Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
Formats and Prices
- ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around July 16, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.
Tap here to learn more.
THE NEWBS WERE LINED UP IN THEIR UNDERWEAR ALONG THE FAR wall of the Hawley basement. Ennis Quinn, the captain of the wrestling team and the hardest sixth-former in Hawley House, stepped out from the pack of older kids, and Ben Weeks's shoulder blade met the cool stone behind him. Ben tried to keep his nervous elation from becoming too apparent: he had spent so long waiting through other things to get here. Ennis began to pace in front of the newbs, his eyes forced wide, his paper-bag-colored hair buzzed wrestling short, the tip of his tongue moving over his lips. He seemed built of denser stuff than the other kids.
The older guys in the dorm stood on all sides, now swaying in time together, and because they couldn't let the junior faculty two floors above them hear, they chanted in whispered unison, "A St. James newb is a quiet newb! A St. James newb is a quiet newb! A St. James newb…"
Ben could feel how scared the rest of the new kids were, and he was overcome with a protective pity for them. He wished he could impart to them what his older brother, Teddy, graduated that past spring, had imparted to him. This would just be a glorified pillow fight, it was happening all across campus in the basement of every dorm, it would weld them all together, they had come down here strangers and would leave each other's future groomsmen.
But, now, Ennis paced. Ben kept expecting him to start talking or yelling, to open the ordeal, but he just continued to walk back and forth, and the chanting of the other upper-formers all at once grew stale. They had repeated the words so often that the meaning had gone away in their mouths.
Now it seemed that this could be more difficult. Ennis kept pacing, not speaking, as though waiting for someone else's line to prompt him. Of course they had all been drinking, the upper-formers, but Ben hadn't come close enough to smell it. The newbs remained standing there, hair sleep-askew. Fear began to turn in Ben, new fear about actually getting hit now, and fear that this would be something other than what he had hoped it would be.
Ben's roommate, Ahmed, was the only newb who wasn't staring absently down at the drain in the floor, waiting for this to begin so that it could be over. And Ahmed was the only newb who was wearing a bathrobe: off-white waffle weave with crimson piping. His eyebrows were low and he followed Ennis with his eyes. What had Ennis done to earn this?
Earlier that day Ben had come through the door to the room and met eyes with Ahmed, this brown boy wearing a magnificent plum-colored dress shirt, and Ben had been quietly shocked by what was there in his face, in such contrast to all the other faces he had ever seen at St. James: a pure enthusiasm, a near-complete absence of guile. Now Ahmed closed his fists and released them, close-release, close-release, close-release, close-release. Ben watched Ahmed, and Ahmed watched Ennis. Still Ennis paced, still he said nothing, and it seemed like some mechanism was broken inside him.
Ben had so much to rely on. He took himself back to the living eyes of the crowd behind his court as he faced them, right arm above his head, after winning the last point of the Under-15 Junior National Squash tournament. Ben tried on that triumph again, tried to let it take him. Manley Price, the St. James squash coach, had been waiting for him to arrive on the team. Ben saw his brother Teddy's face, utterly free from doubt, describing St. James's classes, late nights in friends' rooms, afternoons deep in the woods. He saw Hutch's face across the Camp Tongaheewin canoe shed, telling the other kids how sweet St. James was going to be. Ben saw the class photos of his uncle and father and grandfather, all the Weekses who looked like him, all the way back. Fear was natural, fear was even part of the appeal, but he belonged, he belonged, this was the correct beginning for all of it.
"Newbs!" Ennis finally called out in a whisper. "We are going to see who is the toughest among you!"
Again Ennis lapsed into fixated silence, and all of Ben's assurance went away.
"We are going to find out who is the bravest! The strongest! The fastest! The best! The best! The besssssssst!"
Ennis curled his fists in front of himself and lowered his head toward his chest now, chanting to himself, "The bessssssst! The bessssssst! The besssssssssst!" The morning of that day seemed very long ago.
