Joel Zwilling is emerging as a literary wunderkind. But when Joel's wife and daughter are killed in a car accident, he is left with a young son, and a resulting writer's block as unmoving as a pyramid. Over the next two decades, Joel's career will be all but eclipsed by that of his son, Nate. Thus Nate is astoundedand jealouswhen his father is approached by a slick director who wants to capture his tragic early work on film. As the director and his sensual assistant bedevil father and son, the retributions rain down upon all sides.
Author Biography: Ross Feld is the author of five previous books. He lives in Cincinnati.
|Edition description:||Revised ed.|
|Product dimensions:||5.68(w) x 8.74(h) x 0.65(d)|
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Waiting to hear the weather, Selva made a pot of coffee in the kitchenette's Mr. Coffee machine, inserting a sealed packet of coffee grounds just about the size and shape of a diaphragm. The morning shore light flooding the room made even the color on the TV thin and dilute. All the standard luxury updatings were herethe minifridge, the honor bar, the wall hair dryeryet there was a sense of half-willingness to them, a sense of concession. The resort was very old-line. Selva, checking in late last night, observed formally dressed old women with wooden Florida bags being squired in and out of the lobby bar by even older men wearing pastel sport jackets, ties, and white bucks. The few younger women she'd seen this morning from her balcony had on WASPy sunflower-colored float dresses, or cotton shorts sets, color-block shirts, stock-color Keds.
She took her china cup of coffee back out through the screen door to the balcony again. The beach, even from two stories up, had a raw, placid smell. Brian had insisted they take separate flights here, as though they were equal partners with something irreplaceable to survive each other for. From San Francisco, Selva had gone directly to Miami, in Miami had changed for a plane to Jacksonville, and in Jacksonville boarded one of the resort's jitneys that brought her directly to the island. When she checked in at the desk and asked if Mr. Horkow had arrived, she was told he had. But even up till this very moment he hadn't yet called her room.
Not that she expected him or anyone else to rememberbut it was her birthday today.
The ocean's wide thrum following her like noise from someone else's party, Selva went back inside and lay down on the king-sized bed. But she wasn't weary enough to lie still for very long and got up and went into the bathroom to shower.
She questioned whether or not she had heard a knock at the room's front door through the shower's spatter. "Brian?" She turned off the water.
"Room service, ma'am."
Selva had ordered nothing. But it turned out to be a fruit basket: bananas, softball-sized navel oranges, red pears with vinylish coatings, a couple of heavily cellophaned bricks of water biscuits. The card attached read: This is going to be fun again, I hope.
She got on the phone. "Yes, this is Ms. Tashjianin it's I think Seventeen. Can you connect me to Mr. Horkow's room?"
"I certainly can. I'm the concierge, Mark. Everything all right with your room? Need anything?"
"The room's very nice. I'm fine. Thank you for asking."
"I think I did see Mr. Horkow go out onto the beach before. At least towards it. But he may have come back in by now. If you need anything, do call me. Again, my name is Mark."
Who, Selva wondered as Brian's room phone rang and rang, became a concierge at a place like this? Gay? Married? She allowed Brian's phone to go on ringing, since in time it would fetch Mark back, or else the switchboard operator, and she'd be able to leave a message. Yet suddenly the phone in Brian's room was snatched up.
"You're there?" she said.
"Who ... Sel! Hi! The sink water was on. I was clipping nose hairs. I don't have a phone in the bathroomdo you? The trip all right?"
"Fruit wasn't required, Brian, but thank you nevertheless. What number room are you in?"
After a moment's hesitation he said, "Thirty-six ... but I'm in a whole other building!"
"I'm going to walk over, anyway. I want to give you at least half of this fruit. It's much too much for me."
"No no, eat all of it by yourself! Don't you get constipated on planes? Besides, there won't be timewe're meeting in twenty-five minutes downstairs in the main dining room."
"We're meeting when?"
"We have seven-thirty reservations for breakfast."
"Seven-thirty? In twenty-five minutes? I don't believe you! When were you planning to tell me this, exactly? To let me know?"
"Can't you be ready? Oh, sure you can. As soon as I was finished with my nose I was going to call you, I swear. You've been up a while already this morning, haven't you? I know I have. So we'll see each down there. Otherwise it might look ..."
