I am partnering with Park Row Books and delighted to be on tour for The East End by Jason Allen.
Publication Date: 5/7/19
Publisher: Park Row Books
About the Book:
THE EAST END opens with Corey Halpern, a Hamptons local from a broken home who breaksinto mansions at night for kicks. He likes the rush and admittedly, the escapism. One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate where he and his mother work. Under the cover of darkness, their boss Leo Sheffield –billionaire CEO, patriarch, and owner of the vast lakeside manor — arrives unexpectedly with his lover, Henry. After a shocking poolside accident leaves Henry dead, everything depends on Leo burying the truth.
But unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened and there are other eyes
in the shadows. Hordes of family and guests are coming to the estate the next morning, including Leo’s surly wife, all expecting a lavish vacation weekend of poolside drinks, evening parties, and fireworks filling the sky. No one can know there’s a dead man in the woods, and there is no one Leo can turn to. With his very life on the line, everything will come down to a split-second decision. For all of the main players—Leo, Gina, and Corey alike—time is ticking down, and the world they’ve known is set to explode.
Told through multiple points of view, THE EAST END highlights the socio-economic divide in the Hamptons, but also how the basic human need for connection and trust can transcend class differences. Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina, and Leo approach a common breaking point. THE EAST END is a propulsive read, rich with character and atmosphere, and marks the emergence of a talented new voice in fiction.
Miss W’s Review:
5 Fantastic Stars
The East End is an outstanding read that grabs you from Page One.
Starting from the beginning that looks back at Corey’s break-in at the Hamptons estate to the incredible ending, I enjoyed the complex characters the author has crafted.
This novel touches all the points for me. Very timely. When socio economic classes collide in such a turbulent way and the outcomes for all involved is surprising not only to the reader but to the characters themselves. The disparity of the the social classes residing in these mansions whether labourers or residents both have to deal with circumstances and events from their pasts.
This book is brilliant. Memorable characters and twists and turns like no other.
A debut novel not to be missed!
Doesn’t this sound fantastic?
I am so pleased to be able to be able to bring you an Excerpt of the first chapter:
After sunset, Corey Halpern sat parked at a dead end in Southampton with his headlights off and the dome light on, killing time before the break-in. As far as he knew, about a quarter mile up the beach the owners of the summerhouse he’d been casing for the past two weeks were busy playing host, buzzed from cocktails and jabbering beside the pool on their oceanfront deck, oblivious that a townie kid was about to invite himself into their mansion while they and their guests partied into the night.
Smoke trailed up from the joint pinched between Corey’s thumb and forefinger as he leaned forward and picked up a wrinkled sheet of paper from the truck floor. He smoothed out his final high school essay, squinting through the smoke-filled haze to read his opening lines:
In the Hamptons, we’re invaded every summer. The mansions belong to the invaders, and aren’t actual homes—not as far as the locals are concerned. For one thing, they’re empty most of the year.
The dome light flicked off and he exhaled in semidarkness, thinking about what he’d written. If he didn’t leave this place soon, he might never get out. Now that he’d graduated he could make his escape by taking a stab at college in the fall, but that would mean leaving his mother and brother behind, which for many reasons felt impossible, too abstract, the world outside this cluster of towns on the East End so unimaginably far away….
If only he could write as he saw things, maybe this place wouldn’t be so bad, though each time he’d put pen to paper and tried to describe these solo hours at the ocean, or anything else, the words remained trapped behind locked doors deep inside his head. Sitting on his heels, he reached up and pressed the faint bruise below his right eye, recalling the fight last weekend with that kid from North Sea and how each of them had been so quick to throw punches…
A few miles later, with Iggy Pop and The Stooges blaring from his door panel, it made perfect sense to take the night to a whole new level and rob his mother’s bosses before they came out from the city; before Gina came home crying after one of the longer, more grueling workdays; before he joined her for the summer as the Sheffields’ servant boy. Iggy reinforced the necessity of the much higher risk mission—the need to do it now—as he belted out one of his early-seventies punk anthems, the lyrics to “Search and Destroy” entering Corey’s brain and seeping much deeper inside his chest as a truth he’d never been able to articulate for himself. His fingers tapped steadily on the wheel when he turned off Main.
He drove slowly for another block or two, his pulse beating in his neck as he turned left at the pyramid of cannonballs and the antique cannon on the edge of town. A couple blocks later, he downshifted around the bend, rolled to a stop and parked beside a wooded section of Gin Lane. From there he didn’t hesitate at all. He hustled along the grass bordering the roadside, past hedgerows and closed gates and dark driveways, until the Sheffields’ driveway came into view. A life-size pair of stone lions sat atop wide stone bases and bookended the entrance, two males with full manes and the house number chiseled onto their chests. Corey knew the lions held a double meaning. His mom’s boss put these statues out here partly because they looked imposing, the type of decorations kings used to choose, but also because they stood as symbols of August birthdays, the same astrological sign as Mr. Sheffield’s first name—Leo.
