The Tattooed Girlby Joyce Carol Oates
Celebrated but reclusive author Joshua Seigl must hire an assistant due to failing health. But he doesn't expect Alma Busch -- an attractive woman with bizarre tattoos covering much of her body. Naivete and anti-Semitism clash in this tragedy of thwarted erotic desire.See more details below
Celebrated but reclusive author Joshua Seigl must hire an assistant due to failing health. But he doesn't expect Alma Busch -- an attractive woman with bizarre tattoos covering much of her body. Naivete and anti-Semitism clash in this tragedy of thwarted erotic desire.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- First Eco Paperback Edition
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- 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
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The Tattooed GirlA Novel
By Joyce Carol Oates
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2003 Joyce Carol Oates
All right reserved.
He had known it must happen soon. And yet he wasn't prepared for it happening so soon.
"I can't do it any longer. No more." He meant, but could not bring himself to acknowledge, I can't live alone any longer.
Easy is the way down into the Underworld: by night and by day dark Hades' door stands open ... He smiled at these lines of Virgil floating into consciousness like froth on a stream. He told himself he wasn't frightened: his soul was tough as the leather of his oldest boots.
He would hire someone to live with him. And really he did need an assistant for his translation project.
He was a discreet man, a private man. To friends who'd known him for more than twenty years, and even to most of his relatives, an enigmatic man.
And so his initial inquiries were discreet, made among acquaintances in the city rather than friends.
"I need an assistant ..."
He disliked the sound of this. Need?
"I'd like to hire an assistant."
Or, "I'm thinking of hiring an assistant."
Better to make it more specific, defined.
"I'm thinking of hiring a research assistant for a few months beginning in November."
Adding, "Preferably a young man."
Women, even quite young women, had a disconcerting habit of falling in love with him. Or imagining love. He would not have minded so much if he himself were not susceptible to sexual longings as some individuals are susceptible to pollen even as others are immune.
Seigl was sexually susceptible: less so emotionally susceptible. He'd had a number of love affairs since late adolescence but had never wanted to marry nor had he been weakened, or flattered, by another's wish that he marry. "Intimacy, on a daily basis. Hourly! How is it accomplished?" He laughed, but it was a serious question. How is intimacy accomplished? Even while deeply involved with a woman with whom he'd shared a residence in Rochester, Seigl had kept his house in the hilly suburb of Carmel Heights and worked there much of the time.
The love affair had ended abruptly several years ago. Seigl had never understood why, exactly. "But if you love me? Why would you shut a door against me?" he'd asked in all sincerity. For finally a door had been shut against him, disturbing as a riddle in a code Seigl couldn't crack.
The tyranny of convention. Marriage, "family." Seigl hated it.
So, a female assistant was not a good idea. And there were practical reasons for preferring a young man to live with Seigl through the winter months in this glacier-gouged upstate New York terrain where the weather could be treacherous.
And so he began to make inquiries. Hesitantly at first, even shyly. Seigl was a large bewhiskered gregarious-seeming man who in fact prized his independence, even his aloneness. Joshua Seigl ? Hiring an assistant? To live in his house ...? Word spread quickly in Carmel Heights, he knew. He hated to imagine himself talked-of, even without malice. Always he'd been self-sustaining, self-sufficient. As a writer he'd never applied for a grant. He had never accepted a permanent teaching position at a university because he'd felt, early on, the powerful attraction of teaching, as an emotional substitute for writing. (The curious mesmerizing intensity of teaching! A brightly lighted space to shield us from the darkness surrounding.) Seigl wasn't a vain man and yet: he'd long taken pride in resisting the efforts of well-intentioned others to make him less alone.
"Join you? Why?"
A question he'd kept to himself.
Yet now he was weakening, now a new alarming phase of his life had begun. Yes, he would hire an assistant: ideally, a graduate student in classics. Since Seigl's project was Virgil, someone who knew Latin. The assistant might also help with household accounts, pay bills. Do secretarial work, filing, computer processing. (The computer screen had begun to dazzle Seigl's eyes. The luminous afterimage quivered in his brain through nights of disturbed sleep.) If things worked out, the assistant might live in guest quarters on the ground floor of Seigl's house ...
Seigl made discreet inquiries among his wide, casual acquaintance in the area: administrators and faculty at the University of Rochester, at the Jesuit-run College of Mount Carmel, at the Eastminister Music Conservatory where, since his father's death, he'd taken Karl Seigl's place as a trustee. He didn't wish to place a formal notice in any publication that would include his unlisted phone number or e-mail address, and he was even more reluctant to make inquiries through friends.
His parents had died several years ago. This house wasn't theirs, but Seigl's maternal grandfather's, which he'd inherited by default. Seigl and his older sister Jet were trust-fund beneficiaries of a family estate. The subject of finances embarrassed Seigl, and made him restless. His Marxist sympathies aroused him to a vague self-disapproval and yet: receiving an income freed him from any obsession with money-making. There was a purely romantic, unworldly quality to Seigl, his discomfort at being paid for his writing, for any expression of his "spirit." For wasn't writing a spiritual endeavor, in essence? It was conceived in the privacy of a man's heart, and therefore had to be pure, uncontaminated by greed.
Maybe, he'd lived too long alone.
He dreaded his sister Jet hearing of his plan to hire an assistant, knowing how possessive she was of him, her younger brother whom she'd ignored while they were growing up. Joshua! Don't let a stranger into your life, you know I am here for you.
Jet's language, which grated against Seigl's ear, was taken from pop-culture almost exclusively. Her values, her relentless "enthusiasm." Once Joshua Seigl had become well-known in intellectual circles, Jet had turned her basilisk-eyes upon him, greedy and yearning.
Jet was self-named: "Jet Steadman-Seigl." In fact, she'd been baptized in their mother's Presbyterian church as "Mary Beth Seigl." But this bland name lacked the manic glamor of "Jet Steadman-Seigl" and had to be cast off. (Steadman was their mother's surname, one that signaled inherited money and social position in the Rochester area since the 1880s.)
Their parents' marriage, intensely romantic at the start, had been what is quaintly called "mixed." That is, Protestant, Jew. Seigl's full name was Joshua Moses Seigl. There was a name with character! He'd been named for his father's father who had been a rich importer of leather goods in Munich, Germany, in the 1920s and 1930s; not many miles from the small rural town with the name, at that time innocuous, Dachau.
Excerpted from The Tattooed Girl by Joyce Carol Oates Copyright © 2003 by Joyce Carol Oates
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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