Left Handed Writings, Right Handed Thoughts

Trump Gambles on America’s Narcissism

The United States is, without question, the most religious country in the so-called developed world. If the pollsters are to be believed, around 68% of the adult population believe in God, with 48% of this group also recently expressing a belief in angels (who, as we all know, look down most benignly on Americans). But while these statistics may make many a secular American (this one included) roll his or her eyes, the fact remains: the United States did begin its early life as a colonial theocracy, founded by Puritans with a decided Hobbesian view of human nature. As such, it is not at all surprising that the American psyche has always been imbued with an uber-moralistic world-view, not to mention a messianic belief in the certainty of its national project, En route to the wilderness that was the New World the future Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, told his seasick, exhausted band of Puritan co-religionists: “We shall be as a city upon a hill — the eyes of all people are upon us.”

Biblical scholars will note that Winthrop borrowed this phrase from Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (as reported in Mathew 5:14): “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” But if you want to find the roots of that still au courant hyper-nationalistic vision of America as God’s Preferred Terrain, look no further than Winthrop’s utterance miles off the coast of what was to become New England. The evangelical impulse to do good according to the American playbook latterly evolved into such brilliant triumphs as The Marshall Plan (which essentially rebuilt Western Europe after World War II) and such catastrophes as Vietnam and the Central American follies during the Reaganite 1980s. And there’s also no doubt that, to win The White House, a candidate today must (at the very least) proclaim a certain rapport with the Almighty. With such a sizable proportion of the Americanvox populus calling themselves believers, a candidate who came out as an unapologetic atheist would quickly find him/herself cripplingly disabled. Even an agnostic would be regarded with immense suspicion; someone who is, on matters spiritual, not declaring proper intent.

All of this is a reflection of the ongoing cultural wars between a secular and a highly Christian America. But if there is one unifying faith that runs through the national body politic it is money. As Lewis Lapham — the distinguished former editor of Harper’s Magazine (one of America’s most intellectual journals) — once noted: money in America is ‘the civil religion’. Money is such a dominant force in our mentality because we are such a profoundly mercantile construct (“The business of America is business,” to borrow a line from a conservative president of the 1920s, Calvin Coolidge), not to mention a culture predicated on Social Darwinism. Given that the US has little in the way of a social safety net — to the point where a sizeable portion of the country still dismiss Obamacare (our weak version of a national health care system) as socialism — it’s not at all surprising that those who have made it big are so venerated. After all, American capitalism likes to play up its gladiatorial, ‘survival of the fittest’ credentials. To have become wealthy in the United States is perceived to be a higher form of sagacity. To have achieved fame at the same time as fortune is even more ennobling in the eyes of the hoi polloi — as celebrity is an offshoot of the civil religion that is money. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century in his still relevant 1899 treatise, ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class’, the great American social and economic theorist/critic, Thorstein Veblen, absolutely grasped this, noting: “The possession of wealth confers honor; it is an invidious distinction.”

In an era where the American plutocracy has become such a dominant force, where monopolization goes unchecked, where ‘the big short’ craziness of the banks nearly flipped us into a 1929 depression in 2008, and where Wall Street still plays by its own unchecked rules, there is also a school of thought within the culture that the person who shouts the loudest gets the most attention. Fold into the recipe for grandiose success the potent lure of lucre and renown, and you begin to see why Donald John Trump — businessman, entrepreneur, property developer, author, television personality, and general all-purpose loud mouth — is suddenly the unstoppable Republican candidate in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Indeed, in a year in which the run up to the biggest prize in American politics has been marked by more than a touch of psychosis, fear peddling and playing to the lowest common denominator, it is not at all surprising that, in a field of Republican candidates noteworthy for their bellicosity, Donald Trump has emerged as the absolute front runner. He is the Big Bucks guy with the loudest voice of them all.

Read the complete article on Medium.com here.

The Blue Hour, the US & Canadian edition of my latest novel, is on sale now wherever books are sold. (A reminder: this novel was published as The Heat of Betrayal in the UK and as Mirage in France). It is a psychological thriller but also a very modern adventure story about an American woman thrown into vertiginous circumstances who slowly becomes unhinged as she searches for her wayward husband. It is set in Morocco, a place I have visited every year for the past fifteen, because it struck me – with its mixture of the comprehensible and the unknown, the humane and the sinister, its labyrinthine cities and the absolute arid tabula raza that is the Sahara –  as the perfect narrative landscape for my nightmare story.

I am going on tour to promote the book and would be thrilled to see you. Tonight, I will be at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA.  I will be in New York at Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side on February 24 at 7 pm and will be visiting New Canaan, Madison, Fairfield, and Greenwich, CT, Sarasota, FL, Los Angeles, CA, Toronto, ON, and then back in NYC at Albertine Books on May 2.  For dates and places, please go to the events page.

I would really appreciate your help spreading the word about the book to all you know—these days, every book launch needs all the help it can get.  If you’re inspired to help, here’s what you can do:

1.      Order the book from your local bookstore or online here.
2.      Come to one of my events and bring your friends and family.
3.      Review the book on Amazon, IndieBound, BN.com or any online bookseller.
4.      Share this meme on your social networks.

Thank you so much, and if you pitch in, please let me know so I can tell you how grateful I am.

With heartfelt thanks –

A sneak peek at my new novel “The Blue Hour”

In less than a month my new novel “The Blue Hour” will be published in the U.S. and Canada – on 16th February 2016 – by Atria Books.  In the meantime, you can read chapters 1 and 2 here.  I look forward to hearing what you think.

More about soon about “The Blue Hour”.  Until then, and as always, Happy reading.

We are all Parisians today

When in Paris I live in the 10eme. It is very much ‘mon quartier’ – a place I love for its raffish cosmopolitanism; its mixture of quartier populaire and BoBo-ism. I know my neighbours, say hello to Emmanuelle at my local boulangerie, or to Jean-Marie le fleuriste, or Emmanuel at the local papeterie, or l’equipe at l’Hotel du Nord, or my friend Philippe Philou who runs the Restaurant Philou on the avenue Richerand. My corner of the 10eme symbolizes to me the best of Paris. There are two HLMs down the street from me, as well as a synagogue, an école maternelle, a lycée, an eclectic mix of people (locals who were born and raised near the Canal, hipsters, BoBos emigrants, writers, artists, and the amazing influx of the young who turn the Canal into an ‘Enfants du Paradis’ playground on Friday and Saturday nights). In my part of the 10eme there is a true informal sense of community. I moved to the 10eme from St Germain des Pres – and discovered what it was like to live in a quartier far more intimate and local that St Germain’s busy chicness. The 10eme is emblematic of Paris at its most international, multicultural, tolerant and progressive – all essential qualities of a great city.

