By Lindsay Toler
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By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
On a snowy January afternoon in Manhattan, Kyle Beachy is on the prowl for rare books. In New York to visit his girlfriend, the St. Louis-bred novelist stops into Left Bank Books, a cluttered West Village hole in the wall. Unlike the unaffiliated St. Louis shop of the same name, this store is piled to the ceiling with hard-to-find tomes. Beachy makes a beeline for an enclosed case and emerges with a pair of Don DeLillo hardbacks.
"This is a really stupid hobby to get into, collecting first editions," he says, showing off a blue-jacketed copy of Ratner's Star that sells for $45. Pointing to the back cover of the 1982 novel The Names, Beachy marvels at the photo of the bearded, sage-looking author, whose work Beachy is teaching this semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "I have no money," he adds, "but I'm such a sucker for DeLillo."
He plunks down his credit card and walks out, feeling satisfied though a little guilty. "I guess I just won't eat for a few days," he later writes on his blog. When we meet again the following week for a beer in Brooklyn, he sheepishly takes a phone call from his house cleaner and then practically apologizes for enlisting one. "I don't have cable," he notes, referring to his two-bedroom condo in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood.
The 30-year-old Beachy, who grew up in Ladue and Olivette, wears the boyish good looks of ER's Noah Wyle. On this winter day, he's dressed stylishly in a cowboy-style snap shirt rolled up to his elbows and brown skate shoes. He wears a thin layer of stubble with his glasses perched on his forehead. Though eloquent and quick with a joke, Beachy is often distinctly self-conscious, especially when it comes to the subject of his childhood privilege. "I don't think people have given me a fraction of the shit I've given myself for it," he notes.
The burden of wealth is a central theme in Beachy's debut novel, The Slide, published last month as a paperback original by Random House — and to critical acclaim. From Entertainment Weekly to Publishers Weekly, the book has drawn raves, with Booklist asserting that Beachy "perfectly captures the brain-fogging mugginess of summer in the Midwest and the quarry-deep reticence of midwesterners in a funny and endearing novel...."
Best-selling author James McManus called the novel's protagonist, Potter Mays, "the most ethical sexual deviant this side of Portnoy — or Hamlet." ("I think to put Potter's name anywhere within twenty miles of those characters is outrageously complimentary," responds Beachy.)
Something of a love letter to St. Louis, The Slide features nostalgic scenes set around town. At Fair Saint Louis, men wear "Blues hockey jerseys and jean shorts" and smoke menthols, while at the erstwhile Creve Coeur disco Baja Beach Club, Jägermeister shots are "passed from adults to children." Beachy's characters visit Mike Shannon's Steaks & Seafood, the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium.
In one particularly memorable scene, Potter journeys to Maplewood's Deer Creek Park with his jailbait-next-door neighbor Zoe Hoyne, where they ride the rocket slide. At the top of the slide's highest ramp, he says to her:
"I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to get the nerve to go down this thing. I had no problem with the medium one, which is actually steeper and faster than this one. I think it was the darkness that scared me. The tunnel curves around the pole so you have no idea where you're going once you're in. Jesus, it used to scare me."
"There's definitely a metaphor there. Scared of the dark future." She patted my elbow.
"You're not allowed to patronize me."
"Oh no. I'm with you on the scariness thing. If the hot older neighbor is scared, I'm petrified."
The book is a coming-of-age saga that shares thematic elements with The Graduate and the writings of Nick Hornby. More than seven years in the making, it is loosely based on Beachy's 2001 post-college summer. The 22-year-old Potter moves back to his parents' house, drives a water truck and roots hard for the Cardinals. (Although, unlike Beachy, Potter also befriends a fifth-grader, infiltrates a religious cult and talks to his dead younger brother.)
It's a spirited, oft-hilarious piece of fiction, and an unlikely achievement from a literary newcomer whose work was rejected precisely 117 times before he found an agent.
Beachy admits he "bawled like a little girl" when he finally found representation, but says he never lost hope. "I always had faith in it," he says. "If you shake something long enough, it eventually falls into place."
Kyle Beachy had a charmed upbringing in west St. Louis county. His father, Roger, was a Washington University biology professor whose work opened the doors for the first genetically modified food crop — a virus-resistant tomato — and who now heads the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. His mother, Terry, is a retired speech pathologist. Together they raised Kyle and his sister K.C. in a three-bedroom house on Godwin Lane in Ladue.
Beachy later moved to Olivette with his mother after his parents split up and graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School near the top of his class. Though he occasionally caused trouble by clowning around in history class or skateboarding recklessly, his teachers and parents adored him. "Kyle very seldom, if ever, disappointed us," says his father.