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Until Veronica finds Leo…
In lower manhattan there is an improbable point where Waverly Place intersects Waverly Place. It was there I met Veronica, on a snowy, windy night.
She was looking for her keys on the sidewalk in front of a brownstone beside the Convent of St. Zita. She communicated this to me in pantomime: turning an invisible key in a lock. She wore a black coat and a wide-brimmed hat from which long black hair streamed over her shoulders. The hat shadowed her eyes, like a mask. I found the keys—a large, odd assortment on an oval key ring. Thanking me with a nod, she put it into her handbag and glanced over her shoulder toward Christopher Street. Following her gaze, I saw nothing but the streetlight on the corner, snow slanting through its cone of light, burying the fire hydrant in a drift.
"Would you walk me to Sixth Avenue?" she asked in a low voice.
Again she glanced up the street, as if there should be someone there, but there was no one. In the silence you could hear the snowflakes brushing through the bare branches of the trees with a metallic rush.
She walked headlong, erect, into the flying snow, her hair blowing out. No one else had walked along that stretch of sidewalk, and we left deep footprints in the snow.
The cars on Sixth Avenue were moving slowly, far apart, their tires crunching the snow. For an instant, she turned her face up to me, and it was illuminated by a flashing sign. Then she flagged a taxi, and slipping an envelope into my hand, jumped in quickly. The taxi sped northward, skidding around the other cars. The clock tower on the old courthouse for women read 1:15. Up to the right, the Empire State Building was lit up green and white.
The envelope contained an invitation to an opening the following week, at a gallery on Bond Street: Arctic Floes: Oil Paintings by Remi Sing. Stuffing it into my pocket, I realized I had not said a single word to this woman. And I had never seen her eyes.
They were different colors: the right one blue, the left green. And her face in the light of the candle on the table startled me at first, just as it had in the icy night air. After seeing it on the street, I was afraid I had only imagined it: a still, luminous face with a silvery sheen. Finely hewn, with a long, straight nose and a wide mouth, it was nearly identical to another face, which I had photographed years before. Not on a person, but on the fragment of a frieze I found in some ruins near Verona. The frieze, which depicted a band of musicians, had once been shadowed beneath a cornice high on the temple of Mercury, god of magic. Belonging to one of the musicians, it was a riveting face—like a puzzle that could not be solved—which I had never found, or expected to find, on a living woman.
Unfazed by my stare, she was toying with the flesh of the tomato on her plate. We were sitting by the front window of a Tibetan restaurant, a small dark place on Morton Street, near the river. On the wall there was a mural of the Dalai Lama's monastery at Sera, high in the Himalayas. Clouds encircled the topmost peaks. The monastery's windows were blue and its roof was gold.
I had gone to the gallery opening on Bond Street, but she wasn't there. Remi Sing was a young Eurasian woman with a patch over her left eye. She was wearing a pink leather jacket with red zippers. Her paintings were all white, each with a single black line zigzagging through it.
The gallery was crowded. I took a glass of red wine off a tray. Remi Sing was standing in a knot of admirers beside a tall, red-haired man in his early fifties, powerfully built, who had a zigzag scar across his forehead, like the line in one of her paintings. He wore a black glove on his left hand and, tight-lipped, taciturn, smoked a succession of cigarettes rolled in zebra-striped paper. I noted that people were drawn to him, but never got too close.
I was standing near the door, glancing at my watch, when a slender, muscular young man in a suede jacket and tinted glasses bumped against me. He smiled, showing me a set of very straight, very white teeth.
"Pardon me," he said. "Are you, by chance, waiting to meet someone?"
"Could be. Who are you?"
"Yes, I thought it might be you," he said, taking a card from his pocket. "Veronica asked me to give you this."
On the card was the name and address of the Tibetan restaurant. Dabtong. When I looked up, he had disappeared into the crowd.
That was the first time I heard her name.