And the 10eme and the 11eme are where so much of the horrendous violence took place on Friday night.

Consider – as I have done in the past thirty-six hours – your quotidian existence. The simple pleasures of going to a café, eating in a restaurant, going to a movie, a jazz gig, a concert. Communal events. And ones which all citoyens (like myself) take for granted. I know all the places hit on Friday night – because I live near them, or have patronized them. Going to hear a rock concert should not cost you your life. Eating amok trei in a Cambodian restaurant should not cost you your life. Sitting in a café with friends should not cost you your life. Nor should we be intimated by murderous thugs who want to terrify us into staying indoors.

The larger metaphor of the Friday night massacres in Paris was: we will randomly murder people out enjoying the pleasures of a great city. It’s an attack on the basic freedom of having a good time – which is an essential counterbalance to all the stresses of life. Imagine if we lived in a world where we must pass through a metal detector every time we enter a concert hall, a jazz club, a cinema, a café. Imagine the sense of ongoing manifest intimidation. ISIS is a theocratic mafia who want to intimidate us and make us live in fear. They are monsters. And like all monstrous movements they will be defeated. But we must stand as one against them and their offshoots. Our essential rights and liberties are at stake here.

Speaking with friends in Paris and elsewhere over the last thirty-six hours what has struck me so deeply is the sense of shared trauma (reading about the death of the rock critic for Les Inrocks, Guillaume B. Decherf – a father of two young children – I found myself in tears, as I did about the lives of so many others killed on Friday night). It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been our neighbors, our friends, our loved ones. We are all Parisians today. And solidarity and defiance are essential communal weapons against these gangsters who want to intimidate us into fear.

HOW IT ALL STARTED: An Introduction to the First Omnibus Edition

From an early age I’ve always had a strong urge to run away. Growing up in a family where my parents were constantly at each other’s throats ­ and blamed their children for their manifest disaffections ­certainly got me thinking early on about the door marked ‘Exit’.

So too did one of those strange, lonely adolescences where I was mocked as a weirdo by my classmates at our very elite, intellectually rigorous, fearfully competitive boys prep school in Manhattan; a place where we were learning Latin at the age of twelve, reading Chekhov and Ibsen and Joyce by the age of sixteen, were taught to write with flair and analytic clarity, and where we all lived in an achievement­-obsessed culture in which failure was considered the ultimate mortal sin.

Scratch most writers and you usually find familial unhappiness and a sense of not fitting in to be part of the creative mix; a lingering sense of grievance and anger and otherness that frequently fuels the compulsion which so underscores the writing life. In a famous essay entitled ‘Why I Write’, George Orwell said that the settling of scores is an essential propulsion behind  so many residents of the Republic of Letters. Just as Graham Greene once noted that there is a moment in childhood when the door blows open and the world rushes in; when, in short, you start to become aware that life is, at best, a tricky business, full of complexities, pitfalls, shortcomings.

Indeed, I have often noted that my ongoing preoccupation as a novelist is with the mess we all make of life, and the way in which we are so often the architects of our own cul­de­sacs. Having been raised in the midst of a classically unhappy mid­century American marriage – my father a businessman who dreamed of living in Alaska; my mother a highly educated and increasingly frustrated housewife ­- I had a ringside seat from an early age at domestic dysfunction on a dramatic scale. Along the way I watched how two adults engaged in the saddest form of self entrapment imaginable.

My father, however, was always traveling during these years. He was an executive for a metals company, setting up mines in such far-flung corners of the world as Chile, Algeria, Haiti. And, no doubt, the five to six months per year that he was elsewhere allowed him to cope with a wife he told me on several occasions he no longer loved, and the burden of three young sons, of which I was the eldest and most awkward. Born with severe knocked knees and profoundly flat feet, I had a walk that still calls to mind Jacques Tati’s famous bouncing gait. I was wildly unsportive. I always had my nose in a book (and was allowed to walk the four blocks north to our local library when I was eight my first taste of solo travel). As soon as I was permitted to venture further afield ­around the age of twelve ­ I started to explore my home town of Manhattan on my own. Culture became my refuge. Theatres, cinema, concert halls, museums, and (when I was in my later teens) jazz joints were the places I hid myself from life’s harder contours, and where I began to develop serious private passions for the French New Wave, the films of Ingmar Bergman and Hitchcock and John Ford, the music of Bach and Gustav Mahler, Rothko’s canvases, the plays of Edward Albee, and the piano genius of Bill Evans (whom I actually heard live at the Village Vanguard when I was just sixteen).

Culture became, from an early age, a means of escape ­ and one which still plays an absolutely crucial role in my life today. Culture was also an early form of travel. As we were a middle class family (in a Manhattan which, back then, still had a middle class), we weren’t in a financial position to venture far afield (my first overseas trip was when I was nineteen and spent a week canoeing in Canada with three college friends). But I discovered the American West courtesy of ‘The Searchers’ and ‘North by Northwest’, Paris thanks to Truffaut, Godard, Rivette and Rohmer, Rome via Fellini, while the photos of Weegee got me to reconsider the noirish underside of my own city.

And when I entered Trinity College Dublin as an exchange student in 1974 my actual travel life began… along with the growing realization that, if I was ever to become the writer I dreamed of being, I would have to run away from all the familial and careerist pressure that I associated with New York City; that if I stayed in a metropolis so obsessed with success (and under the sway of a father who kept telling me I should go to law school and forget my ‘arty’ dreams), I would never find the creative space necessary to try to live by my pen.

So having returned to the States in the summer of 1975 ­ and having felt, in the best sense of the word, corrupted by my year away in Europe ­I began to plot my next escape. First I had to finish university, then turn down a scholarship to graduate school, then scratch a living as a journalist on a provincial newspaper in Maine, then work as a stage manager in a variety of off­-Broadway theatres. When my father’s taunts about me being a failure at twenty­-two became constant and excessive (as he once noted: “You graduated magna cum laude from one of the top colleges in America and are working in the theatre for fifty bucks a week… and you wonder why I think you’re a loser”), I fled. Returning to Dublin I started a fringe theatre company with an old friend from Trinity. Eighteen months of bohemian life later I was appointed to the post of running the National Theatre of Ireland’s studio theatre, The Peacock. A year into that job I started writing at night, sitting in front of my manual typewriter from midnight until three at least four days a week, typing manically and smoking non­stop cigarettes (a habit I finally quit in 1987). I sold a play to the Irish national radio station, RTE. I had another play accepted at the BBC. I started ­at the age of twenty­-four to make my way as a writer.