"Look what?" she said, simply to annoy. "All right, I'll meet you in the dining room."
This long sexual pantomime of theirs. Long ago, they had slept together a single awful time, an incident they'd found so immediately embarrassing that the pains they took not to repeat it established something like the footings of a loyal friendship. The seducer/seduced roles had never snapped down tightly enough. She had been his student, yes, but even back then she was already more than that for them both. Brian didn't know it, but Selva had been expressly asked by his wife to accompany him on this trip and keep a watchful eye. ("He'll be fine," Selva had reassured Shelley Horkow. "Aug'll be there too." "Big help. I love Aug dearly, but he's a dodo and these are slick operators. They already use him." Shelley then had begun to cry over the phone in frustration: "Brian won't take the medication, that's what bothers me most. If he just was taking what he needs to. When he doesn't, the enthusiasms aren't trustworthy. Someone will take advantage." "Well, I'll be there," Selva had said.)
"Brian?" she said to him now. "This is all going to go well. Only normal nervousness is required. Don't bother getting all lathered up if all you're doing it for is the exercise."
"You are good to me, Sel. I love you."
"And you to me."
Professionally, Brian's staircase had turned into a slide when his last film tanked, his third flop in a row. Selva had been the line producer on If Means When, yet had walked away relatively uninjured, able to get subsequent European production work, two English films, one Hungarian-French. Either the industry wasn't yet fully comfortable associating a woman with a certain kind of profound miscalculation or else she'd been just too small a fish.
Brian, on the other hand, had been left seriously stranded. His phone never rang anymore. Even Phil Dreyer, his friend from the old days, who now could have helped him without effort, stayed uncommunicative. Even more than a modest success, Brian needed just plain paying work. His oldest child, a girl of eleven, suffered from cystic fibrosis (though lately she was doing nicely), and there were two additional children as well, a set of three-year-old twins he and Shelley had adopted from Romania a few years back: Jesse and Jeremy, nicknamed Bim and Bom. There was the forever-in-flux house he'd foolishly bought years before in Sonoma, à la Coppola and Lucas, then spent far too much redoing. At the moment, the family subsisted solely on the earnings from the practical books Shelley compiled and wrote, handbooks filled with specific do-this do-that information about cystic fibrosis and foreign adoptions. Her next one, she once told Selva, would probably be about bipolar disorders, the diagnosis pinned on Brian but strenuously resisted by him. The medicines he was given for manic depression were ignored, mocked, tossed away.
Brian and the others were already seated at a pink-clothed round table by the time Selva got down to the dining room. She and everyone else was dressed in resort wear, but Brian had on a crisply pressed suit, out the sleeves of which he shot his cuffs over and over. Jay Loftspring, the attorney for the Warshaw Foundation, an extremely tall thin squinting man, sat to the left of Aug Jimmerson. Aug, as usual, looked splendid, almost godly. To his right was his wife, Paulette.
As Selva took her seat at the table, Brian was in the midst of rhapsodizing about a well-mannered old Southern grandee he'd stood next to at the urinals in the men's room off the lobby. While zipping up, the gent had asked Brian how he was doing. When Brian asked back the same, the old man had replied: "Think I am in fact just going to about make it. With some help."
"Now I wish," Brian marveled, "you all could have seen the quality of his smile. Why can't everyone think so optimistically? Of course, the question always remains whether or not a smart person can be an optimist, which I still don't know. I mean, if you have any kind of imagination, is it possible to be happy? On the other hand, you have to account for this old Georgia gent in the can, walking around with a completely and perfectly serviceable philosophy. Makes you want to be just like him, doesn't it?"
Loftspring the lawyer was holding his spoon filled with fruit salad higher up into the light. "What do you suppose this red color is? It's hard to tell. If it's raspberry, that's minimally okay, but if it's strawberry ... I can be allergic." He pushed the whole bowl away, rescuing one single last cube of honeydew and popping it into his mouth.
Paulette Jimmerson began to laugh. "Okay, tell them. Oh, go ahead," she permitted her husband. "You know you want to. Just tell them."
Aug announced with solemn pleasure: "'Lette here's discovered she's allergic to her darlin'."