The waiter had taken our plates, and rummaging in her handbag for her lighter, Veronica laid the key ring I'd found in the snow on the tablecloth: a large map of Tibet with the sites of all the Buddhist monasteries indicated by red triangles.
I studied the keys. There were sixteen of them: for Medeco, Segal, and Fichet locks; also, mailbox keys, an enormous skeleton key, a tiny one, and a safe deposit box key. One of the house keys was marked with an X, in black enamel.
Veronica smoked kretek Indonesian cigarettes, crushed cloves rolled into the tobacco. When she spoke, the words slipped slowly, sometimes reluctantly, from her full lips. She was wearing an outfit consisting entirely of items with polka dots—dress, hat, scarf, and gloves. The dress and gloves were blue with black dots; the scarf was black with blue dots; and the hat was like a fez—blue on black—with black tassels and a gold feather.
"I'm into black holes," she said. "Like the black holes in outer space. You know, they think they might lead to other systems of time and space. A whole other universe of antimatter. But we would explode the instant we passed through one of the holes."
When I had entered the restaurant, she raised one hand in greeting and watched me carefully as I walked over to her.
"I was sure you would come," she said.
My nostrils filled with her perfume—a fiery scent—when I sat down. For several minutes we didn't talk. With other women, this would have been unbearable. But her silence I found comforting.
Then she asked me my name.
"Leo," I replied. "Is it always this complicated to see you?"
"Not always. I'm hungry, aren't you?"
Yet she had hardly touched her food. She drank cup after cup of hot black tea, seasoned Tibetan style, with butter and salt. And when the table was cleared, she continued to drink it, ordering a third pot from the waiter.
"How will you sleep?" I said, tapping the pot.
"I don't sleep much," she said.
Across the street, in the dark window of an antique store, I saw the full moon reflected alongside the water tower of the building we were in. It was a cold, clear night.
I called for the check, but when I reached for my wallet, it wasn't there.
"I know," Veronica said, stubbing out her cigarette, "your wallet is missing." She did not sound surprised. "I invited you to dinner, so I should pay."
I stood up and felt my pockets. "My driver's license, my—how did you know it was missing?"
"You'll have it back." She put some money on the table. "Come on."
She went outside, and through the window I saw her drinking in the night air and breathing out vapor through her nose while I searched under the table and then went through my coat.
We walked east on Morton Street. The steel taps on the heels of her black boots shot off tiny sparks on the pavement.
"What did you think of Remi's paintings?" she asked.
"Is that where we're going—back to the gallery?"
She smiled, for the first time. "No. Though I'm sure you didn't have your wallet when you left there."
"How do you know that?"
Rather than reply, she remarked, "You know, Remi and I went to school together."
We were on Barrow Street now.
"Who is the man with the scar?" I said.
She shot me a glance, and her face hardened. "You saw him?"
"How could I miss? He was the real center of attention. Didn't you go to the opening at all?"
"No," she said. "And just because you saw him doesn't mean he was there."
We turned suddenly into a narrow, L-shaped alley off Barrow Street. A rat shot out from behind a garbage can. A bare yellow bulb set high on the brick wall was reflected in a puddle. The twigs of trees were scratching at windows. There was an iron gate with a padlock that led into the perpendicular arm of the alley. Veronica took out her key ring and unlocked the padlock with the smaller skeleton key.
From the shadows, against a chain-link fence covered with ivy, a dog on a chain growled at us. I never saw the dog, just the glint of the chain as he dragged it. Veronica said, "Tashi," in a soft voice and the growling stopped.
"Where is he?" I asked, peering into the darkness.
"Come on," Veronica said.
We went up several mossy steps to a nearly invisible door in the wall of a four-story brick building also covered with moss. The door was low, with no knob, and could have been part of the wall. She pushed it open, and ducking our heads, we entered a narrow hallway.
On the wall, in a dull brass frame, was an old photographic portrait of an elderly Asian man—Tibetan, judging by his features and coppery skin. He was grim-faced, with a thin white moustache and a direct gaze. He was wearing a gold robe with a high, stiff collar. At the far end of the hallway Veronica pushed open another door and we climbed two flights of wooden stairs lit by dim lamps on the small landings. The dust was thick on the stairs, and when I glanced back, we had left a trail of footprints.