Five years later, having left my life in the theatre, I found myself in Egypt, under arrest in the oasis of Siwa while traveling in the Western Sahara ­one of many curious incidents that formed the basis for my first published book, Beyond the Pyramids. Before this trip I’d lived in Germany for three months and had knocked around assorted Warsaw Pact states (Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and a few day trips to East Berlin, as getting an extended travel visa for the DDR without impeccable socialist credentials ­ which, being something of a political centrist, I clearly lacked). I had also made my first visit to Australia, and was finally beginning to explore the western reaches of my own country, the United States. The travel bug had truly begun ­ and over the next half-­decade I found myself on a train from Casablanca to Tunis, stopping off for an edgy week in Algeria just before the start of its brutal civil war. I also crossed Australia by train. I drove into the sleazier confines of Baja California. I island hopped in the Pacific. I spent three months traversing the Bible Belt of America (a journey which became my second book, In God’s Country / Au pays de Dieu). I loitered with intent in the stock markets of New York, London, Budapest, Casablanca, Singapore, Sydney ­ and found myself thinking long and hard about the shadow that money casts on all lives (the book, Chasing Mammon : Travels in the Pursuit of MoneyCombien, is very much an exploration of how we all spend so much of sentient existence grappling with the issue of lucre ­and how money is behind so much within the human condition).

And having delivered that manuscript of this third ‘recit du voyage’ I disappeared into the
Australian Outback with the notion of writing another travel book about one of the emptiest and loneliest corner of the planet. The year was 1991, long before the internet or mobile phone made communication instant. Which meant that traversing the northern extremities of Western Australia, a state that is physically the size of western Europe with under two million inhabitants was truly a trip to the back of the back of beyond. A friend who worked for the Australian Broadcasting Company in Sydney, Tim Bowden, gave me a tip before I set out: if possible I should find my way to a tiny nowhere village called Wittenoom, which used to have an aesbestos mine which the federal government closed down a few years earlier. The bureaucrats in Canberra even removed the name Wittenoom from the map of Australia. But, according to Tim, fifty diehard inhabitants still lived there… “which means they all must be troppo” (Australian slang for going crazy in a tropical environment).

So being someone with a nose for strangeness and who likes to flirt with danger, I pointed my 4×4 in the direction of Wittenoom. It was at the end of a five hundred kilometer dirt track; a village so isolated, so shabby, so grim (especially under a white hot Australian sun) that I wanted to make a gigantic U­-turn and leave… but that would have meant driving five hundred kilometers on an unpaved road in the dark. I had no choice but to stay.

There was one hotel in town: a total dump. I was the first guest there in six months. There was one pub in town. At 18h00 all fifty residents of Wittenoom were there, buying “the Yank” (as I was immediately called) far too many beers. At 18h30 everyone was drunk (myself included). I remember being eyed up by a woman who must have weighed two hundred kilos and was as incoherent as I was. Two blokes at the bar started arguing. I think there was a bit of a fight -but as the evening passed in a deranged blur (fifteen pints of Australian lager will do that) there was a juncture when I blacked out much that transpired. I woke with a jolt just before dawn in my hotel bed, alone (that was a relief), unable to piece together how I’d gotten back there, and determined to put as much distance as possible between myself and Wittenoom right away.

As I drove off under emerging harsh sunlight, the corpses of dead kangaroos lining the outskirts of the village, an idea fell into my head: an idea for a novel. Of course it had been my ambition to write fiction for years. But when I came to the conclusion in 1986 that I really wasn’t much of a playwright, my recits du voyage became a learning curve when it came to creating a narrative, describing a landscape and its inhabitants, discovering how to shape a character. As I said many years later in an interview on France Inter, my recits du voyage were fictions that happened, and the way I gradually began to get into writerly shape for that Everest I so wanted to climb: the first novel.

And as I drove off from the weird nightmare that was Wittenoom a plot came into my head; a tale of self-­entrapment set in the furthest extremes of the Australian outback. Though the novel, The Dead HeartPiege Nuptial, remains the shortest of the novels in my oeuvre to ­date, it took almost two years to write, as I was frequently gripped with self­-doubt about its merits as a work of fiction. It was also a time of immense change in my life ­ for, at the age of thirty-­seven, I had finally become a parent. My son Max was born a year after I returned from the Outback. Piege Nuptial was dedicated to him. Just as my next novel, The Big PictureL’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, was dedicated to my daughter Amelia, who was born a fortnight after I finished the first draft in the spring of 1996. Time has this unsettling habit of moving like a TGV. It astonishes me to think that Max is now twenty-­two, Amelia almost nineteen… and in the twenty­-one years since Piege Nuptial was published I have written eleven more novels. Discipline is, for me, an essential component of the creative life (which is why I was up at 06h30 this morning in Manhattan, writing this introduction). But so too is the need to change direction, to find different voices, to avoid the pitfalls of repetition.

Certainly, given the cult success of Piege Nuptial and the worldwide success of The Big Picture I could have comfortably slotted into a niche of writing upscale intelligent polars for the rest of my life. And indeed my American publisher of the era told me: if I could write a novel like The Big Picture every year my future as a bestselling novelist would be assured.

My response was The Job /  Les Désarrois de Ned Allen,­ a polar that was also a critique of corporate America and the venality lurking behind the shiny surface of our hyper-mercantile culture. And when my career in the States imploded after I changed fictional course and wrote The Pursuit of Happiness / La Poursuite du Bonheur, my response was a very dark moral tale about the dangers of American­-style success, Losing It / Rien ne va Plus ­which is set very much in that sun struck beachfront playground of ambition called Los Angeles, and which is a decline and fall story about the dangers of getting exactly what you’ve always craved.

Indeed, if there is a thematic constant in the four novels contained in this first volume of the omnibus edition of my novels, it is the way we are inevitably the architects of our own cul­-de-­sacs. Never underestimate the human need to entrap yourself in a life you don’t want, or to set yourself up for an immense fall from grace. Just as the novels also address the way that a sudden action, a wrong turn in the road, can completely change the trajectory of your existence. In short, all the themes contained herein were the white noise of my childhood. But as difficult and challenging it was to be raised by two parents who were so unhappy in their own respective lives, it did make me an intensely independent man, and one who, from a young age, was always observing the mad dance of human behaviour. I think Freud got it right when he noted that we all act out, in adult life, the hurts and traumas of our early years. Novelists get to do this in a public way (even if the act of writing is an intensely private one). Re­reading the four novels contained in this volume, it is clear to me that, from the outset of my work as a novelist, I really have been reshaping the self-entrapment themes that overshadowed my early experiences of family life. That’s the thing about being raised in the middle of a profoundly unhappy, angry marriage: though it left me anxious and edgy and still somewhat neurotic, it was also something of a gift. Because it gave me so much material.