He stood still for a moment, looking between the bars of the tall iron gates crowned with spikes. Beginning tomorrow morning, and then all throughout Memorial Day weekend— just as he had the past few summers—he’d spend long days working there. Gina would be so pissed if she could see him now. She’d at least threaten to disown him if she ever found out he’d broken in, but that would be a hollow threat anyway, and he’d already convinced himself that she’d never know. The Sheffields should have paid her more to begin with, even if she didn’t have a deadbeat husband like Ray pissing her meager savings away on his court fees and gambling debts. But the memory that sealed Corey’s decision tonight had been replaying in his mind for almost a year—the dinner party last summer, when Sheila Sheffield yelled at his mom right in front of him and about ten guests, berating her for accidentally dropping a crystal chalice that she said cost more than Gina’s yearly salary. While Leo and the grown Sheffield kids looked on dumbly and didn’t bother to make a peep, Corey had followed Gina into the kitchen and stood a few feet away from her, unable to think of what to say to console her while she cried. Ever since then, he’d wanted to get back at them all.
Fuck these people, he thought.
He would rob them, and smash some windows on his way out so they wouldn’t suspect anyone who worked there. All he had to do was make sure not to leave any evidence behind, definitely no fingerprints, and he’d take the extra precaution of scaling the gates rather than punching in the code.
He wriggled his fingers into his gloves. Crickets chirped away in the shadows, his only witnesses as he looked over each shoulder and back through the bars. He let out a long breath. Then he gripped the wrought iron and started to climb.
Moonlight splintered between the old oak branches and cut across his body like blades. It took only a few seconds to grapple up the bars, though a bit longer to ease over the spear-like tips while he tried to shut out a nightmare image of one of them skewering his crotch. Relieved when his legs reached the other side unharmed, he shimmied down the bars like a monkey and dropped, suddenly hidden from the outside world by the thick hedge wall. Poised on one knee, he turned to his left and scanned the distant mansion’s dark windows, the eaves and gables. The perfectly manicured lawn stretched for acres in all directions, a few giant oaks with thick limbs and gnarled trunks the only natural features between the faraway pines along the property line and a constellation of sculptures. A scattered squad of bronze chess pieces stood as tall as real-life soldiers, with two much larger pieces towering behind them—a three-ton slab of quartz sitting atop a steel column and a bright yellow Keith Haring dog in mid stomp on its hind legs, each the size of an upended school bus or the wing of a 747, all the sculptures throwing sharp shadows across the lawn when Corey rose to his feet, leapt forward and ran toward the Sheffields’ sprawling vacation home.
His sneakers crunched along the pebble driveway, his steps way too loud against the quiet until he made it across the deeper bed of beach stones in the wide parking area and passed through an ivy-covered archway, still at top speed while he followed the curved path of slate down a gentle slope, and then pulled up at the corner of the porch. Breathing heavily, he grappled up the post and high-stepped onto the railing, wiping sweat from his forehead when he turned to face Agawam Lake. The moon’s light came ladling down onto the water like milk and trailed into the darkness of the far shore, while in the reeds beside the nearest willow tree a pair of swans sat still as porcelain, sleeping with their bills tucked at their breasts.
No one will know, he thought. The crickets kept making a soft racket in the shadows. The swans seemed like another good omen. But then a light went on inside one of the mansions directly across the water, and Corey pulled his body up from the railing, thinking he should get inside before someone saw him. He quickly scaled the corner porch beam and trellis while trying to avoid the roses’ thorns, even as they snagged his sleeves and pant legs. Then, like a practiced rock climber, in one fluid motion he hoisted himself from the second-story roof up to the third-floor gable. He crouched there, looking, listening. The house across the water with the light on was too far away to know for sure, but he didn’t see any obvious signs of anyone watching from the picture windows. Probably just some insomniac millionaire sipping whiskey and checking the numbers of a stock exchange on the other side of the world.
Confident that he should press on, Corey half stood from his crouch and took the putty knife from his back pocket to pry open the third-story bathroom window, the one he’d left unlatched the previous day when he’d come there with his mother. The old window sash fought him with a friction of wood on wood, but after straining for a few seconds he managed to shove the bottom section flush with the top, and was struck immediately by the smells of Gina’s recent cleaning— ammonia, lemon and jasmine, the chemical blend of a freshly scoured hospital room. Balanced at the angle of the roof, he stared down at the neighboring properties once more. Still no sounds, no lights, no signs that anyone had called the cops, so he turned and stretched his arms through the window and shimmied down until he felt the toilet lid with both gloved hands and his sneakers left the shingles, all his weight sliding against the sill as he wriggled in.
