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Secret Love

Overview

An evocative and diversely populated novel of race, politics, and identity in civil rights era San Francisco.

Enraptured critics praised Bart Schneider's first novel, Blue Bossa, as "a haunting portrait . . . a new work of art" (Chicago Tribune), "a heart-rending story"(San Francisco Chronicle), and "superb . . . masterful . . . breathtaking" (Minneapolis Star-Tribune). Now,...
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Overview

An evocative and diversely populated novel of race, politics, and identity in civil rights era San Francisco.

Enraptured critics praised Bart Schneider's first novel, Blue Bossa, as "a haunting portrait . . . a new work of art" (Chicago Tribune), "a heart-rending story"(San Francisco Chronicle), and "superb . . . masterful . . . breathtaking" (Minneapolis Star-Tribune). Now, Schneider writes about a time simmering with social revolution, but rarely explored in fiction: the mid-1960s in San Francisco.

Secret Love tells a double love story. Jake Roseman, a forty-five-year-old widowed attorney and media darling, whistles jazz as he leads protests with a surer touch than he can apply to his personal life. When Nisa Bohem, a young black actress and activist, recently moved to Chinatown, is drawn to Jake, the two embark on an exquisitely playful and complex romance. Nisa's actor friend Peter also crosses the color line in his love for Simon Sims, the estranged son of a Baptist minister who tries to reconcile his homosexuality with his participation in the Nation of Islam. All four find themselves navigating a strange country of taboo relationships, in the shadow of the Golden Gate. A compelling novel with vivid characters, steeped in the atmosphere and action of the times, Secret Love will appeal to readers who were present in the sixties and to new generations fascinated by an unforgettable period in American history.

Author Bio: Bart Schneider, a San Francisco native, is the founding editor of The Hungry Mind Review. His debut novel, Blue Bossa, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in First Fiction and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller.

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Editorial Reviews

Time Out New York
Secret Love's tale of personal and political upheaval makes a lasting impression.
Portland Oregonian
This heady novel...is layered with colorful characters living interesting lives.
Los Angeles Times
Schneider is a good writer of lean prose, and he has a feeling for the savage undertow beneath '60s revelry...
Carolyn See
This extraordinary novel explores our deepest yearnings for joy and self-realization, in bitter conflict with our other, equally strong impulse to save our own cautious, moralistic selves, even if it costs us the best parts of our lives.
Washington Post
Williamette Week
In Secret Love, the delirious swoon of new love, whether sanctioned or secret; is beautifully realized.
Denver Post
...the book's scenes are well-crafted...
Kansas City Star
Schneider's novel poignantly captures the quieter moments after the protests, when people returned with stunned amazement to their highly politicized private lives.
Nob Hill Gazette
The writing is smooth and flowing; the evocation of San Francisco in a softer, cozier, more gracious time is heart-warming.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The new novel by the author of Blue Bossa is a story of two secret loves, of the kind that at the time the book is set 1960s San Francisco were both afraid to speak their name. Hero Jake Roseman is a civil rights lawyer, high in the councils of the city, who falls hard for Nisa, a lovely young black demonstrator. Since he also has family troubles at home, with two kids trying to recover from their mother's suicide and an elderly, crankily racist father, he does his best to keep Nisa away from them, much to her annoyance. Meanwhile, Simon Sims, a bright young black man drawn to the new Muslim cause despised by his Baptist minister father, nurses a homosexual passion for a white actor, but is also drawn by furtive gropings in the park. The stories of these characters move in parallel, both coming to little climaxes and then fading away. The novel offers a relaxed, friendly read, with a great feel for its time and place and some moving and dramatic moments. But the lead characters, despite nice establishing touches and some well-turned speeches on themes of the era, never seem very convincing, and the lack of narrative drive and tension in the book make reading it ultimately a rather pallid experience. Author tour. (Mar. 3) FYI: Schneider is the founding editor of the Hungry Mind Review, now renamed the Ruminator Review. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Founding editor of the Hungry Mind Review, Schneider follows up his debut, Blue Bossa, with a story of two romances that cross racial boundaries in 1960s San Francisco. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A rather plodding second effort from Schneider, founding editor of The Hungry Mind Review (now The Ruminator Review), returns to the themes and settings of his debut (Blue Bossa, 1998). Set in 1964 in San Francisco, it chronicles the"secret love" between Jake Roseman, a middle-aged Jewish lawyer and civil-rights activist, and Nisa, a mulatto actress 20 years his junior. Two years before the action begins, Jake's violinist wife, Inez, drove her car into a concrete embankment; Jake believes she committed suicide, though he allows his prepubescent children, Anna and Joey, now 15 and 9, to suppose her death an accident. The three Rosemans live with Jake's father, Isaac, a cantankerous old violinist (Inez was his prize student) who harbors racist feelings and attempts to stymie Jake's efforts on behalf of the shvartzehs by sending anonymous hate mail to his office. While Nisa and Jake cavort around the city—leading sit-ins, speaking at rallies, protesting outside the Republican convention—Peter, Nisa's gay and Jewish best friend, embarks on a doomed relationship with Simon, the troubled son of Reverend Junius Sims, cologne-drenched leader of the city's black community (and friend of Jake Roseman's). After the first glow of their romance wears off, Nisa and Jake's relationship becomes troubled: he refuses to introduce her to his family (fearing his father's reaction), and she—as a result—finds herself disillusioned with a man who speaks publicly about equality, yet will not invite a dark-complexioned woman into his home. Jake's problems with his father, and continued obsession with Inez (who appears to him as a ghost), contribute to their strife. Asrace relations in the city grow increasingly strained, the two sets of lovers struggle to work out their differences. The milieu is perfectly captured, but the storyline relies heavily on melodrama to propel the action forward. And the often-stagey dialogue is no help. Disappointing, if often engaging.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142000540
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 8.07 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author


