My eight books (plus a version 2.0 of one of them) are listed in chronological order.
Also check out a behind the scenes look at the writing of my novels.
Family Resemblances (Random House, 1986)
On the hottest days, my Aunt Augusta would drive around New Franklin with the windows rolled up, so that people would think the air conditioning still worked in the Buick she had inherited along with the house. The clear plastic cornucopias on either side of the rear window, which should have poured coolness on the back of our necks, were still quite noticeably there, but the remainder of the apparatus had succumbed to a mysterious illness some time ago. Occasionally, when she got to an out-of-the-way place, she’d hit the four buttons by her left hand and all the windows would slide down at once to let in relief, but she may have done this only when I was with her, to accommodate my weakness and youth; alone, for all I know, she never let down her resolve. She almost managed not to sweat, as if a regal bearing would keep her cool. Once when we were all visiting—my parents and I—my mother, red and hot, told her to her face it was absurd. Augusta, beautiful as she was, looked stony. I could see her in profile from where I sat in the back seat, and I was glad the Buick was big and I didn’t have to be any closer to her. Whose side to be on? There was a silence for half a block, and then she finally looked at my mother and said, “What they don’t know won’t hurt me.”
The first night of my visit, before I knew what I had come there to do, I lay in bed in the dark upstairs, hearing from downstairs the mutter of the radio, the announcer’s voice rising and falling with the events of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, the words indistinguishable. I remembered all the times I had lain in bed and half-heard the faint sounds of my aunt Augusta downstairs, listening to the ball game, washing the dishes, watering the house plants, sitting on the porch swing and making it creak faintly under my window—I took that for granted, as natural as cicadas. I had long ago ceased to wonder what she thought about all that time; it was a wonderful relief to be close to Augusta again and so, somehow, closer to myself than I could be anywhere else. Everything in the room—my room, as we both called it—everything except for me was the same as it always had been. It was one of my anchors in life to think of it always the same, waiting for me, whoever I might be, to return.
One thing you can’t help learning about life is that most of the time it puts up a lot of resistance, as if you were trying to write a passionate love letter with a pen dipped in molasses. And yet every once in a while the resistance decreases. It did that from one day to the next during the January of my senior year in high school—the stuff things were made of softened and began to flow in unpredictable directions.
At the time, I was listening to Ray Charles and John Coltrane every chance I got, I liked to read Dostoyevsky late at night, and I felt as though my balls might crack from internal pressure. The girls I knew at school seemed to think that getting good grades meant I shouldn’t want what their boyfriends wanted—but I made a hell of a confidant. If I couldn’t have a love life with them, at least they could tell me the truth about the ones they had. I had years of practice at that, with Toni Anastos, Claire Joseph—who once was my girlfriend, not for long enough—and more recently with Becca Shulman. I spent at least half an hour every evening on the phone with one or another of them; we squeezed the day ruthlessly for every drop of meaning. It would have thrilled Mr. Kearns, the AP English teacher, if only we’d been doing it to Shakespeare. Those were conversations I couldn’t have with boys, other than my best friend Dal, because if I tried to have them, all I got were variations on “Didja get to second base?”
I remember I was next to the back fence when I almost died. I was in the back yard, doing nothing, wandering around scuffing my feet in the old leaves that were spilling off of the pile that I had put there the previous fall, and what was I thinking? Nothing cosmic enough for such an occasion. I was probably thinking about work without meaning to, or trying to figure out why Ellen was feeling however she was feeling, and then I found myself lying on the ground by the back fence, my face turned toward the house. My cheek felt ground into the dirt. I had no memory of getting there; I seemed to have fallen without knowing it. I wanted to feel my head to see what had hit me, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and besides I couldn’t move my arms or, it seemed, any part of myself except my eyes, maybe not even them, except I was focusing sharply on some grass stems inches from my nose and it had been several years since I could focus well on anything that close, and they looked peaceful and shimmering there in the shade with the pear tree behind them and the afternoon light glowing on the grass behind that, and while I watched, a big, gorgeous, iridescent bug came into my view and made its way over some leaves, a beetle all purple-green, “like a Japanese beetle” I thought but it wasn’t one and I knew that.
This morning I found an extraordinary thing. It was a letter from Adam to a woman named Jessica—a love letter, pure and simple—and though it has no date I am sure it was written not long ago. It had to be written by someone over the age of twenty; and twenty-five, the age he amazingly is now, would be a lot more believable. I picture him sitting in this cabin not so long ago, this place where we used to come, his mother and I, eons ago, before. Where he came when he was a little boy, and she was still alive, and I had no idea that the happiness of those years was still the exception and not, as I imagined, the new rule of my life.
A radical revision of For Adam. It starts off almost exactly the same, but then quickly diverges because it does not contain the “Writer’s Journal.” This version (instigated by an editor who then rejected it) begins and ends in the same places, but the journey from beginning to end is a significantly different one, and my authorial efforts remain entirely behind the scenes.
On University Avenue in Palo Alto in the 1970’s there was a bar called the Shutter, where I hung out with my graduate student friends. We could just afford it if we didn’t drink much. I was in East Asian Studies and my friends Jay and Sheldon were in English; we were ABD’s—all but dissertation. The bar was a decent place to sit and argue ideas, not too loud to hear ourselves talk.
On a night that was in all other ways like many nights before it, a woman came in alone who made everyone in the place stare and then try not to.
When Susannah and I were lovers, the fact that she was married seemed irrelevant to me, except it limited our being together. I knew she could not love me any more than she did, husband or no husband, that he could not matter in the same way, that if she made love to David in the morning and me at noon it subtracted nothing from the truth of our love. She did do that, at least once; she told me so. But not to make me jealous, or threaten me in any way, simply as a curious, unexpected event in her life that she knew I would be interested in. Entertained by. We were complete, we were a world and though this world of ours was tightly bounded in time and space, nothing could make it less than whole.
We’re flying over it. Not at airplane height, not at sparrow height. Maybe at the altitude of a red-tailed hawk, or a vulture. It’s late in the afternoon, close to sunset. Long shadows fill in the spaces between houses so that it’s hard to be sure exactly what we’re seeing. There is no telling Vinita Park apart from the sea of inner St. Louis suburbs around it; it’s tiny and it boasts no landmarks, no distinguishing features whatever. It contains one actual park, and an industrial “park” several times larger than the green one. From the air there is no visible difference between Vinita Park and Vinita Terrace, Hanley Hills, Bel-Nor or Normandy. No boundary between it and University City to its south or Overland to its west – although on the other side of I-170, known as the Innerbelt, Overland becomes greener. On that side there is Lake Sherwood, which may be the headwaters of the River Des Peres, if it can still be said to have such a thing as a headwaters. The shadows all but hide the so-called river that runs between concrete banks and is now the backbone of the St. Louis sewer system.