Set in 1990s New York, Melanie Mitzner’s debut novel Slow Reveal (Inanna Publications) defies the arbiters of culture and challenges social norms. Art, addiction, and family dynamics capsize the Kanes when they discover the parallel life of Katharine, film editor, mother, lover, and wife. Slow Reveal will be published on May 3, 2022, by Inanna Publications. Please enjoy the following excerpt:
Katharine heard footsteps in the hallway.
“Mom?” She’d forgotten all about her breakfast plans with Ellie.
“Be out in a minute, honey.” The weight of her break-up with Naomi filled her with lassitude. If only Ellie would disappear, the room and everything in it but the footsteps forced her back. Reaching out for her cotton robe, she lost her balance but managed to recover by pushing against the night table, sending Naomi’s collection Forever Ending flying across the room.
in and out
in lame attempts
of swift escapes
from savage ways
flesh and bone and wit.
Ellie bent down to pick up the book. When she flipped open the cover, Katharine wrested it from her hands and asked her to go make coffee. Over scones, they talked about her installation. “I want to turn spectators into perpetrators. I want to expose the crowd. You know, make them accountable.” She swirled some maple syrup into her oversized cup. “Every violation of civil rights, every war we foment, every assault on humanity, we’re all responsible, you know?” Reminiscent of her father’s Fall of Saigon, a rice paddy grown indoors, surrounded by video monitors with scenes from a slaughterhouse, Katharine feared a similar reprisal to Ellie’s installation. Like the decimation of her husband’s career by the critic Duncan Wilder, who denounced him for turning a conceptual art movement into a political forum. One of those tired, age old debates that art didn’t mix with politics, like the controversy over photography – whether or not the medium was a true art form. Somehow pop escaped everyone’s scrutiny, the more vapid the greater its worth. It was beyond Katharine’s ability to comprehend this sort of thing.
“Mother, you’re not listening.”
“How’s the film going?”
“Okay, I guess. We need completion funds to finish the job. They’re screening a cut for the financiers. For now I’m on break.”
“Have you heard from Brigitte? I’ve been trying to reach her but she doesn’t pick up.”
“Did you leave a message?”
“Of course! She didn’t seem right when we had dinner last month. Looked like she lost a lot of weight. That’s not a good sign…I should know.”
“Wait. What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ellie didn’t want to recount the time she did meth working two jobs, one by day in a lab developing custom prints, the other by night waiting tables two blocks away from her East Village apartment.
“Ellie, what’s going on here?”
“How should I know?” As she sipped her coffee, uneven locks of cocoa hair fell across her sullen face. “How’s Daddy doing?”
That was a question on which Katharine didn’t wish to elaborate. Not because of present circumstances but in light of the last report from his physical. Hypertension commonly associated with stress. Go see a therapist, the doctor told him, but he didn’t take his advice, blaming his condition on job pressure which had since let up, that is until he landed the Brain Waves account. If she were to be honest, she knew she had something to do with it. There were only two ways to go, up or out. For the first time in years, she wanted to tell him about Naomi but they agreed not to discuss their extramarital affairs. Emotional infidelity was off the table. That was the deal they struck the night she found some artist’s phone number in his jacket pocket when she was looking for change. She wanted to come clean but his unsettled state of mind left that indelible mark of vulnerability he hadn’t overcome. As of late, it manifested in a kind of compulsive obsessive disorder. Everything was rearranged in the house under the auspices of spring cleaning. Forget the fact it was wintertime. His fixation was driving her nuts. Of course, if she thought about it, he bore some responsibility for the sorry state of their marriage. All the hours he worked after the blackouts and endless binges. So what if sobriety made him coherent. His mind was a refuse bin for advertising concepts. Blasphemy, plain and simple. Although she wanted to talk about it, she wouldn’t for fear a confrontation would send him back to the gin with a virulence. It’s not like she had a right to judge, she didn’t but he wasn’t the man she married.
“We’re doing real good, aren’t we?” Ellie complained. As if Katharine were someone else’s mother, someone she never met.
“You want to start over?”
“Sure. Okay. Morning, Mom.”
Their laughter lacked the usual volume and intensity when an entire room erupted. The vacancy of the conversation made it all the more ludicrous. “Are you making coffee all over again?”
“I can’t. I have to go.” Ellie jumped up, sending her chair off balance. “You’ll come to the opening, won’t you?”
“Of course. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She sipped her café au lait and wiped away the milk on her upper lip with the tip of her index finger. “Anything you need? Something I can do?”
“Yeah. Talk to Brigitte.”
“I will…as soon as I get dressed. Maybe she’ll have lunch with me now that she’s unemployed.”
“Daddy’s upset, isn’t he?”
“Look, his agency’s a business, Ellie. If Brigitte didn’t perform, he couldn’t keep her from being fired.”
“He’s a partner in the company for god’s sake!”
“That’s called nepotism and you know it. He has to be careful when it comes to family. She didn’t finish college like the other candidates who applied for the job. Anyway, that wasn’t the issue. It was the Art Director she was working with. A mismatch if there ever was one.”
“So why didn’t they team her up with someone else?”
“I think your father tried but the partners wouldn’t consent. The Art Director’s a rising star. They didn’t need a bunch of disgruntled employees–“
“He only gave her the job so he could keep an eye on her,” Ellie mumbled, as she reached for the faux fur lying on the kitchen counter, her latest find at St. George Thrift Shop. One last look through the picture window at the barges floating down the East River before she made her way over to the front door.
