The Glass Hotel

The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

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Overview

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR:
THE NEW YORKER  NPR • TIME • THE WASHINGTON POST• ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY  FORTUNE • GLAMOUR • ELLE • THE AV CLUB   REAL SIMPLE  LITHUB  PARADE  THE BBC  THRILLIST • BOOKPAGE  ELECTRIC LITERATURE • GOOD HOUSEKEEPING • BUSTLE • THE ECONOMIST • INSIDER • HUFFPOST • NEW YORK POST  THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events--a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.


Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby's glass wall: Why don’t you swallow broken glass. High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.
 
In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

10/01/2019

At the upscale glass-and-cedar Hotel Caiette, on an island in British Columbia, bartender Vincent becomes involved with hotel owner Jonathan Alkaitis even as Vincent's half-brother leaves a note on a window advising, "Why don't you swallow broken glass." The message shatters an executive for the shipping company Neptune-Avramidis. Years later, Vincent vanishes from a Neptune-Avramidis cargo ship even as a Ponzi scheme sends several fortunes to the bottom of the ocean. Mandel's next bright puzzler after Station Eleven, a National Book Award finalist and Arthur C. Clarke Award winner.

Publishers Weekly

★ 11/11/2019

Mandel’s wonderful novel (after Station Eleven) follows a brother and sister as they navigate heartache, loneliness, wealth, corruption, drugs, ghosts, and guilt. Settings include British Columbia’s coastal wilderness, New York City’s fashionable neighborhoods and corporate headquarters, a container ship in international waters, and a South Carolina prison. In 1994, 18-year-old drug-using dropout Paul Smith visits his 13-year-old half-sister, Vincent, in Vancouver. Vincent has just lost her mother and acquired her first video camera. Five years later, in the wilderness north of Vancouver, Vincent tends bar at a luxury hotel where Paul works as the night houseman. Paul leaves after writing on a window in acid marker a message even he doesn’t understand. Vincent relocates to the East Coast and what Mandel calls the kingdom of money to play trophy wife for investor Jonathan Alkaitis. When Jonathan’s Ponzi scheme collapses, he goes to prison, where his victims’ ghosts visit him. Finished with Jonathan and the affluent lifestyle and ignored by her best friend, Vincent takes a job as assistant cook on a container ship. Paul, meanwhile, has set Vincent’s old videos to music. The videos have helped Paul, despite a lifelong drug problem, tap into his creative gifts. Using flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating points-of-view, and alternate realities, Mandel shows the siblings moving in and out of each other’s lives, different worlds, and versions of themselves, sometimes closer, sometimes further apart, like a double helix, never quite linking. This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness. 200,000-copy announced first printing. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown, Ltd. (Mar.)

From the Publisher

"A lovely, beautifully written and constructed novel that I couldn’t put down, full of memorable, unusual characters... Mandel’s agility with time in this story was a marvel."—Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale

"The question of what is real—be it love, money, place or memory—has always been at the heart of Ms. Mandel’s fiction... her narratives snake their way across treacherous, shifting terrain. Certainties are blurred, truth becomes malleable and in The Glass Hotel the con man thrives... Lyrical, hypnotic images... suspend us in a kind of hallucinatory present where every detail is sharply defined yet queasily unreliable. A sense of unease thickens... Ms. Mandel invites us to observe her characters from a distance even as we enter their lives, a feat she achieves with remarkable skill. And if the result is a sense not only of detachment but also of desolation, then maybe that’s the point." —Anna Mundow, Wall Street Journal

“A striking book that's every bit as powerful — and timely — as its predecessor… In Vincent and Paul, Mandel has created two of the most memorable characters in recent American fiction… Mandel's writing shines throughout the book, just as it did in Station Eleven. She's not a showy writer, but an unerringly graceful one, and she treats her characters with compassion but not pity. The Glass Hotel is a masterpiece, just as good — if not better — than its predecessor. It's a stunning look at how people react to disasters, both small and large, and the temptation that some have to give up when faced with tragedy.” Michael Shaub, NPR