"To you?" Brian cackled.
"To her cat. To Richard."
"To my baby! Named after Richard Pryor, and I ain't never giving him up. August here maybe, but Richard I die with, with my nose in his coat!"
"Love's what kills you," Brian said. "My motto as well."
"Since when?" Selva said, fearful for the moment that everything might dissolve right here before them at the table. Brian's nervousness had started to enervate her, and jet lag pushed down at her shoulders like a weight. Selva sat up straighter in her chair.
"From this moment on. From now on it is."
Waffles, omelets, muffins, and cereals were being brought to the table. Brian had ordered only juice and toast, and for him the food's arrival seemed to be a signal to get serious. Out came the contents of his twenty-five-year-old briefcase. He scanned his notes once and twice and then came bursting forth from the unprepared-for middle of his thoughts, as if he'd already begun his pitch privately to himself:
"Memories that become genetic, for instance. I'm not into high concept," he assured a confused-looking Loftspring, "nor would we necessarily want to do a Marathon Man Meets Sophie's Choice here. But there could be a slight cyber-angle. You know, camp experimentation, primitive attempts at implantation."
Selva was all ready to step in and put things back aright when another guest in the dining room, a prematurely white-haired man with a forehead like a reddened wall, fortunately appeared at their table, dispatched by his own party, he explained, to determine "whether or not this really is Aug Jimmerson." Aug provided the necessary autographs; Brian caught both the table's mood and Selva's pointed look and quietly put away his notes.
Saved by Aug once more. In a sense, Brian's career had originated with Aug Jimmerson. Back when he was still a New York college instructor, Brian had written a magazine article about Aug. He then expanded it into an indiscreet book about celebrity, about hanging out with such a celestial football and baseball figure in a fast drugs/gambling/hipster circle. Brian next had fashioned a screenplay from that book, which in turn brought him more script work, which ultimately allowed him a chance to act and direct. In Los Angeles in the late seventies, he had even shared an apartment with Phil Dreyer, before the actor had become a worldwide name. Directing in turn landed Brian a part-time faculty job at Cal Arts, where Selva had been in one of his classes.
Of course, Aug himself had something of a genuine talent for being saved. Gates Warshaw, a corporate buccaneer, a wily old crook, had been forced some years back to leave Fort Lauderdale for Tel Aviv just ahead of the SEC. But before he fled, he had more or less adopted Aug, pulling him out from under a mound of paternity suits and failed restaurants and bad product-endorsement-partnerships. Aug's face, in his role as local-markets vice-president for a Warshaw-owned soft-drink manufacturer, grinned down with faked pleasure over a can of F3 sports drink from the billboards in every southeastern and Sunbelt ghetto. About a month ago, after noticing a corporate memo touting the newly established Warshaw Holocaust Studies Foundation and its planned arts tie-in with novels and TV and film, Aug had immediately called Brian. Brian, sounding hysterical and redeemed at the same time, in turn had called Selva, locating her in London.
"Sel! This lawyer wants to know if I have any ideas. Do I? Do I have any ideas?"
Because she had lucky access to the Lexis-Nexis database, she was able to fax over a large load of trolled-for stuff to Brian in Sebastapol. Under the category of Holocaust Fiction, he had rediscovered Joel Zwilling, someone he'd known casually when both of them were abortive medical students decades ago. Zwilling's out-of-print first novel had shown up leading a surprisingly short sublist: Fiction: Holocaust: Survivor's Children.
This poor Joel Zwilling, Selva more than once subsequently thought. It wasn't so easy to drop yourself in a trash can and then try to hurry away. People like us may come along even years later and fish you out. Rebuffing Brian's initial call inquiring after the rights, Zwilling had said he had no interest in his old book or anything else he'd ever written being turned into a movie. Brian, who was easily checked, had next turned to Selva, who'd had the idea of trying to go through Zwilling's son instead. The son was a writer too, she had discovered from a small amount of legwork. When on the phone she'd asked him when he himself began to write, Nate Zwilling had responded: "I don't know, maybe at about fifteen"then adding with a startling grimness: "It was in self-defense."
