Next month we publish the hotly anticipated horror novel from Chase Novak, the pseudonymous debut of Scott Spencer’s alter ego hailed by Stephen King as “The best horror novel I’ve read since Peter Straub’s Ghost Story…by turns terrifying and blackly funny…a total blast.”
Copies are already on their way to bookstores–but you can start the wild ride right here. Let the buzz begin!
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father
It’s well known—part fact, part punch line—that people in New York think a great deal about real estate. In the case of Leslie Kramer, she actually was aware of the house Alex Twisden lived in before she had ever met him, or even knew his name. Leslie would often pass by the house on days she chose to walk to Gardenia Press, where, though single and childless herself, she edited children’s books.
The house was a piece of pure old New York, from before taxes, before unions, back when the propertied classes had money for the finest stonework, the finest carpentry, and for a multitude of servants, including people to put straw in the streets so the wagon wheels of passing merchants would not clatter on the cobblestones. It was a four-story townhouse on East Sixty-Ninth Street, an often-photographed Federal-style dwelling made of pale salmon bricks, with windows that turned bursts of light into prismatic fans of color framed by pale green shutters.
It was one of the few residences on this block that had not been broken up into apartments, and the only house in the neighborhood owned by the same family since its construction. It was one of those places that seem immune to change, ever lovely, and ever redolent of privilege and the provenance that justifies the continuation of those privileges. The front of the house bore a polished brass plaque announcing the year of the house’s construction, 1840. The window boxes were almost always in bloom, with snowdrops in the spring, and then with tulips, impatiens, geraniums, and various decorative cabbages, some of them so unusual and obscure that often passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wonder about them. The light post next to the eight-step porch was entwined with twinkling blue lights twelve months a year. Recycling was set out at the curbside inside of cases that once held bottles of Château Beychevelle or Tattinger’s.
Twisdens have been born and have died in these rooms. The first President Roosevelt dined there on several occasions and once famously played the ukulele and sang Cuban folk songs for a dinner party that included the mayor, the ambassador to the Court of King James’s, and a Russian ballerina who, it turned out, was embroiled in an affair with the host, Abraham Twisden. Twisdens who practiced law and medicine lived here, political Twisdens, bohemian Twisdens, drunken and idle Twisdens, one of whom lost the house in a card game on West Fourteenth Street, a debt that was nullified by the sudden death of the lucky winner, who turned out not to be so lucky after all.
Alex was raised in this house along with his sisters, Katherine and Cecile. Their world was this house, with its mahogany globes the size of cantaloupes on the newel posts of every stairway, with wedding-cake plaster on the ceilings, and wainscoting in the parlor, and the library, and antique Persian carpets of red and purple and blue and gold on the wide plank floors, rugs knotted by little hands that had long since turned to dust.
Katherine lives now as a Buddhist nun in Thailand and has renounced the family; she has a brain tumor that has shortened her temper but seems not to be shortening her life. Cecile died at thirteen, of a staph infection following the removal of her appendix, and when their parents died in Corfu, in 1970, the house on Sixty-Ninth Street passed without contest directly to Alex.
In point of fact, it was the house that brought Alex and Leslie together in the first place. One drizzly spring morning, Alex noticed her stopped in front of his house, and he said, “Haven’t I seen you before?”
“Oh, I like to stop here. It’s on my way to work. And it’s such a beautiful house.”
“I’m afraid I’m its prisoner,” Alex said. “I just don’t like anyplace else in the world half so much.”
“I can see why,” Leslie said. The ends of her blunt-cut auburn hair touched the dark red, rain-spotted wool of her coat. She had the plain but lovely face of a pioneer; he could imagine her sitting at the back of a covered wagon, looking longingly east as her family headed west. Her eyes were bright green, and though she was smiling, there seemed something temperamental, easily wounded about her.
Alex, dressed for work in thousands of dollars’ worth of English tailoring and, even in a more overtly social situation, tending toward the reticent, surprised himself by asking, “Would you be interested in seeing the inside?”
From there to courtship to wedding was a mere five months and it did not escape Leslie’s attention that some people (well: many) thought of her as Alex Twisden’s midlife trophy wife. Never mind that she loved him, and never mind that (of this she was certain) he loved her, and never mind that she was almost thirty (well: twenty-eight) and had an excellent (well: good) job at a great (well: up and coming) New York publishing company—the fact that she was seventeen years younger than Alex, and that he was wealthy, and childless and probably (well: definitely) in the hunt for an heir, made Leslie a trophy wife, which, in the parlance of well-off Manhattanites, suggested she was practicing some high-end, socially sanctioned form of prostitution.
But now the shining trophy wife has a very significant ding in her. She has been trying to have a baby for three years, which is why she and Alex are currently sitting in the annex of Herald Church on West Ninetieth Street, a depressing, claustrophobic, smelly, badly lit, terrible, and depressing (yes, it is worth a second mention) basement in which they are attending the biweekly meeting of the Uptown Infertility Support Group. As Leslie looks around at the scuffed linoleum floors, the plasterboard walls, the strip lighting, and the metal folding chairs, she uncrosses and recrosses her legs and tries to read the expression on her husband’s long, narrow, solemn face. But he is as unreadable here as he is when he rides the elevator to the top floor of the Erskine Building, where the venerable firm of Bailey, Twisden, Kaufman, and Chang go about their hushed business, a kind of law that seems to Leslie far closer to accountancy than anything she has ever seen on TV. In TV law, lives hang in the balance, wrongs are redressed, and the system blindly gropes its way toward justice. At BTK&C, all that matters in the orderly transfer of property, and the golden rule seems to be “Don’t ever touch the principal.”
Neither Alex nor Leslie really wants or needs the psychological or moral support of other couples dealing with infertility. They attend because it is Alex’s theory that these meetings, aside from being sobfests and weirdly twelve-steppy in their confessional nature, operate as a kind of clearinghouse for information about fertility treatments and fertility doctors. So far they have not met anyone who has done anything different from what Alex and Leslie have tried, often at the very same clinics, with the very same doctors, and even with the same kindhearted nurses. Tonight’s meeting was particularly useless. Two of the nine couples in the group have already separated—infertility can wreak havoc on a marriage—yet both the husbands from these defunct unions continue not only to show up for meetings but to dominate the discussions. The Featherstones, a chubby, cheerful duo—he a second-grade teacher, she a pastry chef—want to share their fabulous news. Chelsea is, or at least was, pregnant, and even though she miscarried in the third week, both the Featherstones are ebullient, feeling they have their problem, if not defeated, then at least on the run, and they somehow induce the group to share their excitement. As the basement echoes with applause, Leslie pretends to look for something in her purse, and Alex simply sits there with his hands folded in his lap.
When she looked over at him he silently mouths the words I love you.