* * *
After two hours on the blazing highway, Ben's dad had taken Exit 20 into Doverton's strip of car washes, mattress stores, drive-thru banks, the Pizzeria Uno, the Staples, the Boston Chicken. Ben wondered when the school would build its own exit off of 93 so you didn't have to drive through all this, the hectic electrical wires across the sky, the parking lots without a single car surrounding restaurant-shaped buildings with no glass in the windows. They passed Doverton's dignified red-brick mental hospital, the tan public high school, the Citgo station crouched in its concrete lot.
The road narrowed. Now the houses on either side sagged as though underneath the clapboard they were built of sodden foam.
Then the forest seemed to unwind, to expel the hasty man-made things, and it became the kind of forest that people think of when they think of New England. Ben dried his palms on the front of his khaki shorts. His real life was so close, but now unexpectedly he wanted to keep driving for a few more hours, to go out into the woods with his dad and find sheets of lichen over wide granite tables. At home a few years before, they had walked through the woods and taken lichen flakes to compare with the pictures in the thick manual on the library coffee table. Since then that book had lain there, perfectly undisturbed.
The back of the Volvo station wagon was snug: two hockey duffels full of clothes and bedding; his three Prince Extender squash racquets, which Prince had just sent him; half a flat of new yellow-dot squash balls; Action Eyes glasses with white Croakies; two pair of Hi-Tec court shoes. He had Teddy's hand-me-down stereo; a cardboard tube with a Led Zeppelin poster and an M. C. Escher poster inside; cleats, Saucony running shoes, brown Oxfords; the red Marlboro Racing hat with the Formula 1 car on it that Teddy had given him, which Ben had stuffed with two T-shirts and wrapped in a fleece so it wouldn't get misshapen in the duffel; a Mac Classic; a schefflera tree in a wicker basket; an alarm clock; toothbrush, toothpaste, Old Spice, and shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one. A new North Face Mountain Jacket was also rolled up in his duffel bag, and Ben had cried to get it.
They kept driving now under trees whose heavy foliage blocked out the sky. Ben kept waiting for St. James's front sign. He had come up for so many anniversary days, for squash matches where he had undergone Manley Price's famous handshake, for Teddy's games, for years of Parents' Weekends.
And before that, Ben's father had come up on the train from the old Penn Station; and his uncle; and his grandfather, who on the living room mantel laughed in black-and-white with Bobby Kennedy; and his great-uncle, whose name was on the certificate of incorporation for the Council on Foreign Relations.
And before any of that, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, then still a colony, Samuel Weeks had been a sailmaker, sewing by hand the sails for a single whaling vessel, the Vulcan. Soon he ran a thriving sail- and boatmaking enterprise, and his sons thereafter invested in shipping and importing, rising to prominent places in state government.
And so, in order to become equipped to carry on this lineage, twelve-year-old Thomas Weeks had in the fall of 1856 arrived in God's Pocket, New Hampshire, in a surrey carriage behind two overcast-gray horses, for the first day of the first semester of St. James's first year.
Thomas's parents were risking their son's education, and by extension the social standing and future of the family, on a new pedagogical idea. A young minister, the son of a family friend, had decided to establish an intentionally remote, enclosed educational haven in the old-growth forest. At the time, the academies—Andover, Exeter, Milton—weren't boarding schools at all. Their buildings lined each town's main street and students lived with local families or in independent rooming houses. But every family knew a few boys who had come back from the academies with drinking and gambling problems, and this was an error in the system. The point had always been to have a son escape the distractions and temptations of the city in order to become prepared.
So to announce its contrast, St. James chose as its school symbol not an eagle or lion or dragon, but an ant. The school crest was a black worker ant below an open Bible over the motto Vade ad Formicam. That impressed the Weekses. All students would live together on campus under the direct supervision of teachers, and together they would undergo the same curriculum of Latin, rhetoric, mathematics, and theology. Students would work on the buildings and grounds. After four years, the risk paid off several times over.
Thomas went on to Princeton and was an early investor in the rubber industry. The Weeks family had contributed to the rubber tire, the sealing gasket, the windshield wiper, the shoe sole, the conveyor belt, the latex glove: modernity itself. Money was not a possession but rather a trust, and the owner simply a trustee, a steward.
