The Diamond Laneby Karen Karbo
Reluctantly back home in L.A. after 16 years in Africa, documentary filmmaker Mouse FitzHenry longs for the harsh, teeming jungle life her lens took in so lovingly. Wrenched Stateside by a family emergency, with her longtime boyfriend/collaborator in tow, Mouse is instantly beleaguered by a past she’d leapt continents to escape. In this rollicking novel,
Reluctantly back home in L.A. after 16 years in Africa, documentary filmmaker Mouse FitzHenry longs for the harsh, teeming jungle life her lens took in so lovingly. Wrenched Stateside by a family emergency, with her longtime boyfriend/collaborator in tow, Mouse is instantly beleaguered by a past she’d leapt continents to escape. In this rollicking novel, Karbo explores familiar subjects the phony glitz of Hollywood, the fairy tale lure of love and marriage with precision, compassion, and humor. Mouse’s paramour, Tony, a Brit who calls her “poppet,” adores L.A. and all that it can do for him and his screenplay. Mouse, meanwhile, caving in to maternal pressure, agrees to marry Tony and then proceeds, with the help of an old flame, to film around her unwitting fiancé a documentary on the entire process of their betrothal called Wedding March. A flawless, page-turning story emerges as Mouse and Tony manage often with hilarious subterfuge to keep their projects secret from one another. With its laugh-aloud moments and a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, this is a tale to treasure.
"Karen Karbo is a very funny writer from near slapstick to wry wit. Amazing." The New York Times
Praise for The Diamond Lane:
"A flawless, page-turning story . . . this is a tale to treasure."
"A wonderfully comic novel about savvy Hollywood outsiders trying to get in . . . not only is the plot ingenious, but the writing remains deft all the way through."
The New York Times
"It is a testament to Karbo’s skill at high comedy that the ending of this book a funeral rather than a wedding leaves you smiling."
The New Yorker
"This astringent, humorous novel tackles two subjects ripe for satire: the Hollywood movie industry and marriage both notoriously fickle institutions requiring blind hope to sustain life."
the Los Angeles Times
"This kind of novel is a devil to pull off . . . and Ms. Karbo has done her job brilliantly."
The New York Times Book Review
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Read an Excerpt
The Diamond Lane
By Karen Karbo
Hawthorne Books & Literary ArtsCopyright © 2014 Karen Karbo
All rights reserved.
FREAK ACCIDENTS RAN IN THE FAMILY. WHAT ELSE WAS Mimi to think? First Fitzy, now Shirl. What happened to lingering diseases? What happened to people dying in their sleep at eighty-five? The world was as reliable as patio furniture in a hurricane. It was so awful it made her laugh. The day after it happened she called in sick. She was convinced if she went to work, on the twenty-first floor of a building on Sunset Boulevard, the FitzHenry luck would bring on an earthquake. Mimi and Mouse were ten and nine when their father, Fitzy, was run over by a dolly. Fitzy had been crossing the street at the bottom of a freeway ramp, on his way to get new keys made for the front door of Fitzy's, his bar. A truck waiting to merge at the top of the ramp was towing the dolly, which was not properly hooked onto the trailer. The safety chain was taped together with hundred-mile-an-hour-tape, the silver duct tape that lazy truck drivers used to patch everything from wobbly rearview mirrors to broken radiator hoses.
Fitzy stooped down to pick up an earring in the crosswalk. The truck jerked, snapping the tape. The dolly hurtled down the ramp. Fitzy leaped out of the way, only to trip and crack his head on the curb. He was thirty-four, dead on arrival.
It was a Thursday. By the next Tuesday he was in the ground. They found the earring when they pried open his fist at the coroner's office. It was an 18k gold clip-on knot. Seven different women called up to claim it when the description ran in the paper. Shirl, Mimi and Mouse's mother, was comforted by the fact that at least he stooped for the genuine article, not gold-plated.