On the second landing, Veronica unlocked a door painted in yellow enamel with one of the Medeco keys.
"You know," she said, breaking the silence, "a good lock when it's opened should sound like a pair of stones clicking underwater."
She took my arm—the first time she touched me—and led me into a small room lit so low that even after the dim hallway my eyes had to adjust. In the corner, a cloth was draped over the shade of the one burning lamp. Directly across the room, above a door, a single red bulb was turned on, as if there were a darkroom within. The only furniture was a table, two cane chairs, a chest, and a sofa-bed covered with rumpled blankets. There were no windows. A fan was whirring on the table beside a stack of books. Next to the sofa-bed there was the sort of large, boxy floor radio that was popular in the nineteen forties.
Veronica sat down at the table, crossed her legs, and lit one of her clove cigarettes.
"Is this your place?" I asked.
She shook her head. "My brother's. We have to wait."
I glanced at the door beneath the red lightbulb. "Your brother is a photographer?"
"In a way. But not professionally. We can't disturb him, but he's never in there very long. Sit."
The fan blew her cigarette smoke across the room, toward a wide shelf which held only a few objects: a tape deck, a bottle of vodka, a triangular mirror, and a bronze statuette of a running deer.
"Like a drink?" Veronica asked.
Beside the shelf, over a black traveling trunk tattooed with stickers—Kansas City, Toronto, Seattle—a black velvet robe, lined with red silk, was hung from the wall, spread out, between a pair of hooks.
"What's that?" I said.
"My father was a magician. That was one of his robes. And that was his trunk."
"What was his name?"
"He had many names. Vardoz of Bombay, El-Shabazz of Aqaba, Trong-luk of Lhasa, Zeno the Phoenician, Cardin of Cardogyll. He was always from another place. Vardoz was his favorite. He would put reddish dye on his face and hands and wear that robe with black gloves, a black turban, and a long black scarf imprinted with moons, stars, and comets. Each name was for a different act: escape artist, prestidigitator, illusionist. As a girl, I worked as one of his assistants. Traveled around the country with him. Had my own costumes. Took care of the doves and rabbits." With a sigh she picked a piece of tobacco from her lip. "His real name was Albin White. Al the Chemist, his old friends called him, because as a kid, before he ran away, he worked in his father's pharmacy. When he started out as a magician, he was just Albin the Phantom."
The door beneath the red bulb opened and a young man in a black T-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots stepped out. When I saw his tinted eyeglasses, I recognized him as the man in the suede jacket at the art gallery.
He did not seem surprised to see us.
"You came at a bad time," he said to Veronica with some irritation.
He flicked a wall switch, and I blinked as white light flooded the room from above. I saw that the walls were painted sea-green.
"Leo, this is my brother Clement. Clement, give Leo back his wallet."
Expressionless, Clement opened a drawer in the chest, took out my wallet, and flipped it onto the table. Then, crossing the room casually, on silent feet despite his boots, he poured himself a small glass of vodka and looked at his watch.
"How did you get this?" I said, snatching up my wallet, "and what did you want with it?"
"I need to listen to the radio now," he said to Veronica, pointedly ignoring me, and taking off his glasses.
As she stood up, I saw that he, too, had one eye blue and one green.
"I apologize for my brother," she said.
Clement opened the door. "Glad to meet you, Leo," he mumbled, turning his back on us.
I was still clutching my wallet out on Barrow Street, where the wind was rattling the bare branches of the chestnut trees.
"Now you know my brother's profession," Veronica said.
"He's a thief?"
I looked at my wallet.
"Don't worry," she said, "nothing's missing."
But I wasn't thinking about my wallet anymore. Only when we reached the corner, and Veronica went into a pharmacy to use the pay phone, did I realize what had been nagging at me ever since we had descended the stairs: the footprints we had made in ascending them were all gone. The dust was still thick, but it was pristine, as if no one had walked there for weeks. And suddenly I wondered, too, why we had found no footprints of Clement's on our way up.
