Spanish-born, New York-raised, Tom Quays is an immigrant kid of pre-war Manhattan. As he grows up, love (Jesca ‘Yes’ Moller is smart, dark-eyed and elusive) and war (Tom, at 18, is pitched into the hell of the Meuse-Argonne) leave him with scars that won’t heal easily. A painful association with the radical printer Eddy Hassler is broken up by death, politics and the FBI.
The Jazz Age – and a novel inspired by the doomed Hassler – brings literary fame and throws Tom into friendship with wild young novelist Colman Smith and the complex and compelling Maggie Rorke – but the memory of ‘Yes’ Moller won’t let him be. Hassler, too, casts a long shadow across Tom’s life. As Tom searches for redemption in radical politics, Col Smith careens off the rails – and takes Tom and Maggie with him. Truth and reality smear into a blur of drink, sex, love and bright city lights.
Who was Eddy Hassler? A radical, an eccentric – or a terrorist? The muckraking journalist Clad Gaskell thinks he knows. And where is ‘Yes’ Moller? There’s a young woman in an upstate mental asylum who looks a lot like her. Amid it all – the doubt, the noise, Col Smith’s madness and the dangerous allure of Maggie Rorke – Tom Quays tries to go on writing, all the while wondering why the hell he even tries. It can’t go on. One night in ’26, it all falls apart.
The politicised ‘30s find Tom booze-soaked and washed up – until an ambitious magazine journalist, Penelope Bailey, takes an interest in his story. A rising star on the staff of the male-dominated Metropolitan, Miss Bailey has troubles of her own. Straitlaced Clad Gaskell and the predatory editor Abe Lambert are lined up against her; Tom Quays – weary, drunk and halfway in love – is drawn into one last fight.
From Chapter 2:
“I went to war in 1917. I never drank whisky till I went to war. And it wasn’t until I went to war and drank whisky that I realised that Eddy Hassler put whisky in his coffee. It wasn’t until I went to war that I understood about Eddy Hassler. I didn’t know a thing about Eddy Hassler.” Tom smiled. “But how much can anyone know about anyone anyhow?”
“So what did it matter if Eddy put whisky in his coffee?” Dorothy lifted her elbow on to the back of the couch and smoothed an eyebrow with one fingertip.
“Who the hell said that it mattered? I never said anything about that; what I said was, that was the first thing I really understood about Eddy. You know? It was – it was an intimacy. That’s what it was. Even though at that moment – that moment of realisation – I was ankle-deep in French cowshit with eight ounces of kraut munitions in my knee and Eddy – well, Eddy was back in New York, wasn’t he. In jail. I don’t know if they’d’ve let him put whisky in his coffee.”
Dorothy was shaking her head but there was a smile on her lips.
“And you can be as intimate as you like,” she said, “and still you’ll never know anything about anyone.”
“Is that a question or are you telling me?”
“I wouldn’t presume to tell you anything. I don’t believe there’s anything you don’t already know, Great King Thomas of Spain. Was there ever a King Thomas in Spain? I only know about – oh, the one whose beard was singed. My God, I’m ignorant.” She laughed. “And look, now, here’s me without a cigarette.”
“I don’t smoke, I’m afraid.”
“I know you don’t, darling, you’re far too pure and splendid for that. Bunny’ll have cigarettes. You’ll excuse me, won’t you?”
Tom spread his hand so as to indicate that he would.
When Dorothy Parker was first introduced to Tom Quays she dropped to her knees and kissed his hand. The Simpleton And The Sage had just been published, and Tom was twenty-six.
“God. Abe Lambert’s falling all over.” She dropped back on to the couch beside him. “Laurie must have started putting liquor in his liquor. But I’m so sorry, Tom.” She drew on her cigarette as though it were a chore that had to be got out of the way, and squinted with a smile through the smoke. “Where were we?”Read more...
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