­ D.K.
New York, NY
February 2015

Why I write

As I am in the midst of a book tour to promote the French edition of my new novel “Mirage” around France (complete schedule here: http://bit.ly/DKEvents), I’d like to tell a story which sums up in many ways why I write.

At one of my public ‘rencontres’, a reader had stood in line for around an hour to have me sign a copy of ‘Quitter le Monde’ (“Leaving the World”) in the small city in the centre of France. When she reached the desk where I was signing she started to cry. And told me that she had finally met the man of her life when she was in her late thirties, and after much disappointment, finally fell pregnant at the age of forty-two. She gave birth to a girl – and her daughter brought her a happiness that she never knew was possible. And just last year, at the age of six, her so beloved daughter had died of cancer.

It was a sorrow beyond dreams she told me. But then I read ‘Quitter le Monde’ [which, among things, deals with the death of a child], “and I came to realize that I was not alone”.

I stood up and hugged her, telling her: “Madame, you have justified my existence”.

The truth is, we all read to remind ourselves we are not alone.

On which note: where does reading bring you personally?

Thirty: A Short Story

He’s asked me to marry him. This is not good news. This is not bad news. This is in-between news, which means that there is a degree of ambivalence involved. And ambivalence, as we all know, is that ‘no man’s land’ in matters of the heart. Ambivalence is that sage little voice in the back of your head—also known as instinct—telling you: ‘You know this isn’t totally right, so why not consider the door marked ‘Exit?’”

Doubt. I have considerable doubts about John. My parents, on the other hand, think he is ‘excellent husband material.’ Those were my father’s exact words, as if I was choosing a fabric to re-cover a sofa that was frayed and collapsing. Come to think of it, my father—a very successful dentist in New Jersey—does think of my life to date as something akin to the sort of broken-down piece of furniture you’d find in a Boho apartment. Like my own.

If you are the daughter of a dentist, especially from New Jersey (the ultimate in bland professional class suburbia), you are not going to win parental approval for attempting to forge a career as an abstract expressionist painter in the demi-monde precincts of Brooklyn. Or by having a torrid two-year involvement with a baba-cool art professor twenty-five years your senior (who turned out to be an emotional cripple). Or then switching to a Puerto Rican sculptor with a growing dependence on crystal meth (but he did have talent). Or bartending to make the rent every month on a shabby two-bedroom apartment that you share with three others. Or still not being able to find a gallery willing to take me on as a painter (and in the New York art world, a painter without a gallery behind her is like a novelist without an agent: someone who, in that most competitive of creative cultures, is going nowhere fast).

So yes, my orthodontist Dad—and my stay-at-home housewife Mom (who rather loves her lot in life as a lady who lunches and loiters with intent at the local country club where she is the Queen of the over-fifties tennis circuit)—have despaired of me for years. Truth be told, ever since I graduated from that very expensive college for creative neurotics (Sarah Lawrence), I’ve despaired of me as well. Even though, to the outward world, I’ve always projected edgy arrogance. I was winning visual art prizes throughout college. I spent several years after graduating in Berlin, initially on a fellowship, then living in a warehouse studio space in a grubby district called Wedding, falling into bed with an ongoing cavalcade of unsuitable men (only I would find myself intertwined for a few weeks with a near bipolar Serbo-Croat conceptual artist), and existing on very little (which is one of Berlin’s many attributes —which it is why it is a magnet for so-called emerging artists like me—‘emerging’ being a synonym for ‘nowheresville’).

I did manage to get into a group show in Berlin. A gallery owner from New York saw it, took down my name, emailed me, told me that he might consider representing me. But if I wanted a chance at a big city career, I should get back to the big city.

This was around the time that my relationship with Novak—the manic Serbo-Croat (is that a tautology?)—was in meltdown. I had begun to realize that I could tread water for years, even a few decades, in Berlin, bolstered by my super-cheap rent, the odd painting sold, some part-time teaching work at the American Academy, and the one thousand dollars a month from Daddy (not requested, but when he saw my ‘La Bohème’ existence on a visit there a few months after I’d settled in, he insisted on ‘a financial top-up’ each month, and as I could live nicely for a grand a month in Berlin… Knowing what he made straightening our suburban brats’ teeth in Morristown, New Jersey, I didn’t say no).

Anyway I had a great setup in Berlin and even had interest from a gallery in Mitte in perhaps taking me on. But one of the problems with being a kid who grew up in the shadow of Manhattan—and who thought that the only real success to be had on the planet was that to be achieved in that playpen of vertical ambition called New York—is that anything not New York is not true achievement. So back I went.

A bad call is always reparable if you choose to acknowledge the error and embrace the gods of change. In my case, having realized my error within several months of landing back in New York, I convinced myself that I had to fight forward in the art world there (even though my instincts kept whispering to me to get back on the plane to Berlin). After living at home for two desperate months (suburban ennui after all that edgy German realpolitik) before finding a mattress on the floor of a friend’s place in Flatbush (not exactly the most BoHo corner of Brooklyn), I then bartended my way into Williamsburg and a tiny bedroom (for $800 a month) in a crazed shared apartment with three other artist/writer/standup comedian hopefuls. Everyone was a ‘hopeful’ in Brooklyn, all working other jobs while trying to somehow find a way of breaking through that membrane, the other side of which is being accepted into the club of the successfully creative.

Of course the gallery owner who showed interest in the work she saw in Berlin decided that I didn’t have a substantial enough ‘oeuvre’ to date for her to take me on. I knocked on just about every other gallerist’s door in the city only to be told, more or less, the same thing: some interesting work, not significant enough to be embraced just yet (i.e., sold), but do keep working, do get back to us.

I kept working, finding a cheap studio space in Red Hook, still bartending, still running through interesting, inappropriate men (all of whom were from the arrested development side of the park), still traveling hopefully, conscious of now being in my late twenties, of the forward momentum of time, of the charm of the BoHo life subsiding, of hating the fact that I was still dependent on the fifteen hundred per month that I now got from Daddy to let me function in the big city. Add to this the fifteen hundred that I cleared from bartending per month, four hundred to the tax man, eight hundred in rent, three hundred in utilities and my cellphone, and I had three hundred and fifty dollars a week to pay for groceries and live in one of the most culturally bracing (and bracingly expensive) cities on the planet.

