PUBLISHED IN: 2015
THE AUTHOR: Kate Kort
THE EDITOR: Carrie Walker
THE PUBLISHER: Brick Mantel Books. A small press out of St. Louis with quirky taste and wonderful staff.
SUMMARY: Menashe Everett is a tormented man. He’s ruled by depression and addiction. He’s haunted by his past. At 37, he barely keeps his job and lives in a haze of blurred reality.
But to many in his life, he’s their only hope. For the past ten years, Menashe has been acting as a counselor to similarly afflicted clients who agree to his unorthodox brand of pseudo-therapy. After a grim but revelatory trip to Las Vegas in his late twenties, Menashe decided to open up a “glass museum”—an underground safe place where clients can vent their anguish by destroying rooms filled with clear glass art. The museum brings hope to those who have not responded to traditional therapy, but also gives Menashe a sense of purpose he desperately needs.
Menashe’s work is always challenging, but now he’s taken on a particularly taxing caseload. Among others, he counsels Austin Gendron, a gruff Vietnam veteran prone to psychotic breaks; Murray Henderson, a timid college student trying to understand his episodes of anger and anxiety; and John Cook, Menashe’s best friend. As he works tirelessly for his clients, Menashe must also handle his increasingly complex personal life, which constantly forces him to relive his past and question his abilities as a therapist.
THE BACK STORY: This book began as a short story for a creative writing class in college. Every day on my way to class, I would walk through the student art gallery, which always seemed so still and peaceful. Elements of the story began to form in my mind. I wondered what it would feel like to destroy something so perfect. Could someone get relief that way? Would it be a catharsis and a pathway to healing, or would it feed those negative impulses? After graduation I knew I wanted to expand the story and develop those ideas. The story itself came quickly and easily, in a matter of a few months, but revising and polishing took considerably longer. I put the manuscript away for a few years after a couple of rounds of rejections (mostly by agents). But I found the motivation once again, completed the final revisions I had been putting off, and placed it with the right publisher.
WHY THIS TITLE?: On the surface, the title GLASS refers to the experimental therapy that defines the story. But more subtly, the glass itself represents the issues these characters are facing. Mental illness is insidious and unpredictable, much like broken glass. It works its way into corners and crevices, coming to light after you thought it was gone for good.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think an honest, somewhat gritty portrayal of life with mental illness is hard to find in mainstream books and film. I hope to give readers an inside look at these issues, and force a genuine discussion on the topic. The major message of the book is the importance of personal connection and community support, which I know readers will relate to.
“Glass is a stunning debut for novelist Kate Kort. The imagery is vivid and the characters complex and well rounded. The story is raw, intense and, at times, hard to read but once you begin it is impossible to put down because you find yourself pulled into this world and you need to know what will happen next. Finely nuanced and exquisitely drawn, Glass is not the kind of book you forget after you finish. Kort has masterfully written a riveting and poignant story that grabs you and draws you into a place where glass isn’t the only thing that’s fragile. A must read.” –Cynthia A. Graham, author of Beneath Still Waters
“Glass, Kate Kort’s debut novel, is told in an artful narrative pattern that goes back and forth from past to present. Though weighty in its subject matter, Glass avoids enveloping the reader in darkness by two means: the shining narrative and descriptive talents of this debut novelist, and the masterfully authentic rendering of a variety of damaged characters who, however undone they perhaps ought to be, still seek a way not only to help themselves but each other. This arresting array of co-sufferers insist on our attention and receive our sympathy, even as that sympathy extends out from this author to all of us, the recipients of this gift of irresistible honesty and insight into our human plight.” –Joe Benevento, author of The Monsignor s Wife and Saving St. Teresa
“This fascinating novel is written in fragments of time allowing for reader intrigue to build as each new piece of information is collected. The characters are equally as jagged as their stories of broken expectations, misplaced memories, and attempts of reconstructing the past. ‘Glass’ is a remarkable, imperfect puzzle that, once pieced together, creates a fragile and gritty picture of genuine human experience.” –C. Orwig, Amazon
AUTHOR PROFILE: I was born in St. Louis, MO, but have also lived in Powell, OH, Overland Park, KS, and currently live in a suburb of Portland, OR with my husband and children. I have an English Degree from Truman State University (go, Bulldogs), and worked as a communications intern for Andrews McMeel Publishing after graduation. I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I’m very grateful to be able to share this story as a published novel.
Menashe drew his hand back quickly. Several drops of bright blood oozed from his finger.