Ben had been told this story many times. He had been reminded of the particular worthiness of this origin, but most of the time it was too familiar to be distinct to him. The photo of Thomas Weeks with the six other graduates of the first St. James class hung inconspicuously along the back hallway of Ben's house, and Ben would sometimes look at all of them leaning on the split-rail fence and wonder when it had become the rule to smile in pictures. Almost right away, St. James had been accepted as one of the very few training grounds for America's nervous and changeable aristocracy, and soon several other schools imitated the idea.
But now, in the middle 1990s, this design, this intentional remoteness, was starting to break down, and it would only continue to break down. The majority of St. James kids already had email addresses, and in a few years, the dorms would be wired for broadband Internet. And then hip-hop slang would sound cooler than what had bloomed in this particular Galápagos of Grateful Dead dialect. And the kids would start looking at the same amount of porn as everyone else, Gchat with their friends from home, check Facebook between classes, tend Instagram, and get calls from their parents on their phones every day. And their parents would call their teachers and wonder about that grade on that quiz, or that decision not to start the kid for the second half of the game.
But not quite yet. Still, as Ben and his father drove toward campus, you could go an entire semester without seeing a newscast or hearing commercial radio, and each dorm shared one pay phone in the basement. Even though N.W.A CDs and Peter North on VHS had passed the gates since Ben's dad had graduated, the remoteness still functioned as remoteness; it was still easier to escape distraction here. To what end?
And then the simple white sign between granite posts appeared: ST. JAMES SCHOOL.
Ben's dad braked and pulled off into the spur of the entrance lane. Untrained evergreen hedges grew tall on either side, blocking for a moment the powerful sun, and the car drove slowly between them.
The St. James admissions packet—the sight of its thickness had washed Ben with relief—told him he would have a roommate, but it hadn't given him any information about who the roommate would be. Ben loved that he would have a roommate. This kid would give Ben a place to deploy the expertise he'd learned from Teddy. When he had visited St. James before, met Teddy's friends, he'd learned that if a kid's last name sounded familiar, it wasn't a coincidence. Yes, that food company, that steelmaker, that bank. Ben and his roommate would know St. James slang together, they would have inside jokes, they would go talk to girls together and compare notes after. Ben would let the roommate know how to act at Seated Meal and at the Den, what no one wore, how to make upper-formers think you were cool enough for a newb but not trying to be too cool. When you went to someone's room you never knocked on the door because only faculty were required to knock, and so anyone who knocked was faculty.
Ben and his roommate would know how to get liquor (Ben had no idea how to get liquor, but so what) and other kids would want to come to their room to partake. Ben would hang out with his roommate more than with the guy he knew from Tongaheewin, Taylor Hutchinson—Hutch—and Hutch would want to hang out with Ben because he was kind of unavailable. The Tongaheewin staff had let Hutch go on the Long Canoe Trip even as a 14-and-Under, and during the dance with Loheewo, he had apparently fingered Heather Reese on the tennis courts. This past summer people said they had gone all the way. Hutch was up for Best Camper two years in a row, but he had scoffed at the idea, saying that only suck-ups got that prize.
"But I bet Weeksy wants it, huh?" Hutch said, punching Ben pretty hard on the shoulder. And in fact Ben did want Best Camper, and he blushed, and the rest of the kids at their table laughed and Ben punched Hutch back but it was so light. Hutch had afforded Ben more respect once he found out that Ben was going to St. James too.
Ben and his roommate would steal an industrial-size bag of powdered Jell-O from the Dish and caulk the gap under the door of someone's ground-floor room, then, with a hose through the window, fill the room with a foot of water, pour the Jell-O in, turn the radiator on and stir the whole room with an oar from the boathouse, then turn the radiator off, leave the windows open, and, when the room was discovered with a foot of perfect gelatin across it, be hailed as epoch-defining practical jokers, and Hutch would nod that it was pretty awesome.
Ben already missed his friend from home, Tim Green, with his eternal middle part and his cargo shorts, but finally he would have better, cooler friends, friends for whom he had no hidden pocket of embarrassment.
Now the entry lane hedges dropped away from either side of the car. Playing fields like green lakes opened around them. A barn-red barn sagged slightly to their left, and across the road stood a series of faculty houses in brick and white clapboard.
