A novel of Philadelphia


Worthy is only a quick trip to Philadelphia, a snarky read with mystery and political scandal and a woman who’ll keep you guessing, and a man searching for stability in a world that keeps changing the rules. But listen, it wasn’t designed to appeal to the self-indulgent reader, it hasn’t been edited into comfy conformity with prevailing styles, and it’s definitely not inclined to shield you from the cringeworthy or unduly trite because such encounters are often important. Read the full Prologue on the Excerpts page, just to get the idea.

Worthy is deceptive, an enormous joke about the importance of moving through life with grave respect, conscious of doing harm as well as good however apparently noble the cause or intention. It insists that no one really knows anything, whatever they think, and that fortune, and  courage, and intelligence, and even determination, are neither earned nor deserved. It suspects that, lacking direction and agreement, no one knows which ideas are important, and tosses its pearls at random. As Con Manos, the narrator of the novel, remarks:

“…even back then I realized most of philosophy is basically crap. Look at Kant and Hume; it’s just simplified shit wrapped up in dense layers of jargon. Validity is determined by timing and credentials, that’s all there is to it. Value’s all in the packaging, otherwise no one will notice except to mock.”

Please note, any literary types out there: Worthy is structured around a minor experiment on the limits of narration, a kind of demystified Bakhtin carnival. Really, can an author ever genuinely detach from their characters? In fiction voices melt into each other, because in the end they are all the author, and there is no escaping that truth to discover an other mind.

And if at first you’re contemptuous, or disappointed, well, keep reading, because I doubt I’m going anywhere you think politically, morally, or any other way.


“I mean, everybody thinks God is on their side.” Ruth put her coffee cup down on its heavy restaurant saucer, watching herself. Then she sent me this very pointed kind of look with those big, vulnerable blue eyes.

I’m a journalist, I should explain, and I knew this woman just well enough to be immediately suspicious. But she was very intense, now that I noticed, and waiting for me like it mattered. That was interesting. Here I’d always considered Ruth one of those breezy, satiric women proficient at deflecting inquiry, and now she wanted something.

“I’m sick of it,” she said, now addressing the tabletop. “I’m going to go break things.”

Wow. Except I didn’t like her and I didn’t feel like playing. I get enough I didn’t need it and I didn’t really care. Frankly there were things I never wanted to hear from her. We’d met by accident at one of those ubiquitous Center City cafes that’s all calculated simplicity: quinoa salads, homemade soups, cranberry muffins, that kind of crap. It was lunch hour and the place was loud with competing conversations in those well-educated downtown voices, the entire scene as fundamentally deceptive as casual business attire. You could practically feel the pervasive atmosphere of unacknowledged cynicism on your skin, the deodorized vinegar emanating from all those dissatisfied young professionals amazed to have already acquired such long but mysteriously undistinguished pasts.

So Ruth Askew, running into me in those exceptionally ordinary surroundings, flat imprisoned me in unwanted intimacy in order to entrust me with a revelation of startling profundity and enormous human significance, effectively summoning me into history, granting me an unprecedented experience that would surely transform my life, or anyway something along those lines. Because she’d been all too impatiently awaiting a sign from Heaven and was toying with the idea that God had delivered me to her for use as disciple and authoritative witness. They’re always looking for witnesses.


Philadelphia Skyline by Jason Murphy CC 4.0