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2 VERNON DOWNS by Jaime Clarke Aspiring writer Charlie Martens believes his future depends on just one thing: marrying the woman who loves him. An explosion that killed his parents when he was young landed him in foster care and he's desperate to get off the carousel of foster homes and start a family of his own. But when his fiancée leaves him and quickly marries someone else, his desperate mind fixates on Vernon Downs: together they read all of Downs’ novels, saw the films based on his books, and followed Downs’s movements through glimpses in gossip columns and profiles in glossy magazines. Once abandoned, Vernon Downs becomes a talisman for Charlie. He writes chastising letters to reviewers critical of Downs, co-opts Downs's writing style and themes for his own work, and even enrolls in a summer writing program at Camden, Downs’s alma mater—all in an effort to feel a real connection with the author who meant so much to him and the love of his life...and perhaps find a way back to her. After finessing Downs's home address from the alumni office at Camden, Charlie solicits the author for the first full-length interview he's given in years. Downs agrees and his offhanded suggestion at the end of the interview that Charlie move to New York City to begin his life as an apprentice writer seems like a dream. He does and quickly ingratiates himself into Downs's dizzying world of glamour and celebrity. When Downs asks Charlie to apartment sit and help organize his archives while he’s away finishing a new novel, Charlie can hardly believe his luck. But the offer invites certain temptations and it isn’t long before Charlie moves dangerously from fandom to apprentice to outright possession. “Vernon Downs is a gripping, hypnotically written and unnerving look at the dark side of literary adulation. Jaime Clarke's tautly suspenseful novel is a cautionary tale for writers and readers alike—after finishing it, you may start to think that J.D. Salinger had the right idea after all.” –Tom Perrotta, author of Election, Little Children, and The Leftovers “Here’s a meta-mind trip for you: Bret Easton Ellis, author of the celebrity-obsessed tomes Glamorama and American Psycho, is now the subject of a novel himself. Pop your Xanax, people. The plot: a young writer crazily obsesses about [a] celebrity novelist. Woah.” – Gawker “Vernon Downs is a fascinating and sly tribute to a certain fascinating and sly writer, but this novel also perfectly captures the lonely distortions of a true obsession.” – Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia “What makes Clarke’s excellent novel stand out isn’t just its rueful intelligence, but its startling sadness. Vernon Downs is first rate.” – Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine

Coming April 2014 from Bloomsbury Reader

3 B.E.E. & Me: A True Story behind Vernon Downs by Jaime Clarke

Once upon a time, I wanted to be Bret Easton Ellis, American novelist and author to date of Less Than Zero, The Rules of Attraction, American Psycho, The Informers, Glamorama, Lunar Park, and Imperial Bedrooms. I guess I was the last to realize this (I thought I wanted to be F. Scott Fitzgerald), but friends and fellow writers were kind enough not to point it out. If anything I think I thought I wanted to be a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel: cool, dispassionate, cynical and satiric. As I stumbled out of the midnight showing of the film version of Less Than Zero back in 1987, my sixteen-yearold mind was convinced that these characteristics were the foundation of any sophisticated teenage upbringing. Too, I identified with the protagonist, Clay, whose loyalty to his friends expressed itself on paternal grounds: he’d do anything for his friends and I felt the same way. And while I wasn’t rich, didn’t dress in designer labels, go to private school (though I would eventually transfer to one), live in a big house in a fashionable neighborhood, or drive a cool car, I adopted an apathetic, moralistic attitude and began being bummed out by the human condition while craving all those things I didn’t have. This new attitude was disastrous to the life I’d been leading until I walked into the theater that night, my friends agreeing to wait for the midnight show so that I could finish my 4-11 shift at Pete’s Fish and Chips in Tolleson, the small, predominately Mexican town outside of Phoenix that lent its name to the public high school my friends and I

4 attended, a far cry from the world of private schools in Beverly Hills blazing on the big screen that night. Rather than the Beverly Center or Spago’, the town of Tolleson consisted of strip malls and convenience stores, a P.O., bank, and car wash—all ringed by farm land worked by migrant and sometimes illegal aliens. Tolleson Union High School was perched at the 99th Avenue end of Van Buren and I milled around after school, waiting for my shift to start, shuffling the block and a half down to Pete’s, a squat red and white building where I slaved over the fry cooker for thirty-nine hours a week. I searched for how I could start the metamorphosis from lowly fast-food worker into the stratosphere of the wealthy elite. My first order of business was to get a better car. I traded in my midnight blue Wolfsburg Edition Volkswagen Rabbit with personalized plates (MY HARE) for a red Nissan Pulsar NX with personalized plates (O2B YNG), complete with removable T-tops, which I always removed before driving to class. I upgraded my wardrobe the best I could, scouring the racks at Marshalls and other discount stores for brand-name shirts and ties. On a trip to Mexico, I bought a fake Rolex to complement my new look. I exchanged my inexpensive sunglasses for Ray-Bans, shelling out more than three-fourths of a Pete’s paycheck for a pair. Between my new car payment and my shopping sprees, my paychecks were slowly being maxed out; the installation of a car phone in my Pulsar nearly broke the bank. I decided on a car phone after seeing one in the Mercedes of a fellow student at Brophy College Preparatory, the all-boys Catholic school I transferred to on the advice of my elementary school friend whose father had given me the job at Pete’s. My fellow student had invited me to ditch class with the other Young Republicans and attend a rally for President Reagan, who was speaking in Tempe at Arizona State University. As we motored off campus, I admired

5 the leather interior of what I thought was my friend’s sleek black Mercedes 190E. (I learned later that the car loosely belonged to him and was but one of a fleet of cars owned by his family.) A Young Republican sitting up front grabbed the car phone off its cradle and called in a pizza, which we picked up on our way to Tempe. I wondered what we looked like to the casual observer, a car full of Young Republicans ordering a pizza from a car phone on our way to hear the president. In order to forget the terrible ending of my relationship with my high school girlfriend, whom I’d converted to Mormonism in an attempt to impress (another story), I tried to lose myself in books, reading and rereading my copy of Less Than Zero, the Elvis Costello-inspired sunglasses on the cover staring out at me. Ellis seemed to have much in common with my other favorite writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the days before Internet searches, it was hard work to come by the kinds of biographical information that is so readily indexed and available in the modern age. I spent all my spare time at the library as I searched newspaper and magazine indices for the mention of Ellis’s name. Reviews were aplenty, but only a shadowy sketch of the author’s life emerged: I learned that, much like Fitzgerald, Ellis was the product of a private education; both had success at a young age (Fitzgerald was twenty-three when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published in 1920; Ellis was twenty-one when Less Than Zero was published in 1985); and both had written a first novel that scandalized a generation. There was certainly room enough in my infatuation with F. Scott Fitzgerald for his modern-day counterpart. I was hungry to read more—anything more—by Ellis and quickly devoured his second novel, The Rules of Attraction, which was published the same year the film