"Though its characters were inspired by Bernie Madoff, his victims, and his enablers, there’s much more to this novel than ripped-from-the-headlines voyeurism; it’s a gorgeously constructed tapestry, each jewellike sentence building to one of the most devastating, moving endings in recent memory. I read it when I was feeling uniquely exhausted by the demands of COVID-era living; I still couldn’t put it down."Vanity Fair

"Mandel’s gift is to weave realism out of extremity. She plants her flag where the ordinary and the astonishing meet, where everyday people pause to wonder how, exactly, it came to this. She is our bard of waking up in the wrong time line... One effect of Mandel’s book is to underscore the seemingly infinite paths a person might travel... There is a suggestion, toward the end of The Glass Hotel, that frequent commerce with the dead (or the imaginary) might reconnect us to the living... Perhaps it is with this in mind that Mandel has constructed a fantasy for our temporary habitation. Her story offers escape, but the kind that depends on and is inseparable from the world beyond it."—Katy Waldman, The New Yorker

"[This] novel [is] so absorbing, so fully realized that it draws you out of your own constricted situation and expands your sense of possibilities. For me, over the past 10 days or so, the novel that's performed that act of deliverance... it's "straight" literary fiction, gorgeous and haunting, about the porous boundaries between past and present, the rich and the poor, and the realms of the living and the dead... This all-encompassing awareness of the mutability of life grows more pronounced as The Glass Hotel reaches its eerie sea change of an ending. In dramatizing so ingeniously how precarious and changeable everything is, Mandel's novel is topical in a way she couldn't have foreseen when she was writing it."—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

 “A wondrously entertaining novel… The Glass Hotel is never dull. Tracing the permutations of its characters’ lives, from depressing apartments in bad neighborhoods to posh Dubai resorts to Manhattan bars, Colorado campgrounds, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is like following the intricate patterns on Moroccan tiles. The pleasure, which in the case of The Glass Hotel is abundant, lies in the patterns themselves… This is a type of art that closely approximates life, and a remarkable accomplishment for Mandel… This novel invites you to inhabit it without striving or urging; it’s a place to be, always fiction’s most welcome effect.”—Laura Miller, Slate

"The Glass Hotel may be the perfect novel for your survival bunker... Freshly mysterious... Mandel is a consummate, almost profligate world builder. One superbly developed setting gives way to the next, as her attention winds from character to character, resting long enough to explore the peculiar mechanics of each life before slipping over to the next... That Mandel manages to cover so much, so deeply is the abiding mystery of this book. The 300 pages of The Glass Hotel work harder than most 600-page novels... The disappointment of leaving one story is immediately quelled by our fascination in the next... The complex, troubled people who inhabit Mandel’s novel are vexed and haunted by their failings, driven to create ever more pleasant reflections of themselves in the glass."—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

"An eerie, compelling follow-up... not your grandmother’s Agatha Christie murder mystery or haunted hotel ghost story... The novel’s ongoing sense of haunting extends well beyond its ghosts... The ghosts in  The Glass Hotel are directly connected to its secrets and scandals, which mirror those of our time... Like all Mandel’s novels, The Glass Hotel is flawlessly constructed... The Glass Hotel declares the world to be as bleak as it is beautiful, just like this novel."—Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe

"Another gripping tale of interconnected lives."People

"A good pick for anyone struggling to focus right now. You won’t be able to look away."
The Skimm

"Another swirling novel that takes readers through some of the darkest moments of people's lives — but don't let that deceive you into thinking this is one bleak read. It's more like a fantastic reading companion, tonally and thematically similar, to HBO's movie Bad Education... the full picture devastatingly comes together at the end."Thrillist

“A beguiling tale about skewed morals, reckless lives and necessary means of escape… A sprawling, immersive book… The novel’s scope and brimming vitality are… its strengths.”
The Economist

"Mandel has done again what she does best: wrapping up the stories of a large cast of characters into one cohesive package... The Glass Hotel is a quietly rewarding book. Despite its subject matter, it is as unlike a financial thriller as can be. Instead, it offers a look at the lives left unlived and the siren song of money. Come for the Ponzi scheme, stay for the satisfying conclusion."The Harvard Crimson