“Damn it,” he muttered as he walked into the kitchen, wiping the blood onto a paper towel.
He didn’t have a bandage so he just wrapped the paper towel tightly around the cut as he moved back into the first room of his museum. After searching the table where he’d cut himself, he pulled a hidden shard of glass from behind a large bowl and threw it into the trash can just inside his office. Looking around, he saw the rest of the museum was perfectly clean. Menashe looked down at his watch.
He left the room and continued through the apartment, getting everything ready in time for John’s arrival. He carefully placed glass vases, bowls, figurines, and statues throughout the four rooms of his museum, wishing he’d had time to pick up his newest acquisitions on Detroit Avenue. They would have to wait until tomorrow. Stepping back, Menashe took in the untouched beauty of the rooms. He felt a tightness in his throat and turned away.
He was walking back to the kitchen when he heard the brakes of the city bus screech at the end of the block. I hope those damn kids are out of the street, he winced. Even the intense annoyance he felt toward the children who lived on West Tenth didn’t prevent him from worrying for their safety, certain it was only a matter of time before one of them was abducted or shot or run over.
Menashe cracked his knuckles and made sure all the blinds were shut. He looked down at his dingy jeans and t-shirt and briefly considered changing, but decided against it. John wouldn’t care.
Menashe smiled to himself, remembering what John had said about not wanting to risk driving his own car into such a bad part of town after dark. It was only a Chrysler, and he’d had it since they were in college together.
There was a soft knock on the front door. He opened it, letting a gust of the humid air rush past him into the apartment. He was also greeted by the pulsing sounds of the nightclub that occupied the rest of the building. Shouts and waves of laughter echoed throughout the darkened streets as a few motorcycles pulled up to the club.
Menashe closed the door behind his new client. John and Menashe were the same age, though Menashe knew his friend looked much younger. John was athletic and youthfully handsome. Menashe remembered how the girls at school would flirt with him, even after he got engaged. He was dressed casually and a navy Cleveland Indians cap covered his shoulder-length brown hair. Despite the heat he also brought a thick long-sleeved shirt, as per Menashe’s instructions.
“Hey,” he replied, offering a weak smile. “There were some smashed bottles in the street, so I parked over there.” He gestured toward the train tracks. “You think that’s okay?”
“It’s fine. Really, nobody wants your car.”
“Yeah, okay.” John smiled easily now. “You’re right.”
“You want something to drink?”
He led John down the hallway so all four rooms were visible.
“Now, I know you’ve been here before, but you want to take a closer look around?”
John peered past Menashe into the first room and nodded. He walked around the shining pieces and breathed in sharply.
“Ash, this really is something,” he said. “It’s just so different now, coming in as a client.”
“I know this looks like a lot, but we won’t go any faster than you want to.”
Menashe knew it was strange, almost celestial, being surrounded by so much clear glass. There was nothing in the rooms but light—raw light streaming down from bare bulbs affixed to the ceiling. It reflected and refracted in all directions, punching holes in the walls with its white beams. That night, the first room held entirely vases: some were simple and smooth, others were etched with ornate sheaf and diamond patterns or textured with swirls and waves. Most were standard size, about a foot tall, but Menashe always kept his eye out for unusual pieces. The shimmering vases rested on dented stainless steel tables and shelving Menashe had been able to acquire from a foodservice manufacturer at a steep discount. They caught the light brilliantly themselves, causing Menashe to squint. In so much transparency there was nowhere to hide.
John once again drew in his breath. “And you really want me to do this?”
Menashe nodded. “Don’t worry about it.”
They walked back into the hall. John stopped and frowned.
“You okay?” he asked, indicating Menashe’s crudely bandaged finger.
“Yeah. It’s nothing.” He looked away. “You want to sit down?” John shook his head. “We could always go back to my office and talk more,” Menashe continued, indicating the room behind him at the end of the hall. “I mean, if you’re not ready—”
“No, no. I don’t have any problem. I just—I don’t know. It just seems kind of wrong, you know?”
“Yeah,” Menashe agreed, slightly amused. It was strange to see John nervous, but that only strengthened his confidence in their plan. “I think you’ll change your mind, though.”
“And you don’t think it’ll be weird?” John asked. “That we’re friends, I mean.”
After nearly twenty years in Cleveland, John retained only the faintest hint of his former Houston drawl. Menashe still noticed it, though. It reminded him of how long they’d been friends, and how far they both had come to be there.
