This week’s other featured books, “A Room in Dodge City,” by David Leo Rice and “Words Spill Out,” by Ann Christine Tabaka, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: The Glamshack
PUBLISHED IN: 2017
THE AUTHOR: Paul Cohen
THE EDITOR: Leland Cheuk
THE PUBLISHER: 7.13 Books
SUMMARY: Reluctant fashion journalist Henry Folsom is in love with Her, an incandescent beauty whose smile is an event. The only problem is Her fiancé. And She’s going to see him for twelve days, while Henry smolders in The Glamshack, his borrowed Silicon Valley pool house and site of their affair. Mesmerized by the American Indian Wars and grasping for the divine, Henry must decide what it means to make his Last Stand. Nominated for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award, The Glamshack is a lyrical and darkly humorous novel about love, divinity and what it means to be a man.
THE BACK STORY: Writing The Glamshack’s first draft was akin to my experience as a kid riding retired racehorses bareback on my friend’s farm through dark gnarled forest and blurred cornfields, full speed and out of control, face pressed to musty mane, cursing the malicious beast while praising its beauty with howls and snorts. When the draft was done, I believed I felt its slick, quivering power. So began the iterations, which I liken to a series of translations. Horse to Greek, Greek to Latin, Latin to Olde English, etc.
The Glamshack’s publishing history is appropriately twisted. James Salter sent it to an agent who called me a couple months later to say she’d just finished the book and was “breathless, at which point I figured I stood on the cusp fame and fortune. Alas, this didn’t happen. I received glowing rejections from editors and in some cases apologies that they’d tried to acquire the novel but had been shot down by higher ups. One big house editor nominated the novel for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award, a kind of consolation prize for the book you most wanted to buy that year but couldn’t. Then Leland Cheuk, whose 7.13 Books aims to publish the best—and in some cases the best overlooked—literary debuts, asked me to be his first debut. He’s a gifted editor and a man of great integrity, and I was honored to accept.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The Glamshack is the swanky borrowed pool house from which the entire story flows, and to which it returns over and over. The Glamshack is also the sordid abode of one hack journalist, name of Henry, who dares view his woeful love story through the tragic glimmer of an American hero, name of Crazy Horse.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The Glamshack is a lyrical novel with the momentum of a thriller and the emotional range of classical tragedy. That, at least, is the goal. And judging from the feedback, the book may have come close. In his Pushcart nomination letter, Little Brown Executive Editor Josh Kendall called The Glamshack “that rare, uncategorizable novel that . . . serves as a reminder of how very familiar and commonly un-daring contemporary fiction is in general.” And the lit mag Cease Cows says the novel “ . . . reads like a genre all its own: a story of love and obsession, a snapshot of the Bay Area as the 1990’s came to an end, a meditation on history and violence and the Plains Indians Wars of the 19th Century. Throw in a beautiful woman, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, and electric prose that lingers in one’s memory like a favorite song—once you pick up The Glamshack, you won’t put it down.”
REVIEW COMMENTS: “[The Glamshack] fits together like a beautiful puzzle without losing any sense of urgent personal anguish.”— Barnes &Noble Reads 10 Debut Novels for Your Autumn (2017) Reading List.
“In his debut novel, Cohen manages the impressive feat of memorably documenting obsession without surrendering to it.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[With] Joycean vivacity . . . Cohen takes readers on the deepest of dives into the psyche and imagination of a man who is so full of passion that it threatens to swallow him whole.”—Boulder Daily Camera
“Sinewy yet atmospheric, propulsive and probing…The Glamshack represents an audacious attempt to reilluminate (fundamental) mysteries.”—Entropy Magazine
“There is a powerful, innate tension in his writing which comes not only from his voice but from his particular way of looking at things, an unusual way, and in art—in fiction—the only real worlds are likely to be the unusual.”—James Salter, author of A Sport and a Pastime and recipient of the PEN/Faulkner award and Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature.
“There is so much to admire in Paul Cohen’s beauty of a first book. It is smart, sexy, wonder-filled, haunting and oh so marvelously, so humanly strange. Here even meat (venison) can be graceful. Here the heart grows hot, the soul burns dark and Desire blows a thousand horns.”—Laird Hunt, author of The Evening Road (named by the Financial Times a Best Book of 2017) and In the House in the Dark of the Woods
“Funny, intense and brilliant, this is a book about love but also about the self’s ability to withstand love. Every sentence is poetic, magnetized, in love with life. The language in this book cuts so close to the heart of experience that it feels very much like life itself—sacred, invincible, beautiful, full of meaning.”—Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories
AUTHOR PROFILE: Chased by a faceless craving, I fled college, alighting in Utah, where I worked as a ski-lodge handyman and honored the mighty snows by launching off the hotel’s roof, and as a landscaper in Wyoming, where I scaled peaks rope free and slept in a grove of aspens. Back in school I realized the dangerous craving that had pursued me across a continent was none other than the need to write. So began my writing life. I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop on a teaching scholarship, published non-fiction in The Millions, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Village Voice, Details and others and fiction in Tin House, Five Chapters, Hypertext and Eleven Eleven. In the awards dept., I’ve won the Prairie Lights Fiction Contest (judged by Ethan Canin), was a finalist in a Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest, received an Honorable Mention in the Glimmer Train Spring 2017 Fiction Open and was named a finalist for the 2016 Big Moose Prize for my novel-in-progress, The Sleeping Indian. I’ve taught writing at UC Berkeley Extension, University of Iowa and University of San Francisco.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Henry’s love for Her is a passionate enslavement. She alone, so he initially believes, holds the enchantment code. Absent Her spark he is a man without a soul. Which brings him to his real fear: that enchantment is not real and the world is a value-less place composed not of “god particles” (to lift a term from physics) but of “madness particles” (to borrow a term from Henry). The problem is, Henry is congenitally unfit to live in spark-less universe. Which makes his struggle, in the sense of the spirit, a battle for survival, and leads him to the Sioux and their war.
