I’ve wimped out on New York City today thanks to a single word in the National Weather Service’s storm warning.
I don’t want to be part of history and I don’t want to sit in the dark with two feet of mashed potato snow to shovel on Sunday morning but that seems to be my fate. I was in college in ’78 — the National Guard had to dig us out — and won’t ever forget the monster dumping that hit Cotuit in 2005 when we had drifts over the first floor’s window sills. This one is forecast to drop a foot of snow and blow hurricane strength late Friday night through Saturday afternoon.
So time to start cooking, do what needs to be done where electricity is required, and get ready to make some history.
My friend Charles Dubow published his first novel, Indiscretion, this week. Tonight he will read from it at the Barnes and Nobles at 150 E. 86th St. at 7 pm. I won’t be there thanks to the “historic” blizzard forecasted to obliterate Cape Cod tomorrow.
This isn’t a “review” for two reasons:
I haven’t read the book(I read an unfinished draft two summers ago)
I am too friendly with the author to be trusted as an objective critic.
What this post is, I suppose, is pure praise and congratulation for my friend — the author and his fine writing — and a strong, heartfelt recommendation that you give him your money and buy his first novel and read it, trusting me that you will be happy you did.
We were introduced in the mid-90s by Christopher Buckley, the editor of Forbes FYI, the lifestyle supplement to Forbes Magazine. I was putting Forbes’ various magazines online and the excellent content published by Chris was a priority for me. I described my need to enhance his magazine with original, online-only content and that I was willing to budget and fund a position to be the online editor, reporting jointly to both Chris and myself. Chris knew just the guy and made the introduction to Charles.
Charles was part of the original gang that launched Forbes onto the web. We were given a bleak second floor office a few blocks uptown from the Forbes headquarters near Union Square and set about building an open newsroom. But Charles insisted on his own office. He really insisted on his own office to the point that we gave in and gave him a little veal pen of an office with a door which he furnished with an oriental rug, an antique floor lamp, and a spavined old leather chair. None of us were aware of the future at the time, but that newsroom launched some amazing careers. Om Malik and GigaOm. Adam Penenberg and the Shattered Glass scandal. And now Charles and his first novel.
Charles is a man born out of time. Always impeccably dressed, hair slicked back (you’d almost expect him to wear an ascot), a true raconteur who tells stories in a droll, classical tone of voice that isn’t English but isn’t American either. A hybrid diction punctuated with a charming stammer, a knowing leer, and a great laugh. There are three or four people in my life who’s judgment and recommendations of books I trust completely. Charles is one of them. His passion for obscure British travel writers, introducing me to the novels of William Boyd, to Colin the bartender at the Hemingway Bar at the Paris Ritz, to his fondness for 12-year old Macallan, the Chicken Hash at Twenty-One, giving me his late father’s bowtie collection……he’s one of a kind, a man from another era, the last person you’d expect to see hanging around the dingy newsroom of an online magazine. But he did and he not only made Forbes.com a better place, he delivered one of the strongest categories on that site and repeated that magic at Businessweek.com and then Bloomberg.
Now, at the age of 49 he is a novelist. If there was ever hope that a writer can deliver a masterpiece later in life, Charles is an inspiration. That isn’t to say he hadn’t tried before. He had. Only this time he knew he had something worth publishing. I’ve written unpublished novels and the agony of being a writer is knowing when the work is good or not. Charles kept plugging away until he found his voice. His perseverance is his reader’s gain.
I was honored when he asked me to read the first draft of Indiscretion in 2010. He asked to borrow the details of a story I told him about deliberately crashing a car into a seawall while wearing my hockey pads as well as the name of the Yale hockey rink (“The Whale”) for his tragic hero, a successful novelist who throws it all away for a younger woman. I read the Word Doc on my iPad, beginning with some apprehension because one never knows about friends and first drafts.
“This is actually really good,” I said to my wife after ten pages. Two days later, as I finished, I told her Charles had written an amazing novel, one more than deserving of publication, one that could — dare I jinx it? — become a bestseller.
I wrote up some notes and made some suggestions, but the book was unfinished. Even unfinished it was a very good, if not great book. After Charles sold it to William Morrow he offered to send me the final manuscript, but I demurred, pre-ordered it on Amazon , and told him I’d wait for the actual book and not some digital version.
Indiscretion is the story of an ideal couple and the loss of their marriage by the intrusion of another woman. It is told by a family friend, Walter, and is set in New York, the Hamptons, Paris and Rome. Charles limns great characters, is a strong structuralist, has a knowing ear for dialogue, and … in the hands of a lesser writer, could have easily let the novel slip into the category of beach reading. What elevates the book and saves it from the salacious category of yet another adultery story set in classy places is the verisimilitude of the details, the fact that Charles lived and lives in this world and to cite the trite exhortation given to every writer to write about what they know, Charles actually knows this milieu and never has to fake it.
The word “gatsbyesque” is being rolled out by nearly every one of the first reviews of Indiscretion. I confess I made comparisons to Fitzgerald’s masterpiece as I read the draft. But Fitzgerald was always the writer standing on the sidewalk, nose pressed to the glass, looking into the bright restaurant filled with the people he envied, just a guy from St. Paul. Minnesota who was bedazzled by the world of the wealthy.
Charles grew up in the restaurant, and that experience imbues the novel with a precision and truth that saves it from becoming a Judith Krantz cliche and elevates it to one of the more outstanding depictions of Manhattan-Hamptons life I have ever read.
I predict great things and tip my hat to him for persevering with his dream.