Just eight months ago a lucky break came my way: I subbed for a friend who teaches art at a very elite, very expensive private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My friend was going off on maternity leave. I seemed to impress the principal and the students. I was offered her post for the next year at a salary of fifty thousand—a small fortune for me, though exactly the same amount that each of my students’ parents was paying in annual tuition for their child to be there. I was hardly complaining. I took to teaching instantly. I liked the kids. I stayed out of the internecine world of the staff room. I knew that, come June, I’d be gone from there—back to scrambling for a living, back to bartending, back to the studio in Red Hook and the ongoing voice of doubt insidiously whispering in my ear: do you really think you’re an artist?

And then Bob Bannister came into my life. He was the father of one of my fifth grade students, Molly. He was something on Wall Street. Harvard Business School. Forty-one. Trim. Sort of handsome (he was going bald). Divorced. Thoroughly nice. As straight and responsible and anodyne as they come. As such, he was unlike anyone I had ever become involved with before.

His wife had left him for an investment banker colleague two years earlier. Bob and his wife had lived in the very white bread suburb of Old Greenwich, commuting daily into the city. When Bobbi (can you imagine being married to a woman named Bobbi?) fell in love with her colleague, she moved into his big deal loft in SoHo (only bankers can afford SoHo these days), leaving Bob the house in Old Greenwich at which Molly spent every other weekend and which Bob wanted to hold on to, as it provided a sense of continuity in his daughter’s still-young life, and because he was a suburban boy who preferred the tidy hissing of summer lawns world of such communities to urban grit. One other key detail kept him in the ‘burbs: he was a serious golfer and the golf course in Old Greenwich was just a seven minute drive from his house.

I got to know him at a parent/teacher event. He surprised me by asking me out. I surprised myself by accepting. He tried to dress hip for our first date, but a black leather jacket never works with pressed khakis and a blue button-down Brooks Brother shirt. Still, he did show a certain sharp sense of humor, and an openness to my world (he’d read up a great deal on abstract expressionism). And he did let it be known that he was making close to $1 million a year.

What did he see in me? He told me early on that I was unlike anyone he’d ever known, that he believed in me as an artist, that he knew I’d have the great breakthrough so far denied to me.

What did I see in him? Decency, steadiness, safety. And, yes, support. I was used to wild, dangerous men. Passionate. Erratic. Compelling…until they tipped over the pathological edge. Bob was none of the above. He was hyper-responsible, hypercorrect. As a lover he told me that, before me, he’d never known true passion before. With me (entre nous) he was passable in bed. He tried very hard. He aimed to please. But this was a man who admitted he had no creative side, who rarely read, who agreed to come to the cultural events I dragged him to as a way of pleasing me, who was so much the golf club type. Sex with Bob was, at best, modestly pleasant. As erotic as vanilla ice cream.

And yes, I found him emotionally limited, with moments of little boy neediness. But at the same time, he insisted on paying for a better studio space for me in lower Manhattan. And he brought me to Paris for a week. And he didn’t try to change the way I dressed, or the friends I still saw from Williamsburg (who would drop all sorts of comments about my button-down Wall Street boyfriend). And when I turned thirty just a few days ago, besides taking us skiing at some uber-chic resort in Wyoming, he also presented me with an engagement ring and the hope that I would marry him.

His timing was shrewd. My contract with the school had just expired, and during the year I was there, we’d kept our relationship circumspect, out of his daughter’s sight (so she didn’t have to cope with her art teacher dating her Dad). But he also knew that I was about to revert back to that hand-to-mouth bartending existence I’d previously lived. Along with the ring came the promise of so much: yes, we’d live in Old Greenwich, but he’d have the garage renovated into a studio. And yes, he’d continue to subsidize the studio space for me in Manhattan. And even when we started having children—he was the first to propose this even though I always knew that I did want kids and often despaired in Brooklyn that I’d eventually be one of those forty-five year olds who’d had a maternity bypass—he would subsidize all the necessary childcare to allow me to continue as an artist.

Did I say yes on the spot?

I did…even though, as I accepted his proposal, I felt the most profound attack of ambivalence as I saw myself a decade from now, running my children to school in a Volvo SUV, returning to a studio that I little used, as the heavily upholstered contours of my Old Greenwich suburban existence had long since made me consider painting to be a tertiary activity…given how busy I was also being super-Mom and super-wife to a man with whom sex had become a twice weekly quasi-indifferent event, with whom I could never intellectually connect, a man who was now priding himself on being the chairman of the Old Greenwich Golf Club, and who could get just a little tetchy and disappointed if his wife wasn’t on his arm every weekend at the club.

And I would look back on that moment in Vail when he opened the box and showed me the ring and asked me to be his wife. And I would think: so this is what is meant by a Faustian Bargain, of the sorts made by countless women in countless 19th century English big house novels; the casting off of the bohemian veneer and the return to that which your class and background destined you to be—in my case, following my footsteps of my stay-at-home Mom by becoming a post-feminist version thereof. And how turning thirty is such a dangerous juncture. Because you mistakenly think that you have to get serious now, have to cast off your louche ways, have to become adult. Especially as, for a woman, the maternity issues begins to quietly loom.

He will give me a very comfortable existence. He will be a splendid provider. He’s too anodyne and correct to ever cheat on me. He has a good heart. He has promised me nothing will change in my life as a wannabe artist. But everything will change. Because I will no longer be living near the edge, near the danger zone that is so necessary for creative frisson. Because I will become a somewhat more worldly version of my mother and, in time, a suburban matron.

Part of me wants to now hand him back his ring. And jump a cab to the airport. And go back to my crash pad of an apartment in Brooklyn. And wake up my once-time fuck buddy Zack—still trying to finish a novel at the age of thirty-eight—and smoke some of his insane weed and fuck his brains out until sunup (because sex is stoner Zack’s most discernible talent). And when I wake up the next morning…

Then what? That’s the damnable question.

And here is Bob, coming back from brushing his teeth in the bathroom, wearing the hotel bathrobe and slippers, looking so amazingly pleased to have me in his field of vision, and telling me we are going to be such a great couple, such a great team. And me thinking…


Manifold jumbled, contradictory thoughts. But looming large above them all is one reflection so direct, so simple, so chilling in its larger implications that I vow immediately not to consider all the subtext ricocheting off the walls of my brain right now.

And what is this all-telling, revelatory reflection?

He’s the safe choice.

My Interview with Nina Darnton

In anticipation of her forthcoming release, The Perfect MotherNina Darnton, fellow colleague in the literary arts, interviewed me. Our talk centered around the circumstances that leave us tethered to our own ennui and careers in noveling.

Five Days centers around a woman who is in stasis. She is dissatisfied, but unable to imagine a departure from the only life she knows. Is Five Days meant to inspire readers to bravely pursue change in their own lives?