6 version of Less Than Zero premiered. The knowledge that Ellis had recently graduated from Bennington College in Vermont layered Rules, a multiply narrated tale set at Camden College (a thinly fictionalized Bennington), with potential autobiography. I imagined Ellis revolving in the same world as Lauren and Paul and Sean, the myth about what it must be like to attend Bennington growing large in my mind. I imagined Dressed To Get Screwed Parties spilling out of the common rooms of the clapboard dorms lining both sides of the common lawn, ending in free-for-alls at the End of the World; dorms littered with debris from the last, great can’t-miss party; classmates who lived as if they were rockstars, always on tour. The lack of real biographical material overwhelmed my common sense about reading too much into an author’s work. Plus, if This Side of Paradise was based on Fitzgerald’s experiences at Princeton, who was to say Rules wasn’t informed by Ellis’s experiences at Bennington? Reading Ellis inspired my latent creative side, and I began taking notes for a novel loosely based on my own experience and my misunderstanding of Jay Gatsby as a sympathetic character to be worshipped and emulated. The main character would be a sensitive, overly romantic narrator beaten up by a romance that was aborted for reasons unknown to him. I managed a first draft titled The Vegetable King—a title derived from two occurrences in my life at that point: (1) I’d just seen the movie The Fisher King for a discount price at the college cinema at Arizona State University, where I’d enrolled, and fell under its spell and (2) I’d just read about how F. Scott Fitzgerald’s play The Vegetable had been a colossal flop. I posited that if I could write a successful book titled The Vegetable King, it would banish this particular literary ghost forever.

7 The publication of Ellis’s third novel, American Psycho, would turn my own novel in a dramatic new direction. Ellis had become a touchstone of inspiration, but after the initial surge of influence his work held over me, he receded into my subconscious, always there, never forgotten, but stored neatly in a readily accessible box—until I opened the Arizona Republic and saw a half-page picture of Ellis on the front page of the Arts section. I stared dumbly at the picture. Why was there a picture in the Republic of Bret Easton Ellis sitting backwards in a folding chair in what looked like someone’s kitchen? Just as startling as the photograph was the attendant article about the furor caused by the publication of his novel, American Psycho. The elements of the furor seemed fantastic, belonging more to a government plot to assassinate the president, or a cover-up of presidential misdoing, than to the gentile world of publishing: sections of the book leaked to Time magazine by staffers at Ellis’s publisher who abhorred the book; a boycott instituted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) because of the graphic nature of the murder and torture committed by Patrick Bateman, the narrator, against women (forcing Ellis to travel with bodyguards, if he traveled), the last-minute pulping of the book by the publisher, who allegedly bent to the will of its parent company, Gulf and Western; the book’s being snapped up by another publisher (and Ellis’s being paid twice for the same book, getting to keep the original six-figure advance). I gulped back the information as quickly as I could swallow it, reading and studying the article, the details weaving themselves into my personal fabric. For days after, the scandal was all I could think about. I was outraged at the First Amendment infringement and cowardice of his original publisher, of course, but that Ellis’s work was

8 being boycotted seemed impossible. And deliciously exciting. I couldn’t recall another book that had made an impression on the culture the way American Psycho was, and what was a writer’s job if not to stir the collective conscience? My first reaction was to write a letter to Ellis’s agent in New York. I felt sure that he would want my aid in the fight, and I secretly hoped that he would anoint me as his apprentice. What I didn’t realize until much later, long after my letter went unanswered, was that he must’ve been receiving bags full of mail, the hate mail announcing itself loudly, the fan mail tainted with the possibility that the letter writer was posing as an admirer to get to Ellis. I was so sure that Ellis would answer that I took the step of buying a roundtrip ticket to New York when a start-up carrier based in Phoenix, America West Airlines, offered discounted tickets to all of its destinations as a promotion for the princely sum of $150. But the airline ticket expired in my desk without an answer from Ellis or his agent. In what I thought would be both a show of support and a way to apprentice myself to Ellis, I applied to transfer from Arizona State University to Bennington College. I spent countless hours staring at the two-dimensional photo of what I later learned was the Commons, imagining myself ensconced in the woods of Vermont, pecking away at a brilliant manuscript. Bennington’s outrageous tuition—then the most expensive college in the country—and how I would pay for it didn’t phase me. I was willing to borrow it without the hope of ever paying it back, if necessary. I filled out the application in a fever, pressing my current teachers for recommendations. Upon receiving my application, Bennington called to inquire if I was available for an interview. I doublechecked the expiration date on my ticket to New York and reluctantly admitted that a trip

9 to Vermont for an interview was cost-prohibitive. No matter: Bennington could arrange for an interview with a local alum in my area. I was given the name of a graduate who was now a practicing physician in downtown Phoenix with instructions to contact her to set up the desired interview. My application languished, the alum’s information full of holes from repinning it to the wall in my bedroom, my resolve to call from my part-time job as a clerk in a law firm dissipating as my shifts dragged on. My daily proximity to lawyers kept my mother’s dream of my attending law school alive and the pull to make money was a force that overpowered the notion of spending tens of thousands of dollars to attend a school that didn’t even give grades. Still, the idea of writing a book that would contribute to modern culture in some way appealed to me. But it was a gamble, and while I wasn’t averse to risk, I wanted the risk to be calculated. The internal compromise came in the form of my transferring to the University of Arizona in Tucson, a hundred or so miles south of Phoenix. Remnants of the heyday of UofA’s creative program lingered and the two years at Arizona would be a proving ground to see if the writing life was for me. So without knowing a soul, I picked up and moved to an unfurnished apartment right off Speedway, the main thoroughfare, which boasted the university. With no telephone, television, car, or job, I would be able to spend every extra minute writing the novel that would be my calling card into the world of letters. Immediately upon arriving in Tucson, I haunted the fourth floor of the three-story Modern Languages building on the palm-tree-studded lawn in the heart of campus. I flipped through the listings of contests posted on the bulletin board, admired the display