When I went into the pharmacy, the pay phone was off the hook, hanging from its wire, and Veronica had disappeared.
The man behind the counter said he had never seen her.
About this Book:
On a snowy night in Manhattan, at the improbable point where Waverly Place meets Waverly Place, Leo meets the beautiful, enigmatic Veronica. From that moment his life enters a supernatural, highly charged realm in which the city is transformed into a mystical dreamscape and real time is magically altered.
Ten years have passed since Veronica's father, the world-famous magician Albin White, disappeared while performing a dangerous feat of time travel. Since then he has been marooned in time, unable to escape. Until now for Leo, born in a year of unusual lunar cycles, is the only person with the ability to contact him. After perilous time travel that includes visits to England in the time of Sir Walter Ralegh and his School of Night and to the fantastical vistas of ancient Tibet, Leo is able to bring White to the present day-with results very different from what they had expected. In doing so, he must face and over come his own deepest longings and regrets.
Praise for this book:
"Hip, sexy...a novel in which anything can happen... Mr. Christopher is a superbly lyrical and descriptive writer. --The New York Times Book Review
"Beautifully written, this is the thinking man's Batman, a Gotham City of brilliant insights."--The Mail on Sunday (London)
"Satisfying as thestorytelling is, though, the deeper pleasures here stem from the author's imaginative and idiosyncratic scholarship, by means of which the uncanny is made to seem commonplace and the commonplace unfathomable."--The New Yorker
1. VERONICA is full of supernatural events, but in your opinion are the characters themselves supernatural beings? Or are some human and some supernatural?
2. What kind of person is Veronica, the title character? She is clearly romantic and compelling, but is she a sympathetic, or even a "good," character? Her original intention was to send the innocent Leo into the same eternal purgatory in which her father was living. Was this a ruthless intention, or was it forgivable, since her goal was to save her father?
3. Do you find it surprising that Leo goes along so readily with Veronica and Clement's plans for him? What does this acquiescence say about his character?
4. Nicholas Christopher has chosen the names of his characters carefully; most of them signify something appropriate to the characters. What do the names Albin White, Wolfgang Tod, Otto, Starwood, Felicity, Alta and Leo suggest? What about Veronica and Viola?
5. Leo and Veronica are linked by a yearning for their lost parents. How do Leo's feelings for his mother manifest themselves in the narrative? In what way does Veronica resemble, and even come to represent, Leo's mother? How do Veronica's feelings for her own mother enter into the story?
6. What is the Fourth Dimension, as described by Veronica and experienced by Leo? Have you read any other books in which time travel is described? How do Christopher's descriptions compare with them?
7. If you have read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, consider the ways in which it has influenced VERONICA. What elements of the novel refer to that book? Who is the Tibetan character who appears throughout Leo's time travels? What is the significance of the snowy Tibetan scenes Leo observes through mirrors?
8. Whom do you think the old woman and the two children that Leo sees occasionally are? What is their relationship to the action and to the other characters?
9. Several characters in the novel, including Sir Walter Ralegh, have white eyes "like marble statues." What do these characters have in common? Can you think of a reason why Ralegh's eyes change color as he is dying? What is the significance of the fact that Veronica (like all her family members) has one blue and one green eye?
10. There are many images of snow, ice and icebergs in the novel for example on pages 1, 60-61, 105, 266-267, 311, 351 and 370-371. Remi Sing's painting show is called "Ice Floes;" Leo once worked as an icebreaker on the North Sea; Wolfgang Tod's hand is as cold as ice. What does the author mean to convey with these images? Which characters are associated with snow and ice?
11. What does the emblem of intersecting triangles signify, and in what places does Leo observe it? What other emblems are repeated in the novel?
