Thing (or Two) about Curtis and Camilla

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"It's April in Soho, and Curtis Birnhaum, thirty-three-year-old rock-star wannabe out for a stroll, spies gangly, gorgeous Camilla - soon to be his obsession, his songwriting muse, and the reason he does in fact need a record contract (and some health insurance). Their first meeting, like each episode in this year 2000 picaresque love story, is an exquisitely observed social and private moment: Camilla's dachshund Phillip humps Curtis's leg while Camilla writes her AOL address backward on Curtis's forehead. As their tender and tentative
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Thing (or Two) about Curtis and Camilla

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Overview

"It's April in Soho, and Curtis Birnhaum, thirty-three-year-old rock-star wannabe out for a stroll, spies gangly, gorgeous Camilla - soon to be his obsession, his songwriting muse, and the reason he does in fact need a record contract (and some health insurance). Their first meeting, like each episode in this year 2000 picaresque love story, is an exquisitely observed social and private moment: Camilla's dachshund Phillip humps Curtis's leg while Camilla writes her AOL address backward on Curtis's forehead. As their tender and tentative relationship runs its course - through witty e-mail questionnaires, marathon conversations in bed, and parental bonding over the winsome Phillip - Fowler captures young love with comic and poignant precision." "Curtis, a hero as frank and self-critical as he is romantic, is cast into outer darkness by an unexpected breakup with Camilla. As he tries to figure out what went wrong (why did her cool blue eyes always signal a distracted aloofness?), he embarks on a series of hilarious East Village misadventures, from a nude modeling stint to a regrettable steamroom incident at Crunch gym to a destination he has only dreamed of: the top floor of the Worldwide Plaza, where the record moguls preside." Curtis and Camilla are children of the 1970s, products of broken homes who are searching for something meaningful in a world of down loading and dealmaking, hanging chads and recovering junkies. With their story, Nick Fowler tells us a thing or two about first love, heartbreak, and learning to leave the pain of youth behind.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fowler takes a gooey, insipid look at the roller-coaster ride of young love in this cloying debut novel, which focuses incessantly on the brief but epic infatuation of an aspiring 30-something rock star with a gorgeous, exotic PR rep. The "boy meets girl" section begins when aging, wannabe rocker Curtis Birnbaum falls for Camilla Fell while on an outing in NYC's SoHo. Based on a few hip conversations sprinkled with the appropriate literary and musical references, Birnbaum quickly decides that Camilla is his soul mate, and things move along swimmingly during the courtship scenes. The "boy loses girl" material commences with an ill-fated weekend in Europe, when the hapless Curtis loses the keys to their lodgings. While Curtis and Camilla manage to make the best of things, the fighting begins shortly after they get home. Camilla quickly dumps her whiny, neurotic boyfriend, and Curtis goes through a predictably negative period of self-examination as Fowler engineers a ludicrous series of scenes in which Curtis gets kicked out of his health club and ends up seeing a clueless, self-important naturopath to have his manhood assessed. Fowler's prose ranges from amusingly slick (Camilla's legs are "creamy, unscarred and tan, like the skin on a new jar of Jiffy") to downright purple ("Dawn was rinsing Time against her window"), and the tone wavers uncertainly between earnestness and arch appraisal of the characters' follies. Fowler, a former musician who has a bit part in The Sopranos, gets credit for keeping the narrative moving, but not much else works in this half-baked debut. (June 10) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Fowler is an expansive, lyrical, inventive writer.” —The New York Times Book Review

"An invigorating blast of originality, wit and heart. . . . This irresistibly melodic debut novel about love in lower Manhattan resonates like a perfect pop song: You just want to revisit it over and over again. . . . The energy is infectious. . . A smash." —Los Angeles Times

“Refreshing. . . . A novel of depth and adeptness, with a fully realized main character and Technicolor phrases scattered on every page.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Vibrant and original . . . all wit and charm. . . . A cynic’s romance.” —Orlando Sentinel

“An honest and entertaining love story; Nick Fowler writes with Nick Hornby’s sense of humor and Dave Eggers’ playfulness with form.” —The Omaha Weekly Reader

“So what has changed since Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Cheever recorded the pressures and repression weighing down a sensitive middle-class man . . . ? As Fowler tells it, the pressures haven't changed much . . . His rueful, funny first novel is informed by a pretty irresistible delight in its own telling.” —The New York Times Book Review