Beyond a fringe of trees rose the square tower of the school chapel, knotty spires pointing up from each corner. Its liver color seemed to vibrate against the ultra-sincere blue of the summer sky. To call it a chapel had always seemed strange to Ben; it was a full-scale cathedral, and its tower was visible from almost everywhere on campus.
Ben sensed the North Face jacket and the Marlboro Racing hat in the car behind him and almost shuddered with the anticipation of wearing them when the time came. Soon he would feel the right way. If he had come in on the first day wearing the hat, people would think he thought he was cool, but soon he would be able to wear it.
Driving in now, Ben saw kids along the paths in their hats, mostly the two-bar Game hats with the names of different colleges across the front, but he knew that his Marlboro hat was better because it was the same shape and structure as the Game hats, but it was distinct, one of a kind, and the curve of the brim was perfect. Hutch would immediately recognize that it was perfect, and Ben wished that Teddy had given it to him early enough to wear at Tongaheewin.
They kept driving, down a slight incline toward Founder's Hall with its bleached-bright columns, then over the nameless brook that ran through campus. Usually his dad talked constantly when they came to St. James, pointing at places through the window and relating things he had done in each place, but now he was quiet, maybe also under the heaviness of his hope. He had been co-chair of the fundraising committee for the new squash courts, so at least Ben knew he would want to go see them. Maybe Manley Price would be there at the courts waiting for them.
Now they came to the parking lot behind the unlovely quad dorms, 1930s institutional Gothic built of brick and sandstone. Ben's dorm, Hawley, did its part to confine an expanse of grass on the building's far side. They parked amid the other cars and got out and stretched in the hot sun, and the chapel bells rang all four Westminster Quarters and then a single bong: one p.m.
The dorm thrummed with kids and parents intent on carrying things in and setting them up. Ben and his dad wore khaki shorts and polo shirts but not sunglasses because sunglasses were gauche. Room 24 was empty. Two beds, two surgical-green rubber-covered mattresses, two desks. Ben and his dad set the first bags on the floor. Three windows on the far wall looked out over the back parking lot and the stretch of grass to the Two-Laner, and then the cinder block gym beyond. Ben knew that if he stuck his head out the window he could see the squash courts just up the rise to the right. The wind pushed slowly through the heavy trees.
On both desks lay the folder with the line-drawn map of the school and the schedule of first days' activities, and on top of that, a small, dark blue leatherette book.
THE ST. JAMES COMPANION
was printed on the cover in stout, gold-embossed letters, and the page edges were stained red. Ben chose the bed and desk on the left, and he slipped the book into the desk's pencil drawer.
Outside, older kids were hugging each other and laughing. Ben carried a standing lamp and his dad carried one bookshelf speaker under each arm. They set up the stereo and hung the Escher poster of ants crawling along a Möbius strip. Ben's dad had given him a three-by-five reproduction of an Audubon drawing of the Great Auk, a sort of penguin that looked like an affronted London aristocrat. The little print was in a worn-out, gold-painted frame, and Ben jammed a thumbtack into the outside of the room's door and hung the frame on the tack. Ben kept imagining a short-haired girl coming to visit him. The last thing she saw before their eyes met would be this quirky, charming picture.
Now in the parking lot it was sweat-hot. The leaves flashed white as they faced the sun. Cicadas ground off and on as though theirs was the noise of the heat itself.
As they made trips to and from the car carrying things in, Ben nodding and half smiling to every new person he passed, girls were doing the same thing, moving with their parents between the cars in the quad parking lot and the neighboring dorms.
Ben looked at the girls but tried not to look too hard. He noticed the pretty girls, but he also saw the cusp-pretty girls. Even in hurried glances with his arms full, Ben could tell which of these St. James girls had been awkward. There had been a couple girls like this at Sidney, his school at home. Their long necks just now belonged with the rest of their bodies, or their eyes weren't quite so close together anymore, and even though Ben couldn't know its precise history, the unaccustomedness was clear.