The reason she'd been in London (and this was something Brian still didn't know about, that she'd been putting off telling him) was in order for Peter Swainten, the Channel Four guy over there, to take her out to lunch, Mumm and sevruga, and tell her that he'd been given a go-ahead to offer her free rein on multiple documentaries, films that could be shot in America and that Channel Four hoped would be different, personal, quirky. While in London, Selva had also gone to see one last-shot doctor, a Harley Street gynecologist, the best in the field, she understood, and a very lovely doctor at that: Dr. Coffman. To her great embarrassment, it was a fourth opinion she was seeking. Yet Coffman, a peppy young grandfather, had been wonderful and made her feel like anything but a hysteric. She had provided him her list: the two ablative surgeries, the medications, the no-dairy diet, the castor-oil packs, the acupuncture with Chinese herbs. "Intercourse painful?" he had asked. When she replied, "Not physically," he had smiled. Well, he said gently, surely she knew that her body was telling her, by such frequent pain and bleeding, that these overgrowths must soon be made to go. Regrettably, endometriosis as severe and disseminated as hers "cried out," he said, for hysterectomy and hysterectomy only. Her HMO doctors in California had legitimately gentled her along, but now they were right to recommend surgery. "And this, mind you, is a Brit talkingwe're less knife-happy as a rule." Were he the one doing the surgery, Coffman said, he would at least consider a vaginal hysterectomy, although he wouldn't be able to make any promises. Never having birthed a child, she might not be wide enough. Yet it remained his first choice of approach. The hormonal blitzkrieg after surgical menopause was somewhat softened when the vaginal route was taken. "Until then, Ms. Tashjian, I want you to devise ways not to hurt quite as much. Stress is your number-one enemy. Easier cursed than vanquished, I realize, but still." Selva, in love with his calm and fatherly ways, swore to Coffman and to herself that she'd call back within the week to schedule the surgery with him. Instead, she flew home to California never having called.
After breakfast, Selva and Paulette Jimmerson had nine-thirty reservations at the spa. In the sauna, Selva admired the frank shelf of Paulette's big behind. Selva's late father, Varak, a sculptor and restorer of public monuments, would have swooned with pleasure to behold Paulette's light-coffee bulk. Afterward, in the locker room once they'd showered, Paulette opened her workout bag to offer Selva any of six different wrapped chocolate bars and as many kinds of packaged cookies. All of it came from what she called her glove-compartment stock: "I do love my car!"
But Selva had to leave for the morning's golf. Never intending to play herself, she had promised to drive Brian's cart for him, to root him on during the part of the trip he'd been dreading most of all. He had even desperately practiced at home in California for it. Yet for Selva the morning was nothing but pleasant. The cart path of the golf course at one point led to a stone heap of a ruined embattlement set right in the middle of one fairway. There were small creeks veining their way down to the sea and forming small estuaries next to some of the greens. Polyp-like marshes were everywhere.
Brian wasn't even remotely able to appreciate any of it. All his hacking shots were tending right; eventually, he even seemed to walk with a rightward list, the effect probably of the whiter-than-white spiked golf shoes he was wearing for the first time. He began to overcompensate by shooting too far left, trying to get his foul-ups to balance each other. In the end, he basically was shoelacing the course. "Shit!" he screamed on the sixth hole. At the eleventh, he ditched Selva as bad luck and demanded to ride instead with Aug.
So Loftspring the lawyer and Selva bumped down a slope together toward the twelfth hole's tee. Where in San Francisco did she live? After Selva told him, the lawyer said he thought that was "truly neat. A houseboat docked in Sausalitomy wife would love that."
"Then come visit me sometime, the two of you." It was a relief for Selva not to have to bear any flirting. These intensely mothered-and-wived men rarely strayed, for fear of being lost. When his hyper phases weren't upon him, Brian was largely the same way, something his wife Shelley knew deep down.
Peter Swainten, in London, transparently not a mothered man, was married toothough Selva surely would sleep with him eventually, resigned as she was to a life of married lovers, a knowledge that took up next to no room in her mind. She had never truly or deeply or finally wanted a man of her exclusive own. Or hardly ever. What she wanted perhaps was a man to wholly have her, somewhat in the manner that her father had had heras a cherishment, a responsibility, a worry. Married men were thus for her by now a decided taste. Their hesitancies and compunctions, their contexts around them like a suit of mail. No sudden surprising lurches or blows.
