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The Book of Getting Even
     

The Book of Getting Even

5.0 1
by Benjamin Taylor
 

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Son of a rabbi, budding astronomer Gabriel Geismar is on his way from youth to manhood in the 1970s when he falls in love with the esteemed and beguiling Hundert family, different in every way from his own. Over the course of a decade-long drama unfolding in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and the Wisconsin countryside, Gabriel enters more and more

Overview

Son of a rabbi, budding astronomer Gabriel Geismar is on his way from youth to manhood in the 1970s when he falls in love with the esteemed and beguiling Hundert family, different in every way from his own. Over the course of a decade-long drama unfolding in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and the Wisconsin countryside, Gabriel enters more and more passionately and intimately into the world of his elective clan, discovering at the inmost center that he alone must bear the full weight of their tragedies, past and present. Yet The Book of Getting Even is funny and robust, a novel rich in those fundamentals we go to great fiction for: the exploration of what is hidden, the sudden shocks, the feeling at last of life laid bare.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner, 2nd Place, 2009 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction

Finalist, 2009 Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction

"It's hard not to think of Philip Roth while reading Benjamin Taylor's funny, literate The Book of Getting Even. It's not just the impeccable portrait of Jewish-American life in 1970s America, or the comedy of sexual frustrations. It's the sense that this book could mark the start of a great career... I found a kind of reverence in response to Taylor's accomplished novel." — The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"The voice of the outsider looking in has served many great novels well — among them, notably, The Great Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited. Benjamin Taylor's The Book of Getting Even takes its place alongside its illustrious forebears; it is an intelligent, emotionally resonant novel whose first-person narrative is unafraid to shine a clear, unblinking light onto the tricky themes of sexuality, American class systems, Jewishness, and familial bonds. The Book is Getting Even is beautiful in its elegance and fearlessness, and is almost impossible to put down, from compelling beginning to poignantly surprising end." — Kate Christensen, winner of the PEN/Faulkner prize for The Great Man

"The Book of Getting Even is a humorous and moving story of a love affair between a young man and an entire family. Benjamin Taylor's prose is beautiful and dense, but never impedes the plot or mitigates the liveliness of the characters. The novel is a mere 176 pages, but its impact is emotionally monumental." — Mark Jude Poirier, novelist and screenwriter of Smart People

"At 166 pages, The Book of Getting Even is a mortar shot of a novel — the trajectory is steep, the narrative moves at tremendous velocity and the book ends with a bang. Yet it also is a bittersweet and redemptive love story, richly decorated and recounted with the deepest insight and compassion for the workings of the human heart. . . . At the end, we are sadder but wiser, and yet somehow comforted too — signs that we are in the hands of a gifted storyteller." — Los Angeles Times (A Best Book of the Year)

"The Book of Getting Even is elegant and beautifully evoked... The time and place are captured with aching perfection. [Taylor's] considerable gifts as a writer make it worthwhile."
The Seattle Times

Gabriel Geismar, the embattled protagonist of Taylor’s excellent second novel ... has “a furious craving for other, nobler origins.” In college, he meets Marghie and Danny Hundert, whose famous physicist father is one of his heroes, and adopts the family as his own. The book explores the tortured and often misguided process by which children attempt to define themselves in relation to their parents (one iteration of the “getting even” of the title), a process from which Danny and Marghie, as Gabriel slowly discovers, are not exempt. Taylor captures their quests for identity in pitch-perfect dialogue and lengthy meditative passages; his elegant plotting feels at once deliberate and improvised.
The New Yorker

"War and peace, the fracturing of generations, the sexual revolution and its casualties — with irony and pathos this beautifully written novel treats the defining themes of an era, filtered through the restless, eccentric intelligence of a striking cast of characters." — The Boston Globe

"A beautifully written and keenly intelligent novel, ... in turn humorous, almost unbearably moving, and comforting." — Booklist (starred review)

