Cover image for Leaving Disneyland
Leaving Disneyland
Parsons, Alexander.
Personal Author:
First ed, .
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
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Doc Kane is sixteen years into a twenty-year murder sentence. Days away from a parole hearing, he means to get out and start a new life as a Square John-a law-abiding citizen. Within the predatory confines of Tyburn Penitentiary, however, he has debts to pay. To start, Doc has his duties as a "heavy" in the D.C. Blacks, a gang that has protected him. Then there is his new cellmate, a young dealer doing life without parole whose ignorance of the prison's code threatens them both. Finally, there are the guards: Sergeant Grippe, who is bent on "rehabilitating" Doc, and Raven, whose intentions are veiled but no less menacing.

Beyond these dangers, Doc faces a deeper dilemma, one embodied by Dead Earl, a thumbless junkie and reminder of a past Doc would deny. The experience of sixteen years surviving in a violent prison has shaped Doc as profoundly as a river does its course. And if character is fate, Doc's chances for a life on the straight-and-narrow are slim unless he can reshape himself. This, he discovers, is the real struggle. If he's to have any hope for his future, he must first confront his past.

Author Notes

Alexander Parsons is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He currently lives in Austin, Texas. This is his first novel.Alex Parsons is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Doc Kane has served 16 years of a 20-year murder sentence in a federal penitentiary in the Nevada desert. In a rage, he killed his son-in-law for beating his daughter. As the possibility for parole approaches, Doc walks a tightrope. His new cell mate is an arrogant young thug, a drug dealer who has murdered the brother of a fellow inmate and member of Doc's gang in his hometown of Washington, D.C. Doc is torn between old loyalty to his gang and the need to walk the straight and narrow to get out of prison. After meeting tests of loyalty and violence at the hands of guards and fellow inmates, Doc finally manages to make parole. But he can't free himself from a past that literally haunts him. Back in D.C., an aging ex-con, Doc has to stay away from friends and family, guaranteeing that he will struggle mightily, in isolation, with the square life. Parsons, winner of the AWP/Thomas Dunne Books Award, has written an intense novel about one man's efforts to survive and to reconcile himself with his violent past. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

