Monday, March 18, 2013

The Little Engine That Couldn't

    So the mail and my good-looking doorman brought me a package from my maybe 118th cousin Chris Eber in Oregon, containing THE MOTHERLAND, my novel about my family.  Chris sounds like a really bright man who on his own researched familial connections and came up with me, got in touch, and at my suggestion, bought the book, which I haven't looked at since it was ordained by my then publisher, Michael Korda, at Simon and Shuster, "the only book we are publishing this Spring as far as I am concerned."  He forgot about a little number called ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN which came out at exactly the same time, so no one cared about Fiction.
    I had at that time experienced a lot of long stays in D.C. with old friends and new friends I made who were close to or worked in the Nixon White House, so had been an eyewitness, early in the mornings when the phone would ring in my Republican friends' homes at 4 AM with new revelations from the Washington Post, so tried to regard what happened as God's having to choose between saving my book, and saving the country.  A few days before my novel's actual publication, the doorbell rang, and it was my new neighbor in L.A.--the house next door atop a little hill having recently been built and just completed-- asking to use my telephone.  When I opened the door, there stood John Dean.  So I was convinced, metaphysician that I thought I was at the time, that the Heavens were on the side of my inevitable bestsellerdom, a clear indication you should never attempt to second-guess the Almighty if there is One.
    "This is the book that will finally show people the fine writer you are," said Michael, who of course has been unreachable ever since.  Still, today, having received it since I am being kindly asked to make an inscription, I made a stab at starting to read it and was at once heartened and despondent, as I have no idea how I was ever that good.  I had a similar experience a few days ago when for some reason I actually opened JADE, my novel set in Hong Kong, and wondered how I knew so much, and could put so many words on a page.
    I tried to phone Barbara Conaty, the woman who reviewed it for The Library Journal, who gave me the best review I ever received-- we have since become friends, --to press her for a few words of succor and support.  But she is apparently traveling, something people who are still seeking do.  I, on the other hand, or both of them, have sort of tired of that, having spent the years writing travel for The Wall Street Journal Europe making friends all over the world who I now miss almost all the time, this winter in New York having sapped me of most of my energy, the skies being gray and clouded, and people averting their eyes even in your own elevator, as if they are afraid you will ask them for money.
   Having picked up a beautiful Brazilian family in the Boathouse Restaurant a while ago, whose curly-haired son touched my heart as he looked like Robert when he was little, I lunched with them Sunday instead of going to the meditation retreat I had signed up for, as connection to other people after a full winter of Isolation on a Grand Scale seemed more important than a connection with the Almighty who I imagined had to be busy with the Pope.  Now it is Monday, so not knowing what else to do with myself, I actually opened The Motherland after inscribing it to my maybe cousin.
      I will not review it, as I only read a few pages, and real and delightful as it seemed, I wondered how I ever survived my mother, who succeeded in driving one actual child and a stepchild into madness, delightful as I thought she was.  Elizabeth Taylor and I became friendish because of it-- she wanted to play Evelyn, my heroine, but Sue Mengers said "Tell her to get the napkin off her lap," Sue's poetic way of saying La Elizabeth was masturbating, as she was past her prime.  But my mother never was, older though she grew while never admitting it, or acting what age she was, clearly anathema to her.  She was irresistible to men, including my stepfather who I adored, but managed to drive him away, accusing him of having an affair with his son's ex-fiancee, which not surprisingly became a self-fulfilling prophesy. So she ended up selling her huge, terraced apartment, gorgeous jewels, china, silver and many many furs, for almost nothing, out of the panic and fear that apparently stayed with a child of the Depression who had bettered herself with wit and great legs, and moved into this studio in one of New York's most beautiful buildings, the Hampshire House, designed by Dorothy Draper.  Whenever my mother was sick, which she was as rarely as she could manage, but still would usually go into a coma, she would murmur to me, half conscious, when I came to offer caring, "You're not going to get my apartment."  But she left it to me anyway, and I am grateful, though this has been arguably the darkest winter of my life, as I stubbornly plant myself here in the hope that not only is virtue its own reward, but if you have a musical that's good you have to be relentless in trying to get it on, and for that you need to be in New York.
    I said to a wonderful man who is supporting me spiritually in my quest, if this ever happens it will be an argument for Survivors, which I hope a lot of us are and will be in spite of the news, which is daily more dispiriting. Then there is my life, which has been very full of adventure and incident, a loving husband who didn't live very long but otherwise I have nothing to complain about, including my mother, ferocious and funny as she was, which comes through clearly in THE MOTHERLAND, about which she wrote to Liz Smith, "Reading it, I regretted not having committed infanticide."
     But Dorothy Draper who designed this place, said "Never look back, except for an occasional glance, look ahead and plan for the future."  So I congratulate myself on imagining I really have one.  Still, you should read the novel and marvel at how unlikely it is that I am as resilient as I am.