“Reading The Book of Getting Even is like first encountering Franny and Zooey or Brideshead Revisited. I never expected to feel quite that way about a book again, and this one even disturbed my dreams two nights running, which doesn’ t happen unless one is in a very heady realm indeed. What a tour de force, and what a pleasure. Benjamin Taylor is a literary magician.” — Beth Gutcheon

"What a wonderfully unusual and refreshing novel! From the very first page of The Book of Getting Even, you know you're in the hands of a virtuoso of words and an energetic storyteller. Benjamin Taylor's hero, an astronomer-to-be, and his chosen family are flung about mercilessly by history, and their surprising destinies are played out against nothing less than the physical universe itself — from the farthest stars to the creepy things underfoot. This book is a splendid gift for the mind as well as the heart." — Lynn Sharon Schwartz

"The Book of Getting Even is beautiful and beguiling. I especially admire Benjamin Taylor's ability to pack so much complex life into such an elegant package. It seems almost miraculous." — Peter Cameron

"This elegiac novel features the long, tragic friendship of three young people coming of age in the 1970s. They meet as undergraduates at Swarthmore and begin their adult lives full of promise. By the end of the novel, that promise has given way to sadness, regret, and defeat, mainly because of bad choices. All three protagonists are skillfully rendered. Daniel and Marghie are fraternal twins, children of a Nobel prize-winning physicist, while Gabriel is the son of a rabbi from New Orleans. [ . . .] Much here is beautifully drawn: Gabriel's failed or unrealized romantic relationships prove especially poignant. These young people also lose their parents, and Taylor handles these passages with eloquence and pathos. This is a novel about friendship, loneliness, and the hazards adults encounter as they make their way in the world." — Library Journal

"In this delightful, character-driven coming-of-age novel, Gabriel Geismar grows up in mid-20th-century New Orleans as the son of a rabbi, who is out of sync with his father's values. . . . Benjamin Taylor turns in a smart, humane look at what Gabriel calls the era's 'intergenerational rancor.'" — Publishers Weekly

"An electric, arresting piece of writing, every bit on par with — and every bit as rich as — its brilliant title." — Stacy Schiff

"The Book of Getting Even is a deeply satisfying novel, elegant and intellectually complex. I could read Benjamin Taylor forever." — Ann Patchett

"The Book of Getting Even is among the most original novels I have read in recent years. The story Taylor tells is a romance of brains — brains working well, then tragically giving out. The book is exuberant and charming and heartbroken by turns; indeed, the jaggedness of the ride is one of the things I liked best, along with Taylor’s proceeding by ironies. Add to that lyricism, an ear for dialogue, a strong feel for place, and a highly developed dramatic sense and you begin to have an idea of this novelist’s exceptional gift." — Philip Roth

"Finding one’s true home at the heart of another family is the theme of this eloquent, highly intelligent novel, a kind of love story not often seen, rendered in beautiful sentences flecked with humor and pain, the front-row report of a young man’s great good luck.” — Amy Hempel

"Benjamin Taylor's new novel, The Book of Getting Even, is literary fiction of the first water and a fitting successor to the evocative bildungsroman Tales Out of School. Here, Taylor looks with gimlet eye at family life — the vexed relations of fathers and sons and sisters and brothers — yet his vision is wide and deep; this is a book about literature and astrophysics, politics and persons, anxiety and belief, entomology and our place in the universe. Touching, tender, searing, exhilarating, it is written with unpretentious wisdom." — Brenda Wineapple

“Benjamin Taylor is a superb novelist. His book is marvelous in its originality, depth, sensitivity and power.” — Romulus Linney

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Rich with both laughter and pain, Taylor's novel is a different sort of love story, elegantly written and deeply satisfying.

The history of mathematics holds many distinguished names, but three stand out: Archimedes, Newton, and Gauss. The son of a rabbi, a self-described cosmologist and budding astronomer, Gabriel Geismar intends to make that trio a quartet. As he travels the path from youth to manhood during the turbulent '70s, Gabriel's journey is one of drama, discovery, and bittersweet humor. From his home in New Orleans to college in Philadelphia, his passion has always resided in the sweet detachment and unchangeable rules of mathematics. Integers, fractions, and primes were his family and his connection, not his angry father or his loving but timid mother -- each, all too sadly, the other's misfortune.

