It's dangerous to search for an old flame you never got over. What if you find him-and he doesn't remember you? In her captivating new novel, Susan Shapiro explores the perils of revisiting past passion. Lila Penn leaves Wisconsin for graduate school in the big city, where she falls for her professor Daniel Wildman. Decades after their tangled link, she arranges a tête-à-tête in downtown Manhattan. But the shocking encounter blindsides Lila, causing her to question her memory-and sanity. Switching between Greenwich Village and Tel Aviv, the saga unravels the sexual secret that's haunted Daniel and Lila for thirty years. PRAISE FOR SUSAN SHAPIRO: "Frank, darkly funny, entertaining..." -New York Times Book Review "A promiscuously readable guilty pleasure..." -Elle Magazine "Funny and original, with a soulfulness beneath the humor." -Ian Frazier "Sly, candid, disarming..." -Pam Houston "Shapiro's voice is so passionate and honest, it's bewitching." -Erica Jong "Irresistible energy, winning humor... breathtakingly frank honesty." -Philip Lopate "Unputdownable." -Gael Greene
|Publisher:||Heliotrope Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)|
Read an Excerpt
What's Never Said
By Susan Shapiro
Heliotrope BooksCopyright © 2015 Susan Shapiro
All rights reserved.
Lila knew it was dangerous to show up at Daniel's reading. She should take off right now, disappear out the back door before anything happened. Her eyes darted nervously at the six books cradled in her arms, Daniel's new one on top, already adorned with the circular golden sticker: "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize." Giving him the envelope in her purse felt too risky. Her hand was sweating.
"He's only signing his new collection." A nerdy bespectacled Barnes & Noble salesman pointed to the hardcovers Lila held as she stood at the end of the long queue.
She didn't understand what he wanted.
"You have to leave the others at the register," he scolded, as if she was scheming to take something that wasn't hers. Or was that just her paranoia?
Lila's husband, in Los Angeles on business, would be livid to learn she'd lied to him by coming. Daniel had surely brought his Israeli wife and children along. Lila was fine now, stable, happily married. She should leave her romantic past lost and buried, where it belonged. But she couldn't let Daniel go without telling him tonight.
She gave the clerk back the other books. She already owned My Father's Secret — which Lila herself had titled one long-ago winter evening at Daniel's old Horatio Street hovel. In fact, she possessed the collection in galleys, hardcover and paperback. She finally felt ready to share the secret that she'd concealed all these years. It would be her last chance to slip him the page she'd hidden in her pocketbook and watch his reaction. Would he be upset? She pictured him enraged, demanding she leave. Or maybe he'd be moved to whisper, "Let's sneak out for a drink later." She already regretted coming. She didn't belong here.
"Thank you," the clerk snapped, reclaiming the contraband.
"What an idiotic rule," mumbled a dark-haired teenager behind Lila, rolling her eyes. White iPod buds dangled from her ears. She had a pirate tattoo on her arm, rectangular glasses, a metal ring piercing her lower lip.
"Right. You'd think they'd figure out the more he signs, the more books they sell," Lila said, trying not to stare at the girl's lip piercing, wondering if it hurt when she kissed.
As the line crawled forward, Lila clung to Daniel's latest, smiling as if in on a private joke: His Jewish anti-hero failure shtick had paid off at last. Forty years after Portnoy, Losers Like Me made him a winner. She turned to the page titled Hard To Recall that chronicled how Daniel's dad had displayed affection for him only after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. "Are you forgetting your disappointment, Father, or remembering you forgot me?"
"Any good?" asked Lip Ring.
"He's so fucking intense," Lila said. Was she swearing to sound hip?
If she turned around and went home now, nobody would notice. Why was she so afraid to stay? It had been almost three decades since she'd been Daniel's naïve nineteen-year-old student. She tried deep yoga breaths, inhaling for stress release, quietly taking in air, blowing it out through her mouth in steps. It wasn't working.