Bart Schneider, a San Francisco native, is the founding editor of The Hungry Mind Review. His debut novel, Blue Bossa, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in First Fiction and a San Francisco Chronicle best-seller. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


THE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP


DESPITE THE FEBRUARY CHILL, JAKE ROSEMAN, BRIEFCASE IN HAND, STEPS OUT of his house in a pair of crisp linen shorts from Cable Car Clothiers. More bracing than his aftershave. This is the first time since Inez's death that he's wearing shorts to work. Isn't a year and a half a suitable period of mourning for his wife? A proper Jew gives it a year, and then is supposed to resume his life. But given his lapsed status—Jake can't remember the last time he murmured the Kaddish—the extra half year seems appropriate. A time to cast away stones and a time to gather 'em up, or however the hell the bit from Ecclesiastes goes. Anyway, it's gotta be time—the sun's shining out in the Avenues, and the world has a cocky new heavyweight champ.

    Last night, he and Joey paced either side of the breakfast room table, taking in the crackling blow-by-blow from the kitchen radio. Joey chewed on a thick knot of bubble gum, but only allowed himself to blow bubbles between rounds. Jake pictured the speedy Clay dancing around the ring in his satin Everlasts. He and Joey did a jig of their own when the nasal announcer hollered, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Sonny Liston is not coming out from his corner! He is not getting off his stool. I cannot believe this! Sonny Liston is done! Clay is the champ, Cassius Marcellus Clay is the new heavyweight champion of the world!"

    Alone at the corner of 36th and Geary, Jake skips an imaginary rope. A guy driving by in a Ford Fairlane honks his horn and shouts, Looking good, champ! Across the street, a2Clement heading toward the ocean sports one of the sly new ads for Mayor Christian's family dairy. A woman in a sparkling turquoise kitchen holds up a tall glass of Christian Milk. "It's true," she says, in white letters. "San Franciscans love Christian Milk." It's just February, but Mayor Christian's reelection campaign is already in full swing. "Here's to you, Gene Christian," Jake says, toasting the mayor with an imaginary glass of milk.

    Jake turns his back on the street to consider his reflection in the window of the Arab grocery. Superimposed over a tin tray of philo bird's nests and baklava, Jake sees himself. Not bad for forty-five. The walloping nose is still there. The florid complexion. Not a wrinkle on his forehead. The thick mustache—black as a Turk's—has grown a little shaggy. Time to trim it. And then there are the eyes. Large, brown, even liquid. A client with whom he once had an affair told him that his eyes were compassionate. So she needed to believe. Jake smiles at himself—the shipwrecked rogue—then shadowboxes a moment, stumping with a series of jabs, hurling a few roundhouse hooks, until he spots the bus chugging his way.