Pop psychology – especially of the afternoon television variety – is full of exhortations to change yourself.  Indeed, the notion of self-reinvention is as American as ‘you can be what you want to be’ (another specious directive). But, without question, the verb ‘to change’ is one of the more daunting in this or any other language. As such I wrote Five Days, in part, as an exploration of the vertiginous nature of change – and how desperately hard it is to enact… even when you realize that it is the one and only conduit out of personal despair. But underscoring this thought is a thorny existential question with which the novel also grapples: is unhappiness also a choice?

Your novels lead readers to question whether one is responsible for one’s own happiness. When our lives go terribly wrong, are we ourselves to blame? Or are we only to blame for how we deal with what life hands us?

I have friends whose lives are something akin to the Book of Job – desperate tragedies (like the loss of a child), immense personal dilemmas, huge professional setbacks – and who have still managed not just to carry on, but to actually live. Just as I have known others for whom a setback or a reversal of fortune triggers a downward spiral into an abyss. In life, everything is interpretation. And how you interpret a calamity speaks volumes not just about your worldview, but the way you grapple with the most arduous problem going: yourself. For this reason I do believe very profoundly that even when fate deals you some truly terrible cards, there is choice as to how you play them… and how (or if) you recover from them. To revert to my very existential perspective: we are alone in a frequently hostile world. And we are ultimately responsible for our own actions and decisions and choices in the wake of everything (both good and bad) that life tosses into our path.

The modern American psyche seems ingrained with many conventional moralities to which we adhere out of a sense of obligation. Your protagonist Laura, in Five Days, is conflicted between her rigid sense of duty toward family and career and her sudden realization of the endless possibilities of love. How does one reconcile such moral complexities?

I have lived, part-time, in France for the past fifteen years. I have attained fluency in their language, and my work as a novelist has been so embraced by that extraordinary country. The French have a rather Cartesian standpoint when it comes to compartmentalization – the idea that you can have manifold different rooms within your intimate life. As such, adultery is not considered the massive character flaw that it is looked upon in the States. And one of the questions that certain American readers have raised, vis-à-vis Five Days, is: ‘Is the novel a defense of an extra-marital affair?’ In truth, the novel is asking: when you have reached that juncture when you are no longer responsible for the day-to-day welfare of your children – and when you accept that your marriage has flat-lined – what then? I fully believe that the only person responsible for your happiness (or lack thereof) is yourself. And again, everything is a question of choice. Say you are in a relationship where your partner undermines your sense of self. It is ultimately your choice to stay or go (and yes, we can all cite financial/familial/practical reasons why to stay put, even if we know it is bad for our emotional health). Just as it is also a choice to step over the threshold into an extra-marital affair as a way of perhaps precipitating necessary change, or to (conversely) remain faithful to someone you no longer love. The fact is: I have big problems with people who act the role of Puritan Hanging Judge when it comes to matters of fidelity and the complexities of the human heart.  We cannot impose a Manichean standpoint on matters of sex and long-term relationships. In such realms, there are no black or white answers: it’s all intriguingly grey. Which is what makes it so interesting for a novelist.

My novel, The Perfect Mother, also centers around a woman at the crossroads of middle age, largely defined by her role as wife and mother. What is it about these women that create such deeply compelling stories?

My mother was a highly educated woman with professional aspirations who, in classic mid-century American style, became a housewife after her first child (yours truly) was born. My parents had a wildly combustive marriage – so, from the outset of my life, I had a ringside seat at this ongoing pyrotechnic display of domestic dysfunction and toxic self-entrapment. Owing to all that I have a profoundly feminist point-of-view as a novelist (and as a man). And even though there has been so much progress made in the sexual equality realm since my childhood, the fact remains that the question of individuality and maternity is one with which so many women still struggle. There are many quarters within modern society where the unapologetically careerist woman is looked down upon as seemingly unfulfilled. Just as the woman who is not interested in marriage and family – and (shock, horror) is comfortable with transient sex (like so many men) – is also still considered by many to be aberrant. Sexual politics – especially vis-à-vis the roles we are told we still have to play – forms an underpinning for so many of my novels. Because these politics so inform the way we live now.

You have talked publicly about some of the highs and lows of your personal history. How much have your own experiences with marriage and parenthood dictated the choice of this subject matter in your work?

Outside of a story once commissioned by the BBC, I have never written anything directly autobiographical. Having said that all fiction is, on a certain level, autobiographical. Even if you are writing about people and circumstances far removed from your own you are still grappling with the pathologies and angsts that drive your own life. As E.L. Doctorow once noted: ‘Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.’

Like myself, you previously had a career as a writer, but not as a writer of novels. What led you to make the transition?

I left the United States at the age of twenty-two, fleeing familial mère and paternal pressure to do something ‘sensible,’ like become a lawyer. I ran away to Dublin, co-founded a fringe theatre company, and then was appointed to run The Abbey Theatre’s experimental studio, The Peacock. I started to write late at night (I still do), and sold my first play to BBC Radio when I was twenty-four. I quit my job at The Abbey in 1983, determined to become a writer. I had five subsequent plays produced (none very good), and paid my bills by writing for Irish newspapers. I was even a columnist on the famed Irish Times until a new editor arrived and showed me the door (he didn’t like my style). But that setback proved revelatory – as it forced me to finish my first book and move to London. When Beyond the Pyramids was published by Allen and Unwin in 1988 (and subsequently by Henry Holt in the States), I also began a parallel career as a freelance journalist, writing for such disparate publications as The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, and the British editions of GQ and Esquire. London journalism at the end of the last century was, in a word, a blast (until the internet and Murdochization set it back significantly). But I used it to support my book habit, and wrote two subsequent narrative travel books and my first novel during my first five years in London. In 1996 I delivered my second novel, The Big Picture, and had my first taste of major international success – but the fact that I was forty-one when I had this first great breakthrough meant that I already understood that success is a fragile veneer, and that a key to a long literary career (and I am about to see the publication of my twelfth novel in 2015) is about perseverance and (as my maternal grandfather was fond of noting) never falling in love with the aroma of your own perfume. Which is wise counsel that I repeat to myself every morning before writing my daily quota of five hundred words. A long career is also about discipline – especially as writing still remains, for me, a confidence trick you play on yourself.

Nina Darnton’s novel, The Perfect Mother, is on shelves today. You can find her at: www.ninadarnton.com, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Hit and Run (A Short Story)

She’d left me for a dermatologist; a balding, golf-playing, medical practice on Park Avenue quasi-hot shot; the sort of guy who bragged about being defiantly anti-intellectual and whose idea of a novelist was Dan Brown (and that ‘novel’ was the first proper book – outside of how to improve your golf handicap – that he’d read in four years).