1 of dust jackets from the books published by graduates and faculty, and became a familiar face to the faculty whose tiny offices were overflowing with great books. Having transferred at the beginning of the calendar year, I felt like I was jumping aboard a ship that had set sail from a previous port: Those students who had entered the program together seemed to know one another and had a collegial familiarity with one another’s work, though it was easy to assimilate into this community once I exhibited a commitment to the common fight. The sense of certain failure at what we were all trying to accomplish—i.e., to live the writing life—bonded us tightly together. My continual rereading of American Psycho convinced me that the highly pornographic imagery in the novel contributed heavily to the outrage about the book and I decided to press this point in my own work. The idea that a reader’s prudishness could be used against a work of art was highly offensive, and I knew the only way to exorcise these conservative demons from the reading public was to continue to treat pornography as an essential element of literature. I set about revising The Vegetable King along these lines, imbuing the narrator with the same general qualities as Patrick Bateman, the narrator in American Psycho. I carefully studied the ways in which Ellis wove the fabric of Bateman’s personality, and set out to duplicate this texturing, to ensure that the pornographic scenes would be believable. I knew the scenes could be dismissed as gratuitous if the groundwork wasn’t laid, and it wasn’t my intention to titillate or to scandalize; I simply wanted a serious discussion of how pornography was a viable element of literature. I wasn’t to be satisfied in this, though, as my classmates talked around the pornographic scenes, the girls in my workshop viewing me askance as they awaited their

1 turn to discuss what I’d handed in. That a young, single, college-aged male who lived alone in an apartment without furnishings, a television, or a telephone was writing pornography was, in hindsight, probably not a surprise to anyone in my workshop and it quickly became clear that an honest discussion about the use of pornography was not forthcoming. A few brave souls piped up to say they thought the pornographic scenes were extraneous, and distracting, an argument I easily dismissed in my mind as amateurish and conservative. Another frustrating aspect of the workshop was that I was allowed only so many turns in the rotation; with no job and no social obligations, I was churning out twenty or so pages a week, and even when I did come up in the rotation, I couldn’t reasonably expect my classmates to read more than about fifteen pages. It was clear to me that I needed another audience and so I floated the idea of starting an outside writing group among a few friends in the program, startled at the overwhelming reception it received. I quickly committed to the idea and hosted the first meeting at my spacious apartment, everyone sitting cross-legged along the bare walls. I christened the group the Burgundy Club in homage to Herman Melville, who founded the first Burgundy Club (which referred to him and a bottle of wine, alone at a table, when the other New York clubs wouldn’t offer him membership), and the name was immediately approved. In addition to christening the group, I’d prepared a binder for each member (with the member’s name markered neatly in the upper right-hand corner) for the express purpose of being able to keep the chapters of The Vegetable King together and in sequence. I worried that the binders would freak the other members out, but they accepted the binders as if they were a membership prize, and with the group’s infinite patience (I learned to recognize when

10 someone’s attention to my manuscript was flagging and to just let it go), I was able to complete a draft of The Vegetable King that I considered a finished draft. The next step, of course, was finding a publisher. If I was to follow in Ellis’s footsteps, my pedigree needed to mirror his as closely as possible, which meant publishing a novel while I was still in college. So I spent afternoons in the university library, researching publisher and agent addresses, stopping at the computer lab before and after this research trip to print out a chapter of my novel since I did not have a printer at home. The lab monitors were notoriously vigilant about students printing too many copies, so I developed a routine where I would hit each computer lab in a rotation that never allowed the same monitor to see me twice. Armed with a list of the top publishers and agents, I delved into my student loan money to fund a day at the post office, sending off as many copies as I was able to produce clandestinely. By day two, the wait to hear back was so excruciating that I had to manufacture reasons to leave the apartment, to occupy my mind with thoughts about something other than literary success. I took long walks around Tucson, sometimes hiking the levels of the university parking garage near my apartment to take in a panoramic view of the Old Pueblo. I spent evenings at the campus dollar cinema, one in a crowd of a dozen or so who were paying to see a movie they’d seen a thousand times before. Another timewasting routine was to stand at the magazine rack at the campus bookstore and leaf through the glossies, passively reading interviews with celebrities or articles about celebrities or perusing photos of celebrities—anything that might distract me from the vision I kept having of my book face-out on a bookstore shelf, and then from the stream

11 of rejections flowing from New York publishers who didn’t want to publish The Vegetable King. One particular evening I was golfing a tennis ball around my barren apartment, contemplating a rewrite of my manuscript, when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find a UPS deliveryman with a thick package under his arm. My hand shook as I signed for the package, spotting the Random House return label, sensing that the venerable publisher—Ellis’s publisher!—was delivering me good news express. A classy act, sending me the news via UPS, I thought, knowing they had probably tried unsuccessfully to locate me via phone. I ripped open the envelope, packing material falling around me like snow. I wondered if Random House had just gone ahead and sent me a contract, maybe even a check for a healthy advance on what was sure to be a lifetime of royalties. I dropped the copy of my manuscript on the floor to free up my hands to deal with the unsealed envelope bearing the same stamp as the return label. I read the letter slowly, realizing the words “not right for our list at the moment” were meant not just for me, but for anyone who had sent them an unsolicited manuscript. A sickness enveloped me and I crawled into bed, skipping classes the following day. *** Home on break and scanning the newsstand at the local bookstore, I happened upon the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, an issue that contained a scathing review of The Informers, a new book by Ellis. I read and reread the article, amazed that I’d heard nothing about this book (but then, how would I have?), picking through the

12 venomous article to find out what the book was about. The Informers was, it seemed, a story collection set primarily in Los Angeles—a return to Ellis’s hunting grounds. The review reignited a thirst for All Things Ellis and between noun declensions and verb conjugates, I obsessed about what Ellis’s life was like post American Psycho. Did he still need bodyguards? Was NOW still out to get him? I put myself on the waiting list for the library copy of The Informers, hoping the book would answer these questions. While waiting to read Ellis’s new book, I sated my appetite by writing a letter to the editor at EW, chastising the magazine for jumping on the anti-Ellis bandwagon, and they printed it in an issue a couple of weeks later under the heading, “Hip Stir”:

Once again a reviewer has overlooked the technical and literary genius of one of the brightest authors or our time, Bret Easton Ellis, whose work does represent the state of hip fiction today. I’ll wager Lisa Schwarzbaum thinks Douglas Coupland is hip. —Jaime Clarke, Phoenix