But at college, Gabriel finds a new and more potent connection -- a true home, his rightful place -- within the eccentric Hundert clan. The twins, Danny and Marghie, become his friends; their parents, brilliant intellectuals, are the family he should have had. This is his proper inheritance; theirs is a marriage the way it's supposed to be; and here is the thoughtful and intelligent exchange of views he has longed for. However, as the years pass, Gabriel's deepening attachment and greater intimacy with his elective family reveal that it is he, the outsider, who must bear the tragedy and sadness at their very core. (Fall 2008 Selection)
Publishers Weekly

In this delightful, character-driven coming-of-age novel, Gabriel Geismar grows up in mid-20th-century New Orleans as the only son of a rabbi, maturing into a brilliant, homosexual mathematician who is out of sync with his father's values. At Swarthmore in 1970, Gabriel meets the twins Daniel and Marghie Hundert, the children of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gregor Hundert, one of the so-called Hungarian Eight who emigrated to America and worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the bomb. Fascinated by the stately, Old World professor and his kindly wife, Lilo, and deeply attached to Marghie, a cinema-obsessed vegetarian, and to Daniel, an angry counterculture figure, Gabriel spends the summer with the family at their Wisconsin retreat, which yields cherished conversation and understanding. As Gabriel departs to study astrophysics at the University of Chicago, the tempo of Daniel's activism builds, and Marghie begins running a movie house. When the once great professor sinks into senile dementia, Lilo makes a necessary but terrible decision for them all. The editor of Saul Bellow's forthcoming letters, Taylor turns in a smart, humane look at what Gabriel calls the era's "intergenerational rancor." (May)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This elegiac novel features the long, tragic friendship of three young people coming of age in the 1970s. They meet as undergraduates at Swarthmore and begin their adult lives full of promise. By the end of the novel, that promise has given way to sadness, regret, and defeat, mainly because of bad choices. All three protagonists are skillfully rendered. Daniel and Marghie are fraternal twins, children of a Nobel prize-winning physicist, while Gabriel is the son of a rabbi from New Orleans. Although parts of the novel would have benefited from further development, much here is beautifully drawn: Gabriel's failed or unrealized romantic relationships prove especially poignant. These young people also lose their parents, and Taylor handles these passages with eloquence and pathos. This is a novel about friendship, loneliness, and the hazards adults encounter as they make their way in the world. Although not without its flaws, it nonetheless has much to offer. Recommended for libraries with large fiction collections.
—Patrick Sullivan

Kirkus Reviews
Taylor's second novel (Tales Out of School, 1995) is an inconsequential story, with considerable pretensions, about a brainy gay Jewish astronomy student, his brainy best friends (twins) and their super-brainy parents. Gabriel Geismar is a mama's boy with an overbearing father, a rabbi in New Orleans. Gabriel loves numbers, especially as they relate to the cosmos; his other love is male bodies, which he satisfies by visiting a bathhouse. Deliverance from the rabbi comes in 1970, when he wins a scholarship to Swarthmore, outside Philadelphia, and meets Marghie and Danny Hundert, fraternal twins, who both fall in love with him; he reciprocates Danny's love, while Marghie becomes his big sister. The movie buff (Marghie) and the pacifist (Danny) are the children of Gregor Hundert, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who, along with other Hungarian Jews, developed the atom bomb at Los Alamos. Gabriel is in seventh heaven when the courtly, old-world parents take a shine to him: These, surely, are his rightful parents, not the rabbi and the rebbetzin, whose deaths are described with arch humor. The story meanders through the '70s. Gabriel becomes a professor of astrophysics. Love affairs founder. Gabriel and Marghie ease their solitude with imaginary helpmates. Neither one is a fully formed, knowable character. We don't know Danny either, though he defines himself in spectacular fashion, first by his vow of silence to protest the Vietnam war, then by his attempt to assassinate Kissinger. This was Danny's project: "To get even. With the big perpetrators." It's hard to square it with the words from the Bhagavad Gita which are his father's mantra: "[T]he good deeds a man has done defend him." Gregorseems mocked by that mantra too, as he slips into dementia. The novel ends in irony and ambiguity as Gabriel, a more reliable "son" than the incarcerated Danny, scatters Gregor's ashes in Budapest. An intellectual peep show whose ultimate meaning remains elusive. Agent: Wendy Strothman/The Strothman Agency

