January 16, 2018
Spring preview: Lacking Character by Curtis White
by Melville House
This week, as 2018 kicks into high gear, we’re offering previews of some upcoming books we’re excited about.
In the spirit of “transcendental buffoonery,” Curtis White’s return to fiction in Lacking Character is fun in the extreme. The story begins when a masked man with “a message both obscure and appalling” appears at the door of the Marquis claiming a matter of life and death, declaring, “I stand falsely accused of an atrocity!”
Lacking Character goes on sale March 13th. For now, wet your whistle with this excerpt.
The Borsalino: a Romance
After Felicité had ended her conversation with the artist and gone on her troubled way, I walked over from my catbird’s seat behind a garden wall and asked him a few questions, just for background.
“Background? What kind of background?” he asked. He seemed just a little annoyed at all the interruptions that morning.
“In my experience, it always helps to be able to provide convincing detail. This painting you’re working on, for example, and the photograph of this vivid woman that is clipped to it. That sort of thing can make all the difference in delivering a scene. For instance, one thing that I’m thinking now, looking forward in my narrative, is that the hat you are wearing might make a compelling detail.”
“I’m sure you understand this. Say you’re painting this woman and you decide to put a vase of flowers near her.”
“I don’t paint flowers.”
“That’s not the point.”
It occurred to me just then that he had not offered me coffee.
“Look. I’d just like to know what you call that hat. Does it have a name? Could you perhaps call it a boater? It would be thrilling to me if I could call it a boater.”
“It’s a Borsalino.”
“A Borsalino. Not bad. I can use that.”
“Look here,” he said, “do you see this tag? It says ‘11.’ That means grade 11 in their line of hats. A grade 11 Borsalino retails for $650.”
“Would you like to know how much I paid for it? $125.”
“Hell of a deal.”
“The grades go up into the forties. Do you know how much a Borsalino in the forties costs? As much as $6,000.”
“I have always wondered what kind of person would pay that much for a hat.”
“Frankly, I don’t know anyone who would pay $125 for a hat. Or $25. But I run with a cheap crowd.”
He looked dumbfounded, if you like that sort of Germanized word mongrel. He eyed me skeptically, wondering if I was “putting him on,” as people once said.
He continued. “You might also like to know that this particular Borsalino has a name.”
“Nice. The name has a name. This is getting better.”
“It is a Monte Cristo.”
He gave the name an Italian lilt of the kind you might imagine coming from someone who was born just up the interstate in Kankakee: MON-te CREE-sto. Frankly, he sounded more like Bela Lugosi than any Italian I’d ever meet.
“You can tell it’s a Monte Cristo by the fold in the top of the hat.”
“That’s more than I need to know. This is not a novel about a hat.”
“Look, if you’re going to include a hat in your story, especially my hat, you should know what you’re talking about. This is a Borsalino. A Monte Cristo Borsalino. Now, as you can see from the fine, soft weave of the material, if you wanted you could fold it, and, in fact, Europeans do fold it.”
He said “Europeans” as if they were a very special species of human.
“They fold it and put it in this little bag”—he took a velvety cloth bag from his pocket—“so that it can be carried just as you would carry an umbrella. The little cloth bag with the cotton drawstring is so precious in itself that…I mean, it’s beautiful.”
“Isn’t it cool?”
Lacking Character by Curtis White
ON SALE: March 13, 2018