The girl caught Lila in the middle of an exhale. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Her badass style reminded Lila of the way her best friend Sari had looked when they'd lived together in the grad school dorm. "You're in college?"
"Parsons Design. My mom studied with Daniel Wildman at New City University."
"Me too," Lila admitted, realizing she saw herself as closer to the girl's age than her mother's. Just being in Daniel's proximity made her regress to the age when they'd first met. "What's your mom's name?"
"Her maiden name was Mary Jonas," Lip Ring said. "It was, like, way back in the eighties."
"She had the hots for this famous Irish poet, Cormick."
"Like everyone. Except me. I had a thing with Wildman," Lila blurted out.
"You did?" Lip Ring removed her ear buds.
Lila raised her eyebrows a little.
This girl who looked like Sari inched closer. "Was it serious?"
Lila nodded yes.
"What happened?" Lip Ring asked.
Lila flashed to the first holiday party Daniel threw for their class. After everyone else left, they'd sat on the wooden floor of his dusty West Village one-bedroom, drinking cheap Chardonnay from paper cups, as she anxiously chattered about a rewrite. "You talk too much, too loud, too fast," he'd said, cutting her off. Noticing her blush, he'd added, "Don't be nervous, we're not having an affair or anything."
Lip Ring's inquisitive gaze made Lila self-conscious. "Graduate writing programs are notorious hotbeds," she backpedaled a bit.
"Man, why did I pick design? All my teachers are, like, totally gay." She laughed. "Well, cool you guys stayed friends."
Except Lila had not had any contact with Daniel since 1983.
She'd only heard about the Pulitzer at the magazine that morning, from Sari's email with the subject heading "Can You Believe Wildman Nailed the Big Kahuna?" that linked the nytimes.com article. Sari was one of only three living people in the world who knew the whole story. Daniel didn't.
Neither did her husband — who'd emailed from California "did you see who won the pulitzer," in all small letters; the news had turned him into e.e.cummings.
"Good for him." Lila had pretended this new honor for Daniel didn't stir up alarm.
"You're not going to his reading, are you?" he'd called to ask.
"No," she'd answered, debating — as she said it — whether she would defy him. After hanging up, she'd slid off her iPhone. Then she'd locked the door to her office and Googled "Daniel Wildman." Within seconds she was listening to an audio clip of him reciting his verse about their split decades earlier: "She revises her resume nightly / making the choice between love and ambition, / as if her heart is a prism in which each pleasure must be fractured."
It was a visceral shock to hear his deep, lilting, familiar voice. Had he always been so accessible? She clicked the blue icon and listened again, recognizing Daniel's self-deprecating wit, which Lila, a near-sighted Wisconsin girl with thin skin and size ten shoes, had over-identified with from the start. His stanza on the art of losing love, with its nod to Elizabeth Bishop, could refer to any torrid affair from his past. But she had inspired To An Ambitious Young Woman. When he'd told her she was the sole student he'd ever touched, she believed him.
Lila had gazed at the rugged face pictured on his website, his brown oval eyes so penetrating they'd rendered her transparent. His wife, standing next to him, looked petite, a better fit for Daniel, who stood Lila's height, five foot nine. "You're trying to tower over me," he'd argued once, when Lila had worn her favorite spiky heels.
Hungry to find out more about him, she'd uncovered an old post on the charity camp his wife founded, where Israeli and Palestinian kids could play in peace, when Daniel's sons were young. At this point, they were finishing college and his daughter was Lila's age when she'd studied with him. Although Lila had found a good husband and top publishing house for her book, she couldn't compete with Daniel's award or his wife, the International Tzedakah Queen and Mom of the Year. She was oddly gratified that his work was being recognized, but it was a selfish glee, as if his prize validated her literary taste. And her pain. If you sacrificed everything for a poet, he should at least turn out to be a major leaguer, right?