"Emily St. John Mandel’s storytelling stretches to see into as many windows as possible. Peer closely: characters move between windows, themes reflect and refract... These are not novels weighted by philosophical debates, however, but stories buoyed by serious concerns; Mandel is as dedicated to plotting as she is to characterization... Characters are linked in unexpected directions, within and between books. It’s a joy to pull at the threads and follow their knots and loops... And despite all the glass, there is more conflict than clarity. This makes for compulsively readable novels, carefully crafted page-turners. Don’t just say you’ll visit someday. Call ahead. Make a reservation. Check out the view from The Glass Hotel. Enjoy your stay.”—Marcie McCauley, Chicago Review of Books

“An ephemeral quality permeates the novel… It’s a thrill when the puzzle pieces start to fit together… The final chapter is haunting, taking readers full circle… It’s a sense readers will enjoy as well when they lose themselves in Mandel’s novel.”
Rob Merrill, Associated Press

“Emily St. John Mandel has a knack for explosive openings… Mandel is constructing a sort of multiverse that demonstrates the power of fiction to imagine simultaneous realities.”
—Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic

"Mandel’s characters are crisply drawn, all sharp lines and living color. Everyone in the book is witty...  Taken together, their overlapping stories are gripping, in part because we spend so much time in their heads we have to know how it all turns out and in part because they are all eventually honest with themselves, with the exception of Alkaitis. They all wish they were good people but don’t think they ever will be. Mandel’s books are soulful and subtly philosophical."—Seth Mandel, Wsahington Examiner

"The Glass Hotel moves backward and forward in time, shifting voice and perspective in a way that helps highlight coincidences and broaden one’s perspective. Readers will enjoy piecing together the fragments and clues that Mandel leaves for them.... Mandel shows, in countless ways, just how tenuous our lives can be, how easily illusions evaporate and relationships dissolve. Her writing is perceptive and expressive, constructing a novel that is simultaneously complex and compelling, worthy of either a slow read or a breathless one.""—Book Reporter

"Mandel’s brilliant new novel, The Glass Hotel, is... artful in its time-skipping, globe-hopping immersion in its characters’ lives... It's a puzzle book... Mandel’s exquisite narratorial juggling is her way of casting light on how we see our lives and attempt to shape them — in retrospect, in anticipation, in our imaginations... Mandel is a marvelous writer... The keenest pleasure of The Glass Hotel is simply in the magic with which it immerses you in the calm, disorienting way that Mandel and her stubborn, enigmatic heroine see the world."—Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

"What Mandel crafts here is the literary equivalent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia,... The rough edges of these connections keep them from feeling too pat, instead creating a world where coincidence is real...  What remains haunting about it is the way it transforms familiar environments into expansive worlds. Mandel’s prose is clean and richly detailed, and she seems to know just the right amount of depth to include in each moment... There’s a deep underlying sadness to The Glass Hotel as a whole, a sense of reflecting on how the end of things is always inevitable. But those emotions come with an accompanying gratitude; while nothing lasts, it was at least with us for a time."—Liz Shannon Miller, Paste

"Half mist and dreams, this [is a] sophisticated take on the fragility of human connection and the ability to make do with less after the loss of success... Its concern with the sanding of life's jagged edges remains true to readers' expectations of Mandel's incisive vision"Shelf Awareness

"Mandel’s crystal ball and uncanny sense of timing remain intact, with a novel of economic collapse, predatory financial figures and widespread corruption... Simply stunning, a boldly experimental work which hooks the reader from its first pages, wending to a powerfully emotional conclusion... The Glass Hotel is a compulsive read, a commercial crowd-pleaser which will, undoubtedly, find a wide audience. It is also a consummate literary novel, courageous and exciting at a structural level. Books that hit the sweet spot like that are rare to find; we should savour them when we can.—Robert J. Wiersema, The Toronto Star

"The novel proceeds via a series of vignettes set at various points between 1958 and 2029 and ranging around the globe. They gradually knit themselves into a single story in a way that will remind readers of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad..This is a strange, ethereal, and very well-written book, so interesting it might actually take your mind off things for a while."—Marion Winik, Newsday