“New York and young love in a fresh, form-bending voice.” —Austin American Statesman

“A superior stylist, Fowler’s writing pulses like a quartz crystal. . . . Sad, hopeful and taut, A Thing (or Two) About Curtis and Camilla demonstrates that life is worth living because it is hard.” —The Tallahassee Democrat

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375421600
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/4/2002
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Fowler, a musician, has written for Metal Edge, Teen Beat, and other illustrious magazines, and has appeared on The Tonight Show and The Sopranos. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, graduated from Cornell University, and now lives in New York City with his dog, Luigi.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Just a Little Green

"I'm Little Green," she explained, in the ripe tone of Manhattan sophisticates. "Today I turned nine and a half and I'm your new neighbor."

"I'm Curtis," I admitted. "Happy half-birthday."

I wriggled from the straps of my gig bag to shake an earnest, outstretched hand-and for just a fraction of a second longer than might've been necessary, I held the wee of her palm, still soft to this world.

Little Green gave me an appraising squint. "Um, why are there calluses on your fingertips?" she wanted to know, like she'd caught me in a lie.

I strummed an air guitar.

"Oh," she went, slightly delighted, while we stood in the 'Nilla Wafer scent of her cardboard boxes. There were about a dozen of them blocking the dust-bunnied hall. I stepped over the largest and unlocked my Lilliputian studio, but as I was about to go inside, I felt Little Green looking into me.

"Were you named after that Joni Mitchell song?" I asked her over my shoulder.

"Yes," she said gravely. "It's about a girl who was given up for adoption, only I'm not adopted. It's my mom's favorite song."

I left my door ajar and fully faced my new acquaintance.

"So how much do you charge for guitar lessons?" she continued, sizing me up.

"For you?" I rubbed my chin (which badly needed shaving). "I'll do one for ten thousand dollars."

She rolled a set of voracious green eyes, looking far too large in her little blonde head. (I could see that the latter would catch up to the former as she began to breakhearts.) "Come on, really," she insisted, all business.

"For the beautiful and talented Little Green? Make me blueberry pancakes someday and we'll call it a deal."

"All my mom can make is toast." She examined, then bit off, a cuticle. "Oh, and Cornish hens," she remembered, looking back up at me.

"Oh, they're tasty."

"Quite."

Little Green had on Diesel jeans, a tank top, and powder blue mules. She was gawky, nearly gorgeous-standing in that gangly limbo between girl and woman where they're still overwhelmed by their new, rude beauty.

And so wearing what someone (with whom I'll be overwhelming you and myself in just a minute) referred to as my uniform of black oil jeans and T-shirt, I asked my friend if she weren't married.

"No," she said, with totality, her nostrils flaring to tame what I hoped was a smile.

"Divorced then?" I said-and I immediately wished I hadn't.

She gazed down at a mule, which she then began revolving in front of her, ballerina style. "No, but my parents have been considering one since I was six." She crossed her extended foot over the vertical leg. "My dad says that's why I'm an only child."

"I am too," I said, over-eagerly. But then, in my coolest Cary Grant: "I guess we have them to thank for your lovely eyes."

"Rather."

She yawned, covering a dainty mouth only as it was closing. "Have you been to London, England? U.K.?"

I told her I'd studied there.

"We just got back. They call parakeets budgies."

"I hope you brought along a warm jumper," I said.

She gave me a shallow curtsy of a nod. "I get it." Then she looked at me carefully. "I write short stories, you know."

I told her that I'd actually just been thinking she was probably pretty gifted.

"I am. My dad says I'm extremely perceptive for my age. I have my own ascetic sense of abilities."

I asked her how she felt her writing was coming along.

"Comme ci, comme ça. That's French."

I told her I'd had a hunch it might've been.

"I've been in a bit of a writer's block, actually," she confided, inspecting her gnawed nails again. "Maybe you'd like to read a fairly recent rough draft of mine. I'd be kind of curious to get your take on it."

I told her I couldn't think of much else I'd rather do.

There was a pause. I thought I could see her eyes focusing on some far-off train of thought . . . and then, as it approached, ignoring it. "You have really thin lips, don't you?" she observed.

