By Charles Matthews

Thursday, January 20, 2011

9. The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud, pp. 325- 386

The Emperor's Children (Vintage)July. Chapter Forty-four: Weird; Chapter Forty-five: "Murray Thwaite: A Portrait" by Frederick Tubb; Chapter Forty-six: The Cuckoo in the Nest. September. Chapter Forty-seven: The Man Without Qualities; Chapter Forty-eight: Getting Ready; Chapter Forty-nine: Home Again; Chapter Fifty: Lady in Waiting; Chapter Fifty-one: "Vows by Lisa Solomon" Special to the New York Times; Chapter Fifty-two: Bedtime; Chapter Fifty-three: Tiger Woods.
Marina returns from her lunch with Murray having "contemplated tears, but decided to save them until the venting of her indignation inevitably brought them forth." Ludo claims not to be surprised at Murray's reaction: "How many times do I have to tell you that your father's sense of his own importance is deeply involved with keeping you down?... Your book is a more important work of thought and scholarship than anything he's produced in more than twenty years." But Marina rejects his attack on Murray.

She finally breaks into tears in her yoga class, and that night she calls Danielle for sympathy and denounces Murray herself as "a self-absorbed asshole." Danielle reassures Marina that Murray "adores" her and would "never willingly hurt" her. Now Marina thinks about having the wedding in a restaurant in the city rather than in Stockbridge: "Do I really want him to give me away, and on his own property?" And when Danielle asks if she can read the book, Marina puts her off: "she both cared and did not care what Danielle thought of it."

Bootie finishes his article about Murray, his disillusionment colored by Murray's delay in reading Marina's manuscript. "There was no time for fat library books with scolding titles, let alone for the hectoring tomes of Musil that glared at him from Julius's bookshelf." He prints out three copies at Kinko's and has them bound in red, navy, and black. The red is for Marina, the navy for his mother.
And the black one was for Murray (and for Annabel, of course, should he choose to share it), because he wanted, in all things, to be straightforward, and it was imperative that Murray should know what Bootie had been up to. Black seemed appropriately mournful: it expressed the sorrow with which he delivered his blow.
His mother is the first to reply, and she's furious: Murray didn't hire him to read his secret manuscript, she says. He's biting the hand that feeds him. "Are you going crazy on me, Bootie? What on earth is going on?" She warns him that Murray has "a miserable temper. He always did. And what you've done is terrible." Marina calls him two hours after his mother has chewed him out, describing the article as "an insane rant against my father." But she also says that Ludo has read it and it has caused a fight between them:
"He has some idea that your article -- I don't even want to call it an article -- is not the truth, but a truth, your truth. That's what he says. He sees validity in that. He figures The Monitor should run it, get people talking. It's a start, he says." But she's especially furious that he read the secret book. At least, she tells him, Murray doesn't need to know about it, so "We can put an end to this right now." She's stunned when he tells her that he gave him a copy.

Murray calls him into his office the next morning and begins by calling Bootie "Ambitious, serious, independent.... He was drawing this out on purpose, torturing Bootie." But he moves in swiftly for the kill: "where the fuck do you get off, you little nullity, you common little piece of shit, snooping around in my papers and crapping all over them!" And more: "You're a speck of filth from Watertown, New York, which is itself a speck of filth. You're a nothing. And do you know how I know? Because I was just like you, Christ, I was you, except I wasn't fat. But I knew my place." Bootie retorts that his "opinions were formed on the basis of facts.... Your manuscript -- How to Live -- it's a fact." He has waved a red flag, and Murray threatens, "A wave of my hand and you will simply cease to exist."
Bootie ... hadn't imagined that things would turn out this way. Then again, he simply hadn't imagined. He had been very certain, certain at least that Marina would want to publish his article. He had worked so hard to make it true. The rest, he'd thought, would fall into place, as long as he conducted himself honorably. Before he got to the door, he said, "You know that Ludovic Seeley isn't on your side, don't you? You know that he'd like to publish it?" 
He is pleased that Murray seems to be disconcerted by this, but he also expects Murray to "break into a grin, clap him on the shoulder" and say that it was all a joke. He doesn't.