Mimi recounted this to her fellow drudge, Alyssia, who was answering Solly's line while Mimi tried to track down Mouse in Nairobi. Alyssia was a Yale graduate with curly brown hair, squinty eyes, and lips so full Mimi wondered if she'd gone in for silicone injections. Alyssia was only twenty. She made Mimi feel too old to be doing this job.
Calling Africa was not cheap. Mimi vowed that after Mouse came home, if she came home – Mouse hadn't come home for her wedding, why should she come home for this? – she would get Mouse to reimburse her. Her phone bill was already two months past due.
Mimi tried the BBC office, then Mouse's place in Nairobi. They had never heard of either Mouse FitzHenry or Frances FitzHenry at the BBC. Mimi was sure that was where Mouse worked. Who else made documentaries in Africa? At the house some African girl with a fluty voice answered the phone and told her to call Zaire. Zah-ear. She felt stupid. All this time she had thought the word rhymed with hair. Where in Zah-ear? Mimi asked. The girl on the other end of the line didn't know.
At the American Express office, in one of the two or three places in Zaire where they had American Express offices, Mimi left this message: Mouse FitzHenry, phone home. Zaire was apparently the type of place where you could leave messages like that. The lady Mimi talked to in Kisangani said, "I tell her you called," as if the country was a house and Mouse was just out walking the dog. Wasn't Zaire the size of India or something?
Then, the next morning, a modern-day miracle: Mouse returned her call.
But she called at the worst possible time, nine o'clock in the morning. Mimi placed calls to New York every morning at nine-thirty in hopes of reaching New York film people before they bolted out the door to "do" lunch.
Her boss, Solly, needed New York. He needed Mimi to get New York for him. He hovered over her while she dialed. He chomped on a chocolate croissant fresh from Gourmet-on-Wheels. He dribbled crumbs. She did her best to ignore them.
When Mimi heard the Gourmet-on-Wheels vendor rattling through the front door of the office, she locked herself in the bathroom and chewed sugarless gum so as not to be tempted.
Mimi tried never to touch the stuff. Any eating she did, she did in private, as if she wouldn't gain weight as long as there were no witnesses, And since she also enjoyed an active social life, she was thin. Thin enough, but not as thin as she could be. She was not anorexic, but would love to figure out how to be for about two weeks a month. She liked to wear bright-colored cotton-knit miniskirts, which showed off a concave abdomen stretching between the bony parentheses of her hips.
Solly, on the other hand, was the Goodyear blimp incarnate. He kept his own appointment book, the better to schedule double-header breakfast meetings, triple-header lunch meetings, without anyone knowing it. But Mimi knew about it. All the drudges in the office knew about it. Solly weighed in at about two-eighty. Mimi saw it one day when she was sending off some life insurance forms.
Sometimes, when Solly infuriated her, when he accused her of being stupid, negligent, unappreciative of the importance of talking to New York at nine-thirty in the morning, she went to the Xerox room and found another drudge who had in some way been driven over the edge. Behind his back they sang: "Fatman! Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do-do-do-dodo, Fatman!" to the tune of the old Batman theme song.
The flakes from Solly's croissant trickled onto Mimi's shoulders as she put in calls to ICM, CAA, CBS, NBC, and a couple of ritzy farmhouses in Connecticut where clients were holed up, working on screenplays.
"Solly Stein calling for Jonathan Wild. He's in a meeting? Could you leave word?"
"Solly Stein calling for J. J. McIntosh. When is he expected back from lunch? Could you please leave word?"
"Solly Stein calling for Hillary Madison-Edelman. Is she reachable in St. Bart's? Fine. Just leave word."
In desperation, Solly chewed faster and faster. Mimi could hear his molars clacking together inside his mouth. He swallowed a lump of croissant the size of an egg. Glunk. "Get me Lore Director at Orion, no, no Marty, get me Marty Schepsi, no, Christ, Marty's in Geneva, what time is it in Geneva? Did you send that thing out to what's his name?" He wadded up the plastic wrap the croissant came in, then between tubby thumbs and fat forefingers frantically pinched it into a teeny ball. "What about Rocky Martini?"