"There is a complex grace to The Glass Hotel that’s often lacking from contemporary fiction, particularly contemporary thriller fiction. It’s not simply Mandel’s deft prose, her ability to write Dickensian networks of coincidence, but her keen observation of human behavior: our fears, our dreams, what drives us, and what might ultimately destroy or save each of us. From the opening scene of the book, I was hooked... a stunningly good meditation on human frailty, the nature of love, and what it means to survive in the modern world."—Yvonne C. Garrett, The Brooklyn Rail

"The dreamiest, most ethereal novel about a Ponzi scheme that you will ever read... a novel that dives deep into the consequences of the seemingly smallest immoral decisions."—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

"There are few better feelings than the sensation that comes with the dawning realization that the book you are reading isn’t just good, but great... Emily St. John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel offers up just such greatness... A mesmerizing puzzle box of a book... Masterful, an elegantly constructed work of great emotional power and literary sophistication."—Allen Adams, The Maine Edge

"Emily St. John Mandel has an uncanny knack for shape... For all the metaphysical ponderings, The Glass Hotel’s most apparent virtue is its breakneck pacing and compulsive readability. It bodes an elegant and fragmented form, one that excellently matches Mandell’s magnificent storytelling. And what more needs to be said about her storytelling? It is nothing short of an insistent and astonishing gift."—Brady Brickner-Wood, Ploughshares

The Glass Hotel... totally sticks the landing… Mandel’s prose is such a pleasure to read… [I] gave way to real delight in the skill with which Mandel brings together themes that have occupied previous sections of the novel, revisiting earlier characters and incidents from surprising new perspectives in a narrative sleight of hand that recalls what M. Night Shyamalan does in movies such as Unbreakable. Mandel’s conclusion is dazzling.”
—Chris Hewitt, Minneapolis Star Tribune


"Absorbing, finely wrought... Mandel paints an intricately plotted, haunting portrait of heartbreak, abandonment, betrayal, riches, corruption and reinvention in a contemporary world both strange and weirdly recognizable."—Joyce Sáenz Harris, Dallas Morning News

"Mandel... specializes in fiction that weaves together seemingly unrelated people, places and things. The Glass Hotel... is no exception... Kaleidoscopic... Mandel dissects the surreal division between those who are conscious of ongoing crimes, and those who are unwittingly brought into them... The Glass Hotel... examine[s]  how we respond to chaos after catastrophe."—Annabel Gutterman, Time

"A careful, damning study of the forms of disaster humanity brings down on itself... In a world where rolling disasters fade into one another, it’s a reminder that Mandel wants to lurch us out of the tedium."—Hillary Kelly, Vulture

"The Glass Hotel will haunt you… Mandel delicately illuminates the devastation wreaked on the fraud’s victims while brilliantly teasing out the hairsbreadth moments in which a person can seamlessly slide into moral corruption… The Glass Hotel isn’t so much plot driven as it is coiled—a taut braid of lives undone by Alkaitis’ and others’ grifts… negotiating slippery ethics and questionable compromises, and the liminal space between innocence and treachery.” —Ivy Pochoda, O Magazine

"Deeply imagined, philosophically profound… The Glass Hotel moves forward propulsively, its characters continually on the run… Richly satisfying… The Glass Hotel is ultimately as immersive a reading experience as its predecessor [Station Eleven], finding all the necessary imaginative depth within the more realistic confines of its world… Revolutionary.”—Ruth Franklin, The Atlantic

"Long-anticipated... At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical... In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure. A strange, subtle, and haunting novel. —Kirkus Reviews, starred

"Another tale of wanderers whose fates are interconnected... nail-biting tension... Mandel weaves an intricate spider web of a story... A gorgeously rendered tragedy."—Booklist, starred 

"Mandel’s wonderful novel (after Station Eleven) follows a brother and sister as they navigate heartache, loneliness, wealth, corruption, drugs, ghosts, and guilt... This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness."—Publishers Weekly, starred

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2019-11-25
A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525521150
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 3,712
File size: 1 MB

Read an Excerpt

3
 
Leon Prevant left the lobby at four-thirty a.m., climbed the stairs to his room, and crept into the bed, where his wife was sleeping. Marie didn’t wake up. He’d purposefully drunk one whiskey too many with the thought that this might make it possible to fall asleep, but it was as if the graffiti had opened a crack in the night, through which all his fears flooded in. If pressed he might have admitted to Marie that he was worried about money, but worried wasn’t strong enough. Leon was afraid.

