The Interlocutor's Tale
We start with two beautiful Spanish heiresses, cloistered by an old-fashioned, opinionated father, who seize the occasion of his hospitalization following a mild heart attack to finagle money from their trust account and escape to New York. In their first taste of freedom, they check into a luxury hotel on Fifth Avenue and anticipate a glamorous adventure. We add that neither of them knows a word of English.
The taxi driver doesn't know a word of Spanish; so they try to pantomime their wish to be taken to a chic, romantic nightclub, and he, misunderstanding, takes them to the wrong kind of place, where things don't go well. You can see that this story is not going to proceed smoothly.
Add that the taxi driver is a recent immigrant from a distant country, struggling to unlock America with a skeleton key of rudimentary English, unhappily sharing a dingy apartment with a loyal but obnoxious friend from home. Add that he falls madly in love with one of the sisters the moment she gets into the back seat of his cab. Add that she is pretty attracted to him, too. She likes his eyes.
Add that the father, furious with his best friend the banker who'd succumbed to a flash of leg and a pouting lip, easily discovers where his daughters have gone and hops on a jet with the banker. They check into the same hotel and, while waiting for the daughters to return, pursue a sexual adventure with two southern sisters, who have themselves run away to New York for a weekend of excitement.
There's a lot more, but that's all I'm going to tell you. If I did, you might not believe it anyway. To believe, you have to read the novel. It is the true romantic's romance. It is Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, with immigration instead of death, a New York taxi instead of a palace. A wonderful take on an old, old story: The fantastic triumph of possibility over prediction.
Published by Collioure Books in "trade" (high quality) paperback.
The Interlocutor's Tale opens in 1980, on a Saturday evening in Manhattan. Tina and Yvette are two beautiful young sisters who, ironically, find themselves in an America their genteel European father abhorred, and from which he tried to shelter them.
What are they doing in America, then? Because, when their father died, his fortune (slated for their education or dowries)) became their ticket to freedom when they used it "to run off to Manhattan, New York, NY, USA, to the Hotel Meridien, to the twenty-fifth floor, to travel and adventure and a little fun in their lives, finally, finally, after all the years of denial and deprivation, of being kept in the dark and out of the know by a stubborn, old-fashioned father who cared nothing about their happiness nor about their desires."
Thus opens a story of two similar but ultimately very different sisters who find themselves beginning their lives, but stumbling into a mixed-up series of mishaps in the course of a multi-faceted tale, "strangely powered by fate, by magic, and by love."
As the first person observer of the story, who maintains an eye for irony and magic in the world, explores not just their lives but those of others, The Interlocutor's Tale evolves a certain sense of joie de vivre blended with astute observations as Yvette, Tina, Pierre, and others find their seemingly different destinies complicated and entwined.
Just as fate can sometimes hang on a single second, so The Interlocutor's Tale evolves in complexity as Pierre/ Sasha becomes entangled in their lives in a manner even clever Tina can't bend to her will. Tina and Yvette are fast becoming more than mirrors of one another, but are probing and finding their own fates and destinies against the backdrop of broken dreams, missed opportunities, and clashes.
Even Pierre senses these lost moments, even if they reveal dreams. "There are times to wrestle with metaphysics, and there are times to take things at face value and enjoy. This was one of those latter times, but poor me, I could not do it. I should have. I should have thrown my right arm around her bare shoulders and pulled her closer. I should have leaned in for a kiss. I should have laughed with her and experienced the sound of our laughter intertwining. Life offers up opportunities more often than we might think, but oftentimes they only last an instant. Hesitate and they are gone. Who knows when the next one will come along?"
Paul Kaufman switches the first-person observer's identity and perspectives [so it seemed to the reviewer], yet under his hand there is no confusion about observer and participant in the evolving story--just a series of insights that add full flavor and definition to the boundaries of changing relationships. He's a master at crafting these scenarios and beliefs, and at translating early upbringings, restrictions, and perceptions into newfound revelations as his characters grow and change.