"Brian's very excited by this Zwilling project," she told Loftspring the lawyer.
"That's good, isn't it?" he smiled. "The PGA tour doesn't look like the way he'll go." Immediately he was unsure of the propriety of his joke. "Let me ask you this, though. That cyberpunk implantation thing he was talking about over breakfast. I'm afraid there he lost me."
Selva was easily airy. "Oh, that's just Brian. He makes a wild film in his head first, then filters it out, and finally discards it completely. What's left is the real movie. In the beginning he's going to say a lot of things that sound strange."
"You'll be the producer, I'm assuming, Ms. Tashjian? I'm right about that, aren't I?"
"Selva. Hi. I'm Jay." He gave an uncomfortable laugh: "But you knew that."
They'd been sitting at a fork in the path for what seemed like an age and finally Loftspring directed Selva to angle the cart up and right toward the next tee. Walking to the post that held the ball washer, the lawyer inserted his ball and worked the brush-and-canister mechanism vigorously up and down. Flecks of soap foam fell to the grass. "Actually, to tell you the truth, Mr. Horkow's being flexible and relaxed is great with us. We're in no rush on our end."
"What kind of frame is it that you're looking at? Till rough cut, I mean."
Loftspring teed up his ball, banged his drive, and walked back to the cart. "Your first check should be there already, at the address you gave us in California. When you go back I'm sure you'll find it. And I want you yourself to let us always know if we've underestimated at all. Please remember that. We have to know all your needs. It's great for Brian Horkow and for us that you'll be the contact person."
"Well, I'm delighted to be involved."
"I'm going to have to catch a flight out of Savannah before dinner unfortunatelya meeting in Dallas tomorrow morning, something that just came upso it's fantastic that we can do some of our first talking now. For instance, I want to leave knowing you're completely up to speed and comfortable with how we see our support structured. So, for instance, you ask about time. The Foundation sees your film in a frame of twelve to eighteen months minimum. Remember, of course, we're new to thisif two years, give or take, isn't enough to get you ready for production, we can go longer, however long it takes."
"Preproduction two years?"
"We'd be a lot more than ready! Two years, we'd have a film in the can. Why are you envisioning such an extended setup period? Is it to bring in other backing?"
Loftspring looked at her blankly. "No, it'll be all us. The money's wholly earmarked already. I think yesterday a first check was cut and sent, about four hundred thousand, give or take."
Selva hoped that her voice was going to sound at least minimally controlled and even. "Well, that's great, that's wonderful."
They had not even submitted a treatment, a script!
"We'd like you to see that our support is understood as a continuing thing. We're proud to be helping this to be developed slowly. We'll talk it up as such, too. Which reminds me: We'd be who's always doing that, the talking it up. Publicity would always come from us, not from your end. No publicists."
It was a done deal, Selva realizedeven if one that was cradled within an agenda she didn't completely appreciate yet. There had been no reason to fly out here in the first place.
"Well, that's-hardly a producer's favorite part of the job anyway, Jay."
Suddenly Selva was afraid she might accidentally knock something over, something fragile. "You know, I'm wondering if even though he fired me as his caddy I shouldn't maybe show my face back there for a minute and see how Brian's doing."
"Do you want to guess?" said the attorney.
Selva gave a phony's laugh. "Do you mind driving yourself a little while?"
The lawyer looked at his watch. "I should finish up anyway and go back and make some calls from my room before the afternoon. I'm delighted we had a chance to talk."
Aug was standing beside the green of the previous hole. He'd already finished his own putting and now just was waiting for Brian to work his way there. "Our friend has had better days."
"I would disagree." Selva affectionately squeezed his massive upper arm. "I just had a terrific talk with Jay."
"We love you, Aug," and she hugged him. "It's cool because of you. Go ahead and catch up with Jay and play some actual golf. I'll stay here."
Anxious despair had sealed Brian's face, for he had lost his ball in deep rough beneath a stand of pines. Even four hundred thousand dollars would not gentle his panic right now. Selva stood near, self-consciously silent, the thought occurring to hera guardian thought that stretched out from her like a pair of hands left and rightto not tell Brian at all yet. At home he'd get the check, which would be reality enough for now. Did he really need to know about a two-year setup? Brian, finally spotting his ball, yanked it from a tangle of moss and low ivy. "Shit!"and he promptly dropped the ball at his feet in overgrowth almost as bad.