Now she scanned the crowd to get a peek at his mate. There she was — with her makeup-free face, chestnut hair streaked with gray. Daniel preferred the natural type. He never had liked the way Lila dressed; he'd once told her not to bother shaving her legs or underarms. "If I wanted to be a hillbilly, I'd go back to Baraboo," she'd replied. Then he'd stolen Lila's hometown for Jewess From Baraboo, despite her protest that the suffix "ess" was sexist.
Within minutes of the Pulitzer news conference this morning, she'd noted, Daniel's website bio had been updated to include the prize. And he had once chided Lila for her youthful ambition. She wasn't young anymore; she was turning fifty. When she'd heard Daniel would be a block away, she'd sneaked to her files and found the page from that horrible, haunting night, so ancient it was typed on an IBM Selectric. She was sick of keeping quiet. She was ready to give Daniel her only copy to read, hoping the gesture alone would be liberating.
Jittery all day, she'd left the magazine early to get her hair done, having her highlights frosted ash blond, her original color. She'd put on the black silk dress and Prada high heels she'd bought at Bergdorf 's for her Charlie Rose interview. As the line crept closer, she scanned all the collegiate kids in jeans and sweatshirts, feeling overdressed. She should have worn Levi's and loafers, to look like seeing Daniel again was no big deal.
Even half-obscured by a pillar, his chiseled face was regal. He was powerful before the grand audience, more self-assured than he used to be. Lila was relieved she'd relinquished his other books so she didn't seem like a groupie. As she reached the head of the line, the clerk, who'd been marking names on Post-Its to show the author what to sign, had disappeared. Lila stood before Daniel, separated only by the thin table. Her hand sweated as she held out his slender book, feeling elated, a grad student again, younger, completely unveiled.
"Thanks for coming." Unlike the last time they'd been this close, he was serene, sober.
"My pleasure. You killed," tumbled out of her mouth, as if she were still his coed.
"Thanks." He looked up at her. "Who should I inscribe it to?"
"To me," Lila said.
He tilted his pen on the page, glanced up sideways and asked, "Your name?"
What? He didn't know? Her breath stuck in her throat as he stared at her blankly. He was near seventy now. Was his eyesight failing?
"Sign it to Lila Penn." She stared at him, waiting for her name and face to jar his recollection.
"One N or two?" he asked in a monotone.
"Two N's," she answered, dumbfounded, pushing her hair behind her ear. He didn't know how to spell her married moniker? That meant he'd never seen her byline. She felt flushed and frazzled. Maybe he'd inherited "the forgetting disease" that had afflicted his father.
"With that last name, I hope you're not a writer," he said, looking pleased with his quip, the same cheesy joke every other idiot made.
"No, I'm a teacher." She inverted their connection, trying to trick him into a reaction. But it was a lie. She'd recently been asked to teach a class, but she hadn't responded.
"Okay, thanks for buying my book," he said by rote.
Her eyes fell on his inscription: "To Lila Penn, All the Best. Daniel Wildman." As if she were any stranger. Her forehead was hot, her heart knotting up in her chest.
Had he seduced so many students he couldn't even recall who she was? She must have overblown their relationship in her head. Could she be the one whose memory was addled? Sari had insisted she'd had a distorted self-image. Lip Ring hovered right behind her, staring. She felt so ashamed, as if she'd just been exposed as a pathetic hanger-on, an imposter.
"My maiden name is Lerner." She blinked back tears, not believing he'd erased her. The whole room blurred.
"My wife Ronit kept hers," he said smoothly, no recognition in his eyes. Then he reached his hand out for Lip Ring's book and opened it. "Who am I signing it to?" he asked the youthful interloper, flashing the same polite grin, finished with Lila.
"To my mother, Mary Jonas. She studied with you a million years ago."
"I know Mary! You look like her. She still work at Little Brown?" He laughed aloud, the big, hearty full-bodied laugh Lila used to love. "Must have been at least two million. Do you have a name too?"
