Returning this summer with his first new book in a decade, David Goodwillie is back with an evocative exploration of New York in the early aughts. Kings County follows two fresh New York transplants Audrey and Theo — both small-town creatives looking for greener pastures — as they try to make their own way in the big city. The pair fall for one another after a chance meeting at a concert. She's trying to make it as a musician, and he has literary aspirations. New York was supposed to be the place where all their dreams would come true, but living in the city just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks forces Audrey and Theo to wonder whether they've made the right decision by relocating to Brooklyn. And just how much struggling they can take in the name of art.
The Two Best Players
The Turkey’s Nest was empty when Audrey walked in, save for Gavin, who had the sports section of the Daily News open on the bar.
“ESPN’s not enough?” she asked, nodding up at the TV playing highlights in the corner.
“I’m a Mets fan,” Gavin said. “They don’t get much national coverage.”
Audrey filed this away. She hadn’t yet chosen her New York teams — she was still new to the city — but the Mets sounded promising. She liked underdogs. She chose a bar stool near the front window and dug the latest Backstage out of her bag. Gavin was already pouring her a draft.
She paged through to “Auditions & Casting Calls.” These were her parameters:
- No unpaid gigs (she was too broke)
- No SAG jobs (she wasn’t a union member)
- No singing or dancing (not her forte)
- Nothing involving travel (no car)
- No reality TV auditions (her actual life was close enough)
- No modeling (negotiable, depending on $$ and situation)
This left... not much. A low-budget horror film shooting on Staten Island. A pharmaceutical company voice-over. Two listings for female “atmosphere.” Audrey circled each and then cross-referenced their call times with her work schedules. She’d been in Brooklyn for three months and had landed exactly that many auditions. Of those, two had gone poorly. The third, an online training industrial for Citibank, had appeared promising (two callbacks!) until the HR woman running the casting asked Audrey where she, personally, banked. Thinking it was small talk, Audrey informed her, practically laughing, that she personally banked at the Payomatic check-cashing center on Bedford and North Fourth. At which point the woman pinned her lips together in a kind of antismile and slowly edged away. Audrey was not called back again.
She drank her beer and looked out the front window. It was four thirty on a beautiful spring afternoon and she’d just worked the dreaded Saturday brunch shift at Enid’s. Seven hours of ketchup bottles and 10 percent tips. Now she was experiencing that familiar sensation of simultaneous exhaustion and invigoration. Wiped out and worked up. After a dinner shift, you could take it one way or the other, double down on the high or go home and crash, but lunches were more challenging, with all those open hours afterward. You could almost have a normal night, if there were ever one to be had.
“Find anything?” Gavin asked. He was an actor, too, when he wasn’t bartending or writing plays or working at a UPS Store in midtown. In Florida, Audrey had been the only one of her friends who worked part-time full-time. Here, everyone did.
“‘Atmosphere,’ ” Audrey said.
“Atmosphere’s important.” Gavin peered around. “Maybe not in here, but...”
“Look at this: a listing for aspiring Knicks City Dancers.” Audrey circled it facetiously. “And to think I moved here to get away from cheerleaders.”
Gavin took her pint glass and refilled it.
“It’s on me,” he said.
“That’s quite a buyback policy.”
“You’re my only customer. I have to keep you happy.” He picked up the Backstage. “You should check their website on Thursdays when the listings go live. By now half of this stuff’s already been cast.”
Audrey thanked him, pretending she hadn’t heard this advice before. The problem was that she didn’t have a computer — or most other benchmarks of a conventional existence. A bicycle, for instance. Or a TV. Or a cell phone. Or friends.
Excerpted from Kings County, by David Goodwillie. Reprinted by permission of Avid Reader Press, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
David Goodwillie's Kings County is available today.