Readers seeking a multifaceted romp through the lives and influences of a cast of characters whose trajectories in life overlap and influence one another will relish the astute observations of The Interlocutor's Tale, which creates a compelling, almost surreal survey of nightmares, dreams, and revitalized relationships. It's a highly recommended story for readers who like their characters rich in detail and well steeped in the culture and international influences of New York.
Okay. Believe this tale or not. Everything is happening exactly as I describe it, but you may be skeptical, and if you are I understand. This tale, my tale, is strangely powered by fate, by magic and by love.
Sasha taps the old man's shoulder. "What is she saying?"
“She is very charmed to meet you. Right from the beginning..."
“In the taxicab, yes," Sasha agrees. "When I am seeing her face, my heart is singing. I feel..."
“I am feeling some good things, some things very good. It is not easy for me here. This city is not such a good place for me.”
“You are a taxi-driver?”
“Yes. Tonight is my first time.”
“Your first time?”
The translator is laughing. "Your first night and this?" He waves his hands around to encompass everything. Sasha nods. The old man laughs some more.
So to summarize, at this moment we have two roommates conversing in Turkish or Russian in a taxicab on Fifth Avenue outside a club. We have two sisters inside that club posing fetchingly on a satin love-seat, conversing in Spanish. And we have two exhausted older gentlemen, up to their Spanish ears in the sauce, sipping dry martinis and commiserating about how tired they are, uptown in the lounge of the Hotel Meridien. Sacre bleu! Just kidding. I don't speak French either, but seriously what a mess!
Don Marco checks with Giuseppe Margolies, who rolls his bottom lip and shrugs, then he looks back up at Ruby-Dale Gilmour, trying to take her all in, her big blonde hair, her bright blue eyes and black mascara-ed eyelashes, her large tightly bloused breasts, her large tightly skirted bottom. The skin above the top of her stockings felt warm and firm to his old fingers. When was the last time you felt skin like that, he asks himself as he struggles to make up his mind, and when will you ever again? Thinking mostly of this, of how her skin felt under her skirt, he shrugs his shoulders too.
Three days from now they will take a cab back to the airport and fly home to Atlanta, Georgia... Neither of them will ever mention tonight's midnight swim to the other... until one night, ten years from now, when Patty-Rae Evans is in a hospital bed, recovering from a radical mastectomy, and Ruby-Dale Gilmour, in an effort to cheer her failing sister, will laughingly retell the entire drunken affair, every last detail. They will both howl unrestrainedly, and Patty-Rae Evans will tease Ruby-Dale Gilmour and call her a slut, and Ruby-Dale Gilmour will good-naturedly remind her that it was all her idea... The laughter will get loud and out of control, and the two sisters will embrace and cry together, and Patty-Rae Evans will recover two weeks earlier than her doctor had predicted, and Ruby-Dale Gilmour will, three months later, leave her philandering husband and show up at her sister's front door early one morning, suitcase in hand.
Yvette looks around the lobby as if the answer might be hidden there. No answer, but the night clerk... is watching her, trying to catch her eye... She stares back at him, sending him an icy message: No! Stay away! No chance at all! The night clerk, of course, misinterprets. How could he not, wishing as he does that her message is the opposite? ...He stands up and begins to come around the desk, and seeing him, Yvette jumps out of the chair and skips back to the elevator, rapping the button on the wall with her fist... She walks quickly back to room 2510... Tina is standing next to the bed, her packed bags on the floor by her feet as though she has been standing there the whole time, waiting for Yvette to come back. She has a wild look in her eyes. Great, Yvette thinks. Just great!
You know, I could tell you what Pierre/ Sasha is dreaming about at this moment... under Yvette/ Francesca's watchful gaze. I could but I won't. For one thing, you'd be disappointed. You'd like to believe that, at this moment, he's dreaming about Snow White, that he has been searching for her... He dreams he can almost hear the beating of her heart, feel her breath on his cheek... He dreams that... he suddenly feels fingers brush the back of his neck... and he awakens to see her face above him... You would like to believe that this is the dream he's having, and I do, I encourage you to believe it if you like. It does no harm. It's only a dream after all, and the fact that he's dreaming about something else, something about chasing his cab through a traffic jam is completely irrelevant.
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