A colleague had told him this place was extraordinary, so he’d booked an extremely expensive room as an anniversary surprise for his wife. His colleague was right, he’d decided immediately. There were fishing and kayaking expeditions, guided hikes into wilderness, live music in the lobby, spectacular food, a wooded path that opened into a forest glade with an outdoor bar and lanterns hung from trees, a heated pool overlooking the tranquil waters of the sound.

“It’s heavenly,” Marie said on their first night.

“I’m inclined to agree.”

He’d sprung for a room with a hot tub on the terrace, and that first night they were out there for at least an hour, sipping champagne with a cool breeze in their faces, the sun setting over the water in a postcard kind of way. He kissed her and tried to convince himself to relax. But relaxation was difficult, because a week after he’d booked this extravagant room and told his wife about it, he’d begun to hear rumors of a pending merger.

Leon had survived two mergers and a reorganization, but when he heard the first whispers of this latest restructuring, he was struck by a certainty so strong that it felt like true knowledge: he was going to lose his job. He was fifty-eight years old. He was senior enough to be expensive, and close enough to retirement to be let go without weighing too heavily on anyone’s conscience. There was no part of his job that couldn’t be performed by younger executives who made less money than he did. Since hearing of the merger he’d lived whole hours without thinking about it, but the nights were harder than the days. He and Marie had just bought a house in South Florida, which they planned to rent out until he retired, with the idea of eventually fleeing New York winters and New York taxes. This seemed to him to be a new beginning, but they’d spent more money on the house than they’d meant to, he had never been very good at saving, and he was aware that he had much less in his retirement accounts than he should. It was six-thirty in the morning before he fell into a fitful sleep.
 

4

When Walter returned to the lobby the following evening, Leon Prevant was eating dinner at the bar with Jonathan Alkaitis. They’d met a little earlier, in what seemed at the time like a coincidental manner and seemed later like a trap. Leon had been at the bar, eating a salmon burger, alone because Marie was lying down upstairs with a headache. Alkaitis, who was drinking a pint of Guinness two stools down, struck up a conversation with the bartender and then expanded the conversation to include Leon. They were talking about Caiette, which, as it happened, Jonathan Alkaitis knew something about. “I actually own this property,” he said to Leon, almost apologetically. “It’s hard to get to, but that’s what I like about it.”

“I think I know what you mean,” Leon said. He was always looking for conversations, and it was a pleasure to think about something—anything!—other than financial insolvency and unemployment for a moment. “Do you own other hotels?”

“Just the one. I mostly work in finance.” Alkaitis had a couple of businesses in New York, he said, both of which involved investing other people’s money in the stock market for them. He wasn’t really taking on new clients these days, but he did on occasion make an exception.

The thing about Alkaitis,
a woman from Philadelphia wrote some years later, in a victim impact statement that she read aloud at Alkaitis’s sentencing hearing, is he made you feel like you were joining a secret club. There was truth in this, Leon had to admit, when he read the transcript, but the other part of the equation was the man himself. What Alkaitis had was presence. He had a voice made for late-night radio, warm and reassuring. He radiated calm. He was a man utterly without bluster, confident but not arrogant, quick to smile at jokes. A steady, low-key, intelligent person, much more interested in listening than in talking about himself. He had that trick—and it was a trick, Leon realized later—of appearing utterly indifferent to what anyone thought of him, and in so doing provoking the opposite anxiety in other people: What does Alkaitis think of me? Later, in the years that he spent replaying this particular evening, Leon remembered a certain desire to impress him.

“This is slightly embarrassing,” Alkaitis said that night, when they’d left the bar and retired to a quieter corner of the lobby to discuss investments, “but you said you’re in shipping, and I real- ized as you said it that I’ve only the dimmest idea of what that actually means.”