The phone rang. Mimi sighed. Saved!
Solly had already deposited the tiny wadded-up Saran Wrap ball at her elbow and was poised in the doorway of his office.
"Who is it?" he hissed, before the receiver had reached her ear. "Is it Wild? I need Wild."
Mimi felt the blood pounding in her throat. She waved him to shut up. Through the earpiece, the telephone equivalent of a snowstorm. Then, "allo! collect person-to-person from frances fithenry!"
Shit, she thought. It's Mouse. Solly's going to have my head. And collect? She has to call collect?
"Who is it, for the love of Christ?"
"It's long distance."
Rubbing his fat dry hands together, Solly bounded into his office and hurled himself into his big black leather chair. The sound the chair made was the same as if it'd just been hit by a wrecking ball. Suddenly, he came on the line. "Mazel tov!"
"Solly, it's personal."
"Who is this?" he bellowed.
"It's Mimi, Solly. It's a personal phone call. I've got to take it."
Then, from through the snowstorm, a third voice. Under the static the voice was thin and faint. "Mimi? crrrrrrrrr Mouse!"
"Solly," said Mimi, "get off the phone. It's my sister in Nairobi."
"Crrrllo?" yelled Mouse. "Mimi?"
"Mouse! It's Mimi!"
"Crrrrrrrrr Kissing Gani," yelled Mouse.
"Kissing who?" said Mimi.
Solly banged the phone down in Mimi's ear.
"What's going on?" said Mouse. Even through the snow she sounded uneasy and a little suspicious.
"It's Mom!" yelled Mimi. Hearing herself say "Mom," the tears she'd been swallowing all morning filled her throat. "She has a, there's been an accident. They're doing surgery this morning, drilling some hole in her head."
"Crrrrrrrrr God," said the other end of the line. "Middle crrrrrr crrrrrr marriage."
"You are?" Mimi yelled. "You must be thrilled. I remember how I felt when –"
"– crrrrrrr now."
"I need Rocky Martini." It was Solly. Mimi could smell his chocolate breath on her neck. He stood behind her, loudly fondling the change in his pockets.
"Just a second," Mimi said to Solly. Then into the snowstorm, "It's a hematoma thing she's got. It's bad. They're drilling a hole in her head. You got to come home!"
"I need Milosz Benik," said Solly, pouting. "I need Rocky Martini."
Mimi thought she heard Mouse say okay, then the hollow far-off roar of nothing. She hung up. She hadn't talked to Mouse in over five years. And here was Shirl having, having, brain surgery. Mimi thought if she was older – she was thirty-six, practically an adult – it wouldn't be so awful. Everyone has to go sometime. But death was the easy part. If you're dead, you're dead. It's the in-between. It's the decline part, the part between bouncing around rosy-checked healthy and some guy with cold hands dragging the sheet over your face. Not that she knew one whit about decline. But she worried she was about to find out.
She worried that Shirl wouldn't be able to do her crossword puzzles anymore. That her hands would shake so much she wouldn't be able to do her découpage. Would her hair grow back? Would she have to wear a bad wig? Mimi gingerly wiped her eyes with her ring fingers, so as not to smear her mascara or tug the extra-sensitive skin under the eyes. She felt better, glad to know that even under the most excruciating circumstances she was not one to let her looks go.
Solly glared. "If you're done –"
"My mom is dying, okay?" She wasn't technically, but she was in intensive care. Mimi stood up so fast she knocked her steno chair over. She loathed that chair. It was a slave chair. The assistants to the agents at least had chairs with arms. The agents, of course, had massive leather-upholstered thrones. Whose butt was supposed to fit on her chair, anyway?