“No, I really don’t. I think you’re in a better position than anyone else who comes in here because I already know what won’t work for you.” Menashe smiled. “And it took you this long to get your stubborn ass down here, so I think we should give it a try.”
“Okay,” John finally said.
“Yeah,” he nodded.
“All right,” Menashe replied, putting his hand on John’s back and leading him toward the first room. “Let’s get started.”
“Dr. Johnston?” Menashe called hesitantly through the slight opening in the doorway. “Should I come back another time?”
“Who is it? Carducci’s friend? Come in, come in!” Johnston barked without turning his eyes away from the television screen. “Can you believe this idiot Voinovich? He’s got a lot of nerve, threatening these layoffs.”
Menashe was not much of a political enthusiast, so he decided to remain silent until Dr. Johnston was done seething. For some reason Menashe had expected him to be frailer, and more refined. The news flashed to sports, so Johnston turned off the television and settled back in his wheelchair, fanning himself with an old magazine.
“You can sit down, you know,” he remarked, glancing at Menashe. Menashe obediently moved out of the doorway and took a seat on Johnston’s worn, brown couch.
“Thanks. It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Johnston.”
“It’s Terry. And you’re Matthias?”
“Menashe Everett. But I go by Ash.”
“That’s right,” Johnston replied, snapping his fingers. “Weird name, should’ve remembered.”
“No problem,” he said.
His restless eyes roamed the room. The place was packed with junk and he sensed a haze in the air. He blinked a few times.
There wasn’t much art on display, but Menashe saw the elderly doctor had brought out one particular piece to showcase: on the coffee table between them sat the largest vase he’d ever seen. Its thin, delicate base opened up into a wide sphere that took up much of the table. An intricately molded lid, topped with a figure of an elephant, covered the impressive piece. It would certainly be a good addition to his museum, even though few people would ever see it.
Menashe sighed. He wished he’d been able to put together that normal life he and Jamie had always talked about, with the good job in some fancy gallery. Flexible hours. A place where eccentricity was expected. He pushed the thought away as Johnston turned to him.
“So, you’ve known Mel a long time, right?”
Menashe nodded. “Dr. Carducci was my advisor when I was an undergrad.”
“Can’t be that long,” Johnston snorted. “You’re still a young man.”
“Thanks,” Menashe replied, smiling uncertainly.
“Though you do look like you’ve seen some action,” he said brightly.
Menashe laughed and dug his fingernails into his already sweaty palms. What the hell does that mean?
“Actually, I haven’t really dated much since my divorce.”
Johnston’s gruff persona dissolved as he descended into laughter. He then began coughing hoarsely and motioned for Menashe to hand him his inhaler. Menashe picked it up off the end table and gave it to him, his face flushing. The old man took a long puff and sat back, tears sparkling in his eyes.
“No, son,” he began, stifling the last bit of stubborn laughter. “You have the look of a young man who’s seen action in the service. Vietnam?”
“Oh, no, I wasn’t over there. I got student deferment.”
“Ah,” Johnston acknowledged.
He thinks I’m a coward.
“You know, I think it does a man a lot of good to spend a few years in the service. Helps him remember what made this country great.”
Johnston leaned back in his chair with a look on his face that was so peaceful and nostalgic Menashe found it hard to believe he was thinking about war.
Maybe it’s the hair, Menashe thought, self-consciously touching his head. His dark brown hair was thick and disheveled, but in spite of his youth was steadily going gray.
Menashe’s eyes again moved around the room, but the clutter overwhelmed him. It was almost too much for his eyes to take in, a peculiarity he remembered from visiting his grandmother when he was very young. That claustrophobic feeling quickened his heartbeat. He pulled at his shirt collar and tried to focus his attention on something in the room—the gold diamond pattern in the carpet. It was a trick he’d learned as a kid to avoid panic attacks.
“You all right, son?” Johnston asked.
Menashe nodded, fumbling in his shirt pocket. “You mind if I smoke?” he asked, already pulling a cigarette out of its package.
Johnston frowned. “I’d rather you didn’t,” he replied. “But if you want to step outside for a minute, I’ll wait. You seem upset about something.”
“Oh, no,” Menashe laughed. “Just can’t go too long without one. But I’ll be fine; it’ll be good for me to hold off.” He slid the package back into his pocket.
“You ever tried to quit?”
“Yeah, three times. Never lasts.”