12. Some of the novel's characters have wings for example, the mysterious children Leo sees in the park (p. 129-130), Walter Ralegh (p. 136-137) and Albin White (pp. 269-270). Why do you think these wings are artificially attached and do not grow directly out of the back? Does the author imply that these characters are actually angels? What significance does Angel's Cafe have?
13. Who is Dr. Xenon? Is he a real doctor, or is he part of the supernatural structure that Veronica gives Leo's life? Why does he vanish without a trace?
14. How many images of black holes can you find in the novel? What do black holes mean to Leo? At what other points in the novel does Christopher use images of deep space, and why?
15. Christopher often uses the color green. What atmosphere does he intend to convey by the use of this color? How does it contrast with the snowy and icy white often depicted in the novel?
16. Which religious and mystical traditions have influenced VERONICA? Can you find elements of Christian theology and imagery along with others? Do you find this combination of different traditions an effective one?
About the Author:
Nicholas Christopher was educated at Harvard College. He is the author of a previous novel, The Soloist, which was published in 1986, as well as five volumes of poetry, including Desperate Characters: A Novella in Verse, In the Year of the Comet; and 5°. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, most recently from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Poetry Society of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. Nicholas Christopher lives in New York City.
Posted September 25, 2012
When I started this book, I felt like I was reading a wanna-be Haruki Murakami novel. Then, the story shifted into a murder mystery type which reminded me of Dan Brown's novels. The problem was this book wasn't as poetic as Haruki Murakami's or captivating and suspenseful as Dan Brown's. The author's use of jumping time, spirits, magicial symbols, and hidden secrets fell short for me. The author is quite imaginative and paints a very descriptive picture, but the whole comes together as just alright.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2010
I had this book sitting on the shelf for a long time and just recently found it. I don't know why I bought it but it turned out to be a great read. It is definitely not your typical book. Great if you feel you keep reading the same stories over and over again because this one is like no other. I was left was some questions at the end but without that sense of disappointment that I get with so many other books.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 10, 2010
I Also Recommend:
I read all the reviews here and was excited to get this book! However, after reading it I have no idea why people seem to like it so much... The characters are absolutely underdeveloped and the plot moves with no reason and for no reason. I think the author must have read some Haruki Murakami (excellent writer) and decided he wanted to write like him. But Nicholas Christopher failed miserably. I love all genres of novels, fantasy being one of my favorites. Veronica just falls flat. I don't even know why the book is called Veronica. She is hardly even a character, more just like an authors rough draft. These things are important in the book: One blue eye and one green eye. Smoking clove cigarettes. The colors of things. Triangles. Now, while most books would say why these things are so important, Nicholas Christopher just decided to not disclose that. So on every page one of those things is mentioned and you have no clue why. I thought this book was really annoying. Usually I am not this critical of books, but man, this one just felt so pointless!!! Save yourself time and pick up some Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman. The only reason I gave this two stars and not one is because it was tolerable to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2008
Posted January 10, 2006
I read this book years ago and it's still on my mind. Really awesome story in which the author manages to intertwine the romantic with the mystical in a flawless way that keeps you focused and makes the world disappear.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 2, 2005
This book sucks you in from the very first line and prevents you from putting it down until you finish it. It's a gripping tale and wildly creative. You find yourself thinking about it for months afterwards.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2004
This book flows seamlessly between realities and dreams, weaving a complex and unutterably beautiful blanket of suspended beliefs. The author paints portraits with his words, giving richly detailed descriptions that bring color and life to his words without ever becoming overwrought. I finished this book the night before a blue moon, in late July, during the ascendency of Leo, according to astrology. All of these factors are currents in this complex plot, oddly enough. I will be recommending this book to every friend I have that I believe to be capable of apreciating it for the work of art it is.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 25, 2002
This book is simply one of the most beautifully written pieces of fiction I've ever encountered. it totally sucked me in and didn't let go. Christopher's world is so imaginative and finely crafted it gets under your skin for months after.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 6, 2000
Posted December 7, 2009
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Posted June 20, 2011
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Posted December 31, 2009
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