This Sunday, August 18 ... 6:00 p.m., at The Shade Bar in Greenwich Village (Sullivan and West 3rd Streets) ... come check out some very fine writers reading from their works ... I’ll be there for ballast ...
Romantic History … Michael Harris uses alternate points of view in this compelling novel about romance (or what we sometimes think is romance) as viewed from two distinct sides of a relationship. Maggie and Paul are opposites when it comes to most things in life, but especially when it comes to confidence … they have two very brief trysts that somehow last a lifetime, especially for Paul.
When we first meet her, Maggie remains the wild woman she once was, except now she’s in her 50’s ... she has an off the chart IQ, has been a veracious reader most her life, she has natural talents as a musician, and has been carrying around some heavy baggage from a nasty episode with her father way back in the day... an old lover, Paul, connects with her ... it's all about reconnecting ... maybe for good ... how about maybe for more than a few hours ... but I'm jumping the gun ...
Maggie's been married (usually happily) for 22 years to a stand-up guy named Steve … Steve is stable, which Maggie ultimately can’t be. Steve is neither dynamic nor wild, but Maggie needed stability at the exact time she met Steve, and it's a relationship that almost lasts a very long time … until she needs something else (sparked by that Paul connection) … life with Steve was something that caged Maggie’s adventurous soul. Caught up in a philosophy of personal responsibility (no, not the tea party, but something called Absalom, which, upon final review, isn’t so different (you own your shit--something Paul ultimately can’t accept--homeless people aren’t homeless or eating from garbage cans because they want to) … Absalom is a kind of libertarianism on mental steroids), and it leaves Maggie afraid of “nothing”: “Suppose it all really was a scam? Then I wouldn’t be God, or part of God, after all; I’d just be a stupid little insignificant housewife in a third-rate city in the middle of nowhere, and when I died I wouldn’t have any other lives. I’d be … nothing.”
Backtracking throughout the novel, like peeling a big beautiful onion, is a romantic history … Maggie’s story starts at home, which she flees because of her father ... and winds up with a small time career criminal (the badass she seeks?) who eventually sparks her interest in self-destruction and a robbery that lands them both in jail … she winds up turning tricks and eventually winds up in a halfway house where she meets a self-professed nerd (Paul); the guy least likely to get the hot babe … he’s an intriguing (for his inherent decency), if not an exciting character (the opposite of Maggie when it comes to confidence and adventure) ...
Simply put, Paul is not your type-A personality … he’s smart as a whip but no extrovert. He’s gone from rear echelon duty in Vietnam to a small newspaper back home, during which he winds up in bed (not necessarily love) with a woman (Adrienne), his first (who tells him outright he has a lot to learn about sex—which is not very good for his already fragile ego) ... and when she gets pregnant, he offers to marry her, then walks the proposal back, but offers to pay child support. She rejects his offer to pay and he’s off to Crete, Greece ... Paul is one insecure dude lacking the stones he admires in others, the stones they seem to have (what he believes it takes to bed a woman, especially an attractive woman … and bedding them may be one thing (like Adrienne), but keeping them is another (i.e., Maggie)) ... Paul’s a compassionate guy, a good guy, who doesn’t understand why a newspaper would dump so much of their staff (himself included) when so many of his fellow workers (himself not included) have so much to lose.
It isn’t right. It isn’t fair.
How do they sleep at night?
Paul’s problem is he believes he’s a loser destined for loserdom … he manages to be homeless … he can’t handle the parenting voice of his father or the abject failure he senses himself to be, he falls victim to his insecurity ... what he believes is his predisposition to fail becomes a disease (to his mind) that will eventually lead him to the darkest of places ... but when he’s on a journalistic assignment in 1971, covering a story on a halfway house for badass women, he meets Maggie (for the first time). Their romance is brief but intense … something Paul can never get over, and neither can Maggie get him out of her mind … except Maggie can move on (and on) and Paul can’t seem to cut loose.
While Maggie goes through a series of relationships and career changes, Paul eventually marries a Pilipino real estate agent who convinced him he needed a house and not the condo he was looking to buy. It’s the most stable time in his life. He’s working for the LA Times and although he still yearns for Maggie, Rachel (his wife) and Paul have a boy and start a family.
Romantic History is the peeling of that wonderful onion called life, except in this masterful novel, it’s the peeling of two onions (Maggie’s and Paul’s) ... it’s a trip back in time to the present of two people romantically and emotionally tied through a couple of very brief trysts. After their second meeting, a quick night of love and lovemaking, Maggie apologetically throws him out (for his own good?) ... and wonders exactly what Paul would think (that it’s comical, his attempt to make her feel sorry for him -- he loves her no matter what, but she can’t accept that, she’s too used to men eventually being men who can’t help but try and possess a woman) ... so she asks herself after he leaves: What would Bill Mitchell [her convict ex-husband] have done in Paul’s place? Probably told her to shut up and fetch him another beer, or roll him a joint.
