…Ben sincerely believed he was not competitive. He did his best, true, had done his best in such traditionally competitive arenas as academics and athletics. Yet while it was pleasant to sink the winning goal on the soccer field (he had played forward), it was also pleasant simply to attempt sinking that goal. When your team ran a streak, you were buoyed by your teammates’ elation yet your own satisfaction derived not of triumph but of camaraderie, earned exhaustion, and the exercise of skill. You couldn’t be first rate if you believed first to be an arbitrary distinction: if you denied the validity of hierarchies. You could, however, be good. Ben had always wanted to be good. He simply had a hard time with the comparative and the superlative: from better and best you inferred absolute values, from absolutes you were led, however you protested, to absolutism. It had seemed to Ben, in high school, that in a team sport like soccer one needn’t be competitive if one aimed solely to be good, whereas if you went solo (whether one-on-one in tennis or against other singletons swimming) you won or lost. An adequate swimmer and tennis player, he avoided the issue by not trying out for the teams.
The journey not the arrival matters, the act not the result, the means more than the end. Unless you lived in a fascist society or participated in a capitalist economy—they added up to the same thing. You would be bent, you would be broken. Distressed, depressed, Ben took the last drag off his cigarette and threw it away. If you bothered to think you were bound to fetch up against unpleasant conclusions, among them your own innocent hypocrisy. For he wished both to prosper and to excel—if on his own terms—and believed saintliness as a goal or a strategy not so much impracticable or misguided as fundamentally dangerous: a form of absolutism, the silvering of a mirror that reflected intolerance, bigotry, dogma. After best or first came right and soon enough only.
An amazing book. Gorgeous conceit, perfectly carried through—brilliant and hallucinatory and sharply real. I wanted to race through it, but also to go slowly and savor the scenes. Truly fantastic, in every sense of the word.
—Melissa Scott, multiple Lambda Literary Award-winning author of
Trouble and Her Friends, Shadow Man, and the Books of Astreiant
Also of note, a very early and kind review, although Amos Lassen is mistaken in believing the book is out this year. Really you’ll have to wait till February.
In other writing news, I’m making manful attempts to complete at least a draft of the fourth tale from the subcontinent by/before Sunday, in honor of somebody’s birthday. (He knows who he is.) I keep feeling “The Cat in the Moon” has got out of hand, though. That it barely addresses the theme of the anthology I intend to submit it to pretty much goes without saying.
On another hand…walking home from the post office just now, I had an idea that might meet that theme better. Arrgh.
This is rather sudden. Twenty years after it was written, my second full-length novel, Deprivation; or, Benedetto furioso: an oneiromancy, is to be published.
Second in publication order, following Safe as Houses. Second in order of completion as well, following an enormous botch of a science-fiction novel of which we will not speak. Deprivation was written in 1992-93, between drafts of Safe as Houses, which took a very long time to find its proper shape. Also between cities: the handwritten manuscript beginnings were composed on board the MBTA commuter train between Providence, RI, and Boston.
Second also in my affections, if for many years first. (The Unexpected Thing has overtaken it.) It was a joy to write and remains a joy to reread. It will be a significant joy to hold it in my hands. In February of next year.