"Can't you hit it from someplace better?"
Selva said, "Can I maybe try to hit one? No one's watching. Just one swing?"
To her surprise, Brian handed her the club. Yet two seconds later he was shrieking at her: "Grip! Grip! Look at your grip!"
"I am gripping it. What's this club called? What number?"
"That's not a grip! That's no grip. That's just holding it."
"Hush. This way's comfortable for me."
Selva hauled the club back across her shoulders and brought it down so confidently that it came as a literal shock to her when the club head hit the ground before touching the ball. A muddy thunking impact squeegeed through her body.
"See? Give it to me! You see? Give it back to me."
Aug and Loftspring would not have cared if he'd skipped the second eighteen holes for the afternoon (if the lawyer even would still be around), yet none of Selva's attempts to convince Brian came to anything. His hurt pride left him deaf. He even chose to skip lunch in favor of repairing to his room for a nap before his additional hours on the cross of golf.
Selva herself wasn't especially hungry and decided to try out the beach.
It was empty for a hundred yards in each direction. As soon as she chose a spot on which to lay her towel, a young black man in a wallah-like uniform was before her, offering a beach chair and umbrella.
Selva looked at the sea, the shoreline, tasted the dry heated wind. A pale blond woman with two school-age children, a boy and a girl, eventually came and set up camp twenty yards away. The young mother wore a tunic swimsuit complete with little skirt. Yet there was nothing modest about the way she sprawled backward on her beach blanket as soon as the kids were off to dig in wetter sand. With the sort of surrender Selva wished she herself could make, the woman absolutely flung herself open to the sun.
Unobserved, Selva studied the woman, whose top half was neatly nipped, waist and breasts, tiny face, pertly bobbed hair, but whose bottom half was a Maillol sculpture, solid thighs that looked as though they'd be capable of reabsorbing those children if called on. Selva glanced down at her own thighs. Aesthetically finer, they were infinitely more useless; architectural detail, not structural support. In any sphere that truly mattered, Selva's body was never going to be enough.
She packed up and left the beach.
With Loftspring gone and the golf only a bad memory, dinner was merry, just the four of them. Selva even briefly considered ordering a birthday dessert for the table but at the last moment vetoed the idea, not wanting the attendant fuss. Brian decompressed by drinking too much wine, with Aug happily along for the ride. Selva and Paulette finally left the men to their jokes and nostalgia and Hennessy.
In her room, Selva changed into her shortie nightgown. She said a silent prayer of thanks for a whole daysuch an important if oddly hollow onewithout any cramps or bleeding. She thought about phoning Shelley Horkow but decided not to. Finally she watched television for a while and dozed, only to startle awake an hour later and shut off the set.
Later in the night she awoke once more, but this time into a darkness so deep that the strange room seemed to hold a kind of transient intelligence inside it, frank and voluptuous and beckoning. It stirred her. She found herself stretching into it, holding one bare arm straight out and allowing the fingers of her other hand to explore downward along the forearm hairs, into the crook of the elbow, her finger pads slowly rolling left and right, making deeper and lesser channels, varying the pressure but never going any lower than her arm.
She would get on with the more focused business of making love to herself in a moment, but for right now this was enough. To be smoothing herself out like this in the dark, with the surf sounds outside, made her feel as though she was slowly, minutely describing herself to herself, as if in anticipation of something ...
Of Dr. Coffman?
Selva dropped her hands, flipping onto her belly, horrified, stuffing her face down into the pillow.
But she didn't cry. Crying would not soothe the raw patch of need and lack that her arm and fingers had been exploring, her fantasy of a rich, replete body. Getting onto her back again, she switched on the bedside light and opened one of the books she'd brought with her, a fat scholarly edition of the essays of Montaigne. In her girlhood house, her father kept shelved only European classics; his daughter, in homage, still was catching up.
So for an hour, inside her life as it was and as it was going to remain (minus an internal organ or two), she grimly read Montaigne, that old realist-of-all-realists, and tried not to have a single hope.