Marina tells Danielle about the article, and finds the irony in it: "Daddy did this to me, you know, just a week ago, and now it's officially forgotten and all lovey-dovey, and I'm just supposed to suck it up. But Bootie's given him a dose of his own medicine, hasn't he? He's essentially telling Daddy not to publish this book. His secret book." She admits that the article made her wonder if her father wasn't just "a little bit shallow. And what if he's right?" She points out that Ludo thinks her father is shallow, but Danielle warns her that Ludo is not a "disinterested authority" where Murray is concerned. "I don't know what his motives are, but they're not straightforward." But she comes to realize "that Seeley's sway had all but turned" Marina, who says,
"All this time, if we believe Bootie, Daddy's been holed up reinventing the wheel. Live decently. Don't lose your temper. Embrace Beauty and Truth. Above all, Truth. Blah blah blah. Please. He's offering up tired maxims as if they were original gems. Just because he imagines he's a thinker doesn't mean he can suddenly turn into one." 
Bootie has reminded her father that he's mortal, she says, which is a good thing.

Danielle asks what happened to Bootie, although she already knows: "In a differently slanted account of events, Murray had, with a type of laughter that communicated his discomfort, told Danielle about kicking the boy out." Murray had rejected her sympathy for Bootie: "The kid's a creep." But he also admitted that "there's a tiny part of my brain wondering whether this kid is right. Whether he's the only one brave enough and dumb enough to tell me the truth." He tells her that he won't publish the book now: "It's a self-parody, as he says. It's a fake."

Marina also tells Danielle that Julius is looking for work because David has lost his job, so she's assigned him a piece about downtown parties: "He's agreed to do it -- our Julius, writing lifestyle garbage like that."

On the last day of August, Bootie moves out of the Pitt Street apartment because Julius and David are moving in. Julius has suggested that Bootie look for an apartment in the Village Voice classifieds, and he has found one to share in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. "He'd pretended to his mother, who had of course exhorted him to come home, that he was gainfully employed," but after three days as a busboy he had dropped a load of dishes. But Julius has also connected him with the temp agency that had sent him to work for David, and Bootie "was slated to begin work with some downtown financial agency the day after Labor Day." Julius and David arrive in a taxi, which Bootie takes to the place in Brooklyn. He has no furniture, but "had swiped a sheet from Julius, so that he could make a bedroll in which to sleep." He feels a pang because the wedding of Marina to Ludo is taking place that afternoon. "It couldn't be stopped, and yet it couldn't happen."

Marina is afraid that Bootie might actually crash the wedding, "might burst upon them on the day and wreak some sort of vengeance. Set the house on fire. Shoot her father. Kidnap her." Annabel assures her that Bootie won't do anything of the sort. "I think his article about Daddy was as close as he could come." Ludo, meanwhile, is more concerned about the launch party for The Monitor than about the wedding, complaining that Susan Sontag hasn't responded to the invitation. "But at least Renée Zellweger is a yes."

Marina has met with her book editor, who is "thrilled with the manuscript" and plans to publish it the next September. He thinks they might run first serial in Vogue or The New Yorker, and book her on Rosie McDonnell's show or on Oprah. "She wouldn't tell her father -- not yet, anyway. The wound, still unscabbed, couldn't take it."

David is miserable in Julius's old apartment, and he doesn't want to go to the wedding. Julius reminds him, "'I've been to plenty of things for you.' Now, more than ever, Julius was aware of this. Aware of all he had relinquished -- willingly, it was true; but still. The wedding was non-negotiable." He tells David that he needs him to drive the car, which they are supposed to pick up in an hour. The drive is two and a half hours, and the wedding starts at six, and Julius wants to check into the hotel first. David still dreads it: "It's like all your friends are members of Mensa or something. Like you have to pass some stupid test to join the club." But he agrees. When they step out on the street, Julius puts his arm around him, "but pulled it immediately away because he thought he could feel David flinch, because he knew David didn't want their intimacy to be seen."