Leon smiled. “You’re not alone in that. It’s a largely invisible industry, but nearly everything you’ve ever bought traveled over the water.”

“My made-in-China headphones, and whatnot.”

“Sure, yes, there’s an obvious one, but I really mean almost everything. Everything on and around us. Your socks. Our shoes. My aftershave. This glass in my hand. I could keep going, but I’ll spare you.”

“I’m embarrassed to admit that I never thought about it,” Jonathan said.

“No one does. You go to the store, you buy a banana, you don’t think about the men who piloted the banana through the Panama Canal. Why would you?” Easy now, he told himself. He was aware of a weakness for rhapsodizing on his industry at excessive length. “I have colleagues who resent the general public’s ignorance of the industry, but I think the fact that you don’t have to think about it proves that the whole system works.”

“The banana arrives on schedule.” Jonathan sipped his drink. “You must develop a kind of sixth sense. Here you are in the world, surrounded by all these objects that arrived by ship. You ever find it distracting, thinking about all those shipping routes, all those points of origin?”

“You’re only the second person I’ve ever met who guessed that,” Leon said.
 
The other was a psychic, a college friend of Marie’s who’d come into Toronto from Santa Fe, back when Leon was still based in Toronto, and the three of them had had dinner down- town at Saint Tropez, Marie’s favorite restaurant in their Toronto years. The psychic—Clarissa, he remembered now— was friendly and warm. He liked her immediately. He had an impression that psychics must very often be exploited by their friends and passing acquaintances, an impression not dispelled by Marie’s reminiscences about all the times she’d asked Clarissa for free advice, so over the course of the evening Leon went elaborately out of his way to avoid asking her anything, until finally, over dessert, curiosity overtook him: Was it ever deafening, he asked her, being in a crowded room? Was it like being in a room filled with radios tuned to overlapping frequencies, a clamor of voices broadcasting the mundane or horrifying details of dozens of lives? Clarissa smiled. “It’s like this,” she said, gesturing at the room around them, “it’s like being in a crowded restaurant. You can tune in to the conversation at the next table, or you can let that become background noise. Like the way you see shipping,” she said, and this remained in memory as one of the most delightful conversations Leon had ever had, because he’d never talked with anyone about the way he could tune in and out of shipping, like turning a dial on a radio. When he glanced across the table at Marie, for example: he could see the woman he loved, or he could shift frequencies and see the dress made in the U.K., the shoes made in China, the Italian leather handbag, or shift even further and see the Neptune-Avramidis shipping routes lit up on the map: the dress via Westbound Trans-Atlantic Route 3, the shoes via either the Trans-Pacific Eastbound 7 or the Shanghai–Los Angeles Eastbound Express, etc. Or further still, into the kind of language he’d never speak aloud, not even to Marie: there are tens of thousands of ships at sea at any given moment and he liked to imagine each one as a point of light, converging into rivers of electric brilliance over the night oceans, flowing through the narrow channels of the Suez and Panama Canals, the Strait of Gibraltar, around the edges of continents and out into the oceans, an unceasing movement that drove countries, a secret world that he loved so much.
 

When Walter walked within earshot of Leon Prevant and Jonathan Alkaitis, some time later, the conversation had shifted from Leon’s work to Alkaitis’s, from shipping to investment strategies. Walter understood none of it. Finance wasn’t his world. He didn’t speak the language. Someone on the day shift had covered the graffiti on the glass with reflective tape, an odd silvery streak of mirror on the darkened window. Two American actors were eating dinner at the bar.

“He left his first wife for her,” Larry said, nodding at them.

“Oh?” said Walter, who could not possibly have cared less. Twenty years of working in high-end hotels had cured him of any interest in celebrity. “I wanted to ask you,” he said, “just between the two of us, does the new guy seem a little off to you?”

Larry glanced theatrically over his shoulder and around the lobby, but Paul was elsewhere, mopping the corridor behind Reception in the heart of the house.

“Maybe a little depressed, is all,” Larry said. “Not the most sparkling personality I’ve ever come across.”

“Did he ask you about arriving guests last night?”

“How’d you know? Yeah, asked me when Jonathan Alkaitis was arriving.”

“And you told him ...?”