    The festive mood survives a few hours longer, even as Jake shuffles through a couple of files of divorce papers. At eleven-thirty, Grania buzzes him with the mail call. "Something you should see, Jake. Smell is more like it, if you know what I mean."

    He doesn't know, and is barely curious, as he steps into the anteroom. Grania, her lacquered blond hair stacked in a bouffant, is chewing two or three bright orange chiclets of Aspergum and smoking a Parliament. There is a sweet, not unpleasant odor in the anteroom. Jake knows the smell, knows it well, but cannot identify it. He watches Grania tap her pink nails on her desk and on the edge of a glass ashtray the size of a luncheon plate. He follows her glance to a sheet of paper, smeared, it appears, with excrement, secured to a clipboard, and propped against her old Underwood.

    "It's not exactly a love letter," Grania says.

    Jake sniffs the air.

    "I was afraid of that at first, but it's peanut butter."

    Jake looks at the letter. "How'd you get the damn thing unfolded?"

    Grania holds up a hand of spiky pink fingernails.

    He crouches to read the note.


LEAVE OFF WITH THE COLORED, YOUNG MR. ROSEMAN,
OR YOU'LL FIND YOURSELF IN THE
MIDDLE OF A RACE RIOT.


    "Who wrote this, Father Time?"

    Grania shrugs. "There's plenty of kooks out there."

    "Must be about the protest at Mel's Drive-In."

    "You had your picture in the paper. I've noticed anytime you get your picture, the real wizards come out."

    "So what's with the peanut butter?"

    "The guy's squeamish, is what I figure. He wanted you to have the first impression that you had. Maybe he's the type who prefers not to be in contact with the genuine article. You know, the kind of guy who's always washing his hands, who carries a miniature bar of soap in a plastic case. I bet he put on a pair of gloves before he spread the peanut butter."

    "You've really worked this out, Grania."

    "I couldn't stop myself." She smiles at Jake in his shorts. "Nice to see you in your old uniform."

    "I'm wearing them in honor of our new heavyweight champ."

    His secretary shrugs and drops a chiclet of Aspergum into her mouth. "It's nice to see you looking dandy again."

    The shorts had been a joke at first. They were an easy way to thumb his nose at the whole lawyering business. He'd wear a pair on decent days when he wasn't going to court and had no conferences. But once Saul Rose latched on to Jake a few years back, after he'd led a sit-in at the Federal Building in a pair of Bermudas, Jake had a trademark. The clever scribe, who'd coined the word beatnik, dubbed Jake the "Beatnik from Bermuda." One Monday, Saul went so far as to print Jake's waist size in his column, and by the end of the week he received a dozen pairs of shorts from old clients and anonymous admirers. Everybody loves a clown.

    Grania rolls her desk chair to the typing table and studies the peanut butter letter for a moment.

    "Looks like Skippy," she says.

    "How can you tell?"

    "Just has that soft copper cast to it. Don't your kids eat peanut butter, Jake?"

    "Sure, but I don't keep track of the brands. Hey, that reminds me, I got something for you." He rummages through the pockets of his sport coat until he finds the envelope filled with S&H Green Stamps. "I've been saving them for you. Whenever they give them to me I stuff 'em in my pockets. I finally consolidated."

    Grania is delighted. He's seen her licking Green Stamps into booklets during her lunch hour. Someday she'll get herself a blender or some damn thing. But it will feel like it's free.

    "Don't you want them, Jake?"

    "No, ever since Inez ... I haven't had a whole lot of use for Green Stamps." Ahhh, Inez. He'd just as soon not think of her now. Certainly not in the car. Inez in her beige Valiant, that is, smashing into a girder on a foggy stretch of the Bayshore, twenty miles from home.

    Jake turns toward the window to collect himself. Her intention was clear. Why else would she be racing on an open road at midnight, so far from home? Jake's been careful to maintain another story for his children and the rest of the world, and will be forever grateful to the highway patrol for filling in its blanks with Fog rather than Despair.

    "Thank you," Grania says, sticking the Green Stamps in a drawer.

    "I'll probably find more. I stuff them everywhere. So, what are you saving for?"

    "One of those toaster ovens you can cook a meat loaf in."

    "Great."

    Jake walks over to the letter and reads aloud: "'LEAVE OFF WITH THE COLORED, YOUNG MR. ROSEMAN.' That's so quaint a message, Grania, it puts a little scare in me."

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