In Hamlet, Denmark's a prison; in this novel of ghosts, jail cells and the undying past, there are prisons everywhere, which accounts for the aura of bleak misery that hovers over Doc Kane, who killed his son-in-law for beating up his daughter and is now serving time in Tyburn Penitentiary in Nevada. Kane, a member of the D.C. Blacks, is up for parole, but there's a hitch his new cellmate, Byron Cripps, killed a member of Doc's gang, and the other D.C. Blacks in Tyburn have Cripps marked for a quick and violent death. Harassed by a guard and haunted by Dead Earl, the ghost of a man who used to be Doc's runner back when he was a drug dealer, Doc can't escape his past in prison or back in D.C., when he finally makes it home. There's a noirish feel to this novel (which won the 2000-2001 AWP/ Thomas Dunne Books Award), and the question of whether Doc will be able to build a new life for himself or fall into the pit of his old one seems rhetorical at best. Yet the novel is not unremittingly gloomy. From the cadences of prison speech to the rituals of respect and disrespect that mean so much to men with little to live for, all is vividly authentic. With no happy Hallmark card climax, this downbeat, low-key story has an ending to match its uncompromising mood. By keeping the action real and not going over the top, Parsons has produced the novelistic equivalent of a great B-movie, its modest goals expertly realized. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Prologue Dead Earl beckons to Doc. His thumbless hand, like his face, is faintly luminescent, as if the bones glow through. "Time to walk the road home," Dead Earl says. Doc nods but makes no effort to rise from his bunk. There are debts to be paid and Dead Earl would be right to claim his due. But the apparition looks solemn, not vengeful, his voice weighted with duty--as if he, too, would rather be elsewhere. Dead Earl exits the cell, bobbing down the tier walkway like a phantom swamp light or ignis fatuus. Doc stands, hesitant, naked but for a pair of sweat-soaked boxer shorts. The cell is as black as a mine shaft and saturated with heat, as if the stone and metal of the prison had absorbed a century of desert burn and moonless night. His bare soles scuff against the concrete as he moves along the cellblock tier, the sibilant hiss of the quiescent inmates like the slow release of pressure. Twelve hundred men unshackled by sleep, all imagining futures in which they range free of the confinement of the prison, of circumstance, of their own character. Doc descends to the cellblock exit, eyes fixed on Dead Earl's light. He emerges to a sky luminous with starlight, the Nevada desert pale beneath this. Dead Earl waits here, holding the reins of a kneeling camel. Doc has heard them mentioned in the oldest stories of the penitentiary lore, feral animals seen from the prison walls, part of a failed army experiment from before the Civil War. "Ain't you heard of horses?" Doc asks. "Or cars? How about taxis?" But Dead Earl's humor seems to have died with him. He motions for Doc to climb on. The animal rises, almost pitching Doc over its head. Soon, though, Doc settles into the rhythm of its steady and ungainly stride. He does not look back, knowing that to do so would compromise his escape; the bulked threat of Tyburn Penitentiary is enough to startle any man from sleep. The ground slopes upward, as if the weight of the prison has created a vast sink. The camel labors out of this, its chest heaving, its hide damp and hot. Dead Earl drifts ahead, a polestar that the beast knows to follow. Through drifts of sand, over plains of hardened caliche, into the face of an unrelenting wind. The journey feels endless. Dawn breaks, a pale band of gray hazing to pink. Doc sees he has been riding through a wide river channel, the ground here dry clay. The sides of the winding channel are lined with the husks of trees--oak, maple, beech--their windstripped branches rattling like bones. It is when he passes beneath a bridge--the structure eerily intact and in good repair--that he sights the white tip of the Washington Monument. The camel's unshod hooves clop dully on the pavement as Dead Earl leads Doc through the abandoned city, winding down streets hemmed by brownstones and apartment buildings, no window of which reveals movement. It is only the knowledge of what he has left that has allowed Doc to endure this journey. Now, facing the neighborhood in which he grew up, he wonders if he should have remained in his cell. These surroundings hold no promise of escape. They are like painted facades, a cruel imitation of the refuge he has longed to reach during his sixteen years of imprisonment. "I ain't going in," he says to Dead Earl. But Earl seems not to hear. He steps into Doc's childhood home, the home where Doc's grandmother had rocked on the porch, where Doc had lived with his wife and children between his sentences. Indoors, the house is gutted, the air fetid and surprisingly cool, like freshly turned earth. He walks into what was once the living room, the light filtering through the empty window casings, the floor scabbed with rotting clothing, the walls covered with ragged strips of vaguely familiar wallpaper. He nudges a fire-blackened wastebasket with his foot. The parquet floor beneath is charred, the ceiling dark with soot. Upstairs is his bedroom. The floor is hidden by the detritus of a decade or more: old newspaper, empty packs of cigarettes, used condoms, broken bottles, discarded lighters, small glass vials and Ziploc bags, a scrawl of graffiti on the walls-- bitch suck me off ; stay tru --this accretion like an indictment for his long absence. A long-armed doll is tied to the listing radiator, its arms and legs twisted into tight knots, its upturned, grimacing clown's face half-eaten by yellow mold. In the shifting light the doll seems to move. Doc recognizes it as the one he bought his son just before committing the murder that banished him to Tyburn. He shivers and turns from the room. A shadow passes by the door and he realizes he is terrified, his breath coming in quick, shallow gasps. He wants only to get out and begins to run down the hall, stumbling down the stairs, heedless of the glass vials that crunch underfoot and gash his feet so that he leaves a trail of bloody footprints in his rush from the house. On the porch he stops. Dead Earl stands below, as substantial as a shadow at twilight. "We got other places we got to go," he says. "Where are they?" Doc yells. "What did you do?" He wants his son, his daughter, wants to see his grandmother on her porch chair. He descends the steps to the sidewalk, almost slipping on the blood seeping from his feet. Dead Earl turns, gesturing for Doc to follow. Doc leaps at him, the pair falling to the ground, where Doc fixes his thick-fingered hands around Earl's neck. "This ain't the right place," he shouts, tightening his grip as Dead Earl struggles weakly beneath him. The violence is a gift, a momentary release from fear. He pushes his thumbs hard into Dead Earl's windpipe, feeling the cartilage give, hearing an anguished cry that pairs with his own. And then Dead Earl vanishes, leaving only his stained overcoat in Doc's grip. Doc stands in this abandoned dreamscape and hears only the rasp of his own breath and the wind that flows past these untenanted houses. He looks down the street. The light is failing, and with it any landmarks from which to take his bearing. He holds Dead Earl's overcoat before him like an offering and calls for his ghost again and again as the wind rises, leafless branches rattling, signs shuddering against their posts, a screen door knocking against its frame. Excerpted from Leaving Disneyland by Alexander Parsons. Copyright © 2001 by Alexander Parsons. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.