Danielle is dreading the event almost as much as David. The dependency that both Murray and Marina have on Annabel reminds her that she's not part of the family. "Murray turned to her not heliotropically, but in the small and sorry spirit of diversion." In fact, "Murray kept well out of things." He is "supposedly finishing a newspaper column, or was it a magazine essay," Marina tells Danielle. When he appears and joins her in the pergola, she tells him it's probably not a good thing to be seen together. He replies, "My family would think it odd if I didn't flirt with you just a little. I have a reputation to live up to." She makes him promise that they will have a night together, to which he says, "Don't you know yet that the more we have, the more we'll want?" Which pleases her. He tells her that he was supposed to lecture in Chicago on Monday, but the event has been canceled. It's still on his calendar, however: "I'm officially out of town."

A gushing article on the wedding appears in the New York Times.  Julius is quoted as saying, "The whole wedding was so Marina." The article mentions her "forthcoming book" and the fact that her father is "the celebrated journalist Murray Thwaite." Danielle, "a producer for public television," is mentioned as having introduced Marina to Ludo, who is "to take the helm of the new Merton Publications weekly, The Monitor, which launches on September thirteenth."

After the wedding, Murray stretches out on the bed and talks to Annabel, who mentions that "Danielle left with Julius and his boyfriend. I told her to stay, but I guess she thought it would be weird, to have breakfast with just you and me." When Murray comments that Ludo has "hooked our Marina, and ended up related to me at the same time," Annabel comments, "That's a little self-absorbed even for you, my darling." But Murray is still worried that Ludo is going to publish Bootie's article.

Danielle spends the night on the floor of Julius and David's hotel room because she doesn't want to stay with Murray and Annabel, or to ride back to the city with them. In the morning as she showers, she remembers the quarrel Marina and Ludo had over the reporter from the Times, which Ludo wanted to do because "It's good for The Monitor." To Danielle, this was Ludo "revealing his true cynic's colors. For him, even the wedding was about advancing his career.

She had finally met David, who
seemed, to Danielle, a ... young -- definitely younger -- perfectly polite, handsome-enough, sort of boring seeming guy from Westchester, a businessy type, the kind of guy, back in college, to whom you cheerfully said hello at the salad bar, with a genuine smile, even, but with whom you never bothered further, because you sensed -- from the clothes, the friends, the haircut, the major (probably Political Science, or Economics), even from the tenor of his voice -- that he didn't have anything interesting to say.
She still can't divine the reason for the "intensity" and "prolonged secrecy" of Julius's relationship with him. When she comes out of the shower he is awake and offers to drive her to the train. She realizes that he wants to get rid of her, so she agrees. The station is almost an hour away in Albany, and they talk about the grimness of Julius's apartment, about Bootie, about his majoring in political science and her majoring in English -- each of them confirming the other's stereotype. She talks about how she can't remember what's in the books on her shelves, or even reading them, and he tells her to throw them away, which shocks her. "What is it about books?" he asks. "Perfectly rational people get crazy about their books. Who has time for that?" Then he confirms another stereotype of Danielle's when he says he plays golf. (He has earlier said that he thinks Julius looks like Tiger Woods.)
Danielle reflected that growing up, coupling, was a process of growing away from mirth, as if, like an amphibian, one ceased to breathe in the same way: laughter, once vital sustenance, protean relief and all that made isolation and struggle and fear bearable, was replaced by the stolid matter of stability: nominally content, resigned and unafraid, one grew to fear jokes and their capacity to unsettle. Where there had been laughter, there came a cold breeze. What, after all, was Julius doing shacked up with a golf-loving businessman? ... It seemed hard to credit that this person made Julius's joy, that he was either Pierre or Natasha to Julius's Pierre or Natasha.
When he drops her at the station, he seems to cheer up, "so pleased was he to be rid of her." And left alone in the station her thoughts turn once again to Murray. "She wanted him to be wanting her, even now, in bed with Annabel, to be wanting to reach for his cell phone, to establish a connection: their connection."

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