Delson tells the story of this improbable love affair through the voices of Maynard and Jennica, along with their family, friends, and assorted characters (among them two attorneys, three journalists, and a rap star) pulled into their dizzying orbit.He brings to life a pair of lovers who are flawed, complex, at once eccentric and deeply familiar—and in whose story we continue to feel invested long after we’ve turned the last page.
In the words of Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, “this book is the reason we should all read first novels.”
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JOAN TATE, tipsy after another revelatory lunch with her son, illustrates her point (early August 2000):
Here’s a famous story. And remember that I am his mother, so the fact that I am the one telling you this—that tells you something. It’s a famous story, and it shows you what kind of a person Manny is.
The year was—. Well, Scott and I had just sold the place on 72nd Street, so it was 1973, and Manny would have been nine years old. We were living in a three-bedroom on West 10th. It was rent-controlled and had twelve- foot ceilings, and you don’t want to know what we paid. We paid one-fifteen a month.
And when we lived on West 10th, Manny would wait for the school bus on 6th Avenue, on the corner, in front of Balducci’s. He went to school uptown, and the school had its own buses. So Manny and Dave Fowler and the other kids whose parents lived in the Village would all wait on that corner together, in front of Balducci’s, for the little squat yellow school bus. There was an air vent that blew warm air onto the sidewalk, and on cold mornings in the winter the kids would all fight over who got to stand under that vent. Dave Fowler, with his little backpack, would time the other kids on his wristwatch so they would all get their turn.
Except for Manny, who didn’t want to stand under the vent, and who never wore a hat, and who wanted to wait for the bus twenty feet away, in the ice and the snow, shivering.
Well, I asked him about it, and he said, “The air comes from Balducci’s cheese counter. It smells like what Dad eats.” Scott had this one unpasteurized Camembert he liked, which smelled like—which you just had to have smelled. Manny said, “Smells are the result of microscopic particles in the air, and I do not want microscopic particles of cheese hitting my head like meteors.” I told him that if he would just wear his stocking cap, then the smell wouldn’t get into his hair. And he said, “Stocking caps are undignified.” Well, I was his mother, I knew better than to try to argue with him about that, but I did ask him whether there was any kind of hat that he would consider dignified. So that he might wear a hat in the cold. And he said, “A bowler.” That was how we settled it. I made Scott take Manny uptown to find him a bowler.
It just goes to show you what kind of a nine-year-old Manny was. And it also goes to show you that he was the same then as he is now: fussy about the unlikeliest things, and picky, and obstinant—obstinate, and prepared to suffer for the strangest reasons. And so now, now when he tells me over lunch that he wants to change? Well, I am his mother—of course I am elated.
He says that the motes—the scales have fallen from his eyes. He says that he is tired of making things difficult for himself, that he’s tired of being in debt. This is the first I have heard about him being in debt, but he’s tired of it. He even told me he wants to take his romances more seriously. Might it be that now, now that Manny is thirty-six years old, I am finally going to get to meet one of his girlfriends? What kind of women is he even attracted to?
JENNICA GREEN, who never has any luck on Valentine’s Day, describes the evening of her boyfriend’s arrest (mid-February 2001):
This is so going to make me sound like one of those women, and I so am not one of those women.
All afternoon it was as if the city was as oblivious as I was to what was happening. Right up until two minutes before Arnie called from the police station, the city was, like, intent on being gorgeous. With the snow, and the serenity, and my first afternoon off in months. Deceiving me, you know? All afternoon I’d been communing peacefully with the awnings and the fire escapes and the lampposts. The elegant side of Soho. The wet black iron and the fresh white snow, in relief against each other. The sapphire light, the deep-sea light of a snowy day.
But sure enough, at five o’clock, just as I need to get a cab and get home and get packed, the snow . . . devolves into sleet.
The pretty drifts on the fire escapes and lampposts? Melting and drooling down, onto me. All the snowbanks on the sidewalk? Melting, simultaneously. The gutters are inundated. Frothing up this . . . filth. Ice, cigarettes, cellophane, flooding the street. The sewer grates are overcome. Spewing dirty water. Of course my umbrella is funneling the sleet straight into my shopping bags. And it’s dark, and my cell phone starts ringing, but I can’t get it.
Bear in mind, I’d been at work that morning. In my decent clothes. My black zipper boots? Sopping. My black coat? Sopping. The sleeve of my sweater? Like a wick, just sucking all this clammy, icy whatever straight from the stem of my uumbrella up to my armpit. If you come from San Jose, California, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in New York, you feel so . . . vulnerable tooooo shabbiness.
I get to 6th Avenue, looking for a cab. And of course on 6th Avenue the wind tries to mug me. It has its fists wheeling. Wham, across my face. Wham, my bags are flailing around everywhere. And I’m trying to fend it off with my umbrella, but my umbrella is doing that gagging thing. You know, that thing umbrellas do when the wind gets them? Where they look like a cat coughing up a hairball? The only way I can keep my umbrella alive is by pointing it directly into the wind, which blocks my view down 6th Avenue, practically. And my cell phone is still going off, but I suddenly see this cab.