I knew all these details about Frank Pelt (imagine a dermatologist called Frank Pelt) because my soon-to-be ex-wife revealed all when she informed me that she was leaving me for Doctor Pelt. It didn’t matter that the guy looked like a nebbish. Or that several of our mutual friends who met him reported that he was this side of a bore, and that he couldn’t believe his luck – a schlemiel like him – landing a babe like my wife. And though I pleaded on several occasions with Megan to give us a second chance, she informed me:

“He may not be as nimble or thoughtful as you are – but he’s simple in a good way. And I need simple now. I can’t live anymore in the realm of metaphor”.

Simple in a good way. She made him sound like Mom’s Home Cooking. Or the male equivalent of vanilla ice cream. Mr. Uncomplicated. Mr. Unartful. Mr. Bland.

Still I couldn’t argue with Megan when it came to my alleged complexity. I teach creative writing at Brooklyn College. We have a daughter, Annalisa, who is just nine years old. I make just fifty thousand a year as an adjunct professor, and though I’ve had three small, well-received volumes of my poetry published, my net earnings from my writings (or outside lectures on matters poetic) maybe totaled five grand last year. And Megan – who had been a special needs teacher in a school for autistic children near our cramped apartment in Flatbush (still one of the last unreconstructed, un-Yuppified corners of Brooklyn) – had gotten herself a part-time MBA and retrained as a mutual fund specialist, landing a Wall Street job that had her working twelve hour days.

I should have read all the telltale signs – the ‘meetings’ that went on until ten at night; the weekend business conferences in Bermuda; the way I often felt that she seemed already spent when making love to me after arriving home ‘after a long night tracking the Dow”.

And when she dropped the bombshell that she was moving out to chez Frank Pelt in Old Greenwich (the guy would live in the ultimate suburban whitebread WASP town), the shock was beyond massive. Ok, our marriage had not been exactly a paragon of calm for the past two years. And yes, I’m not exactly the cleverest chap when it comes to the management of money. And yes, we had been almost four months in arrears on our mortgage – owing to my insisting we spend last summer in Paris when it looked like Esquire was going to pay me $20k for a long essay on the state of American letters, and we went into massive credit card debt to fund the trip, and then the editor at Esquire passed on the piece, even though I’d told Megan that the essay had been actually commissioned. Having been caught out in a lie, she told me that I was beyond irresponsible. And to show me just how responsible she was she finished the MBA course in record time and landed the job with the mutual fund group. Then she had an attack of psoriasis due to the stress of her new job (and, truth be told, the downward slide of our marriage). The company doctor dispatched her to some hotshot Park Avenue dermatologist: the famous Frank Pelt. A divorced father of three. Late sixties – which meant there was a twenty-four year age gap between Megan and her new man. On the night she moved out – despite my entreaties, my declarations that I would change – I started writing a poem called “Daddy Complex”.

To this day it remains unfinished.

I now see my daughter every other weekend. She tells me that Frank Pelt wants to be her other Daddy and that he’s promised her a set of golf clubs for Christmas (only an asshole from Old Greenwich gives a nine year old a set of golf clubs). She tells me that she has a new flat-screen television in her bedroom, and that Frank Pelt was bringing her and Mommy to Orlando before school started in September. And though she did tell me “you will always be my Number One Daddy”, I could see – during her four days with me per month – that she regarded the two bedroom apartment in flat-lined Flatbush she once called home to now be shabby, down-at-heel, very much the wrong end of town (all sadly true).

Meanwhile she was living in one of those picture postcard white faux colonial homes that exude a tidy, well-manicured front lawn view of life. And yes there was a pool out back. I knew all this because I was stalking the place on a regular basis. And by stalking I mean viewing the house’s comings-and-goings from the vantage point of a house for sale opposite theirs, with no one in residency and a big garden wall behind which I could lurk. I found this place on the evening I drove up to Old Greenwich, walked the ten minutes in the dark from a supermarket parking lot to the road on which they lived, discovered the For Sale sign in front of the vacant facing home, and discovered that I could position myself behind its wall (which had little gun-sniper-style apertures bricked into its design) and spend a few hours observing my family’s new life.

So I watched my daughter in the kitchen being made dinner by the Hispanic-looking au pair that my wife and her new man had engaged. And I watched Megan walking in from work and having my daughter throw herself into her arms (and me choking back sobs, simultaneously thinking just how fucked up I now was, crouching down behind this wall, glimpsing from afar the two people who still mean more to me than anyone else in this mess called life, and who I would do anything to get back).

Of course I also saw Doctor Pelt at play with my girls. All chummy and Daddy-esque with Annalisa. All Fuck Daddy with my wife. Seeing them (at moments when Annalisa was out of the room) get all pre-coital and sexual struck me as nothing short of a taste crime. Especially since her own father was just four years older than the senior citizen she was now allowing between her legs.

Yes I was losing my equilibrium. Yes I was consumed by a rage and a jealousy that I found difficult grappling with. But I also knew there was a solution. A way of getting this geriatric out of my life and my girls back to me. A solution that was a narration – and one with a decided plot twist.

Doctor Pelt drove one of those new Jaguar sports cars – one hundred grand worth of British engineering, a convertible, in “I’m not a senior citizen” rouged red. I knew that, from observation, he often left his keyless remote control in the car (as Old Greenwich was one of those places where crime was virtually non-existent). Just as I also knew (because Annalisa told me over the phone, all excited) that her mother was bringing her to see The Lion King on Broadway this Thursday. I took a gamble and drove up Old Greenwich. I was in front of Pelt’s house just before nine. I had my iPhone with me and used an app to see if the good doctor was online just now. He wasn’t. But he was watching television (as I had a clear view of the big set he was parked in front of). And he wasn’t on the phone right now (a crucial detail to the story I was constructing, as I knew what I was about to do ran a risk of being contradicted by phone or internet records). But it was well after nine. No one in places like Old Greenwich call each other so late. And I doubted a dermatologist received professional calls about an outbreak of acne at this hour of the evening. And he was engrossed in a baseball game. So…

I was certain I could pull it off.

But I had also taken precautions. Such as the plastic jump suit that was packed in my backpack and which I now pulled over all my clothes. And the plastic booties that I slipped on over my sneakers. And the surgical gloves I snapped on to both hands.

Then, charging commando style across the street, I quietly opened the door to his Jaguar and gambled that the double glazing which Megan once mentioned to me (“Frank really likes to block out the outside world”) would muffle the sound of me hitting the start button in his car (yes, the keys were right there on the passenger seat – ah, the laissez-faire sense of trust that an upscale suburb engenders) and then driving off.