I wondered if Ellis had read my letter to EW. I hoped so. I wanted him to know that the People were behind him. A glimpse into Ellis’s life finally came in the form of a profile in the August issue of Vanity Fair. I dipped into my lunch money to shell out for the cover price so that I could peruse the article in private. Tucking it under my arm, I skipped from the campus bookstore to my hovel in Kaibab-Huachuca, the dorm I’d been forced into for the summer

13 by a course credit miscalculation I’d made (another story), and fanned the magazine out on my bunk. At last, here was real information about my hero: He was living in Virginia with a friend, having had to escape New York to get any writing done. The article described Ellis as “bulky” which I guess surprised me, for reasons that I couldn’t explain. The article didn’t include any photographs, though a full-page caricature emphasizing Ellis’s cherubic features graced the page opposite the article. The odd detail of Ellis picking up a bath towel off the floor and sniffing it to see if it was clean stayed with me longer than it should’ve. I was so grateful for the profile that I fired off a letter to Vanity Fair, which they printed in a subsequent issue under the heading “Bret Noir”:

Finally a quasi-revealing profile (as much as we’ll ever know, I’ll bet) of one of the most talented writers of our time. As a senior studying creative writing at the University of Arizona I can say that Mr. Ellis is among the most revered authors of my generation, admired for the fluidity of his prose style and his eye for context and detail, which, on the surface, appear ordinary enough but are really, under Mr. Ellis’s microscope, threatening and truly unnerving. I quiver with anticipation for the arrival of his latest masterpiece. —Jaime Clarke, Phoenix, Arizona

Wandering the halls of the English Department rather than rotting in my dorm room became a daily routine, and it was during one of these sojourns that I spotted the

14 poster for the relatively new MFA program at Bennington College, the name Bennington jumping across the hall at me. I had no idea what “low-residency” meant; I had no idea what the qualifications for acceptance were; I had no idea if I even had a shot but I knew my chance to step foot on the campus nestled in the Green Mountains had finally arrived. I dedicated my copious free time to several drafts of the Bennington application, combing through what little I had written to date story-wise, for an adequate submission. As I awaited Bennington’s decision, I realized that if I wasn’t accepted to the lowresidency program I had no alternate plan. Several distasteful scenarios emerged: more school or, worse, a job whose sole aim was a respectable paycheck. A mild concern flirted on the edge of panic as the days wore on without word about my application. I’d convinced myself that Bennington had simply tossed my application upon receiving it— or put it in the folder with my unprocessed undergraduate application—when a call from the director interrupted a family dinner with the happy news that I’d been accepted. Too keyed up to finish eating, I began planning my trip to Vermont immediately, my first trip east. The weeks between my graduation from the U of A and my trip to Bennington were consumed with a fruitless hunt for long underwear, an accessory not readily available in Phoenix. And so I boarded the plane without this protection, anxious for the plane to fly faster as I soared toward destiny, toward the land of Bret Easton Ellis. *** I cursed myself for purchasing the cheaper ticket, and for not realizing that my arrival time would imprison me at the airport until six a.m., the first scheduled time the car service could give me. These rookie mistakes seemed obvious as I trudged in circles through the tiny airport, willing the sun to appear. I curled up on an uncomfortable half-

15 bench, the strap of my duffel bag looped around my arm in the event that someone tried to rob me. Sleep came fitfully and then was banished forever with the whir of an industrial vacuum cleaner as the sole terminal was cleaned in the early hours. Six o’clock was forever in coming and despite my excitement at leaving the airport, I dozed off in the backseat of the Lincoln Town Car. I woke to marvel at the disparity between the desert I’d left and the Vermont countryside. The sun glinted off the fields of snow and I shaded my eyes to take in the rural landscape. We passed through a red-planked covered bridge worn by time, the landscape zoetroped by the bridge latticework, the interior of the car spotted with sunshine. The Town Car shot out the other side of the bridge, delivering us to the town of Bennington, a picturesque New England hamlet populated with wide lawns running back toward quiet houses nestled far from the road. The driver nosed the car through the gates of Bennington College, itself set far away from the main road. An admixture of anxiety and excitement coursed through me as the car crept along College Drive, finally slowing to a stop in front of the Barn, the two-story structure that once housed dairy cows and whose first floor functioned as the administration building. The driver let me off in the small circular driveway in front of the Barn, our breath streaming from our mouths and nostrils as we exchanged pleasantries and I paid the tip. I watched the black car drive away, a blight on the winter landscape until it turned the corner and disappeared, the curtain of snow and sun falling again over the still campus. The buildings looked deserted: the Commons ahead of me, Crossett Library to my left, the Commons lawn a quiet runway of ice and snow extending toward the End of the World, the abrupt end of the lawn, from which you could see endless miles of woods and Vermont sky.

16 The intermission between my acceptance and actually arriving at Bennington— graduating, saying good-bye to friends in Tucson, scouring stores in Phoenix for winter clothing, buying a plane ticket—was a blur, the single thought that I was going to be a student at Bennington College, Bret Easton Ellis’s alma mater, too unreal to believe; and I realized only as I stomped through the Vermont snow, waiting for the dorms to be opened (the program coordinators weren’t expecting students so early), that I knew very little about Ellis’s existence on campus. I wondered which of the green and white clapboard dorms he’d lived in. McCullough? Booth? Canfield? I set my bag down on one of the picnic tables outside of the Commons and scanned the lawn for any signs of life. I was eager to commune with like-minded writers, sure that we’d all come to study in Ellis’s shadow. Bret Easton Ellis probably sat at this picnic table, I thought. He probably partied in this room, I thought as I was finally let into my dorm room. He probably stared out this window, I thought. He may even have lived in this very room, I thought as I drifted off to sleep, exhaustion washing over my body as I lay fully clothed on top of the bed. Ellis was firmly on my mind, and while I hadn’t hatched the plan in advance, inspiration struck as I strolled into the alumni office the first day of the residency. “I’m a student here and would like the address for an alum,” I said to the girl on the other side of the counter. “You’re a student here now?” the girl asked suspiciously. I assured her I was, not realizing that the undergraduates enjoyed something called Field Work Term, a month-long internship of sorts, so that once they cleared out at