In terms of the novel’s form, I tried to create The Glamshack as a full-body narrative experience for the reader—physical, emotional and intellectual. Like music. As for the content, I was shooting for classical tragedy, that venerable scenario wherein the hero’s physical loss is the world’s metaphysical gain.
THE FIRST DINNER
“Whew,” She says. “You’ve got steep narrow stairs, Henry Folsom. Is that a test?”
“I like to think of my stairs as a passageway.”
“To a sea.”
She steps past him. That panther jaw. Sinewed sandaled feet. Resounding down the hall with such confident grace that the observer uninitiated in the subterranean ways of this incandescent being would think this was Her home when, in fact, this evening, this Dinner, marks her inaugural encounter with the Lighthouse.
Henry, offhandedly, palms shut the door, watching her stride toward his dwelling’s center.
For this evening, he’s purchased phosphorescent-pink hunks of tuna each shrink-wrapped in plastic. Basmati rice. Living lettuce. Candles.
She would never guess he’s not magic.
She suggests eating the tuna raw.
The fish shines like an excised organ. They stand over it, watching.
“It’s beautiful,” She says.
He says, “I heard they mate for life, tuna.”
“We could be eating somebody’s husband.”
“If anybody’s gonna get netted,” She says, “it’s the husband.”
“Actually,” says Henry, “it might have been sea bass that mates for life.”
He slices off a hunk. It parts willingly from the main. Henry pours soy sauce into a bowl and sprinkles in coarse ground pepper. He’s never done this before, but as he twists the cap back on the pepper he can feel the sure hand of God on his.
Hands Her the hunk.
She takes fish between forefinger and thumb. She is looking at him while She does this. Four, five . . . The ceremony of Accepting the Fish from Henry is complete. She turns Her attention to the bowl. Henry has placed short, squat scented candles on the sturdy white table behind them. Many candles. Lit for one half hour before She arrived. Brown and red candles, they have lovelied the scratched white wood with their wax. They provide the only light in the Lighthouse. Through the arched doorway – there are no doors in the apartment, only arches – the dining room/bedroom/living room/study waits like the long night to come.
Here in the kitchen, dusk lingers. In this gray glimmer the soy sauce acquires an inky depth and vibrating shadows hone Her already brutal jaw. She wears an elegant peasant’s shirt, low cut with flecks of color and a silky sheen billowing. Beneath it, Henry senses the belly, the snakelike tautness. Her breasts suggest another animal. The lit-pink meat is pushed into the bowl, under the inky surface until only Her gripping fingers remain, flecked with sauce, capable. Pause, remove. Dipping the Fish becomes Loving the Fish. She does not close Her eyes. This is a woman who does not close Her eyes while She is Loving the Fish. The effect is exhilarating and tense. For long after She swallows She says nothing, expresses nothing. Henry knows better than to ask a question; tastes vulgar and ethereal swim through Her senses, and he is convinced, at this stage
in the ceremony, that only She has the grace and courage to experience them all.
She takes the knife from Henry and cuts him a hunk. She repeats the process only this time, She feeds our man. He mimics Loving the Fish. He believes he experiences all those tastes because it is Her he is with, Her he has learned from.
“Mmm,” he says, and immediately regrets having cheapened the ceremony with such a common response.
“People don’t know how to eat,” She says.
“No,” says Henry, “they don’t.”
“They miss the ritual.”
“They miss so much.”
“I love that you know how to eat.”
She says this and looks him in the eye.
He says, “I know how to eat.”
They carry the table, candles and all, into the living room/bedroom/diningroom/study. Henry grills one of the tuna steaks and they share it. Wine. They don’t touch the salad.
“We’ve made a place,” She says.
Candles down to ancient volcanic cones, firelight on lettuce, plates licked by wax. They sit at opposite ends of the table, Henry and Her, and between them lies Italy. The kitchen and the bathroom: other countries. The Balkans, Azerbaijan. Windows: inland seas.
On the couch, he puts his hand on Her leg. They kiss.
“Sounds cheesy,” says Henry, “but maybe we should pull out the bed.”
“It doesn’t sound cheesy,” She says. She sits with back straight, no-nonsense hands clasped churchily in her lap. “It’s practical.”
