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In college, I had friends who included on a dry-erase chart—among their electric, gas, and water bills—the money they owed each other for, uh, recreational supplies. This seemed only logical at the time—the time being spent predominantly on a ratty couch in a filthy Burleith living room with the shades drawn, passing around Mao-Tse Bong and watching old episodes of The State. This was a group whose collective blood was so polluted, it couldn’t be donated on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Still, when the sundry coffee-server and video-clerk jobs weren’t paying the rent—and the fourth column on the dry-erase board began to eat up the other three—they somehow scared up alternative income as the subjects of medical trials. Billy Schine, the protagonist in New York City–based author David Gilbert’s debut novel, The Normals, is in a similar predicament. The 28-year-old, Harvard-educated temp—who “for fifteen dollars an hour…samples potential careers without making a series of misguided commitments”—has defaulted on his college loan, and now a vindictive debt-collection agency has him peering around street corners and over his shoulders. Enter Hargrove Anderson Medical, a pharmaceutical company that needs participants for a 14-day trial of an experimental new antipsychotic drug. Although Billy has no problem getting accepted into the study—unlike one of my friends, who was rejected when, um, a poppy-seed bagel corrupted the results of her blood test—things soon go awry as the drug’s side effects kick in, and a team of rogue researchers taps him for an even more dangerous experiment. Find out why the drugs don’t work when David Gilbert reads at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 418 7th St. NW. Free. (202) 638-7610. (Chris Hagan)