But not driving that far. Because my plan was to head to the road that led the train station and await the 21.12 from Grand Central Station. Which is exactly what I did. Then, in the manner of Darwinian Random Selection, I waited until the last car left the station. As it was late there was little in the way of heavy traffic. And there was only one passenger walking home. I spied him as a man in his early sixties; a business type, all Brooks Brothers button down, with closed cropped hair, carrying a dull little briefcase. I waited for five minutes, until he vanished from immediate view down the street and until I was certain there was absolutely no one else on the road. Then I hit the ignition and drove along until I caught up with Mr. Suit. Seeing there was a lamppost up ahead, in front of which he was about to walk, I suddenly revved the engine and directed the car right at him, smashing into him in such a way that his body was thrown against the lamppost and the car rammed him with full frontal impact . I saw his face at the moment of this violent encroachment. Silent shock, followed by instant lifelessness. I backed up instantly. I drove within the speed limit all the way back to the doctor’s house, fearing a roving cop car might see the dented mess that was the front of the Jaguar and pull me over. But my luck held.

I pulled up in front of Doctor Pelt’s house. I parked the car. I closed the door ever so quietly. I hid behind the opposing wall and pulled off the gloves, the booties, the plastic jump suit. I walked to the supermarket parking lot where I had left my car (and there were a good twenty cars always left there overnight, so my vehicle didn’t stand out). I drove south to Brooklyn. I dumped the knapsack with the jump suit and all other incriminating evidence into a dumpster on Flatbush Avenue. I spent the next seventy-two hours fully expecting the door to burst open and the cops to rush in. But what happened instead was…

A cause celebre. As in the following New York Post headline:

Park Avenue Dermatologist in Hit and Run Death, Can’t Explain His Whereabouts at the time of grisly death just half-mile from his Front Door. Connecticut DA says he will press for First-Degree Manslaughter Conviction.

Of course Pelt’s career was finished after all that. Of course he kept maintaining his innocence, kept saying someone else borrowed the car and did the deed. Of course the police interviewed me – at Megan’s urging, no doubt. And I had an airtight alibi. Home online, watching a download of all four hours of Jean Eustache’s 1976 rive gauche classic, “La Maman et La Putain” – which I had indeed downloaded and allowed to spin out while I drove to-and-from Old Greenwich. Yes they didn’t totally buy this at first. But criminal investigations often hinge on who is telling the story that doesn’t infringe the limits of credibility. And when the cop asked me details about the film, I was (having owned the DVD for years) able to verify my fresh knowledge of its intellectual talk-a-thon twists-and-turns. Just as I argued rather rigorously about the fact as, though I certainly didn’t like the fact that Pelt had taken up with my wife and quasi-adopted my daughter, I had no interest in seeing him harmed, as I was pleased (given my own precarious circumstances) that he was giving my wife and daughter such a good life.

My luck held. No reports were apparently made of a strange man lurking in the neighborhood of Pelt’s house – because, of course, I parked ten minutes away and had walked the streets there when Old Greenwich was empty, vacant, shut up for the night. The good doctor was not on his computer or phone in the quarter-hour when I slammed into that businessman – so he had no alibi, no way of disproving that he was behind the wheel, especially as the DNA tests run on the car showed none but his own.

I read all this in the tabloid press. I read how his patients were abandoning him, how the American Medical Association was calling for his revocation of his medical license, how Megan had left him.

And then, on the morning when I was supposed to pick up Annalisa, I received the following email from my still-wife.

“I know you did it. Just as I also know it will be impossible for me to prove you did it. You covered your tracks brilliantly. And now I am going to cover mine. Forever”.

And with that she disappeared. With our daughter. Went right off the radar. Vanished completely. As the doctor was being arranged for manslaughter – and eventually accepted a plea bargain of five years and $2 million compensation to the widow of the man he didn’t run over – all contact between myself and my ex-wife ceased. The longing I had for my daughter was overwhelming. The desire to find some way of reestablishing my life with Megan huge. But – as a private detective who charged me $150 for thirty minutes of his time told me: – “She is clearly telling you: buzz off. And she is clearly doing everything in her power to keep you as far away from her as possible. But if you feel like dropping $20k I am happy to find her for you. But when I do find her, then what? Do you really think she’ll welcome you back with open arms, after what’s happened? The way I see it, she thinks you got away with it. Now I’m not saying you’re the guilty party here… but if you start pressing her, who’s to say you’re still going to be found innocent? My advice to you – as hard as it is – let the whole matter drop. And maybe your daughter, when she’s of a certain age, will want to make contact again with her father…”

Not after her mother has spent years telling her that I am a murderer.

And the man I murdered? A Wall Street lawyer named Brent Sanders. A Vietnam vet. Married to the same woman for thirty-eight years. Father of four children, all of whom were devastated by his death, while his wife still can’t get beyond the horror of it all (all this gleaned from the New York Post).

But I did get away with it all, didn’t I? I teach my classes. I come home to my dismal apartment. I try to write. I fail. I see my daughter’s yearning face all moments of the day. I see Brent Sanders everywhere. I sleep little. Frank Pelt has just started his prison sentence, and the family of Brent Sanders are furious that he has been sent to a minimum security facility; that he should pay more for what he’s done.

But it’s me who’s also paying. Silently. Stealthily. Daily. Without letup.

I’ve gotten away with it indeed.

And there is no future beyond that last thought. Except:

Getting away with it is a life sentence.

Beirut, Part I

Of course, many of my friends in the States expressed questions about the state of my sanity when I told them I was about to spend several days in Beirut.

“Is getting kidnapped by Islamic crazies your idea of a good time?” a New York chum asked, reminding me of that much-reported incident several months back when two Turkish Airways pilots were nicked after landing in the Lebanese capital, and were only recently released in exchange for nine Lebanese Shiites held by Syrian rebels.

A pilot friend in Paris, citing the same incident, informed me that whenever he flew to Beirut, he was less than comfortable on the road in from the airport to his hotel. Then there was the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who issued a statement some months back as the Syrian situation grew even more nasty, stating that Americans should not, under any circumstances, travel to Lebanon.

But I have two passports: an American and an Irish one. It was a no-brainer which one I was going to use upon arrival in Beirut. Anyway, the few times I Googled “Recent Lebanese Kidnappings,” all that came up was that sole incident involving the unfortunate Turkish pilots

“See, it was just an one-off event” I told one skeptical friend who, quoting Raymond Chandler, asked me if ‘trouble was my business.’”

“The thing about Lebanon” he said, “is that you don’t really know what you’re walking into.”

To which the compulsive traveler in me – and one who is always suspicious of the external images often imposed on a terrain – could only think:

We certainly like to categorize the unknown.

And for most people beyond the Middle East, Beirut remains just that: the dangerous unknown…