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781581952322
Publisher:
Steerforth Press
Publication date:
02/10/2009
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
769,452
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.45(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Book of Getting Even

A Novel


By Benjamin Taylor

Steerforth Press

Copyright © 2008 Benjamin Taylor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-58642-156-4



CHAPTER 1

THE PURE PRODUCTS


He sneezed four times, always four, like everybody on the maternal side. Sequence was from firm to forcible to fierce to ferocious. Then there'd be peace, in which he felt in his limbs and vitals the secret knowledge of sneezing. Between fits of four the rabbi's son had lived and prospered here — bless you, Babylon, his place to start from, that was New Orleans. One day as a seven-year-old he'd found, on the steps of the temple, a katydid and praying mantis locked obscurely together. Were they killing each other? Falling in love? While his mother watched, Gabriel Geismar had taken a rock from the flower bed and crushed the two creatures, ground them to a uniform paste. She had hauled him up by the shirtfront, she had wept. "For an experiment!" he'd protested. She was a deliberate kind of mother, did not say that boys were naughty, said through tears that certain of their deeds were. Feeling good and allied to the violent quick of nature, he'd endured her lecture on unmotivated cruelty.

When she told the rabbi what their son had perpetrated on the congregation steps, Milton Geismar said, with Talmudic certitude, "Little boys live near to the ground. They're in close touch with the insects and like to kill them. All but the tootie frooties do. Make that boy feel guilty and you'll ruin him!"

As a father Rabbi Geismar had been demonstrative. Bringing the belt down sharply on Gabriel's butt and bare legs, he'd wailed, in real despair, "Mamzer! Curse!" Their only child this was, and not quite right, and the humiliation of it kept Geismar in an active volcanic state, his violence the deep-down magma ready on a pretext to leap up. A son should not cling to his mother. A son should not be so afraid of things, reptiles, firecrackers, unfamiliar odors. There was, in addition, Gabriel's fear of vomiting — other people vomiting. (When the rebbitzin would drop him at the picture show on Sunday afternoons, she'd go in and ask the management, since he was too shy, "Is there any vomiting in this picture? Because my boy can't take it.") A son should not be such an eccentric prig. A son should not have bathroom secrets. A son should not draw filthy, dirty, disgusting pictures for his mother to find under a desk blotter or at the back of a drawer and break down over.

These Gabriel somehow couldn't keep himself from producing, year after year. When he was nearly fifteen, his father had crooked a finger and confronted him with one of the more original — a man embracing a member that grew Sequoia-like from the middle of him and disappeared into the clouds — and sent the boy flying with a slap. A watershed slap, as it turned out, the last of its kind. Something in Gabriel's stare as he got up from the floor, holding his cheek, must have frightened Geismar. Something said: You are a brute and a fiend and I'll never resemble you in any way or grieve when you go. You are as unhappy an accident in my life as I am in yours. A stare can say a lot. Each of us is the other's misfortune, shake hands and a bargain. But if ever you try to hit me again ...

That spring Mrs. Kilbourne, in charge of literature at New Orleans Country Day, had presented twelfth grade with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. "In his loneliness and fixedness," she told them, like she'd just thought it up, "the Mariner yearneth towards the journeying Moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward." She was an actress, when pedagogy demanded. She closed the book and finished from memory: "And every where the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival." Kilbourne knocked the senioritis out of them with that. All minds bent to her.

She told about the acte gratuit — espoused by a café philosophy of recent prestige. But Gabriel felt he'd got there long ago and without any help from Romanticism or the Existentialists. Without, moreover, any of the Mariner's inconveniences. Bless the creepy crawlers of the earth, bless them unawares? There'd be no lurking, sadder but wiser, at wedding feasts, no seeking for someone to confide his guilty secret to. In the long ago, without a pang, Gabriel annihilated two bright green things.

