and to eat food cooked by a naked man but also to do drugs. We smoked pot even on the hike up which seems absurd to me now, stopping our hike to take hits from a bowl, as if being in these gorgeous mountains wasn’t enough, as if crunching through the snow for an hour, hiking up up up, sweating, our hearts racing, endorphins flying, wasn’t enough. But that was what I was doing then, and nothing was ever enough. And then when we got to the hot springs we ate mushrooms, but not too many. On the spectrum of Tripping Your Face Off versus Feeling Something, I’m pretty sure we were just sort of feeling something.

Amongst other things, what we were feeling was good and we stayed too long, and the sun was starting to set and soon it would be dark and it would be hard to get down the trail in the dark. It wasn’t impossible. There were people who lived nearby who had been climbing it since they were in high school and often showed up at the hot springs at two or three in the morning after a night of drinking.

But we were city girls who had barely made it up the trail in the first place, spotting colored ribbons in the distance after much searching. We would never make it down in the dark. And no one wanted to stay up there all night. We had all come down from whatever highs we had and were toasted warm from the springs. We were dreaming of our beds. Also that Naked Chef, he did like to talk. I don’t know if we could have handled an entire night with him, as nice a man as he was.

Someone else sitting at the hot springs suggested that instead of hiking the winding trail back down we could just try and slide down the mountain. People did it all the time. It was much faster than hiking, although admittedly sort of dangerous. I do not recall asking, “How dangerous is sort of dangerous?” That seems like a question I would ask now, though. (Definitely I would ask that question.) But we were all in on this genius idea to slide our way down on our asses and so we wandered off away from the hot springs and the trails and in the direction of a clearing until there we were, on the side of a mountain covered in pure, crisp snow, punctuated by the occasional tree top. There seemed to be some paths in the snow where people had slid down before. There weren’t any dead bodies or anything. It looked safe enough.

And so down we went, scooching slowly at first on our behinds, until suddenly gravity kicked in and we started zooming down the side of the mountain, screeching and terror-laughing. It was fun and it was terrible. I kept running into the tops of trees. It was difficult to slow myself down. There was no possibility of steering myself. It was the craziest physical thing I had ever done. I was twenty-five years old. Everyone I was with I had known for less than a year. We had taken the advice of a stoned, naked man in a hot tub on the side of a mountain and now nature was having its way with us. It felt fantastic. I’ll never be able to recreate that adrenaline rush. I was moving fast. I let go.

Why was I thinking about it this morning? Yesterday was a super intense day at BEA. It was an entirely new experience for me. I had no idea how to react to anything except to smile. I met person after person. Everyone was so nice to me. I got misty in the bathroom. And then I took a cab home, and after I gave the driver directions I fell asleep. Do you know how hard it is to fall asleep in a cab in New York City? Sober? In the middle of the day? And we took Canal Street, and Canal Street is basically like made of boulders. But this is how I respond to excitement now I guess. By passing out.

The end of this story is we made it to the bottom. It was the dumbest thing I had ever done and we made it to the bottom. We landed at the side of the road, not too far from where we had parked our car. And in fact it had been so much faster than if we would have hiked. We felt very smart at that moment, but then I looked up at that mountain and said, “I’m never doing that again.” How soundly did I sleep that night though? I had survived something.

elsewhere

Out now!

Kirkus Reviews gives it a starred review: "A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life." Find more praise from The New York Times, Fresh Air, All Things Considered, The Washington Post and more, right here. Order an autographed copy.
Download book club discussion questions.

And in paperback:

The Melting Season. Watch the trailer, or see coverage from Chicago Tribune, Marie Claire, O, New York Times, and more here. Buy an autographed copy from my favorite local independent bookstore, WORD Brooklyn!

The Kept Man. Watch the trailer, and read reviews from People, Time Out New York, Interview and more right here

Instant Love. Read coverage from O, New York, Daily Candy, and more here.

I am happy to come visit your book club in person or via phone or skype! Email me directly for more info.

  there

flickr, twitter, tumblr , rss

The New York Times
NYTBR: All that We Hold Dear
NYT Mag: The Unlikely Chef
No, I'm the Narrator
A Shelf-Obsessed Writer
One Dark Night in My Neighborhood
An Apartment Affair

Oprah.com
Life Lessons from Turning 40

The Hairpin
My History of Being Fat

Wall Street Journal
Fictional Foods: No Empty Calories

Esquire.com
My Election Day

The Forward
A Chat with My Dad about Delicatessen

The Week
My 6 Favorite Books with Overweight Protagonists

Publishers Weekly
The Most Dysfunctional Families in Literature

Largehearted Boy
Book Notes: The Middlesteins
On the Men We Meet, and What Their Music Means to Us
Antiheroines: MK Reed
Antiheroines: Lisa Hanawalt
Antiheroines: Ellen Forney
Antiheroines: Emily Flake
Antiheroines: Vanessa Davis
Antiheroines: Julia Wertz
Antiheroines: Gabrielle Bell
Antiheroines: Sarah Glidden
Book Notes: The Kept Man
Ryan from Hallelujah the Hills Interviews Me
I Interview Ryan from Hallelujah the Hills
Book Notes: Instant Love

Jewish Book Council
Different, but Special

The Rumpus
Where I've Laid My Head
How To Write a Book in Two Months: The Rumpus Interview with Cole Stryker
The Fates Will Find Their Way Review
The Rumpus Interview with David Goodwillie and Teddy Wayne
The Rumpus Interview with Kate Christensen
The Last Book I Loved: Everything Matters!

Salon
Hit me with your vest shot
How I helped rescue the OWS library
Books you can dance to
Tracy Morgan cries for his mom -- and we cry, too

Poets & Writers
How to Use Tumblr to Connect with Readers (print only)

Metro
Lauren Groff Profile
Pizza Island Profile
The Rise of Small Presses
Wesley Stace Profile

emusic
Patrick Somerville Interview
Lauren Groff Interview
Nathan Englander Interview
Ellis Avery Interview
Elissa Schappell Interview
Kate Christensen Interview
Heather Havrilesky Interview
Julie Klam Interview
Jennifer Egan Interview
Maile Meloy Interview
Martha McPhee Interview

Village Voice
The 10 Best Things From 2011 To Listen To While Writing, According To Actual Authors

The Millions
A Year in Reading

Details
How to Hunt for Architectural Salvage with the Designers of Spritzenhaus
Peter Loughrey Interview

Babble
No Baby Next Door, Please

Spirit
Essay: Crossroads

The Awl
Flicked Off: In Which Two Ladies Do Yoga Then See 'Eat Pray Love'

Book Forum
Reality Hunger Review

Five Chapters
Crutch
The Last Movie

Double X
Schrödinger's Cake

find more freelance work

join my mailing list.

  here

The One Time I Needed Planned Parenthood
Big Book News #4
The Complete Story of How My Bike Got Stolen, How I Found it on Craigslist, and How I Got it Back
Mountain Backdrop: White Sands Missile Park
Big Book News #3
On Outlining Books
Advance Praise for The Kept Man
Shaving Jonny
The Big Book News #2
Artsy and Fartsy go to Coney Island
Blurry Pictures of Girls with Mustaches
Key Names from Instant Love
How Did I Miss the Hook?
Two Days in May
The Big Book News
Idiotarod 2005
Kiss Me on the Bus
Ronald Protests the RNC
Existential Crap
Happy Hour
Taco Hell
Idiotarod 2004: Race, Rest, Finish
Behave, Boys. Behave
26 Pics of People Kissing
All About George
September 11, 2001
My Imaginary Assistant Amanda

read more of my journal

search my shit.

Loading