17 Christmas, they weren’t back on campus until March. “I’m in the MFA program,” I added. “Oh.” Her face went flat. She called out to an unseen woman in the office behind the counter. “Do the MFA students have the same privileges as the regular students?” A rising nervousness pulsed through me. I was less angered by the condescension in the girl’s voice than I was about the fact that somewhere in this tiny room was a file with Ellis’s address in it, the key to contacting him directly after so many years of trying to connect with him via his agent and letters to the editors of Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair. I gave Ellis’s name and the girl disappeared into the office. I shifted my feet, trying to seem relaxed, as if I weren’t worried about whether I would get what I came for and were in no hurry to receive it. I tried to subvert my nervous tendency to assume that I could be outed as a fraud at any moment and replace it with the air of expectation that only the truly privileged can pull off successfully. “Here you are,” the girl said, handing me a yellow Post-it note, an address in New York City scrawled in her childlike handwriting. I memorized the address immediately in case something disastrous happened to the Post-it (it could get smeared; it could be lost; it might rip in half) and folded the information into my pocket. Address in hand, I jogged to Crossett Library, opposite the Barn, and asked the librarian for access to Ellis’s thesis. I noted the title, “This Year’s Model”, when the librarian handed it to me. Ellis’s penchant for naming his work after Elvis Costello songs felt like the first real clue to his personality. I secreted myself away in the basement with the manuscript, a collection of short stories I recognized as being mostly those from The Informers.

18 Back in Phoenix between residencies, I tacked the Post-it with Bret Easton Ellis’s address up on the wall in my study, a wall papered with the many rejection notices I’d received from the literary magazines I had inundated with the short stories I’d written in college, buoyed by my success in placing my favorite, “A Complete Gentleman” with Chelsea, a literary magazine in New York. I intended to send Ellis a copy of “A Complete Gentleman,” but a handwritten note waiting for me from the magazine when I returned from Bennington indicating that my story had to be pushed back to a future issue because of spatial concerns altered my plans. On the one hand, I imagined Ellis received dozens of manuscripts (both solicited and unsolicited) in the mail every day, and I didn’t want to contribute to that slush-pile; but on the other hand, I was eager to get on Ellis’s radar and to have him read “A Complete Gentleman.” In my imagination, I’d like to believe that the struggle over the decision to wait for a copy of the published story versus sending a manuscript copy was an immense, intense fight, but in reality I probably knew the moment I learned of the story’s delayed publication that I could not bear to stare at Ellis’s address day after day without writing. And so I wrote a carefully worded letter—I didn’t want to come off as too fawning, some sort of super fan who was to be feared— describing my admiration for Ellis’s work and my current status as a Benningtonite and mailed it with a manuscript copy of my story to the address in New York. I also enclosed photocopies of my letters to the editors of Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly for good measure, to show I was a worthy soldier in the fight. The interim boredom of waiting for a response from Ellis—some days I reasoned that Ellis wouldn’t write back because of the sheer magnitude of correspondence he must have to deal with, other days I was sure the enclosure of my letters to the editor signaled

19 that I was a lunatic—was broken up by my monthly packets from my mentor, whose criticism of The Vegetable King remarkably mirrored the published criticism of Ellis’s American Psycho. A couple of months into the mentorship, I wasn’t able to view my manuscript as anything but a pale imitation of American Psycho, and I abandoned the book completely, boxing it and storing it away, desperately trying to suppress the growing fear that The Vegetable King was a tangible by-product of my wanting to actually become Bret Easton Ellis rather than write a substantial novel of my own. There wasn’t time to ruminate on the nature of my admiration for Ellis, though, as I came home from my new job at a family print shop one night to find a typed paragraph letter from Ellis thanking me for sending him my work, which he claimed to have read and enjoyed. I ran my fingers over the sentences, feeling the raised lettering, the letter having actually been typed on a typewriter. I studied the signature, a bulbous capital B followed by a smaller, tight script r-e-t. I reread the letter several times, convincing myself that Bret Easton Ellis was a fan of my work, Bret’s stamp of approval a sure sign that “A Complete Gentleman” should be turned into a novel, an endeavor I started almost immediately after tacking up Bret’s letter front and center on the wall above my desk. Flying back and forth across the country for the biannual residencies at Bennington was a rush I looked forward to, and before I really knew it, it was almost over. As I contemplated my senior lecture, I began to think about a personal lecture topic, something that meant a great deal to me. During these deliberations two copies of the published version of “A Complete Gentleman” arrived in my mailbox. I held the green and orange cover of the issue of Chelsea, marveling at my name in alphabetical array with other writers, some I’d heard of, some I hadn’t. I peeked at my story, careful

20 not to break the spine. Seeing my name printed above the title, the words I’d written so long ago in college set neatly in a pleasing font, was as satisfying as winning a Pulitzer, and the thought of the effort and sheer luck (and waiting) involved in the process that had resulted in my first publication was exhausting. And while I recognized that in the scheme of things my first publication was a small step, it felt like a step into a new world, the world of the professional writer, and was therefore both an end to the always rising feeling that the nights and weekends spent locked in my room were a foolish waste of time and the beginning of my hope that I would continue to improve so that I could live the life of a writer. In thinking about my extraordinary good fortune, I knew that my application and acceptance to the Bennington MFA program had played a central role, and I wondered at the small chance that had ultimately brought me to Bennington’s verdant campus: the midnight showing of Less Than Zero in high school. And I wondered if my journey to Bennington would be of interest to my classmates. After all, wasn’t the experience of writing (on both sides of the page) a journey? I turned the idea over, arguing for and against it, depending on the day or my mood. I abhorred the idea of giving a vanity lecture—I knew I would never sit through one and therefore couldn’t ask anyone else to— but was there room to articulate this writer’s personal journey without indulging in sophomoric mythmaking? My nervousness about appearing egocentric spurred me to devise a litmus test: I’d write to Bret and ask if I could submit a series of questions for him to answer, which I would then incorporate into my lecture. I reasoned that because Bret was central to my story as it related to Bennington, I was justified in including the Q and A; and if my story

21 was of no particular interest, maybe others would attend as fans of Bret’s work. If Bret didn’t write me back, or said no, that was a sign that the lecture topic was ill conceived. Immediately after mailing the letter off to Bret, I started brainstorming alternate lecture topics, sure that Bret was not going to respond. I’d settled on a discussion of my then-favorite writers—David Foster Wallace, Walter Kirn, Mary Robison, Sandra Cisneros, Denis Johnson, Jeffrey Eugenides, et al—the thesis of said discussion being something about the charge of contemporary fiction; a weak theme, I knew, but one I hoped would automatically flesh itself out once I started rereading my favorite books. Thankfully the idea was tabled when I came home from a grueling day at the print shop to a message from my father. “Someone named Bret called,” he said. I knew I didn’t have any friends named Bret and so unlikely was the possibility that Bret Easton Ellis would pick up the phone and call me that it took a moment for the fact the register. My father handed me the message, the name Bret written in his scrawl, a number with a 212 area code. I dialed the number, steadying myself against the kitchen counter. An answering machine with a deep voice clicked on after the second ring. Relieved, I started leaving a message—who I was and that I was returning a call—when the phone clicked in my ear. “Hello?” intoned the same deep voice from the answering machine. I dumbly repeated what I’d said in my message. “I got your letter,” Bret said, “and I think it’s a great idea.” A clattering in the background distracted him for a moment, a muffled conversation ensuing. “Sorry,” he said. “We’re making soup.”