Having skipped third and sixth grades along the way, he won, at sixteen, a full ride to a college he liked the name of, even if considered hard to say by friends and relations. Came the third week of August now, 1970, time to go. To get public facts out of the way: the previous week Janis Joplin had flown home to Port Arthur for her tenth high-school reunion. On Block Island twelve FBI agents posing as bird-watchers nabbed Father Daniel Berrigan, a fugitive from justice since his conviction on charges of destroying Selective Service documents. By the banks of the Pedernales, former President and Mrs. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed a private screening of Patton, the hit movie of the summer. In San Francisco, Beniamino Bufano, who fifty-three years earlier had protested America's entry into the Great War by severing his trigger finger and sending it to Woodrow Wilson, died in penury. At Tan Son Nhut airfield, Spiro Agnew would praise the South Vietnamese for "suffering so much in freedom's cause," pledge "no lessening" of American support, and add that "the Cambodian situation seems to be developing very well."

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Dr. Sheldon Kretschmar, pediatrician, booster, the worst, the noisiest Nixon-lover in town, pillar of the American Medical Association, who'd seen Gabriel through chicken pox, scarlet fever, mumps, and, in early adolescence, a spell of asthma so severe it had led to pneumonia, looked down the youth's throat one last time and said, "Tulane or LSU?"

Neither. Gabriel named the college of his choice as best he could with a depressor on his tongue. Dr. Kretschmar took it out. "Swarthmore," the rabbi's son repeated. He'd put off this checkup to the very last day, but couldn't matriculate without it.

Kretschmar revolved the name. "Never heard of it."

"Swarthmore College, sir, outside of Philadelphia, and a good-looking place by the brochure they send."

"Well, I've never heard —"

"It's a liberal arts college." But the word "liberal" in all its meanings seemed to trouble Kretschmar. He looked Gabriel up and down, seeing not less than another Rosenberg or Hiss in the making, and wished him all the best.

After any doctor's appointment, even with the optician or the orthopedist, when Gabriel came home the rabbi would ask, "Did he look down your throat? Did he look up your address?" — which as a little boy Gabriel had thought funny; but for how many years can you laugh at the same joke?

"Dad, please! You've been saying that since I don't know when."

"Nonsense, son, I just now thought it up!" Milton Geismar, like fathers generally, rehearsed all quips till they stood there embodied and part of the furniture. You are beaten, you are entertained. You don't know from one quarter-hour to the next what kind of day it is. Conundrum of Gabriel's young life: In addition to being a trollish and savage father, Geismar was a game and witty one. Any pulpit humorist can say to his congregants, "How odd of God to choose the Jews." But it takes inspiration to add, "Not odd of God. The goyim annoy Him." (He was a preening father, too, propelled by unconditional self-admiration. They'd told Milt Geismar he looked like Victor Mature. It went to his head.) At home, by some counterstroke of temperament, regular as clockwork, the charmer would vanish and there the hellhound ogre would be, soberly telling wife and child that they had ruined his life. "Both mentally and physically! I will get a breakdown, do you hear?" Then his voice would drop to an urgent, confidential register. "A nervous breakdown." Mother. Father. Because of her you knew you were cherished. Because of him you knew you were in harm's way. Gabriel had reason to regard the story of Abraham binding Isaac as nothing remarkable. A father was somebody who might decide to kill you. He'd carry on in third person, like a sports hero or gangster: "Tell a lie to Milton Geismar? You'll wish you hadn't!" "What Milt Geismar says he'll do, he does!" Bragging on himself, threatening you: "Nobody double-crosses Geismar!" Or else he'd start to blubber and need comforting. Nervous breakdowns — what exactly did they look like? The rabbi's son had settled on an image, not displeasing, of the old man doing violence to himself — tearing off his ears, ripping loose his lower jaw, plucking out his handsome eyeballs.

