From Julie Bosman’s quietly savage NYT article, “A Fallen New Yorker writer signs with Simon & Schuster,” a divine juxtaposition.
“Jonah Lehrer is an unusually talented writer,” Jonathan Karp, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, said in an e-mail Thursday night.
Ben Loehnen, the editor of the book, said in an e-mail: “… The wisdom and the skill on the page are apparent, and all too rare.”
One paragraph later:
“I feel the shiver of a voice mail message,” [Lehrer] wrote in the proposal, “A Book About Love.” “I listen to the message. I have been found out. I puke into a recycling bin. And then I start to cry. Why was I crying? I had been caught in a lie, a desperate attempt to conceal my mistakes. And now it was clear that, within 24 hours, my fall would begin. I would lose my job and my reputation. My private shame would become public.”
Unusually talented. Wisdom and skill. All too rare.
Steffen Jack, Rapture
“There’s a carrot in your hair. No wait, where did it go?”
“It’s on your armpit.”
I stood on the piano bench, trying to rip the pendulum from my father’s un-gift of a cuckoo clock, which hung above the quiet, never-tuned baby grand. Conrad had wound the clock, purely to annoy me, on his way out to school. It would strike the early hour and launch into a clattering pantomime of some Bavarian lumber town, and this I was not prepared to accept—not again.
The clock wouldn’t give me its pendulum, not until it had guaranteed equal injury. My eyes were level with the darkened archway where the little Aryans entered and exited, or exited and entered. Yes: they came outside when the cuckoo crowed, to chop at pines and chase themselves in a flux of apparent motivation.
Receipts on the table swirled in breeze from an open back door, adding another note of stress. I needed to pee. I’d been holding it already; now my bladder edged on riot, any bodily shift a matter of supreme delicacy. My palm was suctioned to the pendulum with sweat, fingers aching.
Pull. Pull. The stubborn clock would chime in a few snaps of the second hand. The pendulum twitched in my fist, trying to swing. Was it the noise, or the imitation of life? Both. But the pendulum failed at last, and a hardwood span threw open, my clammy feet scooting the bench as I toppled and spun so that one shin caught the high octaves in a shriek of ivory, peeling like a banana.
I lay there with tears rising. Clutched the pendulum too tight so that something else would hurt. It was the air that stung, not the gash. I held the skinned leg to my chest as my other foot pushed the wall.
Conrad slept under planetarium stickers that barely glowed. My son, he walks into strangers’ houses as if they’re meant to be explored. When he openly defies me, I am lost in a fog of my own sputterings. I have neither the means nor will to punish this monosyllabic giant.
Across town, Deputy Mayor Hazel Kearns was reviewing accounts ahead of my impeachment. She arrives at dawn to do work I am likely to botch. I fear I’ve taken advantage of her in every way I can, and I say I fear to deny and discredit the throbbing certainty that I have.
My wife, who lives with an idol of stadium rock, cannot divorce me because our marriage certificate has been lost. By me. As mayor, I have brought no end to the plague of unidentified animal skeletons washing up on the beach.
Above, gears commenced to click and whirr. The clock didn’t need the pendulum to work, evidently. I examined the spoon-shaped wood in my hand with disappointment. My right foot flexed on the wall and produced a gravity that held it there. The jaunty peasant song began. The bird.
I fell, I fell, it sang.
When time was done celebrating itself, a raw silence permeated the room. Easing my hurt leg straight, I gently put a second foot on the wall, where it stuck as though to solid ground. Testing this unreal privilege, I took a vertical step.
“The Ebenezer Effect” is a not-so-new short story just published in the exceedingly new Similar Peaks. It’s about luck, privilege, politics, sex, parenting, the Civil War, beach towns, the environment, growing pains, ritual sacrifice, time, reality, impossibility, Calvinism, and walking up walls.
8:15 The editor for Taipei makes a few strained remarks (leading off with a standard publishing joke about drinking, no laughs) as Lin sits back and records the whole thing on his iPhone. Briefly concerned that I may be in the background of this video, but think I’m okay. Editor does get one laugh, by relaying a line from the New York Times book review (“like Hemingway filtered through Twitter and Klonopin”) and then instructs us to “exhaust the wine supply.”
8:16 Get on the wine line again, this time behind Marie Calloway, who turns around and locks eyes, and I have the fleeting fear that I’m about to puke on her. Discussion with other dude about whether we are on the line for wine or the line to get books signed. Some confusion.
8:17 Wine supply exhausted.
June 5, 2013
My own concern was less for his health than for his exile: shut up in his room with a burning throat, peering out from between burning lids with burning eyes at a burning world, his whole delicate and burning body grown so sensitive with sickness that a light turned on in darkness affected him like a fingertip thrust into his eye, must not Edwin have experienced his banishment with an equal intensity of awareness? My concern was mistaken. Bursting with health and imagination, I failed to perceive that intense physical suffering constricts the imagination by reducing the universe to a throb of pain. Only with returning health would he suffer the difficult, the intricate, the robust torments of imagination.
Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954