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Authors: Kate Christensen

Tags: #Contemporary

The Epicure's Lament

BOOK: The Epicure's Lament
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Acclaim's for Kate Christensen's
“Kate Christensen has proved herself an expert on the dark side of comic fiction….
[The Epicure's Lament]
has a mordant, sophis ticated charm.”

The Baltimore Sun
“[This] funny novel stays fresh and interesting, and until the very
end leaves readers guessing at the outcome of Hugo's many schemes and intrigues.”

San Francisco Chronicle
“Refreshingly dark-hearted.”

New York
“A sly symphony of self-loathing…. The perverser [Hugo] gets, the more delicious it seems.”

“A delightful farce.”

“Hugo is… a richly original narrator…. [His] smug and self-loathing voice is the greatest treat of this very savory dish of a novel.”

The Boston Globe
“[Hugo] is easy to hate…. Yet his wit, his delightfully antiquated style of speaking, his gusto for life, the humor set in motion by his contradictions make him a character readers are likely to sa vor. Like Shakespeare's Falstaff, he's more rogue than scoundrel. … A zesty plum pudding of a novel.”

“In her vivid prose, Christensen has developed a curmudgeon for our time.”

The Star-Ledger
“Delightful and compelling…. Brilliant swooping sentences, acidic observations on contemporary life, hilarious bitchy asides, and—every once in a while—arresting reflections on regret and aging and plain unironic despair.”

The New York Observer
Kate Christensen is the author of the novels
In the Drink
Jeremy Thrane.
She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.
also by Kate Christensen


“I shall see to it, if I can, that my death makes
no statement that my life has not made already.”


October 9, 2001—All the lonely people indeed. Whoever they are, I've never been one of them. The lack of other people is a balm. It's the absence of strain and stress. I understand monks and hermits, anyone who takes a vow of silence or lives in a far-flung cave. And I thought—hoped, rather—that I would live this way for the rest of my life, whatever time is left to me.

This morning I woke up, lit a cigarette as always. I remembered that Dennis was downstairs, and then instinctively I reached for my pen and rooted around for this old blank notebook, and here I still am, writing about myself with the date at the top of the page like a lovelorn teenage diarist with budding breasts and a zit she can't get rid of. Words stay neatly in the head during times of solitude, they don't jump out through the pen to land
splat on the page. Knowing that Dennis is lurking down there makes me jumpy. I have a nasty feeling he's not leaving anytime soon. His presence has diverted my life from its natural course.

Here I am, a decaying forty-year-old man in his decaying childhood home at the ruined finale of a wasted life. My hand is stiff. My faculties are moribund. Outside, below my tower window, the Hudson River sparkles and glints with untoward goodwill, blue, placid, and untroubled today, but sure to change its mood. There it lies, and has lain all my life, always changing, always there, in all its mercurial quiddity.

The lascivious pleasure I derive from phrases such as “mercurial quiddity” might possibly be all that prevents me now from flinging myself downstairs to beat my brother about the face and neck with my bare hands, shouting invectives and heartfelt pleas to go away. I wish more than anything that Dennis had stayed where he belonged, across the river with his wife Marie and their spawn, the bony cantankerous second-grader Evie and the bubbly sexy kindergartner Isabelle. Girls: this generation of Whittier sperm seems to produce only girls. It's the end of our name and our line, unless they turn out to be lesbians who adopt children with their “wives” and call them Whittier. God fucking forbid.

It took me I don't know how long to write the above, and then I stared into space smoking and ruminating for half an hour at least. A shooting pain in my foot brought me back. Pain has become my chronic and intermittent link to the world, among other things—I refuse to take painkillers. The inherited puritan hidden deep inside my core is the only part of me that's satisfied at the retribution—I did the crime, I'll do the time—
maybe it's a Yankee diehard need to tough it out as long as I can. No parole, no halfway house. I'll eventually cave when it gets worse, in the months to come. Weeks to come.

Two nights ago, I was sitting on the large side veranda where I always sit, smoking and knocking back an occasional snort of whiskey and keeping my own counsel, when a car turned in at the driveway. I saw the headlights first and then the make: a Dodge Dart, which meant my brother. To the car was hitched a U-Haul trailer, which was clearly laden with belongings: the other prodigal son, returned to the roost.

He parked, turned off the engine, got out of the car, and stretched, one hand propping up the small of his back as if he'd driven hundreds of miles instead of just across the Hudson. Probably thinking himself unobserved, he let out a long, hard sigh.

“Well,” I called. “If it isn't Dudley Doright.”

His posture changed the instant he became aware that he was being watched: he stood erect, his long, handsome, abundantly haired head flung back. “Hugo!” he snapped manfully. “Hello!”

“I see you've brought gifts.”

He came up to the porch and thumped me on the back in a sort of stilted hug. “Not gifts,” he said. “My worldly possessions.”

“She kicked you out?”

Something passed over his face, a weary premonition of the explaining he was going to have to do in the near future of his presumed marital failure, but he squelched it and said, “Marie has asked me to live elsewhere for a while, yes.”