The always-pretty girls seemed to consume attention as a matter of routine, or even as a nuisance, and Ben couldn't blame them for that. But the cusp-pretty girls had never before been looked at so hard—by boys, by men, and by the always-pretty girls—and it seemed to make them aware of their surroundings in a way that appeared exhilarating and slightly painful for them.
Ben felt kinship with those cusp-pretty girls, slight kinship, because now for the first time people were starting to look at him with a story in their minds too. Because Ben had in the past year gone from being a pretty good squash player to being maybe the best boys' squash player in the country. Even in a world so tiny—he played a sport that most of America would never know about—that new celebrity, the way the coaches and parents and other players actively reassessed him, stood out clearly to him.
Ben loved the feeling that people were going to respect him, that he could lift his shoulders and feel a mantle of dominance laid over them. But to talk too much about oneself was bad, to have too much self-regard, and so when he smiled about winning, lifted his arm above his head as he turned to the crowd—eventually that would feel natural. It was like a demented eddy in him when the triumph that he had wanted for so long, that all the other players around him worked so hard for, that his father was incandescent for on his behalf, didn't feel exactly the way he thought it was going to. Ben could sense that every time these people looked at him, they were trying to assess how closely the real thing lived up to what this Weeks kid was supposed to be. He hoped those cusp-pretty girls were noticing him, feeling him feel kinship with them.
All at once everything was up in the room, and so Ben and his dad decided to go see the new courts. As soon as they walked down the steps at Hawley's back entrance, Ben again expected Manley Price to be there, knowing exactly how long Ben had already been on campus. Slowly they went up the rise toward the new building.
The game of squash—two players in a room the size of a two-car garage hitting a rubber ball off a wall, each trying to hit a shot that bounces twice before the other can reach it—started in England in the 1830s and soon spread throughout the British colonies. St. James, from the beginning almost desperately imitating England in its architecture, curriculum, and pastimes, built in 1885 the first court in the United States. There was no standard court size at the time, and St. James's court happened to be narrower than the ones taking shape in England. St. James, and then clubs and schools in Philadelphia and Brooklyn Heights and Canada, were playing in the winter before reliable heating, and because cold rubber doesn't bounce easily, the Americans developed dense balls that retained heat well and moved fast even when you could see your breath on the court.
But in the rest of the world, a wider, shorter court became standard. A ball developed that you could pinch between your fingers and that wasn't overactive in warmer climates like India and Hong Kong. And so the two games existed in parallel: "hardball" in America and "softball" around the world, and the American game became a strange, isolated variant.
This American game was the version that everyone around Ben played growing up. Ben's dad, Harry, had been on the team at St. James in the mid-1960s and remained a fanatic, playing three times a week at his club. Manley Price started as coach after Harry graduated, and many times out loud Ben's dad had expressed regret that he hadn't been there for the Price era. Harry and his friends at the club wore paper slippers after the shower and cupped their privates in talcum powder and used combs lifted by a metal plunger out of the jar of Barbicide and drank Scotch and played backgammon.
Harry somehow never became true friends with the other men whose families had always belonged to clubs like this, had founded clubs like this. His real friends—and more or less the only friends he had, rather than his wife's friends' husbands—were Chip and Paul, the two guys he played squash with most often. Chip was an engineer from Wilmette, Illinois, and Paul was an insurance executive from Houston, and they had moved to Connecticut to work for United Technologies and Cigna, respectively. Chip and Paul had both picked up squash as adults. Late-to-the-gamers are always the most intense, and they were the only two guys at the club who played hard enough for Harry's liking. The three of them never entered official tournaments; they just played endless winner-stay-on-court games. The three of them dove for the ball, their knees bled, they wore complicated braces, but they never missed a court time.
Even though he would have been ashamed to catch himself thinking it, Harry thought he was the social better of these two men. Partly he enjoyed their company so much because he didn't have to impress them, and because they couldn't accurately assess the nuances of his class and how closely he did or didn't adhere to its rules. When he was around real WASPs, Harry sometimes had a feeling that he'd been wasting his time with Chip and Paul, but he was always relieved to see them again.