22 I tried to imagine Bret Easton Ellis making soup in his kitchen in his apartment in New York City, a million miles away from my own kitchen. “Why not come to New York,” Bret offered. “Then we can sit down with your questions.” It took everything I had to remain calm. “Sure,” I answered, trying to sound offhanded, as if I were going to New York anyway, as if I were unfazed at the prospect of flying to New York to meet my idol. I told Bret I’d let him know after the arrangements were made, checking first to see if he was going to be out of New York for any stretch of time. “Nope,” he said. “Come anytime.” I sleepwalked through the following days, dreaming of my trip to New York. Anxious as I was to go, however, I needed time to prepare the interview: Suddenly the measly dozen or so questions I was prepared to type and mail to Bret were insufficient, would somehow be an insult, and I reread all of Bret’s books to come up with substantive queries about craft. I also reread the handful of magazine articles and reviews I’d collected over the years to come up with cult-of-personality questions; but, frankly, years of curiosity about Bret brought an imbalance of these sorts of questions and I chose them carefully, weeding out the more egregiously fawning ones. By the time the date on my plane ticket rolled around, I was ready for the interview. While the purpose of my first trip to New York was to interview Bret, I booked an entire week so that I could visit my good friend N—, a poet I’d met at Bennington. N— lived with her husband, D—, a Juilliard-trained actor, in an apartment in Astoria, Queens and she graciously offered up their couch for the week I was in town. I wouldn’t let

23 myself get excited about the trip, though, until the city was in sight. As my plane drifted up the Hudson River toward JFK, I marked the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the gleaming spire of the Chrysler Building, the enormous green sprawl of Central Park. I peered across the person next to me to see Yankee Stadium, the ballpark shortly vanishing, replaced by the blue gray of the Atlantic Ocean as the plane circled the airport in search of the runway. Once on the ground, I wanted to see the landmarks I’d viewed from the air up close. Waltzing up and down Fifth Avenue with N— as a guide, I was amazed at how everything appeared just as it did on television, only bigger. I leaned on the rail outside Rockefeller Center to watch the ice skaters; I stood under the neon sign advertising the Letterman show; I dined in tiny, dark restaurants, the tables so close you could hear the conversation next to you. I scoped out Bret’s apartment, too, a day in advance of our interview, casually walking down the East Village street, careful not to stop and stare. The entrance was camouflaged with scaffolding, so I couldn’t get a clear look at the face of the building, nor the address. I worried that it was the wrong building, a worry that caused a near psychotic break with reality as I rode in my first New York City cab, hurtling toward Bret and the interview, both a dream come true and a nervous nightmare.

*** As I stood in front of Tishman, the subterranean lecture hall at Bennington, my lecture seemed like a grave mistake. Worried that my personal odyssey to become a writer was too meager a subject to be a lecture topic, I had dropped the idea in favor of a

24 strictly biographical lecture about Bret. As my classmates filed into the hall and found seats on the hardwood benches, grabbing the Xeroxed transcript of my complete interview with Bret, my miscalculation loomed and the prospect of not being allowed to graduate until I’d written an entirely new lecture seemed an all-too-real possibility. I shifted my feet at the lectern as the last of the faculty took their seats. Glancing up at the crowd, the outer fringes disappearing in the low lighting, I smiled weakly and began reading my lecture without looking up:

In the cab to the East Village, I'm trying not to be nervous. I'm wearing a maroon long-sleeved shirt, 100% rayon, navy trousers, a cotton and rayon weave, all by Liz Claiborne, black leather lace-up steel-toed work shoes, handmade by Dickies, with matching navy blue work jacket, 100% cotton. I finger the tape recorder in my pocket, double-check the new package of tapes. Bret Easton Ellis, I'm thinking. Images play back in my mind: Bret in his Big 80s suit and tie on the back of Less Than Zero, the hardcover; sitting on the steps of a brownstone in a Bigger 80s cardigan and jacket on the back of The Rules of Attraction, again hardcover; the photo of him at a literary party after he became Public Enemy Number One with the publication of American Psycho, his agent standing between him and the photographer, bodyguarding her client. Remaining calm becomes not an option as I anticipate my afternoon interview with the author. We'll probably have a few drinks at his pad, maybe shoot up to the penthouse to visit Tom Cruise, catch a cab, do a few lines on the way to the bar of the minute, light up the night and party like rockstars into the early morning. I worry that I might not have enough tape.

25 The doorman under the green awning at the address I'd given the cabbie is on me right away, wanting to know who I'm here to see. I tell him and he rings up. "He'd like to know if you can wait a few minutes," the doorman says, not cupping the receiver. "He's not ready for you yet." Iced out, I pace the marble floors of the lobby, the doorman never far from sight. I'm on the verge of a panic attack, standing in the lobby of the building of the one writer who, in my small estimation, brought the world the first writing from the MTV age, the first writer to draw on all forms of media窶馬ot just books, but movies, television, and music. I flash back over the last ten years of my attempts at writing, how I'd read Ellis's novels so many times my first writing was a clear appropriation, friends recognizing my rich, apathetic narrators from Less Than Zero, my page-long, comma rich sentences creating the same rhythms as The Rules of Attraction, my deadpan pornography reading like choice passages from American Psycho. My admiration for Ellis's work brought with it much curiosity about the author himself, my worship in the cult of personality unsated by the smattering of interviews over the years. "Okay, you can go up," the doorman tells me. The elevator lowers itself, opening empty in the lobby. I think back to the first time I ever heard Ellis's name, the midnight movie in high school, spilling out into the two a.m. Arizona heat. In the elevator, it's all nerves and fluorescent light; I'm staring at the cool metal of the narrow elevator, which moves soundlessly upward, stopping and opening all at once. In front of me, a cul-de-sac of doors stands closed in an elegant, dim light. I shuffle forward, squinting at the doors, trying to decide behind which one I'd