Although he hadn’t been sure whether he’d ever go through with it, he’d plotted this burglary for weeks, the original iteration coming to him during Labor Day weekend last year. The first step had been to ask Gina if he could clean the Sheffield house with her for a few extra bucks before the summer season began. She’d raised an eyebrow but agreed, approving at least of her teenager’s out-of-character desire to work, and throughout the past week, whenever she’d left him to dust and vacuum the third floor, he’d had his chance to run recon and plan the point of entry. He knew she wouldn’t bother to check the latch on a closed window three stories off the ground, not after she’d scrubbed and ironed and Pledged all day. And more important, by then he knew those upper-floor windows had no seal-break sensors. He knew this because a few days earlier he’d left this very same window open before Gina armed the alarm, and afterward nothing happened—no blaring sounds before they pulled away, no call or drive-by from a security officer. So tonight, again, the security company wouldn’t see any flashing red lights on their computer screens. Not yet anyway, not until he smashed a window downstairs and staged a sloppy burglary scene on his way out.
Despite knowing that nobody would be out till Friday, his footsteps were all toe as he crept from the dark bathroom and into the hazy bluish hall, and yet, even with all this effort to tread lightly, the old floorboards still strained and creaked each time his sneakers pressed down. Trailing away from him, a black-and-white series of Ansel Adams photos hung in perfect rows, one on either side of the hall, hundreds of birch trees encased in glass coverings that Corey had just recently Windexed and wiped. Every table surface and light fixture and the entire length of the floor gleamed, immaculate, too clean to imagine the Sheffields had ever even set foot in here, let alone lived here for part of the year. He’d always felt the house had a certain coldness to it, and thought so again now, even though it had to be damn near eighty degrees inside with all the windows closed.
After slowly stepping down one set of stairs, Corey skulked along the second-floor hall, past the doorway to Mr. and Mrs. Sheffields’ master bedroom and then past Andy’s and Clay’s rooms, deciding to browse Tiffany’s bedroom first, his favorite room in the house. The Sheffields’ only daughter had a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf full of hardcover novels, stage plays and poetry collections, a Super 8 projector, stacked film reels and three antique cameras. He’d spent as much time as possible in this room during his previous workdays, mainly staring at the paintings mounted on three of the walls, and now lingered once more looking at each textured image, surprised all over again that a rich girl had painted these shades of pain, these somber expressions on the faces of dirty figures in shabby clothes, compositions of suffering he’d have expected from a city artist teetering between a rat-hole apartment and a cardboard box in an alley. They all had something, that’s for sure, but one portrait had always spoken to him much more than any of the others. He stood before it and freed it from its hook.
At the window he noticed the light had gone off at the mansion across the lake and figured the insomniac must have drunk enough for sleep. Although he knew he shouldn’t, he flicked on Tiffany’s bedside table light to get a better look at the girl in the painting, her brown eyes, full lips, caramel skin, her black hair flowing down to divots between her collarbone and chest. He knew Tiffany had painted it, but also that it wasn’t a self-portrait. She looked nothing like the girl she’d painted. Anorexically skinny, Tiffany had dyed-blond hair and usually wore too much makeup. In one photo with her parents and two older brothers, while the rest of the family had dressed in country club attire, she had on a tank top and frayed jean shorts, dark sunglasses, the only one of them with any tattoos, the only one barefoot on the grass.
Corey searched her shelves until he found the photo of Tiffany’s best friend, the girl from the painting, Angelique. He’d seen her at the estate plenty during the previous summers, and last Labor Day weekend they’d talked many times, their conversations lasting longer and seeming to have more depth until finally he summoned the courage to ask her out. Her long pause had made him wish he could disappear, and then those four awful words, I have a boyfriend, had knocked the wind out of him just before he nodded with his eyes to the ground and walked away. Reliving the disappointment, he killed the lamplight and lay on the bed with her photo on his chest, and then, stupidly, closed his eyes…
Excerpted from The East End by Jason Allen, Copyright © 2019 by Jason Allen. Published by Park Row Books.
About the author:
Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A MEDITATION ON FIRE. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.
Keep in touch with Jason Allen on social media:
I am always so interested in an author’s process and getting in their mind as the characters and the story unfolds. I have an exclusive interview with the author here for you .
Q&A with Jason Allen
Q: How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)
A: On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.
Q: What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing? Where did you write the bulk of this novel?
A: I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.
Q: How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?
A: Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration, until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.
What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.
Q: What inspired you to write THE EAST END?
A: Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.
Q: What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?
A: The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.
Q: What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?
A: Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.
Q: What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?
A: Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.
Q: Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?
A: I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.
Q: What is your favorite genre to read? Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?
A: Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.
Q: What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?
A: I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.
Q: Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?
A: Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug, and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.
The East End is available 5/7/2019 . Get your copy now!
I would love to know what you think about the East End. Be sure to comment and let me know. I look forward to this book being out in the wild!
Until the next chapter,