“Why don’t you stop by tomorrow night? Your father and I made a date. He promised he wouldn’t work late.”
“No. You need some time to yourselves.”
When the door shut, Katharine stood there staring at it blindly. Her eyes weren’t registering the fleur de lys pattern repeated in relief across the crushed velvet wallpaper the color of Bordeaux wine. In her mind she was picturing Naomi, standing in the blue and white tiled kitchen, peering over her Ben Franklin glasses, before the darkness descended like a shadow in late afternoon. Without attempting to stop herself, she went to the portable phone lying on the kitchen counter. She thought, I have no will of my own, as she punched in the North Fork number. This time it didn’t ring. A recorded message from the phone company said, “The number you have reached – 516-477-8683 – has been temporarily disconnected.” A pain shot through her chest. For a moment she panicked. Had Naomi done something irrational, an irreversible act, of the solitary kind from which no survivor recovers? She had the impulse to jump in her car and drive out east but this time she stopped herself and called their neighbor Jim. He told her he’d seen her board up the house and take off in her ancient Mercedes. Despite the description of their property as an uninhabited ghost town, she was relieved by the news. Naomi must’ve returned to the city. Maybe she should walk by her place and look for signs of life but instead she decided to call Brigitte.
The hoarse voice betrayed her daughter’s words, polite and courteous like a telephone operator’s.
“You’re so infuriating.”
“You won’t stop thanking me for calling you.”
“See. See what I mean?” She upended what little was left of her coffee. “Shit.”
“Sorry,” Brigitte said again, slipping, not meaning to but unable to control herself. It wasn’t the hangover that turned her into a simpering idiot. She was crashing and trying not to show it.
Katharine tried to find out what was going on but Brigitte wasn’t listening. As if she were cooking something or balancing her checkbook. Better to see her in person, she thought, proposing a late lunch to which she refused. That didn’t last because Katharine insisted on it. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Brigitte would have to accommodate her or she’d camp outside her apartment, morning, noon and night until she relented. The last time she was being evasive, she was in trouble with the police, busted for dealing grass to a plain clothes detective from Vice.
Brigitte was thinking if she wasn’t in trouble, her mother would disappear. That’s how it usually went. Here in a jam. Gone in a flash. The Concerned Mother who comes to the rescue in an emergency. Where was she when things were going right? When she woke up at six each morning and exercised at the gym before work. When she wasn’t in this quagmire that turned into quicksand after a night of snorting coke, smoking weed and downing margaritas to stave off the speed demon. That’s what she called chasing the high when she wasn’t high enough. When it made her edgy and the neuroreceptors in her brain shut down. When she began the descent heading for the crash which in the end made her suicidal.
“How about a little Tom Yum soup? I know you like your Thai.”
Normally that dish was her favorite. Chili infused in a fragrant broth of lemongrass and shrimp. But how could she forget those lunch meetings when she couldn’t digest her food without being hammered for inadequate copy by her prick of a partner Sam Jones? The Art Director always came up with the kind of visuals that defied any language at all. His work was fine for soundtracks with all the power of conveying a message without verbal interference. If only she could deliver the copy before he conceived the images. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t follow his lead. The guy was unforgiving with that humorless grin behind a wall of total silence which she couldn’t penetrate without losing her cool. Manipulative, that’s what he was. His behavior was indefensible but never once had he been reprimanded. In fact she was the one who got fired after the son-of-a-bitch was promoted to a management position. He couldn’t manage a hot dog, she thought, snickering to herself as she traversed her studio apartment, picking up clothes strewn across the chairs and bed. Her elbow length gloves, hose and garters, an Edwardian dress and French silk scarf, the makings of the costume she wore to Club Rude dressed like an aging harlot. Fashion that reminded her of those forties dime store novels with their soft porn covers, ones she stole from her grandparents’ bookshelves, her maternal grandparents, the rednecks from South Carolina. The only one in the family who wasn’t half bad was her gay Uncle Andrew. The man was truly rad. Once they smoked a joint together and talked about Kierkegaard, about the leap of faith that bridged temporal existence with everlasting, eternal truth. Brigitte said she couldn’t make that leap and amazingly he had understood. At the other end of the spectrum was her Aunt Darlene, a born-again Christian who specialized in hair coloring. Her favorite, chestnut brown with blonde streaks, just how she envisioned her savior’s coif. Why was she thinking about those stiffs as she sipped on a warm Coca-Cola and nearly puked. Having lunch with her mother was hazardous to her health.
She grabbed a pencil skirt from the closet and when she turned, her eyes closed in on the drinking straw lying on the mirror with a razor beside it. She took the blade and scraped the inside, recovering a dusting of coke. One quick snort and she felt like a million bucks compared to the bag of shit she felt like moments earlier.
Melanie Mitzner was awarded an Edward Albee Fellowship for her play Personal Effects, and her screenplay Dodge and Burn was a finalist in the Writers Guild East Foundation Fellowships. In the Name of Love and Out to Lunch were finalists in the Houston Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. She received a fellowship from M.E.T. Theater and fiction grants from Vermont Studio Center and Summer Literary Seminars. An excerpt of her novel Too Good to Be True was published in Harrington Lesbian Quarterly. Her work is published on Vol1Brooklyn, Wine Spectator, Hamptons, The Groovy Mind, Bloom, Society for Curious Thought, Broadcast Week and Millimeter. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. For more information and upcoming events, visit her website: www.melaniemitzner.com. She lives in New York and Montréal.