Harry used squash as his handle on St. James. It was his way of counterbalancing the influence of his brother, Russell: Russell Weeks, founder and chairman of Landreach Capital. A home at 80th and Park and one in Amagansett. Served on the St. James board, audited the school's books each year, and co-authored the Annual Report. In 1992 Russell had given the majority gift for a major addition to the school's observatory, including a telescope seven times more powerful than the previous one. Harry gave every year too, but he prided himself on spending time: when the SJS squash team played a school in Connecticut or southern Mass, Ben's dad would go cheer and talk with Manley Price about strategy and training approaches.
At Harry's club he and Chip and Paul played the American game, but Chip had first learned to play squash on International courts with a softball while working for Siemens in Munich, and so when he came back to the US, playing the American game felt like hitting a Super Ball in a closet. In a long, patient fit of pique he built an International court out of cinder block and plaster in his backyard, and he called it the "µm Club," or the "Micron Club" after his favorite unit of measurement. He gave Ben and a few other local kids the keys and said they could use it whenever they wanted.
From Ben's house to the country club was a sixteen-minute drive, but it was only a seven-minute bike ride to the Um Club, and so almost entirely out of inertia Ben at age eleven began spending ninety percent of his playing time on the International-size court playing with the International ball. He and the other kids who ended up at the Um Club were generally in better shape than their tournament opponents because a softball is harder to put away. Their points lasted longer, but their timing was off for the American game, their movement not as precise, and so they would almost inevitably lose in the second or third round of any tournament they entered.
- "Alexander Tilney applies supple, panoramic prose to the deep interior of an exclusive Northeastern prep school, with arresting results: at once anthropological and visceral, The Expectations provides an authoritative glimpse into a rarefied world of privilege--and announces a dazzling new voice in American fiction."—Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach
"This humorous, powerful, and thoughtful debut novel examines what it means to come of age amidst great privilege-and serves as a gimlet-eyed reminder of all the things money can never buy."
—Town and Country
"An elegiac début...Tilney's book eschews the trope of the alienated narrator...The tension of the book flows from the fact that Ben's status and advantages have prepared him for a version of adolescence that no reality can live up to."
—Katy Waldman, The New Yorker
- "This beautifully written coming-of-age novel is a subtle exploration of WASP culture and elite institutions: what it means to hail from them, the lengths we'll go to protect them, and what it means when they can't keep up with the evolution of society."—Goop
- "Riveting. A deeply resonant, brilliantly nuanced meditation on privilege, social ambition, and the folly (and cruelty) of youth. It is also a terrific read-funny, heartbreaking, and completely transporting from start to finish. A provocative and powerful debut."—Kate Walbert, author of His Favorites
- "The Expectations is story of how fraught and chaotic and exhilarating it is on the cusp of adulthood while living among the wealthy, and the cruel. Tender but not sentimental, this novel marks the debut of a genuine talent, one I hope to keep reading for a very long time."—Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
"Smart, shrewdly observed, and highly readable...The novel paints a compassionate portrait of a confused young man groping for maturity...Tilney deftly limns the unchanging eponymous expectations: that students will graduate to the Ivy League and real-world leadership...But Tilney also nails the changing social climate of the mid-1990s."
"A sensitive and perceptive debut...Writing primarily from Ben's point of view, Tilney also alights for a sentence or two at a time in the minds of those who surround him, which adds depth to the narrative."
—Margaret Quamme, Booklist
"Tilney's memorable boarding school novel hits the mark...A rewarding debut... The author effectively touches on matters of class, societal pressures, and what it really means to be cool."
- "The Expectations portrays all the intrigue of adolescence--sexual longing, competitive aspiration, and betrayal--while illuminating the most poignant of growing-up realities: It's scary to figure out who you are, and even scarier when you have no idea. Tilney expertly evokes the human yearning to be recognized as Somebody, even when you fear you are nobody."—Katharine Dion, author of The Dependents
- "Beautifully rendered, sharply observed, and intensely moving. Writing with uncommon acuity and generosity, Tilney pierces the heart of a boy, exposing it without betraying it. The Expectations is an unsentimental novel about adolescence, written for adults, to be read not so that we might remember our blundering younger selves but that we might forgive them. A gift of a novel."—Susan Rieger, author of The Heirs
- On Sale
- Jul 16, 2019
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown and Company