"She was hit by a ceiling fan, okay? She's in intensive care. My sister lives in Africa, okay? We haven't talked in a jillion years. I had to talk to her. Have you ever tried to talk to Africa? It's not like calling stupid New York. So get off my fucking back for a minute all right? All right?"
"Mimi, Mimi. I. I. A ceiling fan?"
"It hit the side of her head by her right eye. She got a skull fracture and now there's, I don't know, blood leaking or something, they've got to drill a hole. They're shaving her head. What if she's a vegetable?"
"Where'd it happen?"
"Gateau on Melrose."
"Good God, I ate there a couple weeks ago." Solly seemed both baffled and repulsed. He had never heard such a thing. Wasn't bad luck and misery and brain surgery and estranged sisters the stuff of TV miniseries? How tasteless to drag them into real life.
He ran his hands over his balding head. There were a couple of dime-size dark-brown blotches on it. Watch your karma, Mr. Pre-Cancerous Condition, Mimi said silently to the blotches. It could happen to you. Anything can happen to anybody.
"I knew you were miserable, but I didn't think anything was wrong," he said.
"God, Solly." Brilliant. He should give up the film business and be a brain surgeon instead. Oh, she thought, oh, a brain surgeon. Everything suddenly seemed unfairly ironic, which was troubling. Mimi didn't believe in irony. She felt it was more a literary convention. She put it in the same category as deus ex machina. The tears started up again. She felt them tip over the edge of her eyes. Fuck the mascara. She resigned herself to being a mess.
"Everyone in the business is miserable," said Alyssia. "It's all relative."
"She's having surgery right this minute," Mimi sobbed.
"What can I do? What can I do?" asked Solly.
"It's just so awful," said Mimi. "I'm sorry."
"Take some time off. Please. Take all the time you need."
Mimi wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She stared at the framed poster over her typewriter, taking deep breaths, trying to calm herself. The poster was from a terrible movie directed by one of Solly's clients, one which Solly would defend to his death. He refused to let anyone, including himself, think that he'd made an obscene commission on a movie that should have been put out of its misery when it was still just an idea. And here he was, now, offering her time off. People were wrong when they said people in the film business had no morals.
"All the time I need?" asked Mimi.
"Well, a long lunch why don't you? But be back by three. I gotta talk to New York today. And Rocky–"
"– in a minute."
"Fine, fine." Solly looked at his plastic diving watch. He tapped the face nervously with his fingertips. He owned the requisite gold Rolex but was afraid to wear it for fear it'd get dinged up, wet, or stolen.
Mimi took deep breaths. Alyssia came over and rubbed her back between her shoulder blades. Mimi suddenly felt good and calm, but kept on with the deep breathing. Steeped in misery though she was – it was awful, she wasn't saying she liked the idea of her mother getting cracked on the head with a ceiling fan – she did enjoy being someone who had something in her life which warranted deep breaths. Deep breaths were the domain of mothers in labor, actors, athletes, mystics. People at the center of Drama.
"Maybe Alyssia has some Kleenex, or, or something." Solly waved in her direction and wandered back to his office, pulling on his lower lip. "Jesus," he said. "Half the places in town have ceiling fans. Alyssia, get me Rocky Martini. Please."
Excerpted from The Diamond Lane by Karen Karbo. Copyright © 2014 Karen Karbo. Excerpted by permission of Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Karen Karbo is the author of 14 award-winning novels, memoirs, and works of nonfiction, including the best-selling Kick Ass Women series: Julia Child Rules, How Georgia Became O’Keeffe, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel, and How to Hepburn. Her 2004 memoir, The Stuff of Life, about the last year she spent with her father before his death, was a New York Times Notable Book, a People Magazine Critics’ Choice, a Books for a Better Life Award finalist, and a winner of the Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction. Her short stories, essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Outside, The New York Times, Salon, and other magazines. She lives in Portland, OR.
Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992, and her novel The All True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton won the 1999 Spur Award for Best Novel of the West. She lives in Carmel, CA.
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