The old man grunted but Menashe wasn’t sure what he meant by it. Maybe he’d made a mistake. He could still leave. The place made him nervous, as did most things that reminded him of the past. Just bring in a grungy pink chair and I’m in Safta’s shitty place.
Like Johnston’s, his grandmother’s small house had been musty and completely filled with disintegrating relics, but she hadn’t seemed to notice any of it. She just sat peacefully in that faded pink armchair, asking the same questions over and over. “How old are you now? You in school? What’re you studying?” Then, when Menashe remained silent, she would look up at her son, confused. “Your boy can speak, can’t he, Lewie? You should teach him some manners.”
“Ma, he’s only seven,” his father would say patiently. But the years went by and Menashe never seemed to find his voice. It was that house. It was the house that was so small yet composed of seemingly limitless dim hallways which twisted and snaked, exposing sad, unoccupied rooms that made his stomach pitch and his voice catch. It was the dank smell of mothballs, old books, frozen dinners, and something else he couldn’t quite pinpoint that weighed upon his throat. The years went by, but as Menashe got older his nervousness only worsened. “He’s only fourteen,” Lewis would say, but quietly now, with less assurance in his voice.
Menashe glanced at Dr. Johnston’s framed photographs clustered together on the wall, trying to make out the people’s faces. Probably all dead. He briefly caught a whiff of mothballs and thought he heard Dr. Johnston’s voice, but from a small, far away place.
“I’m sorry?” Menashe asked.
“Your museum, son. I was asking you about it.”
“Oh, right,” he said quickly, trying to retrieve some memory of the past five minutes and secretly wishing his father was there to bail him out. “I’m really sorry. I don’t know where my mind was.” He’s only thirty-seven.
“So what’s it like?”
“Well, it’s quite small,” Menashe replied vaguely. “And very clean. Only glass,” he said, indicating the vase. “Just a nice, simple place, really. I know a lot of people would probably find the museum boring, but…I don’t know. To me there’s something really beautiful about it.”
Johnston sat back thoughtfully, his chin resting between his thumb and forefinger.
“I like you, Everett,” he announced. “You know, when most people hear you’ve spent your life as an art historian and’ve got advanced degrees out the ass, they either try to act like the Queen of England around you or they assume you’re too much of a pretentious windbag to waste their time. But you,” he leaned forward, narrowing his eyes. “You are different.”
Menashe was inclined to agree with him. He had his own advanced degree in Art Criticism that at times allowed him to speak about various pieces and movements with a certain authority, but he couldn’t do that with Johnston. Anxiety had choked off his attempts at extroversion, as it sometimes did, and he was grateful that the old man found it charming.
“And I find,” Johnston was saying, “as I get older, I feel the need to simplify. Though you’d never know it from the looks of this place,” he added. “But you’ve got to start somewhere, and I think by next year I’ll have unloaded all these pieces I don’t want anymore, and I can start sorting through all this other nonsense.” Johnston looked around the room, waving his hand disdainfully. “My goal is to clear everything out of this damned house except for my chair and the TV.”
Menashe smiled at this, feeling a little better.
As evening set in, he walked out of Dr. Johnston’s apartment, staggering under the weight of the glass vase. Menashe was not a particularly large man; he was tall with a medium build and occasionally had trouble transporting larger pieces. He maneuvered the large glass vase into the padded carrier of his Datsun pickup. He was embarrassed for Johnston to see his decrepit old truck, its dull orange paint gouged out by rust and weathering, but it didn’t seem to matter to the old man. He was watching the sky as the low-set sun glowed gray from behind the darkening clouds.
“Gonna rain,” Johnston stated without turning his eyes away. “You got a tarp?”
“Yeah,” Menashe said. He closed up his truck and walked back up the cracked concrete path to the front doorway where Johnston had wheeled himself. “Should I come back another time for the rest?” he asked.
“No need to wait. I’ll be here if you just want to go back and forth. If you don’t mind the weather.”
“Sure.” He smiled at the doctor. “Thank you so much, Dr. Johnston,” he said, shaking his hand.
“Nonsense. Like I said, you’re helping me out. It was a pleasure.”
Menashe stepped off the porch and walked to his truck, small drops of cool, fresh rain spitting at him as he went.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Brick Mantel Books.
$15.95 listed. Less on Amazon (about $14.50), and I’d be happy to send anyone a signed copy (for $14.00) if they want to buy through me directly.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I would love to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter: @katekort543, and/or check out my site and get on the monthly mailing list (katekort.com).