By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

7. The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud, pp. 229-266

The Emperor's Children (Vintage)May. Chapter Thirty: Merge. July. Chapter Thirty-one: Booted; Chapter Thirty-two: Exposé; Chapter Thirty-three: Affianced; Chapter Thirty-four: Fireworks in Stockbridge.
Danielle has begun her affair with Murray, and now "considered that their connection was almost eerie, a meeting of minds, a Platonic reunion of divided souls. To whom could you say such a thing? She might have said it frankly to him, were it not for Marina, and for Annabel. He admires the Rothko posters she has framed on her walls: "They keep you sane, I'm guessing.... That's what they'd do for me. They stop everything, the washes of color, they pull you in. Keep your from going out the window." She admits that's "always a possibility."

"I know it. Every day you find the reason not to. As he did -- Rothko -- in the pictures." He paused. "Until the day he didn't anymore."
But Danielle is troubled by her secret and by the necessity of keeping it from Marina especially. She "had never before had a secret that she couldn't confide in anyone, but this, she knew, was such a secret. She couldn't tell Randy, even, who so wanted her daughter to find love. If that was what she had found." He wanted to see her again wearing the dress she'd worn to the awards dinner -- "the dress, she couldn't help but think, that had had no effect on Ludovic Seeley. That was the night Marina had thrown herself at him; and now they were colleagues and lovers both."

She feels grateful that she and Julius never see each other: "he'd be able to smell it on her, a dog sniffing fear. She even worries about Bootie, who now works for Murray. "Even meeting him just twice she could tell that he was canny, and proud, and that he held the world to impossible standards." She fears that Bootie would see the change in her, and that "Murray would disappoint him, sooner or later, she was certain."

In July, Bootie moves into Julius's sublet, and is sweating out a heatwave there on the weekend before Independence Day. He had been invited to spend the Fourth in Stockbridge with the Thwaites, "but he could tell they didn't really want him to come. Besides, given what he was writing, he wouldn't have felt comfortable with them anyway."
He would have given a great deal to return to a state of blissful ignorance where Murray was concerned. Every revelation only diminished further his uncle's fading glow.... He'd begun thinking of himself again, quite unconsciously, as Bootie, because he intended to put the boot in, to give his uncle the boot. Marina had asked him --- it seemed it had been originally Danielle's idea, in this seething nest of vipers: she, with the maternal smile, the chummy, condescending manner, and the most hideous secret -- if he'd like to write an article on spec for The Monitor
And then he read all of Murray's secret manuscript and accidentally came across the first e-mail from Danielle. So now his article, which he'd planned as "a story with the happiest of endings," had turned into a scabrous exposé. He has come around to Ludo's opinion of Murray.

The first crack in Murray's façade had come when Bootie found Murray plagiarizing himself -- lifting sentences and even a whole paragraph from his earlier writing for a supposedly entirely new article. Murray had dismissed this discovery as trivial: "If you've worked to find the right words for what you want to say, then surely it would be foolhardy to discard them merely because of some sense ... that it was rather shabby to repeat yourself." Bootie decided that he had been wrong, but the instance stuck with him. And then shortly after, he was asked to cancel an appearance Murray was to make at a fundraiser for a Harlem youth organization so Murray could instead attend a more prestigious event. "Murray Thwaite looked less and less the shining giant."

And then he began reading more and more of the secret manuscript "in fervent snatches, over lunch hours when Murray was in restaurants and in a long evening when all the Thwaites were out together." And he discovered that this magnum opus was "both pretentious and trite." He now was convinced that Ludovic Seeley was right: "Murray Thwaite was one great con trick, a lazy, self-absorbed, star-fucking con trick." Then he accidentally opened Danielle's e-mail: "And while the message said nothing scandalous, he just knew, he suddenly knew. From the tone, from its brevity. He was young but he wasn't a fool. He just knew. And the deformation was irrevocable and complete."

He was convinced that Marina really wanted him to write the "devastating" article that he was now working on. So he is sitting in his jockey shorts in Julius's sublet, "penning the article that would change the world. Or change his world, for sure. This was revolution for you. More Dostoyevsky than Tolstoy (he'd still not made it to the end of War and Peace, but Crime and Punishment, now there was a novel!)."

Suddenly the door opens and Julius enters with another man. Bootie covers his "near nakedness" with his hands and moves toward the futon where he left his clothes. Julius demands, "Who the fuck are you? ... And what the fuck are you doing in my house?" Bootie calls him "Julian" when he realizes who Julius is, and is corrected immediately, though Julius says, "I know who you are. Shake Your Booty. Marina's cousin, right?" Then he asks his real name and apologizes: "I'm sorry. I totally forgot. I thought it was next week. That you were coming."

Bootie gets dressed, and Julius introduces the man with whom he was entwined when they burst into the room as Lewis. "Bootie blinked solemnly at the muscular youth, at his fine, shaven head, his mocha skin, his bare biceps.... He couldn't tell whether Julius was drunk, or high." Bootie explains that he has nowhere else to go, but Julius doesn't respond. It's Lewis who manages to get Julius to leave, but not before Julius says, "She never mentioned you were fat." Lewis protests, "Man, that isn't necessary," and scolds Julius for "harassing the kid." He leads Julius out and then sticks his head back in to apologize. "Bootie knew that Lewis was not Julius's boyfriend.... Where was he? And who was Lewis?" But he returns to thinking about his manuscript.