That evening Gabriel took a valedictory ride to town on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, got off where the track turns around at Poydras, walked along Chartres, then briskly down Toulouse, looking for an infamous low green door in the wall. A gentleman in a public facility at the levee had told him this was the place. You paid your money, you went in, you had yourself some fun.

He stripped to nothing at the locker provided, then thought better of it and, to restrain the bare fact, pulled his shorts back on, for this hideaway excited at once with its miscellany of smells, an omnium gatherum, musky, civety, Liederkranzy, of what a celebrated periodical of the day only boasted of being but these baths were: man at his best. (Told that that magazine was for "the man's man" and utterly misunderstanding the phrase, Gabriel had hurried off to buy a copy. Any mention of the word "man" stirred him. Even a copy of Reinhold Niebuhr's Nature and Destiny of Man, found one afternoon on his father's highest shelf, had merited fifteen seconds of browsing.)

He entered the warren of cubicles, moving briskly through corridors of men with towels around their middles. Each open door framed in the variable light a bare male, some recumbent on cots, some standing; some showing off. As for the closed doors, they were also very interesting. Gabriel had an impulse to knock at one, hearing mirthful noise from inside, but thought better of it.

Farther down the hallway a grinning king-sized cracker tossed his head side to side, saying as Gabriel passed, "Git in here, sugar," beckoning with an authoritative motion of the arm, assured, official even, as if directing traffic in an emergency.

Which this was. Gabriel entered. Expertly, the man kicked the door shut with his foot. He asked in the courtliest way if he could take Gabriel's underwear off. This is what they mean by "den of iniquity," Gabriel told himself. I like it. But twelve seconds later, having moaned and shuddered back into his real and habitual self, awakened from the pleasure, he felt another way entirely and pushed the head aside, yanked up his underpants, and wanted to be out of there. His mind veered to numbers, clean things, cleanest anywhere in or out of the world. Primes, the haughtily exclusive category of those divisible only by themselves. And perfects, perfect on account of being equal to the sum of their divisors. And amicables, two numbers each of which is equal to the sum of all the exact divisors of the other except the number itself. On these it was a particular pleasure to dwell. 220 and 284 for instance. Gabriel added the divisors, just to confirm their amicability (1 + 2 + 4 + 71 + 142, like that), then those of 284 (1 + 2 + 4 + 5 + 10 + 11 + 20 + 22 + 44 + 55 + 110). Easy in your head. But now try 17,296 and 18,416. Some four hundred such pairs of amicable numbers have been discovered, with more out there certainly. But whether the number of them is finite or infinite nobody has yet nailed down; Gabriel would give his eyeteeth to know.

Here was where he returned to, the frontier he reconnoitered: infinity. The physical universe may or may not be a case of it. But the mind, as attested by calculation of any irrational number to the nth decimal place, plainly was. And this was the real fun, according to Gabriel, embodied passion being but the other fun. Now the worshipper on the floor, exultant in his degradation, kissed Gabriel's hand, his poor put-upon left one, then drew back, asked the inevitable question. "What's wrong witch yuh hand?"

"Born that way." The standard answer he gave.

"Don't make no diffunce."

But it had, it did. For such an irregularity little allowance is made. At intervals you must be reminded. The littlest thing, really, an error of some kind in the genetic manufacture of him — on his left hand Gabriel had two thumbs, absolutely identical, down to the moons in the nail beds and the lines across the knuckles. Conjoined Siamese-style, functioning perfectly well as one, they had yet drawn the stares and incredulity of the world (of New Orleans, that is) and made for Gabriel Geismar a destiny.

"Looks like when yuh see a turnip or tomatah trying to turn into two." And now the man bestowed a kiss specifically on the thumbs. "What's yuh name?"

No answer.

"What's yuh name?"

"Um, Forrest, Forrest Delavoy," Gabriel lied, pressing into service the name of a detested classmate at Country Day.

"Forrest Dee-la-voy! I do like that name."

Here Gabriel made to leave, shaking the man's hand, businesslike; but the irony of it caused a laugh to well up in both of them.