26 been invited when out of the corner of my eye I see a door I hadn't noticed at first, cracked slightly, a cherub's face peeking Garbo-like out at me, grinning. Bret Easton Ellis, needing no introduction, introduces himself; his voice is soft and we shake hands. I'm invited in and immediately my host makes me feel welcome, offering me something to drink. "I don't really have a table," he says, apologetically. There are many household furnishings missing from the loft, for instance a box spring and frame for the mattress on the floor, or a bookcase for the towers of books. "These are the ones I've finished," he says, pointing to one stack. The other stacks are either half-read or waiting to be read. A big-screen TV flashes mutely on a rolling stand in the middle of the hardwood floor. The cutting block serves as a giant magazine rack. A record-store-size CD bin is crammed with discs. The barren white walls give the impression that the room opens out as big as a four-story house and Bret Easton Ellis, black shirt, black jeans, black boots, sits across from me and lights a cigarette, bringing the whole room in around him.

As I read on, barely looking up from the lectern, I couldn’t gauge the audience’s interest in me, or in Bret. Bret was by far one of the most successful writers in Bennington’s history, but his name was whispered in the halls with a mix of shame and admiration. Instead, students talked loudly about Bernard Malamud, who had taught at Bennington for decades; or Robert Frost, who had lived in a house on campus, and was buried nearby; or Jamaica Kincaid, who lived in a beautiful wood house behind the campus. But no one ever spoke openly about Bret.

27 I neared the end of my lecture, fumbling through a violent passage from American Psycho in order to illustrate why the book was so controversial, followed by a summation of my conversation with Bret about where writing like this came from, how the controversy affected him, etc. I looked up from the lectern awkwardly and smiled at the applause, ready to field any questions, as was procedure. I was aware that some had walked in late—the lecture hall doors had swung open and shut a number of times during my recitation—so some might not know what to make of my lecture. No one offered a question so I took my seat to another round of applause. “Did you hear those people walking out?” my friend Mike asked. “What do you mean?” I asked. “When you started reading the part from American Psycho a bunch of women got up and walked out.” I shrugged, thinking “a bunch” meant one or two, which was understandable given the material. Or they might’ve been bored to tears, I thought. My underestimation of the situation was revealed the following morning when Mike knocked on my door as I got ready for breakfast. “There’s something on the bulletin board in Commons you should see,” he said solemnly. I followed him to Commons and we waited for the group of students clustered around the bulletin board to disperse before stepping up. My eyes scanned the letter tacked in the center of the board.

28 “I am deeply offended by Jaime Clark’s [sic] public reading of Bret Easton Ellis’ [sic] work. Ellis has the right to write what he chooses, Clark has the right (in the privacy of his own mind) to read what he chooses. I also have the right not to fill my mind with graphic depictions of sexualized violence against women. To be subjected to such images without warning (images I may never be able to erase from my thoughts) is a violation.

“As writers we are all concerned with freedom of speech, but Clark crossed the line – his action was disrespectful and unacceptable. I, for one, take issue with what he did – I protest.”

The note had been annotated by others, the addendums written in different colored inks:

“I agree (and I had previously read the passage out of choice).”

“It would have been nice to have had the option to leave the room (or go read the passage myself if I wanted) before this gratuitous reading. It was nothing less than mental rape.”

“I agree. What was the point?”

29 Mike told me not to worry about it. I accepted his dismissive attitude toward the letter, though for the rest of the day I felt like others were staring at me. I assuaged my discomfort by telling myself the letter was a stunt that would die by lunch, an idea I believed until a follow-up letter was posted:

“1) Jaime Clark (sic) could have offered a handout of the BEE passage, then any consequent debate would have been, as it should have been, about it, not about his method of presentation.

2) This debate isn’t about censorship, but about courtesy, specifically about ways of demonstrating respect for others’ sensibilities.

3) Providing those of ‘tender sensibilities’ an opportunity to leave would not have been a good solution. The image of women rising + leaving raises attendant images of women withdrawing from men after dinner – to the (with)drawing room. A solution that literally separated us would be no solution at all. Isn’t common ground a pre-condition of community?”

The second letter smelled of agenda (though I admired the cleverness of “(with)drawing room,”) and I wondered where the debate would go. A consideration of Ellis’s work would’ve been interesting. A follow-up note seemed to steer the discussion in just that direction.

“‘The Point’ of quoting the paragraph in my mind was to illustrate the nature of the writer’s work in American Psycho. Simply to have labeled

30 Bret’s narrative “sexually violent” or “graphically extreme”* would have completely sacrificed real understanding to gentility, in the same way that a feature story on Robert Mappelthorpe (sic) that failed to pain an accurate picture of the artist’s work—which of course would involve faithful representation of the very images that cause the controversy first hand—would leave a reader without central knowledge of the subject of the piece. “Please let’s not begin to censor each other. *(i.e., not reading the quote)”

The third letter was annotated anonymously:

“This is not about censorship! It’s about choice!”

The next day brought new letters.

“The material of Bret Easton Ellis is strong, unpleasant, and to my mind, not very important, which is why I chose not to attend the lecture. But should what is presented here be shaped to the most vulnerable among us? With all respect for the sensitivities of those who find the material offensive, as a woman I find it ironic that we seem on the verge of returning to the time when someone else decided, “The material is a bit rough. Perhaps the ladies would like to step outside,” or even worse, to a time when in the back rooms others would say, “This material is something that might be important to hear, but in deference to the ladies, we can’t even consider it.” “I didn’t come here to be protected, thank you.”


And then this one:

“[The first letter writer]’s protest about not (sic) being warned and [another letter writer]’s clairification (sic) that we can give an option to leave in such cases as these—good points. Jaime gave warning. Maybe we could make a bit more of a ritual out of it in the future, give more time. [Another letter writer]’s point also well made—Let’s not [have] an unwritten agenda that implies censorship.”

