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The highly acclaimed author of Tintin in the New World has written an incandescent, intense-as-a-painting fantasy/romance about the last days of Vincent van Gogh and his obsessive love affair with an opium-addicted 19-year-old photographer. The story includes a time trip to and from Alphabet City, New York, in the 1990s. Color illustrations throughout. Size A. 192 pp. Author publicity.
When flame-haired Ursula steps through the only standing wall in one of Alphabet City's rubble-strewn lots, she by chance also steps forward in time and into the startled gaze of a downtrodden photographer, a boozy epileptic who thinks he's having another fit. He isn't, though, so he takes her home, where she strips away her century-old garments, soaks in his tub, and begins to tell her story. She is herself a photographer, morphine-addicted, and the teenage muse of van Gogh. He is completely infatuated with her, though her own desperate needs bring nothing but trouble to their relationship. In fact, Ursula was searching for a fix when she stepped through the wall into the next century, and in spite of her would-be rescuer's (whom she names Louis after the dealer she was really looking for) now being infatuated with her himself, Ursula still craves the calm that narcotics provide. She explores Louis's demimonde, then strikes out on her own, taking in all that the city's drug culture can offer and recasting herself as a punk beauty. In spite of her assimilation and her affection for the hapless Louis, however, she worries about Vincent and one day steps back through the wall to her French cottage—though the mechanism of her return malfunctions, so that Vincent finds her as something less than she was.
A tender tale, its magical effects as beautifully nuanced as its portrayal of van Gogh is passionate. The New York scene, though, is far less compelling, leaving a mismatch in intensity that's hard to overlook, no matter how much one might want to.
Standing there at that corner, you could say hello to the wildest strangers as they passed you by, because down there, we were all loose change tripping the streets, the coins falling where they may, liberty dimes and buffalo nickels mixing promiscuously, without a thought, on some blue curb below Tenth Street.
"Hi, Jack. Hi, Jill." You'd give a little salute, and most times, they'd wave back or smile or come over and ask about where to crash, about where to score, sometimes just to have a chat with a stranger. We recognized who we were at a glance—all irregulars from the drifting nation of dreamy youth. We're ghosts of those times now, just nicked, straight-edged razors heaped in pawnshop drawers. Don't get old. Don't die. Kill despair. Keep hope.
How easily flowed the day in those old times, when I was most alive, my blood running casually and forever. I'd be letting the hours pass in a drowse, drinking, sleeping, now and then shooting pictures for love and for the truth in them, every frame a hedge against oblivion, the never having lived—I believed things like that in those days.
I used to sit away an afternoon in Mousey's Bar—vanished now—on Avenue C and drink slowly through the day until evening hit the pavement. In those days, I'd bring Mouseymy check and take a few dollars in cash for walking money and film stock, and leave him the rest for me to draw against the bar. The bar being my endless draw, calling me to my little round table by the window where I could read and look out on the street and go off and take a walk—and maybe shoot a roll of river and clouds—and return to find my cozy drink still waiting.
Excerpted from Van Gogh's Bad Cafe. Copyright © 1997 by Frederic Tuten.