Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Sunset Drinks at the Gramercy Hotel: Luke clenches his jaw with the determination of a man who is quite proud of his chin.

“Frankly,” he says, “I’m going to write the sequel exactly as I laid it out in the proposal and I don’t give a fuck what the marketing people are saying.”

The sun is setting somewhere in the west. You cannot actually see the horizon from where you’re sitting on the rooftop bar of the Gramercy Hotel but the sky has gone a pale blue with hints of orange. You reduce your gin-and-tonic to ice and lime before speaking again.

“Luke, you know I love what you’re doing right?” you tell. “But people think you’re being a dick about this. I mean, I can’t see why you cannot include at least a few sympathetic women characters. The last one was full of them. The two Mary’s, etcetera.”

“Look, I’m not responsible for meeting some damn politically correct quota. People can read the fucking Jeffery Eugenides or Jonathan Frazen if they want women. Or the fucking new Oprah book club, where they’re reading Madame Ovaries. That’s not the book I’m writing,” Luke says in a tone meant to remind you that wrote the most successful of the Gospels, in part because the others were regarded as a bit too Jewish.

You don’t want to convince Luke that he needs to change Acts. You want to facilitate art, not further the commercialization of publishing. You wonder whether it would have been better to have gone to work for an investment bank and made real money and spent your free time reading literature on the beach in the Hamptons. That way you wouldn’t be actively working to destroy the vision of writers. Do no harm, someone once said. Do no fucking harm.

“Haley!” You call to the hostess. She is tall and almost beautiful, and when you look directly into her green eyes you forget about literature for a moment. “Look. We’re having a problem with our waitress. Can you ask her to get us two more tank and tonics?” She smiles and nods and disappears into the crowd to fetch another pair of thirteen dollar drinks. You definitely should have been an investment banker.

“Okay. I understand the no women part. But maybe we can get a bit creative here. Comment on the lack of good women. You’ve got Sapphia and that bitch who has John killed. Don’t you think it works better if you offset this somehow? I know you, Luke. You’re not a misogynist but what are people going to think?”

“They can think about their fucking own souls rather than worry about mine, okay? I’m not in the business of writing comfort food,” Luke says.

It’s not a bad point. And it is hard to see what women would do in this story anyway. You think about that collection of adventure stories put out by McSweeney’s and cannot recall one woman. You wonder how that sold.

“I guess we could pitch it as an adventure story. There is a sort of buddy thing going on with the narrator and Paul there. Almost like a Hemingway thing.”

The waitress comes to the table with two drinks. You hardly notice her scowl as she puts them down because you’re thinking about the Sun Also Rises. That’s the point: The Son Also Rises. “How about the Jesus character?” you say. “Can we bring him back? He was the heart of the first one. This one is like the Sun Also Rises without Jake Barnes. I mean, think about the potential for pathos—the injured hero returns, perhaps his awful experience has made him doubt himself. Didn’t he have regrets and anger toward the end?”

Luke takes the top off his drink. He catches the lime in his teeth and squeezes it between his teeth, letting the lime juice drip back into his glass. You’ve never seen anyone do this before and have to try not to curl your upper-lip at the sight.

“No. Jesus does not come back. It’s perfectly clear in the first book that when he comes back it is the end of the world. The world didn’t fucking end, right, so Jesus doesn’t come back in Acts.”

“I don’t get it. He died and came back already, right? What’s the problem? I mean, you can still follow around Paul and John and all the rest but Acts lacks a center. And magic. Who’s going to do all the magic if you don’t have Jesus.”

“The other guys can do magic, uhm, miracles now. So we’ll still have magic.”

“Oh, that’s good.” You’re smiling now and trying to remember the proposal you helped Luke put together. At the time you were dating that actress from Oz and doing lots of coke. It seemed brilliant then and now you are remembering why. Lots of magic. Almost at a Harry Potter level. And a bloody ending, gruesome martyrdom stuff. Maybe this would work.

“Luke,” you say. “How about this? During the slow parts, we’ll just have the characters mention Jesus whenever there is nothing else going on. That will tie things back to the Gospel. Just give it some thought.”

“Fine. I’ll think about it. But, in any case, that won’t happen too often.”