I cleared my throat and told her that I, personally, didn't really mind her saying so, but that someone with fewer tendencies to self-effacing might take offense to this kind of candor.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, biting the corner of her own lower lip (which wasn't, for what it's worth, the least bit thin).

We stood there.

I looked at my wrist, where a watch would have been had I been a different kind of person.

"I'm sorry, Curtis," she said at last. "Really."

"Well, don't be," I suggested.

"Okay." She extended her little hand to me again.

"Okay, then," I said, shaking it, and we exchanged one of those stares that only The Movies would have us believe aren't useless.

"Can I call you Clyde?" she asked me, suddenly bouncing on her toes.

"Only if I can call you Stanley," I bargained.

"Stanley?" her nostrils dilated. "That's our dentist's name."

"Then in that case I guess it'll just have to be Walter."

"Walter?" she whined, but there was joy in her voice. "I bet you'll forget to," she reckoned.

"Why would you think that . . . Walter?"

At this, Little Green permitted me the first of what would be a long, bashful pageant of her beauty queen smiles. When it ended, she tilted her head . . .

"Are you lonely?"

I pretended to cough.

She shifted what slender weight she had from her left to right leg. Those emerald eyes were really sparkling at me. I sensed I wasn't going to get off so easy, what with having told her how unoffended I tended to get.

"Rather," I said, with a smile that felt more qualified than I'd wanted. "So, do you need help with those boxes?"

"Yes, actually. Thank you for offering." Reminded back to her task, my friend blew at her bangs. "And you should probably close your door," she suggested, tossing the bangs at it.

"Thanks," I said, closing it.

She swiped the glow from her brow with the back of an exquisite wrist, then hefted a box that dwarfed her, leaning back as she levered it into her empty apartment.

"Wow, you're really strong," I remarked, watching her waddle.

"I know," she sighed, dropping her box in the foyer before walking back to me. "Che Guevara Horowitz cried when I punched his arm in art. But he still wants to marry me."

"Who could blame him?"

Judging from her yuck mouth and trademark eye roll, Little Green could.

I slid my fingers under the bottom of a box-the largest-but stayed in my squat.

"And Che Guev always tries to kiss me," she continued, watching me.

"Who wouldn't?" I quickly wrinkled my brows into what I hoped was my most un-child-molesterish expression.

"Sammy Manna Sonnenberg. That's who. He's the only really sensible boy in my class. He's very much my type. But I explained to him that he'll just have to wait until I'm a bit more mature. Both physically and emotionally."

I told her that as far as things in this world being worth the wait went, I thought the above was probably right up there at the top of the list. Then I, an assiduous procrastinator, at last lifted my box with an affected grunt I'd sometimes heard my father make . . .

. . . and followed my companion inside.

"Anywhere is fine," she said, leading me into the living room. She flicked a pointer finger at nothing in particular. I dropped the box at my feet, where there was a dim, sound-effecty crunch of glass.

"Don't worry," she said, sounding more unconcerned than I suspected she was. "It was probably already broken."

"Will you let me know and I'll pay for it?"

"Okay," she lied.

I nodded and glanced around. The apartment had that demon sense of people fleeing old lives; a hopeful vacuum. There would be secrets discovered here, I thought. Sins dismissed.

"My mom told me not to let anyone but the super in here, but you don't look mean." She looked at me as though she needed my suit size. "You're like a big kid, Curtis."

I smiled, feeling my cheeks stretch back in a way that they hadn't in weeks. It was as unqualified as they come.

"Where are your parents?" I asked her.

Little Green twisted her neck, which audibly popped. "My mom's with the movers. And my dad just bought this phat loft on Crosby. That's why we had to move. They're having a trial separation. It's just temporary." As she studied my face, her tongue darted once quick in and out of her mouth. She seemed to be auditioning something inside her. "Guess who lives in my father's new building, Curtis?"

I couldn't.

"Come on. Just one guess."

"David Hasselhoff."

"Wrong. Rupert Everett."

Fearing I'd now be thought irrevocably unhip, I admitted that I didn't have the foggiest.

"He's friends with Madonna."

"Oh," I said, shrewdly. "Oh. Okay." (Whatever that meant.)

"He just came out."

"Of what?"

"You know, out." Two annoyed blinks.

I gaped.

"Of the closet," she rolled the famous eyes again.

