Exiles in America: A Novelby Christopher Bram
Zack Knowles, a psychologist, and Daniel Wexler, an art teacher at a college in Virginia, have been together for twenty-one years. In the fall of 2002, a few months before the Iraq War, a new artist in residence, Abbas Rohani, arrives with his Russian wife, Elena, and their two children. But Abbas is not quite what he seems, and he begins an affair with Daniel.… See more details below
Zack Knowles, a psychologist, and Daniel Wexler, an art teacher at a college in Virginia, have been together for twenty-one years. In the fall of 2002, a few months before the Iraq War, a new artist in residence, Abbas Rohani, arrives with his Russian wife, Elena, and their two children. But Abbas is not quite what he seems, and he begins an affair with Daniel. Soon politics intrude upon two families thrown together by love, threatening the future of both in ways no one could have predicted.
A novel that explores how the personal becomes political, Exiles in America offers an intimate look at the meaning of marriage, gay and straight.
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Exiles in America
Zachary Knowles and Daniel Wexler had been together for twenty-one years. They did not describe themselves as "married." Their generation distrusted the word.
Zack was forty-eight, Daniel forty-seven. They lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, in a 1930s colonial brick house on Indian Springs Road, a quiet residential street near the College of William and Mary. Daniel taught studio classes in painting at the school. Zack was a psychiatrist, Dr. Zachary Knowles, with a small practice in town and an office at home, just off their living room.
Nothing much ever happened in Williamsburg, and people at the college tended to become set in their routines. When an Iranian painter, Abbas Rohani, came to town to be artist in residence in September 2002, nobody thought to invite him and his wife to dinner. Daniel persuaded Zack that they should have them over.
"What if they don't like homosexuals?" said Zack.
"Hey, they're Muslims," said Daniel. "What if they hate Jews?"
Only Daniel was Jewish, born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. Zack was a native Virginian, a lapsed Methodist who had escaped to New York after med school to finish his training in the city of psychoanalysis. He had met Daniel in New York. They had moved south to Zack's home turf ten years ago, when Daniel took a teaching job at this small state college.
Daniel left a message in Rohani's voice mail inviting him and his wife to dinner. It was the wife who called back.
"This is Elena Rohani. We shall be delighted to come. Do we need to bring anything? Is it—how do you say?—potluck?"
Daniel assured her that all they needed was their appetite.
And so, late one afternoon early in September, the Friday before classes started, Daniel stood in the kitchen, slicing fresh tomatoes and squash from Zack's garden to grill on the hibachi while he talked to their good friend Ross Hubbard, who stood by the back door with a glass of red wine. The door was wide open—the weather remained warm and humid—and looked out on a narrow concrete terrace with an iron railing. A small wooded ravine sloped behind the house, its curtain of trees level with the railing. The last cicadas of the summer chirred in the leafy branches. Zack was at the other end of the house, seeing his last patient of the day.
"An artist who paints paintings?" asked Ross in his deep, leisurely drawl. "Isn't that kind of old-fashioned? I thought you said painting was what the dinosaurs did."
"He's Iranian. Maybe he doesn't know any better," said Daniel.
"You joke, but you may have hit on something. He could be in a time warp. Fundamentalist Islam forbids graven images. Figurative painting could be very avant-garde."
Ross was a courtly Southerner of the old school, handsome and hetero, almost sixty, much married and much divorced. He owned and managed the movie theater on Merchants Square, an art house that showed foreign and independent films and occasional classics. Zack and Daniel were among his handful of regulars. Ross was a rare kind of straight man. He loved books, art, music, and old movies. He had served in Vietnam but broke the stereotypes there, too. He loved to travel—he'd visited the Middle East twice. He might have been happy if he didn't fall in love with a new woman every five or six years. Currently between marriages, he seemed like the perfect extra guest for tonight.
"What're the paintings like?" he asked. "Have you seen any?"
"I've seen slides and a catalog from a show in Paris. They're figurative, but in an abstract way. Like Picasso or Klee. But not pastiche. Kind of neo-Expressionist, like Francesco Clemente from a few years back. But I like his stuff." Daniel liked it very much, in fact.
"So it's not ethnic or primitive?"
"Hardly. He studied in Paris and Berlin. He's probably better trained than I am."
They could hear Zack out front, bidding goodbye to his patient, an elderly woman who responded with a deliberate, end-of-the-session cheerfulness. Daniel knew that chirpy tone all too well.
"It must make you glad," said Ross. "To have a real painter in town, someone you can talk shop with."
Daniel frowned. "Not really. I don't especially like other artists. I just want to be friendly. I remember what it was like when we first came here and nobody gave us the time of day." Daniel wasn't entirely sure why he wanted to know the man. "It's not like I'm an artist myself anymore. I'm a teacher now. Full-time. I don't miss all that my-paintbrush-is-bigger-than-your-paintbrush macho bullshit."
There was a tread of shoes coming toward the kitchen, and a clack of toenails against the hardwood floor. A large black poodle with a pink tongue trotted into the room, Jocko, followed by Zack, a solemn man with a pale beard and a starched blue shirt.
"Hey there, Jock," Ross sang out, crouching down to scratch the happy dog behind its ears. The poodle wasn't trimmed like topiary but left woolly all over. "Hey there, Zack. How you doing?"
Zack only nodded, looking preoccupied, distant, sad.
"Bad session?" said Ross.
"Who-what?" Zack snapped his eyes open and saw Ross. "Oh, Ross. Sorry. No. Good session. Actually. Very good. Hi."
Zack was often like this after seeing a patient, spacey and distracted, still listening to the conversation in his head.
He went over to Daniel and kissed him on the temple. "That's right. We got company. Need any help?"
"No, dollface. We're fine," said Daniel. "Why don't you pour yourself some wine?"
Gay male couples are said to grow more alike over the years, like people and their dogs, but it isn't true. More often, each man looks more different over time, half-consciously marking out a territory of his own. Zack and Daniel were roughly the same medium height, but Daniel was trimmer, clean-shaven, and bald—not entirely bald but with two . . .Exiles in America
A Novel. Copyright � by Christopher Bram. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Christopher Bram is the author of eight other novels, including Gods and Monsters (originally titled Father of Frankenstein), which was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Bram was a 2001 Guggenheim Fellow and received the 2003 Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement. He lives in New York City.
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