My lecture and the bulletin board postings were the topic of conversation in the dorms and on campus. My paranoia about being stared at was confirmed as my classmates averted their eyes whenever I looked up in lecture, having caught them in a stare. I began skipping lecture in favor of camping out in my room. The cafeteria became an arena of liability too when an older woman cornered me, leaning in so that her face nearly touched mine. “I think you’re disgusting,” she said. She waited for a response of some kind, but I just shrugged, knowing I could not convince her otherwise. For the rest of the residency I moved only in a group of friends, begging them not to leave me unprotected from the riled masses, wondering where everyone was when I

32 found myself in the food line standing next to Raquel Welch, a participant in the Shakespeare & Company workshop, who was bitterly complaining about the fact that the cafeteria had run out of strawberries for strawberry shortcake. Right when the Ellis controversy threatened to wane, the soap operatic narrative folding in on itself—where you stood on the issue seemed to boil down to whether or not you were a fan of Bret’s work—Mike knocked on my door before breakfast one morning. “There’s something you should see,” he said. I followed him to Commons and read over the shoulders of the group gathered around the bulletin board:

“Dear Jaime, “It may please you to know that Bret Easton Ellis went down fighting. As I fed the first page of your interview into the fire, a cluster of flames leaped out from beneath the paper and scalded my thumb. He went down like the condemned man before the firing squad spitting in the soldiers’ face. What else can they do to him? Bret did not beg or bribe or whimper. He took his punishment like a man. “But we burned him like women. Gently. Not like Nazis burned books, with the false and grandiose notion that we can actually eradicate the text, the idea, the memory. No, we burned him the way a woman burns the letters of an ex-lover. The way a woman burns the letters of an ex-lover when she has lost him to violence—his. She burns them gently, grieving for her lost innocence. She knows now that loving can be

33 dangerous. Just as listening can be dangerous. Trusting the words of your soft mouth not to harden like a hand that once caressed into a fist. “We cannot un-bruise our ears from this or any other unwanted intrusion. Bret Easton Ellis has carved his initials into us like the trunks of trees. But we burned your paper and called the names of women. Strangers, women we know, women we love, women in our families, who have been raped or beaten or brutalized. Real women, not the inexhaustibly legions of women in fiction who offer themselves up willingly. Real women. “I am lucky. I have a voice that tells me everything important. Shortly after your lecture began, it told me to leave. Now, I was comfortable, and it was cold out. I had sat through a lecture that called the statutory rape relationship between Lolita and Humbert perfect love. What could possibly faze me? But one of my favorite gospel songs says “I’m gonna do what the spirit say do.” Spirit said leave so I did. I didn’t hear the passage you quoted, but I saw it in the distressed faces of the women who are my friends and colleagues. “Is that why the fire chose my hand as we sacrificed Bret into the fire? Was it because I had been unscathed by the words? Maybe it was a reminder that although we are right, the element of fire does not prefer Bret’s flesh over mine. Perhaps it was to remind me that burning Bret wasn’t without danger.

34 “After we finished, one of my friends gave me a clear plastic cup of snow. As I rewound the tape in my cassette player, I stuck my thumb into the cup to soothe the burn. Then we played Queen Latifah’s “U-N-I- T-Y” and danced. “We won this little battle, but not because we burned your paper. We won because despite the infinite number of tortures real women experience every day, we are also real women, and we were with each other, and we were making ritual, and we were dancing.”

It took a moment for me to realize that it wasn’t my lecture that had been burned, but the handout of the interview. I held the only extant copy of my lecture and I was sure that it was back in my dorm room. The thought that someone had sneaked into my room to steal it—I always stayed in the room closest to the common room, for the express purpose of hosting late gatherings, and so my door was, as they say, always open—was more appalling than the fact that this group had burned my Q and A with Bret. It didn’t take long for news of the ritualistic burning to sweep across campus. Had the handout been shredded, or immersed in acid, the act would’ve been a mild amusement; but of course the image of paper aflame conjures a direct attack on the First Amendment and by lunchtime the fight was posed in just those terms. Conversations were held in muted tones, the speaker looking over his or her shoulder before talking (a move which became known as the Bennington Backcheck). There were those among my classmates who were appalled by the act and expressed their opinion vocally; others were equally appalled by my presence as a representative who had ushered in a taint of evil and their silent stares

35 communicated their disgust. The entire student body was enveloped in a foul stink, it seemed. Being at the center of a First Amendment storm was taxing and I took to cowering in my dorm room to avoid stimulating the conversation, hoping that my disappearance would quash the discussion. Reports from the front issued by friends dropping by my room indicated that the opposite was true: My absence fueled the fight, the side sympathetic to me accusing the other side of persecution. As a diversion, I called Bret at his mother’s house in California to apprise him of the situation. “Doesn’t surprise me,” he said, laughing. His easy manner relaxed me—he’d had to deal with much larger threats, after all—and I felt a kinship with him that I hadn’t previously experienced. “Don’t let it bother you,” was his advice and I swore I wouldn’t. I re-entered life at Bennington, renewed by Bret’s words, the words of a veteran. Who were these people who thought it was okay to burn someone else’s words? And why were they here? And as for those who were simply offended by the passage from American Psycho, well, their prudish behavior wasn’t welcome in a laboratory of ideas. I set aside my almost pathological need to be liked in favor of righteousness, re-entering the fight on Bret’s behalf, representing his interests, re-awakening the idea that I’d been trying to bury: that I wanted to be Bret Easton Ellis. I felt like Jay Gatsby, standing on the shoreline, staring too long at the green light. Bret had become a symbol of literary success that had once seemed attainable, but what I didn’t want to admit to myself was that I’d first gotten interested in Bret because he was famous, and at a young age, and I wanted to be famous, and at a young age. I knew I cared about writing, but was my

36 Bennington MFA a cover story for a baser want? At my core, was I just addicted to attention, a charge many had leveled at Bret? And now here I was, at the center of a scandal, cowering in my dorm room, surprised by how sickening the attention made me. I battled back these feelings, took Bret’s parting advice about moving to New York City (another story, involving helmet factories in DUMBO, a roommate who painted her body in latex, the drummer of the Lemonheads, Dylan McDermott’s father, Isabella Rossellini, and sleeping in the office of Fitzgerald’s literary agent), and continued down the road I was on (yet another story, involving my proposal for an oral biography of Bret that was killed by an article in New York magazine, a thousand-dollar bounty put on the anonymous Publishers Weekly reviewer who had negatively reviewed my first novel, We’re So Famous, and taken a shot at Bret in the review; and a terrible betrayal of J. D. Salinger, at my hands, that made the front page of Page Six); it would be some time before I figured out what I was trying to tell myself back when I was sure I knew everything there was to know about my ambitions.


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