Today's Reading

(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores November, 2018.)


Life beats down and crushes the soul,
and art reminds you that you have one.
— Stella Adler


He was not my first musician, Arky Levin. Nor my least successful. Mostly by his age potential is squandered or realized. But this is not a story of potential. It is a story of convergence. Such things are rarer than you might think. Coincidence, I've heard, is God's way of being discreet. But convergence is more than that. It is something that, once set in motion, will have an unknown effect. It is a human condition to admire hindsight. I always thought foresight was so much more useful.

It is the spring of the year 2010 and one of my artists is busy in a gallery in New York City. Not the great Metropolitan, nor the Guggenheim, serene and twisted though she is. No, my artist's gallery is a white box. It's evident that within that box much is alive. And vibrating. But before we get to that, let me set the scene.

There is a river on either side of this great city and the sun rises over one and sets over the other. Where oak, hemlock, and fir once stood besides lakes and streams, avenues now run north-south. Cross streets mostly run east-west. The mountains have been leveled, the lakes have been filled. The buildings create the most familiar skyscape of the modern world.

The pavements convey people and dogs, the subway rumbles, and the yellow cabs honk day and night. As in previous decades, people are coming to terms with the folly of their investments and the ineptitude of their government. Wages are low, as are the waistbands of jeans. Thin is fashionable but fat is normal. Living is expensive, and being ill is the most costly business of all. There is a feeling that a chaos of climate, currency, creed, and cohabitation is looming in the world. On an individual basis, most people still want to look good and smell nice, have friends, be comfortable, make money, feel love, enjoy sex, and not die before their time.

And so we come to Arky Levin. He would like to think he stands apart from the riffraff of humanity, isolated by his fine musical mind. He believed, until recently, that he was anesthetized to commonplace suffering by years of eating well, drinking good wine, watching good movies, having good doctors, being loved by a good woman, having the luck of good genetics, and generally living a benign and blameless life.

It is April 1, but Levin, in his apartment on Washington Square, is oblivious to the date and its humorous connotations. If someone played a practical joke on him this morning, he would be confused—possibly for hours. The morning sun is spilling into the penthouse. Rigby, a gray rug of cat, lies sprawled on her back on the sofa with her paws stretched high above her head. In contrast, Levin is curled forward over a Model B Steinway, his fingers resting silently on the keyboard. He is so still he might be a puppet awaiting the first twitch of the string above. In fact, he is waiting for an idea. That is usually where I come in, but Levin has not been himself for many months. To write music he must hurdle over a morass of broken dreams. Every time he goes to leap, he comes up short.

Levin and I have known each other a very long time, and when he is like this he can be unreachable, so caught on the wheel of memory he forgets he has choices. What is he remembering now? Ah yes, the film dinner from the night before.

He had expected questions. It was why he'd avoided everyone, hadn't attended a function since December. It was still too raw. Too impossible. For the same reason he'd ignored emails, avoided phone calls, and finally unplugged the answering machine in February after one particularly upsetting message.

And then last night, in a living nightmare, three of them had gotten him at one end of the room and harangued him, berated him. Outrageous claims of abandonment and lack of responsibility. "You don't seem to realize I had no choice in this," he had told them.

"You're her husband. If it was the other way around..."

"Her instructions are perfectly clear. This is what she wants. Do I have to send you a copy of the letter?"

"But, Arky, you've abandoned her."

"No, I haven't. If anyone has been abandoned..."

"Please tell me you are not suggesting, Arky, that you have the raw deal here?"

"You can't just leave her there."

"Well, what exactly did you have in mind?" he had asked. "That I bring her home?"

"Yes, for God's sake. Yes."

They had all seemed stunned at his reluctance.

"But she doesn't want that."

"Of course she does. You're being unbelievably blind if you think anything else."

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