"And it was about time," I conceded, not exactly sure of the tone I was supposed to be taking in these graceless days. But from the unfinished look Little Green gave me, I took it that I hadn't offered quite the desired response. "That's too bad," I opted.

"No, no. It's really cool. He moved in with his boyfriend, Rialto. That's my friend Keanu's dad. Keanu's nice but a dork sometimes. He doesn't even know his times tables yet."

"Jesus," I scoffed, and "what about long division?"

"We're doing that next semester. But Harmony Downy's dad already taught her how," she grumbled. "Come on." She jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen, then led me there in a hopscotch formation that I suddenly remembered doing in another lifetime.

Little Green removed a takeout tin of hummus and pita from her otherwise empty fridge. She took what seemed to me an enormous bite for such a tiny mouth, then held the plate out to me, chewing, raising her eyebrows.

I refused out of reflex, I guess, and we didn't speak for a while. I listened to her chomping her food, which made me realize I was actually very, very hungry. And that I hadn't had anything but coffee and Mentos since I could remember. I looked at my friend intensely then. She looked so apart. I wondered what the world would do about her. All at once I wanted to crush her to my chest.

Then the moment felt too posed, and I needed to deflect all the warmth advancing at me. I remember seeing myself as a foolish grin, suddenly discovering it has rotten teeth, if that makes any sense . . . there was just too much ugly in me now.

"Where are my manners? Would you like to sit down?" Little Green glanced around. "The only furniture that's unpacked is that, though." She walked back into the living room and collapsed into a corner chair of faded caramel leather. It fit her like a hug. "My dad made it for me when I was two." She looked up at me, nestled, her skinny arms flat on the rests. "All by himself. Do you like it, Curtis?"

I told her that it just might've been the most beautiful chair I'd ever seen. And I meant it.

"Would you like to sit in it?" she asked me, but this didn't exactly have the sound of a question. So I sat in it-or actually, wedged myself into it.

"Isn't it comfy?" she said.

I told her, in a constricted voice, that it certainly was.

"Should I bring you my most recent short story so you can read it in my chair?"

I nodded, trying, unsuccessfully, to cross my legs.

"Okay, cool," she said, then ran out of sight. I heard her rifling through boxes. "Don't move, okay, Curtis?" she yelled.

"Okay."

But I wasn't going anywhere. Not only because I was enjoying my new companion's company so much, but because I'd been up for over sixty hours, for a dim constellation of reasons I'll be rekindling in a minute. So I fell fast asleep . . . I'll never know for exactly how long. But when I awoke, I was watching Little Green walk, very cautiously, back into the room, holding only one piece of paper in her hand. Which, looking askance, she handed to me. "It's actually not a whole story yet. I've mainly been revising."

A single sentence, in bubbly script, had been scribbled, then crossed out, then shortened and expanded, for almost half the page.


Every body in my class. Everybody in my Every body in my class wishes they had


While I was still reading, Little Green snatched the piece of paper from me.

. . . a delirious silence fell between us.

She gave me the full green brunt of her eyes.

"Everybody in my class," she said, "wishes they had a gay dad, too."

Copyright 2002 by Nick Fowler
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is one of my favorite novels. I'm currently reading it for the third time. I love the way Fowler writes about lost love -- Curtis searches desperately for 'loopholes' in the contract of love he had with Camilla. I loved the story, the characters, and the writing style. I am desperately awaiting another novel from this author!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2004

    Not What I Expected

    My primary complaint about this book is that I did not like the character of Curtis. Although I like complex, well-developed characters as much as anyone, I just found him annoying. It was difficult to care about his relationship with Camilla, and I wanted it to fail. I picked up this book expecting a quick, funny read and found myself struggling to finish it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2002

    Can you afford to not read on?

    Reading... A Thing (or Two) about Curtis and (Camilla) is a like having a dinner party with a bunch of great friends! You and the writer, Nick Fowler, accidentally begin...eating off of each others plate. He draws you in and intimately carries you through a year in the life of super goofy, unresistable and self-deprecating Curtis Birnbaum. I was completely absorbed. Yes I had to say it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2002

    this book is great.

    i got an advance copy. i loved it. much hipper than hornby's novels. really nicely written. a great summer read. ps: the publisher's weekly review is moronic.

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