Julius wakes with a hangover and regrets -- regrets for picking up Lewis, for the fact that Lewis lives just three blocks from David's apartment, and that he had been rude to Bootie. "The whole thing a colossal fuck-up."
Julius wallowed in the despair of his hangover: What the fuck was he doing with his life? With himself? He had meant to be sorting out his career this year; had been diverted -- so thoroughly -- by love; and now he wasn't even any good at that. He was an asshole, a selfish, screwed-up jerk. He was supposed to take the ten-thirty train out to Scarsdale for an extended weekend of Cohen-charming.
He had stayed in the city so he wouldn't have to spend as much time around David's mother, Adele, who can't remember where Julius is from -- "Is it Ohio?" she'd ask. "Illinois?" -- that his mother is Vietnamese and not Korean, and that his father is a football coach and not a bus driver. He claimed to be working on the piece Marina had asked him to write for The Monitor, but David had warned him that the cocaine he was using was not "going to help you write any piece at all, or even to get started." This fueled "the beginning of the anger that, well fueled, had him insulting Marina's stupid cousin."

He has four hours to go before he catches the train to Scarsdale, and he realizes that to justify staying in the city he has to come up with at least a subject for his article. "Or maybe he would do a little more of the stuff and power straight on through." He sees "a man leaning against the wall outside his apartment building who looked at once familiar and unfamiliar.... He reminded Julius of someone." He thinks it might be a spy hired by David. His thoughts are rambling and addled, and finally he decides he needs just an hour of sleep.

Marina has brought Ludo to Stockbridge where they share a bed "without parental comment." In the morning she sees her mother walking across the lawn and goes out to join her. She tells Annabel that she's going to finish her book and that she's going to marry Ludo. Her mother gives her a muted congratulation that Marina realizes is tinged with reservations. Marina tells her, "We're completely transparent and honest with each other. Not like our house, where we all pretend that we're honest but actually it's all bullshit." But Annabel assures her that she's happy for her: "You're alight with it. You're beautifully alive."

Marina tells her that they plan to marry on Labor Day weekend. "The magazine launches about ten days after that." And here we should remember that the novel is set in 2001. Once you learn that fact, and that the novel is set in New York City, you've seen Chekhov's gun: the one that, if it's shown in the first act, has to go off in the third act. Labor Day 2001 was September 3, eight days before 9/11.

They talk about how Annabel and Murray never argue. "Danielle had long ago joked -- to Marina's abiding annoyance -- that Annabel seemed, sometimes, like Murray's mother." And Annabel admits that "although I thought I knew him well when we married, my picture was colored by what I believed him to be.... I had to learn to see him clearly, and learn not to be disappointed." But Marina "did not want to have this conversation." They talk instead about the wedding, which Marina wants to have in Stockbridge, and about whether his family is coming: Ludo has only his mother and a younger brother named Darius, a journalist in Sydney with whom he doesn't get along. As for bridesmaids, Marina just wants Danielle: "It's weird, though. She basically set us up, Ludo and me, but she's been very strange about it all. About us.... Snippy. As if she's envious, or as if she doesn't like him. Or both." She thinks Danielle is "sorry that I have a job, and ... that I'm going to finish my book." She's also hurt that Danielle declined her invitation to spend the Fourth with her.

Murray then comes out, but Marina is not ready to tell him about the engagement.

Danielle is working in her office on a program about plastic surgery gone wrong, and is looking at pictures of buttocks deformed by liposuction. "If she did this well, if the ratings were good, Nicky would let her have any story she wanted:  reparations for Aborigines; nihilist revolution in the media; heck, why not a full hour on something crazy, like women terrorists?" She realizes that because of her relationship with Murray, she will probably never spend the Fourth of July in Stockbridge with the Thwaites again.

Her life has been "upended" by the affair and she feels like an addict. "She smelled him on her clothes, the biscuity waft of cigarettes that now permeated her once-clean studio and all its contents." She keeps a bottle of single-malt Scotch and a carton of Marlboros in her cupboard. She knows that Marina didn't believe her when she said she had to work instead of coming to Stockbridge, but that she "thought it was all about Seeley."

Then the office phone rings and, thinking that only Murray would be calling her, "'Beloved,' she whispered into the receiver." Unfortunately, it's Marina, who wants to know who the beloved is. Danielle lamely says, "I thought it was going to be my mom," which Marina, knowing Randy Minkoff, certainly doesn't believe. But Marina delivers the news: "I wanted you to be the first person after my parents to know. We're getting married." Danielle takes "a deep breath" and says she's happy for her. "That's -- amazing news." And Marina insists that she come for the Fourth: "There are going to be fireworks in Stockbridge. Consider it the engagement party." She won't take no for an answer, so Danielle reluctantly consents.

Later, on the street, Danielle sees Bootie "truffling toward the subway with a pile of papers under his arm." She calls out to him, and reintroduces herself. They observe that neither of them went to Stockbridge. He also confirms that he's "working for Murray these days. Probably not for long." But when she asks why he only shrugs. He tells her that he's writing an article for Marina and that she said Danielle had suggested it. "'So I guess I owe you a thank-you.' He didn't sound grateful." He assures her, "It's going to be big." As they part, Danielle observes,
He looked a little crazy. Unwell. 

"Good luck with that, then."

He nodded, head down, and shuffled off.

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