I don’t have a free hand, so I hail it with my umbrella. Getting myself even more drenched. But the cab starts flashing its turn signal. So it’s my cab, right? I got soaked trying to hail it, so it’s my cab. Right?
Which is when the crazy German woman materializes.
The cab had stopped . . . ten feet away from me? Fifteen? But from nowhere this crazy German woman has appeared and is opening the door to my cab.
She is dry. She has a cigarette in her hand, which she is putting out, and she has a muffin, which she is putting into her pocket. Getting in my cab. Huge, curly, wheat-blond hair with lots of ringlets, all pinned up like a diva’s. Getting into my cab. And, let me describe this coat she is wearing. It’s rubber, first of all, and white, and it goes down to her knees, with a belt and buttons but with a huge fur collar. Like, white rabbit fur. And she is wearing it with a mustard-yellow scarf and turquoise pants. Dry, and getting in my cab. It’s as if she had been waiting in a doorway for me to hail a cab for her. So I lose it. I’m like: “Hey! Hey! That’s my cab!” And she just gets in. Just opens the door, gets in, and reaches over to close the door. Ice is splashing me everywhere. My umbrella finally gags on its hairball and dies. My bags are beginning to tear. So I absolutely lose it. I scream, and I do mean scream: “You fucking cunt . . . that’s my cab!” And, all right. I don’t want this story to make me sound like one of those women, so let me tell you why I was in a hurry. Which only matters now to prove that I am not, whatever, a horrible person. So, my plan: Step 1, at eight o’clock on Thursday night I would meet Arnie, with my bag packed.
Step 2, at eight-thirty we had reservations at Four Noodles, because we’d been warned to have one good meal before we left. Including by Rose, Arnie’s globetrotting grandmother Rose, who told us: “The first thing you do when you get to the island is go to a grocery store. They have avocados the size of my handbag there. You can eat them for breakfast, or lunch with cottage cheese and paprika. Because let me tell you, there is not one restaurant on that island you are going to enjoy.” Step 3, by ten-thirty, get back from Four Noodles and go to bed at Arnie’s.
Step 4, at seven o’clock Friday morning, the cab comes to take us to JFK.
Step 5, by Friday at noon we are with my parents in San Jose, so that they can meet the man who fathered my cat.
Step 6, early Saturday morning, we leave San Jose for Hawaii, where neither of us has ever been.
Step 7, by Saturday at two o’clock we are on the Big Island, for Valentine’s week.
Notice that there is no step that involves me making bail for Arnie. But the point is, Step Negative One was to go to Soho to purchase a linen top and sunglasses and sandals. And nice soap, because who knows what will be in our condo on the island. And at five p.m., Step Zero was to get into a cab and get home and get packed. But instead this German woman is stealing my cab and closing the door on me, and so I’m screaming at her: “You fucking cunt!” Which is when I realize what the German woman is doing. She isn’t closing the taxi’s door on me, she’s pulling it in so that I can squeeze past the puddles and climb into the cab too. And what she says to me, from in the cab, with her Marlene Dietrich accent, is: “I thought that we share the taxi, if you go uptown.” Human kindness. She wants to split the cab. I am mortified, because I just called her a fucking cunt. But what am I going to do? I get in the cab.
It’s an Israeli cabbie, or maybe he’s Russian. He’s sort of eyeing us, like, Who are these two nut cases? And, okay. Normally, when you sit down in a cab in winter and get out of the snow and into the heat, it’s like . . . taking a trip to Hawaii. A hot, mobile island. But in this cab? You sit down, and what you experience, before you even feel the heat, is the driver’s cologne. So heavy, you feel like it will give you a rash. Which is in addition to the rash I’m already getting just from the tension with the crazy German woman. Anyway, I tell the driver Lexington and 83rd. And the crazy German tells him she’s going to 65th at 3rd Avenue. Like, directly on the way, if we go through the park. How convenient, right? What a coincidence, right? And the cabdriver says: “I take 8th Avenue, is faster on West Side.” So, 8th Avenue in a sleet storm. The cabbie is muttering to himself, but fine. The crazy German woman is eating her muf- fin and sitting there all prettily, like I didn’t just call her a fucking cunt. And just as I am getting ready to apologize to her, my cell phone starts ringing again. The call is from some unknown number, but it’s Arnie. So I’m like: “Hey, baby! Where are you calling from?” And he says: “Ah . . . a precinct house.” “Oh no! What happened? Did you get mugged?” He’s offended: “Me? Mugged? No, Jennica, listen, I’ve been arrefff.” Because 8th Avenue has the worst reception for my phone. So I tell him: “What? I’m not getting reception.” The German woman? Cringing. The smelly cabbie? Cringing. Because of course I am being shrill. Of course they are thinking that I am one of those women. But Arnie is like: “Fff arrested, and I need you to call David Fowler.” “Arrested? For what?” “Fff!” “What?” “Mff!” “Murder?” And the smelly cabdriver and the crazy German woman both cringe, in a different way. Because now they aren’t sure if I’m one of those women or if I’m a spoiled Mafia moll.
