Bridge of Clay

The first excerpt from the new novel by MARKUS ZUSAK

growing up the dunbar way

What can we say about him?

How did life begin, as a boy and a son and a Dunbar?

It was pretty simple, really, with a multitude lying within:

Once, in the tide of Dunbar past, there were five brothers, but the fourth of us was the best of us, and a boy of many traits.

How did Clay become Clay, anyway?

In the beginning there was all of us—each our own small part to tell the whole—and our father had helped at each birth; he was first to be handed to hold us. As Penelope liked to tell it, he’d be standing there, acutely aware, and he’d cried at the bedside, beaming. He never flinched at the slop or the burnt-looking bits, as the room began to spin. For Penelope, that was everything.

When it was over, she’d succumb to dizziness.

Her heartbeat leapt in her lips.

It was funny, they liked to tell us, how when we were born, we all had something they loved:

Me, it was my feet. The newborn crinkly feet.

Rory, it was his punched-up nose when he first came out, and the noises he made in his sleep; something like a world title fight, but at least they knew he was alive.

Henry had ears like paper.

Tommy was always sneezing.

And of course, there was Clay, between us:

The boy who came out smiling.

As the story went, when Penny was in labor with Clay, they left Henry, Rory, and me with Mrs. Chilman. On the drive to the hospital they nearly pulled over; Clay was coming quickly. As Penny would later tell him: the world had wanted him badly, but what she didn’t do was ask why.

Was it to hurt, to humiliate?

Or to love and make great?

Even now it’s hard to decide.