Lila caught her reflection in the framed store poster, focusing on the faint marionette lines around her mouth, mortified to suddenly realize she'd lost her youth and beauty. She usually still saw herself as attractive. Yet she was obviously no longer a head-turner, the woman Daniel had called "his luscious muse." Had she changed that much? The older suitor who'd adored her, exalted her looks more than any other male she'd known, had no idea who she was. But Daniel, you were the one who accepted me, discovered me, drew stars in the margins of my rough drafts.
She should have listened to her husband. Lila could not handle seeing Daniel. She slinked to the register, fumbling for her wallet, so flustered his book fell to the floor. The rule: If you drop a book, kiss it, sacred like the Torah" echoed from her childhood. She crouched down and quickly scooped it up, humiliated, invisible. As she went to pay, Lila spied the envelope she brought in the pocket of her purse, but it was too late. She had obviously overestimated her effect on him, her place in his romantic lexicon.
Out of all the conflicting scenarios she'd envisioned for almost thirty years, Lila had never once even imagined that Daniel Wildman wouldn't remember.CHAPTER 2
He took the long way tonight, strolling down the West Village's uneven cobblestone streets, sucking in deep breaths of the brisk air. Daniel hoped it would calm his anxiety before the orientation party for new creative writing graduates he was stuck co-hosting. He loved being in the classroom, but he found these superficial Cormick-fests exhausting. He wished everyone could see the truth: he did all the work while his boss was a lecherous figurehead who would arrive late, get soused and charm the fifty newbies into believing their parents' exorbitant tuition would make them the next Adrienne Rich, John Updike or Ashbery. He swore to himself this would be the term he'd blast out of Cormick's shadow and break the humiliating monster block that had kept him from finishing his second book for the last decade.
Daniel planned to stash his coat and briefcase in his office and down a shot of the secret Suntory whiskey Howard brought him from Japan before launching into his dancing monkey routine — for one hour. Then he could rush home to nail the end of his poem on the shallow nature of ambition. Stepping off the elevator on the third floor, an impossibly tall dirty blonde in a plaid dress ambushed him before he could get to his office.
"You're Professor Wildman? Oh good. You're my teacher — and my adviser. I'm Lila Lerner. I just moved here from Wisconsin."
Ah, so this was the Lerner girl, the scholarship kid he almost rejected after he discovered she'd finished her undergraduate degree in two years. He hadn't pictured a big, blond, blue-eyed Jew, let alone one so gawky. Her pale, freckled skin was free of makeup. Her beige sweater seemed hand crocheted. Talk about right off the bus. No wonder she was always racing for diplomas and rewards. Daniel glanced at his watch — she was twenty minutes early. He flashed to the stanza he'd been honing, on strivers whose entire self-worth revolved around stacking up external accomplishments, "as if achievement were redemption."
"It's an honor to meet you," she said, thrusting out her hand.
Her grip was robust — and endless.
"So you're only 19? Planning to finish your Ph.D. by the end of the mixer?" he teased, wrestling his limb free.
"Why? Are you threatened by fast women?" she blurted.
Indeed he was. But she looked more like an awkward teenager, with her lopsided ponytail, thick eyebrows, and gangly arms bouncing around like a marionette. He realized, with amusement, she probably hadn't even caught her own double entendre.
"According to my schedule our class starts on Monday," she said, smiling cheerfully, fishing out the printed page from her knapsack to show him, along with her school I.D., as if he wouldn't believe who she was without proof, adding, "I'm a poetry concentrate."
"I know, Lila," he said. "I'm the one who accepted you."
"You are? Wow. How amazing, the first person I meet is the one who took me."
How amazing, I'm in the place where I teach, he thought. "Must be fate." He smiled.
"Right. Total poetry kismet." She giggled.
"Let me just put away my stuff," he said.
She mistook this as an invitation to trail him into the cluttered, windowless cave where he'd kept office hours for the last ten years. He hid his briefcase under the oversized oak desk and grabbed his favorite silver Cross pen and clipboard.
Excerpted from What's Never Said by Susan Shapiro. Copyright © 2015 Susan Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Heliotrope Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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