“But Arnie? Who are they saying you . . . ?” And he’s like: “Allegedly, Jennica, allegedly. Fff! Fff!” “Arnie, I can’t hear a word.” Which is awful. It’s like, is he all right? Is he getting out? Am I supposed to call Gran Rose and make bail? Am I supposed to call the airline and cancel everything? A minute before I had been worrying about, like, How do I apologize to the crazy German woman? Should I really have spent seventy dollars on that white linen top? Did I remember to give Julie the key so that she could feed the cat? Some worries are a privilege. And all Arnie is saying is: “Call David Fowler! Call David Fowler!” And, David Fowler? He’s a terrible lawyer. Look what happened the last time Arnie went to him. And that was only money, not, like, murder. I tell him: “Arnie! I don’t want to call David Fowler. Let me call Gran Rose. She probably knows somebody who can . . .” But he says, totally clear: “Do not you dare call Gran Rose! Call David Fowler!” And at this point the taxi’s pretty much at Times Square. I realize I have to get out of the cab; I have to get to a ground line; I have to figure out David Fowler’s number; but mostly, I have to get out of this cab. So I say: “Driver, I need to get out here, there’s been a change of plans. Arnie, if I’m going to deal, I have to get to a better phone. Tell me exactly where you are.” And he says: “They say they’re taking me to . . . the tombs.” Totally creepy.
While he’s saying this, I’m splashing back out onto the sidewalk where the cab dropped me. Outside, everywhere, it’s sleet, and, just, cataracts of ice. But already I’ve spotted the hotel I’m going to make a dash for, and I’m strategizing how to deal with the concierge, what to tell him so he’ll let me use a ground line. And the cabbie is saying: “Is okay, you two figure out money, is okay.” I’ve got bags everywhere. I’m dripping all over the seat. But the meter is at almost eight dollars, so I give the crazy German woman a five. Because it’s either that or a twenty. And, totally blasé, she’s like: “Ja, fine.” Oh, and as I close the door, I tell her: “I am . . . totally sorry that I called you a fucking cunt.” I meant to apologize to her, and that’s what came out. So embarrassing. And when I get my cell back out of my pocket, I realize that I managed to hang up on Arnie.
So I’m clopping across the sidewalk, sopping wet, sleet running down my neck, trying to make it into a hotel lobby where I can borrow a ground line to call David Fowler, when I hear the cabbie, from up 8th Avenue: “You are a fucking cunt!” I turn around, and there’s the crazy German woman, half a block up, on the sidewalk. Like, she decided to get out of the cab too, except she’s making a dash for the subway station. And the cabbie is standing there in the sleet with his flashers on, watching her and calling her a cunt.
She jumped the fare. The crazy German woman jumped the fare.
So I run half a block up, through the sleet, to pay the driver, because, whatever, it’s what you do. The crazy German woman hadn’t even given him my five. And while he’s making change for my twenty, he tells me: “This is why she wanted to get out on 65th. She was going to let you pay for her. She is very smart. But you? Coming back and paying me when you were already out of the car? Not so very smart.” Like, thanks. Did I mention that you smell? But anyway, what I want to know is: Who was that woman?
ANA KAGANOVA, safe in the Berkshires and inspired with a fraudulent scheme, decides how to conscript her husband into her plot (September 12, 2001):
Like every American, I sat yesterday on the sofa and watched CNN. Yeah, eventually people called my cell phone, but my instinct was not to answer. Perhaps I liked the idea that they did not know whether I was alive. I left Monday for the country without saying goodbye, which is what I do when I stay at my husband’s grandmother’s cabin.
All day yesterday I thought, Nobody knows that I was not on the ninety-first floor. But, weiß’ du, at the same time I thought, Nobody knows that I had any reason to be on the ninety-first floor. This is the lay of the land.
In the end I turned off the television, because it is always the same thing that they are playing, and I turned on AM radio. The callers all wanted to know, “Where can I send money?” These rednecks in Massachusetts call AM radio to ask other people what to do with their money.
This is when I realized that these people who were in the towers would be rich. There will be millions of dollars of charity, and there will be millions of dollars of lawsuits, and there will be millions of dollars of reparations, and anyone who was in the towers when they fell will be now rich.
You see who I thought I should in such a circumstance perhaps contact? In order that someone should report me missing? After all, Gogi is my husband. He should report that I am missing, and this is all there is to it.
I went outside, and I had a cigarette, and I threw my cell phone into his grandmother’s pond. Because if I was going to pretend that I was on the ninety-first floor, I would need to destroy my cell phone, without a clue. And yeah, have you ever thrown a cell phone into a pond? In September, the pond is nothing but lilies. The cell phone landed on a lily, and it floated. And I thought, This is my shit luck, the floating cell phone from Finland. Why are the Finns making cell phones that float? I thought, Perhaps there is a kayak? And I can drown this cell phone by hand? But then it sank finally into the pond.
And then I drove half an hour to a pay phone and bought one of these calling cards. I spoke with myself for a minute, in order to get the accent correct, and then I called my husband to tell him that his wife is dead.
Copyright © 2007 by Benjamin Rudolph Delson. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.