On the deck, they sit on a short bench, wrapped in a blanket, naked. He is still wrangling with the image of Her walking from his bed to the bathroom. This thing came from my bed. This drowsy predator. Sated, for now. Henry’s redwood rises beside them, shields them from a bone-chip moon. Four stories below lie lovingly tended gardens flushed with color, dark now, invisible. You have to take it on faith and we do, he does, that they are magic, these gardens. The back-building neighbor’s year-round Christmas lights titter like cherubs at the scene on the deck; how they rejoice at mortal joy. Henry wants to say something about how these lights resemble mini-angels but he’s worried she’ll think he’s weird so instead he says the first stupid thing that comes to mind.
“I always wanted to be an Indian,” he says. “In elementary school, junior high too. I’d get off the bus one stop early and run through the woods to my house. One day a week, the day I was allowed to wear sneakers to school, gym day. I would pretend I was an Indian and it made me run faster. One day, I ran by a couple fucking. He looked at me and it scared the hell out of me and I ran fast as any Indian ever ran. I was probably 13 or 14. Always was a late bloomer. You know I had baby teeth in college?”
“Why did I have baby teeth in college?”
“Why was I scared? Because they were, uh, fucking.”
“Why did you want to be an Indian?”
Henry snorts an un-cherubic laugh. “I don’t know. Actually I do. But it’s hard to explain. And embarrassing.”
“More embarrassing than fucking?” She says.
“I . . .” He looks at his blanketed crotch. Is fucking embarrassing? Perhaps it is. Perhaps he never noticed. He should notice things like this, he thinks. Then he says something grand-sounding, something along the lines of: one day, the Indians were breathing freedom and mystery the way they’d done for centuries – the way we breathe air – and the next, that freedom and that mystery were being sucked from their magic atmosphere by a horde of white bugs invading from the east and soon the Indians were, as are all of us now in this tragic almost-post-millennial world, confronted with a choice between martyrdom to mystery – to magic – or the soul-shriveling process of evolution, of de-magification, though truth be told Henry does harbor the hope that a tribe, a band, even just one brave, secretly managed to light upon a third way; to discover deliverance.
She is looking and smiling at him with her head cocked a quarter turn. “When I was fourteen,” She says, “my dad came on to me for the first time.”
“Oh,” says Henry. “Really.”
“He’s homeless now,” She says, “and a paranoid schizophrenic. He sleeps in his car sometimes in my mother’s driveway. They’ve been divorced since I was five. He loved pancakes. He still loves pancakes. I used to beg my mom to make pancakes and pretend to eat mine, and later I’d slip out the door and serve him through the window.”
“Of his car,” Henry says.
“Of his car,” She says. “With syrup and, once in a while, strawberries. I did it for years, until I moved away to college.”
“Your mother never caught on?”
“I don’t know. She might have turned a blind eye. He was an amazing man. Is, amazing. His sight, his courage, they compel a kind of worship.” And then She too says something grand-sounding (is it the influence of the cherubs?), something along the lines of Her father saw to the black-lava center of the world and he did not flinch at what he saw and the demons down there when they saw him seeing them and not only not flinching but singing, singing the theme song to curly-red Annie, the demons got furious and flew and landed on him and never left and because they landed on Her father – Her hero, Her lover, Her flesh – they landed on Her. They never left Her, either.
She turns toward Henry. In Her lioness eyes, a seething invitation: Heal this. The blanket slips off Her shoulder, Her sleek smooth striated shoulder, and Henry suddenly loses the conversation’s mad flow; he remembers only bits of what She just said. In order to say something, to fuel the mad ecstatic flow, he says, “What kind of car?”
“What kind of car? Did he sleep in? In the driveway?”
“I always wanted one of those.”
“You’ve got a nice truck.”
“It’s got no power.”
“In high school I went out with 40-year-old men. I almost became a high class prostitute. I didn’t have any friends in college, and I had times if somebody spoke to me I’d just burst out crying. I don’t know who I am. Or maybe I do.” She inhales loudly. “Maybe I know exactly.”
“Did you ever want to be an Indian?”
“I’m a quarter Cherokee.”
Henry looks up from the shoulder. “And you let me go on like that? God how embarrassing.”
“It’s O.K. A lot of people want to be Indians.”
“That supposed to make me feel better?”
“I don’t know, does it?”
Henry glances at the neighbor’s lighted cherubs. He is charmed near tears. He pulls Her in for a kiss, and this kiss, never before such a kiss, never have lips shifted from solid to sauce, never this puddling, in the brain, in the bones, and though he must know (somewhere) that puddling is a condition often ending in misery, he seems not to care, for his lips are pressing a question into Hers: “Baby, what do you want?”
LOCAL OUTLETS: Boulder Bookstore (Boulder), Tattered Cover (Denver)
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Walmart (yes Walmart!)
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: through my website, paulcohenfiction.com; Facebook handle: paulwcohen. Twitter: coe1212. And while I have you, hats off to Snowflakes—your literary labors, Darrell, are greatly appreciated!