“Well, you know my eyesight’s not great, and I’d only just come on shift. So I told him I wasn’t completely sure, but I thought the guy drinking whiskey in the lobby was Alkaitis. Didn’t realize my mistake till later. Why?” Larry was a reasonably discreet man, but on the other hand, the staff lived together in the same building in the woods and gossip was a kind of black-market currency.

“No reason.”

“Come on.”

“I’ll tell you later.” Walter still didn’t understand the motive, as he walked back toward Reception, but there was no doubt in his mind that Paul had committed the act. He glanced around the lobby, but no one seemed to require his attention at that moment, so he slipped through the staff door behind the reception desk. Paul was cleaning the dark window at the end of the hall.

“Paul.”

The night houseman stopped what he was doing, and in his expression, Walter knew that he’d been correct in his suspicions. Paul had a hunted look.

“Where’d you get the acid marker?” Walter asked. “Is that something you can just buy at a hardware store, or did you have to make it yourself?”

“What are you talking about?” But Paul was a terrible liar. His voice had gone up half an octave.

“Why did you want Jonathan Alkaitis to see that disgusting message?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“This place means something to me,” Walter said. “Seeing it defaced like that . . .” It was the like that that bothered him the most, the utter vileness of the message on the glass, but he didn’t know how to explain this to Paul without opening a door into his personal life, and the thought of revealing anything remotely personal to this shiftless little creep was untenable. He couldn’t finish the sentence. He cleared his throat. “I’d like to give you an opportunity,” he said. “Pack up your things and leave on the first boat, and we don’t have to get the police involved.”

“I’m sorry.” Paul’s voice was a whisper. “I just—”

“You just thought you’d deface a hotel window, for the sake of delivering the most vicious, the most deranged—” Walter was sweating. “Why did you even do it?” But Paul had the furtive look of a boy searching for a plausible story, and Walter couldn’t stand to listen to another lie that night. “Look, just go,” he said. “I don’t care why you did it. I don’t want to look at you anymore. Put the cleaning supplies away, go back to your room, pack your bags, and tell Melissa that you want a ride to Grace Harbour as quickly as possible. If you’re still here at nine a.m., I’ll go to Raphael.”

“You don’t understand,” Paul said. “I’ve got all this debt—”

“If you needed the job that badly,” Walter said, “you probably shouldn’t have defaced the window.”

“You can’t even swallow broken glass.”

“What?”

“I mean it’s actually physically impossible.”

“Seriously? That’s your defense?”

Paul flushed and looked away.

“Did you ever think of your sister in all of this?” Walter asked.  “She got you the job interview here, didn’t she?”

“Vincent had nothing to do with this.”

“Are you going to leave? I’m in a generous mood and I don’t want to embarrass your sister, so I’m giving you a clean exit here, but if you’d prefer a criminal record, then by all means . . .”

“No, I’ll go.” Paul looked down at the cleaning supplies in his hands, as if unsure how they’d landed there. “I’m sorry.”

“You should go pack before I change my mind.”

“Thank you,” Paul said.


5


But the horror of it. Why don’t you swallow broken glass. Why don’t you die. Why don’t you cast everyone who loves you into perdition. He was thinking about his friend Rob again, forever sixteen, thinking about Rob’s mother’s face at the funeral. Walter sleep-walked through the rest of his shift and stayed up late to meet with Raphael in the morning. As he passed through the lobby at eight a.m., up past his bedtime and desperate for sleep, he caught sight of Paul down at the end of the pier, loading his duffel bags into the boat.

“Good morning,” Raphael said when Walter looked into his office. He was bright-eyed and freshly shaved. He and Walter lived in the same building, but in opposite time zones.

“I just saw Paul getting on the boat with his worldly belongings,” Walter said.

Raphael sighed. “I don’t know what happened. He came in here this morning with an incoherent story about how much he misses Vancouver, when the kid practically begged me for a change of scenery three months back.”

“He gave no reason?”

“None. We’ll start interviewing again. Anything else?” Raphael asked, and Walter, his defenses weakened by exhaustion, understood for the first time that Raphael didn’t like him very much. The realization landed with a sad little thud.