"Don't say goodnight."

"I've got to go somewhere tomorrow morning."

"Where you goin'?"

"Pennsylvania."

"Pensuhvainyuh? You college boy?"

"I am."

"Knew it even witch yuh clothes off! How come you go way up there?"

A shrug. "I've got to head home now."

"You ain't even asked my name."

No, indeed. Gabriel had wanted this man nameless as a cloud or clump of earth.

"Clarence Rappley. I ain't from here. Wouldn't be from here on a bet. I'm from Dulac. Not Dulac itself. Outside of."

"Good to know you," Gabriel said, and saying so seemed to scatter his resistance a little. Clarence helped himself to a kiss, and though Gabriel intended it to be closemouthed and brief, that kiss lingered out, opened up, tasted good.

"Let's go back to my crib."

"Down in Dulac?"

"Outside of."

"No."

"Yuh place?"

His place, excellent, with a rabbi and rebbitzin asleep down the hall. "No, Clarence."

"Just lemme walk you home."

Getting loose of Clarence Rappley would not be so easy as saying no. "All right, then."

"Go put yuh clothes on."


* * *

They walked up Toulouse, then down Bourbon, not saying much, drawing only an occasional stare from the milling, gabbing, falling-down throng — Texans, Arkansans, tourists out for a big time, some of them by that hour relaxing in the gutter. These revelers were busy, didn't care what a big hayseed and a little Jew were doing on the town.

At the edge of the Quarter, Gabriel again tried to take his leave. "So happens I be goin' yuh way," Clarence Rappley told him. "What street yuh live on?"

"Josephine," Gabriel lied.

"I just happen to be going to Josephine myself."

So at St. Charles and Poydras they boarded the streetcar, in which people did stare. Clarence outfaced them. "Nice night if it don't rain!" He took the seat beside Gabriel and threw a companionate arm around him. "Stop it!" Gabriel growled. A gentleman in a seersucker suit and white shoes and a boater looked interested. A freckle-faced colored woman fixed an eye on Gabriel's supernumerary thumb. A marmish blond woman made a small mouth and looked askance. A pitch-black man in a busboy's uniform said, concurring, "If it don't rain." Gabriel leapt up, made for the other side of the car. "I don't even know this person! He's followed me all the way from Toulo — I mean from Chartres Street. He's harassing me!"

"Call the po-lice, you so upset," suggested the freckle-faced woman, and let out a laugh.

The seersuckered man, who'd been screening himself with the day's Picayune, kept peering over it. "Like she say, call the law!" the busboy said, and let out a hoot. Everyone went silent, waiting for the other shoe to fall, which it did. A loutish drunken character was emboldened to yell, as those two blacks were the only two on board, "You jigaboos shut up!" Astonished silence. "Bad enough having to ride with you." Silence, shame. "And you there, you pipe down too. Don't know him — in a pig's ass you don't!"

With that the seersuckered gent disappeared altogether behind his Picayune. Gabriel pulled the cord, quickstepped from the car at Lee Circle. Head lowered, bullish, Clarence Rappley followed.

Gabriel flew down Howard, Clarence hollering after him the plain truth. "You cahwud! Cahwud's what you is, Fahrust Delavoy! If that's even yuh name! Cause it sounds mighty phony to me!" Storming on, not turning around, Gabriel noticed he couldn't see the pavement for tears starting into his eyes, couldn't have spoken if he'd tried, but turned now to face his rightful accuser. Clarence slapped at the air, then made as if to punch Gabriel, right left right, but careful that the blows fell short, and was upon him in an ironbound hug. Gabriel wriggled a moment. Clarence Rappley set him free.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Book of Getting Even by Benjamin Taylor. Copyright © 2008 Benjamin Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Benjamin Taylor is the author of the novel Tales Out of School, which won the 1996 Harold Ribalow Prize and is available in paperback from Zoland Books, an imprint of Steerforth Press. He is editor of The Letters of Saul Bellow, scheduled for publication in 2010. His travel memoir, Naples Declared, will be published in 2011. He lives in New York City.

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