Maggie once told Paul that he “can get to be a habit” ... if Paul could only believe she meant it ... he believes his disease precludes him from any form of success, including a love life ... it is some of what endears him to readers, his unfortunate insecurity ... so when we’re back to the future and Maggie has been involved with a Native American lover (another fighter but this time a really good fighter--somewhat legendary) ... Paul’s marriage hits the rocks when he loses yet another journalism gig (the LA Times) ... his world is changing back to dark and his disease is calling for him to jump from a roof.
No spoilers, amici ... buy the book and read it. The ending is BRILLIANT. Yous will enjoy this often wild ride ... THE WRITING IS MASTERFUL, start to finish … and take heed of a good breed of man (Paul).
How I have to wonder how many of us will see ourselves in at least some of this poor soul’s being.
About the author: Michael Harris grew up in Dunsmuir, CA., the little mountain town that is the scene of his novella "Canyon." He has a B.A. in English from the University of Oregon, an M.A.T. from Harvard and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.
He served as an information officer with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1968-69. Later he was a reporter and editor on several West Coast newspapers, including the Redding, CA, Record-Searchlight, the Voice of Bellevue, WA, and the San Luis Obispo, CA, Telegram-Tribune (all background for scenes in "Romantic History"), the Long Beach, CA, Press-Telegram (background for "The Chieu Hoi Saloon"), the Los Angeles Times (where he was a regular book reviewer for more than 20 years) and the Riverside, CA, Press-Enterprise.
Read TK’s review of The Chieu Hoi Saloon, one of my favorite reads from a few years ago, right here.
Michael Harris, now retired but launching a second career as a novelist, lives with his family in Long Beach. Simply put, Michael is an incredible writer ... one of a crop of writers (Lynn Kostoff, Ben Whitmer, Vicki Hendricks, Dana King, Craig McDonald, Sam Hawken, et al) ... I remain in awe of ... you can learn more about those writers here (thanks to Elizabeth White).
The Bard of Fords, NJ? (above) ...
Noir at the Bar (a po-em)
Sunday I read from a W-I-P;
At a bar called Shade, like it’s under a tree.
It’ll be from Tommy Red, from Baltimore Noir;
I says to him, I says, where the fuck I park my car?
Because last time I was there, in Mike Bloomberg’s town;
I got a ticket for stopping, not parking, that rich clown
charged me more than enough, like one-sixty-five.
To stop for ten seconds? Why, the fuck why?
Homeland security? Give me a break.
I was picking up my wife, not ordering a steak.
So it’s been a couple years, since we indulged the big apple.
One-sixty-five is, like, I don’t know, thirty cases of Diet Snapple?
The joint they call Shade isn’t far from where I lived;
In Little Italy and/or Greenwich Vill …
I used to roll posters at the head shop Night Owl;
Around the corner from Reggio where the hippies would howl,
when the espresso they were guzzling caught fire in their blood;
and they’d run to Washington Square Park to dance in the mud.
Momma Stella lived on Bedford, then Bleeker when she was a kid;
I fed pigeons at Father Demo Square from the benches where I’d sit
with Grandpa Pete and a bottle of Manhattan Special (nitroglycerin in a bottle);
then I’d go home and not sleep for two days and get throttled
by Poppa Tommy, my father, before he fled the scene;
for Gang Bang and riches of which he could only dream.
So come one and come all, to the bar they call Shade;
Listen to some writers spew from our trade.
Support your local bookstores and bars while you’re there;
And don’t forget the waiters, waitresses and bartenders—show you care.
And never give worry about the next mayor or our nation;
Just be smart and trust me, take public transportation.
And if Mayor Mike is anxious to squeeze me for more coin;
I’ll guaran-fuckin-tee him, next time I won’t return.
Because I’ve been there and done that, the town of Manhattan;
It’s beautiful downtown Fords, New Jersey, where I’m getting fat at.
Come check us out this Sunday night at the bar they call Shade;
Six PM, in the Village, on Sullivan and West Third.
SNHU MFA alumni making their marks ... signing with agents, getting published ... getting noticed across the board. Go SNHU MFA!
My granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella ... is this kid cute or what?
Chef of the Future ... Okay, so, amici ... I’ll be on assignment the next several months ... taking cooking classes ... Why? Because I’m a lunatic ... so my time here at TK will be somewhat cut back (maybe even skipping a few weeks at a time) ...
But I’ll thrill yous with recipes upon my return …
from which, if yous pay attention, yous are all sure to learn ...
and if I should fail at cooking with beer ...
yous can blame it on the poetry and that moron, Knucklespeare …
Oh, it can core a apple ...
Now, for something more serious ... if this doesn’t tug on your heart, if your eyes don’t well up over this, check your fuckin’ pulse.