“No,” he said, “thank you. I’ll leave you to it.” On the walk back to the staff lodge, he found himself wishing that he’d been less angry when he’d spoken with Paul. All these hours later, he was beginning to wonder if he’d missed the point: when Paul said he had debts, did he mean that he needed the job at the hotel, or was he saying that someone had paid him to write the message on the glass? Because none of it actually made sense. It seemed obvious that Paul’s message was directed at Alkaitis, but what could Alkaitis possibly mean to him?

Leon Prevant and his wife departed that morning, followed two days later by Jonathan Alkaitis. When Walter came in for his shift on the night of Alkaitis’s departure, Khalil was working the bar, although it wasn’t his usual night: Vincent, he said, had taken a sudden vacation. A day later she called Raphael from Vancouver and told him she’d decided not to come back to the hotel, so someone from Housekeeping boxed up her belongings and put them in storage at the back of the laundry room.

The panel of glass was replaced at enormous expense, and the graffiti receded into memory. Spring passed into summer and then the beautiful chaos of the high season, the lobby crowded every night and a temperamental jazz quartet causing drama in the staff lodge when they weren’t delighting the guests, the quartet alternating with a pianist whose marijuana habit was tolerated because he could seemingly play any song ever written, the hotel fully booked and the staff almost doubled, Melissa piloting the boat back and forth to Grace Harbour all day and late into the evening.

Summer faded into autumn, then the quiet and the dark of the winter months, the rainstorms more frequent, the hotel half- empty, the staff quarters growing quiet with the departure of the seasonal workers. Walter slept through the days and arrived at his shift in the early evenings—the pleasure of long nights in the silent lobby, Larry by the door, Khalil at the bar, storms descend- ing and rising throughout the night—and sometimes joined his colleagues for a meal that was dinner for the night shift and breakfast for the day people, shared a few drinks sometimes with the kitchen staff, listened to jazz alone in his apartment, went for walks in and out of Caiette, ordered books in the mail that he read when he woke in the late afternoons.

On a stormy night in spring, Ella Kaspersky checked in. She was a regular at the hotel, a businesswoman from Chicago who liked to come here to escape “all the noise,” as she put it, a guest who was mostly notable because Jonathan Alkaitis had made it clear that he didn’t want to see her. Walter had no idea why Alkaitis was avoiding Kaspersky and frankly didn’t want to know, but when she arrived he did his customary check to make sure Alkaitis hadn’t made a last-minute booking. Alkaitis hadn’t visited the hotel in some time, he realized, longer than his usual interval between visits. When the lobby was quiet at two a.m., he ran a Google search on Alkaitis and found images from a recent charity fund-raiser, Alkaitis beaming in a tuxedo with a younger woman on his arm. She looked very familiar.

Walter enlarged the photo. The woman was Vincent. A gloss- ier version, with an expensive haircut and professional-grade makeup, but it was unmistakably her. She was wearing a metal- lic gown that must have cost about what she’d made in a month as a bartender here. The caption read Jonathan Alkaitis with his wife, Vincent.

Walter looked up from the screen, into the silent lobby. Nothing in his life had changed in the year since Vincent’s departure, but this was by his own design and his own desire. Khalil, now the full-time night bartender, was chatting with a couple who’d just arrived. Larry stood by the door with his hands clasped behind his back, eyes half-closed. Walter abandoned his post and walked out into the April night. He hoped Vincent was happy in that foreign country, in whatever strange new life she’d found for herself. He tried to imagine what it might be like to step into Jonathan Alkaitis’s life—the money, the houses, the private jet—but it was all incomprehensible to him. The night was clear and cold, moonless but the blaze of stars was over- whelming. Walter wouldn’t have imagined, in his previous life in downtown Toronto, that he’d fall in love with a place where the stars were so bright that he could see his shadow on a night with no moon. He wanted nothing that he didn’t already have.

But when he turned back to the hotel he was blindsided by the memory of the words written on the window a year ago, Why don’t you swallow broken glass, the whole unsettling mystery of it. The forest was a mass of undifferentiated shadow. He folded his arms against the chill and returned to the warmth and light of the lobby.

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