“You're joking.”

Again I saw the effort it took for him to say in that bluff and seemingly easy way, “The truth is, it's about time. This has been a long time coming. It's sort of a relief, I have to admit. Is that whiskey you're drinking?”

I offered him the bottle, which he eyed without touching.

I'm sure he suspects that I only brush my teeth once or twice a year, which as a matter of fact is not the case.

“I'd better not just yet,” he said.

“All righty then,” I said. “Suit yourself.” I tipped some more into my mouth.

“I'll carry some things inside first,” he said. “Then I'll be very glad to join you in that drink. You're still in the tower room?”

“Still and forever.”

“I'll take Grandma's old room then. At least it has its own bathroom. You have to go all the way through to the landing to get to the nearest one from the tower.”

“I piss into a pitcher in cases of great urgency and dump it out on the lawn beneath my window,” I remarked pleasantly, but he had already bounded down the steps. I watched my brother make several trips from U-Haul to house without offering to help him. Let him ask if he wanted help.
“Mi casa es su casa,”
I said to the empty veranda. “No matter how much I may wish otherwise.”

He bounded back out to the veranda from the foyer with a glass in his hand. He extended it and said, “All right, that's that. All squared away. I assume the bed linens in the closet upstairs are clean?”

“Still clean,” I said, “from the last time anybody washed them twenty years ago.”

“I opened the windows up there; the room needs a good airing.” He took a healthy gulp of whiskey. “The whole place needs an overhaul. It's falling down. You've let it go to seed, Hugo. You haven't done a thing to keep it up in all these years.”

“This is true, as a matter of fact. But the process began long before I came back. No one's made any improvements in… how long since Dad died? Almost thirty-five years.”

“I think it's time someone did. And I seem to be the only one willing.”

I shifted in my chair and said through something like rising panic, “Dennis, you can't seriously be going to live here again.”

“Why not?”

“Because you bought your house before you met Marie. It's your house. Let her move out. She ought to descend upon her elderly parents, brighten their dimming lives. Mellow their dotage. And make their hearts glad with the fluting cries of little children.”

“First of all,” Dennis said with a furrow in his brow, “the Dupins live in the city. Second, Marie has a private practice up here, she can't abandon her clients. Third, we agreed the girls would stay with her, and we don't want to uproot them. We'll figure it out eventually, but for now it makes the most sense for me to stay here.”

“Sense to whom?” I muttered through the mouth of the bottle.

“Come again?” he said absently.

“Where will you do your… work? Don't you have a studio over there at your house? Won't you be a mollusk naked and quivering without a carapace here?”

“I'm taking a break for now. I just completed a new series and I'd like to clear my head before I start anything new. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think I should try to fix up this place. Someone's got to save it from complete ruin.”


“It's our heritage.”

“Why does that matter?”

“It's who we are.”

“This house may be who you are, but it's not who I am. I'm no mollusk and this is no carapace. More like a maggot feeding off a dying corpse, that's me, here.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

And so forth. Our conversational style hasn't changed in decades.

I stopped writing once again after that last sentence and stared into space for… a lacuna, a miasma, a hiatus, an unwieldy string of vowels’ worth of time. I haven't written anything in years, and every word I write now feels false and stilted as the gestures of long-unused muscles. But still… all of a sudden I have to write again… a physical compulsion or necessary ablution, like shitting or shaving, or both. Michel de Montaigne, my primary bedfellow these days along with cigarettes and pain, would know what I mean by this.

Dennis has been back at Waverley only a day and a half, but already I see my old, solitary life as something lost, through a fog of mournful nostalgia. In that old, lost, former life, I took my breakfast out to the side porch on warm mornings with coffee cup, cigarettes, lighter, and ashtray, and sat for hours, with a book or without, watching the river in a completely solitary silence that is the closest thing to happiness I've ever known. In the winters, I sat at the kitchen table with the stove roaring, without any snot-nosed pestering local dependents or demanding chatty hangers-on to watch me, interrupt my thoughts, demand my attention. Not many people can say that. This is a freedom I'm convinced everyone dreams of, secretly. Sonia, my God, that
bucktoothed Polish flat-chested bitch, she had me for a while, but since she left, I've been impervious, unfettered, and able to live exactly as I pleased. Almost ten years, it's been…. My days were full and productive. I slept, woke, drank coffee or whiskey, smoked, read books, sat in my chair looking out over the Hudson River as the light changed slowly and the air darkened as evening came. In the evenings, I cooked
myself elaborate feasts and fancies in the kitchen, one lamp burning, my sleeves rolled up. Steam rose from the stove, the radio played, wind howled outside. When the meal was ready, I ate alone at the table, radio still on. A book was often propped against my whiskey bottle, but most nights I didn't read, I concentrated on tasting the food I'd made. This required all of my attention. I absorbed the story of the flavors, tracking the relationships between ingredients, one bite following another with anticipation, as if I were in the grip of some intricate and sus-penseful prandial plot, a gustatory novel on a plate.

BOOK: The Epicure's Lament
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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